How the Past 4 American Presidents Helped Escalate Tensions in Ukraine
The war in Ukraine is solely the responsibility of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has shamefully ordered an attack on a nonthreatening neighbor.
But the exploding conflict is also a warning about how missteps in American foreign policy can unnecessarily escalate tensions in ways that make war more likely. Some of those decisions heightened the acute risk of conflict in Ukraine itself, while others undermined the post-war norms that are now at risk of being fully torched by Putin’s invasion. Through hubris and misguided attempts at projecting American power around the globe, four successive presidential administrations helped create the conditions that led to Putin’s violation of Ukrainian sovereignty.
That doesn’t excuse Russia’s actions, but it does help to explain them.
That history begins with the Clinton administration, which inherited a world that for the first time in decades did not include the Soviet Union. The collapse of communism in Eastern Europe meant that there was an opportunity for the United States and its NATO allies to reassess the purposes of the strategic partnership that had been formed in 1949 to oppose the Soviets.
Instead of reorganizing what had always been a defensive alliance, NATO during the 1990s went on the offensive. First, it admitted new member states that had previously been part of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact, like Poland and Bulgaria. Then, with the backing of the Clinton administration, NATO launched into the Yugoslav Wars, most aggressively intervening in Kosovo.
The parallels between the 1999 war in Kosovo and Putin’s attack on Ukraine are not perfect, but they are eerily similar in some ways. Both involved the direct military intervention of a superpower, were motivated (or at least justified) by claims of needing to protect an ethnic enclave within a larger country, ignored the post-WWII norm that great powers do not use force to redraw national borders, and created a huge refugee crisis.
The “war [in Kosovo] was waged without U.N. authorization, and was a rank violation of international law,” writes Sarang Shidore, director of studies at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a realist foreign policy think tank. “It was conducted based on a new principle conjured up by the United States and some of its partners called the Responsibility to Protect or R2P—the idea that major human rights violations justify the ‘international community’ intervening militarily in any part of the world. While persecution of human beings is not acceptable anywhere, the highly arbitrary use (and non-use) of the principle by a set of powerful states against those less able reeked of opportunism even back then.”
President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq (and, to a lesser extent, the long misadventure in Afghanistan) further undercut the principle that superpowers should not violate smaller states’ sovereignty or engage in wars
Article from Reason.com