Is It the Right Policy? What’s the Objective?

I’m honestly not sure whether I agree with Tom Z. Collina’s New York Times op-ed or not because it’s such a jumble of means, ends, and unspoken assumptions. It includes assertions with which I agree:

But there is a limit to how far we should go. Even as our hearts go out to the brave Ukrainian people, the Biden administration is right to resist calls to deepen American military involvement in Ukraine, because the consequences of a direct confrontation between NATO and Russia could be unimaginably dire.

but I have reservations about its antecedent:

Given the stakes, the United States can and should do more to end the war and help alleviate human suffering in Ukraine. We were already providing weapons for the Ukrainians to defend themselves, such as Stinger antiaircraft missiles and Javelin antitank missiles, as well as hitting Russia with huge economic sanctions. And soon after Mr. Zelensky’s speech, President Biden announced that the United States would send an additional $800 million in military assistance to Ukraine, as part of the $14 billion of support he had already approved.

Is the objective

  • help alleviate human suffering in Ukraine?
  • end the war?
  • defeat Russia?
  • something else?

and what are their relative priorities? They don’t necessarily all fit together unless there’s something missing in it. Arming the Ukrainians may or may not allow them to defeat the Russians but it will definitely prolong the war which means it will also prolong suffering. Maybe prolonging the suffering in Ukraine now will result in less suffering in Ukraine later. Is that the assumption? Is there actual evidence for it?

Mr. Collina is emphatic in his belief that the U. S. should renounce a first nuclear strike option:

The Biden administration should rule out “first use,” thereby declaring it will not start a nuclear war, and seek to build an international consensus around the idea that the sole purpose for nuclear weapons is to deter their use by others. Mr. Biden has supported this position for years.

That strikes me as cognitive dissonance. Will announcing a “no first use” policy do anything other than convince other countries (as if they need convincing) that the United States cannot be trusted and is lying?

In addition, the United States should start now to build international support for the deep reduction and eventual elimination of nuclear weapons so they cannot be used by strongmen and autocrats to enable their atrocities.

That strikes me as naive. Let’s use North Korea as a test case. How will international support for the deep reduction or even complete elimination of nuclear weapons onvince Kim Jong Un to renounce NK’s nuclear weapons? I would think it would do precisely the opposite.

I find it all terribly confusing.

7 comments… add one
  • Zachriel Link

    Dave Schuler: Is the objective help alleviate human suffering in Ukraine? end the war? defeat Russia? something else?

    The primary aim is to stop a war of aggression, the most important international rule that was established as the result of fascist aggression in the last century. If Ukraine can hold on to a stalemate, then a diplomatic solution may be possible. Regardless, Russia will be punished by the international community for violating the central organizing principle of the international system.

    An unanswered war of aggression would result in a breakdown of international order, and that would lead to more war and destruction. The Ukrainians are fighting for their independence—for everyone.

  • CuriousOnlooker Link

    “punished by the international community”.

    That should be defined. Here’s the list of polities that have sanctioned Russia — EU, UK, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Israel (happened this week).

    Here’s a list of notable countries that have not. China, India, Vietnam, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, South Africa, all of Africa, all of South America.

    This shouldn’t be taken as an endorsement of what Russia is doing. But what I see is significant parts of the world sympathize with the Russian view and most of the world disagrees with what the US / EU are doing in response.

  • I had thought of posting on this very subject, CuriousOnlooker. 70% of the world’s population live in countries that have not imposed sanctions on Russia.

  • Zachriel Link

    Curious Onlooker: That should be defined.

    It’s called leadership. NATO and allies are funneling weapons into Ukraine. Russia’s largest trading partners (excepting China) have turned their backs on Russia. (Netherlands alone buys almost as much as China does from Russia.) The ruble has dropped to record lows. The sanctions will cause significant economic damage. The objective is to reestablish the international order, either by outright stopping Russian aggression or by making the cost so high as to deter other would-be aggressors.

  • Zachriel Link

    Dave Schuler: 70% of the world’s population live in countries that have not imposed sanctions on Russia.

    Just the ones with most of the money (excepting China). Others have provided political support: The UN General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted a resolution demanding that Russia immediately end its military operations in Ukraine.

  • steve Link

    I thought North Korea was no longer a problem.

    ““Just landed – a long trip, but everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office,” Trump tweeted as he arrived back in Washington. “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.””


  • CuriousOnlooker Link

    There’s mention of China. But don’t forget India.

    They are the 4th largest consumer of oil; buying the very oil the US stopped buying; and then actively working on a scheme with Russia to bypass US/EU secondary sanctions.

    Taking a step back, it is pretty rare to see India and China agree on anything. Or Saudis and Iranians. Yet all 4 have taken the same position in regards to the sanctions.

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