The West’s response to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine has been stronger than many had predicted when ‘little green men’ first started appearing in Crimea. Likely a perception of Western weakness was based partially on recent trends, such as a war-weary America seen as withdrawing from the world, by recent events such as Syria, and from similar events years before, when the West did little in the face of Russian aggression towards Georgia.
Yet the very reason that there was no action over, for instance, Syria, was that the norm of non-intervention in another sovereign state’s internal affairs had not weakened by as much as perhaps the liberal interventionists had hoped. The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) had a long way to go yet. Such failure to act perhaps lead some, including even Putin himself, to believe he had a freer hand than he in fact did.
Ironically, then, one of the biggest reasons the West did not intervene in Syria, which arguably encouraged subsequent Russian aggression, was the same reason that ensured such aggression was even less likely to go unanswered; the norm of non-intervention towards sovereign states.
And of course, if such a norm still existed, then international society would of course have responded when Russia started slicing off parts of a sovereign European nation-state bordering the EU, with the population two-thirds that of France.
And the reaction of the West has been firm. An analysis of the West’s reaction so far will be the subject of another article.