The New Observer International affairs John Mearsheimer on Ukraine

John Mearsheimer on Ukraine

This is worth watching; the US Political Scientist seems to me like a voice of sanity crying in the wilderness. []

John Mearsheimer makes some points that resonate with what I was planning to write below.

Macron and Scholz, and others, seem to think that going to Putin and asking him, again and again, to “respect international law” is going to get us somewhere. It isn’t. If Putin had been going to “obey international law” he wouldn’t have launched his operation in the first place. There are two options here. The first is that the West has to offer Russia some substantial concessions. The second is that the West has to inflict a total military defeat on Russia.

There are several problems with the idea of inflicting a total military defeat on Russia. Firstly; the way that this is supposed to happen is Ukraine (armed with tactical battlefield weapons) advances further in Eastern Ukraine and chases Russia from Crimea and Donbas, destroying their military capacity in the process. Meanwhile the Russian economy collapses thus debilitating their ability to re-arm. A variation of this plan is that there will be a regime change in Russia leading to a pro-Western liberal government coming to power. This latter is basically “hit-and-hope-Harry”. There is no guarantee of that at all and it isn’t a strategy. Let’s think through the variant of trying to inflict a total military defeat on Russia.

Firstly; it will involve tens of thousands more deaths on both sides. 

Secondly; if Russia feels like they are losing they may very well escalate. Why would they not? That escalation could involve attacks on key Western infrastructure, devastating Ukrainian cities or going nuclear in some way. All of these options could lead to a NATO-Russia war.

My question would be is either of these actually worth it? I’m not Ukrainian but if I was in Ukraine I would let the Russians have Crimea and Donbas in order to save tens of thousands of lives [1]. On the second point; of course no one wants to give in to nuclear blackmail but – we can ask are there key Western interests at stake in ensuring that Crimea and Donbas stay part of Ukraine? I would say no. So; why would we risk a nuclear war in this case? [2]

Thus – I would say that the first option is better. We should look for meaningful concessions. 

In support of John Mearsheimer’s suggestion that Russia could well end up winning this war I would adduce this article on Al-Jazeera by a former Russian finance deputy minister who appears to have done his sums; the Russian state budget can easily absorb the cost of the war even with sanctions. (The author thinks that is a matter of regret; he seems to have left Russia and be a dissident. I link to the article for the value of the analysis – without making a normative judgement).

This website is supposed to be about the media. The media point here is, as John Mearsheimer points out, that the media is full of “we can beat Russia” type commentary – which is, basically, really unintelligent. The Western political and media classes tend to move as a pack. Someone, usually in the State Department I think, comes up with a policy and soon the entire Western world and corporate media is chanting it in unison, no matter how detached from reality it is, or, as in this case, dangerous. Alternative viewpoints are excluded and shut down.


1. Maybe in exchange for compensation and security guarantees – but I am getting into details of negotiations here. 

2. Indeed, and stupidly, normal Western values would say that we should have supported the calls for regional autonomy, minority language rights, and, arguably self-determination in Crimea; just think Scotland or Wales.