The future 32 NATO countries include three nuclear powers, half of the world’s economy and a billion people. Then add the rest of the West: 43 countries if you count the participants in the April 26 Ramstein meeting. Nations sanctioning Russia account for 64.9% of global economic output. Lonely Russia has less than half the population of the United States and its economy is equal to the market capitalization of a single American company – Apple Computer. NATO’s annual defense expenditure is $1.2 trillion; That of Russia is 66 billion dollars.
Despite the astonishing imbalance, for a generation we failed to deter and then stop Russia’s international predation. We dare not push Ukraine towards a “settlement agreement” with Russia.
The very assertion is heretical. At the national level, we are hypnotized by ‘doing the deal’, seeing any agreement as the real solution to a problem. We approach international relations the same way, idolizing international agreements as we do national agreements: as solutions to problems, not as their cause; as conflict resolutions, not as their catalyst; as paths forward, not as highways for reversal.
“Managing” relationships for “stability and predictability” is our mercantile DNA. That was, in haec verba, our mantra at last year’s Geneva Summit. How did it work?
Kalashnikov is to Russia what Tide Pods is to America. Russia’s imperial DNA is relentlessly aggressive, demands instability and defies compromise. Agreements exist to thwart their objective, to guarantee the opposite, or to guarantee time and advantages for the next assault. Our predicates of restraint, reason and negotiation towards compromise are anathema. A “diplomatic solution” in Ukraine would be a collective embrace around a delirium, the only predictability being its rupture.
Listing the solemn agreements garrotted by Moscow would exceed the number of words in this piece. Three examples are enough. In 1933, to secure Washington’s recognition as Moscow starved Ukraine, Moscow agreed “to abstain from … any overt or covert act which might in any way impair the peace, prosperity, order or safety of the whole or any part of the United States”. , in particular any agitation or propaganda”. Need to say more?
In the 1990s, we pushed Ukraine to cede to Russia, of all places, the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world, larger than that of China, France and England combined, to the time. It was not, as in the case of Iran, a question of potential nuclear capability, but the implosion of a massive existing nuclear industry. It included the largest intercontinental ballistic missile factory in the USSR which produced the missiles that Moscow had installed in Cuba. Russia has promised to have good weather. Years later, Vladimir Putin laughed in a New York Times opinion piece:[I]If you cannot rely on international law, you must find other ways to ensure your safety. Thus, a growing number of countries are seeking to acquire weapons of mass destruction. It’s logical: if you have the bomb, nobody will touch you.
On Monday, Russia allowed a ship carrying grain to leave Odessa after a UN-backed deal. But the day before, Russia had killed Oleksiy Vadaturskiy, Ukraine’s main agricultural entrepreneur, and his wife in a missile attack on their home. To believe that Russia will undergo a makeover and comply with any “regulation” is self-numbing naivety.
And what to negotiate? Ukraine is less than 3% the size of Russia. Russia is the largest country in the world and does not need more territory, unless necessary for the erasure of Ukrainian nationality. Russia is an openly genocidal war on Ukraine, with the Russian Orthodox Church (no less) issuing wallet cards to military personnel, stating, “Your task is to wipe the nation of Ukraine off the face of the earth.” What are you compromising, how do you “deal” with a war criminal who intends to annihilate you?
This is not just an existential question for Ukraine, where a negotiated settlement ceding any territory would doom millions of souls to horror. The destruction of Ukraine is part of Russia’s all-out war doctrine against us, with Russia emphasizing loud and clear: “We are at war with the West. And, “[T]its operation signifies the beginning of a radical collapse of the American-style world order.
For generations we have intoned the catechism of the rules-based international order, but we ignobly gave in, endorsing the Minsk Accords after Russia’s initial invasion in 2014. They sought to impose on the victim , Ukraine, the very limits of its sovereignty and other sanctions which international law imposes on the aggressor, Russia. We have capitulated to Putin’s reversal of reality. Redemption is paramount.
We should wonder if China’s Xi Jinping lifted Minsk during last week’s two-hour phone call with President Biden. Taiwan is not a member of the United Nations, and apart from a few microstates like Nauru, Palau, and Tuvalu, no nation recognizes Taiwan’s sovereignty or territorial integrity. America withdrew diplomatic recognition from Taiwan in 1979.
Ukraine is the opposite, a founding member of the UN and internationally recognized. It is a state with meaning and consequences that Taiwan is not. If we are pushing for a compromise on Ukraine’s sovereignty or territorial integrity, then where is our deterrent credibility vis-à-vis Taiwan, which the rules-based international order does not recognize? It would torpedo our deterrent credibility with China and other tyrannies. It’s no wonder that Putin’s sycophant, Dmitry Peskov, wentose-stepping in solidarity with Xi.
And from where, how would we apply a “diplomatic solution”? National agreements work because enforcement institutions exist to prevent or remedy violations. Since there is no effective third-party enforcement mechanism for the most important international agreements – those dealing with national sovereignty – global pressure on the aggressor is the only flaw. We and our allies are now engaged in precisely such an “implementation” of a myriad of past agreements (think of the UN Charter, the Helsinki Accords, etc.). Seeking yet another agreement would be a hypocritical abdication.
Finally, any “negotiated peace” means that responsibility for the crime of aggression, genocide, war crimes and atrocities would be excluded. International predation from Russia will increase, energy and food will become weapons of mass destruction, and domestic terror, economic and political unrest in the West will explode. And the locks will be open for Beijing, Pyongyang and Tehran.
Agreements do not end wars. They document on the ground the reality of the end of this war. This reality will be determined by either (a) NATO’s “unwavering support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders”, or (b) Russia’s capitulation to “the he Ukraine that you and I knew, within the borders that once were, no longer exists and never will.
Pressuring Ukraine for a settlement agreement would condemn the international order born out of the horrors of World War II to the death pits of Bucha and Mariupol. Do you remember this “conflict”? This would make China’s certainty and contemptuous threat to the US Speaker of the House visiting Taiwan a prequel to the next one.
Victor Rud practiced international law in New York and New Jersey for 35 years. He is the former president of Ukrainian American Bar Association and now chairs its Foreign Affairs Committee. He is a senior adviser to Open Ukrainea non-governmental organization in Ukraine, and the senior adviser to the Center for Democracy in Eastern Europe in Toronto.