Sunday 23 January 2022

How to solve the Ukraine crisis


Paul Gottfried observed that for the neo-cons it is always 1938. The Churchillian mythology of the origins of the Second World War is a powerful as ever or more so judging by people objecting to Robert Harris, in his film screenplay about the Munich crisis trying to rehabilitate Chamberlain. 

It seems the neo-cons or people who think like them are running things again in the US and UK. I don't think they went away but under Donald Trump's administration they were suppressed. They are the foreign policy arm of the Swamp. 

The British defence secretary who regrets not taking in many more Afghan refugees has sent materiel to Ukraine. 

He thinks Russians invading Ukraine are a threat to Great Britain. Meanwhile several Afghan refugees who hope to go to the USA are held in Kosovo suspected of being terrorists. 

Pat Buchanan is right. NATO should declare that it will not admit any new members.

When Fukuyama declared the end of history I thought him absurd. I was a foreign policy realist without knowing it. 

Much later I came to understand the foreign policy liberals - why should free democratic countries make war one another?

But Austria, France and Germany had universal manhood suffrage in 1914. (England, Hungary, Turkey and Russia did not.) More recently we have seen democratic countries start a number of wars to export their democratic liberal values.

I largely agree with and quote from an essay in Foreign Policy by Professor Stephen Walt of Harvard University, who agrees with Pat Buchanan. The essay is entitled

Liberal Illusions Caused the Ukraine Crisis

Had U.S. policymakers reflected on their own country’s history and geographic sensitivities, they would have understood how enlargement appeared to their Russian counterparts. As journalist Peter Beinart recently noted, the United States has repeatedly declared the Western Hemisphere to be off-limits to other great powers and has threatened or used force on numerous occasions to make that declaration stick. During the Cold War, for example, the Reagan administration was so alarmed by the revolution in Nicaragua (a country whose population was smaller than New York City’s) that it organized a rebel army to overthrow the ruling socialist Sandinistas. If Americans could worry that much about a tiny country like Nicaragua, why was it so hard to understand why Russia might have some serious misgivings about the steady movement of the world’s mightiest alliance toward its borders? Realism explains why great powers tend to be extremely sensitive to the security environment in their immediate neighborhoods, but the liberal architects of enlargement simply could not grasp this. It was a monumental failure of empathy with profound strategic consequences.

Compounding the error is NATO’s repeated insistence that enlargement is an open-ended process and any country meeting the membership criteria is eligible to join. That’s not quite what the NATO treaty says, by the way; Article 10 merely states: “The Parties may, by unanimous agreement, invite any other European State in a position to further the principles of this Treaty and to contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area to accede to this Treaty.” The key word here is “may”—no nation has the right to join NATO and certainly not if its entrance would make other members less secure. Details aside, shouting this goal from the rooftops was foolhardy and unnecessary. Any military alliance can incorporate new members if the existing parties agree to do so, and NATO had done just that on several occasions. But openly proclaiming an active and unlimited commitment to moving eastward was bound to further heighten Russian fears.

...It is commonplace in the West to defend NATO expansion and blame the Ukraine crisis solely on Putin. The Russian leader deserves no sympathy, as his repressive domestic policies, obvious corruption, repeated lying, and murderous campaigns against Russian exiles who pose no danger to his regime make abundantly clear. Russia has also trampled on the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, which provided security assurances to Ukraine in exchange for its relinquishing the nuclear arsenal it inherited from the Soviet Union. These and other actions have raised legitimate concerns about Russian intentions, and the illegal seizure of Crimea has turned Ukrainian and European opinion sharply against Moscow. If Russia has obvious reasons to worry about NATO enlargement, its neighbors have ample reason to worry about Russia as well.

But Putin is not solely responsible for the ongoing crisis over Ukraine, and moral outrage over his actions or character is not a strategy. Nor are more and tougher sanctions likely to cause him to surrender to Western demands. Unpleasant as it may be, the United States and its allies need to recognize that Ukraine’s geopolitical alignment is a vital interest for Russia—one it is willing to use force to defend—and this is not because Putin happens to be a ruthless autocrat with a nostalgic fondness for the old Soviet past. Great powers are never indifferent to the geostrategic forces arrayed on their borders, and Russia would care deeply about Ukraine’s political alignment even if someone else were in charge. U.S. and European unwillingness to accept this basic reality is a major reason the world is in this mess today.

That said, Putin has made this problem more difficult by trying to extract major concessions at gunpoint. Even if his demands were entirely reasonable (and some of them aren’t), the United States and the rest of NATO have good reason to resist his attempt at blackmail. Once again, realism helps you understand why: In a world where every state is ultimately on its own, signaling that you can be blackmailed may encourage the blackmailer to make new demands.

To get around this problem, the two sides would have to transform this negotiation from one that looks like blackmail to one that looks more like mutual backscratching....


Yet with a weak hand to play, the U.S. negotiating team is apparently still insisting that Ukraine retain the option of joining NATO at some point in the future, which is precisely the outcome Moscow wants to foreclose. If the United States and NATO want to solve this via diplomacy, they are going to have to make real concessions and may not get everything they might want. I don’t like this situation any more than you do, but that’s the price to be paid for unwisely expanding NATO beyond reasonable limits.

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