The U. S. Interest in Ukraine

Speaking of Wonderland, I have grave difficult in seeing anything through the mists of Anne Applebaum’s most recent Washington Post column lecturing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on his duties other than more mist. Here’s her account of the last seventy years of European history, culminating with Russia’s occupation of the Crimean Peninsula:

The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea in 2014 were an open attack on the principle of border security in Europe. The principle of border security, in turn, is what turned Europe, once a continent wracked by bloody conflicts, into a safe and peaceful trading alliance in the second half of the 20th century. Europe’s collective decision to abandon aggressive nationalism, open its internal borders and drop its territorial ambitions made Europe rich, as well as peaceful.

It also made the United States rich, as well as powerful. U.S. companies do billions of dollars of business in Europe; U.S. leaders have long been able to count on European support all over the world, in matters economic, political, scientific and more. It’s not a perfect alliance but it is an unusual alliance, one that is held together by shared values as well as common interests. If Ukraine, a country of about 43 million people, were permanently affiliated with Europe, it too might become part of this zone of peace, trade and commerce.

Nearly every sentence in those two paragraphs is either wrong, incomplete, or a distortion. Europe didn’t decide to abandon aggressive nationalism. That’s claptrap. It was forced on the Europeans by the United States. Aggressive nationalism was put to death in Europe in 1945 not 1993. If by “border security” Ms. Applebaum means “Germany not attacking its neighbors” that has little to do with the European Union and everything to do with the United States.

Europe isn’t rich. Some countries in Europe are rich, some, like EU member Albania, are poor. Germany didn’t become rich as a consequence of border security. It was rich before. Germany became temporarily poor as a consequence of war. It’s rich again now, largely because of its predatory trade policies.

A lot of the nominal wealth of EU countries (Portugal, Greece) is a consequence of unsustainable debt and that’s intimately related to Germany’s trade policies.

The U. S. was rich at least by world standards before World War II. After World War II it had practically the only intact functioning economy so the idea that it would become richer isn’t completely surprising.

Would the U. S. have been richer or poorer if World War II had never happened? Ms. Applebaum implies that the U. S. is richer now than it would have been if World War II had never happened. I doubt it. I don’t believe that war is ever a shrewd business move.

Has the U. S. benefited by the existence of the European Union? Since its inception the EU has consistently been seen by the Europeans as an anti-U. S. economic and political attack vehicle so that seems dubious. I have little doubt that some people in the U. S. have benefited from the existence of the EU but I’d like to see the evidence that we all have. I don’t believe there’s a straight line connection between the EU and Germany not attacking its neighbors as implied by Ms. Applebaum.

Ukraine had never been an independent country until 1956 when it was made a distinct Soviet Republic. It had been part of Russia. The port at Sevastopol on the Crimean Peninsula is the home of the Russian Navy. After the collapse of the Soviet Union Ukraine had a series of incompetent, corrupt, pro-Russian governments.

In 2014 the democratically-elected pro-Russian government of Ukraine was overthrown by a group of anti-Russian neo-fascists in a revolution in which a couple of dozen people were killed. There’s some evidence that the United States backed the revolution although that’s not conclusive. There’s more evidence that the U. S. was behind the revolution in Ukraine than there is that is was behind the overthrow of Mossadegh in Iran and that the U. S. overthrew the government of Iran is an article of faith, not just in Iran but for many here as well.

What would a fair and democratic election produce in Ukraine? Nobody knows. What we can reasonably conclude is that if you exclude the people in the most pro-Russian areas of Ukraine from the vote Ukraine will elect an anti-Russian government.

If Ukraine were admitted to the European Union it would immediately become the poorest member. Ukraine is undercapitalized, underdeveloped, and lacking in institutions for promoting economic growth. IMO the greatest immediate effect of admission to the EU for Ukraine would be that every Ukrainian who could move to Germany would.

In closing I think that Ms. Applebaum is asking the wrong questions about U. S. interest in Ukraine. Hinting that Ukraine’s admission to the EU is vital to preserving the peace in Europe is baffling. The real question is whether the EU’s or our interest in Ukraine exceeds Russia’s.

2 comments… add one
  • steve Link

    I don’t think we should listen to anyone on the Ukraine unless they can clearly articulate how their policy would actually benefit the US. AFAICT it would only bring us costs and risks to bring them into NATO or the EU. While i am not a Russia fan, I don’t see the sense in antagonizing them just for old times sake.


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