10 March 2015

Ukraine and the Future of the World

There's an interesting piece in today's NYT about "Russia's endgame" in Ukraine. 

I am a believer in realpolitik, but not in the way the word is sometimes used. I believe that foreign policy, of my country in particular, should be based on long term national interests, which, in many cases, are the same as the long term interests of the human species, namely (chiefly) survival. And sustainable continued existence of our technological civilization would be nice, too. 

So, with that in mind, here's my take on the Ukraine crisis. Putin is a thug, granted. Russia is behaving like kleptocratic power politics dictatorship with territorial ambitions. Bad. Ukraine has a right to self-determination. 

But having acknowledged all that, it remains the case that the territorial integrity and pro-Western stance of an independent Ukraine is not a vital American interest. It is not as vital as preventing a long slide into conflagration, which, this time, our civilization would probably not survive. If you don't think that's a possible outcome, you are not paying attention. 

I do agree with those who see a closer parallel to the years before World War I than to Munich in the 1930s. But in any case, we must treat this crisis as something to be managed, not a stage in which to exert national machismo. We should recognize the historical reality that Russia was actually born in Kiev 1000 years ago, and Ukraine is connected to Russian history and heritage at least as closely as Mexico or Canada to the US. Had the Cold War ended rather differently, and Russia was courting Canada or Mexico to join its defense alliance and Economic Protection Racket... oh, I mean economic cooperation zone or whatever, how would we react? Yes, we should take actions short of war to encourage continued cooperation and co-existence, and for an independent Ukraine. We should do what we can to make it clear to Putin that the costs of pushing too far are too great. But we should also recognize that Russia has interests in this region, and will not just back down entirely. There will have to be a territorial compromise, eventually. That's all there is to it, and while the American government may for good reason not want to go around shouting the fact from the rooftops, the warmongering clatter of idiots like Lindsay Graham is most unhelpful, and I sure hope there are cooler, more calculating heads in the Administration and Pentagon. Fortunately, I suspect that, in fact, there are. 

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