“The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.”
War must be the ugliest word in the dictionary. Over the past few weeks, we have been seeing the most horrifying images coming out of Ukraine. There was one in particular that would melt any human’s heart. The severed arm of a child in the midst of corpses. Yellow jacket. Looking at the small hand, 6 years at most. Putin, like other blood thirsty dictators does not qualify as a human. The “leader of the free world,” I thought, did. We inevitably bear the wounds of all the battles that we avoid. This was, unquestionably a battle that America should have played a greater role in.
On the 2nd of March, Biden warned Russia and said that Putin has, “No idea of what’s coming.” That was well over a month ago. The US has in a way supported Ukraine. But not as it should have. And most certainly not the way that Biden has been “warning” Russia. As the Bible says, “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.” If the free, civilised world fails to act now, the consequences will be harsh. In Epitoma rei militaris, (a treatise that discusses warfare and military practices and is widely considered to be a key factor in the rise of the Roman empire) Publius Renatus notes, “Igitur qui desiderat pacem, præparet bellum.” Which translates as: Therefore let him who desires peace, prepare for war. You simply cannot have peace without the preparedness for war. History stands testament to that fact. The conditions of peace are often preserved by a readiness to make war when necessary.
This is, in effect, Russia testing the waters. And Russia, as President Bush Jr. described in his speech before declaring the “war on terror” is now most certainly a part of the “axis of evil.” China, Russia, North Korea, Iran and Pakistan have recently become “great friends.” Given America’s non-intervention attitude, it wouldn’t come as a surprise at all if China started making preparations to annex Taiwan in the near future. And attempted to snatch away the disputed areas with Japan, India, Philippines, Mongolia and South Korea to name a few. Seeing the United States’ minimal effort to thwart Russia’s advance into Ukraine, these countries will for certain, take it for granted that, that will be the US’ stance if one of these “axis of evil” countries were to occupy a disputed area. If the free world can let a belligerent dictator have his way with a sovereign, democratic country at the doorstep of NATO, (Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania share a border with Ukraine - all members of NATO) then God save us all!
The United States is always quick to launch an attack or at the very least, orchestrate a coup in countries that are “tyrannical.” Be it Vietnam, Dominican Republic, Cambodia, Grenada, Panama, Somalia, Cuba or more recently, Afghanistan and Iraq. Iraq had no links with the Al Qaeda. No weapons of mass destruction were ever found. NOT even one! It was being ruled by a ruthless dictator, aye. Is that excuse enough to invade a sovereign nation. The invasion witnessed over a million and a half dead (ORB International) and we saw the birth of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria alias ISIS. Iraq became the breeding ground for this terrorist organisation. Saddam was a cruel dictator, no sane person can deny that fact, but in retrospect, was this war really necessary? The number of innocent lives lost, the turmoil and the instability in the region post the invasion – impossible to justify! Let’s move over to Afghanistan. After two decades of this heinous “war on terror”, what was the final outcome? Afghanistan is back in the hands of the Taliban. And in their hands are armoured, mine resistance vehicles, thousands of rocket launchers, explosives, surveillance equipment and American made assault rifles that can fire up to 950 rounds per minute! As always, well done America! The poor Afghans have been left to fend for themselves. The Taliban are butchering the ones who had even the remotest link to the Americans deployed in Iraq. The drivers, cooks, interpreters, tailors, cleaners, cobblers, mechanics, the list is long but the stories of torture emerging from Afghanistan are heart wrenching indeed!
Biden has out rightly claimed that the US will not be sending in troops to Ukraine, because this war “lacks national interest.” The lack of national interest hasn’t stopped former administrations from expending blood and treasure on behalf of others in the past. There are instances galore where the US has gone all in without any “national interest.” (Oil, opium, gas and other natural reserves are perhaps of national interest.) The most recent ones being Clinton’s military intervention which resulted in the collapse of Yugoslavia in 1995. And then Obama’s role in the Libyan civil war. Both apparently on “humanitarian and human rights grounds.” Wouldn’t an intervention in this ghastly invasion qualify as humanitarian? Countless Ukrainians and Russians will die. Innumerable will flee. The economic and geopolitical second and third-order effects of this war will not be fully understood for years to come.
The US leaders just cannot absolve themselves of the guilt by claiming that they did all that they could to prevent this invasion. They did offer a cursory, obligatory response, but NOT a sufficient one. Like all administrations since the end of the Cold War, Biden fell victim to wishful thinking about Kremlin’s grand designs and ambitions. Totally oblivious to Putin’s noncommitment to international norms and disregard for international law. In doing so, Biden continued the decades long practice of allowing deterrence to gradually erode. The steps that should have been, could have been, ought to have been taken for the prevention of this war were not taken. For example, in December last year, Biden’s unequivocal declaration of the fact that the US will not be sending American troops to Ukraine. That removed any possibility of strategic ambiguity. Instead, the U.S. could have refused to elucidate its security commitments. Just as she has been doing vis-à-vis Taiwan. And that too, for decades! The implicit threat of U.S. and a NATO intervention would have forced Putin to contend with the danger and the risks of further escalation of this invasion. In fact, Biden gave Putin a somewhat free hand to do as he pleases.
America is, as a matter of fact, responsible for the dreadful situation unfolding in Ukraine. For over two decades, the US flirted with illusions about what might be gained from Russia – a reluctant, distant, cold and an old foe. The US remained oblivious to the enormous potential and opportunities in Ukraine – a far more willing partner. With her relationship with Russia, America had limited prospects of achieving any objectives outside of arms control. On the other hand, with Ukraine, she might have had a chance to successfully influence regional development and to check the hegemony of Putin. The seed of this conflict was sown many years ago by the Republican and Democratic administrations. Although, it is the Biden administration and the administrations to come that will have to battle with the geopolitical consequences of this war.
The U.S. has successfully deterred the Soviets for decades, but now, it seems to have implicitly recognised Russia’s sphere of influence and undermined its own role and position as the most powerful “global protector of democracy.” This invasion by Russia marks the single biggest reversal of the 21st century. The long term tremors of this seismic shift in the global order has injured the leaders of the “free world.” It has shaken the credibility and the very foundations of international treatises. And of course, the regard for international law. Almost overnight, the geopolitical perspective has become worse for America. Now, it must cope with the fallout accordingly. They really have, this time demonstrated to the world that America truly has no friends or foes, she only her own interests.
This conflict has far wider reaching consequences. It is not solely confined to the Russian-Ukrainian border. This certainly was a battle to be fought. ‘‘The arms are fair, When the intent of bearing them is just” (Henry IV) The US’ argument of not coming to rescue the poor Ukrainians is that it would have been the beginning of WW III. Russia is well aware of the US’ capabilities. And that of the NATO. Going by intelligence inputs from around the world, not a chance of Russia going all out over Ukraine. Even if it does, there will come a day when the free world will have to engage to put an end to the atrocities and the nuclear threat posed by these “axis of evil” nations.
The basic strategy up till now has been to make the war painful for Putin. And in order to do so, America imposed sanctions on Russia. What the Biden administration has failed to do though, was to have had considered a graduated response after Putin’s course of action had become crystal clear. Biden could have imposed targeted sanctions on the Russian leadership. The U.S. could have introduced the long-overdue anti-corruption legislation for the “dirty Russian money” to signal the impending costs of reinvasion for Kremlin. The Biden administration unfortunately, saw these options through an all-or-nothing lens and unnecessarily constrained their response. This administration was reactive where as it should have been proactive. In fact, the narrow, low-risk policy options taken by the U.S. backfired!
The West wants to make the war costly enough for Putin to consider an exit of some kind. The Ukrainians are being supplied with arms. Military aid and sanctions are useful tools, but it is very unlikely that these alone will make Putin give up. This invasion is close to Putin’s heart. He wants Ukraine which was a part of the Soviet union until 1991. In his opinion, he is basically taking what is “rightfully” his. And of course the threat of Ukraine joining the NATO was in his head, reason enough to invade. Kyrylo Budanov, Ukraine’s military intelligence chief (who foretold of Russia’s invasion as far back as November 2021) feels that Putin wants to split Ukraine into two emulating the post-war division between North and South Korea and make them a part of Russia.
The weapons provided by the US and Europe have been somewhat useful in blunting the Russian army’s advance. The American made “Javelin” anti-tank missile system for example, is a lightweight launcher and even one infantry soldiers can take out a Russian tank with it. Although, the tools used by the West and America are unlikely to turn the tide of the war. No number of Javelins can counter the military advantages that Russia has. The Russian tanks just keep rolling in. The Biden administration refused to provide advanced weapon systems to Ukraine. For example, the “Patriot” anti-aircraft missiles or the “Harpoon” anti-ship missiles would have proven extremely valuable in blunting Russia’s advances and could have affected Russia’s calculus for military operations. For those who argue that Russia would have pre-empted the weaponry shipment by invading Ukraine, one would contend that if invasion was anyway the predicted outcome, what was there to lose? The Biden administration also failed to pair diplomatic overtures with adequately powerful, credible military pressure. There is ample evidence to show that Russia’s military leadership has zero desire for a nuclear war. The Russian top brass understand fully well that they are bound to lose in a conventional war.
There is so much more that the US and the West can do. And must do. Kindness is the language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see, says Mark Twain. The first perhaps would be to impose a no-fly zone. This could provoke a war with Russia but the capabilities of NATO are far superior than Russia – a fact that Putin is well aware of. Another key move could be to send in troops. Not directly to engage with the Russian forces, but to create a military pipeline coming out of Poland that could be essential in order to provide intelligence, medical support and other essential supplies. It would also be crucial to establish a NATO enclave with Ukraine. If that happens, then the ball will be in Russia’s court and they can decide whether they want to advance on NATO and further escalate the crisis or come to the discussion table to talk.
To say nothing is saying something. When we see something that is not right, not fair, not just, we must speak up! All countries have a national interest but that does not mean that we do not make our stand clear when a monstrosity is unfolding. As the great Mahatma once said, “Silence becomes cowardice when occasion demands speaking out the whole truth and acting accordingly.” In times of moral crisis preserving one’s neutrality is unforgivable. The images from Ukraine are unendurable. They could be our children, our parents, our friends or our family. Will it take another Pearl Harbour for America to do what she ought to do? It is time for the free world to unite, speak up and take action. And it most certainly is time for nations that can help, to make all efforts to de-escalate the situation and find a peaceful way to resolve this crisis. If Putin doesn’t want to put an end to this barbaric, uncalled for invasion, so be it. The united world should give Russia an ultimatum.
Let’s see if Russia has the courage to stand up against a united world seeking nothing but justice!
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
-Dr Martin Luther King Jr.
Sartaj Chaudhary is Master of Laws from the prestigious University of Kent. His areas of interest are terrorism, regional conflict and international relations. An expert in International Law, he has written extensively about the changing global order and numerous other contemporary issues.