Can the US Stand up for Ukraine Without Starting World War III?Historians in the News
tags: Russia, Ukraine, international relations
How do we do the right thing in Ukraine without stumbling into World War III?
This, as much as anything, seems the question on many Americans’ minds — indeed, on many minds around the world.
Yesterday, watching Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky address the U.S. Congress, I couldn’t help but feel the tension ratcheting up between these two goals: beating back illegal Russian barbarism and avoiding the blowing up of the world.
In moments like this, those who favor war — who favor it invariably, even when there is no need for it — get a lot of airtime. I am interested in highlighting different, less-heard voices in The Ink. So I reached out to Stephen Wertheim, a brilliant foreign-policy scholar and an eloquent critic of American overreach in the world.
Stephen is a senior fellow in the American Statecraft Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He is an historian by training, specializing in global grand strategy and America’s relations with the world. His 2020 book, “Tomorrow, the World: The Birth of U.S. Global Supremacy,” chronicled the unlikely American decision to become a global superpower and its consequences.
“We should not commit collective suicide”: a conversation with Stephen Wertheim
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky just addressed the U.S. Congress and the American people. Invoking the freedom cry of "I have a dream," he said, "I have a need." And his need is to clear the Ukrainian skies of Russian warplanes. He wants a no-fly zone guaranteed by Americans. Failing that, he wants more arms. A lot of Americans will be moved by his quest, and many will also be cautious of taking steps that put the United States on a war path. How do you think Americans can answer Ukraine's freedom cry without ambling into a catastrophic world war?
President Zelensky is fighting for the survival of his country and has rightly become an inspiration to many around the world. Because the people of Ukraine have mounted a heroic resistance to Russian aggression, Ukraine now has a very real chance to preserve its independence.
It's natural that Zelensky would like the United States and other powers to enter the war on Ukraine's side. But as Zelensky hinted at in his speech, the United States is very unlikely to enter the war directly by imposing a no-fly zone, which would require U.S. and NATO forces to shoot down Russian planes over Ukraine and in turn cause Russia to shoot down NATO aircraft, as Russia has the capability to do.
So the Biden administration should continue to arm Ukraine and support Ukraine in seeking a diplomatic solution, if one becomes available, while avoiding steps that would run a major risk not of ending the war but rather of expanding and escalating it.
As things stand, the United States has already taken actions that could prove quite costly to Americans. The truly severe and unprecedented sanctions on Russia may cause a global recession, fuel inflation, and make Americans poorer. And there remains a risk that Russia could retaliate, through cyber attacks, for example, just for the sanctions that the West has already imposed.
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