“Putin only understands the language of strength” has become the unanimous position among elite decision-makers within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Germany, as a last holdout, has now embraced the arming of Ukraine in furtherance of what the U.S. State Department is calling an effort “in support of Ukraine in response to Russia’s premeditated, unprovoked and unjustified war against Ukraine.”
To coordinate this initiative, the U.S., vowing to “move heaven and earth to help Ukraine win the fight against Russia’s unprovoked aggression,” convened a working group of defense ministers from some 40 nations at its military base in Ramstein, Germany, to systematically bolster the defense capabilities of Ukraine.
U.S. interest in the militarization of Ukraine, however, well pre-dates the February 2022 Russian invasion.
In 2008, President George W. Bush pushed for the inclusion of Ukraine in NATO’s Membership Action Program over vehement Russian opposition. In the years leading up to the Euromaidan uprisings, the U.S. “indirectly and discretely” supported movements opposing the then pro-Russian Ukrainian government.
Following the 2014-2015 Ukraine crisis, the floodgates for defense support opened wide. Since 2014, the U.S. has provided more than $6.4 billion in security assistance, including Stinger anti-aircraft systems, Javelin anti-armor systems, Switchblade Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems, Howitzers, tactical vehicles, helicopters, armored personnel carriers, extensive munitions, tactical equipment, and more.
This military support has been coupled with increased incorporation of Ukraine in NATO operations. Ukraine has been invited to participate in multiple NATO exercises in recent years, including the Rapid Trident 21 Ukrainian-led, U.S.-facilitated military training exercise along with NATO partner nations in September 2021.
Since the outbreak of the war, the U.S. has been showering Ukraine with more than $4 billion in pledged security support within the first month of the conflict alone. Most recently, Congress passed and President Biden signed a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine much of which goes toward military assistance through September: that’s more than $100 million per day.
This strategy of heavily militarizing Ukraine raises several critical questions: What is the end objective and can it be achieved at acceptable cost?
With regard to the first, the narrative generally presented to the public is that military support is intended to help the people of Ukraine defend their nation in a fight for freedom.
If this is the objective, then mere cursory contemplation of the second question reveals a distinct ambiguity surrounding the militarization approach. Extending the war indefinitely—through continuous armament of Ukraine over encouraging its earliest possible cessation through negotiation—will lead all but inevitably to the ever-greater destruction of Ukraine.
Russian acceptance of a Ukrainian military victory in the traditional sense before the utter ruination of the country is little more than fantastical.
It is apparent, though, that the long-standing U.S. interest in the militarization of Ukraine has less to do with the Ukrainian nation and people and more with debilitating Russia.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin plainly provided in a recent statement that the U.S. would like “to see Russia weakened…” To this end, a grueling war of attrition in Ukraine, fueled by a steady supply of Western arms, provides a strategic mechanism for slowly bleeding Russia out.
Be this the actual goal, then here too the second question should raise serious concerns. One obvious cost of achieving this objective is acceptance of and active contribution to the annihilation of Ukraine, rendering any overt professions of solidarity disingenuous.
Another cost is the creation of potentially catastrophic escalation risk. The extensive involvement of the U.S. and its Western allies in the provision of arms, intelligence and training to Ukraine make the full-blown outbreak of a World War III perilously acute. No decisive winner would emerge from such a war between adversaries presiding over 90% of the world’s nuclear arms reserves (i.e., the U.S. and Russia) and advanced conventional weaponry. Instead, mass destruction would ensue—including, in the worst case, obliteration of much of the planet, should the conflict escalate to the strategic nuclear level.
A simple cost-benefit analysis should indicate to rational minds that this militarized approach to the Ukraine situation cannot possibly bring to fruition amorphous illusions of a Western victory without incursion of overwhelmingly high costs. So why maintain this suspect direction?
The official, publicly disseminated rationale is essentially that no other option exists—that Putin’s imperial ambitions to reconstitute the former Soviet Union in dictatorial and aggressive fashion can only be countered by force; that the implications of this conflict transcend the Ukrainian borders, giving rise to a new ideological clash between “democracy and autocracy, between liberty and repression”; and that the very future of Western values may hang in the balance.
Closer inspection reveals this narrative to be dubious, if not tending toward propagandistic. A long history of NATO expansionism and direct U.S. interference in Ukraine, despite clearly articulated Russian security concerns, serves as a convincing alternative explanation for Russia’s unjustifiable, but understandable, actions.
While the Cuban missile crisis made clear that U.S. security concerns surrounding Russian military advances in sovereign states near American borders are to be respected, Western leaders have consistently appeared unwilling to return the favor and recognize comparable Russian concerns. Upon drawing attention to this obvious insight, Pope Francis drew high-level criticism for, inter alia, veering toward “conspiracy theor[ies].”
A clear alternative to “fighting Russia to the last Ukrainian,” as former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Chas Freeman, Jr., put it, is to genuinely seek a diplomatic solution that would end the war and save Ukrainian lives—not prolong it and further sacrifice them.
Assuming Russia’s motives really do derive from concerns over Ukraine falling under a U.S.-led, hostile military alliance, then Ukrainian acceptance of a neutral status—akin to Austria or Mexico—might serve as the basis for a peace deal to end Russian hostilities.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has previously indicated willingness to discuss neutrality in exchange for security guarantees. Pursuit of this route has, however, been thwarted by the West’s persistent arms transfers. Whether Russia would at this point accept a negotiated settlement is uncertain. The possibility should nonetheless be seriously pursued as a first option, favorable to the destructive and dangerous militarization approach.
In addition to the West’s selective disregard of much of the pre-history leading up to the present war, its sanctimonious invocation of “values” is also shamelessly hypocritical.
In the first instance, it should be duly noted that the U.S., with the Bush doctrine of preemption, was the architect of the notion and practice of “preemptive war”—little more than a sanitized name for the classic war of aggression, identified as the “supreme international crime” during the Nuremberg Trials following World War II. The archetypal example of such an aggressive war in recent times was the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, with its verifiably false pretext, ample war crimes and atrocities and lasting deleterious consequences.
For Europe’s part, it largely refrained from denouncing U.S. aggression, let alone imposing sanctions, urging criminal investigation, and hanging Iraqi flags from official buildings. Instead, it sat by while continuing to support the broader network of U.S. “counter-terror” operations born of the infamous Bush doctrine. For U.S. officials and their European colleagues to now cite international law and call for prosecution of Russians before international courts is plainly an instance of unabashed hypocrisy.
It does not end there though. Inconvenient truths undermine self-righteous Western appeals to freedom and democracy as well. Impassioned defenses of the freedom of states to choose alliance affiliations in the case of Ukraine’s desired NATO accession are indefensibly absent in other contexts. For instance, the U.S. recently responded threateningly that it would “respond accordingly” should the Solomon Islands make use of their right to freedom of alliance affiliation to enter into security arrangements with China.
Furthermore, a severely checkered past undermines U.S. claims of leading Western allies in the championing of democracy. The Center for American Progress reported that, while the U.S. has loudly touted its pro-democracy positions around the world, its policies in its own hemisphere have “eroded” its leadership in this regard.
These policies include the suppression of democracy in favor of supporting brutal dictatorships that goes back to the 1954 ouster of the democratically elected government in Guatemala, followed by complicity in coup d’états in Paraguay, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Nicaragua, and more, leading to egregious human rights violations. This ignominious track record continues to the present with, inter alia, internationally condemned economic strangulation of Cuba and a range of tactics to undermine the democratically elected government in Venezuela.
And this is just in Latin and South America. The U.S. has a similarly unimpressive record around many other parts of the globe, while Europe and Western allies continue to go along with this agenda and turn a blind eye.
The war in Ukraine is undeniably terrible and is causing great suffering for the Ukrainian people. It is not, however, the epicenter of a new “clash” between values of freedom versus suppression or good versus evil, as President Biden and his Western colleagues disseminate to the public. It is a garden variety war over geopolitical interests. The U.S., through NATO, seeks expansion of its influence and a corresponding diminution of Russian military and economic strength (while, in the process, benefiting its arms industry and creating enhanced markets for its gas producers). Russia seeks to counteract this and loosen the U.S. grip on Europe.
The approach of militarizing Ukraine is strategically ill-conceived, dangerous and inhumane. A genuine and concerted effort to bring about a diplomatic resolution to hostilities and pave the way for a broader plan to cooperatively reduce tensions with Russia is what is so desperately required now. Such a course would best serve Ukraine, the West and, indeed, all humanity.
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