Antony J. Blinken, Biden, China, Council on Foreign Relations, East China Sea, globalism, Japan, Kim Jong Un, national interests, North Korea, Our So-Called Foreign Policy, Russia, South China Sea, South Korea, Taiwan, The Wall Street Journal, Ukraine, Ukraine-Russia war, Vladimir Putin, war, Xi JInPing
Not only do American leaders seem pretty united on the need for the nation to do much more to help Ukraine defend itself from Russian invaders. They and the (overwhelmingly globalist) American political and chattering classes seem largely in agreement on one of the main consequences either of permitting Russia to win, or permitting him to win without inflicting major, lasting damage on Russia’s economy – a return to a world in which aggressive dictators like Russia’s Vladimir Putin will feel much freer than they have for decades to attack their neighbors.
That fear definitely has a troubling ring of reasonableness – and all the more so since, unlike previous historical eras in which such attacks and invasions were much more common, some of the actors possess nuclear weapons.
But there’s something these warnings are overlooking. However vivid such dangers are in principle, it’s hard to identify actual places around the world where potential conquerors have been bidng their time until receiving just the kind of signal that a Russian success in Ukraine allegedly would send.
If you doubt the prominence of this argument for greater U.S. involvement in the conflict, you haven’t been paying attention. For example, in his first public remarks after the invasion, President Biden claimed that “Putin’s actions betray his sinister vision for the future of our world — one where nations take what they want by force.”
In a speech a month earlier, his Secretary of State, Antony J. Blinken, asserted that one of the post-World War II global order’s guiding principles was a rejection of
“the right of one country to change the borders of another by force; to dictate to another the policies it pursues or the choices it makes, including with whom to associate; or to exert a sphere of influence that would subjugate sovereign neighbors to its will.
“To allow Russia to violate those principles with impunity would…send a message to others around the world that these principles are expendable, and that, too, would have catastrophic results.”
The conservatives on the Wall Street Journal editorial board, who don’t agree with the Biden administration on much of anything, similarly contended that “Whether the West admits it or not, the invasion is setting a precedent for what the world will tolerate in the 21st century.”
But check out this assessment of worldwide hot spots from the Council on Foreign Relations, often called the seat of America’s globalist foreign policy establishment. Where exactly are the Putins of tomorrow whose will to international power would be even be sharpened by a Russian victory in Ukraine?
Certainly not on the Korean peninsula or in the East China Sea. North Korea no doubt has designs on neighboring South Korea, but they’ve existed for decades. Ditto for China and Taiwan. It’s true that Kim Jong Un and Xi Jinping might be emboldened by an inadequate U.S. and international response to Putin’s war. But not from any relief that global norms of behavior that had been holding them back had weakened, or that a Russian victory had set some a kind of precedent – with binding power? Because they take the idea of rule of law more seriously in their treatment of foreigners than they do in their treatment of their own people? Please.
Other than these Asian conflicts – which also include China’s expansionism in the South China Sea, but which also long predate the Ukraine war – where are the aggressors-in-waiting who may feel freer to attack their neighbors? Should we include the other East China Sea dispute, where China is involved, too – even though U.S. allies Japan and South Korea are also contesting each other’s claims to some miniscule islands?
More important, where are the global hot spots where current or potential territorial rivalries could explode into conflict that would imperil global peace and security – including America’s? Nagorno-Karabakh (on the border of Armenia and Azerbaijan, unless you’ve been following this tiff closely)? As Mr. Biden would say, “Come on, man.”
I’m sure that there are flashpoints in sub-Saharan Africa that could eventually embroil entire regions in warfare. But it’s as cold-blooded as it is true that these are regions so chronically dysfunctional (and therefore largely disconnected from the wider world) that even complete chaos has no potential to spread much further – or inspire conqueror wannabees in regions of greater concern.
Closer to home for the United States, according to the Congressionally founded U.S. Institute of Peace, some small countries in Latin America have been quarreling with neighbors over territory since 1990, and if they did ignite conflict, refugees would of course come streaming to U.S. borders. But only once – in 1995 – did one of these feuds result in war (between Ecuador and Peru). And I’m glad I don’t have to make the argument that revanchists in either country are chomping at the bit to get a symbolic green light from a Russian victory in Ukraine.
The big takeaways here clearly are (1) that the world isn’t a tinderbox likely to burst into a series of truly dangerous international conflicts depending on the outcome of Russia’s war on Ukraine; and (2) that the potential conflicts that can affect the United States consequentially are and have long been driven by their own dynamics (including current and longstanding American approaches to these situations).
So as has been the case since Russian policy toward its neighbors became more belligerent, what should be driving the U.S. response should be examinations concerning the nature of concrete, specific U.S. interests that are or are not at stake. Claims that Ukraine’s continued independence and full sovereignty are all that stand between today’s relative calm among countries (if not in terms of civil conflicts) and an entire globe engulfed in war deserve the same fate as previous alarmist concotions like the domino theory – getting tossed onto what former President Reagan memorably called the “ash heap of history.”