Should the United States help defend Ukraine against Russia?
Sometimes mired in corruption and facing ongoing challenges in many areas of society, Ukraine — a former soviet republic – is a country that many people usually overlook.
Yet despite these challenges – many of which have been inherited from its time in the Soviet Union – Ukraine maintains a largely democratic structure that attempts to uphold the rule of law and provides a level of freedom and freedom for its citizens.
There is no treaty that binds the defense of Ukraine to the United States because the first is not a member of NATO. And while the United States is a signatory to the 1994 Budapest Memorandumwhich effectively handed over nuclear weapons from Kiev to Moscow in exchange for promises to respect The territorial integrity of Ukraineit is not a treaty obligation for Washington that promises protection by US troops.
But if Russia invades Ukraine again, as it did in 2014 with the illegal annexation of Crimea and deadlocked frozen conflicts in the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, or installs a pro-Russian puppet regime in Kiev, it threatens much of the world order that has existed since the end of World War II.
This order is messy and has sometimes caused economic upheaval, but the world since 1945 has been made much safer through the expansion of the free market, constitutional rights and freedom, in many parts of the globe.
As such, policymakers in the United States and its allies should do all they can to dissuade Vladimir Putin further territorial violations of Ukraine.
Not having at least helped Ukraine encourages other autocratic regimes around the world such as China, Iran and Turkey to adopt similar behaviors. Suddenly, there may be far less freedom and far fewer protections for constitutional rights and the free market.
Vladimir Putin has long argued that NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe is an inherent security threat to Russia. Historically, Russia has been invaded from the west on several occasions: by Poland-Lithuania in 1610, Sweden in 1709, Napoleon’s France in 1812, during the Russian Civil War in 1917, and Hitler Germany in 1941 Yet this argument is a “strawman” in many ways.
First, Russia’s assertion that it needs a buffer is historically misplaced.
Joseph Stalin negotiated such a buffer with Roosevelt and Churchill at the end of World War II citing the massive death toll on the Soviet Union to fend off the Nazis.
While this is true, Stalin himself allowed his foreign minister, Vyacheslav Molotov, to sign an agreement with his German counterpart, Joachim Von Ribbentrop, to divide Eastern Europe (also known as of the Nazi/Soviet non-aggression pact). Stalin himself assumed that Hitler would not be a threat to him.
Secondly, democracies and democratic aspirants throughout Eastern Europe are much more threatened by Russia than the other way round, as evidenced by numerous incursions into the airspaces of Russia’s neighbors as well as cyber espionage continuous and increasingly sophisticated coming from Moscow. No Eastern European country in modern times considered the possibility of attacking Russia.
The United States and many NATO allies have done much to arm and train Ukrainians defend against the threat of Russian militarism. Yet much more could be done, especially in terms of sanctions and pressure on Putin in the energy sector.
A return to North American energy independence and/or an increase in global energy supply will help, noting that Putin generally fails to act on the world stage while oil and natural gas supplies are high in the world, causing its profits in the energy sector to plummet.
Next, NATO should refuse any concessions to Russia except to try to assure the Kremlin that the West has no ambition to engage in an unprovoked attack on him.
Finally, helping Ukrainians more is another key deterrent. Although Russia is on paper much more powerful than Ukraine, the lessons 1939-1940 Winter War are apparent. In this conflict, the small country of Finland repelled an abrasive attack from the Soviet Union and battled the superpower to a draw.
Pressuring Vladimir Putin on multiple fronts and reminding him of this history is a useful way to make him think twice before attacking Ukraine. While the current world order certainly has its shortcomings, it is a system where the free market, constitutional rights and freedom have generally flourished.
Glen Duerr is Associate Professor of International Studies at Cedarville University.