James Carden – US Should Adopt the Mearsheimer Plan

Starting to search for avenues for peace in the Ukrainian-Russian conflict

James W. Carden is a columnist and former adviser to the US-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission at the U.S. Department of State

Cross-posted from AntiWar.com


During a recent panel discussion sponsored by the Neutrality Studies YouTube channel and The American Committee for US-Russia Accord, the distinguished political scientist John J. Mearsheimer proffered what at first glance might appear to be a radical solution to the crisis in Ukraine.  

“I think what has to be done here,” said Mearsheimer, “is that we have to basically sever the West’s security relationship with Ukraine.  It is just not enough to say ‘Ukraine will not become part of NATO.’ We have to completely sever our security relationship with Ukraine so that the Russians feel somewhat secure that the West is not going to surreptitiously try and make Ukraine a de facto member of NATO.”

“Second, we should push Ukraine immediately to start serious negotiations with the Russians, so that they end up only losing the territory that they have already lost.” 

“The great danger,” he continued, “is that if this war continues and we continue to threaten to bring Ukraine into NATO, what we are doing is giving the Russians a greater and greater incentive to take more of Ukraine and to make Ukraine more of a dysfunctional rump state so that if it ever did become a part of NATO, it would not be a serious threat to Russia. So what NATO should do right now is make it clear that Ukraine is not coming into NATO and that Ukraine is on its own to work out a security relationship with Russia.”

To no one’s surprise, NATO seems intent on pursuing the exact opposite of what Mearsheimer counsels. Only last week it was reported that NATO secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, is seeking to create a $100 billion fund to continue to arm Ukraine. Still more, the ‘Mission to Ukraine’ plan would grant NATO operational control over the Ramstein Group, the US-led consortium that oversees military supplies to Ukraine. Such a move, according to one unnamed diplomat who spoke to the Financial Times, said such a move would be “crossing a Rubicon. Nato will have a role in coordinating lethal support to Ukraine.”

Though the general, albeit begrudging, consensus is that Ukraine is now badly losing the fight, the war seems to be entering an even more perilous phase, with Ukraine’s plausible (though far from proven) involvement in the Crocus City Hall terror attack and its continuing series of attacks inside Russia and on Russian oil refineries. 

As such, Mearsheimer’s call to sever US security ties makes eminent sense – and indeed may be one of Ukraine’s only hopes for a future in Europe. 

Indeed, one could argue that Ukraine has wasted a decade’s worth of valuable time in the years following the 2014 Maidan coup. The subsequent Russian annexation of Crimea and the formation of the People’s Republics of Luhansk and Donetsk might have been better seen as an opportunity for the country and its ethno-nationalist minded elites in the Western part of the  country. Wiser heads in Washington and Brussels (if there were any) might have counseled Kiev that their interests would not be served in fighting a war over the overwhelmingly Russian part of the population in the eastern and southern regions of the country. After all, it was those regions that formed the core bloc of voters for the Party of Regions, a bloc that Kiev’s western-backed elites had repeatedly tried, beginning with the Orange Revolution in 2004, to disenfranchise.

There was little guarantee a civil war would bring an end to the unrest sparked by the bloody coup that took place on the Maidan, much less reconciliation. There were, however, rather better odds it would bring ruin, and eventually, as did happen, the Russians. Ceding the disputed territories, abandoning NATO membership, working out a bilateral security treaty with the Kremlin and focusing on meeting the requirements to join the EU would have been the more sensible path. 

But Kiev made the fatal mistake of listening to Washington and the neoconservative and liberal interventionists who run things and who prove, with each passing mid-adventure, the truth of Henry Kissinger’s axiom that “It may be dangerous to be America’s enemy, but to be America’s friend is fatal.”

John Mearsheimer is right, for Ukraine’s sake, the Western-funded proxy war should end, and Ukraine should seek, on a strictly bilateral basis, a negotiated settlement with Moscow. An escalation of the war is in no one’s interest, least of all Ukraine’s. 

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