Yeltsin and Clinton

Liberal Illusions Caused the Ukraine Crisis

January 19, 2022
Stephen M. Walt
This is a summary of an article originally published by Foreign Policy. 

The author, the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University, writes that tensions around Ukraine are continuing to rise, with actual war "now a distinct possibility." "The great tragedy is this entire affair was avoidable," he writes. "Had the United States and its European allies not succumbed to hubris, wishful thinking and liberal idealism and relied instead on realism’s core insights, the present crisis would not have occurred. Indeed, Russia would probably never have seized Crimea, and Ukraine would be safer today. The world is paying a high price for relying on a flawed theory of world politics." For negotiations to succeed, they must look less like blackmail and "more like mutual backscratching."  "The Biden administration appears to be attempting something along these lines by proposing mutually beneficial agreements on missile deployments and other secondary issues and trying to take the question of future NATO enlargement off the table." However, "Ukraine’s geopolitical alignment is a vital interest for the Kremlin and Russia will insist on getting something tangible. U.S. President Joe Biden has already made it clear that the United States will not go to war to defend Ukraine, and those who think it can and should—in an area that lies right next door to Russia—apparently believe we are still in the unipolar world of the 1990s and have a lot of attractive military options." "The best hope for a peaceful resolution of this unhappy mess," he argues, "is for the Ukrainian people and their leaders to realize that having Russia and the West fight over which side ultimately gains Kyiv’s allegiance is going to be a disaster for their country. Ukraine should take the initiative and announce it intends to operate as a neutral country that will not join any military alliance." This option, however, seems unlikely given high anti-Russian sentiment in Ukraine.

Read the full article at Foreign Policy.


Stephen M. Walt

Stephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.

The opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author. Photo by shared under a Creative Commons license.