New course for Ukraine

Any careful assessment of Russia’s war on Ukraine must conclude there’s no foreseeable end to the conflict. Both Russia and Ukraine are now escalating their attacks. Russia continues to find sources to replenish its armaments, and the US is either directly supplying or facilitating its allies’ transfers of new advanced weaponry to Ukraine.
There’s no question that Russia is at fault for launching this terrible war of aggression against Ukraine, violating international law by invading a sovereign state, attacking its civilian population, and annexing its territory. But because international law is “honored more in the breach than the observance,” Ukraine can’t turn to the United Nations or the International Court of Justice. Both institutions, created precisely to deal with this sort of criminal behavior, are paralyzed by lack of capacity and/or recognition or support from a major power.
As a result, the world has divided into camps: the US leading one group of mainly Western states backing Ukraine; Russia leading a smaller coterie of supporters; and China, while not overtly in the Russian camp, playing the “non-aligned” game with the rest. The Biden administration’s early efforts to isolate and punish Russia through sanctions have had only limited success, with most nations in the Global South opting to remain non-aligned or to pursue “strategic autonomy.”
In some cases, it’s due to a lack of trust in the US. Given the hubris and dizzying American foreign policy of the past two decades, the US is not viewed as a reliable partner. And, many Global South nations are unwilling to risk their strong trade relations and investment ties with Russia and China. After our invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, our regime change assault on Libya, and our drone attacks in countries across Asia and Africa, it’s difficult for other nations to follow the US as the beacon of righteousness.
For the Arab World, this double standard is especially troubling. Outrage over Russia’s violation of sovereignty, disproportionate attacks on civilians, forced transfers of Ukrainians from their land, and annexation of territory is completely justified. But the US’s claim to moral leadership is unconvincing or even hypocritical to many Arabs because of our silence in the face of Israel’s identical behavior vis a vis Palestinians.
Finally, there’s the argument that countries should band together to oppose Russia’s behavior because it threatens the “liberal rules-based international order.” This uniquely American construct sidesteps mention of international law or conventions, which the US and its ally Israel have repeatedly violated, or the International Criminal Court, which is unrecognized by the US and only gets lip service when it serves US interests. This appeal masks an ad hoc American attempt to apply the “rules” it wants to create the “order” it seeks.
Given this disconnect and growing distrust between the US and so many other nations, instead of mobilizing the world against Russian aggression, we’ve ushered in a new Cold War. Some nations are opposed to our leadership while most are ambivalent, with feet planted in both camps. The tragic reality is that as one side secures new arms, the other will also. As one side escalates, the other will match it. As a result, this war could go on indefinitely, posing untold dangers to the Ukrainian people and the possibility of a broader regional war.
It’s time to put to rest fantasies of a “total humiliating defeat” and chart a path toward resolving this unwinnable conflict. Instead of pouring gasoline on the fire, the US should put China to the test by inviting them to join us in mobilizing a new multinational peace coalition to secure Ukrainian sovereignty and security, while pushing back on Russian expansionism. Requiring a change of outlook and rhetoric, we’ll need to offer incentives for peacemaking. Instead of pressuring others to support what they have come to see as our war, forcing them to non-align, we should invite them to join a campaign for peace and security, investment and trade, that can benefit all of Eastern and Central Europe.
This may seem unrealistic, but it’s a better path than the fool’s errand of accelerating this conflict for years to come, with the unrealistic expectation that total victory can be won.

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