Aristotle’s Four Causes

Eli Zaretsky

According to Aristotle, we cannot understand something unless we understand what causes it, but ‘cause’ for Aristotle was a complex, multi-layered concept. In the case of the present war between Ukraine and Russia, Aristotle would have described Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as the efficient cause – the immediate precipitant – but would have argued that a fuller understanding must include the material history of Europe; the form given to that history by the Second World War and its long aftermath, which left the US in effective control of the continent; and the overall or final direction of history at stake in the conflict.

I want to focus here on the form given to the conflict by America’s preponderant role in European politics. I will concentrate on five interrelated questions: America’s overall relation to Europe; European self-governance; the German question; the Russian question; and Eurasia.

The starting point for any understanding of America’s role in Europe must be the Monroe Doctrine of 1823. Provoked by the Latin American revolts against Spain, the doctrine was an attempt to forestall European intervention in the Western hemisphere. But this was balanced with the promise, in President Monroe’s words, ‘not to interfere in the internal concerns of any [European] powers’ – in other words, ‘to consider [any existing European] government de facto as the legitimate government for us.’

The doctrine was modified in the 20th century, beginning with Woodrow Wilson’s rejection of balance-of-power politics and his call for ‘internationalism’, but this shift was always one-sided. The US retained its ‘right’, based on the Monroe Doctrine, to exclude ‘foreign’ interference in the Western hemisphere, but assumed a new right to interfere elsewhere in the world. That opened the way to the current situation: America is not only preponderant in Europe today; this preponderance reflects an enormous global imbalance.

Second, America’s disproportionate power reflects the long-standing difficulties Europe has had in organising its own relations. In effect, European governments have been infantilised since the Second World War. The most obvious example of this is the fact that Nato’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe has to be an American general. European governments distrust one another, but rather than work out their differences, they rely on the United States. Financially, too, European security is underwritten by American wealth at the cost of European autonomy. The 2008 Bucharest Summit Declaration that ‘Nato welcomes Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership’ was opposed by France and Germany, but to no avail. This has enormous consequences for the present crisis.

Third, American power in Europe has substituted for a long-term solution to ‘the German question’. By virtue of its size, geographic position and economic power, Germany ought to play a leading role in mediating between East and West, in other words, between Russia and Western Europe, but, in good part because of the catastrophe of Nazism, has been reluctant to do so. This has left a vacuum, which the US has filled in a negative way – by perpetuating the split between Western and Eastern Europe, which began as a form of colonialism after the Second World War. To be sure, America has been pivotal in encouraging Eastern European economic development, but at the cost of empowering the region’s most Russophobic elements, which historically have been on the right. Poland’s role in servicing the CIA’s torture ‘black sites’ is an example of what I mean.

Fourth, the possibilities for peace that the Soviet Union under Gorbachev offered to both Europe and the United States in 1989-90 were of a sort that comes along very rarely, not even once a century. Gorbachev spoke of ‘our common European home’. Under American leadership, however, the West’s response was to expand Nato, an anti-Russian alliance both in its origins and at present, and to impose shock therapy on the Russian economy. Russia, historically, has always contained both democratic and statist elements. America’s outsize role encouraged the statist side of its politics, which was by no means inevitably dominant. No one can really say how post-1989 Russia would have developed if it had not been treated with condescension and hostility, but those are the conditions that produced Putin.

Fifth, American ‘internationalism’, as shown by its disproportionate role in Europe, has global implications, especially for East Asia. In the late 19th and early 20th century, when American foreign policy began to shift from the balance of power implicit in the Monroe Doctrine to its grandiose and vague ‘internationalism’, thinkers such as Halford Mackinder – arguably Theodore Roosevelt’s favourite geographer – began to see the value of keeping the European peninsula divided from Russia. For Mackinder, such a division was preferable to forms of peace and co-operation that would make Eurasia, the world’s ‘heartland’, the centre of geopolitics, reducing American sea power to a secondary role. Whether consciously or not, American thinkers were guided by this insight not only in 1989 but in 1917 and 1945. In other words, they have sought to keep Europe and Russia divided. This has implications for America’s present relations not only to Russia but also to China.

To conclude: there is no question that America has contributed to world peace, especially through its part in the defeat of German and Italian fascism and Japanese militarism, and in filling the vacuum left in Europe after the Second World War. But this history has left global politics with a fundamental problem at the centre: America’s disproportionate role. This problem is not merely contingent, it is structural. The United States, which has no security problems of its own, regularly launches foreign wars, as in Vietnam or Iraq or Afghanistan, as well as fostering proxy militarisations, as in Eastern Europe and Ukraine, without paying any price, and without learning anything from its mistakes. The result is hubris. This has immediate implications for the Ukraine conflict, in that America’s leadership has an interest in keeping the war going. As Aristotle argued, we cannot understand any event merely in its immediate context, but need to understand long-term causes both in the sense of what brought the event about, and in the sense of the ‘final cause’ that the event serves.


  • 18 May 2022 at 4:25pm
    Lexa Hypatia says:
    "History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake". That seems a fair summary of this article, which is in turn a balanced assessment of the causes of the Ukraine conflict.

    • 18 May 2022 at 7:20pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Lexa Hypatia
      Thanks Lexa

  • 18 May 2022 at 11:17pm
    staberinde says:
    Yeah, but so what?

    Do Ukrainians have the right to seek to determine their own future? Or must they be a 'neutral' buffer to placate their paranoid, imperial neighbour? Or must they accept the thesis that they are no less Russian than Shropshire is English?

    Russian imperialism long predates Munroe and Wilson. And while there are certainly mistakes one might point to in American foreign policy, it would have been reckless to disregard centuries of experience on the hope that Russia might pivot so dramatically.

    Nobody bears responsibility for Russian aggression but Russia. Its actions validate the continued existence of NATO as a fundamentally anti-Russian alliance. And indeed, those actions make clear that neighbours who wish to preserve their sovereignty must join NATO - the alternative is to strain against an ever-shorter leash. Belarus is the future-state.

    When, in all its history, has Russian rejected imperialism, militarism, and dictatorship? Never, but for the very briefest period in the early 1990s. And this is the period America should have bet upon?

    Bet that the wife-beater, having bought a bunch of flowers, is changed?

    The greatest lesson of the last 30 years is never to appease Russia, and certainly never give up your nukes.

    • 19 May 2022 at 8:30am
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ staberinde
      Projection is basic to the US-centered cold war outlook. Russia is the evil empire. The only way to deal with them is force. Ukraine and Russia got along very well between 1991, when we first get an independent Ukraine and 2014, when the US brought about an anti-Russian coup.

    • 19 May 2022 at 9:11am
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ staberinde
      The demonization of Russia cannot substitute for historical analysis. Mexicans understand that a flagrantly anti-American regime in Mexico will not be tolerated by the US. Until 2014 Ukrainians understood that as well. Under Gorbachev, Yeltsin and Putin Russia did try to become a "normal" state. The US was at first not helpful and then openly hostile. Russia was not the aggressor in 1917, when the US sent an expeditionary force to put down the regime. Consider how Germany reacted in 1919-1933 to being treated as a "wife-beater" and again in 1945, when it was welcomed into the "West."

    • 19 May 2022 at 9:16am
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ staberinde
      Demonization of Russia is not the answer. Consider the difference between how Germany reacted when it was demonized at Versailles and when it received the Marshall Plan in 1945. The Ukraine has a right to independence but does it have the right to serve as a launching pad for US missiles aimed at Russia? DO you think the US would stand for a hostile Mexico?

    • 19 May 2022 at 9:39am
      MattG says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      Coudn't agree more.

      Key to saberinde's misunderstanding is "The greatest lesson of the last 30 years is never to appease Russia, and certainly never give up your nukes."

      42 years ago Solidarnosc was founded. 10 years later Walensa was president and Poland a russian-influence-free zone. And all that was achieved without a single javelin missile fired. During the subsequent 30 years all other Middle/Eastern European capitals managed to remove Russian tanks each in their own way by peaceful means.

      Russian imperialism during the last 40 years, like all imperialisms, relied on internal support (Naijbulla, ..., Azad, ..., Lukashenko).

      And the the tired old "appeasement" trope. Chamberlain got into No 10 in Mai 1937 and two years later Britain was at war. Hardly the same as the 40 year period to dismantle the Russian gains of WWII.

      The issue is not if the 2014 was morally just but if it was politically effective.

    • 19 May 2022 at 11:49am
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ MattG
      Right. No one is idealizing Russia in this debate. Rather, the need is to stop the West from projecting its own violence into an all purpose enemy. Take a look at Timothy Snyder for this. In today's New York Times he calls Russia "fascist." That is not how historians think!

    • 19 May 2022 at 9:29pm
      Graucho says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      "... and 2014, when the US brought about an anti-Russian coup. " The coup was bought about by a thoroughly corrupt Russian puppet president lining his own pockets and living in luxury. Foreign interference in Ukrainian affairs ? Remember this ?
      Putin's habit of poisoning people he doesn't care for goes back a long way.

  • 18 May 2022 at 11:39pm
    Oleg Kuznetsov says:
    It's great that there is a person who knows exactly what Aristotle would call the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
    It is a pity that Aristotle did not say anything about such an efficient cause as the role of Russian (Soviet) imperialism in post-war Europe and the post-Soviet resentment that gave rise to Putin's authoritarianism, who started the war in Ukraine

    • 19 May 2022 at 8:36am
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Oleg Kuznetsov
      The Soviets lost 25,000,000 people fighting the Nazis during WW2. Having fought their way to Berlin, and having been invaded by the 2 world-conquerors of the modern age (Napoleon and Hitler) they wanted friendly states in Eastern Europe. Even Churchill believed they should have that. This does not justify their suppression of later revolts in Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia. As to post-Soviet resentment, what do you think they resented? They resented being treated as the enemy after they unilaterally ended the Cold War.

  • 18 May 2022 at 11:46pm
    Oleg Kuznetsov says:
    absolutely agree with your position. The author's point of view, unfortunately, ignores the traditions of Russian (Soviet) imperialism, downplays the political subjectivity of European countries and denies the subjectivity of Ukraine as a sovereign state

  • 19 May 2022 at 3:27am
    James Mccall says:
    However hubristic American military adventures have been in the Middle East, the US cannot be held responsible for Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Putin's desire to reintegrate Ukraine into Mother Russia in order to realize Russia's imperial destiny (as sanctified by the Russian Orthodox Patriarch) has nothing whatsoever to do with the US welcoming former members of the Warsaw Pact into NATO. Even Ukrainian President Zelensky has foregone his earlier proposal of Ukraine joining NATO although he is still holding out hope of joining the EU. Recently, Putin backed off from threats against Sweden and Finland for requesting membership in NATO. Putin's complaints about NATO encirclement are merely a pretext for justifying his attempt to take over all or at least part of his neighbour's territory.

    • 19 May 2022 at 8:50am
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ James Mccall
      I do blame Russia for the invasion, though not in the piece. But to act as if the invasion occurred in a vacuum makes no sense at all. The issue of NATO expansion has been central for Russia since 1991. Every nation seeks security. The Russia/China border is the most fraught in the world. Why would Russia allow a hostile regime in Ukraine, which was part of Russia for most of its history, and is the largest country in Europe, and which abuts Russia. It would be crazy for them to allow it, just as it would be crazy for the US to allow a hostile regime in Mexico. That doesnt justify the invasion. But it does suggest that the material and formal causes of the invasion lie in the US expansion of NATO.

    • 19 May 2022 at 2:46pm
      Delaide says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      “ I do blame Russia for the invasion … But …”
      I just blame Putin for the invasion and the deaths of thousands and the displacement of millions. No need for a conjunction.

    • 19 May 2022 at 2:50pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Delaide
      I'm afraid its a little more complicated. I know that the anglo-American tradition expects that the enemy be described as 1005 wrong, while Americans and Brits are 100% innocent but it doesnt work that way. That is why Aristotle's concept of causality is so valuable. It makes no apologies for Putin, but it avoids the moralism and reductionism that makes current foreign policy thinking a morass.

    • 20 May 2022 at 1:43am
      Delaide says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      I get your drift but I can’t hear you over the cries of the dying and the bereaved. Too soon Eli.

    • 20 May 2022 at 9:00am
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Delaide
      I understand. A moral position reaching out to the bereaved (on both sides) is unanswerable, but we need to think rationally as well. We need a complex response, not simply a moral/emotional one. And we need it from the beginning.

    • 20 May 2022 at 2:50pm
      Delaide says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      “A moral position is unanswerable … but …” You’ve done it again! Enough of the ‘but’s Eli.

  • 19 May 2022 at 12:46pm
    Graucho says:
    America never wanted to be involved in Europe. They were dragged in because the European democracies were unable to resist the onslaught of European dictatorships, first German (x2) and then Russian. We owe them a debt of gratitude for being able to debate freely here which would not otherwise be the case.

    • 19 May 2022 at 1:04pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Graucho
      America wanted, like Britain, to dominate the world through the "open door," ie through commercial supremacy. It is true that Americans were isolationist in temper and Roosevelt in particular had to struggle to get the US into World War II. However, after the war anti-Communists took control of US policy and put the country on its permanent war state. Since 2011, the US killed a million people and rendered another 45-50 million homeless. Western Europe owes the US a debt of gratitude for WW2 and for the immediate postwar . It also owes Europe an enormous debt for the defeat of the Nazis. But today reliance on the US has turned Western Europe into a gigantic theme park, enabling American aggression in Eastern Europe, in the Middle East, in Afghanistan and in the Far East.

    • 19 May 2022 at 1:05pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Graucho
      WW1 parenthetically is a complicated story as opposed to ww2. It should definitely NOT be understood as caused by German aggression. Christopher Clark's recent The SLeepwalkers is very clear about this.

    • 19 May 2022 at 1:36pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Graucho
      2001 rather than 2011 above.

    • 19 May 2022 at 2:25pm
      Graucho says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      So the Kaiser was a democrat and was forced to march his army through Belgium to attack France. American reluctance to get involved in WW1 was even stronger than in WW2 and may never have happened, but for Zimmerman's message to the Mexican government.

    • 19 May 2022 at 2:56pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Graucho
      Are we really going to return to the German invasion of Belgium, the great propaganda coup for Britain that dominated thinking about the war. No, the Kaiser was not solely responsible for World War One. Like today's global crisis, it was the outcome of a capitalist system that was essentially out of control. Keith Wilson has written of the "invention" of the German enemy in the years immediately before World War One. Germany always ergarded England as its obvious ally; it was threatened by France and Russia, not England. Niall Ferguson's book on WW1 is also good on this subject.
      As to the US people in WW 1, I agree, they didnt want to go to war. Wilson pulled them in kicking and screaming. The Germans were at that time the US's largest minority. The Irish certainly didnt want to help England. Not sure though how this relates.

    • 19 May 2022 at 4:06pm
      MattG says: @ Graucho
      "So the Kaiser was a democrat and was forced to march his army through Belgium to attack France" is one of those typical remarks which try to reduce a debate to a caricature - as as was done during WWI.

      More common currently is the attempted syllogism:
      Hitler was/did xyz
      Putin = Hitler
      Therefore ... debate over - unless you want to support Hitler.

      The problem with Aristotle is that he is a bit of an essentialist. But the author wisely refrained to explain any final causes of the Ukraine war.

      On the Belgium issue: the atrocities committed by the German army in Belgium could well have parallels in the Ukraine. In Belgium German officers were given very precise targets for their daily advance. But because most troops were raw conscripts and Belgium resistance was more determined than imagined by the Schliefen planners these could not be achieved. Officers found themselves behind plan, lost their professionalism and started committing murders.

    • 19 May 2022 at 4:17pm
      XopherO says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      A very thoughtful piece. Of course Putin is a bit crazy and amoral - leaders often are (Trump, Johnson...) but I remember before the invasion Biden repeatedly said that NATO would not intervene, and even strongly implied that a blind eye would be turned on a simple incursion. It is hard to avoid the notion that the US wanted a war, and as you say wants it to continue no doubt to wear Russia down. I am reminded of Orwell's '1984': Oceania is apparently permanently at war, and Big Brother is always reporting attacks and the need to be vigilant against the 'enemy'. However it is not clear there is an actual war or enemy. It may be propaganda to keep the masses docile, the illusion being maintained by attacks against itself, killing some citizens deliberately. The USA has always needed an enemy, and in the 20th century Russia/USSR has been the best choice for keeping its citizens in line, while keeping the military-industrial complex buzzing. It has engaged in real and proxy wars, largely to keep the 'reds' (red has many definitions according to who you want to get at) at bay, used the CIA across the world to impose its hegemony, without any invasion on its own territory. Until now. As usual with its activities there are unintended consequences, and one coming closer is nuclear war. Unfortunately, tragically, proxy war has come to Europe with Ukraine as the fall-guy in the relentless US desire to diminish Russia., and feed the military and commerce. I believe around 50% of American businesses have some involvement in military procurement. The period from 1991 to 2013 was problematic for the US military and economy. Now it is booming. Keynes pointed out that for the US war was good economics, a bit like paying folk to dig holes and fill them in. But it would surely be better to build public resources like schools and hospitals.

    • 19 May 2022 at 4:48pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ MattG
      I completely agree with all four of these excellent points. The comparison with the Germans in Belgium in ww1 is particularly striking.

    • 19 May 2022 at 4:51pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ XopherO
      I like especially what you say about Orwell. And I agree we are in real danger of the US using nuclear weapons again.

    • 19 May 2022 at 6:27pm
      Graucho says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      It really is off topic, but the Kaiser hated the English, which given the unfortunate circumstances of his birth and upbringing was hardly surprising, and he did not spend all that time and treasure building up his navy because he was a peace loving statesman.
      What is on topic is the behavioural phenonmenon of seeking dominance over others and the urge to drive up the pecking order. This is the rule rather than the exception in the primate world. LRB doesn't have enough terabytes to record all the instances where nations have behaved appallingly in order to assert dominance over others and even before nations were doing it, tribes were doing it. This one really is in our DNA, never mind the post hoc rationalisations.
      What other nations may have done is an utter irrelavance when looking at the war in Ukraine. What is relevant is the answer to the question "Is Putin out to dominate us?".
      The poisoning of Litvinenko was an epiphany for me as to the nature of the man we are dealing with and his intentions. It should have been a wake up call to the world's democracies too. If forced to choose between America's evil empire and Russia's, I'll take America's any day.

    • 19 May 2022 at 8:43pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Graucho
      Biology teaches us that cooperation, love and altruism are as much a part of our DNA as the will to dominate. That Putin's politics have been murderous is certainly true. That he seeks to dominate us is a ridiculous idea. Putin is no threat to the US whatsoever The US is a huge threat to Russia. There is no comparison.

    • 19 May 2022 at 9:00pm
      Graucho says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      "That he seeks to dominate us is a ridiculous idea. " His actions say otherwise.

    • 19 May 2022 at 9:19pm
      Graucho says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      When I said us, I meant us in western Europe, not Uncle Sam.

    • 19 May 2022 at 10:27pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Graucho
      come on, russia is a super weak state. Its like saying Mexico wants to dominate the US. THere are AMericans who believe that too.

    • 19 May 2022 at 10:28pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Graucho
      I get it. What exactly would Putin do to dominate you? Make you give him money under the threat of nuclear weapons? What are we talking about?

    • 19 May 2022 at 11:40pm
      Graucho says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      Poison me in the unlikely event that I started an effective political movement against him. Pull every trick in the book to get one of his puppets elected to downing street to govern me. He managed Trump, failed with Marine Le Pen. Threaten to use nuclear weapons if he can't get his own way as he already has done with respect to Ukraine. Given what he got up to in Syria, it would not be beyond him to instigate a chemical terrorist attack here. I don't know where you live, but if you hadn't noticed he has already spread polonium and novichok in my country.
      Putin hates democracies. As soon as Georgia managed to get a democratic government they were on his hit list for invasion.
      Thank god for NATO and thank god that we haven't thrown away our nukes.
      The Finns have forgotten more about having to deal with Russian dictators than every one posting here knows. Their reaction to this invasion should inform anyone as to what is at stake.

    • 20 May 2022 at 9:05am
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Graucho
      Suppose someone unleashed a similar tirade against the US. Wouldn't you say, no its more complicated. Its the same for Russia. Its more complicated. Putin struggled for decent relations with Nato for years, even more or less applying for admission in c. 2001. He also said for years that the Ukraine in Nato was a red line for him. Look at the big picture. We know how aggressive the US is elsewhere. How did it turn into the defender of peace against Putin.

  • 19 May 2022 at 8:08pm
    Alexander Berkovich says:
    Russia itself and you put forth numerous fake justifications for invading Ukraine: Genocide against Russians in Donbas, Bandera, Denazification, Ukraine in EU, Ukraine in NATO, Ukraine as American weapon, Ukraine being armed by the West to attack Russia, Ukrainians crucified Russian baby, Ukraine does not exist, Ukraine was created by Lenin, Ukrainians collaborating with Germans (Babi Yar), etc. etc. Putin’s actual motivation and the goal are rather obvious and simple and are based on the nature of his dictatorial right wing rule (if you object to Mr. Snyder’s characterization) to destroy current Ukraine as a viable, democratic, European, economically successful state. He cannot afford to have the same looking Slavic people next door many of whom speak the same language and are of the same ethnicity to live better and freer than the Russians in Russia. One cannot have any serious doubt that Putin would not have allowed people of Belarus to remove their leader and establish free society. NATO is not even an issue. Freedom is the issue.

    • 19 May 2022 at 8:59pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Alexander Berkovich
      Yes, freedom is the issue but doesnt that include the freedom of Russians not to be bullied, stigmatized, and isolated from what Gorbachev called "our common European home." As to Putin being afraid of having the Russian people see European style consumerism on their doorstep, the average monthly income of Russians until recently was c. 625 UD dollars per month, while the average monthly income of Ukrainians was 213$ per month. I really doubt that Putin was afraid for the Russian people to see the corrupt and impoverished country that Ukraine tragically is. In 2014 in order to have Ukraine join Russia in an economic federation, Putin offered Ukraine a much more generous deal than the EU did, and Yanukovych accepted it before he was removed thanks in good part to the Americans. If you are the well-known mathematician Alexander Berkovich, you can check my math.

    • 19 May 2022 at 9:00pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Alexander Berkovich
      US dollars, not UD

    • 19 May 2022 at 9:03pm
      Graucho says: @ Alexander Berkovich
      Thank you for stating what is the bleeding obvious to anyone who has been paying attention.

    • 19 May 2022 at 9:09pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Alexander Berkovich
      Incidentally, since many letter writers have Slavic names, as I do I would like to identify my ethnic background I am proud to say that both my parents were born in the Ukraine, although I was born in the USA.

    • 19 May 2022 at 11:21pm
      Alexander Berkovich says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      Eli, you missed my point. Putin cannot afford for Ukraine to ultimately become (is obviously not yet) free and economically successful European democracy. The same for Belarus. And you demonstrate misunderstanding of Maidan. Ukranians were not and are not looking for a “better deal” with Russia. Rather, Ukrainians want to be Europeans not Russian vassals. Yanukovich’s failure to sign the association agreement (association with Europe) was the proverbial straw. That is why the fight today.

    • 19 May 2022 at 11:47pm
      Graucho says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      Believe it or not, people who despatch their goons off to other countries to murder people, assassinate their political opponents at home and jail dissidents following show trials get stigmatised.

    • 20 May 2022 at 9:10am
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Alexander Berkovich
      I think Putin would have preferred for Russia to be a"free and economically successful European democracy," at least within the confines of what was possible in Russia, just as Zelensky wants for the Ukraine. But the bear in the room is not a Russian bear. Nato is an anti-Russian alliance. It already has surrounded Russia's border with Ukraine with weapons and missiles aimed at Russia, before the current war. Consider how the US responded when Kruschev put missiles in Cuba. It went ballistic. Ukraine in Nato for Russia is equivalent to missiles in Cuba for the US. For any nation, security comes first.

    • 20 May 2022 at 11:36am
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Graucho
      and they should

  • 19 May 2022 at 11:34pm
    staberinde says:
    Eli, I'm afraid your reies are all over the place.

    You put up the strawman of an anti-American Mexico to assert the threat of an anti-Russian Ukraine. The reality is Ukraine has no territorial designs on Russia, and neither do Europe or America. Their postures are defensive. Nobody serious believes that anyone wants to invade Russia. If Russia is concerned with its territorial integrity then its disputes are with China and Japan.

    If Russian paranoia is explained by Napoleon and Hitler, it's difficult to see the modern analogue. Both had to conquer a series of states before reaching Russia. So who is the modern Napoleon fighting his way along the road to Moscow? Hint: he doesn't exist. The EU doesn't even have its own army!

    You are merely another in a long line of imperialist apologists clothed in realpolitik. You imagine great powers, spheres of influence, and nations within them who exist merely to make their powerful neighbours feel secure.

    In doing so, you posit equivalence between liberal democracies which have no territorial designs on their neighbours, and imperialist, militaristic dictatorships. The true threat to Russia isn't a Ukraine that wants to invade it, but a neighbour that demonstrates what a better-run economy and a freer society looks like.

    On the question of NATO missiles in Russia's backyard, you seem to ask more of the West than Russia. The bully has just punch someone and you ask the victim to consider the bullets feelings before they punch back! Ukraine wanted NATO and EU membership in reaction to Russian aggression. The poisoning of Yushchenko. The disruption of their energy supplies. The cyber attacks. The invasion in 2014. Ukraine looked at Belarus and rejected that future. A defensive consequence of Russian policy, not an aggressive posture towards Russia. And now we see Finland and Sweden seeking to join NATO for the same reasons.

    Russia seeks to rebuild its empire, and you believe this is the West's fault. You're victim-blaming!

    • 20 May 2022 at 9:18am
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ staberinde
      The threat to Russia posed by Ukraine in NATO is not that Ukraine will invade Russia. No one thinks that Ukraine will invade Russia. In foreign policy they use the term coercive diplomacy," meaning the mere existence of the weapons changes the dynamics of peace. In 1962 no one thought Cuba would invade the US; however, they rightly thought that th e missiles would change the. balance of power, forcing the US to stand down on any number of issues, especially economic ones. Its the same for this situation. Russia rightly fears that Ukraine and Georgia being in Nato, will create an economically united Europe from which they are isolated. THat their invasion may be producing the same result is true but it misses the point that America's constant push to extend its power made them desperate. I do not support the invasion, but the true cause of the problem, the long-term cause, is US expansion. A peaceful friendly Russia was always on offer.

    • 20 May 2022 at 12:31pm
      Graucho says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      "Russia rightly fears that Ukraine and Georgia being in Nato, will create an economically united Europe from which they are isolated" and this of course is a total justification for killing them and levelling their cities.
      Given their vast supplies of grain and hydrocarbons a peaceful and democratically run Russia would never be isolated from Europe, quite the opposite. This war is about preserving and extending Putin's dictatorship. It's that simple.

    • 22 May 2022 at 4:07am
      ptrptr says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      What is the threat that gives the notion of coercive diplomacy its substance in this case?

    • 22 May 2022 at 11:48pm
      staberinde says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      Ah, finally I understand. Russia was forced to invade Ukraine because Ukraine and Europe were enjoying liberty and prosperity and failing to share it with their friendly Russian neighbours by objecting to two minor irrelevanciea: 1) Russia is a dictatorship and 2) Russia's economy is a kleptocracy run by organised crime. Well, when you put it that way, Eli, invading Ukraine, committing war crimes, and threatening nuclear war all seem quite reasonable and measured reactions to Europe's snub. Any suggestion that Putin is a septugenarian in a hurry to create his legacy as the man who restored the Russian Empire clearly misses the mark, as Belarusians, Ukrainians in the Donbas and Crimea, Georgians, Chechens and, frankly, all fair thinking people everywhere will surly attest. It's clear that the evil force at work here is in fact the USA. Once you set aside the fact that it has been the single greatest guarantor of security against tyranny for the best part of a century, it becomes obvious that the Iraq war makes America Russia's moral inferior in every way. It's just a shame Russia hasn't decided to liberate the many ethnic Russians living in Alaska from the Nazi regime there. Let us all pray for a swift negotiated settlement in Ukraine, so that Russia's entirely justified anxiety at its neighbours' utterly unfounded fears of subversion, domination, and invasion may be relieved by giving it some more territory today, and demilitarising the territory it might feel it needs to further calm it's anxieties tomorrow.

      Labarov a big fan of yours?

    • 23 May 2022 at 7:34pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ ptrptr
      how about closing off the Black Sea Ports to Russia.

    • 24 May 2022 at 6:51pm
      ptrptr says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      Was there any prospect of that before the invasion? Any reason to think anyone was thinking of doing it? To force what outcome?

  • 20 May 2022 at 11:09am
    XopherO says:
    When it comes to killing your enemies in other countries Obama was prolific, using hundreds of drones in his 8 years to take out people reported as enemies, when sometimes they got it wrong and almost always killed innocent civilians with each attack. The UK, France and the USA have used assassination as policy since the end of WW2 to kill folk they don't like, often using proxies. And they are probably still at it. Putin's murderous attacks at home and abroad are very nasty. But he and Russia are far from alone.

    • 20 May 2022 at 11:37am
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ XopherO
      Agreed. Obama in particular with his soaring oratory and underlying lethality exemplifies the hypocrisy of the so-called West.

    • 20 May 2022 at 12:05pm
      MattG says: @ XopherO
      The most high profile extra-judicial in recent years was Bin Laden. US, France, UK claim the right to assassinate foreign nationals anywhere. Putin in recent years went after internal dissidents who had moved abroad. Does Putin operate the equivalent of the CIA black sites?
      My impression is that the current Russian regime leaves targeted assassinations and torture usually to local allies (Belorussia, Syria, Chechnia, Kasachstan, ...).

    • 20 May 2022 at 2:57pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ MattG
      Hard to judge, but its clear that the world's greatest outlaw regime is the US.

    • 20 May 2022 at 4:07pm
      Graucho says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      "but its clear that the world's greatest outlaw regime is the US" Don't tell us, tell the Uyghurs, the Tibetians and the Hong Kongers.

    • 24 May 2022 at 3:40pm
      Delaide says: @ XopherO
      Obama was targeting people who threatened or had conducted violent attacks. Putin has poisoned his own countrymen who threatened nothing more than his political hold on power. While each can be debated in their own right they are not analogous. But you know this. It’s just one more argument in bad faith that the Putin apologists have been putting.

  • 20 May 2022 at 4:21pm
    Graucho says:
    To get back to the topic of cause as opposed to digressing into moral relativism, this war was caused by Putin. Eli may wish to look for sophisticated causes in history and geo-politics, but he'd be better off studying the profiles serial killers. Putin is a type, a type that has cursed mankind down the centuries. As soon as these narcissists take steps to ensure that they cannot be removed from power horrors will follow. Napoleon declared himself emperor, Hitler dissolved the Reichstag, Putin turned the Russian constitution on its head, Xi made himself president for life. Once they do that, they have crossed the Rubicon. One can only hope that the noblest Russian of them all will emerge to end this nightmare.

    • 20 May 2022 at 4:31pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Graucho
      who is the noblest russian of them all?

    • 21 May 2022 at 4:02am
      Graucho says: @ Graucho
      *the profiles of serial killers.

    • 21 May 2022 at 4:05am
      Graucho says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      a reference to Brutus who did the right thing in my book. We need someone who may love Putin, but loves Russia more.

    • 21 May 2022 at 9:28am
      XopherO says: @ Graucho
      So history is determined by the actions of particular individuals. Makes for a more simplistic analysis, but clearly your study of history/historiography is somewhat lacking.

    • 21 May 2022 at 1:16pm
      Graucho says: @ XopherO
      "So history is determined by the actions of particular individuals. " Apart from the climate, earthquakes, pandemics and other natural phenomena it always has been. Would a Gorbachev or a Yeltsin or a Ghandi have started this war?

    • 21 May 2022 at 4:20pm
      MattG says: @ Graucho
      "Would a Gorbachev or a Yeltsin or a Ghandi have started this war?"

      the feuilleton answer is: yes, there are three hidden Gorbachevs who would.

      the math answer is: the sentence "if Yeltsin lived now he would have done exactly the same" has a truth value of 1.

      the historical answer is: in the West since about 400 BC we distinguish at least four causes (see the heading of ths article) and mixing them up or playing one against the other is just petulent.

      or: it may well be that Caesar's deeds had some deep psychological reason but it also took many causes to enable him to enact his genocidal policies. Including - if I am allowed to say so - several mistakes on the part of the Gauls and their leaders who ended up as the victims.

    • 21 May 2022 at 4:50pm
      Delaide says: @ MattG
      I dont know what you’ve been smoking Matt but avoid driving for at least 48 hours.

    • 21 May 2022 at 5:02pm
      MattG says: @ Delaide
      will do; good advice; but (!) moral outrage and rectitude are a poor substitute for reasoning. Like grass: you feel good but it does not get you from A to B.

    • 22 May 2022 at 9:19am
      XopherO says: @ Graucho
      Well done for missing the point, including Eli's as ever thoughtful piece which makes the same point. You clearly don't know much if anything about the ongoing historical/philosophical debate about 'the role of the individual in history', from Plekhanov onwards, including Sidney Hook etc.

    • 22 May 2022 at 3:22pm
      Delaide says: @ MattG
      Reasoning with Putin apologists is a very unproductive use of time. A bit of rectitude works for me.

  • 23 May 2022 at 5:32am
    Charbb says:
    This is mostly a shameless recital of the propaganda of fascist Putinism, strange to see in a Western journal that claims to be serious.

    Whatever the excesses of American imperialism, it is Russia, not America, that has invaded and destroyed huge parts of Ukraine, killing tens of thousands of Ukrainians, deporting to Russia vast numbers. It is asinine to call American defence of Western Europe from Stalin's totalitarianism colonialist. Zaretski owes his misused freedom to it.

    The reason Putin invaded Ukraine was not that it joined NATO but that it could not. The only states in Europe bordering Russia that feel safe from |Russian aggression are NATO members. As for giving away bits of Ukraine to placate Putin, he will simply take them and come back for more.

    Putin is an extreme fascist ideologue, influenced by neo-Nazi thinkers like Alexander Dugin and Ivan Ilyin. He is totally hostile to all forms of Western liberalism, and will do all he can to destroy it. Giving in to him is not a option.

    Your piece is atrocious.

    • 23 May 2022 at 12:04pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Charbb
      Im sorry that you didnt like it. The remark about colonialism was a misprint. I didnt catch it in the proofs.

  • 23 May 2022 at 6:43am
    Charbb says:
    These four causes of Aristotle are indeed useful. Have to hand it to Zaretski for noticing it.

    Suppose there is a rape. The rapist might resort to Aristotle : "The immediate precipitant or "efficient cause" was the woman standing there with a short skirt and fine legs. The "material history" is the general drive to procreate. "The form of the history" is the tendency of women to wear short skirts. And the "final" significance? Great fun for all and just let them supply more women!'"

    • 23 May 2022 at 12:04pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Charbb
      Take another look at Aristotle.

  • 23 May 2022 at 12:38pm
    Rory Allen says:
    Well, whatever else you can say about Mr Zaretsky's article, it has certainly gathered a record number of comments. So he must have got something right.

    As for the causal analysis, it is worth being reminded of Aristotle's method. At the same time, as has been pointed out above, knowing how we got to a place is not the whole story. We need to know where we are going from here. The question now is not 'whence' but 'whither'. As Lenin put it, "what is to be done, comrades?" And in answering this I am with Graucho and some others.

    I am pretty sure Vladimir Putin believes what he has been saying about Ukraine. But that does not reassure me, but only reminds me of the quote about Robespierre. Personally, I do not want to live in a world where the ideals of a man like President Putin predominate (or, heaven help us, in a world where a future President Trump is in the saddle in the US).

    • 23 May 2022 at 2:04pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Rory Allen
      If you read today's paper you can see why these issues are important. From a free-floating moral point of view, one might say, leave Ukraine alone. But the world of nations, as Vico called it, is not free-floating. Ukraine and Russia have been intertwined for almost a milennium, and they were until 2014, when the US sponsored the overthrow of a legally elected President. Why? The US would say they believe in freedom, but possessive individualism is not the only form of freedom. Other nations have long and profound traditions that need to be respected. It is not that the US idea is irrelevant to Ukraine, but it needs to be related to other traditions, other ideas, having to do with Russian and Ukrainian history. We see the same thing this morning, the US changed its Taiwan policy to make a war basically inevitable, unless China gives up its claim to Taiwan, which it will never do, Taiwan has been part of China for 500 years. No Chinese leader will give that up, any more than any Russian leader would be willing to say that Russia does not care who governs the Ukraine. Underneath the US moralism and claim to believe in freedom is a prfound drive to power, something quite lethal. The US claims to have the right to intervene anywhere it wants. That is what I called hubris in my article. And I will tell you this: It will definitely lead to nuclear wars.

    • 23 May 2022 at 2:15pm
      MattG says: @ Rory Allen
      Actually if you read Lenin's publication - especially the chapter Conclusion - you will find that historical analysis of how we got to were are is extremely important to him . After all he was a Marxist.

      In the current debate the "we are where we are" trope is mostly used to shut down any attempt to learn from mistakes.

      The argument goes
      1. Putin is absolutely evil
      2. Therefore there everybody who raises the possibility that the Ukrainian government or the West made any mistakes is a Putin apologist and morally corrupt.

      But the therefore does not follow. That evil exist is a well known fact and can not be used as an excuse for policy failures.
      Or in terms of Ethics: a good action also must consider the (unintended) consequences.

    • 23 May 2022 at 3:12pm
      Rory Allen says: @ MattG
      You are quite right that we should learn from our mistakes. But I do not agree (if that is your claim) that supporting Ukraine militarily is a mistake. I think - and who can be sure at this stage - that sitting back and letting Russia assert its age-old claim to Ukraine would give rise to a world which is less safe and less stable than one in which Russian ambitions in Ukraine are thwarted.

      However hypocritical this stance may be, Ukraine is seen as a test case for whether Western democracy, however imperfect, can resist a totalitarian state with all the advantages such a state has in terms of being able to devote its economy to war without fearing popular dissent.

      One thing we are apt to lose sight of in the horrible fascination of watching a war being fought in Europe, is that Nemesis is coming to all of us, in the shape of climate change. And there is, bizarrely, a direct link to the Ukraine war. Last year's wildfires in Siberia broke records. And this year, the fires are burning out of control because the military units that normally fight them, are engaged in Ukraine. At some point we will need to stop fighting one another and join against the common enemy, climate change. And I have no faith that President Putin is serious about the threat from global warming, given that the Russian economy is so dependent on fossil fuel use.

    • 23 May 2022 at 3:27pm
      Graucho says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      ... and Ireland was part of Great Britain for 400 years, so according to your logic the U.K.would have been perfectly justified in invading the republic in order to defend the Protestant separatists who were being attacked by the IRA.
      As for Taiwan, I know the place and the people. Unlike their murderous counterparts in the Chinese communist party they run a decent democratic country. Thank goodness the U.S. has signalled that it won't sit on its hands if Putin's fellow despot Xi decides to invade and subject them to the Tiananmen square treatment. The more I think about your squatter's rights logic the stupider it gets. Let's start with all those countries that were part of the Roman empire for 500 odd years. Should Italy start reclaiming those ?
      BTW can we dispense with that canard about the U.S. sponsored coup in Ukraine. It was a highly popular uprising against a corrupt Russian puppet who was enriching himself at the people's expense. President Yanukovych was actually elected in part thanks to an American Manafort a disgraced Trump aid.

    • 23 May 2022 at 4:48pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Graucho
      Catholic Ireland fought England for the whole 400 years. Its a completely different situation from Taiwan, where there is a small independence movement but mostly its "independence" is a relic of the Cold War.I do not believe Tiwan should simply be absorbed into China, but the US statement is unilaterally deciding something that is debatable within Taiwan,as well as unacceptable to CHina, namely independence. As to 2014, I do not deny that it was popular. I do not support Putin's invasion in fact. I regret it. But let me tell you the big picture here: The USA has killed a million people and displaced close to 50 million since 2001. I am not defending Putin. I am attacking the Russian-haters, and all those who are so proud to be Americans that they ignore the cold lethality and greed by which this country is guided. Why America has pushed, pushed, pushed to get the Ukraine into Nato, in other words to shove missiles right up the Russians’ noses, how Americans can talk about that as if it is a matter of “democracy” and “rights’ is beyond me. Eli

    • 23 May 2022 at 4:53pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Rory Allen
      Rory: your fundamental decency comes through and I applaud it. Believe it or not, I am not necessarily against aiding Ukraine militarily. I think there are good reasons to do that. But thats not the issue. US policy is not preeving Ukrainian independence, its shoving missiles up into the Russian's noses, its humiliating not just Putin, but the entire Russian elite, its about keeping Russia separate from Europe. AMerica's aggression toward Russia is long-standing. Sending guns to help Ukraine is benign compared to what the US has done in this part of the world, not to mention the Middle East, Latin AMerica, Cuba, Myanmar, and I can go on and on. ANd yes it has also done some good here and there. But over all it is pouring gasoline on every fire it can find.

    • 23 May 2022 at 7:35pm
      Graucho says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      "Catholic Ireland fought England for the whole 400 years. Its a completely different situation from Taiwan" Like the inhabitants of Taiwan aren't the descendants of the Nationalists who fought the Chinese communist party?
      "US policy is not preeving Ukrainian independence, its shoving missiles up into the Russian's noses, its humiliating not just Putin, but the entire Russian elite,". Good. It's about time someone did something about a cabal of murderous thugs who think that they can assasinate U.K. residents and political opponents with impunity.
      "its about keeping Russia separate from Europe" No, it's about keeping Putin out of Europe and I wish you would stop using the word Russia when you should be using the word Putin. This is his war, not Russia's as the large number of incredibly courageous Russians who have opposed it demonstrates.

    • 23 May 2022 at 8:41pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Graucho
      right, there are indigenous peoples in Taiwan, plus the nationalists, plus Chinese who migrated there. Its a complex situation; Ireland was not. Putin is the leader of Russia. He represents Russia. That is what the Russians believe except for a rather small number, no larger than the number of people in the US who dont accept Biden, actually smaller.

    • 23 May 2022 at 10:24pm
      Graucho says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      "Putin is the leader of Russia. He represents Russia." He would only represent Russia if it was a democracy. It isn't.

    • 23 May 2022 at 11:32pm
      Graucho says: @ Graucho
      More accurately, he would represent Russia if his people were whole heartedly behind this war. Any that have been appraised of the situation aren't.

    • 24 May 2022 at 8:10am
      MattG says: @ Rory Allen
      My answer to you is along the same lines as Eli above.

      Plus: I think it is ok to discuss the causes of war. Eli very wisely refrained from mentioning the final cause in his article or making any recommendations. That could be the subject of his next contribution?

    • 24 May 2022 at 9:29am
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ MattG
      to me the final cause inAristotle's sense is peace. But the situation was not peaceful before Putin's invasion.

    • 24 May 2022 at 11:59am
      MattG says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      Hope the LRB will give you the opportunity for extended blog/article.

    • 24 May 2022 at 8:56pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ MattG
      thanks Matt, I think they will, Eli

  • 24 May 2022 at 1:02am
    nlowhim says:
    Thanks for the breakdown.

    And so it goes (ITT).

    Once again any attempt, here in the West, to add context to this situation is met with "Pro-Kremlin" talking points. Even if one adds the usual "I'm against this criminal invasion". Meeting this kind of resistance everywhere. Same with the need to paint Putin as some kind of monster. Sure, he is, but when compared to the likes of American POTUSs? Note the 377k dead in Yemen and mass starvation of Afghanistan, to name a the most recent examples. Horrendous, but having all the great powers not negotiate with the US because of this would lead to worse. And that gets us to the reason for the "Putin monster" talk, which is not only do we get an enemy of the most vile kind (as usual) but one we cannot talk to.

    Foolish stuff, and it might be that some in the highest echelons are high on their own surprise. I always assumed there would be back channel talks through all this, but Ray McGovern has pointed out that there are no signs that this is going on. [1] Which, given Russia's limited ICBM detection capabilities, is criminal.

    But one, and I certainly do, must sense some de ja vu of the manufacturing consent kind [2]. I'm not actually thinking of the Iraq War, though that same chorus from the MSM is familiar. No, I mean the Afghanistan war. The start, where only a handful of peaceniks tried to point out that it wouldn't end well. That there could be another way to peace, one only needed to take in the context of the entire situation, but no one listened. Certainly no one that mattered. Any talk of context got you shouted down and as an enemy no less.

    So it goes.

    And I won't get into the rifts forming from all this that will make facing the real problems we have (climate change) much worse. For one, the fossil fuel types in the US are ecstatic at now being lauded as saviors of the West.

    So here we go again, slow marching ourselves over the cliff.

    [1] Note Ray started when he opposed the Iraq War, properly calling out the intel for that war as simply wrong, nevermind the morality of the war.

    [2] And chomsky shows this by pointing out "unprovoked Ukrainian war" will get you way more hits on google than "unprovoked Iraq War".

    • 24 May 2022 at 12:00pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ nlowhim
      Jacques Ellul's old book on propaganda is helpful here. The truth is that the US controls liberal discourse as far as international relations go. Europeans have largely ceded this, with the exception of special cases, like former colonies. There's a trade off between the US and Europe. The US calls the shots. Europeans enjoy the good life. Iraq was a brief exception.

  • 24 May 2022 at 2:44pm
    Lexa Hypatia says:
    "History to the defeated may say Alas but cannot help or pardon." What strikes me in the many thoughtful, passionate and profound comments above is that nobody has really addressed Vladimir Putin's utter strategic failure in his invasion of Ukraine, thrown into relief by the fact that up till now, his interventions in Europe had been brilliantly successful.

    His principal stated aim in the present conflict was to prevent the strengthening of NATO. He has achieved the opposite. Finland and Sweden will be joining it (or if Turkey continues to object, they will make some sort of arrangement with NATO that would amount to the same thing), and a body that had been trending towards a distinctly doubtful future has been revitalised. The Russian economy is now headed towards stagnation in the medium term and destitution later on. Russia is both detested (for its brutality) and despised (for the patent incompetence of its armed forces) in much of the world. There are few more abject sights than a bully that is not strong enough to intimidate any more.

    That said, I wonder if the Russians might not have an outside chance of winning after all. A war economy plus mobilisation of Russia's two million reservists might eventually wear down the Ukrainians, if only because the Russians can afford to lose more men, even at a ratio of three to one. If the mid-term elections go the Republicans' way, they might be able to control Congress and prevent further subventions to Ukraine. And in 2024 we might have a second Trump administration, and we know how much Donald Trump admires President Putin.

    The Russians seem at present to have lost. And personally, from a selfish point of view, I would prefer to live in a world in which they do lose, without making any comparative moral judgements either way (and I take the points about American hypocrisy, Gaza, Yemen, Afghanistan etc etc). But we would be foolish to write the Russians off at this stage. History shows that they are very good at enduring enormous hardships and continuing to battle through.

    • 25 May 2022 at 9:22am
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Lexa Hypatia
      Thanks for this Lexa. Readers may be surprised to know that I do not oppose the US aiding Ukraine. I never thought the Russians would invade and it does look as if it was a mistake, although I definitely think it is too early to tell. I was trying however to get us to think about the long view, in other words, how bent out of shape world politics is because of the US predominance. THe basic problem for me is that since 1989-- and really since 1945 and since 1917 European security has been define AGAINST Russia, instead of WITH Russia, as European security was always defined in the 18th and 19th centuries. Why? If the answer is Communism, then why didnt our security arrangements change after 1989. We have to ask whether our current system benefits the world, or benefits the American elites.

  • 25 May 2022 at 5:05pm
    bikethru says:
    Professor Zeretsky's final paragraph acknowledges that the US has sometimes been beneficent, but is he right to call the undoubted preponderant power of the US a "fundamental problem" for the world? For a verdict, perhaps we can look to a democracy of sorts. Since 1945 we have witnessed a continuous global plebiscite in which people voted with their feet. Did they flee into Stalin's USSR, Mao's China, the Ayatollah's Iran, Ho's Vietnam? Most fled into the part of the world "oppressed" by the US. Were they all CIA dupes, those trudging millions? Freed of false consciousness, would they have trudged in the other direction? Prof Zeretsky invites us to identify the "final cause" served by the Russian war in the Ukraine. It is a zero-sum choice between the expansion of the power of the US, or of Putin. The US attacks on Vietnam, Iraq and many other places were deplorable. The "free world" is not paradise. We could do better. If I must be oppressed, however, I'd rather it was by the US, not Putin.

    • 25 May 2022 at 5:42pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ bikethru
      sorry but this is a false choice. THe real choice is not between ptin and the US-- thats the choice the US offers us. The choice is between a rational policy for the West or the present distorted policy in which the US pushes for what it wants even though it has no risk and no stake in the outcome.

    • 25 May 2022 at 11:33pm
      bikethru says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      To my lifelong frustration, I find myself daily confronted by the world as it is, not as it ought to be. Neither your choice nor mine is false. Mine is the choice the world faces on the battlefield now, and if I must choose between warlords I prefer Biden to Putin. Your choice, if I understand you, is for the world not to be on the battlefield at all, which is infinitely preferable and I applaud your efforts to argue for it - although to me that means opposing the world's Putins as strenuously as its Bidens. You said in comments above that you might expand in another post here on what you meant by the "final cause" in the case of the Ukraine war, but for now would you care to state, as explicitly as you like, the interest you say the US leadership has in prolonging the war?

    • 26 May 2022 at 12:18pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ bikethru
      The US elites have every interest in keeping this war going: 1) Basic to their geo-strategic world view is dividing Russia and Western Europe. They have done this at repeated junctures such as 1917, 1945, 1989 and the present. They view Russia as their enemy and they want to weaken it. ALso, this war rallies Europe against Russia under the NATO banner. It strengthens their view that the basic problem in the world is Russian authoritarianism, rather than the climate change, ecological disaster, disease, poverty and instability caused by the expansion of capitalism. The war is a god-send to them.

    • 26 May 2022 at 10:03pm
      bikethru says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      Thank you. I suspect the US sees "the basic problem in the world" as China, but that does not preclude US animosity towards Russia, and if the US position is as you state it, I look forward to your mooted post on how we get to your "final cause" in the case of the Ukraine - peace.

  • 25 May 2022 at 7:27pm
    Roy says:
    Once there's a consensus on the number of angels who can engage in warfare on the head of a pin perhaps we could focus on the abominable behavior of Russian troops during this and previous military atrocities. As their troops rape, murder and loot their way through Ukraine are they motivated by concerns about NATO expansion? Back at home, media control and manipulation aside, how many Russians actually oppose this monstrous aggression, provoked or otherwise? Not many I would say.

    • 26 May 2022 at 12:17am
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Roy
      we dont know how many

  • 26 May 2022 at 12:59am
    abcd85 says:
    May I introduce a different consideration?

    The modern "West" thinks in terms of borders: Here blue vs. there red. The Roman "limes" was more of a "glacis:" A glacis in military engineering is an artificial slope as part of a medieval castle or in early modern fortresses. They may be constructed of earth as a temporary structure or of stone in more permanent structure. Please note, there is no English word for it.

    In the olden days, most countries were surrounded by "glacis" - and Ukraine was a "glacis" between the Rus in the forests and the Golden Horde. Cossacks lived in these spaces, changing coats... These were spaces beyond the military capacity of the empires, but where trade flourished. James C. Scott (The art of not being governed) has shown the resilience of such interstitial spaces.

    In biology, cells are often separated by "interstitial spaces." They have a clear function. They imply "semi-permeable" walls.

    Unfortunately, Putin's vision is not for a glacis but the DDR wall of his youth, where the Voice of America the only social network. This is nostalgia.

    Both sides better grapple with the inanity of borders.

    • 26 May 2022 at 9:48am
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ abcd85
      This is an excellent point. The idea that the whole world should be made up of separate nation-states was introduced at the 1919 Versailles Conference as part of the shift from British to American hegemony. Glacis could be useful. However, I am not clear why you think Putin wants a wall. His propaganda has always stated: a friendly Ukraine.

    • 26 May 2022 at 11:09am
      MattG says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      I agree that abcd85 is making an excellent point. Totally disagree with rest of your post:

      as abcd85 says ever since the various "Mongol" state(lets) crashed and/or went native a very mixed melange of aristocatic holdings developed. For these people class was important. "Ethnicity" was for peasants.

      During the 19th century nationalist movements developed. With the collapse of the German, Austro-Hungarian, Russian empires the arstocratic class lost its coercive/military support.

      By the time of the Versaille treaty the US had lost its interest in Middle/Eastern Europe and a coterie of nationalist movements lobbied in Paris and Washington for each county and district to be attached to their ideal nation state. Best example is the Pittsburgh Agreement: one group of Czech nationalist agrees with one of the Slovak groups to form a state. Plus they managed to have "German", "Polish", "Hungarian" districts attached to their state. All in quotation marks because these places were themselves very mixed. All these borders were inane as abcd85 says.

      The following three decades between 1919 and 1945 resulted in ethnic cleansing and (forced) migration on a vast scale. A stasis was only achieved under Soviet hegemony. Each state had a clear unassailable line drawn around it. Within nation, language, religon, ethnicity were by and large one and the same. Except for the Ukraine.

      US hegemony only starts again with the partioning of the former Jugoslasvia along enthnic lines.
      Britain never had a role in that area. Only in the fantasie of Churchill tribute acts. The Munich Treaty and the subsequent Phoney War shows that. Key text here is Churchill's account in the Road to War.

      The current war has already produced millions of displaced and I doubt they all will be allowed to back.

    • 26 May 2022 at 12:22pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ MattG
      very helpful post. A few details: 1) race (precursor to ethnicity) was central to the aristocracy, not just class and 2) the US was totally involved at Versailles in setting up the nation states of Eastern Europe. THere's a really good book on this I think by Larry Wolff.

Read more