Contrary to the view of a number of prominent realist academics and left-leaning journalists, supporting Ukraine militarily is not unwise. While the view that peace can be achieved through diplomacy and dialogue, rather than military aid, is a noble one, it is also disingenuous. What this loud minority fails to understand is that Russia has no interest in diplomacy or peace and will not stop destabilizing Ukraine and the wider region until it is forced into retreat.
This comes as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine enters its ninth month. While numbers are difficult to verify, it is estimated that the war has left both Russia and Ukraine with over 100,000 troops dead or wounded. With Russia still attempting to advance further into Ukrainian territory and with Ukraine’s recent offensive to retake Kherson, there is no end in sight for this conflict.
From the beginning of the invasion, the US, the UK, the EU and Australia have provided Ukraine with humanitarian and military aid to protect its sovereignty and its people. The US has provided over $38 billion in military and humanitarian aid. Similarly, the UK and the EU have both provided around $4 billion.
What the Realists Do Not Realize
In the eyes of critics, such as the prominent realist academic John Mearsheimer, this assistance represents a dangerous escalation that will lead to the unnecessary deaths of Ukrainians. These critics instead argue that Ukraine should sue for peace and accept territorial loss to Russia.
But this criticism falls over for multiple reasons.
First and foremost, Russia has illegally invaded Ukraine, a sovereign state under international law. Since 1945, the world has moved on from territorial expansion through force of arms, where powerful states devour small, less powerful ones. Instead, the 20th century saw the construction of international laws, treaties, and norms on how states should behave. Russia’s actions in Ukraine are a direct violation of these tenets. Therefore, the implementation of economic sanctions and providing aid to a state fighting for survival is not an act of escalation. It is to ensure that international rule of law is upheld and no longer undermined.
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Second, Russia has clearly committed war crimes in Ukraine, a gross violation of international human rights law. Ukrainians have been killed by targeted missile strikes on civilian areas, including the total destruction of the port city of Mariupol, resulting in over 4,000 deaths according to the UN.
Human Rights Watch has also documented war crimes committed by Russian forces in Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and Kyiv as well as the now infamous massacre in Bucha where Russian troops carried out executions and extrajudicial killings of civilians. HelpingUkrainians protect their homes and families from such atrocities is to stand in solidarity against a despotic state.
Third, critics of the West ignore one crucial factor: that Ukrainians widely support defending themselves, and their sovereignty. A recent poll has found that an overwhelming majority of Ukrainians, 89%, do not support a peace deal that involves losing territory to Russia. Further, 78% approve of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s response to the invasion.
Peace Under Western Hegemony
Peace advocates have challenged the motives of the West in their support of the Ukrainian cause. The claim is that the West’s involvement has less to do with aiding Ukraine and more to do with maintaining its hegemony.
This mirrors comments made by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who declared recently that the conflict is a ”proxy war“ between NATO and Russia. This argument is designed to remove any agency from Ukrainians to make their own decisions and it is demonstrably wrong, particularly when defending the country is so popular with Ukrainians.
Critics also ignore that Russia has no interest in peace. While there are demands that Ukraine cede the Donbas and the south to Russia in a peace deal, it ignores that Russia has recently, and publicly, stated that it has ambitions greater than these two regions. This is obvious considering that Russia initially attempted to take Kyiv and topple the Ukrainian government. These calls are also offensive to Ukrainians who have spent the past six months defending their country from what is an illegal invasion.
Even if a deal is reached, history shows us it wouldn’t result in long-term stability for Ukraine. Russia has been destabilizing Ukraine for decades, including the illegal invasion and annexation of Crimea or by sending troops into the Donbas to support separatists. Critics fail to understand that Russia will not stop intervening in Ukrainian affairs because it does not tolerate the country’s desire to improve political and economic ties with the West.
Ukraine Is Inching Towards Victory
Most importantly, Ukraine is winning this war. Russia has failed to meet its initial objectives in occupying Kyiv and forcing regime change. It has pivoted strategically and publicly to focus on the Luhansk and Donetsk regions and the south of the country. It has also lost tens of thousands of men and countless numbers of vehicles and equipment. With economic sanctions targeting military technology, replacing this equipment is difficult. Ukrainian bravery and ingenuity aside, military aid from the West has undoubtedly played a large role in this success.
This support has culminated in the recent acquisition by Ukraine of High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, which has enabled its military to strike successfully at Russian targets in the Donbas and the Crimea. On November 11th, Ukraine entered the city of Kherson, pushing Russian troops to the east. Both Ukrainians and the West want peace. But this shouldn’t come at the expense of Ukraine’s dignity, territory, and sovereignty. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the war crimes it has committed, is a clear affront to international law. Therefore, supporting Ukraine in its defense is not just a fight to assist an innocent party against a larger aggressor, as worthwhile as that is. It is also a fight to protect the international rule of law and human rights. That is a fight worth supporting.
[Naveed Ahsan edited this article.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.