In general, there are very few options available.
The Armageddon Option
My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes. ~ Ronald ReaganIn 1955, Gen. Curtis LeMay proposed to the Joint Chiefs of Staff to drop every nuclear weapon in its arsenal on the Soviet Union. In 1956, LeMay scrambled nearly a thousand bombers and feigned an attack on Russia. It was a show of strength but LeMay later said, "With a bit more luck we could have started World War III." In 1984, Reagan spoke that quip into an open mic. The Soviets activated their defenses and put their nuclear missiles on alert fearing Reagan wasn't joking.
Last Saturday, Sarah Palin suggested the only way to stop Putin was to bomb Russia when she said, "the only thing that stops a bad guy with a nuke is a good guy with a nuke."
The Operation Overlord Option
Declare war with the intention of driving Russia out of the Crimea without going nuclear. The Crimea is connected to mainland Ukraine by a five kilometer wide isthmus meaning the only viable route would be a D-Day like amphibious invasion. It took the Allies two years to plan for D-Day and the Black Sea is not the English Channel.
The Kuwait Option
Like the run up to the First Gulf War, NATO could give Russia an ultimatum to leave Crimea by X date or face a declaration of war. Like in 1990, such an ultimatum will certainly fail leading to the above options.
The Tripwire Option
Basically what the US has been doing in South Korea for over half a century. Station American troops in the Ukraine and other vulnerable states bordering Russia so any attack on those countries would have to also attack American troops. Obama is actually doing this by stationing Air Force personnel in Latvia and Poland.
|There are few military options that would not end up like this.|
The Squeeze Their Balls Till They Pop Option
Isolate Russia by declaring economic war. Close the Bosporus to Russian shipping, shut down Russia's oil pipeline to the West, confiscate Russian assets in the West. The result will probably be $10 a gallon gasoline, an economic depression in Europe and possible the US, and possibly war if Russia decides it has no other alternative. The only country that would benefit would be China.
The Iran Option
Sanctions short of economic war with the intention of showing Russia that they will lose more than they gain. This would not satisfy the bloodthirsty neocons anymore than it has with Iran. Olympic corruption has already damaged Russia's economy and sanction will hurt even more. The all powerful oligarchy would demand a peaceful solution, probably the Two State Option. This option would probably not change the new reality that Crimea is no longer part of the Ukraine.
The Two State Option
Before the Russian invasion Crimea was only nominally part of the Ukraine. The Autonomous Republic of Crimea was unique within Ukraine in that had its own government (appointed by Kiev) and elected parliament. This option accepts that neither Russia nor the majority of Crimeans will accept control from a hostile Kiev. It proposes a referendum on independence. An independent Crimea would, of course, only be a puppet of Russia in a manner similar to Puerto Rico is to the United States. This seems to be where we will end up.
The Munich Option
Accept that Crimea is just not something to start a world war over and allow Russia to annex it. The problem here is that there are other parts of the old Soviet Union that Russia has a hankering for like the Baltic states. It is unlikely that Putin's appetite will be sated by just Crimea. Putin would keep sniffing at the small border states until his reach exceeds his grasp and then we are back to the first option on the list.
I suspect that sanctions leading to the Two State Option is probably the best outcome for all concerned.