Since the Russian occupation of Crimea began last month, I have been asked the same question by many Hoosiers: What difference does the Ukraine crisis make to us in Indiana?
This is Hoosier common sense at its finest. On the surface, there is no direct link.
Ukraine is 5,000 miles away. Trade between our two countries is minuscule and shrinking. Only 30 percent of the Ukrainian population professes any religious faith. Ukraine is the source of no energy resources or critical materials. Instead, it is a country marked by instability and corruption.
So why should Americans care?
The first and most obvious answer is the central lesson of history: conflicts grow from small beginnings.
We all know that the assassination of an imperial relative in a Balkan town in 1914 led to the violent death of 37 million people in the first World War. We know that the cataclysm of WWII began with Germany’s stealth invasion of Austria and Czechoslovakia in 1938, eerily reminiscent of Russia’s moves on Crimea.
A history lesson closer in time is taught by the Balkan wars of the 1990s. When Serb gunboats shelled the Croatian city of Dubrovnik in 1992, the world — and most especially Croatia’s European neighbors — did nothing. The result of inaction was the death of more than 100,000 people.
If the international community had had the collective wisdom, leadership and courage simply to tell Belgrade that major European population centers are no longer shelled in modern Europe, this suffering would have been prevented.
Policymakers should draw from such lessons. In order to avoid larger and likely more disastrous developments down the road, America must confront the choice of simply letting Russian President Vladimir Putin have his way or spearheading an international response to bring him to his senses.
A second, related American interest is the stability of the European continent itself. Ukraine is not an obscure sideshow. It is comprised of the remnants of two European empires and deeply embedded in the integrated structure, identity, economy and culture of Europe as a whole.