The World Is Watching
Five perspectives from five countries on the Ukraine war.
The Sky Tree Tower has been lit up in the colors of the Ukrainian flag. Demonstrations have occurred in central Tokyo. Japanese citizens helped influence their government to impose much tougher economic sanctions on Russia than those imposed after the 2014 annexation of Crimea. At that time, there were signs of negotiating progress between then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Vladimir Putin over the Northern Territories.
This time, Japan’s situation is quite different. In a survey by Nihon Keizai Shimbun after the start of the Ukraine invasion, 77 percent of respondents said they were worried that if the international community failed to stop Russia, it would encourage China’s use of force against Taiwan.
The day after the Ukraine invasion began, Chinese official media reported that the People’s Liberation Army Navy conducted a landing drill in the East China Sea using a new amphibious assault ship. On the day the invasion started, Chinese fighter jets entered Taiwan’s air defense identification zone. Last October, Chinese and Russian naval vessels circled the Japanese archipelago; in November, bombers from both countries conducted a joint patrol over the East China Sea.
Experts have noted the contrasts, of course, between Ukraine and Taiwan. There is a vast difference between marching into a country by land and launching an operation across a sea. But today’s wars are hybrid. You never know what form they will take.
Japanese critics say President Joe Biden’s public statement last year that there would be no U.S. troop deployments to Ukraine, along with the confused U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, raised unease about America’s inward focus. Again, Japan is not Ukraine or Europe. Japan is bound to the United States by the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, Europe by NATO; Ukraine has neither. Yet U.S. domestic turmoil naturally raises concerns not about America’s capabilities but its will.
Still, perhaps now is the time to ask how to prevent tomorrow’s Taiwan from becoming today’s Ukraine. Some Diet members started discussing “nuclear weapons sharing” with the United States to strengthen deterrence. There are some other steps to take.
First, there is the issue of missile delivery. China now has hundreds of medium- and short-range launchers. The United States plans to bolster a network of precision-strike missiles along the island chain from Japan to Okinawa, Taiwan, and the Philippines. The missile race could continue indefinitely, exhausting the countries involved. What is needed is a dual track, which proceeds with deployment but presses for arms control talks. In this future, Japan should play an increased role.
During the Cold War, the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty to control land forces was finally signed in 1990. Yet the focus in Asia should be on naval forces. Asia must now create a framework for managing its maritime power. What is essential is confidence-building. In this century, mutual confidence has been lost between the United States and Russia; treaties have been abrogated or hollowed out. To prevent a similar hollowing out of arms control in Asia, East Asian countries, along with the United States and China, must build trust in fields from economics to human rights and with cultural exchange. It is time for Japan, while further strengthening the U.S.-Japan alliance, to assume a greater role in implementing a vision for future arms control and the stability of freedom and democracy in this region.
Hiro Aida, a member of the editorial board of American Purpose, is a journalist and visiting professor at Kansai University in Osaka, Japan, and a visiting fellow at Sophia University in Tokyo.
With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the post-Cold War era has ended, and a new era has begun. The United States and its allies now face a two-front struggle against dictatorial regimes that are determined to undo the liberal democratic order the construction of which the United States has led for seventy-five years. Making the situation even graver, Russia and China have come together into a new axis of autocracy that facilitates mutual assistance despite their long-standing differences.
At the beginning of the invasion, the G7 issued a statement declaring that by using force against Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has put himself “on the wrong side of history.” It is time to retire this phrase, which reflects the illusions of the 1990s. History has no direction, no side, and no end. The perennial human questions are never settled permanently. Individuals with sufficient clarity and audacity can reshape events in unexpected ways. Putin strangled Russian democracy in its cradle, and Xi Jinping halted the gradual liberalization of China that his predecessors had tolerated.
There is no reason to believe that installing a puppet regime in Kyiv is the sum of Putin’s ambitions. Russia’s president objects to nearly all the changes that have occurred since 1991. Poland and the Baltic states, members of NATO, are now squarely in his sights. We are committed to their defense, but it is not clear that we have the means to defend them, other than threatening to go nuclear, which Putin may not regard as credible.
Events have shown that economic sanctions will not deter an autocrat bent on conquest. Only force and the will to use it can hope to succeed. The United States will have to expand its land and air forces deployed in Western and Central Europe, along with its pre-positioned heavy equipment. Stunning the world, Germany has decided to rearm and assume its share of the costs of defending freedom and democracy, starting with its own. France must discard Gaullist pretensions and acknowledge that, for the foreseeable future, NATO will remain the principal vehicle for the defense of Europe. All of Europe must discard the fallacy that international institutions and law can work without the power to defend their existence and enforce their writ. Enlarging the European social model can no longer enjoy unquestioned priority over the requisites of Europe’s physical security.
Taken together with rising military requirements in the Indo-Pacific, the United States will need to shift defense spending onto a higher trajectory, and we cannot add fuel to the inflationary fire by borrowing to fund this shift.
At some point, President Joe Biden will have to break this news to his party and to the country. His State of the Union Address began the process of explaining why large changes of strategy and spending will be necessary, but the President needs to say more about the sacrifices that will be needed to defend our liberty and the liberty of other nations whose fate affects our own. Mounting evidence suggests that the American people are more willing to bear this burden than their leaders believe.
What we have witnessed in recent months is the closest we have come in many decades to the events that triggered the declaration of the Truman Doctrine in 1947. If Biden rises to the occasion, he could become the Harry Truman of the 21st century. If he does not, history will not remember him kindly.
William A. Galston, an editorial board member of American Purpose, is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a weekly columnist for the Wall Street Journal.
Putin did it. So, he is “irrational,” “drifting off” into “an alternate universe,” reports the commentariat. He is actually a consummate calculator. Let amateur shrinks play with long-distance diagnoses, a professional no-no. Instead, let’s, uh, admire the man who has scored ever since 2008 when he crushed Georgia. This was the first step toward restoring the Soviet empire. The West did not lift a finger. Die for Tbilisi 2,500 miles away? On to Crimea.
Putin is a bizarre character—somewhere between operetta and Mussolini, the anecdotes relate. But not as a master of grand strategy. Call it the “economy of violence”—get there firstest with the leastest, to vary Civil War General Nathan Bedford Forrest. Profit from geography, your “interior lines.” Deploy “little green men” to Crimea and pretend they are local Russian loyalists. Use all means short of war: mendacity, intimidation, subversion, cyberattacks.
The West fumed, but could not—dared not—undo the Crimean crime. (Russia had done it before, grabbing the peninsula in 1783.) On to Syria, where Barack Obama had practically issued an invitation by leaving a power vacuum. Russia is again a Mediterranean power. Putin should write thank-you notes to Messrs. Trump and Biden, who retracted some more by declaring an end to the “endless wars” in the Middle East. And keep going while low-risk opportunities abound. Slice off Ukraine’s southeast. Now, it is the whole, whose fall will unhinge a seemingly permanent European balance. “Madman” Putin must have thought: Who would resist? Those 65,000 Americans GIs strewn across Europe did not add up to a fighting force. There used to be up to 350,000 in the Cold War.
Who else would take to the mattress? The French like to play the mediator, as do the Germans when the going gets rough. The Bundeswehr’s tanks have shrunk from 3,000 to 260. Most of Europe is addicted to Russian gas, with Berlin as No. 1 junkie who is ditching nuclear power and draws 55 percent of its gas from Russia. Fearful of provoking Putin, the West did not send arms to Ukraine while the noose kept tightening. NATO knew that those “maneuvers” on Ukraine’s borders were configured for attack. Yet only after the three-pronged assault did America and the Alliance begin dispatching weapons and a few thousand troops to the eastern theater. Biden wants to send more. Too little, too late does not for deterrence make.
So, Putin is the “crazy” fox, the West is the coop whose chickens had confused seventy-seven years of Europe’s great-power peace with eternal pacification. They had forgotten their Clausewitz, who famously preached the twinship of diplomacy and defense. Putin, though, had not unlearned war.
Has he drifted off? Yes, if sanctions could bring down an imperialist regime, which they never do. Yes, if the Ukrainians keep getting armor, combat craft, anti-tank/anti-air missiles galore, plus space-based Western intelligence. At last, the West is delivering the hardware, and the Ukrainians, fighting for their homeland, are fiercer and smarter than Putin imagined.
At this point, as the “blitzkrieg” is stalling, Putin is not folding but raising the stakes, unleashing boundless cruelty, no matter how brutal the sanctions are. Putin may be creepy, but he is a ruthless opportunist. He will consolidate and up the ante while he negotiates, waiting for the West to lose its startling cohesion and willpower. He still has lots to do—from the Caspian Sea to the Baltic. By open conquest, which devastates his booty? Not necessarily on the next go. Exploit geographic advantage and Western war angst; learn from the setbacks. If he is looney, he will flail and escalate. If he remains a consummate calculator, he will resort to the economy of violence that had served him so well before he plunged into Ukraine.
Josef Joffe, a member of the American Purpose editorial board, teaches international politics at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
As with Europe and the United States, the Ukrainian crisis significantly impacts the Middle East. In this region, countries’ reactions to the Russian military aggression have been more varied and complex, mainly because of the strong ties they have fostered with Russia over the last decade. Israel in particular faces a political dilemma: On the one hand, the country has relied on U.S. protection since its establishment in 1948; on the other hand, it has developed a strong partnership with Russia, especially in Syria.
After the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011, Moscow allowed the Israeli Defense Forces to carry out limited military interventions against Iranian targets and proxies, particularly the Tehran-backed Hezbollah militias. The Israeli leadership considers these operations a vital tool for Israel’s national security, and the strategic collaboration with Moscow explains the reason for Israel’s abstention from the UN vote against the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014. For this reason, international observers and policymakers are monitoring with particular interest Israel’s next moves regarding the Ukrainian crisis.
Israel initially adopted a very cautious position, forced by the interests at stake. On February 22, two days before the military invasion, Israel timidly declared its support for Ukraine’s “territorial integrity” without explicitly condemning Russia. This statement irritated both Washington and Moscow: The former pressed Israel to take a firmer stance on the crisis while the latter, through the words of its UN ambassador, Dmitry Polyanskiy, criticized the Israeli “occupation of the Golan Heights” as a form of retaliation.
However, after Russia penetrated into Ukrainian territory on February 24, the Israeli government decided to make a stronger statement through the words of Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who denounced “the Russian attack on Ukraine as a violation of the world order” and also announced the country’s willingness to transfer immediate humanitarian assistance to Ukraine. Simultaneously, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s statements were much more tepid toward Russia, stressing the attempt not to compromise Israeli-Russia relations.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed Yair Lapid’s posture, but in a February 24 phone call he urged Israel to take a stronger stand in defense of the Western side of the conflict and its values. To put it another way, Blinken asked Israel to take a stance on economic sanctions, which have been the main instrument adopted until now to counter Russian military aggression. For its part, Israel is seriously concerned that these measures could irreversibly damage its deterrence activities in Syria, and so has not made a formal decision on this issue yet. Israel will likely try as much as possible to balance its democratic and liberal values—and thus the defense of Ukraine’s integrity—with its primary foreign policy goals. Considering the polarization resulting from this conflict, the outcomes of this attempt are far from a foregone conclusion.
Elia Preto Martini is recently completed a master’s in Middle Eastern studies from the Catholic University of Milan and currently works at Centro Studi Internazionali.
Only a hypocrite or a fool could be shocked to realize that Russian dictator Vladimir Putin has decided to reverse the post-Cold War geopolitical and security order in Europe.
Putin’s major military exercise east of the Ukrainian border last spring was reminiscent of the Warsaw Pact exercise Šumava in Czechoslovakia in the early summer of 1968. By early December of 2021, Russian troops began to return to their initial positions; Putin then jump-started the crisis, demanding Russian veto power over Ukraine's security posture. There followed the encirclement of Ukraine. Then, Putin followed a tried-and-tested scenario: Russian provocation, fabrication of the flimsy pretext of purported Ukrainian ceasefire violations, and a classic culminating ambush.
The attack itself was not unexpected. Putin's attempts to set Western leaders against one another backfired. The West became as united as it ever has been in the last thirty years.
So, what does the invasion mean? It plainly marks the end of the existing system of international relations in Europe and probably the world. It is now clear that Putin’s intent extends beyond Ukraine. Like Hitler in the 1930s, he is determined to restore Russia’ superpower status even at the cost of hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of victims.
Some attribute the emergence of Putin’s monstrous Russia to the West’s triumphalist mistakes during the 1990s. Undoubtedly, there were in fact mistakes. In 1990, Václav Havel warned that America could best help Eastern Europe “if you help the Soviet Union on its irreversible but immensely complicated road to democracy.” His call was not fully understood.
Still, Europe and America made sincere, consistent efforts to accept Russia as part of the international system. Western capitalists and imperialists did not loot or humiliate the country; it was Russians themselves who did that. Just as the Treaty of Versailles did not cause the rise of Nazism, the expansion of NATO did not cause the rise of Putin's revanchist dictatorship.
What can and should we do? First, we must acknowledge the new reality. The new Cold War beats the alternative of a new world war. Unless we are directly attacked, such a prospect should remain in the realm of dystopic fiction.
But are we without tools to stop and reverse Russian aggression? No. We can provide Ukraine with all conceivable assistance. We need to shelter the war’s refugees, just as the West helped the Czechoslovak refugees after the August 1968 Soviet invasion.
We need to make it clear to Russia that we will defend ourselves by force against any aggression toward NATO—which will mean an increase in European military spending. We can counter Russia's demands for the demilitarization of NATO's eastern flank with our own demands—like the demilitarization of the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, which is currently armed to the teeth.
Economic sanctions may force the EU to reconsider some of its energy policy objectives, or at least their timing. Europe can make up for a shortfall in energy imports from Russia, while Russia cannot make up for a shortfall in energy export revenues.
Also, the West has the advantage of a significantly larger population, superior economic and military power, and a freely chosen political system. The outcome is not in doubt as long as we can avoid a crisis of will.
Deterrence will work if the West puts aside some of its internal wars and allocates sufficient force and resources to it. For too long, Europe and many Americans have relied on being able to operate without enemies. Now, the enemy stands at the gates.
Michael Žantovský is executive director of the Václav Havel Library in Prague. He is former spokesman for President Václav Havel, and served as Czech ambassador to the United States, Israel, and the United Kingdom.
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