America has no legal requirement to defend Ukraine, and no strategic interest either. Doug Bandow writes in Spectator World:
With shocking speed, talk in Washington has shifted from disunity among the Democrats and Joe Biden’s unhappy first year to possible war in Europe. The Putin government is reinforcing units poised to invade Ukraine. Washington is sending weapons to Kyiv. The United States and United Kingdom have begun to evacuate embassy personnel. President Biden is considering sending additional troops to garrison NATO member states.
But for what? Why is the United States so thoroughly entangled in a conflict not its own?
Not for reasons of history
Throughout most of America’s relatively short existence, Ukraine was part of either the Russian Empire or Soviet Union. Although Ukrainian expatriates promoted their homeland’s interests even when occupied, Ukraine gained its independence only in 1991. Washington’s relations with Kyiv are friendly, but of no special significance.
Not to protect US security
Ukraine has never been of geopolitical importance to America, as evident from a simple glance at the map. Imagine Russia arguing that Mexico was vital for its survival. Ironically, a Russian attempt to directly control Ukraine, a large country of nearly 42 million, would weaken, not strengthen, Moscow.
Not to prevent spheres of influence
If American policymakers agree on anything, it is that they oppose spheres of influence. The only other issue they agree on is that they believe in the Monroe Doctrine. A couple years ago, then-national security advisor John Bolton denounced Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, and indirectly China and Russia, for failing to respect Washington’s sphere of interest in Latin America. One can imagine Washington’s reaction if Russia had backed the overthrow of an elected, pro-American president of Mexico and encouraged the new government to join the Collective Security Treaty Organization, which recently intervened in Kazakhstan.
Not to preserve US credibility
Washington never had reason to defend Ukraine and never said that it would do so, not even in the famed Bucharest Memorandum, signed when Kyiv transferred the Soviet nuclear weapons left behind after the USSR dissolved. (Washington said it would go to the United Nations if Ukraine was attacked, the equivalent of doing nothing.) Kyiv’s desire to be defended does not create a security commitment or credibility for America to keep.
Not to defend NATO allies
Vladimir Putin is no friend of liberty, but he is no Joseph Stalin or Adolf Hitler. Putin’s territorial conquests outside of Crimea, historically Russian and hosting Moscow’s Black Sea naval base in Sevastopol, have been minimal. Despite endless predictions of aggression, he has not moved on NATO, even the Baltic States, which are most vulnerable. Aggression would gain little while ensuring economic isolation and risking full-scale war. Moscow’s threats against Ukraine reflect the latter’s unique status. For instance, Putin complained about NATO expansion and the consequent positioning of “military infrastructure on our borders during this expansion” at the 2007 Munich Security Conference.
Not to preserve allied solidarity
Despite public claims of unity, Europeans are sharply divided over how they should respond to Russian threats against Ukraine. The Baltic States are supportive, Germany much less so. Despite attacks on Berlin for resisting confrontation, even the most hawkish European states don’t want to do any fighting themselves. The only issue they agree on is drawing in the US. More Europeans expect America to act than plan to act themselves to help their fellow NATO members.
Not to promote democracy
No doubt, Ukraine is freer than Russia, despite suffering from notable failings and earning only an anemic “partly free” rating from Freedom House. However, the US government’s chief obligation is to protect the American people, not to promote democracy in other states. Otherwise, the US would be laying waste to authoritarian regimes throughout the Middle East, starting with Saudi Arabia, and in Central Asia, leading with Turkmenistan, as well as a goodly number of African and Asian countries, most notably China and North Korea.
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