Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

Gazing into the Fog of War Surrounding Ukraine

Posted by M. C. on March 5, 2022

It is my view that the risk of America getting dragged into this war is low but not negligible. There are those who openly call for the US to attack Russia, like NBC chief foreign correspondent Richard Engle, who tweeted that the West should attack the main Russian column advancing on Kyiv, while others use barely concealed euphemisms such as “no-fly zone,” which is code for “shoot down Russian planes and attack Russian air defenses within Russia.” Either of these risks a nuclear escalation.

Zachary Yost

The Russian regime’s invasion of Ukraine has shocked and horrified the world, in no small part because it is the first war of this scale in Europe since the end of the Second World War and also because it is the first large-scale war to be fought with contemporary and high-tech armaments. The situation is changing rapidly, but the amount of devastation, death, and suffering this war has inflicted is already immense and will only grow larger as the war continues.

It goes without saying that the people who make up the Russian regime are agents with free will who bear moral responsibility for instigating this unjust and evil war. However, we live in a fallen world, where people do many evil things. Morality requires that our actions comport not with how we wish the world were but with how it actually is. For years, realist thinkers such as John Mearsheimer have been sounding the alarm that Western efforts to expand the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to the borders of Russia will cause an immense amount of trouble.

Background to the War

In brief, in 2008, NATO announced that it welcomed Ukraine and Georgia eventually joining NATO. Vladimir Putin hit the roof and declared that Russia (in this article meaning the Russian regime) would find such a move unacceptable. However, the West did not really pay attention. As a result of this action, Russia invaded Georgia in 2008 to secure two breakaway provinces (because NATO will not accept any members with territorial disputes). Later, in 2014, as a result of a pro-Western coup in Ukraine, Putin swiftly moved to take over Crimea (to secure the home of the Russian Black Sea Fleet based at Sevastopol and prevent NATO naval vessels from securing a port so close to Russia) and supported two breakaway provinces in eastern Ukraine, thus ensuring that Ukraine would also be mired in territorial disputes and be unable to join NATO.

The Western reaction to these events has largely been driven by moral condemnation and proclamations that as a sovereign state, Ukraine has the right to decide its future for itself. Unfortunately, when it comes to international relations, might makes right. In the words of Thucydides’s Melian Dialogue, “The strong do what they will, and the weak suffer what they must.” To acknowledge this fact about reality is not to condone it, but recognizing it to be true allows one to better prepare to reduce the amount of conflict and suffering that takes place. The failure to acknowledge this has contributed a great deal to the current crisis.

To understand more of the background to this conflict, it would be wise to consult John Mearsheimer’s 2014 essay “Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault” and his related 2015 speech on the same subject. The key takeaway is that Russia considers the alignment of Ukraine to be an issue of extreme importance. In contrast, the Western states have very little to no national interest in Ukraine. Thus, Russia is willing to go to much more effort and pain to secure these goals than the West is. That is why no Western states have declared war on Russia and come to the military assistance of Ukraine. Russia has nuclear weapons, and the costs of war would far outweigh any potential benefits.

I must admit that until recently, I was not expecting Russia to undertake this drastic of a move; however, once the troop buildup began and diplomatic efforts seemed to make clear that Western states did not seem to even comprehend Russia’s security demands, let alone be willing to compromise to find a solution, I began to fear that war was more likely.

What Does This Invasion Mean?

It is still too early to know what Russia’s specific end goal is. It may be to annex large amounts of Ukrainian territory and turn the rest into a rump buffer state. It may be something less extreme than that. And circumstances on the ground will, of course, affect the outcome as well.

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