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The U.S. and Europe are adopting additional economic sanctions against Russia in response to new evidence of crimes against humanity committed by Russian forces in Bucha and other cities and towns in Ukraine.
The mere idea of “additional sanctions” raises the question of why the U.S. and the West have not already implemented these sanctions, and still others they may be holding in reserve.
Similarly, the imposition of additional sanctions raises the question of why the U.S., NATO and other countries are holding back on the the delivery of “additional weapons” to Ukraine. Additional quantities, additional speed of delivery, additional sophistication of weapons.
The answer to these questions, unfortunately, seems to be a lack of leadership, on both sides of the Atlantic, governments which respond if at all only to the increasing outrage of their citizens.
Jens Stoltenberg has had his term as NATO Secretary General extended, cutting off the possibility of a real leader like U.K. Defense Minister Ben Wallace taking the helm.
This decision ensures that Biden will continue to have a loyal supporter leading the alliance. Perhaps Stoltenberg is doing a great job behind the scenes forging and upholding allied unity. But to public appearances, despite his title, Stoltenberg appears to be merely the spokesman for NATO, which seems to be under the firm direction of U.S. President Joe Biden.
You will never hear a new or fresh idea from Stoltenberg. Rather, you will only hear the loyal cheer-leading of someone who knows who is calling the shots. Indeed, it was Stoltenberg, undoubtedly at White House direction, who flew to an airbase in southern Poland on March 1 to block the imminent transfer of older Polish Mig 29’s to Ukraine. Six weeks ago.
Well, the evidence is in. Biden’s scheme of graduated sanctions, always holding something back until after the latest predictable Russian outrage has been committed, has failed to deter the Russian invasion of Ukraine or, even as sanctions are ratcheted up–always too little, too late–to stop Putin’s commission of crimes against humanity on a massive scale.
Economic sanctions are not going to stop Putin, at least not before all the Ukrainians are dead.
So, what is to be done?
Above all, the tragic conceptual errors of the Biden administration and the flawed decisions to which they have led must be undone.
First, the original framing of the West’s response to the potential Russian invasion of Ukraine was deeply flawed, assuming the Russians would quickly take control of the country and that the response of the West would be to support a Ukrainian “insurgency”.
Decision makers seem to have had in mind something like the support of the mujaheddin in Afghanistan in the 1980’s in their insurgency against the Russians following the Russian invasion in December 1979.
Second, Biden was pushing for a “sole purpose” modification of U.S. nuclear doctrine, even in his 2020 campaign, until he was forced to abandon it by objections from NATO allies, within the last few weeks.
The change in doctrine Biden was pushing for provided that there would be no use of nuclear weapons except for the “sole purpose” of deterring or responding to their use by an adversary. This would have reversed over 70 years of American nuclear doctrine, which allowed for the use of nuclear weapons in response to Soviet (and later Russian) conventional forces.
It is unclear to what extent this proposed Biden nuclear doctrine worked its way down through other levels of U.S. military doctrine. Whatever changes it may have induced, these should be reversed immediately.
Third, Biden and his foreign policy team made a horrendous mistake when they announced to the world that they were taking force off the table in terms of considering possible U.S. and NATO responses to a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The public announcement of this decision violated the military axiom that you should always keep your opponent guessing as to what you might do.
By telegraphing to Putin what NATO would not do if he invaded Ukraine, Biden greatly simplified Putin’s risk calculations, most probably leading to his decision to launch a broad invasion.
Fourth, Putin has succeeded brilliantly in implanting in Biden’s subconscious the Russian refrain, “You fight me, One, Two, Three, World War Three.”
“Ukraine War, March 11, 2022 (II): Putin’s brilliant success in implanting fear in Joe Biden’s mind–‘If you fight me, One, Two, Three, World War III,'” The Trenchant Observer, March 11, 2022.
Biden must be helped by his advisers, and by Congressional leaders from both parties, to overcome this fear, and to stop thwarting the full discussion of nuclear scenarios among national security and military officials.
As we have recommended on several occasions, Biden needs to bring in new advisers of great stature, from both parties, to advise him as part of a reformulated foreign policy team that can help him successfully navigate his (and our!) way through any nuclear crisis.
Fifth, Biden and his foreign policy team have made and are making the conceptual mistake of making a distinction between supplying Ukraine with “defensive” weapons and supplying the Ukrainian military with “offensive” weapons.
The distinction itself is spurious, and apparently has its origin in domestic legislation banning military sales or assistance to certain countries (e.g., human rights violators) which contains a self-defense exception.
The distinction is a political outcome lacking a rational basis even in that context. Here, Biden is using it to avoid actions which, like the transfer of the Polish Mig 29’s, he fears could provoke Putin. His fear in this regard ties directly into his fear of nuclear confrontation, the subconscious fear Putin has implanted in his subconscious, “You fight me, One, Two, Three, World War Three”.
The distinction should be dropped in considering which weapons and weapons systems to supply to Ukraine.
“Ukraine War, April 1, 2022 (III): All weapons delivered to Ukraine to repel Russian invasion are ‘defensive’ weapons,” The Trenchant Observer, April 1, 2022.
It is time to act and to use force to stop Putin
Administration officials are beginning to talk of a war that could last years.
However, the residents of Odessa, Kharkiv, Mariupol, and countless potential Buchas across the country, do not have years to wait until Putin is stopped.
Economic sanctions have failed in the short term, and will not stop Putin and the crimes against humanity the Russian army is now committing.
The moment of truth has arrived for NATO leaders and military officials.
No option is risk-free, not even the current policy of sitting on the sidelines while supplying Ukraine with weapons and other forms of assistance.
Though U.S., NATO and Western leaders do not acknowledge the fact, they are in fact engaged in a war with Russia, supplying Ukraine with weapons and ammunition to continue that fight.
Now, they must either use force to stop Putin, or accept the risk that Russia may win or reach a stalemated, negotiated settlement that undercuts international law and the U.N. Charter, and leaves their countries, and perhaps even Taiwan, exposed to threats of military invasion for decades to come.
For low-risk options they might pursue, including some involving the limited use of force, see,
“Ukraine War, April 4, 2022 (III): After Bucha, it’s time to discard the taboo on considering the use of force; The use of force may be required to stop Putin from turning Odessa into another Mariupol,” The Trenchant Observer, April 4, 2022.
The Trenchant Observer