patrick porter is pProfessor of Iinternational ssafety and sstrategy at the University of Birmingham. Benjamin H. Friedman is pPolitics DDirector at Priorities of Defense. Justin Logan is assuperior Fellow at the Cato Institute.
Insisting that the United States and its NATO allies should want exactly what Ukraine is doing is understandable policy, but it is also dangerous policy.
Such insistence risks not only potentially dragging us into nuclear war, but also giving Ukraine false hope and delaying a settlement. And our natural sympathy for Ukraine should not be confused with totally aligned interests.
Across the West, Russia’s invasion sparked a general outpouring of support and solidarity. NATO members have helped frustrate Russia and enabled Ukraine to mount effective resistance with arms transfers, intelligence sharing and economic sanctions. And civil society mobilized help, making the Ukrainian flag a popular symbol of heroic defiance, internationalism and the survival of sovereign freedom.
For British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, “one of the greatest prides in the free world is ‘Ya Ukrainets’ – ‘I am a Ukrainian'”. According to US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, “our job is to support Ukrainians. They will set the military objectives, the objectives at the negotiating table. . . we’re not going to define the outcome of that for them. It is up to them to define and up to us to support them. Even President Joe Biden argues that Ukraine is not just a humanitarian cause for the United States, but a frontline state in a global war between freedom and autocracy.
At the same time, however, the UK and US governments have also made it clear that they will not give Ukraine all the weapons it wants or enter the conflict directly by imposing a no-fly zone or by deploying troops. This reluctance reflects a clear divergence of interests between the West and Kyiv.
Ukraine, whose independence is at stake, wants all the NATO help it can get – the escalation serves its interests. On the other hand, the NATO countries, reasonably suspicious of Russia and its nuclear arsenal, are rightly resisting.
Thus, a gap has opened up in Western capitals between actions that suggest an outer limit of commitment and words that suggest a harmony of interests.
Much of it is just politics. The leaders of democracies tend to overestimate the stakes to promote policies that carry great risks. But such a gap is dangerous.
On the one hand, it attracts national calls for escalation, including demands for maximum war aims, from the restoration of Crimea to direct military intervention. Second, the White House’s rhetoric also undermines its own refusal to comply with Ukraine’s high-risk requests for assistance in the form of no-fly zones, Russia’s complete economic shutdown, or troop deployments. , undermining his own self-restraint.
But if the stakes in the West were indeed as serious as those in Ukraine, if the future of the world order depended on the course of this conflict, and our democracy was at stake with that of Ukraine, then why Wouldn’t NATO be willing to join the fight for it?
Crucially, this rhetorical-political divide could also create excessive expectations of support from Ukraine. But those who insist that the West give Ukraine everything it wants ignore that what Ukraine wants partly depends on what the West will give it – or at least what it says it wants. ‘he will do it. And claims of fully aligned interests can fuel Ukrainian dreams of total victory that are probably unsustainable and only favor the prolongation of the war.
Although the peace talks have now stalled, they could resume when the Russian push for Donbass succeeds or end in a stalemate, and Ukraine could once again be presented with an unpleasant peace offer – losing Crimea, accepting more autonomy for a large part of Donbass, commit to neutrality. If kyiv thinks Western support is endless, or likely to become more direct, it may end up rejecting a deal it should have agreed to and suffer when the help it was counting on does not materialize.
The problem here is not to help Ukraine, it is to pretend that the aid is unconditional.
This conflict itself was partly precipitated by a series of false but seductive assurances from Washington to kyiv, which gave the impression of an alignment of interests.
The fatal banter included ‘ironclad’ promises of support, the hollow suggestion of possible NATO membership and the establishment of a security partnership backed by increased material and military assistance that was not guaranteed. . All of this has left Ukraine in a vulnerable no-man’s land: without the shield of real Western engagement but emboldened to take steps that hastened Russia’s determination to keep it from joining the West, such as the rejection of neutrality.
The idea that nations can contribute heavily to a war effort without having a say in its execution is offensive. Those who arm Ukraine may not risk enough to suit Ukraine, but they risk nothing – the danger of Russian retaliation remains. And sanctions cause economic suffering for those who sanction as well as for the sanctioned.
Moreover, the terms and timing of the end of the war will also affect NATO nations, determining the extent and severity of the economic backlash, as well as the likelihood of another invasion and the crisis that will result. Western leaders certainly have a right — indeed a responsibility to their constituents — to determine how to use their military aid and economic sanctions in a way that also serves their interests, not just those of Ukraine.
The normally mundane observation that Ukraine has different interests than the US or the UK has now become essential for sound policy choice, and to pretend there is no difference runs the risk of escalate the war with potentially horrific consequences.
Reasonable people may disagree about the precise position of Western interests in terms of ending the war. But they should not deny that this interest is not identical to that of Ukraine.