Interstate conflict is a rare phenomenon. Since 1816, the Correlates of War project only counts 96 different wars occurring over an almost 200 year period. Given Russia's incursion into the Crimean peninsula, it is of little surprise that IR scholar blogging activity has been rampant the past week; we may just have conflict 97 just around the corner.
It is of little surprise that Ukraine is on the forefront of our discussions across twitter, blogs, and other forms of social media. It is an intellectually ripe ground for explanation, prediction, and is an important teaching tool for me. In the classroom, the ongoing crisis is engaging for students. Their preferred lenses to view the conflict appears to be a mix between neorealist power politics and bargaining models of conflicts; the students found constructivist and liberal explanations to be somewhat less satisfying. Though, there was a healthy discussion about whether or not Russia should count as a democracy.
Beyond Ukraine, my preperation for conference season is holding my attention. One manuscript I am presently working on, while keeping an eye on the Ukrainian-Russian crisis, is a collaborative piece with Michael Flynn and Julie VanDusky-Allen. In a follow up to another work that we have, we are presenting an article at the Midwest Political Science Association that looks as the regional contexts US troop deployments provide for foreign policy decisions of states by employing Lake's 2011 work on contractual hierarchies. He argues that sovereignty is a fungible good that can be traded away in various domains for various side-payments. In the case of the United States, we often provide security services to states (in the form of troops, bases, weapons, etc.) in exchange for more control over their foreign policy decision-making. Previous research, including our own, shows that for the average state, when troops are deployed to their country, they tend to spend less on their own defense. In the classic guns-versus-butter framework of government spending, a state granted additional resources can supplement its own defense spending and shift its spending priorities to other social (butter) issues.
However, despite this on-average effect, we see two additional wrinkles to this process. First, NATO states do not follow this trend. NATO countries tend to respond to new troop deployments with further spending, not reduced spending. Second, states in the midst of a regional concentrations of US troops, across the board, will increase their spending. Today, the Obama administration announced that it would be sending military assets as well as 300 troops to Poland. While this move is almost certainly more to assure Poland than it is to threaten Russia, the current crisis will undoubtedly see jumps in military spending by most countries in the region.
Kane's 2006 work on troop deployments is the source for troop deployment data and Michael and I used the Department of Defense's published reports to fill in the years from 2003-2011 in our recent CMPS article. Through 2011, the US had a nominal number of US military personnel in Poland, but the first time the US officially "stationed forces" in Poland happened about 18 months ago in June 2012. The small number of US military personnel in Poland from 1980-2011 is a relatively insignificant number as the US, currently, has some level of troops in almost every country. These military personnel represent and conduct several kinds of activity and do not represent a deployment that projects US power or capability to coerce. The announcement by the US today is a significant increase in the size of US troops in Poland beyond previous deployments and represents an operational, fighting force. It is likely that the number of troops in Poland will stay well above 300 no matter how the Crimean dispute resolves. Ultimately, the troops represent a security commitment to Poland's defense by the United States, and given the regional activity by Russia, the US would be hard pressed to drawn down our forces in Poland. If anything, I expect the long term number to be higher, perhaps requiring the US to redeploy forces elsewhere in Europe. It will be hard for the US, or John Kerry for that matter, to forget Poland.