Avoiding the worst with the Ukrainian and Taiwanese crises
NEW YORK – Two dangerous hot spots, in Europe and Asia, could bring the United States, Russia and China into open conflict.
The crises involving Ukraine and Taiwan can be resolved, but all parties must respect the legitimate security interests of others. Objective recognition of these interests will provide the basis for a lasting de-escalation of tensions.
Take Ukraine. While he undoubtedly has the right to sovereignty and security from a Russian invasion, he has no right to undermine Russian security in the process.
The current crisis in Ukraine is the result of overreaching by Russia and the United States. Russia’s overbreadth lies in its annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its occupation of Ukraine’s industrial center in Donetsk and Luhansk; and in its continued efforts to keep Ukraine dependent on it for energy, industrial inputs and markets. Ukraine has a legitimate interest in integrating more closely into the economy of the European Union and has signed an Association Agreement with the EU to this end. The Kremlin fears, however, that EU membership may be a springboard for Ukraine’s NATO membership.
The United States, too, has gone too far. In 2008, the administration of US President George W. Bush requested that Ukraine be invited to join NATO, an addition that would establish the Alliance presence on Russia’s long border with that country. The provocative proposal divided U.S. allies, but NATO nonetheless confirmed that Ukraine could eventually be welcomed as a member, noting that Russia has no veto over who joins. When Russia violently annexed Crimea in 2014, one of its goals was to ensure that NATO could never gain access to the Russian naval base and fleet in the Black Sea.
Judging by public transcripts of talks between US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin this month, NATO enlargement to include Ukraine remains on the table. While France and Germany may well maintain their long-standing threat to veto such a membership application, Ukrainian and NATO officials have both reaffirmed that the choice to join lies with Ukraine. In addition, a high-ranking Estonian parliamentarian warned that withdrawing Ukraine’s right to join NATO would amount to British appeasement to Hitler in 1938.
Still, US leaders who argue that Ukraine has the right to choose its own military alliance should reflect on their country’s long history of categorically opposing outside interference in the Western Hemisphere. This position was first expressed in the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, and it was fully exposed in the violent United States reaction to Fidel Castro’s turn to the Soviet Union after the Cuban Revolution of 1959.
At the time, US President Dwight D. Eisenhower said that “Cuba was handed over to the Soviet Union as an instrument to undermine our position in Latin America and the world.” He ordered the CIA to make plans for an invasion. The result was the Bay of Pigs fiasco (under President John F. Kennedy), which lit the fuse of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.
Countries cannot simply choose their military alliances, as such choices often have security implications for their neighbors. After WWII, Austria and Finland both secured their independence and future prosperity by not joining NATO, as this would have provoked Soviet wrath. Ukraine should now exercise the same caution.
The problems in Taiwan are similar. Taiwan is entitled to peace and democracy in accordance with the concept of the “One China” policy, which has been the foundation of China’s relations with the United States since the time of Richard Nixon and Mao Zedong. The United States is right to warn China against any unilateral military action against Taiwan, as it would threaten global security and the global economy. Yet just as Ukraine does not have the right to join NATO, Taiwan does not have the right to secede from China.
In recent years, however, some Taiwanese politicians have flirted with the Declaration of Independence, and some American politicians have taken liberties with the “One China” principle. Then, President-elect Donald Trump triggered the US retreat in December 2016, when he said, “I fully understand the ‘One China’ policy, but I don’t know why we have to be bound by one. policy we are making a deal with china having to do with other things including trade. “
Then President Joe Biden provocatively included Taiwan in his Democracy Summit this month, following US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s recent plea for Taiwan’s “strong participation” in the United Nations system. . Such US actions have dramatically increased tensions with China.
Again, US security analysts who argue that Taiwan is within its right to declare independence should reflect on America’s own history. The United States waged a civil war over the legitimacy of secession, and the secessionists lost. The US government would not tolerate Chinese support for a secessionist movement in California, for example (nor European countries like Spain, which faced the real reality in the Basque Country and Catalonia).
The risks of military escalation in Taiwan are compounded by the recent announcement by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg that the future logic of the alliance will include the fight against China. An alliance created to defend Western Europe against the invasion of a now defunct European power should not be transformed into a US-led military alliance against an Asian power.
The Ukrainian and Taiwanese crises can be resolved peacefully and directly. NATO should withdraw Ukraine’s membership and Russia should renounce any invasion. Ukraine should be free to direct its trade policy as it sees fit, as long as it respects the principles of the World Trade Organization.
Likewise, the United States should make it clear once again that it strongly opposes Taiwan’s secession and does not aim to “contain” China, including by reorienting NATO. For its part, China should renounce unilateral military action against Taiwan and reaffirm the principle of the two systems, which many Taiwanese believe to be under imminent threat following the crackdown in Hong Kong.
No global structure for peace can be stable and secure unless all parties recognize the legitimate security interests of others. The best way for the great powers to start achieving this is to choose the path of mutual understanding and de-escalation to the detriment of Ukraine and Taiwan.
Jeffrey D. Sachs, professor at Columbia University, is director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University and chair of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network. © Project Syndicate, 2021
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