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Peace, not war

Russia launched its massive invasion of Ukraine on February 24 flagrantly violating the most fundamental norm of international law – the prohibition of recourse to international force except in exercising the right of self-defense against a prior armed attack. Yes, there were a series of irresponsible provocations by Nato that aroused understandable security concerns in Moscow, including the relentless expansion of the Cold War Nato alliance after the Cold War was over, the threat from the Soviet Union had disappeared, and promises were made by Western leaders of no further Nato expansion. Such geopolitical behavior amounted to imprudent statecraft by the West, especially given the Russian anxiety about being surrounded by hostile forces. Such eminent figures as George Kennan, Jack Matlock (respected former US ambassador to Russia), and Henry Kissinger issued warnings to this effect, but they went unheeded in Washington.

The Ukraine War is best interpreted as a two-level war. In the active combat zones of Ukraine, it is a devastating war between Russia and Ukraine producing an increasingly severe humanitarian crisis that includes massive civilian displacement refugee flows and internal movements away from embattled cities and throughout the country.

This primary war phenomenon interacts with an ongoing secondary proxy war pitting Russia against the United States, with Russia trying to impose its will on Ukraine and the US pursuing several geopolitical objectives. These include revitalizing and strengthening Nato and mobilizing unity in Europe by inflaming anti-Russian sentiments, which as during the Cold War rested on fear and loathing of Russia, then the Soviet Union. There is no military engagement at this point in the proxy war, although its indirect confrontations are at risk of escalating dangerously, even putting inhibitions on nuclear threats and risks to their greatest test since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Perhaps, it should be appreciated that the fog of war is denser in the secret sessions of proxy war advisors and leaders than even what is hovering over the Ukrainian battlefields. Strategic objectives in this two-level war are confusing, being neither coherent nor consistent, and because there are no current images of death and destruction, the very real negative effects of the proxy war tend to be ignored, such as prolonging the killing, delaying a ceasefire.

On the surface, Russia is seeking to reestablish its sphere of influence over its ‘near abroad’ in Ukraine and the US is seeking to blunt this Russian mission at a high cost to Ukrainians. It is doing this by sending weapons and other forms of assistance to help the Ukrainians resist more effectively.

Excerpted: ‘Make Peace, Not War, in Ukraine’.

Richard Falk, "Peace, not war," The News. 2022-03-31.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political behavior , Political objectives , Refugees , NATO , Henry Kissinger , George Kennan , Russia , Cuba