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Does Geopolitical Deterrence Still Explain the Development of the War in Ukraine and is it Enough for the Post-War Security of Europe?
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General Ben Hodges recently said, "The United States and our other allies have to say, 'We want Ukraine to win! And when that becomes our policy, then there will be no more excuses for not delivering ATACMS, Abrams tanks or F-16s. We are determined to win.”[1] He noted that he has never heard President Joe Biden or Congress say that they want Ukraine to win.

General Hodges’ statement focuses on a somewhat uncomfortable question for public discussion: Why doesn't the United States go beyond the context of President Biden's statement and provide enough weapons together with its partners to win the war by military means alone? Perhaps General Hodges is putting an end to his statement too soon, and the statement itself should be slightly modified:

"When the U.S. goal is the collapse of Russia, which will reliably ensure Ukraine's victory, there will be no reason not to provide ATACMS."

It is likely that even if the Russian army is pushed beyond the 1991 borders of Ukraine, the war will not end. Missiles, drones, ground operations - Russia will be able to continue to do all of this from Ukraine's territory. To do what it is doing now. The only thing that can prevent this after a successful military operation is the collapse of Russia.

This is where we should ask Washington: "Does Washington want Russia to collapse?" Probably not.

From the point of view of national security, an uncontrolled disintegration of Russia means the risk of losing control of Russia's nuclear weapons and its highly enriched uranium, which is the dream of international terrorists.

To reduce these risks, the United States relies on a fundamental issue of the world security architecture - the treaty on the control of strategic offensive nuclear weapons, the New START (Treaty between the United States of America and the Russian Federation on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms, signed in April 2010[2]), which expires on February 4, 2026.

Despite Russian President Vladimir Putin signing a law in February 2023 that intends "to suspend" Russia's participation in New START, as the last agreement limiting the strategic nuclear arsenals of both states, both Russia and the US are likely convinced of the role of the Treaty as a contributor to strengthening international security[3]. Therefore, compliance with the Treaty is going to be resumed. This corresponds to the statements by the US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan[4]  “Rather than waiting to resolve all of our bilateral differences, the United States is ready to engage Russia now to manage nuclear risks and develop a post-2026 arms control framework” to follow the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) after its expiration in 2026, he said. Jake Sullivan outlined the proposal in a speech to the Arms Control Association’s annual meeting in Washington on June 2. “It is in neither of our countries’ interests to embark on an open-ended competition in strategic nuclear forces,” Sullivan acknowledged. Otherwise, the US will need to reconsider the nature of nuclear deterrence this is far from going to practice[5].

It is worth mentioning here that President Bush Sr. had fears about the possible collapse of the USSR, so he was very supportive of Gorbachev at the time, and on August 1, 1991, in his famous speech in Kyiv, he said that the USSR should not collapse. Does the United States now have similar concerns about Russia? The experience of the collapse of the USSR in 1991 showed that the United States was not ready to regulate the issue of controlling the USSR's nuclear weapons after its collapse, making decisions of strategic importance in the context of current events. The intensity of U.S. Secretary of State James Baker's communications with the leaders of the USSR and newly independent states at the time, as well as their content, testify to this.

From the point of view of geopolitics, the uncontrolled disintegration of Russia is a risk to NATO's existence, because the absence of Russia as a counterweight to NATO can significantly increase the pressure of voters in Europe to reduce the already small defense spending in their countries, form public demands for the withdrawal of the main instrument of deterring Russia - US nuclear weapons, without which NATO's existence will be threatened, as well as the US army contingent, and then Washington loses political influence on the EU, which is unacceptable for Washington. Therefore, Washington needs a threat to Europe, where the US security role will be decisive. And the role of this threat should be played by Russia. Didn't Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren say at the end of November 2023 that it was necessary to contain Russia?[6]

"How to maintain NATO's unity as a result of the collapse of the USSR, which NATO was created to deter in 1949?" Wasn't this a painful question for US President George H. W. Bush in 1991? Probably, President Biden does not have such a question in 2022. There is another question: How to take advantage of the situation around the war in Ukraine to once again motivate his European counterparts to increase defense spending, especially in those countries that still do not meet NATO's 2% of GDP requirement?

In the 1970s, U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who recently passed away, leaving us with a huge amount of experience in foreign policy decisions, already made a similar attempt, realizing the importance of defense spending by each country to increase the defense capability of NATO as a whole, without relying on nuclear weapons as the sole deterrent to the USSR.

In other words, deterrence should not only include nuclear weapons, which only three NATO countries have, but also conventional weapons available to all NATO countries. Isn't this what Kajsa Ollongren is talking about in his statement, emphasizing that the object of deterrence exists, and if it was the USSR in the 1970s, now it is Russia and NATO countries should take care of the appropriate defense spending?

The existence of NATO in the absence of an external threat, as a result of the possible collapse of Russia, is still considered a challenge for the United States, the consequences of which are difficult for the United States to predict, so NATO still needs a deterrent, which is Russia. This significantly reduces the US's geopolitical maneuvering room, especially given the US's desire to control Russia's nuclear weapons.

In such geopolitical conditions, General Hodges' militarily understandable statement risks losing its causal link, bringing us back to the question of finding effective security mechanisms, both regional and global, that would reliably prevent such acts of military aggression. Geopolitics should evolve, not move in a circle in its decisions, allowing problems and challenges to repeat themselves again and again. Effective geopolitics is primarily about preventing such events, and this is where the vacuum of appropriate solutions is felt.

The possible focus of European countries' attention, according to Kajsa Ollongren's statement, on increasing European defense spending to ensure the quality implementation of the principle of deterrence against Russia is likely a recognition that Europe has been ignoring the possible security challenges that Europe could face as a result of Russia's possible aggression against the EU's neighboring Ukraine, and the simultaneous domestic political crisis in the United States for several decades, especially after the end of the Cold War.

At the same time, the geopolitical moment requires more than ensuring the principle of deterrence by increasing defense spending by NATO member states.  Adherence to the principle of deterrence by European countries through a possible increase in defense spending is no longer enough to make Europe feel safe. That is, the possible allocation of an additional 80 billion euros for defense, or about 0.5% of EU GDP, as the difference between the current level of defense spending (1.5%) and NATO requirements (2%) will not reliably ensure European security, although it is a necessary precondition for this, but not the only one.

How can one not recall Henry Kissinger's statement this year that to ensure European security, Ukraine must be accepted into NATO[7]. That is, the issue of Ukraine's geopolitical status needs to be regulated: from a buffer zone, a geopolitical field, Ukraine should become a NATO member, joining the family of Western countries. A Ukrainian public opinion poll in 1997 showed 37% in favor of joining NATO with 28% opposed and 34% undecided[8]. Recently, in 2023 a total of 77% of surveyed citizens of Ukraine are ready to vote for NATO membership if a referendum was held[9]. NATO should determine the tactics of Ukraine's accession, taking into account both geopolitical challenges and an obvious shift in the attitude of Ukrainians toward NATO accession, and announce it publicly as soon as possible. This will significantly reduce political pressure within Europe by reducing uncertainty about regional security. Furthermore, we should not forget that this is a matter not only of the world order but also of the future of Ukraine as a sovereign, independent state, which means that it is a matter of responsibility of major players, who should not be entirely focused at the issue of ensuring the quality of the deterrence principle.

So, to answer the question in the title of this article, the following is worth mentioning: Yes, geopolitical deterrence still explains the development of the war in Ukraine, but it is no longer sufficient to ensure the security of Europe in the postwar period without Ukraine joining NATO.

Dr. Alexander Kostyuk is Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Corporate Ownership and Control journal.


[1] https://eng.obozrevatel.com/section-war/ news-us-should-make-ukraines-victory-in-the-war-against-russia-its-policy-hodges-02-12-2023.html

[2] https://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE7132LN/

[3] https://apnews.com/article/ russia-ukraine-putin-politics-government-united-states-23cc21a1f42798177a40d4e53204b054

[4] https://www.armscontrol.org/act/2023-07/news/russia-consider-us-arms-control-proposal

[5] https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2023-11-09/ the-us-china-and-russia-have-a-three-body-nuclear-problem

[6] https://www.anews.com.tr/europe/2023/11/30/ europe-should-speed-up-arms-production-dutch-defense-minister-says

[7] https://www.economist.com/kissinger-highlights

[8] Solomon, Gerald B. H., 1930- & Center for Strategic and International Studies (Washington, D.C.). (1998). The NATO enlargement debate, 1990-1997 : blessings of liberty / Gerald B. Solomon. Westport, Conn. : Praeger

[9] https://www.eurointegration.com.ua/eng/news/2023/11/29/7174554/


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