How should we assess Washington’s position that caution and prudence in Ukraine ensures against “provocation” and “escalation” that could trigger World War III and possible nuclear confrontation? Belated, limited exceptions on weapons use only emphasize the foundational conviction anchoring the catechism.

Our facially reasonable fear is emotionally seductive, but it surrenders mutual deterrence in favor of Russia’s unilateral nuclear blackmail. Our handwringing stokes Russian President Vladimir Putin’s contempt, that feeds his arrogance, which inturn triggers his miscalculation that is far more likely to ignite the fireball.

The following examples show the deep-rooted nature of our self-deterrence – there is scarcely anything that we would not surrender anywhere else. It exponentially increases the certitude and risk tolerance of tyrants everywhere, in both the nuclear and non-nuclear context.

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1. NATO failings

The greatest military and economic alliance in history (with three nuclear powers) has failed to prevent or stop, never mind reverse, Russia’s shattering of the “world order” that that alliance just celebrated with its commemoration of D-Day.

Compare that with 51 NATO and allied nations (including Ukraine) coming to America’s aid in Afghanistan, and 35 coalition countries liberating tiny Kuwait. And before that, NATO air power stopped the slaughter in Serbia.

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And contrast Western reaction to the attack by Hamas on Israel, a nuclear power. With the aid of NATO members, it shields itself from the same Iranian weaponry that has been raining down on Ukraine on a daily basis. But for ten years, Ukraine, stripped of its nuclear arsenal by Washington, continues to fight. It does soalone – the largest country on the planet, 40,000 times the size of Gaza.

Ukraine was already being hammered by the same Iranian weaponry that struck Israel, plus trying to defend against weapons (and soon, troops) from Pyongyang and equipment from Beijing. It’s chock full of Western technology with no limitations that we impose on the aid provided to Ukraine. Add the rules of engagement that we impose on Ukraine, so complex that they demand computing power to divine. Ukraine is paying a ghastly price – the West reaps the benefits. What’s the message?

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2. Denial

With the NATO summit pending, we must stop our backslapping. NATO’s succumbing to nuclear intimidation hugely compromises NATO credibility. Our paralysis undergirds NATO’s stampede from its doctrinal obligation to ameliorate a security crisis affecting the alliance, and also its refusal of humanitarian intervention, even a humanitarian no fly zone in Ukraine’s sovereign air space.  

Our apoplexy over Ukraine recovering its land and humanity continues to gut NATO’s own credibility, even as NATO denies membership to the largest country in Europe that is executing NATO’s mission for it.

3. ‘Prudence’

We spin succumbing to intimidation and fear as “prudence.” It explains why we have no purpose, never mind a plan, for a Ukrainian victory, i.e. the recouping of its sovereign territory and humanity.

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If Putin is insane, then any decision we make won’t matter. But he’s not. He’s a cunning and calculating war criminal who hasneutralized the West’s combined nuclear, conventional and economic superiority with words, waving arms and stomping feet.

Enter “reflex control” and  “conditioned response.” A prominent Russia expert voiced the end product: “I don’t want Ukraine to be so successful… that it forces Putin to choose between a decisive loss and conducting a nuclear strike.” From his recent pilgrimage to Pyongyang, Putin gave it a boost: “A strategic defeat on Russia on the battlefield… it will mean an end to its statehood. Why should we be afraid? Isn’t it better, then, to go to the end?” Subsequently, in Vietnam, he threatened a possible change in Russia’s nuclear doctrine.  It’s the perfect closed loop.

4. Hypocrisy guts credibility

Ukraine’s victory would redeem the very “international order” that we have solemnly intoned for years. That’s what World War II was all about. And it was the Ukrainians who suffered the highest death toll of any nation then as the price for that order.But it was we who defenestrated that order with our endorsement of the infamous Minsk Protocols years ago. What then is our goal, purpose, strategy? “As long as it takes” is a slogan, not a strategy; better yet, an escape.

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5. Fear of Russian disintegration

We quake at the prospect of a Russian loss and possible Russian “disintegration.” It was the drumbeat pounded with horror by a phalanx of experts in 1991 as well. We had ignobly hectored Ukraine against independence, but it ensured the “disintegration” of the USSR, recouping for us our global supremacy that “made America great again.” Washington then unabashedly flipped and celebrated its prescience.  

6. Shoring up Russia

We’re the ones who hugely abetted the current cataclysm and consequently would be expected to seek a measure of redemption. We don’t admit that we willingly dived into the sinkhole by shoring up Russia in the 1990s, ignoring Ukraine and stripping it of its nuclear arsenal, transferred to Russia.Now Russia deftly plays the nuke card against us.

A US Naval study at the time stated: “The willingness to allow Russia to become the sole nuclear and economic power to emerge from the Soviet Union is a dangerous prospect for Western security… The United States will have assisted in creating a regime that is a serious threat to the democratic community of states. Were Russia to embark on a campaign to reconstitute, what options would the West have?”  

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7. Naivety

We dare not admit that our naivete accommodated Moscow’s treachery, neutering decades of agreements, including nuclear disarmament. Simultaneously, we lecture Ukraine about the need for “negotiation” and “agreement” with Russia. Press Secretary Peskov explained the “agreement” part: “If you agree to our terms, you can put an end to the suffering of your civilians.”

8. Never Again?

Russia’s vitriol declares its war against Ukraine as the extirpation of “everything Ukrainian” while we debate the victims’ self-defense rights. Whatever happened to “Never Again?”

9. Recognizing an enemy

Add to the above that Russia is using Ukraine as the fulcrum to destroy the West – “a rabid, maniacal civilization.” We refuse to believe, mouthing “prudence” to leaven our self-induced torpor. How can it be otherwise when NSC advisor Jake Sullivan timorously identifies Russia  et al. as a “competitor,” but not an enemy or even a “rival” or “adversary?”

10. Backs against the wall

Our enemies see no resoluteness, dedication, steadfastness, moral fiber, or strategic sagacity. There is no sense of urgencyand no honest self-appraisal – simply an escapist formula of “imposing costs” on Russia. There’s no thought of recouping, recovering or redeeming what Russia’s own escalation has wrought – the gains of genocide. Unlike Russia, upon which we’re not dependent for anything, why wouldn’t we be even more inclined, willing even, to capitulate to Chinese blackmail to keep prescription drugs flowing?

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According to Samir Saran, the head of the Indian thinktank the Observer Research Foundation: “It tells countries like us that if something like this were to happen in the Indo-Pacific, you have no chance against China. If you cannot defeat a $2tn nation [Saran previously reciting the West’s $40tn economy], don’t think you are deterring China. China is taking hope from your abysmal and dismal performance against a much smaller adversary.”

Never have the equities been starker, the aggressor and the victim more clearly defined, the genocidal intent more heinously repeated, the barbarity more evident, and the consequences for Western security more devastatingly certain. Were Ukraine simply a coral atoll in the South Pacific it would be one thing. But Ukraine presents issues never before in play and that eclipse any other country or circumstance that we can reasonably anticipate. It multiplies the egregiousness of our folly.

As circumstances grow more dire and we are confronted simultaneously by Russia, China, North Korea and Iran, we will have our back against the wall. And that’s as we wait for Latin America to explode. It will involve a country or geography that doesn’t even approximate the imperatives in Ukraine, and the circumstances will offer even fewer options than we have now. It will happen because we succumbed to Russian blackmail today, feeding and nurturing the beast worldwide. It’s a promissory note of disaster.

The views expressed are the author’s and not necessarily of Kyiv Post.

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