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Ukraine and the doctrine of Peace through Strength


One of President Reagan’s favourite sayings was “no war ever started because America was too powerful.”  Peace through strength was the NATO security doctrine throughout much of the Cold War.  No one would dare start a major war while the Western alliance was there to prevent wars of aggression and conquest.

Today this doctrine has been abandoned.  Mildly embarrassed by their victory in the Cold War and the enfeeblement of Russia in the 1990s, the Western powers allowed the 1930s to repeat themselves.  Any brutality and breach of international law could be justified by the doctrine of non-interference to secure peace.  Why interfere with Chechnya, wasn’t it within Russia’s sphere of influence?  Georgia was part of the old Soviet Union, so why get involved?  And didn’t Crimea have a majority of Russian-speakers?

Ukraine is increasingly looking like Czechoslovakia in 1938.  A foreign power makes spurious claims about the ‘protection of minorities’ as a pretext for regime change and the carving up of a sovereign country.  The West hopes to contain the conflict through appeasement.

How could this happen? Very easily. Once President Biden and Prime Minister Johnson told Mr. Putin they would not send troops to Ukraine, there was no military barrier to Russian intervention.  The whole idea of Western deterrence and peace through strength had been abandoned.

Even the help NATO did offer Ukraine was reluctant and conditional. Following the invasion of Crimea, Obama was reluctant to send anything more than body armour and night vision equipment.  The US supplied $47m of Javelin anti-tank weapons in 2018 but sought to prevent them being used on the front line. Trump threatened to hold up supplies to Ukraine in order to get dirt on his domestic political opponent.

So what to do now?  The West has finally united in order to supply weapons, but for how long will that be possible.  As Putin’s forces encircle the cities, how will the military supplies be delivered?  Even if the Ukrainians are well-prepared, most estimates suggest that they will run short of crucial anti-tank and anti-missile supplies inside ten days.

NATO may then be faced with the choice of imposing a ‘no-fly zone’ and engaging in war with Putin’s regime or imposing a Munich-style agreement on Ukraine that would carve up Ukrainian territory and destroy a sovereign ally.

As Vitali Klitschko and his resolute Ukrainian forces take on the role of Leonidas and the 300 Spartans at the great gates of Kyiv, will Europe and the free world be inspired by their heroism? Will we finally unite like the ancient Greeks and make sacrifices to resist a terrible and violent tyranny?  Or will we continue to depend economically on powers like Russia and China whose domestic oppression using modern technology is more severe than anything George Orwell could have imagined?

Where, then, is the road to peace?  To paraphrase the word of Ronald Reagan, the answer is simple after all – we must have the courage to say to our enemies: “There is a price we will not pay. There is a point beyond which they must not cross.”

And we must mean it.

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