Tuesday 28 June 2022

John Mearsheimer's latest lecture: 'The causes and consequences of the Ukraine war', given 16 June 2022


I regret my eighteen years without television. A short news bulletin from, say, the dreary Euronews would have kept me better informed. But starting my day with BBC propaganda is bad for the soul, I decided. In fact all TV is bad for the soul, for several reasons.

Thanks to the wonders of technology I can get YouTube on my new telly and so I watched John Mearsheimer's latest lecture on Ukraine. I recommend you do too. It's here and not very long.

(By the way, like most American academics he's a left-wing Democrat. He likes Sanders.)

If watching a talk is too time consuming, I made a note of some points

Ukraine is already badly damaged and faces much more damage. 

The war will last months or years and is effectively war between America and Russia.

Russia will not give up her territorial gains or the Ukrainian ports (unless presumably forced to do so by Ukraine).

Biden started sending large amounts of armaments to Ukraine when he took office in January 2021.

"There is a serious possibility that one side will begin to lose badly." 

If Russia does so she may use nuclear weapons. Nato planned to do this if they were losing badly in West Germany.

The war will poison international relations for years to come.

Nato countries are united for now but conflicts are likely to emerge.

"The United States and its allies are mainly responsible for this train wreck." 

Bush 2 began the course of events that culminated in the present war at the Nato conference in Bucharest in 2008, when he said Nato would be extended to Ukraine and Georgia, but all three of his successors are also responsible. 

"The tragic truth is that had the United States not pursued the goal of Nato expansion Crimea would still be Ukrainian." 

Do I agree? 

Yes. Ever since I started reading Professor Mearsheimer fifteen or so years ago I have pretty much always agreed with him. 

He said in 2014 that he has a 19th century mind and that when he goes to China or Russia he's among 'my people' because they have 19th century minds too, unlike in Washington DC where they have 21st century minds. 

I have a 19th century mind and studied 19th century wars at university, which is why I think he is right. 

However the people at the top in Moscow all have 19th century minds, yet were astonished by the invasion of Ukraine and thought it a terrible mistake. 

From this it is fair to say that Professor Mearsheimer explains the invasion and American responsibility for it but more responsibility rests with Vladimir Putin.  To explain all is never to pardon all.

I think that had no move been made to extend Nato to Ukraine problems might well still have arisen, but not a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Instead of this intelligent analysis, my newspaper today has a British general saying that this is 'our 1937 moment'. This makes a change as it is normally always 1938.

Come to think of it, astute diplomacy could possibly have prevented the Second World War.


  1. Many thanks for the summary. I can't believe the folly we're engaged in.

  2. Russia has historically preyed on defenseless societies, and there is not one bit of evidence that Russia wouldn't have invaded Ukraine on the absence of NATO agitation. In fact, Russia meddled in Ukraine and went as far as to poison the leading presidential candidates before the West even became interested in Ukraine.

    1. I noted as a VIth former that there are 2 ways of seeing Russia, as defensive and as aggressor. Byron said he had been raped more often than anyone since the fall of Troy and many tried to rape Russia from Charles XII and Napoleon onwards.

    2. Indeed Russia saw Ukraine as her client state - thsat is why this invasion happened. You and Prof. Mearsheimer and I are in agreement on that

  3. I do not hear the US in Madrid - subtly implying itself [David Ignatius tomorrow morning] & no more. Yes, there are several other NATO stances to follow. Much is public virtually : "NATO Public Forum" on Talque. Tomorrow there will be RO speakers in two sessions out of three [not boring].

  4. If we were to use traditional measures for understanding leaders, which involve the defense of borders and national flourishing, Putin would count as the pre-eminent statesman of our time.

    When Putin took power in the winter of 1999-2000, his country was defenseless. It was bankrupt. It was being carved up by its new kleptocratic elites, in collusion with its old imperial rivals, the Americans. Putin changed that. In the first decade of this century, he did what Kemal Atatürk had done in Turkey in the 1920s. Out of a crumbling empire, he rescued a nation-state, and gave it coherence and purpose. He disciplined his country’s plutocrats. He restored its military strength. And he refused, with ever blunter rhetoric, to accept for Russia a subservient role in an American-run world system drawn up by foreign politicians and business leaders. His voters credit him with having saved his country.

    Putin did not come out of nowhere. Russian people not only tolerate him, they revere him. You can get a better idea of why he has ruled for 17 years if you remember that, within a few years of Communism’s fall, average life expectancy in Russia had fallen below that of Bangladesh. That is an ignominy that falls on Boris Yeltsin. Yeltsin’s reckless opportunism made him an indispensable foe of Communism in the late 1980s. But it made him an inadequate founding father for a modern state. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, whose writings about Communism give him some claim to be considered the greatest man of the twentieth century, believed the post-Communist leaders had made the country even worse. In the year 2000 Solzhenitsyn wrote: “As a result of the Yeltsin era, all the fundamental sectors of our political, economic, cultural, and moral life have been destroyed or looted. Will we continue looting and destroying Russia until nothing is left?” That was the year Putin came to power. He was the answer to Solzhenitsyn’s question.

    There are two things Putin did that cemented the loyalty of Solzhenitsyn and other Russians—he restrained the billionaires who were looting the country, and he restored Russia’s standing abroad.

    So why are people thinking about Putin as much as they do? Because he has become a symbol of national self-determination. Populist conservatives see him the way progressives once saw Fidel Castro, as the one person who says he won’t submit to the world that surrounds him. You didn’t have to be a Communist to appreciate the way Castro, whatever his excesses, was carving out a space of autonomy for his country.

    In the same way, Putin’s conduct is bound to win sympathy even from some of Russia’s enemies, the ones who feel the international system is not delivering for them. Generally, if you like that system, you will consider Vladimir Putin a menace. If you don’t like it, you will have some sympathy for him. Putin has become a symbol of national sovereignty in its battle with globalism. That turns out to be the big battle of our times.

    How to Think About Vladimir Putin
    Christopher Caldwell
    Imprimis, MARCH 2017 | VOLUME 46, ISSUE 3

    1. He seems more interested in nation than borders, at least where the first overlaps. Not that Europe is not calling its one success enlargement. Not much of an idea of quantity without locality [to whom abstractions concern]. I am not happy for Bucovina, but then, what else is new.

    2. Putin repeatedly said that his country was not an ethnic state, but rather a multi ethnic state (in reality, an empire). He praised the multicultural aspects of Russia repeatedly. So he is a globalist as well, perhaps on a smaller, more regional scale.

    3. Is that the 'federation of independent' etc? - even the name is paradoxical somewhat. Then the latest SCO doc tells of a novelty species of creative commons. Words - yet all do talk.

    4. 'regional globalist'


    5. I had not noticed the wording, but now that you picked it, I sure do: it reminds of a first & controversial then, mention of Chapter VIII of the UN Charter as the lead to resolution for Syria & further on (that war had just started, and the proponent of regionalism was Anne Applebaum). Even when acting under some UN header, I have a hard time finding anything that is overarching regionalism in Russian gestures, for what it does not matter... I am not wishing for anything beyond such scale.