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Are the U.S. and Russia Destined for War over Ukraine?

F-35 NATO
A U.S. Air Force F-35 Lightning II aircraft assigned to the 34th Fighter Squadron receives fuel from a KC-10 Extender aircraft over Poland, February 24, 2022. U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Joseph Barron/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Traditionally, nations joined alliances to improve their security. This is no longer the case for the US. For Washington, alliances have become charitable endeavors. For instance, in Europe America has been allying itself with military midgets, most recently bringing North Macedonia and Montenegro into NATO.

Charitable Alliances

So far, at least, these two nations have simply been useless militarily. If the Russian hordes poured forth to conquer Europe—more than a little unlikely even before Moscow’s botched attack on Ukraine—they wouldn’t be stopped by Podgorica and Skopje. But Washington pretends that these countries matter.

Worse, however, members of the first round of charity cases have come to believe that they are essential and their counsel should be heeded. This activity has made NATO’s open accession policy affirmatively dangerous.

Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania came in during the George W. Bush years. They spent years clamoring for America to do more for them while doing little for themselves. Although they could not stop a determined Russian invasion, Ukraine demonstrated that a determined territorial defense could sharply increase the price of aggression. These Baltic State members finally made the two percent NATO standard but continue to lobby for US garrisons, believing themselves entitled to Washington’s protection even though their nations are not important for America’s defense.

Until the Ukraine war, the Baltic States’ special pleading was annoying but not particularly threatening. With successive US presidents hoping to “pivot” or “rebalance” to Asia, there was little U.S. desire to bulk up America’s military presence in Europe.

Unfortunately, that has changed. These countries now are pressing for war with Moscow. And NATO is listening to them.

War with Russia

Granted, they don’t quite put it in those terms. Following the lead of Ukraine, which has an obvious interest in bringing America into the war, the Baltic countries advocated a no-fly zone. The US imposed a no-fly zone on Iraq, which had no effective air force. However, attempting to protect Ukraine from Russian air attack would require shooting down Russian planes and destroying Russian air defenses in Russia as well as Ukraine. Since Moscow would be unlikely to turn control of its territory over to the US, the likely consequence would be war.

Surely the Baltic States know this. And they know that they would not be enforcing the policy and doing the inevitable fighting. Certainly, Montenegro and North Macedonia would not be doing so, nor Germany and Italy. It would be America’s job to defeat Russia, especially if the fight went nuclear.

Now Lithuania is pressing on, openly advocating war. Again, Vilnius is making the case indirectly. Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis is demanding regime change in Moscow. He opined: “And so as long as a regime that intends to wage wars outside Russian territory is in place, the countries surrounding it are in danger.”

This inevitably led to his conclusion: “From our standpoint, up until the point the current regime is not in power, the countries surrounding it will be, to some extent, in danger. Not just Putin but the whole regime because, you know, one might change Putin and might change his inner circle but another Putin might rise into his place.”

Pushing a Regime Change

In principle, ousting Putin seems like a good idea. However, the U.S. has no way to do so, other than defeating Russia in a full-scale war. Moreover, no one knows who or what would replace him if he is removed. There are more true-believing nationalists than liberals in Russia. Ruling elites with the best opportunity to oust him, mostly the security-minded siloviki, are more likely to rethink his means rather than ends. And a violent implosion of the Russian state, with thousands of potential, loose nuclear weapons, would make for a very bad day around the world.

Moreover, turning Russia’s war against Ukraine into one between Moscow and Washington would become much more dangerous for all concerned. Regime survival is Putin’s most important objective; a demand for regime changes leaves him with little to talk about. If anything might trigger a nuclear exchange, it is an attempt by the West to toss the current ruling elite. How much cost and risk are Americans willing to incur to defenestrate the Putin government, compared to the latter’s determination to retain power?

U.S. policymakers complain how the popular fear of nuclear escalation prevents them from doing what they think proper to pressure Russia. However, the best policy must reflect realities on the ground. One of the most important factors for Moscow is that Ukraine is a vital interest.

For America the latter is at best a peripheral matter. It would be great for Kyiv to thwart Russia’s criminal aggression, but that is not an objective over which the U.S. should risk war.

Indeed, the greater the Western support for Ukraine, the greater the pressure on Russia to respond accordingly. Vladimir Putin can ill afford to lose, however losing may be defined. He may choose to fight rather than negotiate, and escalate rather than compromise. He will be tempted to shift Russia on a full wartime footing and use his superiority in firepower, including nuclear weapons. And if the fight turns into a full-scale proxy war with Washington working harder to defeat Russia than defend Ukraine, Moscow might respond in unpredictable ways, expanding the conflict still further.

Washington should remember that alliances are not free and allies can be quite costly. The primary purpose of NATO was to keep the Soviets out of Western Europe. Even President Dwight D. Eisenhower refused to shift toward offense when the Soviet Union cracked down in East Germany and Hungary. President Lyndon Johnson was similarly circumspect when the Soviets and their allies overran what was Czechoslovakia.

Yet the alliance seems likely to continue expanding. With Finland and Sweden set to become the next members. And who knows about Ukraine? The U.S. and European powers have been going up to the line of war and perhaps over it. Kyiv is demanding as a price of neutrality, Western military guarantees that look a lot like NATO’s Article 5. Steadily increasing Western support encourages Ukraine to fight rather than negotiate. If Ukraine defeats Moscow—still unlikely given what appear to be slow but continuing Russian advances in the east—the temptation for NATO to add Ukraine would increase.

Javelin

Javelin anti-tank missile. Image Credit: Creative Commons

Ukraine Chernihiv

Russian MLRS firing. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Alliance members and officials continue to act like they have an obligation to accept as members any nation that asks to join. That’s nonsense. NATO’s charter states that the alliance invites countries to join which they believe enhance shared security. Ukraine has been given the runaround since Bucharest in 2014 precisely because adding it, as well as Georgia, would have increased the likelihood of war. The failure to forthrightly close NATO’s door likely was the necessary – though perhaps not sufficient – trigger for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The president, or whoever currently is in charge of U.S. policy, should move back from the brink. The longer the Russo-Ukraine war goes on, the greater the death and destruction in Ukraine, the greater the isolation and radicalization of Russia, and the greater the chance that the conflict could spread westward. The imperative for Washington and its NATO allies should be to end, not extend, the conflict.

Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. A former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is author of Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire.

Written By

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, specializing in foreign policy and civil liberties. He worked as special assistant to President Ronald Reagan and editor of the political magazine Inquiry. He writes regularly for leading publications such as Fortune magazine, National Interest, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Times.

38 Comments

38 Comments

  1. siempre

    May 12, 2022 at 2:41 pm

    Moving on from the ongoing Russian propaganda posts…
    Russia carrying out a classic, totalitarian, territory grabbing conventional war was a reversal of 70 years of thinking that the era of major nations just taking small nations to steal their resources was ended.
    Throughout history, whenever a despotic nation like Russia starts grabbing at smaller countries, they do not stop until defeated. Before nuclear weapons, just beating rational thought back into these criminal nations did not threaten the whole world. But, Russia is both despotic and nuclear.
    So, the more the rest of the world aligns against it, the fewer unguarded own are out there to tempt Putin.
    Had NATO admitted Ukraine a decade ago, Russia would never had attacked it.
    So, while these small nations are not powers in conventional war, their value is in not leaving them as vulnerable trigger points.
    An unguarded pawn can cost the game.

    • Clifford Williams

      May 13, 2022 at 2:52 pm

      That may well have been true but Biden could have laid down the gauntlet before the invasion and told Putin “if you invade you will face American and NATO forces because we have an obligation to defend Ukrainian sovereignty!” He did not! I seriously doubt Putin would have invaded knowing he would face American and NATO air power!

    • Clifford Williams

      May 13, 2022 at 2:58 pm

      The real danger is Biden truly believes he is the new FDR. You see this every time he speaks. He could not get his “New New Deal” Passed so now he sees himself as the “war time President!”

      The real tragedy is he has the same people in his regime that tried to get Putin into a long dragged out war in Syria. That plan failed because Hillary lost the election. They made sure this time to start the ware early! They are trying to use the Afghanistan model for regime change in Russia! Unfortunately it might just get us all killed!

      (Except those elitist assholes in the regime. They will just go to their well stocked bunkers and wait out the radiation and the cold!)

      • Tom

        May 13, 2022 at 7:27 pm

        Actually, the real problem is that you think your smarter than Biden. You aren’t.

  2. Pagar

    May 12, 2022 at 2:47 pm

    Biden and the heinous democrat party of USA are taking america into direct conflict and war with Russia, like old hidler and Nazi party of germany, once did against USSR.

    Biden thinks victory is in his grasp, due to his advisers and handlers telling him “Russia’s gonna collapse before Nov 8.”

    Biden goes to bed each night, with a voice similar to the dragon’s, whispering in his ear, “Russia gonna fall, Russia gonna fall, wage war now ! Start ww3 today !!!”

    But the voice carefully avoids telling Biden that 100 million people will fall ill with covid this winter, prices of fuel, milk powder, grains and utilities will shoot through the roof and the sound of gunfire will echo through the cities, from armadillo to st Louis.

    • Bertram

      May 13, 2022 at 11:43 am

      I have it on excellent authority that the good people of Armadillo are not afraid of war with Russia and would welcome the chance to crush the last vestiges of fascism in Europe.

      Have you ever even been to Armadillo?

  3. Tom

    May 12, 2022 at 2:49 pm

    Great news another Russian ship mysteriously caught fire! Vsevolod Bobrov was badly damaged on its way to Snake Island (where the Russian Navy goes to die).

    Boris do you have an extra dinghy you could lend Vlad?

    • from Russia with love

      May 12, 2022 at 5:51 pm

      “Great news another Russian ship mysteriously caught fire! Vsevolod Bobrov was badly damaged on its way to Snake Island (where the Russian Navy goes to die).”
      bad news Tom, very bad news! no, not about the ship, about the fact that you again ate pork shit 🙂
      you didn’t have enough pig shit about the burned-out Admiral Makarov? you have a good appetite Tom 🙂

      • Tom

        May 12, 2022 at 6:52 pm

        You don’t have any sense of humor these days after being humiliated in front of the whole world. I do take note that you have retreat from denial. Would it cheer you up to know you lost a BTG trying to cross a river? I hear body bags are the lastest fashion in Russia.

        It’s very nice of you to be concerned for my diet, however it occurs to me that I live in a beautiful place with no shortages. I can even get a McDonald’s should I desire. Can you?

  4. MAGA MAGA

    May 12, 2022 at 3:05 pm

    Biden deep in the very deepest corner of his heart wants a WAR with Russia, straightaway, before 2022 is over.

    Biden knows that at 80-years-old, he doesn’t have much time left to make his mark on destiny.(Destiny of America.)

    Biden stands on the brink of history, like many famous figures of the past; Genghis, Alexander, Suleiman, octavius, Himmler, napoleon and others.

    But when he goes to the pearly gates, he will get assigned to the special place reserved for such men who once stood on the brink of history.You can make a choice (i.e. cut a particular path) for yourself, but you can’t do it for countless others.But Biden is too elderly or too advanced in age to know this.

    • Tom

      May 12, 2022 at 10:45 pm

      You don’t possess the skill to be a professional troll. Oh, and you talk really, really stupid.

    • Robinhood44

      May 13, 2022 at 7:15 pm

      The author makes good points. But we are well beyond it now. The plight of Ukraine has captured too much attention. And anyway, as Tolstoy said, you may not be interested in war but war is interested in you. I don’t think we really have too much choice but to take this as far as we can in defense of Ukraine Without an out right war with Russia. Putin will not stop with Ukraine if he thinks he can go further.

  5. Coriolanus

    May 12, 2022 at 3:07 pm

    What if NATO was not ‘charitable’? What if it did not include the baltics, Romania, Bulgaria and Montenegro, Hungary? What if it did not back Ucraine? Putin would have occupied all these countries in a few weeks and then NATO would have borders with an aggressive Russia–only these borders would be like borders of Italy and Poland, or even Germany, not Estonia.

    Would NATO have been in better shape then? Would the US be safer?

    What if there is no NATO? Then you could have a Russia-China alliance pour milions of soldiers from Portugal to Greenland.
    Would the US be safer then? Would it get a stronger economy?

    Montenegro is a small country, but being in NATO it denies russian access to Serbia from the Mediterannean. Also, it eliminates risk of war with other neighbours. Would such a war, or the risk of it, make the US safer?

  6. Eric-ji

    May 12, 2022 at 3:41 pm

    Going to war should be a last ditch option for when your back is against the wall. If the whole country truly feels deeply threatened, then maybe war is warranted. To defend concepts or principles, not warranted. War is ugly. Only when the populace is truly threatened will it tolerate the brutal, dirty fighting that is necessary to win. Don’t enter a war without the will to win whatever it takes. To do otherwise is a waste of our young people.

  7. Commentar

    May 12, 2022 at 4:24 pm

    Everyone knows that NATO is a dogbarking organization, everyone, except biden.

    Dogbarking at russia directly resulted in the russia-ukraine conflict, and biden, instead of calling for time out, decided to pour fuel onbthe conflict.

    Biden has pulled out all the stops, burned all bridges, emptied all the banks in a frenzied operation to ensure the conflict will become ww3.

    Biden’s work is not the work of an intelligent human or a rational person, but rather the work of a man whose brain has been ransacked by alzheimer or bse (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) and now aiming for as many people as possible to accompany him to the great beyond to visit the eternal brain doctor.

    Given that chaos could reign in the later part of this year, biden’s wish could well come true.

    • Fuzzbean

      May 30, 2022 at 10:18 am

      It seems that barking is a thing to be ridiculed?

      Yet backing up that bark with bite is also bad?

  8. Tom

    May 12, 2022 at 9:00 pm

    “A gas station run by a mafia that is masquerading as a country.” – Senator John McCain 2014

  9. David Chang

    May 12, 2022 at 9:58 pm

    God bless all people.

    But, democratic party will destroy currency by Green New Deal, and
    Ukraine war.

    Socialism parties are bring plague, war and famine to the world.

    People of Cato Institute should obey Ten Commandments, too.

  10. MAGA MAGA

    May 12, 2022 at 11:22 pm

    Joe biden is moving the world’s doomsday clock to just a few seconds before midnight.

    Biden has the right to move his own clock but he doesn’t have the right to dictate the world’s fate.

    The lake of fire is waiting for you, biden!

  11. Jimmy John Doe

    May 13, 2022 at 12:15 am

    Joe Biden is angrily waging war against Russia and Vladimir Putin using imagined grievances as his excuse with his troubled brain unable to think of the most dreaded and most overarching consequences.

    Biden has, to the dismay of the world’s peace cherishing humans, forced or strongarmed a bevy of minions and vassals to join his war train.

    Little does Biden know he’s about to play a game of nuclear roulette using the people of Europe as chips in an ultimate no-win game.

    The consequences of biden’s no-win nuclear roulette are as inescapable as they are irreversible. But Biden can’t figure that out.His brain only keeps telling him “Get Putin”, ” Get his ass !” “Finish off Russia !”. “Finish all the marginals !”

    • Fuzzbean

      May 30, 2022 at 10:05 am

      WHO has “imagined grievances”?

      LOL

  12. Eric

    May 13, 2022 at 1:20 am

    Bandow and Davis should read up on current events before posting any more articles, as they are both making factual errors and errors of omission. “slow but continuing Russian advances in the east” have happened, sure, but at the same time significant advances by Ukrainian forces have been made in the north, past Kharkiv (pushing Russian artillery away from the city) and also in the south towards Kherson.
    https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/ukraine-conflict-updates

    I have a suspicion that they are really just members of a new America First Committee.

    • David Chang

      May 13, 2022 at 1:59 am

      If Eric on behalf of Democratic Party, assures people in the world that we can win the nuclear war waged by socialism parties like Russia, and prevent from inflation, people in the world will agree with your war.

  13. FRAZIER STALL

    May 13, 2022 at 1:29 am

    A war between Washington and Russia is inevitable and most likely to happen after Biden finishes his coming grand tour of Asia where he is expected to gain unquestioned backing for his world war in Europe.

    Biden is following in the footsteps of bill Clinton, famous for his Monica’s War (Aug 1998) and Monica Lewinsky bombing war on Iraq (Dec 1998).But in 2022 there’ll be no kenneth starr to hound joe biden.

    Biden will go to war against a fast faltering Russia, 100% sure of absolute total victory, or hunter’s ultimate revenge, only to find the victim suddenly rising to his feet and brandishing a pistol with a pure silver bullet in the firing chamber.

    Bang ! Game over for biden’s war.The eighty-year-old drac goes straight to netherworld.

  14. alexis died in a drone strike

    May 13, 2022 at 2:18 am

    NATO doesn’t need to evaporate russia. Ukraine, alone, will do it for the rest of us. I predict fires in Moscow within a week. At this point, the Belgium Air Force could topple Russia.

  15. alexis died in a drone strike

    May 13, 2022 at 2:53 am

    Can you imagine? the fire in Moscow will burn the city to the ground. I hope you warned Moscow you people are not safe.

  16. Slack

    May 13, 2022 at 3:00 am

    In October 1973, Israel came under attack by large Syrian forces on the Golan heights and the Israeli positions almost became untenable.The path to the Galilee valley was wide open from that point.

    That October war nearly turned into a nuclear war had not the 7th armored brigade single-handedly stopped the syrians when it was down to a handful of tanks and a couple of tank shells.

    That lesson, or episode, is still relevant today,but Biden is fully unaware of it.

    Biden thinks his massive or large weaponry supply to europe will produce a good result.

    Biden thinks war in Europe will result in people awarding him title of ‘savior of Europe’ or ‘marshal of Europe’ or ‘greatest American war hero’ or ‘best US fighting commander’s, not knowing he’s about to initiate nuclear ww3 for the world.

    Cheers, Biden, plan well. Now for the midterms.

  17. Tom

    May 13, 2022 at 7:36 am

    .
    @michaeldweiss
    obtained a recording of an oligarch close to the Russian government saying Vladimir Putin is “very ill with blood cancer.” Is this the truth, a rumor or clever disinformation intended to make a paranoid dictator look ripe for removal?

    • Andrew P

      May 13, 2022 at 9:03 am

      Something is probably wrong with Putin, but he could still last for many years. If he has cancer, it could be the result of a radioactive assassination attempt, something the KGB excels at.

  18. Jeepwonder

    May 13, 2022 at 10:28 am

    I disagree with the premise of the story. The Russian horde? Russia has a vast territory but a not so vast population. Ukraine has shown them to be a paper tiger, riddled with issues in their military that cripples it from being an effective force.

    The Ukrainians are effectively fighting to protect their own land, munitions from numerous sources are not likely to drag us into a war with Russia unless the hapless and senile Biden wants it.

    • Clifford Williams

      May 13, 2022 at 3:09 pm

      The most dangerous animal is one that is wounded and fears for its life. Now that the world knows Russia is a paper tiger the need for the ultimate defense is even greater!

      A bloodied Russia looking at an expanding NATO is not a situation anyone should be happy with.

    • Robinhood44

      May 13, 2022 at 7:22 pm

      You are 100% correct. That was one problem with this author. He Really seems off point there doesn’t he?

  19. OIF Combat Vet

    May 13, 2022 at 10:44 am

    Only if the Usurper in Chief’s dementia continues to decline as it has been doing and his Visiting Angel Susan Rice can keep the nuclear codes hidden.

  20. Jacksonian Libertarian

    May 14, 2022 at 12:12 am

    I think the 1st world is playing this war just right.
    The 1st world didn’t let Saddam take Kuwait, in the 1st Gulf war. And it sacrificed blood and treasure to kick him out of Kuwait. That war set a line for what the 1st World wouldn’t tolerate. Putin has crossed that line and this time its prudent to let Ukraine fight its own battles, so no blood required, just treasure (logistical support: missiles).

  21. Alex

    May 14, 2022 at 9:07 am

    You need to understand the main thing: the United States is hysterical because the United States is losing the war in Ukraine. The only thing is to intervene directly in the conflict. And this will mean the end of the US country.

    And here are the real numbers:
    In total since the beginning of the special military operation, Russia has destroyed: 165 aircraft, 125 helicopters, 858 unmanned aerial vehicles, 304 anti-aircraft missile systems, 3,051 tanks and other armored combat vehicles, 372 multiple rocket launchers, 1,507 field artillery pieces and mortars, as well as 2898 units of special military vehicles.

    Will the old American idiot decide on a nuclear war because of a slap in the impoverished Ukraine? We will see. But one thing is clear: the United States will cease to exist not as a country, but as a continent.

  22. Tom

    May 14, 2022 at 3:40 pm

    Boris, Why do you continue to make a fool of yourself? Vlad’s hysteria manifests itself in continuing nuclear threats he has used for years. Nobody is afraid of that little runt fascist, Vlad.

  23. Alex

    May 15, 2022 at 11:16 am

    A demobilized French soldier, author of the book “Get up and go thanks to science” Adrien Boke went to Ukraine on a humanitarian mission and spent three weeks there.

    Upon his return, he decided to convey to the French information about the events he had witnessed in Ukraine.

    “I take full responsibility for what I say. While in Ukraine, I witnessed war crimes. All of them were committed by the Ukrainian army. But in France we don’t talk about it!

    When I returned to France from Ukraine, I was shocked: TV channels invite as experts people who have not been to Ukraine and do not know anything about what is happening there now. However, they dare to speculate about these events. Between what I hear from the TV screen and what I saw with my own eyes is an abyss.

    Azov fighters are everywhere. With neo-Nazi stripes. It shocks me that Europe is supplying weapons to neo-Nazis. Not only do they not hide their views. They advertise them. I worked with these people and treated them.

    Being there, there was nothing I could do. Just watch and make videos. I have this footage and will use it as evidence of Ukraine’s crimes.

    I witnessed how the Ukrainian military shot through the knees of captured Russian soldiers and shot in the head higher-ranking officers.

    I have personally seen American videographers making fake footage from the scene of the events staging.

    All destroyed civilian buildings, given out by Ukraine for bombardment of civilians, are nothing more than the result of inaccurate shooting by Ukrainians at military facilities.

    The Armed Forces of Ukraine hide ammunition in residential buildings at night, without even informing the residents. This is called using people as a shield, ”Boke quotes one of the French media.

    The Washington Post recently drew attention to the fact that Ukrainian troops are placing military equipment in residential areas of cities in an attempt to counter the Russian Armed Forces, which threatens the lives of civilians.

    Boke also spoke about the untruthfulness of Western media reports about the events in Bucha.

    “Bucha is a staging. The bodies of the dead were moved from other places and deliberately placed in such a way as to produce shocking footage, ”the French author noted.

    The documents confirming this were submitted to the Federal Security Service – how, who – there are relevant intercepts – on what transport he came to this settlement and created the conditions for organizing this provocation.

    Soon all the collected evidence about the crimes of the Nazis in Ukraine will be seen by the whole world. And the most important thing is the help of Western countries to the Nazis of Ukraine and assistance in their crimes.

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