European historian Richard Sakwa has stated that NATO's prime mission is "to manage the risks created by its existence." This applies today in spades.
Beginning with NATO's first supreme commander, Dwight D. Eisenhower, many eminent Americans have warned us that U.S. troops should not remain in Europe and that NATO should not expand eastward. Yet NATO has done exactly that by moving into 12 East European nations. NATO is not a peaceful diplomatic association. It's a military organization, established to fight the Soviet Union and, today, Russia.
As a draftee in the U.S. Army during 1957-1958 stationed near the "iron curtain" separating West Germany from East Germany, I can assure you that we regarded Russia and its allies as a military enemy. NATO's anti-Russian orientation has not changed despite the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of the opposing Warsaw Pact military alliance.
The strategic cause of the Ukraine crisis is NATO expansion. It was inevitable that the relentless growth of a heavily armed opposing military alliance would at some point encounter Russian resistance.
Instead of pushing a military alliance on other nations, the West should have supported neutrality for Eastern Europe. Neutrality would have prevented the present crisis and saved much of the roughly $800 billion that America spends annually on armaments. We don't need more tanks and guns in Europe. Think of how much more secure and peaceful the world would now be if we had taken the neutrality route and invested the saved dollars into global projects that actually help people.
Neutrality works. Finland's neutrality, which began in 1956, has saved it 66 years of investments in war preparations while maintaining a free, healthy, democratic economy. Austria was occupied by the allied powers (U.S., Russia, France, Britain) after World War II, and could have been remained divided, as Germany was. Instead, the allies agreed to Austrian neutrality. Today, Austria is free, democratic and highly respected, while remaining militarily neutral. In an international survey, its capital, Vienna, was voted "most livable" for 10 years running. It's a member of the European Union but, as a neutral nation, it's not a NATO member.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's resistance stems entirely from the threat he thinks will arise from Ukraine's possible NATO membership. Military strategists, and thus presidents, base their defensive planning upon military threats on the ground, not upon the promises of diplomats. What if Russia's former military alliance, the Warsaw Pact, occupied Central America and was about to incorporate Mexico? Would this be fine with us, so long as Russia assured us they had no hostile intent? It certainly wasn't fine with us when, in 1962, the Soviet Union installed missiles in Cuba.
During a press conference on Feb. 11, Putin said a Russia-Ukraine war would involve NATO, that Russia is obviously no military match for NATO, and that Russia's only possible answer would be nuclear weapons. The West has apparently not taken this threat seriously, but they surely should. For Russia, this is like the Cuban missile crisis in reverse.
Secretary of State Blinken has said that the U.S. is leaving "no stone unturned" in the search for a peaceful resolution of this crisis. Yet Blinken has repeatedly rejected as a "non-starter" the only stone that interests Putin: neutral status for Ukraine. The U.S. cannot claim to be seriously seeking peace when it rejects, without discussion, the other side's main complaint.
Military-backed pushiness has a disastrous hammerlock on American foreign policy. With few exceptions, the U.S. Congress and the Biden administration are extremely hawkish. We've seen the sorry consequences in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere. This macho pro-military mindset costs us dearly in unnecessary "defense" spending, worldwide suffering and resentment.
As I write (on Friday), Russian forces surround Ukraine and are said to be on the verge of invading. I cannot read Putin's mind, but it seems to me that if he is smart, he will sit tight and threaten Ukraine without attacking. He has much to lose if he attacks, and little to lose by waiting. Maybe the West will come to its senses and agree to actually negotiate.
There is absolutely no need for this crisis. A solution is hiding in plain sight, namely Ukrainian neutrality, similar to the neutrality of Austria and Finland. The U.S. could have prevented this mess by following a more rational policy in Eastern Europe. Rather than military alliances, we should champion neutrality and peaceful democracy. This would benefit the world and end the present crisis.