The Fight in Ukraine and United State’s Strategic Interests, by American Citizen, Sojourner
I’ll leave it to the Public Diplomacy and/or PR folks as to how best explain this to the American (and world) public, but if I were a staffer/planner/analyst in the National Security Council I would be fully on-board with supporting Ukraine in gaining a comprehensive victory over Russia. And the current progress – albeit slow – of the Ukrainian military as I write this in early September means that a comprehensive victory is within the realm of the possible (I define “comprehensive victory” as one where Ukraine – among other things – reestablishes its pre-2014 boundaries).
Why would I be on board? Simply answered, I’d be on board because a comprehensive Ukrainian victory serves US strategic/foreign policy interests. Let’s look at a few things/issues that might be gained (in no real particular order).
First, Ukraine regaining it pre-2014 borders reverse a US policy mistake whereby the US (and the rest of the world) channeled Neville Chamberlain as it watched and did nothing as Putin channeled his inner Adolf and seized Crimea. Russia doing this and the US abiding it was a complete embarrassment to US prestige as we failed to abide by the Budapest memorandum. Putin completed his own “reset” (and we didn’t even get a “reset button” as a souvenir).
Second, a comprehensive Ukrainian victory re-establishing its pre-2014 borders should trigger a discussion over Sevastapol. If Russia is decisively defeated I would push for Russia abandoning its base there as part of the reparations package. Russia would have to make do with Novorossiysk or Rostov on the Don (Sea of Azov). It needs to be made clear that the Black Sea is no longer “Russia’s Lake.”
Third, Ukraine should be “fast-ish tracked” for membership in the European Union (and eventually, NATO). This would serve as a monumental step in establishing and securing the entirety of Europe (minus Belarus and European Russia). Two objections come to mind, but – to me – they hold no water. First, Russia would complain about NATO being right on its door step. Too bad; Russia caused the mess it would find itself in. And the complaint that it has no buffer zones to protect it? Well, again, Russia caused the mess and it still would have Belarus (or would it?). Second, “But Ukraine is corrupt!” This is an objection raised by naïve middle-schoolers or by those who think their audience is. You work with what you have and if “corruption” is going to be the disqualification criterion, then I guess we should be prepared to work alone.
Bottom line, Ukraine in Europe helps Europe and a more secure/capable Europe helps us, the US.
Fourth, a defeated Russia would be annoying, but it wouldn’t have the power (or ability to project power) to be effectively used by China should China decide it’s now time to go kinetic over Taiwan, the South China Sea, etc. Since 1949 the US, the Soviet Union/Russia, and China have been in a “triangle dance” to see which two countries could work together against the third (if you understand this, you understand why “Nixon goes to China”). It’s clear that Russia has been trying to enlist China against the US/West, but as the Ukraine war goes on China continues to play wait and see. A Russian defeat might mean China no longer has a Russia to get as its second partner. So even though some have argued that Ukraine successfully reestablishing its pre-2014 boundaries might cause China to think it can do the same, re: Taiwan, I think a) it’s “apples and oranges” and b) China might calculate that it has a correlation of forces problem and decide not to go kinetic.
Fifth, a Russian defeat might allow for the resurrection of Trans-Caspian energy projects, projects which never stood a chance of succeeding due to Russian concerns that energy routes bypassing it would threaten Russia’s stranglehold on energy going to Europe.
Sixth, a Russian defeat might help us remedy our mistake in letting Putin get away with his version of the Ruhr: his 2008 annexation of the Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. I make no comment on the validity of the complaints of the non-Georgian residents of those two provinces; my issue concerns how the provinces were sliced away from Georgia. I also make no comment on how to resolve any of the issues should the annexation be reversed. My interest lies in righting a US wrong.
Seventh (and staying in the Caucasus), one can’t help but wonder if the Gordian Knot that is the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict might be easier to unravel with Russia no longer being able to provide cover to either party (most recently, Armenia).
And finally, eighth, what about Belarus? With Russia no longer providing cover or bullying (you choose) could we see something politically positive come out of Minsk? Lukashenko may be Belarus’ “president for life,” but I bet his real occupation is weatherman. In other words, he is always watching to see which way the wind blows.
I think what some people miss as we discuss Ukraine and why it achieving a comprehensive victory is in our (i.e., the US) national interest is that we put ourselves in this position and a Ukrainian victory helps us get out of it.
For me, one of the major reasons we find ourselves where we are is Afghanistan. When we decided sometime post-2002 to feed the mission creep monster and turn Afghanistan into a nation-building exercise (instead of the punitive operation it was planned to be) we became hostage to Putin; he had us over a barrel. Why? Because Afghanistan was supplied by two routes: the more well-known route through Pakistan and the lesser-known (and perhaps, more important) northern route that transited Russia. Bottom line, if we wanted to be able to use the northern route we had to play by Putin’s rules. And squeeze us he did.
Why else would we have so thoroughly caved over Georgia in 2008? The surge in Iraq (and our presence there) was politically important in a presidential election year; could you imagine if Bush/the Republicans also lost Afghanistan because we lost the northern supply route?
Why else would we have caved over Crimea in 2014? I thought we had a successful reset? But we did nothing in 2014 because Afghanistan was Obama’s “good war” and could you imagine if he/the Democrats lost Afghanistan because we lost the northern supply route?
Similarly, Europe wouldn’t be in the energy position it finds itself in now had the Trans-Caspian energy projects pushed forward. But they didn’t and I believe the need for US/NATO to keep the northern supply route functioning played a role in quashing those projects.
A comprehensive Ukrainian victory does not come without risk. There is always “the threat of a Russian fruitcake launching nukes.” But honestly, the threat of a Russian fruitcake launching nukes has been a risk since at least 1959 when the first Soviet ICBM unit became operational.
And I imagine a Russian defeat would be hard on the Baltic nations as Russia would continue to see them as easy targets for the occasional mugging or two. Or three. And Kaliningrad isn’t going anywhere. This is why Finland and Sweden joining NATO is so critically important (the Finnish-Estonian bond remains quite strong, I believe).
But risk is part and parcel of international affairs. And this (i.e., Ukraine) is a risk worth continuing to take. A comprehensive Ukrainian victory is good for Europe (and thus, good for us), we can right some pretty significant wrongs (wrongs that have hurt our world standing), and helping is – frankly – doing the right thing (meaning that our support is correct from both the cynical realist and moral humanitarian view). So whether you are a Democrat, Republican, someone in between, or none of the above, if you are an American you should support Ukraine. Whether you’re a fan of the current resident of the White House or not, what we’re doing is the smart move.
Sojourner, is a pseudonym for a former US Defense Attache with experience in Central Asia
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