The series of bullet points in this article is a succinct summary of the causes and issues underlying the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Without excusing Russian aggression, it emphasizes the importance of ending the hostilities through a negotiated solution and points out why the crisis should spur Europe to take responsibility for its own defense.
UKRAINE – WHAT A NEGOTIATED SOLUTION WOULD LOOK LIKE
As this article points out, the Ukraine War will end when both sides agree to expressly recognize the facts that existed before the war. Those include not only the demonstrated inability of Russia to conquer Ukraine, but also its neutralization and the loss of the Crimea and the Donbas, subject to confirming plebiscites in those regions.
One comforting piece of news amongst the tragic wreckage of the #russianinvasion. The US and Russia have established a deconfliction hot line in Europe to avoid any accidental encounters between NATO and Russian militaries in the area of combat.
Russia’s vicious and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine has rightfully drawn the condemnation of the world. Make no mistake – whatever other causes may exist, it is Vladimir Putin who began this war to extend his dictatorship and to resurrect the old Soviet Union. The Ukrainian people’s defiant and dogged defense of their country exemplify these words of Theodore Roosevelt.
TR’s heart, soul and perhaps body would have been with Ukrainians as they fight for their freedom. We Americans also need to embrace TR’s words and the attendant difficulties ahead for us. Russia, as well as China, have shown the vaunted “international rule of law” to be simply an elitist illusion. They want to rewrite those rules to reflect the reality of great power competition at best and promote their authoritarian models at worst
If America wants to win this fight, we must accept the sacrifices necessary to build our military and economic resources while working to end the Ukraine invasion. The President’s promises in his State of The Union speech to ease the effects of sanctions does this cause no good. The best way to show American resolve is to declare an immediate embargo on Russian oil and other imports and force Russian oligarchs to divest their American assets. We can then unify to cover the shortages with our own oil & gas as much as possible.
We also should immediately end NASA’s partnership with Russia and demand they vacate the International Space Station. The Bush-Clinton-Obama Administration’s reliance on Russia for access and operation of the ISS is one of the worst strategic decisions in American history. Thanks to SpaceX and other commercial entities, we now have our own launch platforms for access. There may be, however, other operational issues that were improvidently assigned to the Russians. If so, it is time for an “Apollo 13” moment where American engineers meet this crisis with the determination and ingenuity that marked the Apollo moon landing program. We can do it and we must.
At the same time, Russia needs an incentive to negotiate an acceptable peace with Ukraine. The West should thus telegraph to Putin that the barrage of economic sanctions will be eased when such an agreement is reached (see this article). Without such an “off-ramp”, Putin will not only continue the war, but perhaps even widen it to include the Baltic states, thus directly engaging NATO. This is a war we must prepare for, but are not yet ready to fight.
Russia’s invasion has galvanized world opinion against it and the brutal values it clearly stands for. The threat will not go away after this war has ended. Indeed, our current divisions and failure to prepare for it means we face three to five risky years of exposure. If America and democracy is to prevail, we must accept the sacrifices necessary to build the unity and strength of the American people. Remember that the Soviet Union fell because it lost the socioeconomic battle, not a military one. TR reminds us that if we build on the strength of our values, we will win yet again.
The more you know about the past, the better prepared you are for the future.
In her classic history of the causes of World War I “The Guns of August”, the great historian Barbara Tuchman chronicled how rigid alliances and overweening national pride sparked one of the deadliest European wars. The Biden Administration’s approach to the Ukraine crisis risks making the same mistakes. If a Russian invasion occurs, it will happen partially because of Biden’s confusing rhetoric which fails to heed the lessons of history.
The similarities to the drivers of World War I are eerie. Like today, that conflict began in an Eastern European state that was not formally aligned with any of the major European powers. In the case of World War I, the conflict was sparked by the assassination of a prince of the Austro-Hungarian empire by a Serbian nationalist in Serbia. Austria-Hungary openly talked about annexing Serbia into its empire. When Austria mobilized to invade Serbia in retaliation, Russia backed the Serbs out of pan-Slavic loyalty. This drew Austria’s ally Germany into the conflict and Russia’s ally France in response. Britain tried to distance itself, but joined the war when Germany invaded Belgium, also a nonaligned nation. In the end, two great European alliances sleepwalked into a bloody conflict not because of any direct threat to their national security, but due to ethnic and national pride and outdated alliances.
Today, the Biden Administration is hyping a threat to a country unaligned with us and thus risking a wider conflict. Their stated reasons appeal to the worst instincts of unipolar liberal hegemonism. Indeed, by constantly talking about the imminence of an invasion, we are goading the Russians to do it by poking at the inferiority complex they have had for centuries.
A foreign policy realist would see Ukraine as an opportunity, not a crisis. We start with the basic premise that we make our foreign policy, not Putin or any other nation. Our short-term goal should be to declare that while the US supports Ukrainian sovereignty, it is not in our national interest to defend it and so Ukraine is not a candidate for NATO membership. The President’s disclaimer of intent to station missiles in Ukraine was helpful, but then contradicted by rhetoric threatening to impose “long-term consequences that will undermine Russia’s ability to compete economically and strategically”. See the President’s statement of February 15, 2022 here. Instead, any talk of economic and other sanctions should be measured and leave room for tougher action in future conflicts. Otherwise, we risk the mistake of driving Russia to consider a wider conflict against the Baltic states and other NATO members.
Moreover, we should not be dictating Ukraine’s foreign policy any more than Russia should. This means we should not be negotiating with Russia about Ukraine’s future if simply because it implies acceptance of a permanent Russian sphere of influence in Eastern Europe In a G0 world of increasing equality of power, it should be our long-term policy to oppose this kind of domination. Biden betrays his stated commitment to “the right of countless countries to choose their own destiny, and the right of people to determine their own futures”, when he negotiates with Russia about Ukraine’s future and threatens Germany with a promise to stop the Nord Stream pipeline. A better response would be to use this opportunity to discuss a restructuring of NATO to tailor it to current and future European geopolitical realities; in particular, Europe’s economic strength and thus capability to defend itself from Russian aggression.
Theodore Roosevelt was not afraid of war, but also was an avid historian. He was also proud that no American soldier had bee killed during his time in office. He would have appreciated the lessons of the guns of August and the importance of tailoring our foreign policy to the particularities of the times (see this previous post). The United States needs to cool the rhetoric about Ukraine and save our economic and military gunpowder for more serious threats to our national security in our own hemisphere and elsewhere.