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OPINION | ART HOBSON: U.S. policy in eastern Europe pushed Russia into war

In Ukraine, it didn’t have to be this way by Art Hobson | January 3, 2023 at 1:00 a.m.

The war in Ukraine drags on. Russia and Ukraine have each suffered more than 100,000 soldiers wounded and dead well before their time.

An estimated 40,000 civilians are dead and 15 million to 30 million displaced, in a nation of 44 million. People are freezing and 18 million will need humanitarian assistance in the near future -- an inevitable consequence of the horror of war.

Ukraine has suffered over $100 billion infrastructure damage and global economic losses are now about $550 billion. The human suffering behind these numbers is enormous.

It didn't have to be this way. Ukrainians could have kept their freedom while remaining at peace.

Consider: What if the tables were turned? Suppose Russia had formed a hostile military alliance with Mexico, Cuba and 28 other nations and placed threatening missiles near our borders. Would the U.S. have agreed this was within the sovereign rights of these nations? Clearly not. As we saw during the Cuban missile crisis, any violation of our security claim (the Monroe Doctrine) over the entire Western Hemisphere is considered reason for war, including even nuclear war.

Yet since the fall of the USSR, the U.S. has acted as though Russia has no such security concerns about hostile forces stationed near its borders. Given Western invasions of Russia by Napoleon in the 19th century and by Hitler in the 20th century, and given NATO's spread into Eastern Europe, it's foolish to ignore these concerns.

What will happen if, as America hopes, Russia begins to lose this war? The U.S. director of National Intelligence, testifying to the Senate in May, said Putin might use nuclear weapons in case of "an existential threat to his regime and to Russia, from his perspective." This could occur if "he perceives he is losing." Yet this is precisely the aim of U.S. policy. Thus U.S. ignorance of Russian concerns drives us directly toward nuclear war between superpowers.

The U.S. and NATO have made many moves that threaten Russian security, including withdrawing unilaterally from the Antiballistic Missile Treaty, placing ABM systems in newly joined NATO nations, and withdrawing unilaterally from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. The INF Treaty withdrawal increases Russian vulnerability to a U.S. first strike launched from near their borders.

NATO has conducted countless miliary exercises near Russia's border, and has armed and trained the Ukrainian military and held joint training exercises inside Ukraine. Would we permit analogous military cooperation between Russia and Mexico?

The most severe Western threat to Russia has been NATO expansion pressing toward Russia's border, while disregarding assurances previously given to Russia. U.S. foreign policy experts have warned for decades it was a major error to expand NATO eastward. For just one example, George Kennan was arguably the most important diplomat and USSR/Russia policy expert from 1950 until his death in 2005. He is best known as the father of the containment policy toward USSR expansion during the Cold War.

In 1997, following the fall of the USSR, the U.S. Senate ratified NATO's eastward expansion. Kennan responded: "I think it is the beginning of a new cold war. ... The Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. ... It is a tragic mistake. ... No one was threatening anybody else. This expansion would make the Founding Fathers turn over in their graves. Don't people understand? Our differences in the cold war were with the Soviet Communist regime. And now we're turning our backs on the very people who mounted the greatest bloodless revolution in history to remove that Regime."

America tries too hard to run the world. We regard the present situation as an existential battle to save democracy from autocratic regimes in China and Russia. But neither China nor Russia is out to run the world, although both want military security near their own borders, just as we do. Furthermore, there is an element of U.S. hypocrisy in all this: Before criticizing autocracy abroad, we should look at who wields power in America and to what end. Arguably, America is an oligarchy run by the rich.

In addition to being pushy, America is over-armed and militaristic. Grotesquely, our military budget exceeds that of the next nine nations combined, and comprises 39% of the world's military spending.

Although Russia should not have invaded Ukraine, the issues involved in this conflict go far beyond the invasion. For readers who might want to learn about these realities, a good place to start is the short book by Benjamin Abelow titled "How the West brought war to Ukraine."

Print Headline: A failure of U.S. policy

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