Ukraine War, March 31, 2022 (II): The war strategy of the West in perspective


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The war strategy of the West in perspective

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

To date, NATO has stood by Joe Biden’s policy of taking force off the table.

The public announcement of that policy, way back in November and even earlier, probably contributed to Vladimir Putin’s decision to mount a massive invasion of Ukraine.

The West threatened economic and other non-military sanctions against Russia if Putin proceeded with the threatened invasion, but these threats did not deter him.

Operating within a “rational actor” paradigm which assumed the invasion depended on a rational calculus of costs and benefits by a single, unitary mind, that of Putin, the most severe sanctions were not publicly threatened before the invasion.

While Germany made the point in the Security Council that Russia had already violated the prohibition in the U.N. Charter against the threat of the use of force, the West did not sanction such behavior before the invasion.

After a slow start, the West has stepped up its supply of weapons and other military assistance to Ukraine, and adopted economic sanctions against Russia which will over the mid- to longer term greatly weaken its economy.

In the meantime, however, the West has bought into Biden’s great fear of nuclear escalation, joining in the Russian refrain of what we have termed, “You fight me, One, Two, Three, World War Three”.

It is striking how officials and reporters in many countries in the West have reflexively adopted this refrain. Instead of rationally describing the risks of nuclear escalation, and the many scenarios and steps such escalation might take, they simply say “World War Three” and click out, shutting down their analytical activities.

This phenomena reflects an enormous success by Putin in implanting the Russian refrain in Biden’s subconscious and in that of officials throughout the West.

Biden’s fear of Putin and Putin’s nuclear threats has prevented the U.S. from authorizing actions that could even remotely, theoretically, be associated with the use of force, such as the transfer of older Polish Mig 29’s to Ukraine. The transfer was about to take place on March 1, but NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg flew on an urgent mission to an airbase in southern Poland to stop it, and succeeded. There can be little doubt that the decision came from Washington.

Biden’s refusal to authorize the transfer was based not only on his fear of Putin, but also on confused thinking about “offensive” versus “defensive” weapons–a spurious distinction derived from U.S. legislation on military assistance, and a self-defense exception to Congressional export bans to some countries.

A Mig 29, according to this muddled thinking, might be an “offensive” weapon since it could be used to attack targets in Russia. For those imprisoned in this cloud of muddled thinking, the fact that even such attacks on targets in Russia would, in the context of a Russian “armed attack” on Ukraine, be defensive and constitute exercise of the right of individual self-defense in accordance with Article 51 of the U.N. Charter, is simply ignored.

At the same time, tbere have been a number of reliable reports that the U.S. and NATO were refusing to share real-time military intelligence with the Ukrainian forces. Whether this is still the case is unclear, as it should be. Beyond raising the issue, such details should not be discussed publicly.

Hewing to Biden’s policy of taking and keeping force off the table, NATO and the West have stood by passively as Russia has been slaughtering thousands of Ukrainian civilians, and besieging and bombarding Ukrainian cities until they are reduced to ash and rubble, as in the case of Mariupol.

This passivity in the face of the wide-scale commission of crimes against humanity, and even acts of genocide, is a matter of cowardice and utter shame.

Biden, leading NATO, has refused to even consider proposals for a limited defensive deployment of NATO troops in Western Ukraine, or for armed humanitarian aid convoys to relieve the siege of cities where people are dying from a lack of food and water.

As these events unfold, Putin is making adroit use of what he learned in Syria about how to distract the attention of Western media and the West with negotiations, the endless repository of Western hopes and illusions; with “humanitarian corridors” for the evacuation of civilians under continuing Russian bombardment; and even with local “ceasefires” which do not diminish the fury of the ongoing Russian military assault.

All of these distractions merely serve to advance the overall military advance of the Russian forces.

The military situation in Ukraine is dire, as NATO and the West merely sit, with their hands behind their backs, watching Russia destroy cities like shooting fish in a barrel.

They are providing military assistance to Ukraine, hoping that somehow the valiant Ukrainian forces will defeat Russia without their having to enter into the military fray.

This is a policy based more on hopes and illusions than it is on reality.

The U.S. and the West are holding their breaths, hoping that somehow the current nightmare will end. However, they have not seriously considered or come to terms with what the future is likely to be like.

Although they do not have the clarity of mind to recognize the fact, they are engaged in a war with Russia.

They are hoping for a ceasefire, without even thinking about what their war strategy to defeat Russia should be for the next 30 years.

Biden is still caught in his emotional anti-China policy, and has not even begun to take the measures he could to improve U.S.-China relations.

The U.S. needs to reaffirm the “one China” policy set by Henry Kissinger in the 1972 Shanghai Declaration, and make clear that it does not support independence for Taiwan. Now would be a good time to celebrate the 50th anniversary of that Declaration. Once the U.S. has got its policy straight, a summit with Xi Jinping might be in order. The U.S. needs to broaden the issues it discusses with China beyond threats against the country of what it will do if China supports Russia militarily or in evading sanctions.

The U.S. needs to learn again how to talk to China. The language of international law is highly recommended. Clear-eyed realism is required.

The disastrous confrontation by Anthony Blinken with Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi at the ministerial meeting in Anchorage, Alaska in March 2021 was a huge diplomatic blunder. Only days later China announced its strategic alliance with Russia. It is imperative to find some way to heal the damage done by Blinken in Alaska.

What the West and the U.S. need to do now is to move to a war footing and to develop a robust strategy for defeating Putin and Russia. They pose an existential challenge to the democracies of the world, to international law and the international legal order, and to civilization itself.

We need a strategy and a war plan for defeating Putin and Russian barbarism.

The limited use of force to oppose Putin in Ukraine may need to be a part of that plan.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.