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West will never go to war over non-NATO Ukraine

Monday, May 5th 2014 - 06:47 UTC
Full article 6 comments
Putin: to invade or not to invade Ukraine Putin: to invade or not to invade Ukraine

By Gwynne Dyer - With due apologies to God, Voltaire and the Ukrainians, I must point out that if Ukraine did not exist, it would not be necessary to invent it.It is not a great power, it has no resources the world cannot do without, and it is not a “vital strategic interest” to anybody except the Ukrainians. Not even to the Russians, although they are acting at the moment as though it were.

 Bosnia was nobody's vital strategic interest either. It isn't now, and it wasn't 100 years ago. But Bismarck warned in 1898 that if there was ever another major war in Europe, it would come out of “some damned silly thing in the Balkans,” and an assassination in Sarajevo in 1914 fulfilled his prophecy to the letter.

Some things have changed since then, however. The next world war will not come out of Ukraine no matter what happens in the next few weeks and months. Russia might invade Ukraine, there might even be a new Cold War for a while, but there will be no fighting in Europe beyond Ukraine's borders.

Apart from the Balkans there has been no full-scale war in Europe for the past 69 years, and there was never the slightest risk that the fighting in the 1990s would spread beyond the borders of former Yugoslavia. Indeed, there was probably never a single day during the 45 years of the Cold War when either side seriously considered attacking the other.

The reason was simple: they knew what would happen next, even if neither side used the thousands of nuclear weapons at its disposal. Twice in 30 years, in 1914-18 and 1939-45, a major war had been fought over almost all of Europe.

On the first occasion, they lost a generation of young men. The second time, most countries from Germany eastwards lost around 10 per cent of their populations - and most of the deaths that time were civilians. Half of the continent's great historic cities were reduced to ruins. It was a very expensive education, but the Europeans did finally learn their lesson: don't do this anymore.

That is why, even as Russian tanks drive up to Ukraine's eastern borders and the Ukrainian army prepares to die in a fight it knows it would lose, nobody else in Europe is getting ready for war.

If the Russians want part or all of Ukraine, they can have it - and pay the long-term price for taking it, which would be very high. But nothing in Europe is worth blowing all of Europe up for.

Do not be alarmed that troops and planes from as far as the United States and Canada are being sent to NATO countries that have borders with Russia. The numbers are insignificant. Their purpose is simply to remind the Russians that the alliance will protect its members should Moscow ever decide that it has also a right to “protect” Russian-speakers in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

Moscow does not need to be reminded of that. It has seized Crimea, and is toying with the idea of seizing more of Ukraine, because that country does not fall under the NATO umbrella. And it does not belong to NATO because NATO didn't want to take responsibility for its defense.

The collapse of the status quo is partly the European Union's fault, for demanding that Ukraine choose between closer trade and travel ties with the EU and full membership in Russia's “Eurasian Union”. It is even more the fault of Moscow: President Vladimir Putin has been both emotional and opportunistic. He's scaring people, which is never a good idea.

But if he does take more or even all of Ukraine, the West will not fight him. It will just take in all the Ukrainian refugees, strengthen its eastern defaces, and begin the slow process of bringing down Putin by crippling the Russian economy. That would take years, but nobody would forget Ukraine. It is a UN member, and even China has stopped supporting the Russian position. Remember East Timor.

Categories: Politics, International.

Top Comments

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  • bushpilot

    The Russians are acting like strong arm thugs.

    Who is Gwynne Dyer?

    Was Poland all that important when Hitler took it over? Should the UK have been thinking more like Dyer is?

    Hitler got away with everything he could get away with. I'm sure it was somewhat different, but how?

    May 05th, 2014 - 11:30 am 0
  • JohnN

    The Economist:
    “Each situation is different, but in the echo-chamber of global politics they reinforce each other. The Asians note that in 1994, in exchange for surrendering nuclear weapons, Ukraine received a guarantee from Russia, America and Britain that its borders were safe.

    The Baltic countries remember the red lines crossed in Syria. Arab princes and Chinese ambassadors count the Republican senators embracing isolationism.

    Together, these retreats plant a nagging suspicion among friends and foes that on the big day America simply might not turn up,”:

    May 05th, 2014 - 01:19 pm 0
  • CabezaDura2

    I wish the americans grew some balls and shatter Cuba and Venezuela in days out of the same excuses and and null reasons the Russians have to bully Ukraine in response for Putin's actions.

    The Castros have lived a long life it would only be fair that they meet justice at the end of their days

    May 05th, 2014 - 02:09 pm 0
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