Εισαγωγικό σημείωμα Π. Ήφαιστου: Είναι λογικό η κρίση στην Ουκρανία να κάνει πολλούς να διερωτώνται για τα αίτια και να ανησυχούν για την πορεία του κόσμου. Το ίδιο ισχύει για την κρίση στη Μέση Ανατολή και στη Βόρεια Αφρική όπου μετά τις επεμβάσεις των τελευταίων ετών η κατάσταση είναι κάτι περισσότερο από φρικτή. Ακολουθούν τρία κείμενα. Το πρώτο είναι ένα άρθρο για τον ρόλο του τύπου. Το δεύτερο είναι μια ήδη πολυσυζητημένη συνέντευξη του Henry Kissinger στο Spiegel και το τρίτο ένα άρθρο του John Mearsheimer στο Foreign Affairs για την Ουκρανία. Ο αγγλομαθής ενδιαφερόμενος μπορεί να τα διατρέξει. Σημειώνουμε μόνο ότι, ενώ ο Kissinger είναι αναμφίβολα ένας πολύ αμφιλεγόμενος πολιτικός των ΗΠΑ, λίγοι γνωρίζουν ότι είναι και ένας σημαντικός διεθνολόγος που πριν γίνει Σύμβουλος Εθνικής Ασφαλείας του Αμερικανού προέδρου και στη συνέχεια Υπουργός Εξωτερικών είχε γράψει σημαντικά βιβλία για το σύγχρονο διεθνές σύστημα. Στο βιβλίο του το οποίο κυκλοφόρησε πρόσφατα με τίτλο «Παγκόσμια τάξη» αλλά και στις συνεντεύξεις εδώ κρούει τον κώδωνα του κινδύνου για τον σπασμωδικό και συχνά ερασιτεχνικό τρόπο που κινείται η αμερικανική διπλωματία. Ο John Mearsheimer, ακόμη ένας διεθνολόγος της Θουκυδίδειας παράδοσης και συγγραφέας ενός από τα σημαντικότερα κείμενα διεθνών σχέσεων για τον 21 αιώνα, το Η τραγωδία της πολιτικής των μεγάλων δυνάμεων, ο οποίος έχει ερευνήσεις και γράψει εις βάθος για τις πλανητικές ισορροπίες, εξηγεί ότι η πολιτική που ακολούθησαν τα δυτικά κράτη στην Ουκρανία είναι αδιέξοδη και ότι θα πρέπει να σκεφτούν με ρεαλιστικούς όρους τη γεωπολιτική κατάσταση στην Ευρασία και τα ζητήματα ασφάλειας που τίθενται.
New York Times propagandists exposed: Finally, the truth about Ukraine and Putin emerges
NATO was the aggressor and got Ukraine wrong. Many months later, the media has eventually figured out the truth
Vladimir Putin (Credit: AP/Mark Lennihan/Photo montage by Salon)
Well, well, well. Gloating is unseemly, especially in public, but give me this one, will you?
It has been a long and lonely winter defending the true version of events in Ukraine, but here comes the sun. We now have open acknowledgment in high places that Washington is indeed responsible for this mess, the prime mover, the “aggressor,” and finally this term is applied where it belongs. NATO, once again, is revealed as causing vastly more trouble than it has ever prevented.
Washington, it is now openly stated, has been wrong, wrong, wrong all along. The commentaries to be noted do not take on the media, but I will, and in language I use advisedly. With a few exceptions they are proven liars, liars, liars — not only conveying the official version of events but willfully elaborating on it off their own bats.
Memo to the New York Times’ Moscow bureau: Vicky Nuland, infamous now for desiring sex with the European Union, has just FedExed little gold stars you can affix to your foreheads, one for each of you. Wear them with pride for you will surely fight another day, having learned nothing, and ignore all ridicule. If it gets too embarrassing, tell people they have something to do with the holidays.
O.K., gloat concluded. To the business at hand.
We have had, in the last little while, significant analyses of the Ukraine crisis, each employing that method the State Department finds deadly: historical perspective. In alengthy interview with Der Spiegel, the German newsmagazine, none other than Henry Kissinger takes Washington carefully but mercilessly to task. “Does one achieve a world order through chaos or through insight?” Dr. K. asks.
Here is one pertinent bit:
KISSINGER. … But if the West is honest with itself, it has to admit that there were mistakes on its side. The annexation of Crimea was not a move toward global conquest. It was not Hitler moving into Czechoslovakia.
SPIEGEL. What was it then?
KISSINGER. One has to ask oneself this question: Putin spent tens of billions of dollars on the Winter Olympics in Sochi. The theme of the Olympics was that Russia is a progressive state tied to the West through its culture and, therefore, it presumably wants to be part of it. So it doesn’t make any sense that a week after the close of the Olympics, Putin would take Crimea and start a war over Ukraine. So one has to ask oneself, Why did it happen?
SPIEGEL. What you’re saying is that the West has at least a kind of responsibility for the escalation?
KISSINGER. Yes, I am saying that. Europe and America did not understand the impact of these events, starting with the negotiations about Ukraine’s economic relations with the European Union and culminating in the demonstrations in Kiev. All these, and their impact, should have been the subject of a dialogue with Russia. This does not mean the Russian response was appropriate.
Interesting. Looking for either insight or honesty in Obama’s White House or in his State Department is a forlorn business, and Kissinger surely knows this. So he is, as always, a cagey critic. But there are numerous things here to consider, and I will come back to them.
First, let us note that Kissinger’s remarks follow an essay titled “Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault.” The subhead is just as pithy: “The Liberal Delusions That Provoked Putin.”
Wow. As display language I would speak for that myself. And wow again for where the piece appears: In the September-October edition of Foreign Affairs, that radical rag published at East 68th Street and Park Avenue, the Manhattan home of the ever-subverting Council on Foreign Relations.
Finally and most recently, we have Katrina vanden Heuvel weighing in on the Washington Post’s opinion page the other day with “Rethinking the Cost of Western Intervention in Ukraine,” in which the Nation’s noted editor asserts, “One year after the United States and Europe celebrated the February coup that ousted the corrupt but constitutionally elected president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, liberal and neoconservative interventionists have much to answer for.”
Emphatically so. Here is one of vanden Heuvel’s more salient observations:
The U.S. government and the mainstream media present this calamity as a morality tale. Ukrainians demonstrated against Yanukovych because they wanted to align with the West and democracy. Putin, as portrayed by Hillary Rodham Clinton among others, is an expansionist Hitler who has trampled international law and must be made to “pay a big price” for his aggression. Isolation and escalating economic sanctions have been imposed. Next, if Senate hawks such as John McCain and Lindsey Graham have their way, Ukraine will be provided with arms to “deter” Putin’s “aggression.” But this perspective distorts reality.
I can anticipate with ease a thoughtful reader or two writing in the comment thread, “But we knew all this already. What’s the point?” We have known all this since the beginning, indeed, thanks to perspicacious writers such as Robert Parry and Steve Weissman. Parry, like your columnist, is a refugee from the mainstream who could take no more; Weissman, whose credentials go back to the Free Speech Movement, seems fed up with the whole nine and exiled himself to France.
Something I have wanted to say for months is now right: Thank you, colleagues. Keep on keeping on.
Also to be noted in this vein is Stephen Cohen, the distinguished Princeton Russianist, whose essay in the Nation last February gave superb and still useful perspective, a must-read if you propose to take Ukraine seriously and get beyond the propaganda. (Vanden Heuvel rightly noted him, too, wrongly omitting that she and Cohen are spouses. A report to the Ethics Police has been filed anonymously.)
These people’s reporting and analyses require no imprimatur from the mainstream press. Who could care? This is not the point. The points as I read them are two.
One, there is no shred of doubt in my mind that the work of the above-mentioned and a few others like them has been instrumental in forcing the truth of the Ukraine crisis to the surface. Miss this not. In a polity wherein the policy cliques have zero accountability to any constituency — unbelievable simply to type that phrase — getting accurate accounts and responsibly explanatory copy out — and then reading it, equally — is essential. Future historians will join me in expressing gratitude.
Two, we have indirect admissions of failure. It is highly significant that Foreign Affairs and the Washington Post, both bastions of the orthodoxy, are now willing to publish what amount to capitulations. It would be naive to think this does not reflect a turning of opinion among prominent members of the policy cliques.
I had thought for months as the crisis dragged on, this degree of disinformation cannot possibly hold. From the Nuland tape onward, too much of the underwear was visible as the trousers fell down, so to say. And now we have State and the media clerks with their pants bunched up at their ankles.
The Foreign Affairs piece is by a scholar at the University of Chicago named John Mearsheimer, whose publishing credits include “Why Leaders Lie: The Truth About Lying in International Politics” and “The Israel Lobby and American Foreign Policy,” the latter an especially gutsy undertaking. He is a soothsayer, and you find these people among the scholars every once in a while, believe it or not.
Mearsheimer was writing opinion in the Times with heads such as “Getting Ukraine Wrong” as far back as March, when the news pages were already busy doing so. In the Foreign Affairs piece, he vigorously attacks NATO expansion, citing George Kennan in his later years, when Dr. Containment was objecting strenuously to the post-Soviet push eastward and the overall perversion of his thinking by neoliberal know-nothings-read-nothings. Here is a little Mearsheimer:
… The United States and its European allies share most of the responsibility for the crisis. The taproot of the trouble is NATO enlargement, the central element of a larger strategy to move Ukraine out of Russia’s orbit and integrate it into the West. At the same time, the EU’s expansion eastward and the West’s backing of the pro-democracy movement in Ukraine—beginning with the Orange Revolution in 2004—were critical elements, too. Since the mid-1990s, Russian leaders have adamantly opposed NATO enlargement, and in recent years, they have made it clear that they would not stand by while their strategically important neighbor turned into a Western bastion. For Putin, the illegal overthrow of Ukraine’s democratically elected and pro-Russian president—which he rightly labeled a “coup”—coup—was was the final straw. He responded by taking Crimea, a peninsula he feared would host a NATO naval base, and working to destabilize Ukraine until it abandoned its efforts to join the West.
Drinks for Mearsheimer, for his plain-English use of “coup” alone, any time the professor may happen into my tiny Connecticut village. It is an extensive, thorough piece and worth the read even if Foreign Affairs is not your usual habit. His conclusion now that Ukraine is in pieces, its economy wrecked and its social fabric in shreds:
The United States and its European allies now face a choice on Ukraine. They can continue their current policy, which will exacerbate hostilities with Russia and devastate Ukraine in the process — a scenario in which everyone would come out a loser. Or they can switch gears and work to create a prosperous but neutral Ukraine, one that does not threaten Russia and allows the West to repair its relations with Moscow. With that approach, all sides would win.
Mearsheimer has as much chance of seeing this shift in policy as Kissinger has finding honesty and insight anywhere in Washington. One hope he is busy in other matters.
As to Dr. K., he reminds me at 90 of the old survivors of the Maoist revolution in China, the last few Long Marchers. They enjoy a certain immunity in their sunset years, no matter what they may say, and for this reason I have always appreciated meeting the few I have. So it is with Henry.
Did Washington in any way authorize Kissinger’s interview, as it may have the Foreign Affairs piece, given the revolving door at East 68th Street? I doubt it. Did it know this was coming. Almost certainly. A nonagenarian, Henry still travels in high policy circles. His critique on Ukraine has been evident here and there for many months.
Interesting, first, that Kissinger gave the interview to a German magazine. Nobody in the American press would have dared touch such remarks as these — they cannot, having lied so long. And Kissinger understands, surely, that the Germans are ambivalent, to put it mildly, when it comes to Washington’s aggressions against Russia.
I have been mad at Kissinger since throwing rocks at the CRS, the French riot police, outside the American embassy in Paris in the spring of 1970, when the U.S started bombing Cambodia. And I am not with him now when he asserts “the Russian response was not appropriate.”
Why not? What was Putin supposed to do when faced with the prospect of NATO and the American Navy assuming privileges on the Black Sea? Was it appropriate when Kennedy threatened Khrushchev with nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis? Arming the contras? Deposing Arbenz? Allende? Let us not get started.
Here is the thing about Henry. European by background, he understands balance-of-power politics cannot be ignored. He understands that spheres of influence must be observed. (My view, explained in an earlier column, is that they are to be acknowledged but not honored — regrettable realities that our century, best outcome, will do away with.)
We reach a new moment in the Ukraine crisis with these new analyses from people inside the tent urinating out, as they say. I have hinted previously at the lesson to be drawn. Maybe now it will be clearer to those who object.
Whatever one may think of Russia under Vladimir Putin, it is secondary at this moment — and more the business of Russians than anyone else — to something larger. This is a non-Western nation drawing a line of resistance against the advance of Anglo-American neoliberalism across the planet. This counts big, in my view. It is an important thing to do.
Some readers argue that Putin oversees a neoliberal regime himself. It is an unappealing kind of capitalism, certainly, although the centralization of the economy almost certainly reflects Putin’s strategy when faced with the need to rebuild urgently from the ungodly mess left by the U.S-beloved Yeltsin. See the above-noted piece by Stephen Cohen on this point.
For the sake of argument, let us accept the assertion: Russia is a neoliberal variant. O.K., but again, this is a Russian problem and Russians, not Americans, will solve it one way or the other — as they like and eventually. Important for us is that Putin is not pushing the model around the world, chest-out insisting that all others conform to it. This distinction counts, too.
Joseph Brodsky wrote an open letter to Václav Havel back in 1994, by which time the neoliberal orthodoxy and its evangelists were well-ensconced in Washington. The piece was titled “The Post-Communist Nightmare.” In it Brodsky was highly critical of “the cowboys of the Western industrial democracies” who, he asserted, “derive enormous moral comfort from being regarded as cowboys—first of all, by the Indians.”
“Are all the Indians now to commence imitation of the cowboys,” the Russian émigré poet asked the new president of the (also new) Czech Republic.
I view the Ukraine crisis through this lens. A huge mistake has now been acknowledged. Now it is time: Instead of complaining about Putin and what he is doing to Russians every prompt given, like trained animals, now we must complain about what America proposes doing to the rest of the world, limitlessly.
Interview with Henry Kissinger: ‘Do We Achieve World Order Through Chaos or Insight?’
Interview Conducted By Juliane von Mittelstaedt and Erich Follath
Henry Kissinger is the most famous and most divisive secretary of state the US has ever had. In an interview, he discusses his new book exploring the crises of our time, from Syria to Ukraine, and the limits of American power. He says he acted in accordance with his convictions in Vietnam.
Henry Kissinger seems more youthful than his 91 years. He is focused and affable, but also guarded, ready at any time to defend himself or brusquely deflect overly critical questions. That, of course, should come as no surprise. While his intellect is widely respected, his political legacy is controversial. Over the years, repeated attempts have been made to try him for war crimes.
From 1969 to 1977, Kissinger served under President Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, first as national security advisor and then as secretary of state. In those roles, he also carried partial responsibility for the napalm bombings in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos the killed or maimed tens of thousands of civilians. Kissinger also backed the putsch against Salvador Allende in Chile and is accused of having had knowledge of CIA murder plots. Documents declassified just a few weeks ago show that Kissinger had drawn up secret plans to launch air strikes against Cuba. The idea got scrapped after Democrat Jimmy Carter was elected in 1976.
Nevertheless, Kissinger remains a man whose presence is often welcome in the White House, where he continues to advise presidents and secretaries of state to this day.
Little in Kissinger’s early years hinted at his future meteoric rise in American politics. Born as Heinz Alfred Kissinger in Fürth, Germany in 1923, his Jewish family would later flee to the United States in 1938. After World War II, Kissinger went to Germany to assist in finding former members of the Gestapo. He later studied political science and became a professor at Harvard at the age of 40.
Kissinger recently published his 17th book, a work with the not exactly modest title “World Order.” When preparing to sit down with us for an interview, he asked that “world order” be the topic. Despite his German roots and the fact that he reads DER SPIEGEL each week on his iPad, Kissinger prefers to speak in English. After 90 minutes together in New York, Kissinger says he’s risked his neck with everything he’s told us. But of course, a man like Kissinger knows precisely what he does and doesn’t want to say.
SPIEGEL: Dr. Kissinger, when we look at the world today, it seems to be messier than ever — with wars, catastrophes and chaos everywhere. Is the world really in greater disorder than ever before?
Kissinger: It seems that it is. There is chaos threatening us, through the spread of weapons of mass destruction and cross-border terrorism. There is now a phenomenon of ungoverned territories, and we have seen in Libya, for example, that an ungoverned territory can have an enormous impact on disorder in the world. The state as a unit is under attack, not in every part of the world, but in many parts of it. But at the same time, and this seems to be a paradox, this is the first time one can talk about a world order at all.
SPIEGEL: What do you mean by that?
Kissinger: For the greatest part of history until really the very recent time, world order was regional order. This is the first time that different parts of the world can interact with every part of the world. This makes a new order for the globalized world necessary. But there are no universally accepted rules. There is the Chinese view, the Islamic view, the Western view and, to some extent, the Russian view. And they really are not always compatible.
SPIEGEL: In your new book, you frequently point to the Westphalian Peace Treaty of 1648 as a reference system for world order, as a result of the Thirty Years’ War. Why should a treaty dating back more than 350 years still be relevant today?
Kissinger: The Westphalian Peace was made after almost a quarter of the Central European population perished because of wars, disease and hunger. The treaty was based on the necessity to come to an arrangement with each other, not on some sort of superior morality. Independent nations decided not to interfere in the affairs of other states. They created a balance of power which we are missing today.
SPIEGEL: Do we need another Thirty Years’ War to create a new world order?
Kissinger: Well, that’s a very good question. Do we achieve a world order through chaos or through insight? One would think that the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the dangers of climate change and terrorism should create enough of a common agenda. So I would hope that we can be wise enough not to have a Thirty Years’ War.
SPIEGEL: So let’s talk about a concrete example: How should the West react to the Russian annexation of Crimea? Do you fear this might mean that borders in the future are no longer incontrovertible?
Kissinger: Crimea is a symptom, not a cause. Furthermore, Crimea is a special case. Ukraine was part of Russia for a long time. You can’t accept the principle that any country can just change the borders and take a province of another country. But if the West is honest with itself, it has to admit that there were mistakes on its side. The annexation of Crimea was not a move toward global conquest. It was not Hitler moving into Czechoslovakia.
SPIEGEL: What was it then?
Kissinger: One has to ask one’s self this question: Putin spent tens of billions of dollars on the Winter Olympics in Sochi. The theme of the Olympics was that Russia is a progressive state tied to the West through its culture and, therefore, it presumably wants to be part of it. So it doesn’t make any sense that a week after the close of the Olympics, Putin would take Crimea and start a war over Ukraine. So one has to ask one’s self why did it happen?
SPIEGEL: What you’re saying is that the West has at least a kind of responsibility for the escalation?
Kissinger: Yes, I am saying that. Europe and America did not understand the impact of these events, starting with the negotiations about Ukraine’s economic relations with the European Union and culminating in the demonstrations in Kiev. All these, and their impact, should have been the subject of a dialogue with Russia. This does not mean the Russian response was appropriate.
SPIEGEL: It seems you have a lot of understanding for Putin. But isn’t he doing exactly what you are warning of — creating chaos in eastern Ukraine and threatening sovereignty?
Kissinger: Certainly. But Ukraine has always had a special significance for Russia. It was a mistake not to realize that.
SPIEGEL: Relations between the West and Russia are tenser now than they have been in decades. Should we be concerned about the prospects of a new Cold War?
Kissinger: There clearly is this danger, and we must not ignore it. I think a resumption of the Cold War would be a historic tragedy. If a conflict is avoidable, on a basis reflecting morality and security, one should try to avoid it.
SPIEGEL: But didn’t the annexation of Crimea by Russia force the EU and US to react by imposing sanctions?
Kissinger: One, the West could not accept the annexation; some countermeasures were necessary. But nobody in the West has offered a concrete program to restore Crimea. Nobody is willing to fight over eastern Ukraine. That’s a fact of life. So one could say we don’t have to accept it, and we do not treat Crimea as a Russian territory under international law — just as we continued to treat the Baltic states as independent throughout Soviet rule.
SPIEGEL: Would it be better to stop sanctions even without any concessions from the Russians?
Kissinger: No. But I do have a number of problems with the sanctions. When we talk about a global economy and then use sanctions within the global economy, then the temptation will be that big countries thinking of their future will try to protect themselves against potential dangers, and as they do, they will create a mercantilist global economy. And I have a particular problem with this idea of personal sanctions. And I’ll tell you why. We publish a list of people who are sanctioned. So then, when the time comes to lift the sanctions, what are we going to say? “The following four people are now free of sanctions, and the other four are not.” Why those four? I think one should always, when one starts something, think what one wants to achieve and how it should end. How does it end?
SPIEGEL: Doesn’t that also apply to Putin, who has maneuvered himself into a corner? Does he act out of weakness or out of strength?
Kissinger: I think out of strategic weakness masked as tactical strength.
SPIEGEL: What does that mean for any interaction with him?
Kissinger: We have to remember that Russia is an important part of the international system, and therefore useful in solving all sorts of other crises, for example in the agreement on nuclear proliferation with Iran or over Syria. This has to have preference over a tactical escalation in a specific case. On the one hand it is important that Ukraine remain an independent state, and it should have the right to economic and commercial associations of its choice. But I don’t think it’s a law of nature that every state must have the right to be an ally in the frame work of NATO. You and I know that NATO will never vote unanimously for the entry of Ukraine.
SPIEGEL: But we cannot tell the Ukrainians that they are not free to decide their own future.
Kissinger: Why not?
Interview with Henry Kissinger: ‘Do We Achieve World Order Through Chaos or Insight?’
Interview Conducted By Juliane von Mittelstaedt and Erich Follath
SPIEGEL: You’re speaking like a superpower that is used to getting its way.
Kissinger: No, the United States cannot dictate, and the US should not try to dictate. It would be a mistake even to think it could. But in regards to NATO, the US will have one vote in a decision based on unanimity. The German chancellor has expressed herself in the same sense.
SPIEGEL: America is very polarized. The level of aggression in the political debate is extremely high. Is the superpower still even able to act at all?
Kissinger: I am worried about this domestic split. When I worked in Washington, political combat was tough. But there was much more cooperation and contact between opponents of the two big parties.
SPIEGEL: In last week’s elections, President Obama lost his majority in the Senate as well.
Kissinger: Technically correct. At the same time, the president is freed to stand for what is right — just as President Harry Truman did between 1946 and 1948, when he advanced the Marshall Plan after losing Congress.
SPIEGEL: The next presidential race will soon begin. Would Hillary Clinton make a good candidate?
Kissinger: I consider Hillary a friend, and I think she’s a strong person. So, yes, I think she can do the job. Generally, I think it would be better for the country if there were a change in administration. And I think we Republicans have to get a good candidate.
SPIEGEL: In your book, you write that international order “must be cultivated, not imposed.” What do you mean by that?
Kissinger: What it means is we that we Americans will be a major factor by virtue of our strengths and values. You become a superpower by being strong but also by being wise and by being farsighted. But no state is strong or wise enough to create a world order alone.
SPIEGEL: Is American foreign policy wise and determined at the moment?
Kissinger: We have the belief in America that we can change the world by not just soft power, but by actual military power. Europe doesn’t have that belief.
SPIEGEL: The American public is very reluctant to be engaged and would like to focus on domestic affairs. Obama himself talks about “nation building at home.”
Kissinger: If you look at the five wars America has fought since World War II, they all had large public support. The present war against the terror organization Islamic State has large public support. The question is what happens as the war continues. Clarity about the outcome of the war is essential.
SPIEGEL: Shouldn’t the most important objective be the protection of suffering civilians in Iraq and Syria.
Kissinger: First of all, I don’t agree that the Syrian crisis can be interpreted as a ruthless dictator against a helpless population and that the population will become democratic if you remove the dictator.
SPIEGEL: But the civilians are suffering, however you define it.
Kissinger: Yes, they are, and they deserve sympathy and humanitarian assistance. Let me just say what I think is happening. It is partly a multiethnic conflict. It is partly a rebellion against the old structure of the Middle East. And it is partly a sort of rebellion against the government. Now, if one is willing to fix all these problems and if one is willing to pay the sacrifices for fixing all these problems and if one thinks one can create something that will bring this about, then one can say, “We will apply the right to interfere,” but that means military measures and willingness to face the consequences. Look at Libya. There’s no question that it was morally justified to overthrow Muammar Gadhafi, but we were not willing to fill the vacuum afterwards. Therefore we have militias fighting against each other today. You get an ungoverned territory and an arms depot for Africa.
SPIEGEL: But we are seeing a similarly unbearable situation in Syria. The state is falling apart and terror organizations are ruling large parts of the country. Wasn’t it perhaps wrong not to intervene in order to avoid chaos that now represents a threat to us as well?
Kissinger: In my life, I have almost always been on the side of active foreign policy. But you need to know with whom you are cooperating. You need reliable partners — and I don’t see any in this conflict.
SPIEGEL: As in the Vietnam War. Do you sometimes regret your aggressive policy there?
Kissinger: You’d love me to say that.
SPIEGEL: Of course. You haven’t spoken much about it all your life.
Kissinger: I’ve spent all my life studying these things, and written a book about Vietnam called “Ending the Vietnam War” and many chapters in my memoirs on Vietnam. You have to remember that the administration in which I served inherited the war in Vietnam. Five hundred thousand Americans were deployed there by the Johnson Administration. The Nixon Administration withdrew these troops gradually, with ground combat troops being withdrawn in 1971. I can only say that I and my colleagues acted on the basis of careful thought. On the strategic directions, that was my best thinking, and I acted to the best of my convictions.
SPIEGEL: There is a sentence in your book, on the last page, that can be understood as a kind of self-criticism. You write that you once thought you could explain history, but that today you are more modest when it comes to judging historical events.
Kissinger: I have learned, as I wrote, that history must be discovered, not declared. It’s an admission that one grows in life. It’s not necessarily a self-criticism. What I was trying to say is you should not think that you can shape history only by your will. This is also why I’m against the concept of intervention when you don’t know its ultimate implications.
SPIEGEL: In 2003, you were in favor of overthrowing Saddam Hussein. At that time, too, the consequences of that intervention were uncertain.
Kissinger: I’ll tell you what I thought at the time. I thought that after the attack on the United States, it was important that the US vindicate its position. The UN had certified major violations. So I thought that overthrowing Saddam was a legitimate objective. I thought it was unrealistic to attempt to bring about democracy by military occupation.
SPIEGEL: Why are you so sure that it is unrealistic?
Kissinger: Unless you are willing to do it for decades and you are certain your people will follow you. But it is probably beyond the resources of any one country.
SPIEGEL: For this reason, President Obama is fighting the war against terror from the air using drones and warplanes in Pakistan and Yemen and now in Syria and Iraq as well. What do you think about that?
Kissinger: I support attacks on territories from which terrorist attacks are launched. I have never expressed a public view on drones. It threatens more civilians than the equivalent one did in the Vietnam War, but it’s the same principle.
SPIEGEL: In your book you argue that America has to make its decisions about war on the basis of what achieves the “best combination of security and morality.” Can you explain what you mean by that?
Kissinger: No. It depends on the situation. What is our precise interest in Syria? Is it humanitarian alone? Is it strategic? Of course, you would always want to achieve the most moral possible outcome, but in the middle of a civil war you cannot avoid looking at the realities, and then you have to make the judgments.
SPIEGEL: Meaning that for a certain amount of time, for realistic reasons, we could be on the side of Bashar Assad fighting Islamic State?
Kissinger: Well, no. We could never fight with Assad. That would be a denial of years of what we have done and asserted. But frankly, I think we should have had a dialogue with Russia and asked what outcome we want in Syria, and formulate a strategy together. It was wrong to say from the beginning that Assad must go — although it is a desirable ultimate goal. Now that we are locked into that conflict with Russia, a deal regarding the Iranian nuclear program becomes more difficult.
SPIEGEL: Are you in favor of a more assertive role for Europe, especially for Germany?
Kissinger: Yes, certainly. A century ago, Europe almost had a monopoly in creating world order. Today, there is a danger it is just busy with itself. Today, Germany is the most significant European country and, yes, it should be much more active. I do have very high regard of Ms. Merkel, and I think she is the right person for leading Germany into this role. By the way, I’ve met and been sort of friendly with every German chancellor.
SPIEGEL: Oh, including Willy Brandt?
Kissinger: I have very high regard for Willy Brandt.
SPIEGEL: We’re a bit surprised here because a few months ago, a conversation between you and Nixon was released in which you call Brandt a “dangerous idiot”.
Kissinger: You know, these phrases out of context confuse the reality. Here are people at the end of an exhausting day saying things to each other, reflecting the mood of a moment, and it probably was during some difference of opinion which I don’t even remember. We had some doubts about Brandt’s Ostpolitik at the beginning, but later, we worked very closely with him. Ask Egon Bahr, he will tell you: Without the Nixon Administration, Brandt’s Ostpolitik would not have achieved its objective, especially on the issue of Berlin.
SPIEGEL: In Germany, you are a very controversial politician. When the University of Bonn wanted to name a chair after you, the students protested. Were you disappointed, or at least irritated?
Kissinger: I appreciate the honor. I didn’t ask for the chair, and I only became aware of the chair after it was established. I don’t want to be part of the discussion, it’s entirely up to German agencies. I think Germany should do it for itself or not do it for its own reasons.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Kissinger, we thank you for this interview.
Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault
The Liberal Delusions That Provoked Putin
FROM OUR SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2014 ISSUE
A man takes a picture as he stands on a Soviet-style star re-touched with blue paint so that it resembles the Ukrainian flag, Moscow, August 20, 2014. (Maxim Shemetov / Courtesy Reuters)
- Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault34 min 45 secs
According to the prevailing wisdom in the West, the Ukraine crisis can be blamed almost entirely on Russian aggression. Russian President Vladimir Putin, the argument goes, annexed Crimea out of a long-standing desire to resuscitate the Soviet empire, and he may eventually go after the rest of Ukraine, as well as other countries in eastern Europe. In this view, the ouster of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014 merely provided a pretext for Putin’s decision to order Russian forces to seize part of Ukraine.
But this account is wrong: the United States and its European allies share most of the responsibility for the crisis. The taproot of the trouble is NATO enlargement, the central element of a larger strategy to move Ukraine out of Russia’s orbit and integrate it into the West. At the same time, the EU’s expansion eastward and the West’s backing of the pro-democracy movement in Ukraine — beginning with the Orange Revolution in 2004 — were critical elements, too. Since the mid-1990s, Russian leaders have adamantly opposed NATO enlargement, and in recent years, they have made it clear that they would not stand by while their strategically important neighbor turned into a Western bastion. For Putin, the illegal overthrow of Ukraine’s democratically elected and pro-Russian president — which he rightly labeled a “coup” — was the final straw. He responded by taking Crimea, a peninsula he feared would host a NATO naval base, and working to destabilize Ukraine until it abandoned its efforts to join the West.
Putin’s pushback should have come as no surprise. After all, the West had been moving into Russia’s backyard and threatening its core strategic interests, a point Putin made emphatically and repeatedly. Elites in the United States and Europe have been blindsided by events only because they subscribe to a flawed view of international politics. They tend to believe that the logic of realism holds little relevance in the twenty-first century and that Europe can be kept whole and free on the basis of such liberal principles as the rule of law, economic interdependence, and democracy.
But this grand scheme went awry in Ukraine. The crisis there shows that realpolitik remains relevant — and states that ignore it do so at their own peril. U.S. and European leaders blundered in attempting to turn Ukraine into a Western stronghold on Russia’s border. Now that the consequences have been laid bare, it would be an even greater mistake to continue this misbegotten policy.
U.S. and European leaders blundered in attempting to turn Ukraine into a Western stronghold on Russia’s border.
THE WESTERN AFFRONT
As the Cold War came to a close, Soviet leaders preferred that U.S. forces remain in Europe and NATO stay intact, an arrangement they thought would keep a reunified Germany pacified. But they and their Russian successors did not want NATO to grow any larger and assumed that Western diplomats understood their concerns. The Clinton administration evidently thought otherwise, and in the mid-1990s, it began pushing for NATO to expand.
The first round of enlargement took place in 1999 and brought in the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland. The second occurred in 2004; it included Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. Moscow complained bitterly from the start. During NATO’s 1995 bombing campaign against the Bosnian Serbs, for example, Russian President Boris Yeltsin said, “This is the first sign of what could happen when NATO comes right up to the Russian Federation’s borders. … The flame of war could burst out across the whole of Europe.” But the Russians were too weak at the time to derail NATO’s eastward movement — which, at any rate, did not look so threatening, since none of the new members shared a border with Russia, save for the tiny Baltic countries.
Then NATO began looking further east. At its April 2008 summit in Bucharest, the alliance considered admitting Georgia and Ukraine. The George W. Bush administration supported doing so, but France and Germany opposed the move for fear that it would unduly antagonize Russia. In the end, NATO’s members reached a compromise: the alliance did not begin the formal process leading to membership, but it issued a statement endorsing the aspirations of Georgia and Ukraine and boldly declaring, “These countries will become members of NATO.”
Moscow, however, did not see the outcome as much of a compromise. Alexander Grushko, then Russia’s deputy foreign minister, said, “Georgia’s and Ukraine’s membership in the alliance is a huge strategic mistake which would have most serious consequences for pan-European security.” Putin maintained that admitting those two countries to NATO would represent a “direct threat” to Russia. One Russian newspaper reported that Putin, while speaking with Bush, “very transparently hinted that if Ukraine was accepted into NATO, it would cease to exist.”
Russia’s invasion of Georgia in August 2008 should have dispelled any remaining doubts about Putin’s determination to prevent Georgia and Ukraine from joining NATO. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who was deeply committed to bringing his country into NATO, had decided in the summer of 2008 to reincorporate two separatist regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But Putin sought to keep Georgia weak and divided — and out of NATO. After fighting broke out between the Georgian government and South Ossetian separatists, Russian forces took control of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Moscow had made its point. Yet despite this clear warning, NATO never publicly abandoned its goal of bringing Georgia and Ukraine into the alliance. And NATO expansion continued marching forward, with Albania and Croatia becoming members in 2009.
The EU, too, has been marching eastward. In May 2008, it unveiled its Eastern Partnership initiative, a program to foster prosperity in such countries as Ukraine and integrate them into the EU economy. Not surprisingly, Russian leaders view the plan as hostile to their country’s interests. This past February, before Yanukovych was forced from office, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused the EU of trying to create a “sphere of influence” in eastern Europe. In the eyes of Russian leaders, EU expansion is a stalking horse for NATO expansion.
The West’s final tool for peeling Kiev away from Moscow has been its efforts to spread Western values and promote democracy in Ukraine and other post-Soviet states, a plan that often entails funding pro-Western individuals and organizations. Victoria Nuland, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, estimated in December 2013 that the United States had invested more than $5 billion since 1991 to help Ukraine achieve “the future it deserves.” As part of that effort, the U.S. government has bankrolled the National Endowment for Democracy. The nonprofit foundation has funded more than 60 projects aimed at promoting civil society in Ukraine, and the NED’s president, Carl Gershman, has called that country “the biggest prize.” After Yanukovych won Ukraine’s presidential election in February 2010, the NED decided he was undermining its goals, and so it stepped up its efforts to support the opposition and strengthen the country’s democratic institutions.
When Russian leaders look at Western social engineering in Ukraine, they worry that their country might be next. And such fears are hardly groundless. In September 2013, Gershman wrote in The Washington Post, “Ukraine’s choice to join Europe will accelerate the demise of the ideology of Russian imperialism that Putin represents.” He added: “Russians, too, face a choice, and Putin may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.”
CREATING A CRISIS
Imagine the American outrage if China built an impressive military alliance and tried to include Canada and Mexico.
The West’s triple package of policies — NATO enlargement, EU expansion, and democracy promotion — added fuel to a fire waiting to ignite. The spark came in November 2013, when Yanukovych rejected a major economic deal he had been negotiating with the EU and decided to accept a $15 billion Russian counteroffer instead. That decision gave rise to antigovernment demonstrations that escalated over the following three months and that by mid-February had led to the deaths of some one hundred protesters. Western emissaries hurriedly flew to Kiev to resolve the crisis. On February 21, the government and the opposition struck a deal that allowed Yanukovych to stay in power until new elections were held. But it immediately fell apart, and Yanukovych fled to Russia the next day. The new government in Kiev was pro-Western and anti-Russian to the core, and it contained four high-ranking members who could legitimately be labeled neofascists.
Although the full extent of U.S. involvement has not yet come to light, it is clear that Washington backed the coup. Nuland and Republican Senator John McCain participated in antigovernment demonstrations, and Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, proclaimed after Yanukovych’s toppling that it was “a day for the history books.” As a leaked telephone recording revealed, Nuland had advocated regime change and wanted the Ukrainian politician Arseniy Yatsenyuk to become prime minister in the new government, which he did. No wonder Russians of all persuasions think the West played a role in Yanukovych’s ouster.
For Putin, the time to act against Ukraine and the West had arrived. Shortly after February 22, he ordered Russian forces to take Crimea from Ukraine, and soon after that, he incorporated it into Russia. The task proved relatively easy, thanks to the thousands of Russian troops already stationed at a naval base in the Crimean port of Sevastopol. Crimea also made for an easy target since ethnic Russians compose roughly 60 percent of its population. Most of them wanted out of Ukraine.
Next, Putin put massive pressure on the new government in Kiev to discourage it from siding with the West against Moscow, making it clear that he would wreck Ukraine as a functioning state before he would allow it to become a Western stronghold on Russia’s doorstep. Toward that end, he has provided advisers, arms, and diplomatic support to the Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, who are pushing the country toward civil war. He has massed a large army on the Ukrainian border, threatening to invade if the government cracks down on the rebels. And he has sharply raised the price of the natural gas Russia sells to Ukraine and demanded payment for past exports. Putin is playing hardball.
Putin’s actions should be easy to comprehend. A huge expanse of flat land that Napoleonic France, imperial Germany, and Nazi Germany all crossed to strike at Russia itself, Ukraine serves as a buffer state of enormous strategic importance to Russia. No Russian leader would tolerate a military alliance that was Moscow’s mortal enemy until recently moving into Ukraine. Nor would any Russian leader stand idly by while the West helped install a government there that was determined to integrate Ukraine into the West.
Washington may not like Moscow’s position, but it should understand the logic behind it. This is Geopolitics 101: great powers are always sensitive to potential threats near their home territory. After all, the United States does not tolerate distant great powers deploying military forces anywhere in the Western Hemisphere, much less on its borders. Imagine the outrage in Washington if China built an impressive military alliance and tried to include Canada and Mexico in it. Logic aside, Russian leaders have told their Western counterparts on many occasions that they consider NATO expansion into Georgia and Ukraine unacceptable, along with any effort to turn those countries against Russia — a message that the 2008 Russian-Georgian war also made crystal clear.
Officials from the United States and its European allies contend that they tried hard to assuage Russian fears and that Moscow should understand that NATO has no designs on Russia. In addition to continually denying that its expansion was aimed at containing Russia, the alliance has never permanently deployed military forces in its new member states. In 2002, it even created a body called the NATO-Russia Council in an effort to foster cooperation. To further mollify Russia, the United States announced in 2009 that it would deploy its new missile defense system on warships in European waters, at least initially, rather than on Czech or Polish territory. But none of these measures worked; the Russians remained steadfastly opposed to NATO enlargement, especially into Georgia and Ukraine. And it is the Russians, not the West, who ultimately get to decide what counts as a threat to them.
To understand why the West, especially the United States, failed to understand that its Ukraine policy was laying the groundwork for a major clash with Russia, one must go back to the mid-1990s, when the Clinton administration began advocating NATO expansion. Pundits advanced a variety of arguments for and against enlargement, but there was no consensus on what to do. Most eastern European émigrés in the United States and their relatives, for example, strongly supported expansion, because they wanted NATO to protect such countries as Hungary and Poland. A few realists also favored the policy because they thought Russia still needed to be contained.
But most realists opposed expansion, in the belief that a declining great power with an aging population and a one-dimensional economy did not in fact need to be contained. And they feared that enlargement would only give Moscow an incentive to cause trouble in eastern Europe. The U.S. diplomat George Kennan articulated this perspective in a 1998 interview, shortly after the U.S. Senate approved the first round of NATO expansion. “I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies,” he said. “I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anyone else.”
The United States and its allies should abandon their plan to westernize Ukraine and instead aim to make it a neutral buffer.
Most liberals, on the other hand, favored enlargement, including many key members of the Clinton administration. They believed that the end of the Cold War had fundamentally transformed international politics and that a new, postnational order had replaced the realist logic that used to govern Europe. The United States was not only the “indispensable nation,” as Secretary of State Madeleine Albright put it; it was also a benign hegemon and thus unlikely to be viewed as a threat in Moscow. The aim, in essence, was to make the entire continent look like western Europe.
And so the United States and its allies sought to promote democracy in the countries of eastern Europe, increase economic interdependence among them, and embed them in international institutions. Having won the debate in the United States, liberals had little difficulty convincing their European allies to support NATO enlargement. After all, given the EU’s past achievements, Europeans were even more wedded than Americans to the idea that geopolitics no longer mattered and that an all-inclusive liberal order could maintain peace in Europe.
So thoroughly did liberals come to dominate the discourse about European security during the first decade of this century that even as the alliance adopted an open-door policy of growth, NATO expansion faced little realist opposition. The liberal worldview is now accepted dogma among U.S. officials. In March, for example, President Barack Obama delivered a speech about Ukraine in which he talked repeatedly about “the ideals” that motivate Western policy and how those ideals “have often been threatened by an older, more traditional view of power.” Secretary of State John Kerry’s response to the Crimea crisis reflected this same perspective: “You just don’t in the twenty-first century behave in nineteenth-century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped-up pretext.”
In essence, the two sides have been operating with different playbooks: Putin and his compatriots have been thinking and acting according to realist dictates, whereas their Western counterparts have been adhering to liberal ideas about international politics. The result is that the United States and its allies unknowingly provoked a major crisis over Ukraine.
In that same 1998 interview, Kennan predicted that NATO expansion would provoke a crisis, after which the proponents of expansion would “say that we always told you that is how the Russians are.” As if on cue, most Western officials have portrayed Putin as the real culprit in the Ukraine predicament. In March, according to The New York Times, German Chancellor Angela Merkel implied that Putin was irrational, telling Obama that he was “in another world.” Although Putin no doubt has autocratic tendencies, no evidence supports the charge that he is mentally unbalanced. On the contrary: he is a first-class strategist who should be feared and respected by anyone challenging him on foreign policy.
Other analysts allege, more plausibly, that Putin regrets the demise of the Soviet Union and is determined to reverse it by expanding Russia’s borders. According to this interpretation, Putin, having taken Crimea, is now testing the waters to see if the time is right to conquer Ukraine, or at least its eastern part, and he will eventually behave aggressively toward other countries in Russia’s neighborhood. For some in this camp, Putin represents a modern-day Adolf Hitler, and striking any kind of deal with him would repeat the mistake of Munich. Thus, NATO must admit Georgia and Ukraine to contain Russia before it dominates its neighbors and threatens western Europe.
This argument falls apart on close inspection. If Putin were committed to creating a greater Russia, signs of his intentions would almost certainly have arisen before February 22. But there is virtually no evidence that he was bent on taking Crimea, much less any other territory in Ukraine, before that date. Even Western leaders who supported NATO expansion were not doing so out of a fear that Russia was about to use military force. Putin’s actions in Crimea took them by complete surprise and appear to have been a spontaneous reaction to Yanukovych’s ouster. Right afterward, even Putin said he opposed Crimean secession, before quickly changing his mind.
Besides, even if it wanted to, Russia lacks the capability to easily conquer and annex eastern Ukraine, much less the entire country. Roughly 15 million people — one-third of Ukraine’s population — live between the Dnieper River, which bisects the country, and the Russian border. An overwhelming majority of those people want to remain part of Ukraine and would surely resist a Russian occupation. Furthermore, Russia’s mediocre army, which shows few signs of turning into a modern Wehrmacht, would have little chance of pacifying all of Ukraine. Moscow is also poorly positioned to pay for a costly occupation; its weak economy would suffer even more in the face of the resulting sanctions.
But even if Russia did boast a powerful military machine and an impressive economy, it would still probably prove unable to successfully occupy Ukraine. One need only consider the Soviet and U.S. experiences in Afghanistan, the U.S. experiences in Vietnam and Iraq, and the Russian experience in Chechnya to be reminded that military occupations usually end badly. Putin surely understands that trying to subdue Ukraine would be like swallowing a porcupine. His response to events there has been defensive, not offensive.
A WAY OUT
Given that most Western leaders continue to deny that Putin’s behavior might be motivated by legitimate security concerns, it is unsurprising that they have tried to modify it by doubling down on their existing policies and have punished Russia to deter further aggression. Although Kerry has maintained that “all options are on the table,” neither the United States nor its NATO allies are prepared to use force to defend Ukraine. The West is relying instead on economic sanctions to coerce Russia into ending its support for the insurrection in eastern Ukraine. In July, the United States and the EU put in place their third round of limited sanctions, targeting mainly high-level individuals closely tied to the Russian government and some high-profile banks, energy companies, and defense firms. They also threatened to unleash another, tougher round of sanctions, aimed at whole sectors of the Russian economy.
Such measures will have little effect. Harsh sanctions are likely off the table anyway; western European countries, especially Germany, have resisted imposing them for fear that Russia might retaliate and cause serious economic damage within the EU. But even if the United States could convince its allies to enact tough measures, Putin would probably not alter his decision-making. History shows that countries will absorb enormous amounts of punishment in order to protect their core strategic interests. There is no reason to think Russia represents an exception to this rule.
Western leaders have also clung to the provocative policies that precipitated the crisis in the first place. In April, U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden met with Ukrainian legislators and told them, “This is a second opportunity to make good on the original promise made by the Orange Revolution.” John Brennan, the director of the CIA, did not help things when, that same month, he visited Kiev on a trip the White House said was aimed at improving security cooperation with the Ukrainian government.
The EU, meanwhile, has continued to push its Eastern Partnership. In March, José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, summarized EU thinking on Ukraine, saying, “We have a debt, a duty of solidarity with that country, and we will work to have them as close as possible to us.” And sure enough, on June 27, the EU and Ukraine signed the economic agreement that Yanukovych had fatefully rejected seven months earlier. Also in June, at a meeting of NATO members’ foreign ministers, it was agreed that the alliance would remain open to new members, although the foreign ministers refrained from mentioning Ukraine by name. “No third country has a veto over NATO enlargement,” announced Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO’s secretary-general. The foreign ministers also agreed to support various measures to improve Ukraine’s military capabilities in such areas as command and control, logistics, and cyberdefense. Russian leaders have naturally recoiled at these actions; the West’s response to the crisis will only make a bad situation worse.
There is a solution to the crisis in Ukraine, however — although it would require the West to think about the country in a fundamentally new way. The United States and its allies should abandon their plan to westernize Ukraine and instead aim to make it a neutral buffer between NATO and Russia, akin to Austria’s position during the Cold War. Western leaders should acknowledge that Ukraine matters so much to Putin that they cannot support an anti-Russian regime there. This would not mean that a future Ukrainian government would have to be pro-Russian or anti-NATO. On the contrary, the goal should be a sovereign Ukraine that falls in neither the Russian nor the Western camp.
To achieve this end, the United States and its allies should publicly rule out NATO’s expansion into both Georgia and Ukraine. The West should also help fashion an economic rescue plan for Ukraine funded jointly by the EU, the International Monetary Fund, Russia, and the United States — a proposal that Moscow should welcome, given its interest in having a prosperous and stable Ukraine on its western flank. And the West should considerably limit its social-engineering efforts inside Ukraine. It is time to put an end to Western support for another Orange Revolution. Nevertheless, U.S. and European leaders should encourage Ukraine to respect minority rights, especially the language rights of its Russian speakers.
Some may argue that changing policy toward Ukraine at this late date would seriously damage U.S. credibility around the world. There would undoubtedly be certain costs, but the costs of continuing a misguided strategy would be much greater. Furthermore, other countries are likely to respect a state that learns from its mistakes and ultimately devises a policy that deals effectively with the problem at hand. That option is clearly open to the United States.
One also hears the claim that Ukraine has the right to determine whom it wants to ally with and the Russians have no right to prevent Kiev from joining the West. This is a dangerous way for Ukraine to think about its foreign policy choices. The sad truth is that might often makes right when great-power politics are at play. Abstract rights such as self-determination are largely meaningless when powerful states get into brawls with weaker states. Did Cuba have the right to form a military alliance with the Soviet Union during the Cold War? The United States certainly did not think so, and the Russians think the same way about Ukraine joining the West. It is in Ukraine’s interest to understand these facts of life and tread carefully when dealing with its more powerful neighbor.
Even if one rejects this analysis, however, and believes that Ukraine has the right to petition to join the EU and NATO, the fact remains that the United States and its European allies have the right to reject these requests. There is no reason that the West has to accommodate Ukraine if it is bent on pursuing a wrong-headed foreign policy, especially if its defense is not a vital interest. Indulging the dreams of some Ukrainians is not worth the animosity and strife it will cause, especially for the Ukrainian people.
Of course, some analysts might concede that NATO handled relations with Ukraine poorly and yet still maintain that Russia constitutes an enemy that will only grow more formidable over time — and that the West therefore has no choice but to continue its present policy. But this viewpoint is badly mistaken. Russia is a declining power, and it will only get weaker with time. Even if Russia were a rising power, moreover, it would still make no sense to incorporate Ukraine into NATO. The reason is simple: the United States and its European allies do not consider Ukraine to be a core strategic interest, as their unwillingness to use military force to come to its aid has proved. It would therefore be the height of folly to create a new NATO member that the other members have no intention of defending. NATO has expanded in the past because liberals assumed the alliance would never have to honor its new security guarantees, but Russia’s recent power play shows that granting Ukraine NATO membership could put Russia and the West on a collision course.
Sticking with the current policy would also complicate Western relations with Moscow on other issues. The United States needs Russia’s assistance to withdraw U.S. equipment from Afghanistan through Russian territory, reach a nuclear agreement with Iran, and stabilize the situation in Syria. In fact, Moscow has helped Washington on all three of these issues in the past; in the summer of 2013, it was Putin who pulled Obama’s chestnuts out of the fire by forging the deal under which Syria agreed to relinquish its chemical weapons, thereby avoiding the U.S. military strike that Obama had threatened. The United States will also someday need Russia’s help containing a rising China. Current U.S. policy, however, is only driving Moscow and Beijing closer together.
The United States and its European allies now face a choice on Ukraine. They can continue their current policy, which will exacerbate hostilities with Russia and devastate Ukraine in the process — a scenario in which everyone would come out a loser. Or they can switch gears and work to create a prosperous but neutral Ukraine, one that does not threaten Russia and allows the West to repair its relations with Moscow. With that approach, all sides would win.