An Unjust U.S. Cause
As discussed last week, there are no just wars, mostly because of the patently immoral way they are conducted. There is simply no way to reasonably limit the carnage visited upon innocent civilians. Again, this is using a secular view of the justness of war. As Christians, all violence is proscribed to us.
Also discussed last week is the notion that there are relatively few just causes to go to war in the first place. Nations lie, they steal, and they murder…a lot. What seems like a nation being subjected to an unprovoked attack is often more complicated than it seems at first blush. In last week’s post I used the complicated case of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
The reasons for the U.S. to go to war on behalf of Ukraine, or even to provide lethal assistance is patently unjust. First, there is no threat to the U.S. to any of the things a nation may defend: territorial integrity, sovereignty, or transit on the high seas. This is simply not a situation where the United States is at risk.
Second, to support Ukraine runs in to all the moral problems I discussed last week. There are a multitude of nations under attack and suffering at this moment in history. Let’s take just one off the list that the link takes you to; the Tigray War between Ethiopia and Sudan. Yes, there are a multitude of complicating factors, as there are in every conflict. Neither side is morally praiseworthy, as all sides are not in every conflict. But the point is that many innocents are suffering, in what from a distance looks just as much like an unprovoked war of aggression as the Russian-Ukrainian war does. It is also replete with what can only be described as war crimes, the same way we may describe Russian actions in the Ukraine. Yet, the U.S. chooses not to get involved in this conflict which entered its current phase in 2020. As I stated in last week’s piece, since not even the U.S. can fight everywhere all at once, national interest becomes the rationale. This becomes, then, a war of choice. It also takes the “humanitarian” gloss off what is in reality a power politics move.
In the case of Ukraine, the U.S. sees a chance to bleed Russia, deplete its military resources, and cause Russia’s power to diminish. It seems evident by the fact that the U.S. has not had high level diplomatic contact with Russia for almost a month, that the U.S. is willing to simply fight the Russians down to the last Ukrainian. Not quite a just cause, is it?
Additionally, Ukraine is a dicey partner to go to war to support. When you ally yourself with another nation, even if just providing lethal materiel, then you are morally complicit in the type of government they are. In the case of Ukraine, this is not a good thing.
The first thing to consider is that the current regime is a product of a U.S. orchestrated overthrow of a democratically elected government in 2014. Even CNN reported that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) gave the 2010 elections a clean bill of health. This was the election that put in place a more neutral leader that would not antagonize Russia. The U.S. clearly tipped the scales in favor of the coup in 2014 to flip Ukraine from neutral/leaning toward Russia to a U.S. client state.
Ukraine was not before the war a particularly free country to begin with. Freedom House rated Ukraine as a “hybrid regime” with a Democracy Percentage of 39 out of 100. Also, there is a great deal of corruption going on in Ukraine, as this article outlines. Remember, it was the current regime, and their cronies that was sleazing around with Hunter Biden.
This overall mixed picture of Ukrainian probity fits with the fact that they were considered in violation of the Minsk agreements, which was supposed to resolve the conflict over the status of the heavily Russian ethnic areas in eastern Ukraine. It is likely that both sides were violating the agreements and/or choosing to interpret them differently.
The point of all this is that Ukraine, like all nations is a serial rights violator. Even by governmental standards it is on the dicey side of the spectrum as far as protection of economic and civil liberties is concerned. All in all, not a nation a civilized country would want to partner with. Then again, given the U.S. record of imperial crimes, why would a civilized nation want to partner with the U.S.
The Crimes of All
I have no doubt that the Russians have committed war crimes, even over and above the fact that war itself is a crime. There does seem to be credible evidence of the kinds of depredations that always occur when armies interact with civilians. We should note that always means always. This occurs even when the United States sends troops into battle. There is nothing unique about the Russian army, over and above any other army in history. Suffice it to say that it will take a long time to sort out the history and to separate the propaganda (which emanates from all sides) from fact.
Since the west is predisposed to support Ukraine the crimes of the Russians will be made known sooner and with greater volume than the Ukrainian crimes, but rest assured there are and will continue to be Ukrainian crimes committed during this war. Ukraine, as pointed out above was not particularly protective of the rights and liberties of its citizens before the war and has gotten even worse since the invasion. Ukrainian president Zelensky took the step at the end of March to outlaw11 political parties, that he claimed had ties to Russia. One of them had 10% of the seats in the Ukrainian parliament. It does not bode well to support someone so quick to forcibly silence opposition political parties.
Also, Zelensky banned 18-60 year old males from leaving the country. The right to leave any country, even your own is considered one of the most fundamental human rights that there is, and Zelensky’s quick violation of this right is troubling, to say the least.
There has been the usual crackdown on the media by Ukrainian authorities and a general level of censorship that occurs when any authoritarian government goes to war.
These examples and the additional ones that are sure to be revealed in the fullness of time only point out that the Ukrainian government makes for a morally problematic partner. I don’t mean this in the way I would, as an anarcho-capitalist, describe any government. I mean this using accepted western standards for protection of basic human rights. That is a low bar that this regime cannot clear.
Charting a Better Course
If the United States cares about human rights and dignities, which as history shows it clearly does not, then it would cease to support this regime. It is a serial rights abuser, and deeply corrupt with a clear willingness to sacrifice basic human rights in the attempt to remain in power. Since many will jump on this as a statement of support for Russia, let me be clear; Russia is committing crimes against humanity, and is also an authoritarian regime. Russian is, in fact, an even more authoritarian regime than Ukraine. However, just because one group of criminals is more rapacious than another, that is no reason to support this criminal gang.
The best course of action, for both the United States and for innocent Ukrainians, is to push for a negotiated settlement. We can best do that by telling Zelensky that we will no longer support his authoritarian regime with weapons, which by the way only serve to prolong the likely military defeat of Ukraine anyway.
We should help broker a deal that sees the withdrawal of Russian troops and at this point a partition of the eastern Donbas region as well as the final recognition that Crimea is Russian. This is not altogether just, (yet not altogether off the wall) but it does hold the hope of stopping the slaughter and suffering of innocents, as well as lowering the global risk of a U.S.-Russia direct conflict and the rise in a possible nuclear exchange.
What this does for the United States is to make it clear that we will not support an authoritarian regime (not that we should be the world’s policeman anyway), in its attempt to remain in power. I am not at all hopeful that the U.S. would agree to this, as the U.S. record in support of odious client states is uber consistent. U.S. mendacity is not a reason not to demand a better path forward. It starts when we look objectively at who we call partners and allies. When we get clear eyed about the shady nature of our “friends” then we can get a stiffer resolve to demand from U.S. leaders that we start acting in a minimally moral fashion. As Christians, we should be the first to make this demand.
Praise Be to God