Yes, Ukraine is a Crisis, but Mostly Limited to Eastern Europe and EU Ineffectiveness; Don’t Read it onto East Asia

UkraineThis is a re-up of a column I wrote for recently. I find the hyperbole in Western media on Ukraine exhausting. As with the Afghanistan withdrawal commentary last August, the usual suspects of blob neocons and hyperventilating journalists are going bananas that nothing less than world order is on the line in Ukraine! Did you know we even have to fight a war with Russia? Did you know that war has been ‘imminent’ for, um, the last six weeks? *sigh*

All this is wrong, just like it was wrong last summer when the ‘it’s always the 1930s!’ crowd engaged in the same histrionics over Biden’s Afghan withdrawal. Here are two Twitter threads by me – on Ukraine and Afghanistan – about the neocon-blob-industrial complex’ impulse to read every challenge to the US everywhere in the most apocalyptic terms possible.

So yes, Ukraine is a crisis, but a limited one. It’s not going to bring down NATO or the EU or democracy and so on. And no, it’s not going to encourage China to attack Taiwan. Deterrence doesn’t work that way. It’s far more nuanced and local than whether or not a US president is seen as ‘strong’ or ‘weak,’ which is such a flexible, subjective criterion anyway, that it is analytically pretty useless. Not everything is about the US president’s reputation for toughness, and that US analysts so often come back to this point just shows you their parochialism: they don’t know much about the rest of the world so they read everything through the US politics lens they know. Bleh.

The real geopolitical take-away from the Ukraine mess is – besides the obvious looming  catastrophe for Ukraine and, somewhat also, for Russia – is the pathetic impotence of the Europeans on their own security even on their doorstep. Good grief. Anytime the Europeans want to step up and take responsibility for their own affairs would be great. Paul Poast and I have a piece coming in Foreign Affairs about US allies’ free-riding, and Ukraine is illustrating our argument every day.

Anyway, here is that 1945 essay:

Ukraine is a serious, but limited, crisis. For the Ukrainians living near Russia’s potential invasion points, the possibility of serious violence looms. And for Ukraine’s fledgling, unsteady democracy, such an invasion would be a disaster. Even Russia grey zone warfare – a mixed attempt at subversion and bullying without opening invading the country – would be terrible. It would set Ukrainian democracy back a decade or more, corrupt the government, and likely split the country. Russia clearly has the ability to enforce its will on Ukraine in the short-term, and there is little the West can do about it barring the risk of major escalation.

Read the rest here.

Robert E Kelly
Assistant Professor
Department of Political Science & Diplomacy
Pusan National University