15 April, 2024

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US Intervention In Ukraine: Its Critics & Its Advocates

By Uditha Devapriya

Uditha Devapriya

It’s not wrong to concede that the US-led Western order is winning in Ukraine. It’s also not wrong to concede that Russia’s strategies lie beyond victory and defeat, and that it is overstretching and overextending the war and slowly raising the odds in its favour. This is not a classic military campaign in which one side triumphs over another: it is, as Dr Dayan Jayatilleka has accurately pointed out, a proxy war, between NATO and Russia, with Kiev as the proxy. The real question isn’t which side one takes, but why a side must be taken at all. Coming almost a year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it thus makes sense to analyse what academics and writers are saying about the US’s place in that conflict.

Western commentators, by and large, advocate intervention. There are exceptions, like Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer. But they are exceptions. Most Western newspapers and journals, including the big ones like The Economist and Foreign Policy, not to mention The New York Times, continue to promote US intervention in Ukraine. Those who oppose this line do so for a variety of reasons. Some, like Mearsheimer, believe that its involvement in Ukraine has forced the US to lose its focus in Asia, where the more crucial strategic war with its “peer competitor”, China, is unfolding dramatically. Others, like Walt, contend that in continuing to intervene, the US is embarking on a futile crusader’s quest.

Walt’s argument is interesting, if provocative. He argues that the US has been unable to “act with restraint.” He posits four reasons for this. First, the US’s long tryst with liberalism, a creed that lays so much emphasis on “universal rights” that it provokes its most powerful purveyor on the world stage to preach to and convert other states to its doctrines. Second, its possession of “a remarkable amount of power”, which compels elites and presidents to act unilaterally instead of appeasing or compromising with a rival power. Third, the much criticised “military-industrial complex”, or the merger of the bureaucracy and the corporate sector, which has pushed the country to “maintain its outsized global role.” And fourth, the profusion of interest groups and lobbying firms, not to mention media organisations, which has swayed policymakers in the US to advocate intervention, even war.

It’s interesting to note that critics of intervention aren’t necessarily opposed to the values that US officials say they are promoting and defending in other countries. Walt, for instance, openly contends that “I like the United States’ liberal values as much as anyone.” Even John Mearsheimer’s criticism of the US losing its strategic focus in Asia, vis-à-vis China, reflects a fundamental belief in those values. As far as academic discussions in the US and the West over Ukraine are concerned, therefore, the main cleavages do not centre on the validity of US values, but rather for what purpose, or for what campaigns, they must be deployed. Both Walt and Mearsheimer argue that the US is wasting time in Europe against Russia: a country which, in their view, lacks the capabilities that China possesses.

On the other side of the debate are those who draw a fine line between US interventions of the past and its present activities in Ukraine. These advocates of intervention begin their arguments by noting that, yes, the US has blundered in the past, but that the situation in Ukraine is different. Whereas intervention in Latin America during the Cold War, and West Asia after it, ended up achieving nothing and fuelling resentment against the US, in Ukraine at present the issue is, as James Traub explains in Foreign Policy, about “an unprovoked war of territorial aggression.” In other words, unlike the interventions of the past – “in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq” – where the US waged wars “against distant threats”, the invasion of Ukraine has justified the use of immediate force: “sometimes,” Traub tells us, “you have no choice but to keep killing people until the other side stops.”

The arguments of the interventionists do not entirely lack substance. Nevertheless, at one level, they are rooted in rather questionable assumptions. The line Traub draws between the campaigns of the past and US involvement in Ukraine, for instance, does seem credible. Yet the arguments which follow this – that there are moral considerations in Ukraine, that securing Ukraine is in the US’s interests, and that the US’s power implicitly devolves on it a responsibility to “keep killing people until the other side stops” – are the same arguments made once upon a time in defence of interventions in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and, during the Cold War, in Latin and Central America. More crucially, while the war in Ukraine may have different moral trappings, they are benefiting the same interests: as the US media itself has reported, the biggest beneficiaries of US intervention in Ukraine have been corporations like Lockheed Martin, Raytheon Technologies, and Kongsberg Defence.

In a recent article in The Atlantic, George Packer writes that the US’s foreign policy must continue to be shaped by its commitment to liberal values. He inserts an important caveat: liberalism, as it stands, contains some fundamental flaws, and the US, in its foreign policy, needs to take note of them. “This recognition of limits,” Packer contends, “would make a foreign policy founded on liberal values more persuasive abroad and more sustainable with the American electorate.” At the same time, the rise of leaders opposed to those values – Packer predictably mentions Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin – makes it incumbent on the US to try and “bring the light of freedom to the world.”

The dichotomy Packer draws here is between darkness and light. In its almost Manichean overtones, it reinforces the same divisions invoked in defence of US interventions in the past: ironically, the same interventions advocates of intervention in Ukraine across the West highlight, and then contrast, against what the US is currently doing in Eastern Europe. Walt unpacks this line of reasoning succinctly: it is, he notes, a “well-worn line of argument”, one which has been deployed for far too long to acquire any novelty in the hands of academics, analysts, and commentators who promote US involvement in Ukraine on the grounds that Ukraine is not Iraq, Afghanistan, or Libya. “Insanity,” a famous witticism runs, “is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Walt invokes this in his essay: “it is so hard,” he concludes, “for the United States to stop doing stupid stuff.”

*Uditha Devapriya is a freelance columnist who can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com. He is the Chief International Relations Analyst at Factum, an Asia-Pacific focused foreign policy think-tank based in Colombo and accessible via www.factum.lk.

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Latest comments

  • 8
    4

    Uditha,

    You are just a boy with a large collection of books.

    The bottom line is ……… NATO or any neighbouring country was never a threat to Russia. …….. NATO was always a threat – perceived and otherwise – to Putin: to his megalomaniac and dictatorial ambitions to remain in power in perpetuity.


    Someday, when you discard all your books and start to think for yourself …….. you’ll be a man.

    • 2
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      We got independence 75 years ago but colonialism left behind crippled minds that still grovel before white masters. So the US and EU continue to have their cheering squads in former colonies. Those minds believe the dominant and distorted news agencies that feed our media. When their comfortably-settled thinking is shaken by facts aggregated by a writer who enables us to understand what’s going on in Ukraine, they resort to abuse and insult. Just like the Maradana thug who hoists his sarong and spews forth filth when incapable of rationalising.

      The unipolar world foisted on the rest of us by the US and Europe, with Australia and nominally white Japan roped in, is in terminal decline. That world – the white world – enriched by colonial theft and slavery, are now drained of vigour and vision. Other nations are on the rise. Those nations will have their days in the sun. To think Russia and its 145 million Eurasians will capitulate to sinister designs is malformed thinking.

      • 6
        2

        I cheer only one thing: truth! …….. Unlike you, I don’t manufacture my own truth/reality to overcome my insecurities. :))

        Just cut the crap and keep it simple pal ……. answer me this.


        1. Should Ukraine lie down and play dead when Russia attacks?

        2. What country/organization was a threat to Russia (Not Putin?)

        I bet you won’t give a straight answer! ……… Like the Maradana thug you’ll run away while the sarong is still high.

        Hallucinations in your mind ….. and the reality out there/here are two different things!

        Anyway thanks for the entertainment ……… in these bleak times! :))

        • 2
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          Nimal Fernando
          Re: Your reply to Sarath
          I took the liberty to answer the two questions raised by you.
          1. Should Ukraine lie down and play dead when Russia attacks?- Nimal Fernando.
          Of course not. Because, since 2008, all Ukrainian governments were fully aware that they provoked Russia by applying for NATO’s Membership Action Plan (MAP). Since 2014, they have built military trenches in Donbass and stockpiled weapons supplied by NATO to attack the Russian military in Crimea, (a strategic region which was hurriedly annexed by Russia after the coup in Ukraine in 2014). Besides, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers including Azov Nazis have received NATO standard extensive weapon training since 2014 obviously as a preparation for the US led NATO’s proxy war against Russia.
          The current conflict between Russia and Ukraine was an inevitable result of the United States’ long term plan to find a proxy in Eastern Europe to attack Russia. In February 2014, the United States orchestrated a coup in Ukraine to replace the then pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych with pro-American President Petro Poroshenko and, since then, successfully pitted Ukrainians against President Vladimir Putin.
          Contd’….

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            Soon after the coup, a civil war between the Ukrainian government and Russia-backed Donetsk and Lugansk Republic Movements erupted in March 2014 in Ukraine’s “Coal Basin”, the Donbass region.
            In December 2014, this is what the pro-American President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko said about the Ukrainian citizens in Eastern Ukraine who happened to be ethnic Russians and Russophones.
            “We will have work, not them! We will have pensions and they will not! We will have benefits for pensioners and children, they will not! Our children will go to school and kindergarten, their children will stay in the cellars! Because they can’t do anything! And, that is how, precisely that, we will win this war!” (Courtesy: French Journalist and Film Director Anne-Laure Bonnel’s documentaries on Donbass.)
            Poroshenko openly discriminated against Russian origin Ukrainians in Eastern Ukraine, specifically in Donetsk and Lugansk Republics, which ranked No. 1 and 7 respectively among Ukrainian territories in 2013, in terms of the size of their populations.
            According to the International Crisis Group’s visual explainer, “Fighting in the Donbass region of Eastern Ukraine that began in 2014 (and continued up until early 2022) which killed over 14,000 people provides a crucial background for understanding what is happening today.”
            Contd’…..

            • 2
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              2. What country/organization was a threat to Russia (Not Putin?) – Nimal Fernando.
              The answer is Ukraine, which wanted to be NATO’s launch pad to attack, first Crimea, and then Russia.
              It should be noted that President Zelensky signed a Decree on March 24, 2021 declaring war against Russia to retake Crimea, a year before Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine.
              NATO’s membership to Ukraine will allow the United States to build strategically necessary military bases in Ukraine which is a direct threat to Russia’s sovereignty and Independence. The only reason that the US led NATO didn’t send NATO troops to Ukraine is the non-existence of military bases in that country.
              There is no justification of NATO’s membership to Ukraine, other than to launch an attack on Russia, one day. One day. Russia is protected as long as President Vladimir Putin is in power.. The United States has a strong intolerance to the unique cultures of other countries which is proved by the list of countries that they attacked and destroyed. In many cases, they themselves created a crisis in a chosen country and then sent troops to ‘resolve’ the crisis. The world would be a much better place without the US led NATO.

              • 2
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                Phew Champa! ……… I asked to keep it simple ……. I didn’t have the time to read your long harangue. ……. I’m determine to be nice to people in the new year. Native’s new year resolution for me. :))

                The bottom line is, it’s the Ukrainians doing the fighting …… their success in the battlefield shows how determined they want to be free.


                No country in the world is perfect …… US nor Russia ……… nor China …….. but people choose to live in countries that are free: I’m not making this up it’s how people vote with their feet.

                Why did Sunil Abeyratne vote with his feet for the US? :)))) …….. Venezuela has the biggest reserves of oil but their pols bankrupted the country: now their living conditions are very similar to Lankans. Sunil was also a great supporter of Gota ……. a true deliver of vistas of splendour!

                Every day when I write here …… I feel like I’m helping people with their mental problems/insecurities ……. helping them to see reality. Dragging them kicking and screaming …….. into light from darkness. :))

                A little intellectual sincerity can go a long way to make one’s life happy ……… in an imperfect world. :))

      • 5
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        Most commenters here are expatriates who have access to far more uncensored sources than people like you still in SL, and they are grown-ups who can differentiate facts from propaganda. But you, in typical SL “frog in the well” fashion, still like to imagine that the entire world other than Russia and some of the pro-Russian fascists are fools and that only you know the truth. Putin’s thugs are pushing his critics out of their hotel windows to die in staged “suicides.” They are thanking you profusely for believing in Putin.

    • 5
      2

      Nimal, give the boy some time and space to be a man. He seems to be making progress. He doesn’t have much to write about Lanka, hence he has moved to international arena. He need to get away from his tutor / mentor “the great DJ”.

  • 1
    3

    what intervention is the author talking about. Giving arms to a country to fight a great big bully is not intervention.For example is iran giving drones to russia a intervention by iran in the war?

  • 2
    14

    US intervention? It is not a mere intervention. What we see in Ukraine is the US’s proxy war against Russia. In less than 10 months, Russia managed to deplete NATO’s (outdated) arms stock.
    The speed and the magnitude of US led NATO’s weapons supply to Ukraine proved that these weapons had already been sent to Ukraine or stockpiled in Poland at the time of Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine. It is apparent that the US led NATO announces the list of weapons being delivered to UKraine only after they reach their final destination.That means, the USA’s much-hyped “legacy version” of Patriot Air Defence System is also either already sent to Ukraine or ready to leave for Ukraine from Poland. Anyway, USA’s latest supply of ‘advanced’ weapons to Ukraine will prompt Russia to use more modern weapons in its military operation. What will they do? Their response is no longer a mystery. It is very clear that Russia will directly and intensely target the supply lines of foreign weapons and foreign fighters to Ukraine which may, may, result in an end to the conflict sooner than expected as Ukraine totally relies on borrowed foreign weapons and foreign fighters in its defense.
    Contd’

    • 2
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      For the past few months, Ukraine tried to ‘provoke’ Russia left, right and centre and when Russia responded, cried foul. 1. One such instance is the attack on the Kerch Bridge for which they received a bellyful from Russia. 2. Then, they planned a dirty bomb. Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu should receive the highest accolade for disclosing and thwarting Ukraine’s plan to make a dirty-bomb. 3. Then, they launched a false flag attak on Poland to trigger a direct clash between Russia and NATO. 4. Russia’s response to President Zelensky’s visit to Washington was so mild, the Ukraine military had to fire their own rockets towards the city of Kherson to showcase Russia’s “fury” over the visit. 5. Then, they launched a drone attack on an air base located deep in Russia to which Russians responded with a press statement. 6. Then, they fired a rocket to Belarus. 7. Then, the Ukrainians removed the giant monument of Russia’s longest ruling Empress Catherine the Great, the founder of Odessa, from the City she founded. Ironically, it is she, who allowed foreign Jews to settle in the region. I think ‘Russia’s response’ to Ukraine’s attempt to erase Russian history in Novorussia is ‘still on-going’.
      Contd’

      • 2
        11

        Having said that, does Ukraine have any other option other than encouraging Russia to maintain the same tempo? It was President Zelensky’s decision to fight Russia, (expecting a direct clash between NATO and Russia), wasn’t it? NATO is not even prepared for WWIII if the Ukraine conflict precipitates a nuclear war. France “surrendered” even before WWIII started. Going by the US’s war history, I don’t think the US will get into another world war. Who else is left? Britain and Europe. Russia, I don’t believe, will attack Europe. Then, there is only Britain.
        Western media console themselves by stating that Russia faced many setbacks in its military operation in Ukraine and that it (Russia) no longer poses a threat to the West. Well, Ukraine didn’t recapture any territories so far despite receiving military and intelligence support from over 40 countries. The reason that Russia hasn’t used even 10% of its military power in Ukraine is to minimize civilian casualties. Anyway, they may not be so ‘generous’ towards the Collective West if there was a direct conflict with them.
        Contd’

        • 2
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          What I see is, there is no going back for Russia or even Ukraine. Mr. Putin and his Foreign Minister have made it abundantly clear that Russia’s historical lands in Ukraine would be protected with all their might. If I use today’s terms, Russia reannexed its former territories that have been annexed by Ukraine in 1922 by way of a deed of gift thus successfully blocking Ukraine’s grand plans to join NATO. These days, Russia is inviting Ukraine for peace talks almost every day at sunrise and sunset. What I observe is, they offer peace before any major attacks to save lives of both sides.
          Mr. Zelensky’s “10-point No-Peace Plan” and his Foreign Minister’s proposed “Anti-Russia Peace Summit” in February shows that the Kiev government has no intention to make peace with Russia under latter’s conditions. Do they have any other choice?
          There are only two reasons for the Kiev government’s refusal to accept the “new realities” in Eastern Ukraine. Either it is, i. Ukraine’s inflated ego, or ii. President Zelensky is scared that if he makes any compromise, he would be overthrown or even assassinated by his own military. Under the circumstances, Ukraine may be more proud to be defeated on the battlefield than making any compromise.

  • 2
    4

    Wide publicity was given for an attack carried out by Ukrainian forces on a temporary Russian military barrack near Makiivka in the Donetsk region killing 63 Russian servicemen.
    Supporters of Ukraine jubilate over deaths on Russia’s side while hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers sacrifice their lives for an unwinnable war on a daily basis. For example, according to a daily press statement issued by Russia’s Defense Ministry on January 2, 2023, 70 foreign mercenaries near Markovo and Novoosinovo + 30 Ukrainian servicemen near Berestovoy, Kozlovka, and Sinkovka + another 40 Ukrainian personnel near Yampolovka, Chervona Dibrova, and Serebryanka + another 70 Ukrainian servicemen in the Donetsk region + another 40 Ukrainian servicemen near Zolotaya Niva and Prechistovka (totalling 250) have been eliminated and hundreds have been wounded. This is a daily occurrence. What I noticed is, Russia never highlights (enemy) deaths.
    Now, the world is waiting to see the magnitude of Russia’s retaliation. On the contrary, I don’t think Russia will retaliate for their loss in Makiivka for obvious reasons.

    • 2
      3

      Hello Champa,
      Not many people understand (or perhaps not interested) that the US is shaping the world to consolidate/maintain its hegemony over the world.
      You might remember John Bolton, the former US National Security Advisor in the Trump administration who advocated direct intervention in Venezuela. He even threatened that ‘all options’ were on the table to deal with Venezuela.
      Here is a link to his latest opinion piece in the Daily Telegraph – UK. This is indicative of the collective thinking in the West.
      https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2023/01/02/western-weakness-could-still-allow-putin-snatch-victory-jaws/
      This may be gated although the Daily Telegraph lets people read one article – that is if you are not already a subscriber.

    • 1
      1

      champa

      63 is BS. If russia says 63 then it must be 500 as ukraine claims dead plus injured are.We know that is also a guess because how do you really count battlefield deaths. You can only do that by going to the battlefied and counting te bodies and now wit this type of trenchwarfare that is impossible.Each side just shells the other and estimates te losses.The only thing we know is that the russian losses are substantial and not 63.

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