Renounce the Geopolitical War between the U.S. and Russia

18 Apr

[Prefatory Note: I post once more on the Ukraine War, emphasizing its geopolitical manipulation at the expense of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people, and all around the world who are suffering from its spillover effect of higher prices and scarcer supplies of food, energy, fertilizer, and other goods and services. Stopping the Geopolitical War being waged by the United States against Russia is a precondition for ending the aggressive war initiated by Russia against Ukraine and also a return to semi-responsible statecraft, which is the most we can expect or hope for in the present world atmosphere. Diplomacy seeking a ceasefire and a political compromise is the only sane path with a decent chance of avoiding not only prolonging this ravaging of Ukraine but also the escalation risks being driven by irresponsible hostile propaganda emanating from the White House that is hypocritically denouncing Russia and its leader for what the U.S. has repeated done in the course of the last half century, and risking a Russian violent pushback threatening the use of nuclear weaponry. A modified version of this post was published by CounterPunch, April 15, 2022, with a slightly different title.]

Stop the Geopolitical War Now by Declaring a Unilateral Ceasefire in Ukraine

I have been arguing that it is impossible to understand the Ukraine Crisis without an appreciation that it is a two-level war with regional and global implications. The surprising strength of Ukrainian resistance has dramatized the magnitude of Moscow’s miscalculation in having anticipating quickly subduing resisting to its aggression and apparent intended regime-changing occupation. Russia has already been ‘defeated’ in the Russia-Ukrainian War on the ground by Ukrainian resistance and the degree of international solidarity with the Ukrainian defense of its sovereign rights. The similarities with the U.S. miscalculations in the Iraq War of 2003 (‘mission accomplished’) are rather startling if a careful comparison is made, the most important difference being that the U.S. was acting outside its traditional sphere of influence and was unchallenged geopolitically; nevertheless, its military superiority was significantly neutralized by internal Iraqi resistance, a formidable rebalancing reality in the post-colonial world.

The U.S./Europe is guilty of an offsetting miscalculation in Ukraine by its initiation of a second level war—the Geopolitical War—taking the form of strong expressions of solidarity with the sovereign rights of Ukraine mainly by way of a heavy-handed emphasis on a punitive anti-Russian approach consisting of hostile propaganda, comprehensive sanctions, and official provocative demonizations of Putin and Russia abetted by hypocritical calls on the International Criminal Court for action. Such postures, especially if struck by respective leaders, seem calculated to prolong the war on the ground, express no interest in stopping thee carnage, and appear to accept the costs of doing as being worth the price in Ukrainian lives and devastation, as well as the suffering being caused beyond Ukrainian borders. It is notable that amid the many extravagant expressions of support for Ukraine from American leaders there has been hardly a hint that a diplomatic alternative to the daily devastations of war in the form of a ceasefire accompanied by negotiations on Ukraine’s future within an impartial framework that addresses security issues of Russia and Ukraine, as well as the infrequently discussed third level of the war, the human rights of the residents of Dombas region of East Ukraine. The Biden unwavering posture of exerting pressure on Putin and Russia somewhat contrasts with Zelensky’s on and off approach to direct negotiations with Russia, which seems difficult to evaluate because of its inconsistency. A more constructive approach has been cautiously advocated by the French President, Emanuel Macron: “I want to continue to try as much as I can, to stop this war and rebuild peace. I am not sure that an escalation of rhetoric serves that cause.” To date, Biden has not shown a comparable sensitivity, and if intent on prosecuting the Geopolitical War, we are likely to witness further escalations of Russo-phobic and anti-Putting rhetoric emanating from the White House. International criminal law does not prohibit ‘geopolitical crimes,’ but their commission should be subject to exposure and prosecution by civil society tribunals dedicated to world peace and justice.

To its credit the Biden presidency has so far resisted strong ultra-hawkish pressures to escalate this geopolitical war by fusing its prosecution with that of Ukrainian resistance forces by taking such steps as establishing a no-fly-zone in Ukraine, supplying offensive weaponry, and deploying NATO forces and weaponry. However, non-escalation is not enough because the tendency of the inflammatory tactics relied upon in the Geopolitical War prolongs the ground war at the expense not only of the Ukrainian people, but of millions on non-Ukrainians already suffering from the spillover effects of the war and sanctions on food and energy supplies and prices, and worse will come to Ukraine and internationally, the longer the fighting in Ukraine goes on. It is important to grasp the extent of these spillover risks: Russia and Ukraine together produce 30% of the world’s wheat supply, 75% of sunflower oil exports. At present, 30 metric tons of grain are available for export from Ukraine but cannot be currently shipped because of the war. David Beasley, head of the World Food Program, recently declared that Ukrainians face starvation in the entrapped city of Mariupal and that food shortages are already inducing hunger in many parts of Africa, and elsewhere in Global South, due to supply shortages and price rises. 

It has become obvious that the priority in the Geopolitical War is weakening Russia as a political actor on the world stage rather than saving Ukraine from the ravages of war and ending the encroachment on its rights as a sovereign state. The longer this geopolitical war continues the greater the harm done to Ukraine and its people, while simultaneously raising the risk of a violent encounter between Russia and NATO. This encounter has already given rise to heightened nuclear dangers, included threats to cross the nuclear threshold, and these concerns are increasing with the passage of time. There is also the previously mentioned growing concern about damage being done to many countries dependent to various degrees on exports of Russian/Ukrainian wheat, energy, and fertilizer. In other words, even without direct violence, the effects of pursuing geopolitical objectives by the U.S. is causing intense suffering around the world, disproportionately harmful to the most vulnerable societies and its poorest members due to the impacts of inflated prices on basic necessities, supply shortages, and disruption, which leads to political uprisings and chaos (already evident in several countries as remote from the Ukrainian combat zones as Sri Lanka and Indonesia ). 

There is reason to suspect that the Geopolitical War is being waged by the United States for strategic reasons that extend beyond even picking a fight with Russia that are likely, unless managed in a manner sensitive to the precarities of the 21st century, to produce a high-intensity new cold war. Part of this strategic agenda evidently guiding the planners of the geopolitical war is to signal China that it will pay a high or higher price if it should attack and occupy Taiwan. In that sense, the old idea of ‘extended deterrence’ is being revived under much more stressed historical circumstances than even existed during the Cold War. Also, in the fog of war the exceptionally complex circumstances generated by the two-level war creates a further risk of a World War I scenario of the conflict spiraling out of the control of the main political actors, culminating in a massive mutual disaster.

The intensified hostile propaganda, intensified supply of advanced weaponry, and punitive initiatives taken by the West and directed at Russia are justified and rationalized by their backers as imposing increasing costs on Russia that will eventually compel Putin to back down and tacitly admit  ‘enough is enough’ even though it means being shamed into withdrawing its troops. Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s President, has taken advantage of widespread empathy for the Ukrainian plight to plead his case in many venues including the UN, European Parliament, U.S. Congress, and the Israeli Knesset. As with Washington there is a predominant focus on the criminalization of Russia and Putin with little attention given to whether there is a better way to end the war on the ground. We must ask whether Zelensky has become insufficiently attentive to the impacts on Ukraine of this ongoing Geopolitical War or has disastrously bought into its flimsy rationale, whether knowingly or not, abandoning an earlier more promising willingness to engage in pre-negotiations in the impartial setting of Istanbul, as well as a declared openness to direct talks with Putin.

There is a final point that has been made persuasively by Anatol Lieven of the Quincy Institute in Washington: Whether the war ends tomorrow or goes on for years, some say it could last for at least five and maybe even ten years, the outcome in terms of Ukraine’s sovereignty and security arrangements will be the same: ceasefire, withdrawal of foreign military forces, neutrality, mutual non-aggression arrangements, UN peacekeeping border controls, guaranteed autonomy and human rights for East Ukraine (Dombas). If this logic is correct, then it is a primary humanitarian and global human security interest for Ukraine to give Moscow immediate back channel and public signals that it is ready and eager for a ceasefire and peace talks.

The play of forces in Washington may inhibit the adoption of this favored course of action. Calling off the geopolitical war will be alleged to embolden Putin’s expansionist ambitions as well as convey to China that it can successfully challenge Taiwan’s independence if it shows sufficient resolve. Biden will be viciously attacked by Republicans as a weak leader who is relinquishing U.S. responsibility for upholding global security throughout the world, given the weakness of the UN, irrelevance of international law, and the alien values of China and Russia. To some extent Biden constructed his own trap by without tangible political results with respect to its security concerns arising from Ukraine’s willingness to identify so ardently with NATO and the U.S. There are various conjectures that such a strategy might prolong the Ukraine War by four years, or even longer, with a high cost in casualties and devastation. What would undoubtedly be portrayed as a victory for the geopolitical masterminds in Washington would amount to a bloody sacrifice for the people of Ukraine, somewhat disguised and papered over by massive programs of post-conflict reconstruction aid to Ukraine. Further trouble may result even after a ceasefire in and withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine due to the unpredictable but potentially major destabilizing effects of sanctions on the world economy, especially trade relations and inflation.

A diplomatic path to a ceasefire followed by efforts at conflict resolution is currently has almost completely disappeared from Washington’s policy agenda, in effect even negated, given the increasing reliance on the political language of demonization relied upon by Biden from the outset of the Russian aggression on February 24th. To accuse Russia and its leaders of war crimes, including genocide, that should be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague is both awkwardly hypocritical given the past U.S. repudiation of the tribunal’s authority and an irresponsible attempt to politicize a fragile international institution struggling for legitimacy since it was established more than 20 years ago. To suggest, even to demand, regime change in Moscow, as Biden has done both directly and indirectly, is something the West wisely refrained from doing even with respect to Stalin and Stalinism at the height of the Cold War. These sentiments of Biden unless discounted as emotional outbursts by an unstable leader is a form of political behavior at the highest levels that a nuclear armed world can ill afford. Victoria Nuland, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, tried to excuse Biden’s outburst by observing that “President Biden spoke from his heart when he called what we are seeing in Ukraine genocide.” The use of such wild rhetoric seems calculated to enrage Putin and his entourage, and thus inhibit whatever willingness exists in Moscow to explore prospects for ending the violence in Ukraine in a manner that does not shame Putin and Russia. To be sure, Russian forces in Ukraine seem guilty of atrocities in Ukraine that qualify as war crimes, but to allege genocide, which refers to massive killlings directed at an ethnicity with the well-evidenced intention of its elimination. Genocide is not occurring in Ukraine, and to suggest otherwise should be repudiated by the UN and elsewhere. 

There seems little doubt that by conviction or reflecting leverage, Zelensky, has not reacted publicly to the cross-purposes resulting from the geopolitical level of encounter. On the contrary, Zelensky seems to be striking a posture of opting in favor of this untenable Geopolitical War being waged with inflammatory rhetoric and further inflated military budgets, backed by a largely fictitious encounter between allied democracies and united autocracies as well as the ahistorical belief that military superiority controls political outcomes in contemporary wars and gives shape to the history of our times. If this ideological division of the world were even mildly sincere and the excessive reliance on militarism justified, then why are the Philippines, India, and Brazil considered as belonging to the world’s democracies and why has every sustained war since 1945 has been won by the weaker side militarily.

It is time for those who want peace, justice, and ecological balance to demand a unilateral decision to renounce the Geopolitical War and encourage the Ukrainian government to protect its national future and that of its citizens by proposing an immediate ceasefire and an impartial framework for diplomacy to do the work of extricating all engaged political actors from a series of unfolding disastrous lose/lose scenarios.  Political leaders and diplomats who further such a Geopolitical War, given the realities of Ukraine, are potentially subject to civil society indictment on charges of geopolitical crimes.

2 Responses to “Renounce the Geopolitical War between the U.S. and Russia”

  1. Beau Oolayforos April 19, 2022 at 1:48 pm #

    Dear Professor Falk,

    Amen, of course, to all you’ve written. The most ominous news I’ve read lately is Biden’s meeting with Pentagon and weapons-manufacturing people to…well, we know what they talked about. Diplomacy does not exist in DC – the hubris is way too thick for that.

  2. Sean Breathnach April 19, 2022 at 2:40 pm #

    There is absolutely no doubt that Russia was provoked by NATO/US actions. There is absolutely no doubt that Putin is a tyrant. There is absolutely no doubt that the Ukrainian leadership must take some of the blame for the invasion. That said, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was a big mistake.

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