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"Realists" Warn Against Ukraine Escalation

By       Message Robert Parry     Permalink
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Reprinted from Consortium News

Russian President Vladimir Putin during a state visit to Austria on June 24, 2014.
(image by (Official Russian government photo))

In recent years, Official Washington -- the politicians, the think tanks and the major news media -- has been dominated by neoconservatives and their sidekicks, the "liberal interventionists," with the old-school "realists" who favor a more measured use of American power largely marginalized. But finally, on the dangerous issue of Ukraine, some are speaking up.

Two of the few remaining "realists" with some access to elite opinion circles, Stephen M. Walt and John J. Mearsheimer, have written articles opposing the new hot idea in Washington to arm the Kiev regime so it can more efficiently kill ethnic Russians battling to expand their territory in eastern Ukraine.

As classic "realists," these two academics do not argue so much the moral issue of whether the eastern Ukrainians should be slaughtered in the Kiev regime's determination to crush all resistance to its authority or whether the U.S. support for last year's overthrow of elected President Viktor Yanukovych was justified. Instead, they focus on whether arming the Kiev regime makes sense for U.S. interests.

But what is most remarkable about the two articles -- one in Foreign Policy and the other in the New York Times opinion section -- is that they deviate from the relentless pro-escalation "group think" that has dominated the U.S. policy debate, across the board, on Ukraine. It's almost shocking to encounter two foreign policy experts who aren't on the latest rush-to-war bandwagon.

Granted, their arguments are relatively narrow, focusing on the likely consequences of shipping weapons to the unstable Kiev regime, but still -- such skepticism about the conventional wisdom is almost heretical these days.

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In Foreign Policy, Walt notes that despite the emerging consensus to ship arms to Ukraine, "few experts think this bankrupt and divided country is a vital strategic interest and no one is talking about sending U.S. troops to fight on Kiev's behalf. So the question is: does sending Ukraine a bunch of advanced weaponry make sense? The answer is no."

Walt contends that many of the prominent Washington figures advocating weapons shipments have been wrong before about the results of expanding NATO eastwards in the 1990s, predicting that the move would not threaten Russia and contribute to enduring peace in Europe.

"That prediction is now in tatters, alas, but these experts are now doubling down to defend a policy that was questionable from the beginning and clearly taken much too far," Walt wrote. "As the critics warned it would, open-ended NATO expansion has done more to poison relations with Russia than any other single Western policy."

Misreading Moscow

Walt also notes that the arm-Kiev advocates were misinterpreting Russia's posture regarding Ukraine and thus were applying a "deterrence model" to a "spiral model" situation, i.e., that Russia was not the expansive and aggressive power that Germany was in the 1930s but rather a cornered and weakened ex-superpower fearful of what it views as encroachment against its dwindling sphere of influence.

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In the case of an emerging power like Nazi Germany, deterrence would be the strategy to block its expansion, but a declining power like Russia believes that it is the one on the defensive and thus its reaction to an aggressive military response would be to increase its paranoia and thus create a spiral toward a worsening conflict and greater hostility, not toward a peaceful solution.

"When insecurity is the taproot of a state's revisionist actions, making threats just makes the situation worse," Walt wrote...

"When the 'spiral model' applies, the proper response is a diplomatic process of accommodation and appeasement (yes, appeasement) to allay the insecure state's concerns.

"Such efforts do not require giving an opponent everything it might want or removing every one of its worries, but it does require a serious effort to address the insecurities that are motivating the other side's objectionable behavior."

But the problem with Walt's prescription is that it goes against the "group think" of Official Washington, which "knows" that Russian President Vladimir Putin is the new Hitler instigating the Ukraine crisis as part of some master plan to conquer much of eastern Europe and build a new Russian empire.

Though that scenario lacks any evidentiary support -- and goes against the facts of the Ukraine crisis which was actually instigated by the European Union and neocons in the Obama administration -- it is a storyline that nearly every important person in Washington believes. Which is what makes Walt's accurate assessment so startling.

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at It's also available at

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