The UK is blaming Russia for the poisoning of two former spies earlier this month. In retaliation, 20 countries are expelling Russian diplomats. This is the latest in a wave of Russian diplomats being expelled in retaliation for actions presumed to be of Russian origin. The image at the top of this page refers to the December 2016 closure of Russian compounds in Maryland and New York.

Unfortunately, as with our ‘war on terror,’ the expulsion of Russian diplomats is counter productive and is likely to produce worse outcomes than what we are currently concerned about. Here’s why:

  1. It’s Ambiguous. When an expulsion occurs, are those who leave being given a date when they can return by? Are there conditions that need to be met for their return? Can they be replaced with other diplomats? If specifics like these are not provided, then it’s an ambiguous action likely to be perceived as empty political theatrics and posturing.
  2. It Harms Everyone. In the past when Russian diplomats have been expelled, Russia has responded by expelling U.S. diplomats from Russia. This results in us having diminished understanding about what’s going on in Russia, and it hinders good diplomatic relations.
  3. It Ignores Due Process. Most Democratic countries uphold due process. There’s a belief that people are innocent until proven guilty. The idea of arbitrarily punishing individuals, without a trial, for the acts of someone else, is completely contrary to the concept of due process. It’s similar to prisoners being held for years without trial in Guantanamo, then being released without any charges to return to their home country. These are scary precedents that open the flood gates for worse abuses of people’s basic rights. In some cases, such actions are a violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  4. It’s Permanent. When diplomats are expelled, and offices are completely closed, as will be the case with the Russian consulate in Seattle, it’s unlikely those offices will open back up again.
  5. It Punishes the Wrong People. Imagine living in a foreign country. You have a home there. You have family and friends there. Your kids are in school there. It feels like home to you. Then, abruptly, without much warning, you are arbitrarily selected for deportation. You’ve personally done nothing wrong. You’re punished for something done by someone else half-way around the world. This is unfair. It punishes the wrong people. It doesn’t prevent future problems. It creates resentment, and it erodes good diplomatic relations.

Alternatives to Expelling Diplomats

Sanctions may be a better form of retaliation because they need not be ambiguous and they can easily be lifted if conditions are met. It’s not like uprooting people from their homes. A drawback to sanctions is that they tend to harm the wrong people and innocent civilians suffer including children and the elderly. This builds resentment.

The video below is an interview with Jimmy Carter from 30 Mar 2018 where he briefly talks about how sanctions are counterproductive. The video is queued to 5m42s. Note: Please feel free to close any YouTube overlay ads that appear by clicking in the upper right corner of the ad.

What we need are proactive diplomatic global initiatives to help improve conditions in the world. There are hundreds of non profit organizations and government agencies well suited for promoting better health, housing, education,  and employment. Ultimately, the only way forward and the only way out of the mess we’re in, is to invest in such organizations and initiatives.

One example of many is Nuru International, a non-profit organization established by an ex-Marine platoon commander who saw poverty as the leading cause of terrorism. Rather than fighting terrorists, he decided to fight poverty as a way to end terrorism.

Problems with Retaliation

One of the problems with retaliation is that we don’t really know with 100% accuracy, who precisely is responsible for the actions we’re responding to.

We suspect Russian involvement in hacking because some of the tools used were similar to those used by Russians in the past. We suspect Russia of poisoning people because the poison was developed in Russia. While these seem like indicators of guilt, based such criteria, it wouldn’t be very difficult to make Russia look guilty for numerous crimes.

Want Russia to get blamed for some computer hacking? Just use some Russian cyber tools, and leave some notes written in Russian. Then let the ensuing global crisis unfold. Want to make Russia look guilty for poisoning people? Just use some poison that can be traced back to a Russian origin, and now the Russian government will be blamed. Sit back and watch as the global retaliation creates a world-wide geopolitical crisis and new cold war.

There are many parties, domestic and foreign, who would benefit from increased tension and possible military engagement between Russia and the U.S. or other countries.

There are also scenarios where a country may openly initiate some harmful act against the United States in order to provoke a response. When this cycle is repeated, we’re not in control, we’re just blindly reacting following someone else’s agenda. Even if we’re 100% certain of who is responsible for an act against the U.S. we should not always seek retaliation as a robotic knee-jerk reaction.

Here’s how terrorists use our practice of ‘proportional’ responses: (1) Terrorists attack the U.S. or its allies, (2) The U.S. engages in drone strikes against countries and locations thought to be responsible for the attacks, (3) Inevitably schools and hospitals are destroyed and innocent civilians including women and children are killed. (4) The terrorists use photos and videos from news reports about these actual incidents as propaganda for recruiting more seemingly justified terrorists. (5) Return to step 1.

In determining guilt, we cannot even rely on confession of guilt by any person or country. It’s known that often several organizations will try to claim responsibility for terrorist acts just to promote awareness of their group in hopes of obtaining greater world recognition and power. There are endless scenarios where evidence and confessions of guilt will point us to the wrong parties, and lead us off the right track.

For our own sake, we should maintain the position that people and countries are innocent until proven guilty before we retaliate and harm diplomatic relations. Otherwise, we may just be puppets controlled by some unknown bad actors. Even in cases where we know who is responsible, we should engage in actions that don’t result in negative outcomes.

Russia Responds

Russia has responded to recent provocations and aggressions with the following message via Twitter and YouTube.

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