The costs of a year of warfare in Ukraine have been enormous. Casualties (dead and wounded) include 20,000 Ukrainian civilians, 100,000 Ukrainian soldiers, 200,000 Russian soldiers and 13 million Ukrainians displaced. Economic costs include a staggering $3 trillion loss to the world economy, at least $100 billion in Russian military spending, $47 billion in U.S. military assistance, $26 billion in U.S. financial assistance, $250 billion in Ukrainian economic costs and $350 billion for future rebuilding in Ukraine.
Think of how the world could have benefited if these human and financial resources had been spent helping people instead of killing them.
It could have been avoided.
Obviously, President Putin could have prevented it by not resorting to brute military force and finding some other way to keep NATO at bay. President Zelenskyy could have prevented it by working out a neutrality agreement with Russia. NATO could have prevented it by being less pushy. The West could have prevented it by proceeding more thoughtfully following the fall of the USSR rather than reflexively adopting the military option of maintaining an aggressive NATO alliance.
The West could have reassured Russia rather than playing into that nation's worst fears by expanding NATO into Eastern Europe. Wiser heads warned that NATO expansion would provoke war with Russia. In 1997, George Kennan, America's leading Cold War diplomat, called NATO's expansion into Central Europe "the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-Cold War era." How right he was!
Militarization loomed large during the 32-year saga of NATO's expansion and the alienation of Russia. Militarization was a threat that President Dwight Eisenhower, who commanded allied troops in Europe during World War II, warned us about. He counseled, in his 1961 farewell presidential address: "We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence ... by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."
Such disastrous militarization has infected not only America and Russia but, increasingly, China. We see this clearly in the arena of nuclear weapons. The U.S. and Russia have been the pre-eminent nuclear superpowers but China is playing catch-up by developing a large land-based intercontinental ballistic missile fleet. In this day and age, the land-based ICBMs of all three sides are anachronistic sitting ducks that make everybody less safe. How much of this insane drive for more and more weapons arises from the global military-industrial complex? Will America goad China into becoming the world's third superpower?
The nuclear war threat looms large in Ukraine. Attacks on the Russian homeland or the Crimean peninsula could trigger nuclear responses. Russia has 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons. Many can be launched from conventional artillery.
The highly respected Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has reset its Doomsday Clock to 90 seconds before midnight, indicating that the world is closer to global nuclear war than it has ever been.
If such weapons are used in combat, our militarized planet will switch into an unstable state. U.S. and Russian strategic arsenals will go on high alert, in which the slightest misstep could trigger global destruction. Nuclear-armed bombers will become airborne, land-based ICBMs will go on alert and additional nuclear-armed submarines will prowl the seas.
President Putin announced on Feb. 23 that Russia is suspending the START agreement that limits nuclear weapons deployments and mandates regular rigorous inspections to enforce the treaty. His reasons are unclear. My guess is he wants to increase the stakes to convince the West that he is serious about his goals. Those goals appear to be that Russia should occupy at least a portion of the Donbas region, plus a guarantee of Ukraine's neutrality.
China has called for a truce and peace talks. President Zelenskyy, who is concerned that China will supply weapons to Russia, cautiously welcomes this. He reasons that if China plays its suggested peacemaker role, this will force it to forego such weapons shipments and will also reduce the threat of nuclear war because China will advise Russia against nuclear weapons use.
China says an agreement must respect the territorial integrity of both sides, says nothing about the status of the disputed Donbas region, calls for an end to sanctions on Russia and criticizes the eastward expansion of NATO.
The Chinese initiative makes a lot of sense. I hope President Biden has the wisdom to support it. Without peace talks, the threat of nuclear war will only increase.
Are we really willing to sacrifice civilization to allow Ukraine the dubious privilege of joining NATO?