President Joe Biden meets with G7 counterparts, February 2022

The West Is Sleepwalking Into War in Ukraine

February 23, 2022
Stephen M. Walt
This is a summary of an article originally published by Foreign Policy, with the subheading: "It’s not easy to make sense of how the United States and Europe are responding to Russia’s aggression."

The author, a columnist at Foreign Policy and Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University, writes that there are several imbalances that shape the Russia-Ukraine conflict. First, he argues that “apart from a few hotheads, nobody in the U.S. foreign-policy establishment wants to fight a real war for Ukraine,” which stands in sharp contrast to Russia, which has “made it clear it is willing to use force to achieve its core objective, which is to keep Ukraine form joining NATO.” Second, the author notes that there is an imbalance in military capabilities, writing that while the “United States and NATO may be far stronger than Russia overall ... Ukraine is right next door to Russia and therefore vulnerable to its air and ground forces.”  

The author finds this imbalance puzzling in light of the West's unwillingness to back down on its commitment to having Ukraine and Georgia eventually join NATO, and ties it to a greater pattern of the United States' being unable to “recognize the limits of U.S. power and set realistic objectives.” The author argues that “if the United States and NATO do manage to get through this crisis without a war, it will reinforce the idea that Europe cannot handle its own security problems and doesn’t need to try because Uncle Sam will still rush to protect it when necessary. Efforts to strengthen European defense capabilities will lose steam, U.S. allies will eventually turn the gas taps from Russia back on, Ukraine and Georgia will keep knocking on NATO’s door and the United States will continue to be committed to defend a set of wealthy democracies that have let their own military capabilities atrophy for decades.” 

Read the full article at Foreign Policy.


Stephen M. Walt

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

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