Putin Has Done Us a Favor
Vladimir Putin has done us a favor. His vicious attack on peaceful, democratic Ukraine has galvanized the normally fractious West to take coordinated action in response. NATO allies have leapt into the fray by sending defensive weapons such as Javelin anti-tank missiles and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine along with other necessary supplies. And non-NATO allies are also helping Ukraine’s defenses. Australia has sent $70 million in lethal weaponry along with $35 million in non-lethal aid, Japan has committed to send $100 million in emergency humanitarian aid and South Korea has sent humanitarian assistance as well. Many other countries have joined with the West in applying economic sanctions against Russia and the Russian oligarchs. Even traditionally neutral Switzerland has blocked oligarch money transfers among other measures.
NATO members are also sending troops and equipment to frontline NATO states to bolster their defenses against further Russian aggression. Germany has agreed to abandon the Nord Stream 2 pipeline for Russian gas and even the environmental Green Party partners in the ruling coalition have agreed to continue the use of coal fired power plants, to build two new LPG terminals and maybe even extend the deadline for shutting down the country’s remaining nuclear power plants.
But the real favor that Putin has done for us is to show us who our true friends are and who around the world we can trust. The OPEC+ countries (which includes Russia) have vowed to continue oil production at currently agreed levels in spite of spiking prices as oil exceeds $100 a barrel. Saudi Arabia again rebuffed President Biden’s request to produce more oil which they refused to do before the invasion. Maybe if President Biden had said “pretty please” the Saudis would have reconsidered (even though the increased revenue from higher prices goes straight to their bank account).
The ultimate Western global institution – the institution that was supposed to incorporate all our most cherished Western values, the United Nations – has been exposed as worthless in our struggle against rising authoritarianism. It was no surprise when China did not support a UN resolution by the Security Council demanding that Russia withdraw its troops from Ukraine. The only surprise was that China only abstained from the vote on the resolution rather than joining their newly minted ally Russia in vetoing it. But supposedly democratic India also abstained. Any action to be taken by the United Nations requires a unanimous decision by the five permanent members of the Security Council. The five permanent members of the Security Council includes three liberal democracies (the United State, Great Britain and France) and two illiberal authoritarian dictatorships (Russia and China). This means that the United Nations is powerless to take any action in the great power struggle that will dominate the coming decades. (The United Nations was able to take action in the Korean War but only because the Soviet Union boycotted the meeting of the Security Council. They made sure never to miss a meeting since.) 141 countries in the General Assembly of the UN later overwhelmingly passed a resolution “deploring” Russian aggression, but the toothless resolution will have no impact on Russian actions which have intensified since the vote.
And it is not only the United Nations. The World Health Organization (WHO) was China’s lap dog when it came to the COVID-19 pandemic. China’s entrance into the World Trade Organization (WTO) has not changed their rapacious trade policies one iota (but they have learned how to use WTO policies to stymy actions against their practices). And China uses its position on the Executive Committee of Interpol to issue hundreds of red notices on dissidents, especially Uighurs.
The international organizations created by the United States and the other victorious allies after World War Two to foster and maintain a liberal world order that benefitted all nations is a prime example of diversity, equity and inclusion run amok. Diversity, equity and inclusion don’t work when members of an organization do not share the same values or operate by the same rules. China, Russia and Cuba, the worst human rights abusers in the world, are on the UN’s Human Rights Council. And for that matter, why do Europe and North America (the people that conceived of and created the UN) get only seven of the forty-seven seats on the council?
Vladimir Putin really has done us a favor. He has given us a wake-up call and galvanized a fractious and ungainly alliance into action. But he may have been premature in his attempt to rebuild the former Soviet Empire. He may have thought that a weak and possibly mentally impaired US president gave him a unique opportunity. It may have been roid rage as a result of his reputed use of anabolic steroids to maintain his buff body as he approaches his 70th birthday. But forewarned is forearmed. We are on alert now.
But whether he is successful or blocked in achieving his goals, the attack on liberal democracies by authoritarian powers will continue, perhaps for many decades. The first Cold War lasted more than four decades, and that was when American power was at its peak. Putin is intent on disrupting the Western world order for as long as he is in power and there is no assurance that Russia will change its ways after he is gone. Even without Russia, other authoritarian powers will rise up and China will remain an adversary that will stand in opposition to our liberal Enlightenment values.
We need to strengthen and expand the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Our adversaries are global in nature so our alliance must be global as well. Finland and Sweden are rethinking their traditional neutrality (and thinking more about the closeness of their neighbor – Russia) and are discussing the possibility of joining NATO. Australia, South Korea and Japan should also be considered as they confront their neighbors China and North Korea.
But the new NATO (or the Western Alliance) needs greater discipline than the old NATO. And this will require true leadership. Not the leadership provided by investing disproportionally in arms and sending in the most frontline troops, but the leadership of inspiring other countries to step forward as well. It was the inspiration of American ideals and principles that forged the global world order that has provided peace and prosperity for seventy years, not its military strength. It is the bravery of Ukrainian president Zelensky and the Ukrainian people that has inspired this new cohesion of the West. Germany has taken the first tentative steps of taking a larger role in the common defense of the global order. And Japan as well is rethinking its pacifism since the end of World War Two in the face of rising authoritarianism. Weakness does not foster peace but whets the appetites of aggressors.
After the Russian invasion of Georgia and its virtual annexation of two Georgian provinces (South Ossetia and Abkhazia) in 2008, life more or less returned to normal (unless you were a Georgian). After Russia’s annexation of the Crimea in 2014 (prompted by the Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine that kicked out Russian puppet Viktor Yanukovych), sanctions imposed by the West were shrugged off by Putin. Russia continued it oils sales building up a war chest of $650 billion. Russia continued to carry US astronauts to the International Space Station. Russian athletes continued to participate in the Olympics and other international sporting events, such as the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
We are facing a changed world and any attempt to return to “normal” would be at our peril. We must maintain our new-found solidarity for a long drawn-out struggle. We must focus on the requirements to continue our existence, economic strength, energy independence and military preparedness. We cannot be distracted by progressive causes as exemplified by the recent statement of John Kerry (President Biden’s Special Envoy for Climate Change) that showed more concern about Putin’s continuing cooperation in fighting climate change than in Putin’s attack on Western democracy. Meanwhile China is building a record number of coal fired as well as nuclear-powered energy plants. Russia and China will not sacrifice their ambitions to fight climate change or in support of any other progressive cause, and we must be equally focused on preserving our freedom.