When the former Soviet Union collapsed almost 25 years ago, most global strategic forecasters assumed that the U.S. would adapt pragmatically to her new status of sole world superpower. Instead she has pursued a variety of misguided nation-building adventures and has largely shrunk from her primary responsibility of neutralizing the ambitions of petty dictators around the world. From this perspective, America's multi-generational expenditures on military personnel and equipment has become more of a stealth economic stimulus program rather than an insurance policy for global stability.
The massive failures of U.S. intervention in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan have caused the Western Allies to fear the future deployment of troops. Instead they have resorted to preserving an impression of strength by pressing their agenda with minor nations like Serbia, Libya and Syria through a combination of endless diplomacy and relatively riskless air power. In doing so, they exposed not just a reduced military capability, but also far worse, a lack of will. This vital fact was not lost on America's potential enemies.
Sensing this weakness, President Vladimir Putin of Russia, who is likely the continent's most aggressive power player since the Second World War, felt free to redraw the map of Europe when political events in Ukraine did not go his way. On the economic front, the crisis has vividly illuminated the differing interests of the European Union (EU) and the U.S. According to Eurostat, the EU imported 212 billion euros ($293 billion USD) worth of goods from Russia in 2012, while the U.S. imported a mere $29 billion. Furthermore, eight of the EU member nations are in trade surplus with Russia and the adverse trade balances of the remaining nineteen EU nations are relatively small. The difference in relative costs between the U.S. and these European nations that would arise from isolating Russia with major sanctions, let alone military action, are clear.