Foreign Affairs journal in the September/October 2014 issue publised an article by Professor John J. Mearsheimer, a leading realist school proponent, on why liberal/leftist thinking in the West is to blame for the Ukraine crisis. Excerpts below:
According to the prevailing wisdom in the West, the Ukraine crisis can be blamed almost entirely on Russian aggression. Russian President Vladimir Putin, the argument goes, annexed Crimea out of a long-standing desire to resuscitate the Soviet empire, and he may eventually go after the rest of Ukraine, as well as other countries in eastern Europe. In this view, the ouster of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014 merely provided a pretext for Putin’s decision to order Russian forces to seize part of Ukraine.
Putin’s pushback should have come as no surprise. After all, the West had been moving into Russia’s backyard and threatening its core strategic interests, a point Putin made emphatically and repeatedly. Elites in the United States and Europe have been blindsided by events only because they subscribe to a flawed view of international politics. They tend to believe that the logic of realism holds little relevance in the twenty-first century and that Europe can be kept whole and free on the basis of such liberal principles as the rule of law, economic interdependence, and democracy.
But this grand scheme went awry in Ukraine. The crisis there shows that realpolitik remains relevant — and states that ignore it do so at their own peril.
The United States and its European allies now face a choice on Ukraine. They can continue their current policy, which will exacerbate hostilities with Russia and devastate Ukraine in the process — a scenario in which everyone would come out a loser. Or they can switch gears and work to create a prosperous but neutral Ukraine, one that does not threaten Russia and allows the West to repair its relations with Moscow. With that approach, all sides would win.
Comment: Professor Mearsheimer in his article is ignoring the fact that the Ukrainian people is seeking freedom and prosperity. It will not any longer accept Russian domination. While Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania prosper as members of the EU and NATO, Ukraine has seen its BNP fall since the 1990s. If the liberal-left in the West is to blame for the Ukraine crisis it is because it has failed to increase the strength of NATO, while seeking an expansion of EU and NATO to the East.
Instead of a strong reaction to Russia’s aggression the liberal left in the West has chosen a weak answer to Moscow’s war on Ukraine with a few sanctions. Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan all belong in a United Europe. Unfortunately Washington and Brussels have not been prepared to offer the necessary strong support to Ukraine. More financial and military efforts are needed to strengthen Kyiv’s hand.
JOHN J. MEARSHEIMER is R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago.