Yves here. It’s frustrating to see Medea Benjamin and Nicolas J. S. Davies not understanding the history of and stakes in the Ukraine conflict, perhaps because they are not willing to see that the only peace settlement that will occur is when one side is defeated, and that side is not likely to be Russia. Moreover, despite Putin recently maintaining that conflicts eventually end in some sort of talks, as we have pointed out, many wars have ended with no pact.
Even though Putin keeps making ritual noises about being willing to negotiate, Russia kept trying to reduce security threats without a protracted conflict, even through the end of March in Istanbul. Russia has since gotten confirmation of its worst suspicions and allegations: that the West wants regime change, and even dismemberment of Russia; that as Angela Merkel revealed, the US and Europe were simply playing Russia with the Minsk agreement, buying time to arm Ukraine and never had any intention of implementing the deal.
I have trouble with the assertion that Europe regarded Russia as a security threat. They would not have become energy dependent were that case. Even the rabid Baltics get electricity from Russia. The more consistent interpretation of the facts is that the US and NATO were confident they could subjugate Russia if it became uppity.
In light of his falling for a supposed peace deal to set up Russia for defeat, out of what he now regards his naive belief that could have normal commercial relations with the West and have a seat at the geopolitical table as a major power, Putin’s embittered remarks last week do not come off as exaggerated:
I have pointed out many times and have written in my articles that the goal of our strategic adversaries is to weaken and divide our nation. This has been so for centuries, and there is nothing new in this now. They believe that our country is too large and poses a threat, which is why it must be diminished and divided. Wherever you look, this has been their goal over the past centuries. I will not provide any examples now; you can find them in the relevant materials. They have always nurtured this idea and such plans, hoping that they will be able to implement them, one way or another.
For our part, we have aways or nearly always pursued a completely different approach and had different goals: we have always wanted to be part of the so-called civilised world. After the Soviet Union’s dissolution, which we ourselves allowed to take place, we thought for some reason that we would become part of that so-called civilised world any day. But it turned out that nobody wanted this to happen, despite our efforts and attempts, and this concerns my efforts as well, because I made these attempts too. We tried to become closer, to become part of that world. But to no avail.
On the contrary, they undertook, including with the use of international terrorists in the Caucasus, to finish off Russia and to split the Russian Federation. There is no need to prove this to many of you in this room, because you know what took place in the mid-1990s and the early 2000s. They claimed to condemn al-Qaeda and other criminals, yet they considered using them on the territory of Russia as acceptable and provided all kinds of assistance to them, including material, information, political and any other support, notably military support, to encourage them to continue fighting against Russia. We overcame that complicated period in our history thanks to the people of the Caucasus, thanks to the Chechen people, and thanks to the heroism of our military personnel. We have survived those trials, growing stronger in the process.
It took off from there, as the saying goes. Not to offend anyone, but I will still say that our geopolitical rivals started using every opportunity they had to pursue their agenda. They started brainwashing people across the post-Soviet space, primarily in Ukraine. And they have been quite successful at that and well prepared, since back in the Soviet era they had entire institutions working on these matters.
After the 2014 government coup in Ukraine – let me emphasise that we spent decades trying to improve our relations in the new geopolitical environment – we did everything to build not only neighbourly, but brotherly relations: we granted them loans and supplied them with energy resources for next to nothing. This lasted for years. No, nothing worked. I mean nothing.
Let me remind you that when the Soviet Union was breaking apart, Ukraine withdrew from the union. In its Declaration of Independence, and I think – I am actually certain that back then the Russian leadership took this into consideration – Ukraine wrote that it is a neutral state. For this reason, we can understand why the Russian leaders at the time did not see these threats. They viewed Ukraine as a neutral state, a brotherly nation sharing a single culture with us, as well as having common spiritual and moral values, and a shared past. They did not see any threats. However, our adversaries persisted in their efforts, and we must recognise that they have been quite effective.
We pinned our hopes, it seems, on our efforts to improve these relations, but they proved ineffective and failed to reach the desired objective. Let me emphasise that we have nothing to blame ourselves for. I say this with full responsibility.
You know my position on this matter: we have always treated the people of Ukraine as a brotherly nation. I still think this way. What is currently happening is, of course, a tragedy. It is our common tragedy. But it does not result from our policy. On the contrary, it results from the policies carried out by other countries, by third countries, which have always wished to split the Russian world apart.
They succeeded, to a certain extent, and pushed us to the brink we are at now.
So, after the 2014 coup – I am not going to talk about the reasons behind this coup and will only say that it was unacceptable. As you may remember, in February 2014, three foreign ministers from Poland, France and Germany arrived in Kiev and put their signatures as guarantors of an agreement between the opposition and the incumbent government. The coup took place several days later. Everyone forgot about these guarantees, as if they had never existed. What should have been done instead? All they had to do was say, “Friends, we are the guarantors and major European countries, so please go back to the negotiating table, go to the polls and resolve the power issue using political procedures.” That is all they had to do.
Everyone realised perfectly well that, for better or for worse, the then government would have certainly lost the elections, especially since the then president agreed to almost all the opposition’s demands, including early elections. And when I ask our so-called colleagues why they allowed the coup to happen, they have no answer to that. They just shrug their shoulders and say it just happened. Good grief. It just happened? That way they let us know that no pro-Russian forces, and all politicians, journalists, or public figures who were even slightly in favour of developing relations with Russia were simply killed in the street, and no one thought about investigating anything. It became clear that we would not be given any chance, simply no chance whatsoever to restore relations with this portion of our former common country. No way. In fact, they used terror in a shameless and brazen manner.
The brainwashing of the citizens of Ukraine and the neo-Nazi and extremely nationalistic ideology that went on for decades did their job, one way or another.
What is it all about? Hitler’s acolytes were elevated to the rank of national heroes, and no one seemed to care. Indeed, they are nationalists, but there are nationalists in any country, and we have them as well. But we are fighting manifestations of neo-Nazism and fascism; we are not elevating it to the rank of national policy. While in Ukraine they do and everyone pretends not to notice it. Nationalism does not seem to be a bad thing since it is about fighting for national interests, but the fact that this is done on the basis of a Nazi, neo-Nazi ideology is simply ignored. They walk around wearing swastikas in central parts of major cities, including the capital city, and they make it look as if it were nothing unusual. Why? Because it is the same approach they used in the 1990s and the early 2000s with the international terrorists fighting Russia. Pardon me, but they did not give a damn that those were terrorists, recognised international terrorists. They did not care, because they used them to fight Russia. It is the same now: neo-Nazis are used to fight against Russia. No one cares about the fact that they are neo-Nazis. What matters to them is that they are fighting Russia. But we do care.
It became clear back then that a clash with these forces, including in Ukraine, was inevitable, the only question was when. Military operations and hostilities always come with tragedy and loss of life. We are aware of this. But since it is inevitable, better do it today than tomorrow. I think that everyone in this audience understands perfectly well what I am talking about, including the state of our Armed Forces and the availability of advanced types of weapons and other equipment that we have but other countries do not. All of the above gives us a certain margin of safety.
We know our advantages: the nuclear triad, the Aerospace Forces, the Navy in certain segments, and so on. We know this, we have it all, and all of it is in the right state. We also see what we need to do to improve the Armed Forces, including the Ground Forces, our counter-artillery warfare, communications systems, and so on. Everyone in this room understands what I am talking about, and I am sure you agree with me.
There is something I want to emphasise. We in Russia (there are very few such countries in the world, and certainly not our neighbours, who will be left with nothing soon except for foreign handouts such as money, weapons, ammunition, only handouts – things are completely different in Russia), we have everything. I want to emphasise this: we have every single thing, we have the resources to build up this potential, and we will certainly do this without cutting any slack. Moreover, unlike many other countries, as I said, we will rely on our own (I want to emphasise this) our own scientific, technological, production and personnel resources. Moreover, we will attain our goals without detriment to economic growth or social development, while unfailingly fulfilling our social obligations to our citizens. All the plans outlined here, all our long-term goals will be achieved, and all plans will be carried out.
We will not repeat the mistakes of the past, when we harmed our economy to boost our defence capabilities, regardless of whether it was warranted or not. We are not going to militarise our country or militarise the economy, primarily because we have no need to do it at the current level of development and with the structure of the economy that we have. Again – we do not intend to, and we will not do things we do not really need, to the detriment of our people and the economy, the social sphere.
We will improve the Russian Armed Forces and the entire military component. We will do it calmly, routinely and consistently, without haste. We will attain our objectives to strengthen our defence capability in general as well as meeting the goals of the special military operation.
As another Russian official (IIRC Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov) pointed out last week, the two sides have “incompatible positions” or as your humble blogger likes to put it, no bargaining overlap.
And that’s before adding in that the West is not agreement capable. As lawyers often observe, an agreement is only as good as the parties to it. And we’ve demonstrated our commitment means nothing. So why should Russia play this game any more? Russia might go through the motions for appearances in the extremely unlikely event that there were a major change in the US/NATO/Ukraine position. But Russia could easily blow up any talks by insisting that, say, China be among the guarantors.
By Medea Benjamin and Nicolas J. S. Davies, the authors of War in Ukraine: Making Sense of a Senseless Conflict, available from OR Books in November 2022. Medea Benjamin is the cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace, and the author of several books, including Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Nicolas J. S. Davies is an independent journalist, a researcher with CODEPINK and the author of Blood on Our Hands: The American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.
On December 27 2022, both Russia and Ukraine issued calls for ending the war in Ukraine, but only on non-negotiable terms that they each know the other side will reject.
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Kuleba proposed a “peace summit” in February to be chaired by UN Secretary General Guterres, but with the precondition that Russia must first face prosecution for war crimes in an international court. On the other side, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov issued a chilling ultimatum that Ukraine must accept Russia’s terms for peace or “the issue will be decided by the Russian Army.”
But what if there were a way of understanding this conflict and possible solutions that encompassed the views of all sides and could take us beyond one-sided narratives and proposals that serve only to fuel and escalate the war? The crisis in Ukraine is in fact a classic case of what International Relations scholars call a “security dilemma,” and this provides a more objective way of looking at it.
A security dilemma is a situation in which countries on each side take actions for their own defense that countries on the other side then see as a threat. Since offensive and defensive weapons and forces are often indistinguishable, one side’s defensive build-up can easily be seen as an offensive build-up by the other side. As each side responds to the actions of the other, the net result is a spiral of militarization and escalation, even though both sides insist, and may even believe, that their own actions are defensive.
In the case of Ukraine, this has happened on different levels, both between Russia and national and regional governments in Ukraine, but also on a larger geopolitical scale between Russia and the United States/NATO.
The very essence of a security dilemma is the lack of trust between the parties. In the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, the Cuban Missile Crisis served as an alarm bell that forced both sides to start negotiating arms control treaties and safeguard mechanisms that would limit escalation, even as deep levels of mistrust remained. Both sides recognized that the other was not hell-bent on destroying the world, and this provided the necessary minimum basis for negotiations and safeguards to try to ensure that this did not come to pass.
After the end of the Cold War, both sides cooperated with major reductions in their nuclear arsenals, but the United States gradually withdrew from a succession of arms control treaties, violated its promises not to expand NATO into Eastern Europe, and used military force in ways that directly violated the UN Charter’s prohibition against the “threat or use of force.” U.S. leaders claimed that the conjunction of terrorism and the existence of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons gave them a new right to wage “preemptive war,” but neither the UN nor any other country ever agreed to that.
U.S. aggression in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere was alarming to people all over the world, and even to many Americans, so it was no wonder that Russian leaders were especially worried by America’s renewed post-Cold War militarism. As NATO incorporated more and more countries in Eastern Europe, a classic security dilemma began to play out.
President Putin, who was elected in 2000, began to use international fora to challenge NATO expansion and U.S. war-making, insisting that new diplomacy was needed to ensure the security of all countries in Europe, not only those invited to join NATO.
The former Communist countries in Eastern Europe joined NATO out of defensive concerns about possible Russian aggression, but this also exacerbated Russia’s security concerns about the ambitious and aggressive military alliance gathering around its borders, especially as the United States and NATO refused to address those concerns.
In this context, broken promises on NATO expansion, U.S. serial aggression in the greater Middle East and elsewhere, and absurd claims that U.S. missile defense batteries in Poland and Romania were to protect Europe from Iran, not Russia, set alarm bells ringing in Moscow.
The U.S. withdrawal from nuclear arms control treaties and its refusal to alter its nuclear first strike policy raised even greater fears that a new generation of U.S. nuclear weapons were being designed to give the United States a nuclear first strike capability against Russia.
On the other side, Russia’s increasing assertiveness on the world stage, including its military actions to defend Russian enclaves in Georgia and its intervention in Syria to defend its ally the Assad government, raised security concerns in other former Soviet republics and allies, including new NATO members. Where might Russia intervene next?
As the United States refused to diplomatically address Russia’s security concerns, each side took actions that ratcheted up the security dilemma. The United States backed the violent overthrow of President Yanukovych in Ukraine in 2014, which led to rebellions against the post-coup government in Crimea and Donbas. Russia responded by annexing Crimea and supporting the breakaway “people’s republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Even if all sides were acting in good faith and out of defensive concerns, in the absence of effective diplomacy they all assumed the worst about each other’s motives as the crisis spun further out of control, exactly as the “security dilemma” model predicts that nations will do amid such rising tensions.
Of course, since mutual mistrust lies at the heart of any security dilemma, the situation is further complicated when any of the parties is seen to act in bad faith. Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently admitted that Western leaders had no intention of enforcing Ukraine’s compliance with the terms of the Minsk II agreement in 2015, and only agreed to it to buy time to build up Ukraine militarily.
The breakdown of the Minsk II peace agreement and the continuing diplomatic impasse in the larger geopolitical conflict between the United States, NATO and Russia plunged relations into a deepening crisis and led to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Officials on all sides must have recognized the dynamics of the underlying security dilemma, and yet they failed to take the necessary diplomatic initiatives to resolve the crisis.
Peaceful, diplomatic alternatives have always been available if the parties chose to pursue them, but they did not. Does that mean that all sides deliberately chose war over peace? They would all deny that.
Yet all sides apparently now see advantages in a prolonged conflict, despite the relentless daily slaughter, dreadful and deteriorating conditions for millions of civilians, and the unthinkable dangers of full-scale war between NATO and Russia. All sides have convinced themselves they can or must win, and so they keep escalating the war, along with all its impacts and the risks that it will spin out of control.
President Biden came to office promising a new era of American diplomacy, but has instead led the United States and the world to the brink of World War III.
Clearly, the only solution to a security dilemma like this is a cease-fire and peace agreement to stop the carnage, followed by the kind of diplomacy that took place between the United States and the Soviet Union in the decades that followed the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, which led to the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1963 and successive arms control treaties. Former UN official Alfred de Zayas has also called for UN-administered referenda to determine the wishes of the people of Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk.
It is not an endorsement of an adversary’s conduct or position to negotiate a path to peaceful coexistence. We are witnessing the absolutist alternative in Ukraine today. There is no moral high ground in relentless, open-ended mass slaughter, managed, directed and in fact perpetrated by people in smart suits and military uniforms in imperial capitals thousands of miles from the crashing of shells, the cries of the wounded and the stench of death.
If proposals for peace talks are to be more than PR exercises, they must be firmly grounded in an understanding of the security needs of all sides, and a willingness to compromise to see that those needs are met and that all the underlying conflicts are addressed.
I understand Yves Smith’s criticisms and assessment up in the headnote. They are a good description of the progress of the war. The question is if they are a good prescription for the progress of a peace.
Putin’s speech is enlightening: First, because very few U.S. politicians have his grasp of national capabilities or of international politics. The proof, unfortunately, is the bizarro statements about this proxy war coming from the normally fact-based Bernie Sanders. (And it’s all downhill from Bernie.)
The undertone of Putin’s speech, if I may probe, recalls the famous quote of the Celtic king in Tacitus: They make a desert and call it peace. They, being the Romans.
Putin has evidence in front of him: Syria, Libya, Serbia.
Further, I’d argue that the “security dilemma” is a tad too brainy. Medea Benjamin, who is highly effective at protests, knows better than going into poli-sci lingo. Of course, there’s a lack of trust. It’s a war–worsened by being a proxy war.
Yet the only way out, which allows face saving and various public accords and a schedule for implementation, is peace talks. With as many parties as possible.
The problem with the current Ukrainian approach is that it recalls Brexit negotiations. No surprise, then, that it appears the U.K. has been a main “advisor” of Zelenskyy. Zelenskyy wants to go full Brexit, not understanding that Michel Barnier (as reported here at Naked Capitalism so many times) had the upper hand. And the support of laws and treaties.
The Ukrainians should be considering the example of the Finnish-Russian wars within WWII. How did the Finns get out of the dilemma? And they did.
Well, it took Finns three wars fought and lost against Russia between 1919-1945 to figure out that peace and prosperity comes from not being a threat to Russia.
It seems that Finns have forgotten all those lessons learned by blood and destruction, and are using Ukraine as an example now.
I caught part of a talk by Douglas MacGregor today and he was saying that a Finnish government minister was mentioning how it will be good to go into NATO as they are at the moment spending 4% of their GDP on defence so afterwards, they will be able to cut back as they will be sharing the costs.
Either the minister or MacGregor is misinformed, since most of the last decade Finland spent less than 1.5% of GDP in defense. This year it did jump to almost 2% due to F-35 and a fleet of way too big new ships for the navy.
So one could say that the expenses are already up by 30% with the NATO effect of procuring overpriced and unsuitable weapon systems. The actual membership is not yet priced in, not is the announced Russian force escalation on Finnish border.
There’s an island on the Bay of Finland, 100 km from the Finnish capital, that the Russians are planning now to re-militarize with missiles that can hit Helsinki in about a minute. So Finland will probably need a new air-defense system, something much better and way more expensive than NASAMS. So, add a billion or five…
The parallel you draw between Ukraine in the present and “the Finnish-Russian wars within WWII” escapes me, I’m afraid:-
⦁ The Finns were the reverse of catspaws (as most of the Ukrainians are) for a foreign power, itself a non-combatant (the USA)
⦁ In obedience to the old adage “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”, Finland allied itself with Nazi Germany after Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, with the aim of recovering the territories it had been forced to cede to the Soviets as the price of the armistice which ended the Winter War in March 1940, as the result of the Soviet invasion three months previously
⦁ At no stage did Finland in consequence succumb to nazi ideology, but preserved intact its democratic polity and the rule of law (unlike the Kiev regime, which conspicuously has preserved neither)
⦁ When it became clear that Germany was losing the war in the East (the western front being of scant or no strategic concern for Finland), the Finnish government in 1944 sued for peace with the Soviets, for the obvious reason that otherwise Finland would be overrun by the Red Army, the price demanded by the Soviets being that the Finnish army – rather than the Red Army – expel all German forces from Finnish territory (which was accomplished – against stiff German resistance – at considerable cost in blood and destruction)
I have difficulty seeing the applicability of any of this to the situation in the Ukraine,
What I think it might have applicability to instead is the situation in contemporary Finland itself. IMO it’s a tragedy that the Finns today seem incapable of summoning-up the statesmanship and pragmatism which preserved their nation from destruction in 1944 and from Soviet occupation subsequently during the Cold War. But that’s a different story, alas.
“Finns today seem incapable of summoning-up the statesmanship and pragmatism which preserved their nation from destruction in 1944 and from Soviet occupation”
Yet you clearly state that the Finns switched sides any time it was convenient. Further, long before Finland followed the Wehrmacht into Barbarosa, Finland was an informal partner with Nazi Germany.
Therein is the only possible Russian Strategy, including in Ukraine. Since Russia has no trustworthy party on the other side, Ukraine will be made into a helpless rump, like foolish Finland, and Russia will dictate the terms.
For her part, Merkel strengthened Russia’s hand (likely deliberately) by telling the world that NOBODY in the West can be trusted (on anything).
I think one challenge is whether Ukraine really has any true decision making agency. Back in March Zelensky seemed prepared to do a deal but Johnson (acting as Biden’s / the Neocons messenger boy) scuppered it. It seems that all sorts of stick and carrots were used to ensure that Zelensky did not agree to peace. After all, Ukraine only seems to be able to pay state salaries because Uncle Sam provides the dollars to do so.
The Finns (as far as I can tell) did not lose decision making agency to quite the same degree. At the end of WW2 they were also helped by the fact that they are not on an obvious invasion route into Russia. So Stalin did not prioritize occupying them to the extent he did with countries such as Poland that he wanted as buffers.
Ukraine itself is just a stage for the conflict now. If it it ends there without full defeat for either the west or Russia then it will just ignite somewhere else. It is a tragedy for Ukraine and far too many Ukrainians and Russians are dying (that is simply horrible) but a reality. Similar to South Vietnam. The west never cares about “collateral” casualties. Which always dwarf its own deaths. But only western (or US) lives really seem to count.
In that wider US / puppets versus Russia / China conflict there is no bargaining overlap, as Yves says. No party has a minimum acceptable outcome that the other will agree to. Russia for sure also knows that any agreement the US / puppets make will just get abrogated when it suits them. So this ends when one party accepts defeat and is sufficiently weakened that it cannot be seen as a threat again.
My personal sympathies are with Russia. Seems clear to me that the US / UK / other puppets are the strategic aggressor. The article itself fails to find many instances of Russian aggression and the ones quoted are best seen as responses to western aggression. Libya, Syria, Maidan, Serbia, Iraq, Afghanistan and so forth are clear examples of aggression many miles from home. No objective, non propagandized observer can possibly sympathize with the US and puppets. Whatever the nonsense expounded about defending democracy, western values, rules based order or whatever else gets claimed. However, being in the right does not win wars. We will see how this plays out.
One minor point – in this particular proxy war, it seems that a small number of western lives lost is fine and can be ignored as we would normally ignore the deaths of brown people. It’s an interesting development in the narrative. It will also be interesting seeing how many deaths can be ignored successfully – perhaps a little frog boiling is going on.
Fair point. I suspect it will last as long as the deaths can stay hidden. But common sense would suggest that cannot be for long. Anyone killed or wounded has relatives, friends and so forth. The word must surely get out. Only a small number of deaths can be covered up as “deaths in training” or whatever until credibility is lost. Or at least one would think so.
Not so much hidden, but reasoned as acceptable under the buzzword of “sovereignty”. That is the one word that is used to defend everything. That Russia is somehow denying the Ukrainian people their “sovereign right” to join EU and NATO.
This while ignoring that the history of Donbass and Crimea is that they became “Ukrainian” by decree back in the 1950s.
Or that Ukraine as such is a patchwork nation akin to cold war Jugoslavia, that was so quickly dismantled in the 90s.
What exactly “sovereingty” means in international (as opposed to intranational) context is an interesting question. Using the term to argue that a state may not interfere in internal affairs of another is one thing (not that the idea stopped the Westerners), but sovereingty hardly means a country has a “right” to engage in hostile actions against another in league with others (ie join an alliance like NATO).
Well, Donbass was assigned in the 1920s, not the 1950s.
I agree that the people never really entered into it at any point. It may be held that it is good for people’s opinions to matter, but historically they have not. Worth remembering that the majority of Ukrainians voted for the Union to be preserved when asked. The majority only shifted in favour of independence after it was practically a fait accompli.
It all makes better sense if what they call “security dilemma” is interpreted in the sense of “fight for hegemony” when you only feel safe being the uncontested power.
(I see after writting this is much in line with Acacia’s comment below)
Does “security dilemma” apply when one party wants security while the other seeks world domination or death?
That would be the Master/Slave dialectic in Hegel. In IR, nations seek domination of their neighbors because it promotes security (consider the US in the Western Hemisphere). While Ukraine is smaller and weaker than Russia, they hope to prevail through the assistance of their more powerful proxies. One of their proxies seeks world domination or death, and Ukraine has no choice but capitulate or die, and the Russians are seeking regional domination or death.
Well, I’d say that’s not really a suitable analogy. In the master/bondsman dialectic, the bondsman doesn’t simply want security, but rather submits to the master due to a fear of death. More significantly, the bondsman comes to recognize that his labor shapes nature into products for the master, and thus the master depends upon him. It is through this recognition that the bondsman advances towards self-consciousness (via stoicism, skepticism, and the ‘unhappy consciousness’) while the master does not.
Moreover, if both master and bondsman have nuclear arsenals capable of potentially destroying all human life — as in the case of the West vs. Russia —, in effect they both have the power of life or death over the other. Russia also has the Soviet “Dead Hand” system (still in operation, apparently), which in effect ensures mutual death in the event that the West tries to launch a preemptive nuclear strike. Thus, I don’t see that that bit of Hegel (however famous it may be) really captures this conflict.
I tend to agree with @square coats summary, just below, and thus I don’t see how the “security dilemma” invoked by Benjamin and Davies is very helpful for thinking through a resolution of this conflict.
I think one way to point to the misunderstanding on the part of Medea Benjamin and Nicolas Davies is looking at their assertion:
“Both sides recognized that the other was not hell-bent on destroying the world, and this provided the necessary minimum basis for negotiations and safeguards to try to ensure that this did not come to pass.”
At present, it seems to me that the u.s. is hell-bent on destroying certain parts of the world, including Russia (often of course it seems like the u.s. would be happy to destroy the entire world), while Russia has no desire to destroy any of the world.
Or another way of looking at it is that the u.s. has security demands that are fundamentally incompatible with the sovereign flourishing of other countries, because the u.s. perceives other countries’ development/advancement as threatening to its security. Because its security is basically continuing to get a free ride off the rest of the world I guess.
(of course above I’m just referring to TPTB in the u.s.)
I wonder if Benjamin and Davies are trying to convince a particular audience and who that audience is. Like I assume there’s a huge chunk of western populations that would refuse to consider any argument that unequivocally takes the position that the u.s. is the aggressor and in the wrong and the party to the conflict needing to dramatically change its demands. So maybe they’re leveling some kind of both sides argument to try to reach people who might be open to it?
But I feel like even if somehow this argument was able to convince some critical mass of people in the west, who then effectively pressured enough/the essential (in this situation) western governments, so a cease fire actually was established and parties sat down to negotiate, it wouldn’t solve the conflict because the u.s. government would still want to destroy Russia, and their both sides argument is certainly not going to dissuade TPTB from their desire.
I agree with a lot of what you say.
I’m not sure who the intended audience is for this type of article. It doesn’t even rise to the typical level of Slate contrarian that the likes of Yglesias used to throw over the digital wall. I don’t think there’s any media campaign suppressing an anti Ukraine war left in the US. I think there is no anti war left. There’s shocking amounts of ignorance in the US over our past actions and current intentions. Most “informed” citizens I’ve tried to have brief conversations about this topic don’t understand the importance of what Merkel said the other day and how that impacts Russia’s current decision making. And there’s no way to discuss the details with most people without making yourself one of those crazy conspiracy theorists…so why try?
More importantly IMO, assume there is a significant population of citizens in the UK or Germany or USA that does oppose the war and does want to do something. How do they do that? There has been no declaration of war. None of their armies are “officially” involved. In the US, we can’t even bring ourselves to vote for a war powers resolution regarding the conflict in Yemen! What possible chance is there of getting a vote on Ukraine. This is literally the Blob. There is a large amorphous mass of money and connections relentlessly pushing the war in Ukraine using undemocratic means contrary to everything our republic stands for. There is no way to resist it short of dismembering our entire federal government. So why would anyone write articles discussing options about ending this war using facts and well reasones arguments? There’s no audience for it and no purpose to be accomplished.
It is downright worrying how much USA follows UK history, only with a much larger nation and nukes…
—and used military force in ways that directly violated the UN Charter’s prohibition against the “threat or use of force.”—
Western pundits (particularly “progressives”) gloss over Serbia/NATO’s war in Yugoslavia.
Clinton’s (Albright’s) war is the original sin of 21th century Great Game politics—-Russia and China saw that the US is no less an imperial bully than 19th century Britain or France.
But back then Russia and China were too weak and unprepared to stand up to the US. Now things are different and revenge is a dish best served cold.
The US has no one to blame for the loss of its unipolar hegemony other than the elites in DC.
But maybe Russia’s realizable aim is to do to Ukraine the same as the West did to Yugoslavia: impose small statelets which are no threat to anyone but hopefully prosperous and happy in their own terms, despite some forced relocations. I can see some Ukrainians being against this, but why should the West be concerned?
In that case, the Ukrainians could develop a local industry selling bodily organs, as the Kosovars apparently have…
Reports are saying that it is already been happening. And the laws were changed in the Ukraine last year to make it easier to happen.
Yes, Russia very carefully recognized the breakaway republics on February 21 (Duma had passed resolution the prior week, not initiated by Putin BTW but the hawkish opposition, the Communists) and also signed a collective defense agreement, which meant Russia could deploy troops to defend the Donbass under Article 51. Putin said it would prove to be a dangerous precedent when the US did just that with Kosovo in IIRC 1999.
Oh, and the Collective West launched its shock and awe sanctions on Feb 22, BEFORE Putin announced and launched the SMO on Feb 24.
“Security Dilemmas” and “Peace Talks” can only be resolved when the “two” sides can identify each other, their interests and their futures. We are nowhere near. Is it Russia vs Ukraine or NATO or America? Is it the USA vs the South, the West vs the East? Terms have not been defined geopolitically, were are working these things through and it is frightening. Russia will be one side, representing others indirectly, but who will they negotiate with? Between NATO, the US, the EU and Ukraine we need someone to assume a position of leadership because at the moment we have a nebulous lack of political will that is working only for corporate interests.
The historical analogue for US in the present moment is imperial Rome. The only concern that matters is the imperial concern. The imperial concern is never about the security so someone else or the rights of citizens outside the empire.
Rome was never about justice – it was about military might applied aggressively against non-Rome. Eventually this hit its limits, but Rome lasted 1000 years and in the process turned a lot of places into deserts.
I read Putin’s remarks and see his plan for a beautiful autarchy. That’s a nice construct but it requires cohesion of purpose that I am not sure the ordinary Russians share. The idea that they can endure a protracted conflict without putting the economy on a war footing (with the attendant civilian sacrifices) is not realistic. Even if it gets put into practice, it would require 10s of years to implement.
Ask yourself, if you are the parent of a high school male Russian child, what would be better for your child – death in the trenches in Ukraine or subjugation by the imperial west? As a parent of an high school male American child, I can tell you that I will be crossing the Canadian border with him the moment Joe Biden declared mobilization to fight Mexican fascists.
Russia has a great ability to endure pain for its survival as a people, see WWII.
And Russia is presently ten years ahead of the collective West in its military production capability, both in sheer output and in the performance of its weapons systems: https://www.rusi.org/explore-our-research/publications/commentary/return-industrial-warfare
Russia is a generation ahead of the West in missiles and air defense technology. Per former Colonel Douglas Macgregor, who has inside sources, Ukraine is losing 7-10 men for every Russian. That’s not sustainable. That ratio is set to continue to be very Russia-favorable as Ukraine continues to send essentially untrained men to the front. Ukraine has been pressing into service and again per Macgreor, conscripting both 13-14 year olso men over 60. Alexander Mercouris reported Tuesday that Ukraine is falling short of its current recruitment goals while Putin said he sees no need to recruit more men for the Ukraine war. The general increase in force levels is to take place over a period of years.
Per former Indian diplomat M. K. Bhadrakumar earlier this week described the force increase level that Putin depicted as not requiring Russians to sacrifice creature comforts:
And NATO members are not willing to go to war with Russia. Again Bhadrakumar:
Douglas Macgregor has said that the most the US could scrape up under a “coalition of the willing” is 90,000: 40,000 from the US, 30,000 from Poland, 20,000 from Romanian and others. NATO has already cleaned out its weapons caches to help Ukraine. The US can’t send more Patriot missiles than its 1 (!!!!) platform because it would cut into our ability to operate v. China. Ukraine has used its HIMARS profligately in the eyes of the US and we don’t have a lot more to send them, let alone support a new troop allocation. More men does not solve Russia’s overwhelming advantage in artillery.
The US is not set up to wage ground wars against a peer power. We optimized for small insurgent wars against guys in sandals. Russia is not that.
The only paths forward are either an armistice or escalation.
Escalation requires a Perl Harbor like incident on US soil, with massive US casualties.
Armistice requires an overhaul of the Us blob. With mass firings and prison for the Senior leaders of the blob.
Much prestige in the blob is based on the US prevailing.
The only paths forward are either an armistice or escalation.
Oh, come now. There’s a third path and it’s a profitable one for the US MIC — more profitable than escalation to nuclear war, certainly — so it has a high chance of happening.
It’s this. The US-NATO declares victory on the basis of having stopped Putin and Russia from conquering all the Ukraine, then moving on conquer other countries in Eastern Europe. (Yes, I know.)
Thereby, a substantial part of Ukraine — maybe only east of the Dnieper, maybe part of the western area of the country is turned into a DMZ between the two blocs. This will become to some extent a literal no man’s land that’s maybe hundreds of miles wide and a testbed for the deployment of new weapons technologies: drones, missiles, and loitering munitions (ground-based drones and mobile mines, too), along with electronic and radar jamming (so when lethal AI military applications appear it happens here, because EW countermeasures to radio communication with/between drones necessitate it).
True, it does sound like similar scenarios out of the writings of Stanislaw Lem and P. K. Dick a half-century or more ago. But then, as you may have noticed yourself, it’s 2022.
I think that is precisely why Russia will not allow a DMZ to happen. The Russians are settling in for the long haul, with expectations that all of their borders will be under assault from regime change type operations. In that scenario the Collective West not only has to lose in Ukraine to forestall them, it must be seen to lose.
As they have not engaged in the propaganda wars it appears clear that they are of little consequence to them; facts on the ground are all that matter. The overreliance on propaganda, however, can be weaponized to their benefit. A truly humiliating settlement would be the worst loss imaginable to the West, and is prolly what they are aiming for at this point. I foresee the treaties rejected last December becoming live again fairly soon.
I think that is precisely why Russia will not allow a DMZ to happen
How would the Russians prevent it? They cannot conquer all Ukraine — and don’t want to — so there will be a border zone or DMZ. Maybe only as wide as the Dnieper but it will be there.
I do agree that a DMZ is possible and maybe even likely, but not because Russia cannot “conquer” all of Ukraine, or because it won’t want to do so, but because it chooses a DMZ as preferable to continuing the war. I do believe Russia is in the driver’s seat.
Also, are you forgetting the fog of war? That may preclude a DMZ as a stabilizing choice, just because the end game may be sudden and uncontrollable.
I can envision a scenario where the Ukraine government collapses. In this scenario, Russia would not be “conquering” Ukraine, as you put it, but just filling a sudden vacuum. Would it decline to fill that vacuum if it occurred? I doubt it. By that point, a long tired cold hungry population will be hungry for peace. It would probably not be too difficult to occupy the entire country, imho.
An argument against my own scenario: Scott Ritter emphasizes the importance of “Escalation Management” by the Russians. Russia may not want to see Ukraine suddenly collapse for fear of a dangerous escalatory response by the West. Assuming this is the case, can Russia thread this needle–weaken Ukraine but not weaken it too much?
Again, fog of war…. But I do believe Russia is in the driver’s seat. When the end game happens, the West will just have to suck it up because it will be game over.
Then the neocons in the West will be cast into the outer darkness, with a wailing and gnashing of teeth. Putin will get this larger victory, and this will be a good thing (speaking as a war-weary US taxpayer).
What I wonder is what might take place if Poland does occupy Galicia and Volhynia after Ukraine falls apart. On the one hand, the West might have trouble swallowing this and might distance/(partially) disavow Poland, which would effectively turn Poland into a DMZ. But then, the last time Poland pulled this off, at that time against Czechoslovakia in 1939, no one in the West even paid attention.
“And Russia is presently ten years ahead of the collective West in its military production capability, both in sheer output and in the performance of its weapons systems:…”
Another interesting point I have seen made recently is that the Western economic paradigm, neoliberalism, is to make money, not weapons. All of the incentives are to make blingy stuff in small amounts to maximize earnings potential.
To nationalize even a small portion of of our MIC, as Russia has done, would damage the overall rationale for financialized capitalism vs. industrial capitalism, and is therefore something that will not be done absent a threat to the CW nations themselves.
If one extrapolates that argument into futurity in light of stated Russian objectives, Russia is not only ten years ahead of the Collective West in military production, it is permanently ahead of the West.
This is borne out in Adam Tooze’s book (Wages of Destruction) about the extremely rapid German re-armament of 1936-39. In 1936, German industrialists were refusing to make the essential investments for fear of taking on too much risk. They wanted a safe but profitable low level of production. The Nazis, who were fundamentally contemptuous of markets and the profit motive, told them they’d be jailed for sabotage against the Third Reich if they refused. Oh, but they’d get a guaranteed 5% profit. But they couldn’t distribute those profits without Goering’s approval.
The Nazi’s wouldn’t put up with private sector foot-dragging as is typical for oligopolies. Germany was especially capable of de-railing Hitler’s massive re-armament plans because its industries were highly concentrated cartels and had lots of power.
Another precedent is FDR’s battles with industry starting in 1940. Ford, GM, et. al. refused to make armaments production a priority because civilian production was more profitable. Rather than be bribed into letting armaments–the patriotic duty of big business — still more profitable to be the main priority, Roosevelt passed the Defense Production Act to coerce big business into putting all weapons work THE top priority. As a result, civilian production receded. Later, big bond drives also meant the civilian workforce didn’t have the purchasing power to buy civilian goods beyond necessities, thus controlling inflation as the war economy boomed.
So, if you really want “Peace through Strength” (and control inflation) you’ve got to toss the neoliberal model out the frigging window.
The recent proposed merger of L3Harris and Rocketdyne suggests that cartelization of the MIC is happening in this country. If history is any guide, the CEOs WILL resist being told to produce faster than they want to….Because: profits, just as you say.
The way to think about the future of this conflict is to work backwards from plausible endings. The status quo ex ante. Which was military neutrality in Ukraine. Which is gone, unfortunately.
The neutral Ukraine pre 2014 had internal tensions, but no war.
John Mersheimer has asserted (forever) that Russia has the capacity to ruin Ukraine. Which is increasingly obvious, whatever one thinks of Russia’s military capacity.
The only plausible ending is a divided Ukraine. The only point of fighting is to establish a line, and the detailed status of remaining western portion.
A corollary to Russia’s ability to “ruin” Ukraine is their inability to absorb and maintain full permanent control of the entire country. At least with their current commitment to this war and current capabilities.
The issue is simply the pain of continuing the war vs the benefit of possibly more favorable details in a settlement. But the result is that NATO and Russia have lost a useful buffer country and will be lined up on another huge border. Head to head.
I think Russia is more or less limited to territory east of the Dniper.
As far as the US is concerned, it doesn’t matter much. Losing Ukraine is no different than losing Vietnam, Afghanistan or Iraq. They were never strategically essential, but at the time, they were thought to be the most important thing ever. We never officially let Ukraine in NATO, were never officially at war, and have no need to “die” on this hill.
The major success of NATO is the post WW 2 effective disarmament of European nation states, and the benefits they derived from it. Everyone would be OK with a return to old NATO. Except the Neocon national security special interests in the US. But there is always China and the next “most important thing ever”. After all, the checks on this one have already been cashed.
US public enthusiasm was always based on Ukrainian military success. The war will require full funding of what some estimate at $10 billion per month funding of Ukraine’s economy and government by the US and Europe. Maybe that is too much, but Ukraine is getting wrecked systematically.
This seems like your opinion inasmuch as you don’t provide any support for it, as though it’s obvious. I don’t agree.
You are thinking like a Westerner (as I suspect you are) not like a Russian. Russia has lost a lot of lives in this war, and by now the Russian people may see a divided Ukraine as a half-measure. I think Putin may not have the political space for that, nor does it seem he needs to.
Russia leaving a rump Ukraine would be as foolish as Bush leaving Saddam Hussein in power after the first Iraq war. It allows an unresolved problem to fester for the West to exploit again in the future. No, better to lance the boil now.
In about 2-3 months, the people of Ukraine will be tired of being cold, hungry, and traumatized. It will be easy to occupy in its entirety, imho. Then Russia will have the leverage to impose the peace it wants.
Then Europe will go back to buying cheap Russian gas, oil and fertilizer, as I’m sure it desperately wants to do. Too bad Joe, but you gambled and lost, and the USA will be better for it.
Never forget that the U.S. built their main adversary – China. And with the U.S. economy at 89% Government and Services where is the Manufacturing base going to come from?
With the Root Rot of Fiat Currency the USA is now compelled by History to decline. The only question is how much damage will be done on the way out.
Using the Roman analogy, the US would be wise to remember how things turned out between Rome and Alaric.
Alaric and the Goths had fought with the Romans to maintain the Empire, much like Russia helping the other Allies defeat the Germans in WWII while doing most of the heavy lifting. And yet the Goths were always treated as 2nd class, and not even citizens, by the Roman elites who looked down their noses at them, much like how Putin and Russia are treated by the West today. Alaric and his armies showed up at the gates of Rome asking merely to be treated as equals and given citizenship in the empire, since it was the Goths’ blood, sweat, and tears that had allowed the Romans to continue to live their comfortable lives.
The supercilious Romans refused Alaric’s request and the Goths proceeded to wreck the place, and that was pretty much it for the Western empire.
Notwithstanding the brutal past which forged the Russia of today, Russia has a rich history of literature and science which equals or exceeds that of the West.
And only the fearful and overrated Neocon/Warmongers in the West, refuse to understand that fact.
I don’t think you’re wrong about Russia per se. But Putin has been adamant that Russia will not go to autarchy; his statement reproduced here clearly says Russia is capable but he’s made plenty of other statements saying that Russia will not isolate itself or allow itself to be isolated.
Inside Russia there’s movement to put the military industrial complex on war footing without putting the whole nation on a war footing. I can’t say whether that will be successful or whether the rest of the economy will need to follow the MIC. At least at this point and in this context full war footing seems unnecessary.
The difference between your example with Biden and Russia is that you wouldn’t believe that Mexican fascists were a threat to you or the nation. That’s not so for Russians, primarily because everyone in the west has made it abundantly clear to Russians that the intent is to destroy the nation. Maybe not genocide, but most adult Russians have clear memories of the last time the West was allowed to manage and control Russia and that was supposedly as friends and to “help”. Of course there’s a wide variety of opinion in Russia on the war itself, the way it has been waged, whether individuals would be willing to fight, etc.
Doesn’t this speech show a development in Putin’s thinking? In the past he has denied that Russia seeks autarky; here an autarky is exactly what he describes.
How many of the 1000 years, Rome was an empire? Roman empire ended up splitting, and Byzantium lasted longer than the preceding 1000 years Roman empire…
And no, Russia is not going for autarchy. Trying to have its own defense industry doesn’t make for an autarchy. Russia is steadily opening up towards Asia and turning its back to the west. Where is the autarchy?
Canada may not accept you or any draft dodgers this time, it certainly is no longer sovereign. Best plan ahead.
Canada, under Trudeau, is a fawning puppy, fearful of being upbraided by the U.S.
Trudeau’s child-like vision of being Eurocentric got a shot of ice-cold reality as the U.S. MIC/Neocons/Faux Liberals yanked the European leash and Europe came to heel. That’s when Canada’s Foreign Policy of barking at the same shadows as U.S. Foreign Policy was laid bare, to the shame of Canadians.
Fundamental flaw in West’s economic strategy is that Russia doesn’t exist in, anywhere close to, a state of autarchy. Russia still maintains what in effect is a functioning open economy. While Russia continues to trade with China (esp. electronics), India (esp. pharmaceuticals), Vietnam and rest of SE Asia, and other countries of the ‘Global South’. US and Europe are no longer the sole manufacturing core of the global economy. And this is before any consideration of black market activities.
Also, US military strategy is heavily dependent on real-time satellite and airborne ELINT (which Ukraine currently has full advantage of). But in a NATO hot-war, Russia will take these out as its first priority. Putting the US at an extreme disadvantage and also massively benefiting China.
For some time now it has appeared to me that the most likely outcome of this war is a frozen conflict a la the Koreas. I don’t think Russia is interested in long term occupation of the entirety of Ukraine (annexing rather the primarily Russian speaking oblasts) and would perhaps prefer a neutral rump state in Western Ukraine which it is already proving it can wreck from distance should the usually unreliable suspects in the West get up to no good there.
A small and ungovernable rump state Ukraine would also have the effect of draining the EU and NATO of resources that could be used elsewhere.
At one point the authors ask, “Where might Russia intervene next?”
We might answer, possibly anywhere in their neighborhood that the Empire will be engaging in regime change again.
They were invited to help by Assad to counter just such an environment in Syria.
Besides fracking (poor Biden), this is the other side. Libya might be too distant and small, but the projected costs of throwing a small country against the wall are set to soar as Moscow and Beijing can supply their own weaponry and advisors swiftly. Look at the Iranian drones.
By claiming that Putin’s intervention in Georgia and Syria were acts of aggression the article is bending reality to fit the “on the other hand” premise. What’s happening is a power struggle and the article is selling that it’s all a big misunderstanding.
A more accurate description would be that a rational actor is confronting an irrational set of actors and, given that we now have nuclear planet ending stakes, that in itself is a serious roll of the dice. I’ve seen at least three articles in the past couple of days suggesting that this really could end in a nuclear exchange. Here’s one of them.
It’s time for the left to stop playing footsie with Biden and make it clear to the American public that his policies could get us all killed. Given the media lockstep this won’t be easy. Once we were in a Cuba Missile Crisis and the world was riveted. Now the MSM merely shrug. Their willful ignorance is the true evil.
I believe a high Ukrainian official was quoted a few years ago describing the Soviet advance into Germany in 1944-5 as an act of aggression by Russians (I think the actual quote was something like Russians “invading” Europe through Ukraine in 1944). Slava ukraini indeed.
I agree with you. It seems quite plausible–based on their priors–that the Neocons in charge of US foreign policy will see no alternative to defeat in Ukraine (and all that that entails for their own standing), but to escalate to tactical nukes.At that point, it really is game over for all of us. There are enough Christian Nationalists in the US military hierarchy, coupled with low wattage types like Austin, to go along with them. To simplify, it’s the Cuban Missile Crisis redux, with the roles of US and Russia reversed. While the military this time is not urging nukes, they won’t resist escalation when push comes to shove. All the smart brass top out at colonel (MacGregor, Bacevich, etc). The analogy of what rises to the top of a cesspool comes to mind, in both foreign policy, politics, and military. The US of A has rotted to its core, its citizenry dispirited by decades of neo-liberalism and distracted by cheap trinkets to maintain the pretense of “modern living”. The contrast between Putin’s rational eloquence and the gibberish of our political class embodies the depths to which we’ve descended.
“The contrast between Putin’s rational eloquence and the gibberish of our political class embodies the depths to which we’ve descended.”
amen to this.
when Putin had his breakout speech to the world…in ’05, maybe?…i was shocked at how rational and eloquent he was.
that has only become more acute.
i go and read him and Lavrov and that Maria woman on the kremlin site, and am amazed at the contrast between them and our own “leadership”.
i first really noticed the babyfood quality of our political rhetoric with billary, back in their high time.
it’s only gotten worse…with the brief and ultimately meaningless exception of Obama.
Like 1984, “Idiocracy” was supposed to be a warning, not a how-to manual.
Obama’s primary skill was distracting people from how he said nothing at all or just reinforced the status quo.
I’m not talking about blind optimism here — the almost willful ignorance that thinks unemployment will go away if we just don’t think about it, or the health care crisis will solve itself if we just ignore it. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about something more substantial. It’s the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs. The hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores. The hope of a young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta. The hope of a millworker’s son who dares to defy the odds. The hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too.
Hope in the face of difficulty. Hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of hope! In the end, that is God’s greatest gift to us, the bedrock of this nation. A belief in things not seen. A belief that there are better days ahead.
Obama wasn’t an exception. Lincoln levied attacks against Douglas types because they failed to speak plainly because the goal was to obfuscate. Obama’s talking about “real hope” not the “fake hope”. But better are coming just believe it. He was almost always like this. His AIPAC speech was frightening as he effectively announced adopting the Bush Doctrine. There is a reason people don’t share the wisdom of Obama or why random Republicans could “borrow”. He spoke in pleasant sounding gibberish. He’s great on tv, but …he dumbed the body politics down.
“The hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores. The hope of a young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta.”
What The F?!
How did he get away with making those two equivalent?!
Thinking about it further, it is like he is channeling the “golden days” of the 60s, as if USA can return to that if people just stop complaining and “work harder”…
That was a shout out to John Kerry, a naval lieutenant who patrolled the Mekong Delta during the Vietnam War.
That is some quote. No wonder those guys won Madmen of the Year. But only if it’s delivered by him. It reads like a sugar fit. To the point of being laughable from this perspective of history.
Because Bill, and Blair in UK, abandoned rationality in favor of Bernays style emotional marketing techniques. Effectively it reduces “the masses” to sacks of easily manipulated emotions, rather than persons to be convinced with rational arguments and facts. Sad thing is that it works, at least as long as said “sacks” are kept stressed and tired.
No part of the Democratic Party is of the left; no part of the entire political spectrum in Canada; as we’ve seen recently, certainly not the Greens.
The only left, left, that could stop playing footsie with Biden would be a newly risen up left, from outside of the political class.
The Roman Empire may have lasted through a thousand years of decline, but, as I’m sure we have all noticed, things happen a lot more quickly now.
I have been reading Ian Knight’s excellent account of the Anglo Zulu War of 1879. It is a relatively well known conflict in the UK, owing partly to the film Zulu and to the Isandlwana military disaster (and subsequent Rorkes Drift military plus propaganda victory) that had similarities to the Little Bighorn battle of just a couple of years earlier.
The root cause of the war was that local colonial officials wanted to subordinate the Zulu nation and justified doing so by talking up an alleged security threat to Natal (which objectively was very heavily overblown) and so chose to goad the Zulu king into war.
This is broadly the accepted historiography now, with some nuance around the war aim also being to enable intended federation of South Africa.
Fascinating that we can perceive our own imperialism of 150 years ago but see our modern western governments as so virtuous. But, underneath the hype, the west sees Russia exactly the same way that the Victorian pro consuls of empire saw the Zulu nation. With just as limited justification. At least the Victorians knew that ultimately they had the power to win. They were perhaps immoral but rational at the same time. Our modern leaders are both immoral and irrational too, given Russia’s true power.
I’ve got a coupla of his books as well and he does write well. He even has a small YouTube channel. Showing my age here but I still love a much earlier book which is probably considered outdated now which came out in 1966. It is called “The Washing of the Spears” by the American Donald R. Morris which gives the epic tale of the rise and fall of the Zulu nation and is worth the time reading.
The reason that I mention this book is when he talked about the forces that pushed for this war, he talked about how the British were trying to put together a South African Confederation like had been done in Australia and Canada. But to keep the Afrikaners at bay, this British bureaucrat needed land to keep them occupied and Zululand fit the bill. And the British needed cheap labourers to work in their economy – and the Zulus would do nicely after being defeated.
So at heart it is the same story here with the collective west desiring Russia resources for their exploitation and probably cheap Russian workers after their defeat. And a Russian defeat will help ensure a world confederation which we call the New World Order. Same old story write larger. Just a matter of scope and opportunity.
Except this time it is our Ukrainian proxies who are being mowed down like Zulus. I remember seeing Zulu when it came out and it’s part of a whole genre of stiff upper lip Brits versus the barbarian horde. Some say the English decided to keep their Empire alive by convincing the Yanks to do the heavy lifting and of course there’s the Rhodes Scholar CT where those trained to the correct point of view are supposedly then planted as moles in the State Department.
A more likely theory would be that our foreign policy is heavily influenced by actors with central European origin who have a bone to pick with Russia. Talking about you Zbigniew.
Maybe expand that list with Tony Bli, Vicky Nu and Christia Fri. Or if sourcing the orgin more westerly maybe expand with Ursula Ley and Olaf Shu?
Fortunately for the majority of us, the only way to talk to Zbigniew these days is through a Ouija Board.
Yes I know. But it rhymes.
He has–er had–lots of company.
Exactly with respect to Confederation in South Africa. The bureaucrat concerned was Sir Henry Bartle Frere. He connived to create the war without explicit permission from London. Once it erupted, the government was not overly keen but had to contend with telegraph lines only running part way to Cape Town. So communication took a couple of weeks, allowing lots of scope for independent action.
Washing of the Spears is a great book. Some of its commentary about the military side of things has been questioned by later histories. My recollection is that it is more sympathetic to the military commander Lord Chelmsford than more modern histories. Also puts a lot of weight on the account of Isandlhwana given by (later WW1 General) Horace Smith-Dorrien who was one of the escapees and ascribes defeat in large part to the alleged unwillingness of the quartermaster to dispense ammunition without forms being filled in. Some later histories question this, for example.
Of course the role of Theophilus Shepstone here is not to be forgotten – the sob. A lot more original sources have come to light since that book came out which changes our perception of the events of that era but it certainly gives the ‘flavour’ of that era. As for the subject of ammo, they were spread out too far with their lines and when I went to Isandhlwana back in ’79, you could see that they were defending a lot of unnecessary territory. And Morris explains that this was because they were not adjusted from when the larger force was in camp. You might be interested in a channel that was set up not that long ago on YouTube-
That’s useful. I’ll check the channel out.
Yes, Shepstone was another interesting character! Along with the various members of his family, some of whom paid the ultimate price by being killed in the war I seem to remember.
Fully believe the Morris book is still pretty much the seminal work to compare other histories with. Specific details have been questioned (such as the ammunition story) but the broad points are right, with empathy for the participants on both sides. Incredibly well written and edited too. Very few books today seem to be of that standard.
I particularly recall the ending chapters where Morris writes about Cetshwayo visiting England and traveling in a steam train from Dover (I think) to London. Points out that Cetshwayo was in a state of awe and realised that the Zulus could never have won. It struck with me as a sad reflection.
You may have read them already but Thomas Pakenham’s “The Scramble for Africa” and “The Boer War” were written a couple of decades later and are of an equally high standard. ‘The Scramble for Africa” is particularly relevant as a mirror to reflect on whether we have really changed. I think not. Which brings us back to the modern era of imperial aggression. However, the bulk of western populations really do believe (think is an inappropriate verb) that we have changed.
“but see our modern western governments as so virtuous”
With controlled Media and Internet it is hard to conclude “the West” sees anything. What the West sees is what the fringe Overlords want it to see.
And that is why 90% of Western populations don’t believe anything the see or hear from Media and Internet.
It’s amazing to me that, just a year after the publication by the Washington Post of the “Afghanistan Papers”–which chronicled a decade of concerted lying by DOD/DOS/White House about the war, and dutiful publication of such lies by the MSM–suddenly we are supposed to believe the WAPO and MSM about the War in Ukraine and our virtuous role there.
Despite this, so many of my very bright PMC friends actually believe what they are told! I don’t believe it’s out of conviction, frankly, just virtue-signalling conformism. That’s how the PMC is these days. I really don’t think they or most other people in this country give a rip about Ukraine or think about it much. Just as most French had better things to do than think much about Napoleon’s little march into Russia. Unbenownst to them, while they’re watching sitcoms they’re missing the best channel right here on NC: we’re living a paradigm shift for the ages.
Then, when the West finally folds, these people will rage: how did we “lose” against the Russkies? Then there will be a crescendo of support for even bigger MIC budgets.
Fool me once…and let’s spend more on yet a bigger hammer because the world is just a pesky bunch of nails.
None of the so-called “elites” in this mess impress me with their intelligence. They don’t have any. A bunch of rocks have a collective higher IQ. And the neocon yahoos here?? Like Kagan, Nuland, and Barfhead Bolton??? Wowsers, nothing like collective corrupt stupidity being considered a virtue. I’m going back to reading about something intelligent: the JWST!
Well this is at least an improvement from these authors in that they’re starting to acknowledge more of the full context.
“President Biden came to office promising a new era of American diplomacy, but has instead led the United States and the world to the brink of World War III.” Oh we passed the brink a while ago. Right about the end of April. World War III doesn’t have to be with nukes, though the threat is always that it will escalate to them. Maybe that’s the problem, Americans refuse to understand that Biden has brought us WWIII. We could still extricate ourselves, but I don’t think we will. I don’t think it was necessarily intentional. If Plan A had worked it wouldn’t be WWIII, but when Plan A failed, the choice was essentially to admit its failure or progress to WWIII.
IMO, you are on fire and getting things quite right in the fog of war. Some other commenters in the same page. Yes, Biden brought WWIII (he is IMO the worst US president I’ve seen during my life just for this reason). How will this escalate next year, I don’t know, but it is the only prediction I would make for 2023: confrontation will escalate and expand geographically. This is our destiny.
Sanity will not suddenly take hold. Too many people have too much invested, and I mean that literally. Blackstone isn’t even being discreet. And no I am not including the deep avarice with which so many of our “leaders” look upon Russian and Chinese resources, not just in their own countries but also countries where their agreements hold sway, in that assessment. That is only a future plum.
While there are some ideologues fueling this, we have decades of useless military adventures enriching investors who buy the politicians and government bureaucrats. This creates a whole bubble of people who just consider this a perk of the job anymore. They have born no costs, in fact the only costs for this have been on a public they couldn’t give a fig about and on the countries where these adventures have taken place. The politicians haven’t even been tested in elections for the most part. None seem able to even comprehend that there could be costs for them and it doesn’t even factor into their calculations. They may be disturbed that so little of their expectations have happened, but they are still getting their cuts of the billions being sent to Ukraine regularly, so almost business as usual.
With a hat tip to Lambert, changing course would smash too many rice bowls.
Didn’t Obama say “don’t underestimate Joe’s ability to f*** things up”.
And yet Obama sabotaged Bernie’s campaign with the express aim of getting Biden elected. For the Dems, better an aging incompetent than someone who might rock the gravy train for the elite.
I listened to an interesting interview of Jack Matlock by Glen Deissen and Alexander Mercouris a few weeks ago. Jack Matlock is a former Ambassador to the Soviet Union and was specifically tasked by Ronald Reagan to negotiate the ending of the Cold War with Russia. I bring this up because Matlock specifically discussed how the Soviet Union deciding to disband was not a defeat, but rather it was a negotiated end to the arms race. It was viewed as such by both Reagan and Gorbachev. Only after the ending of the Cold War did the media and politicians start coloring it as a defeat of Russia by the US, e.g. we outspent them on defense which was one of the main reasons they folded. Matlock made it a point during this interview to discount that viewpoint and insisted it was very much not the case. It seems that in the current environment, the neocons are continually basing their decision making on inaccurate historical data such as this. I think Russia is well past the point of wanting a peace settlement. Putin and the Russia government keep saying they are open to negotiations but I believe that is just posturing so they will not be made out to be blood thirsty militants. IMO Ukraine has now become Russia’s vehicle to demonstrate to NATO and the US how tough they intend to be in the future. They might not go as far as requiring an all out scorched earth result for Ukraine, but I believe they are going to make it a point to completely eradicate the Ukraine army and the current Ukraine leadership. Russia didn’t have to mobilize 300,000 or more troops just to contain Ukraine and liberate the Donbass. Various sources have them fielding 700,000 to over a million men now. As Yves mentioned don’t forget Russia sees containing NATO now as a primary goal, not just ending their problems with Ukraine. Putin explicitly stated that he wanted NATO back to its 1991 boundaries.
300,000 men may be necessary when the Ukrainian state effectively dissolves or ceases to govern. The retired US general who brought up 90’s war plans during the march to the Iraq invasion had gamed out a coalition providing safety for refugees during a civil war, probably between the boys not an invasion, and still called for half a million men.
Dissolution of the state is where events are heading. Moscow and Minsk will need to control the border and launch raids long after a general collapse. The heady pronouncements of Ukraine energy ministers is all will be well in a Friedman Unit if nothing bad happens such as a Russian missile strike. The fallout will have to be dealt with.
The refugees aren’t going to have countries like Syria and Jordan to be forgotten in by the West.
Medea and Nick mis-define a security dilemma. It is not a reciprocal situation. It is a situation for one side in which, feeling itself under threat (or claiming to feel that), it then takes actions that lead to increasing the level of actual threat that it faces.
In Ukraine, the US/NATO side has gotten itself into a classical security dilemma…progressively since 1991 and more acutely since 2021. It seems like pure projection for Medea and Nick to claim that Russia faces a similar/parallel situation in Ukraine.
It is a situation for one side in which, feeling itself under threat (or claiming to feel that), it then takes actions that lead to increasing the level of actual threat that it faces.
It is more a case, as Putin once noted, that if you are going to have to fight, better to strike the first blow.
The neocons have been dead set on dismantling Russia and looting what is left. Russia had no option but to fight back.
There is a flaw in Putin’s logic about the West seeking the destruction of Russia; specifically, if this was the case, then why was Russia not obliterated when she was on her knees in the 1990s? I do not believe Russian destruction is part of the White House’s plan. I also disagree that the present crisis is a ‘security dilemma’, in that it is a case of parties simply being unable to trust one another when they would rather not be in conflict.
I actually think the present crisis is the result of western leaders actively seeking (non-nuclear, non-committal) conflict, to distract from their declining domestic economies and shore up their own political positions. Like old feudal princes, who when under pressure sought glory in foreign war. Russia is simply the most convenient bogeyman who can be easily sold to the western public as an excuse for their declining living standards and reduced rights and freedoms. Probably you will find the greatest accelleration of Russia-hostile foreign policy coincided with the OWS protests or close to them. I should add I don’t believe this to a conspiracy, so much as it is pure political instinct, the reptile brains of the political class latching onto a nice long proxy war with Putin to shore up their emotion position in their electorate’s subconsciousness’.
It’s not a vacuum. China is part of the equation. I think the other side is the West fully expected Russia to collapse without the “jawb creators”. It’s projection, but I don’t think Western elites can conceive of how a state can function without all powerful billionaires.
I’m convinced Euro Greens are cia fronts, but Russian natural gas effectively ends US franking ambitions.
To be fair, we tried. There’s a reason all the OG oligarchs ended up in London. Throughout the 90’s and into the 00’s we fomented separatist movements on the periphery of the Russian Federation and the CIS. It wasn’t “we will crush you” and application of military force, but more subtle via economics and fomenting nationalist/separatist movements that, if successful, likely would have broken Russia up into the sort of statelets we now see drawn on maps of “decolonizing” Russia. Two things got in the way.
The first was Putin, regardless of whether he was the figurehead of an internal soft coup against Yeltsin or a rising political power player, his ascension put a wrench in the plans simply because he wasn’t willing to give up Russian sovereignty for western acceptance. That was the deal that both Gorbachev and Yeltsin were willing to entertain. The second was Afghanistan. The US couldn’t reliably supply the Afghan adventure in the early years without flyover permission (may have even been rail transport through Russia). That forced the Bush admin to back off the project to undermine Russia to at least some degree. Combined with the turn towards defeating terrorism, the US took its eyes off the ball of destroying Russia long enough for Putin to actually consolidate power and act on it, internally (the oligarchs) and externally (Chechnya in particular but other portions of the RF).
You are right about creating an enemy, though I think it runs deeper. Our form of capitalism requires continuous primitive accumulation and Russia has been – going all the way back to the 90’s – a really tempting source of primitive accumulation. The bogeyman of terrorism turns out to not be quite existential enough but Putin and China do fit the bill nicely.
Putin doesn’t say the West is seeking “the destruction of Russia”; he says the goal is to “weaken and divide our nation”, i.e., to regime change the current leadership, break Russia apart into smaller pieces, and refashion them into compliant vassal states in the Western Empire.
Us elites were happily looting yeltsin’s Russia in the 90’s, why rock the boat?
Imo Russian hatred became deep seated before ww2 because of the communist threat, and after that the west realized a nuclear ussr couldn’t be dominated. Also, Todays elites might remember fear when they were taught to hide under desks. And many dems think Hillary would have won except for Russian interference.
Us movies nearly always use Russia as the evil opponent wanting world domination. It’s natural the west wants to destroy Russia.
Interesting to me that it’s republicans that are turning ant- Ukraine conflict, whether isolationists or simply see poor prospects. Imo this means dems are more emotional, which worries me.
The temporary confusion while the think tanks decided whether Eurasia or Eastasia are our enemy supports your take. IMO they needed to drive forward social controls at home after loosening things up for COVID, and manufactured an expensive, encompassing, threatening spectacle to sell it. IIRC, UK went through a similar “pep talk” period of social tightening after WWII.
I think you’re on to something. I frankly think we under-estimate the extent to which our foreign policy is simply a lazy form of satisficing diverse domestic influencers for votes and to distract from domestic ills.
I heard that Clinton was influenced by those around him who said he’d win the Polish vote if he let NATO expansion include Poland.
Also, I do believe it’s a mistake to attribute “grand strategy” thinking to our short-term-focused leadership class. Because they lack these skills, they are over-dependent on advisors. Too many of them have pedigrees in academe, the MIC and other places whose profits depend on a certain “neocon” way of thinking. These leaders lazily follow too much of this advice and make “bold” decisions that they think make them look powerful and virtuous to the people.
It all starts with the first, lazy, ill-considered step to deal with a contingency in the 24 hour news cycle. They fail to see that once down a certain path (“we’ll support Ukraine for as long as it takes”) it leads inexorably to more steps into a fog bank called an uncontrollable war.
Hanlon’s razor says: don’t attribute to malice or conspiracy what can just as easily be attributed to stupidity. Also, see Cipolla’s five laws of stupidity. And maybe “the reptile brain” as you put it. These explain a lot about the root of our predicament.
I wish this entire thread could somehow be required reading for everyone, which of course it will not be because it questions the Current Dogma that Russia is a primitive savage collection of sub human creatures now slithering toward all of us with extinction in mind. In my limited view, Putin’s framing of this conflict – centuries – is correct, but most readers may think this is about say the last three centuries as first France then Germany and now NATO are invading Slavic space. However this can be extended, I think, far back, all the way to even ancient Rome and before, perhaps all the way back to the first invasions of peoples from the steppes into Europe, even preceding Rome? One could, I think, make a pretty sound argument that there is an ancient, even possibly genetic behavior and view somewhat similar to people’s instant aversion to spiders and snakes, except the aversion is to other peoples, strangers, possibly tribally based. Some will call this racism, but maybe it is an ancient need to protect us from Them for overall survival. Maybe this goes back even further, to those ancient ages when different hominins roamed the earth at the same time, Neanderthals and Erectus and Denisovians and Anatomically Moderns Humans, maybe there was a great Sorting then and we Sapiens prevailed. Maybe there is another sorting going on now, within and among Sapiens. Because as Putin says, all of this seems beyond logic and good sense, this seems beyond thought and emotion.
I have believed from the outset of this SMO action that Russia, having energy, an industrial base, an educated workforce, an agricultural potential, and a remembered history of the stakes if they do not protect their own, will emerge as the Great Power of the 21st Century, that is unless and until the West (the US and Western Europe) bring all to a great fireball to avoid defeat. China does not have the liquid fuels, has too many people, and requires the U.S and Europe consumer for growth, both of which may soon decline rapidly as energy costs and internal problems reduce purchasing power. Europe of course needs Russian gas and oil. So if, seeing rhese autarchc outcomes, neocons here have logically decided we need to hold on as long as we can when our power is greatest, this is of course logical and correct, from their point of view.
This could be a Great Battle as old as history; older, even. The Haves taking all they can and the Have Nots becoming so pissed they will burn everything down just to level the field.
Dangerous times, indeed.
I’ve pondered the ancient ethnic and religious divides and the relations of the elite in the West to Nicky and his families downfall.
But recently my imagination has taken another turn at the “urgency of now” the USA seems to have in bringing down Russia.
Just think: the melting polar caps will further reveal other energy sources. That clock is ticking and it’s right on Russia’s doorstep.
This also relates to China as Russia is a big supplier of energy to that country.
Positions are far too far apart. Russia won’t stop without securing the 5 oblasts added to Russia, and everybody would see the west had lost if Russia was allowed to do that.
But while Russia imo accepted Minsk back in march, seems not likely the 5 would be sufficient now, plus they would want a deep de-mil zone west of Dnieper. And what about Odessa? Nato wants a naval base there, while crimea has been fired at from there. So my guess is Russia takes the 4 remaining russian speaking oblasts, de-mils and de-occupies the rest of Ukraine with artillery and no power, which empties the country.
Us won’t like the ‘loss’, but wants to show nato did everything they could, though that also shows nato is a paper tiger. The problem is the only way for the us to not ‘lose’ would be nukes. Have to hope us decides to blame z for mistakes and pivots somewhere else.
As an aside, nato was attractive to fearful former ussr satellites, but imo this was on the assumption nato was strong enough to be a deterrent to Russian aggression. A post war nato won’t have that draw while the satellites can see what can happen when satellite pokes bear. And if Russia refuses to trade with nato countries post war, nato and nato wannabe countries might re-think their options. Russia might Displace us as eu godfather.
I would like to suggest that a couple of actors in this apocalyptic drama are being slighted (although not entirely omitted).
One is China. The leaders of China know that if Russia falls, USNATOWEST will be on its back immediately. Therefore, they will not permit Russia to fail, to be dismembered. Should Russia seem to slip, serious measures will be taken. I think messages about that may have been sent by now.
Another is the American people. Those who lie continually begin to believe their lies and lose their ability to know who they are. Those do not know who they are cannot have allies, neighbors, associates because they cannot distinguish between themselves and their enemies. More than once in history parties, gangs, polities have suddenly fallen apart because they have reached this condition. That millions of little flag icons appeared overnight indicates a sea of opinion that is both very broad and very shallow.* Americans may be in for interesting times, as they are called, as the social fabric is increasingly strained.
* See: https://znetwork.org/znetarticle/massive-anti-russian-bot-army-exposed-by-australian-researchers/
I doubt US has any intention of directly supporting NATO in any conflict with Russia. European countries will be left carrying the bag. At stake is US supremacy in space based reconnaissance which Russia will certainly degrade leaving the US at a distinct disadvantage against its primary adversary China. Ukraine, or even NATO, will not be worth the sacrifice.
So will the eventual solution be UN Peacekeepers in the contested regions consisting on non-NATO troops while real plebecites are held?
I would figure that we are far beyond anything like that.
I do not believe the rhetoric about Europeans seeing Russia as a threat, anymore than the current wave of hatred for all things Russian is genuine. As an European, admittedly not living there any longer, I follow this conflict closely, and see clearly the emergence of longstanding US hegemonic influence as the direct cause. Europeans have been so thoroughly subjugated by the US that they have lost their ability to think and act independently. I saw this coming a long time ago – one of my reasons for leaving.
In the 70s and 80s during the height of the Cold War when I was still in Europe, I never experienced any negative attitudes towards Russians, only the official narrative condemnation of their ‘communist’ government in Moscow. Russian language, arts and culture were always highly valued and appreciated.
It is the Americans, with their rabid fear and distrust of all things not-Caucasian, based I should say almost entirely on their refusal to even try to understand their differences, that invariably cause nearly all of the major conflicts around the world. Couple this to their greed (fear + greed = aggression) and desire to plunder Russian natural resources, and at the same time destroy the objects of their aggression, and we have the latest of their post-WWII wars to conquer the world.