February 16, 2022


“U.S. President Joe Biden made an impassioned appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin to step back from war with Ukraine on Tuesday, speaking starkly of the ‘needless death and destruction’ Moscow could cause and international outrage Putin would face…

“Reports that Russia had withdrawn some military units ‘would be good but we have not yet verified that,’ he said. ‘Indeed, our analysts indicate that they remain very much in a threatening position,’ he said, citing ‘more than 150,000 troops encircling Ukraine and Belarus and along Ukraine’s border.’” Reuters

Here’s our recent coverage of Ukraine. The Flip Side

Both sides are divided about the proper response to Putin’s aggression.

Those in favor of pushing back strongly against Putin and encouraging Ukraine to resist his demands argue:

“​​The Ukraine crisis has featured an unlikely test of personalities: Putin, the ex-spy, has brazenly used the threat of military power, advertising his desire to control Ukraine and rewrite Europe’s security rules, even as he denied any intention to invade. But he has been met by a stalwart Biden, the genial career politician who stumbles over his sentences — but not, in this case, with his actions…

“Biden has countered every Putin thrust with the one strategic weapon in which the United States has overwhelming but usually unexploited superiority: its ability to blast declassified intelligence about Russian activities across the global information space. And Putin has appeared flummoxed… Some Russian officials are questioning Putin’s brinkmanship; and Western nations, unsettled by Russian bullying, are rallying around a NATO alliance that appeared depleted just two years ago… ‘We will rally the world,’ Biden vowed. He appears to have enough allied support to deliver on that threat, and Putin seems to know it.”
David Ignatius, Washington Post

“It’s quite possible that Mr. Putin may trigger the very result he purports to prevent — greater NATO expansion — as previously neutral countries such as Finland and Sweden join. It would be even better if a current member — Germany — takes this situation as its cue to ramp up defense spending, which still falls short of NATO targets. German energy dependence on Russia has also been exposed for what it is — inconsistent and unsustainable — and Berlin must adjust…  

“All democracies, in fact, should subject their climate policies to geopolitical vetting, ensuring that the green transition does not create short-term reliance on oil and gas from autocracies. Mr. Putin has taught the world that hard power — coercion — still matters. In fact, he believes it is all that matters. He’s wrong about that, though. U.S. foreign policy must prove it.”
Editorial Board, Washington Post

[Putin] knows he can take Ukraine. But what he doesn’t know is whether his conquest will be worth the cost… American and allied economic might can inflict an immense financial cost on Russia. American and allied weapons, supplied to Ukrainian forces and Ukrainian insurgents, can inflict serious personnel and material costs on Russia. Putin has to know that we won’t blink from imposing economic pain and military costs beyond what his nation can reasonably bear.…

“America is extended across the world, but the question isn’t so much whether we can afford it as whether we can afford not to exert our presence and our will. The American economy is still the strongest in the world, and our defense expenditures don’t threaten our prosperity. In fact, our defense budget as a percentage of GDP is near a 60-year low. We can afford our present commitments. We can afford the most powerful military in the world and the weapons we can supply to embattled friends. And we can afford to wield economic weapons to help keep the peace.”
David French, The Dispatch

Some go even further and argue, “It is now apparent to any candid observer that Ukraine needs NATO. But it is also true that NATO needs Ukraine… At the end of the Cold War in 1989, the United States had some 500,000 troops stationed in Western Europe. Now, we have 30,000, with practically no tanks. The British have removed virtually all their forces from the continent. Germany — which is showing itself increasingly unreliable in any case — has cut its army from twelve divisions down to four. The cold fact of the matter is that the only serious NATO ground force east of the Rhine is the Polish Army, which has 180,000 active-duty servicemen. It’s not enough…

“[Ukraine] has 450,000 active-duty servicemen, more than all NATO forces east of the Rhine combined. If properly armed, and backed up by Anglo-American air and sea power, they could be formidable, and consequently, very valuable. We need to be realistic. Nuclear deterrence is dead… If Russia moves into the Baltic States or even Poland, the United States is not about [to] push the thermonuclear-war button, and Putin knows that. Consequently, the only way to be able to deter war is to be strong enough to defeat a conventional attack by non-nuclear means. That requires an army.
Robert Zubrin, National Review

Those in favor of accommodating Putin and encouraging Ukraine to make a deal with him argue:

“The one proposal the US could offer to defuse a potentially disastrous war is to foreclose the option of Ukraine joining NATO, possibly through a moratorium, in exchange for a Russian troop withdrawal from Ukraine and an end to support for the separatists. Yet Washington and Brussels adamantly refuse to consider this. The hesitancy is due to a variety of factors, including reflexive opposition to anything that might be construed as a concession and a utopian belief that all states have an inalienable right to choose their own alliances…

“Unfortunately for the utopian crowd, the balance of power matters in international relations — and Europe, like it or not, won’t be stable until some of Russia’s concerns are mollified. NATO isn’t going to bleed for Ukraine. Formalizing this reality is a small price to pay if it means sparing Europe a war.”
Daniel DePetris, Spectator World

“Most great powers have a rule that they live by; political scientist Steve Van Evera calls it the NUPIMBY rule: no unfriendly powers in my backyard. The United States enforces this rule in its hemisphere; Russia is trying to establish it along its borders. An agreement among the United States, the European Union, Russia, and Ukraine itself that Ukraine would opt for neutrality rather than NATO membership would satisfy this principle, but so far Ukraine and its friends have rejected that solution…

“[They] recommend showering the Ukrainian military with person-portable, precision-guided anti-tank (Javelin) and anti-aircraft (Stinger) weapons… The second tool to shore up deterrence of a Russian attack is the threat to support a Ukrainian insurgency… These solutions simply would enable some heroic Ukrainians to kill and die more effectively for their country, while offering the promise of false hope that the West will come to its aid. And if Ukrainians believe that, then they also will continue to believe that they don’t have to swallow the bitter pill of accepting armed neutrality between NATO and Russia, rather than NATO membership. Is opening the door to this kind of bloody but ultimately unsuccessful defense really more in NATO’s interest and more in Ukraine’s interest than cutting a deal?”
Barry R. Posen, Slate

“NATO offers rhetoric, weapons, and assurances more for its than Ukraine’s sake. The allies benefit at little cost to themselves. They feel virtuous, opposing Russia, and make geopolitical gains, impeding Moscow’s objectives, without having to get their hands dirty. If things go well and, contra current expectations, Russian President Vladimir Putin backs down, they will claim a grand victory, telling everyone that the greatest alliance in human history has triumphed again. If things go bad and there is a war, they will express moral outrage while avoiding the worst consequences. After all, the conflict would occur on Ukrainian territory… Washington and its allies practice a foreign policy of ‘cheap grace.’ They feel good about themselves as they urge Ukraine to fight Russia to the last Ukrainian.”
Doug Bandow, Cato Institute

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