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A rude awakening for America and its allies

By Alon Ben-Meir - posted Monday, 7 March 2022

Russia's invasion of Ukraine was certainly not a surprise and has unambiguously exposed the West's weakness. The question is what lesson the United States and its allies should learn from it and what measures they must now undertake to prevent Putin or any future ruthless Russian autocrat from ever daring to invade another country.

Righting the Wrong

As we observe the horrifying unfolding events in Ukraine, the escalating death toll, and the destruction that is raining down on cities and innocent Ukrainians, we must be true to ourselves and admit that we-the US and our European allies made it possible for Putin to wage such an unprovoked and unjustified war. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, we have basically taken for granted the new world order, believing that the Soviet Union is a thing of the past and that Putin's ambition to resurrect the Russian Empire is nothing more than posturing. We have dealt with his military campaigns in Georgia and his annexation of Crimea by imposing sanctions, which have hardly been crippling. Meanwhile, we have steadily been exposing our vulnerabilities, which Putin has been carefully and diligently studying, preparing himself for what we are now witnessing with great alarm but great moral failing.

To understand the magnitude of Putin's danger to the world order, it suffices to quote US Ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who stated that "Putin asserted that Russia today has a rightful claim to all territories – all territories – from the Russian Empire; the same Russian Empire from before the Soviet Union, from over 100 years ago, " including Ukraine, Finland, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and parts of Poland and Turkey. The State Department later declared "These countries are sovereign. They are independent. They are not part of Russia. You [Putin] have no claim to them," which suggests how dangerous and out of control Putin is. In response to this unparalleled state of affairs, the West under American leadership must regroup and commit to spare no effort to stop Putin in his tracks and be prepared to take whatever measures are necessary to that end.


There are five areas that we have sorely neglected and allowed to fester, which we must now tackle with utmost urgency if we want to prevent another catastrophe and restore stability and peace in the European theater.

Provide military aid to non-NATO member states Although the Biden administration knew for several months, based on solid intelligence, that Putin was planning to invade Ukraine and shared that information with our allies, they did not provide the Ukrainian army with defensive and offensive weapons ahead of time. What is worse is that weeks before the invasion, Biden publicly stated that the US had no intention of interfering militarily on behalf of Ukraine, which sent exactly the wrong message to Putin-that he should not fear NATO intervention. Moreover, NATO member states waited for the invasion to happen before they decided to rush such equipment, which would have otherwise sent a clear message to Putin that the West stands firmly behind Ukraine.

Contrary to NATO member states who enjoy collective security, many non-NATO democracies, including Finland, Sweden, Georgia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Ukraine itself, do not have the same security protection and hence NATO could not interfere militarily to stop the invading Russian forces. Moreover, these states do not have the 'security guarantees' that the US provides to countries such as Israel, South Korea, Japan, albeit the US has some form of defense pact with 69 countries, mostly through NATO and the Organization of American States (OAS).

The time is now for the US and its allies to provide significant military aid to these countries and not wait for the next Russian invasion. In addition, NATO should fast track the applications of the states that wish to join NATO. Strengthening their militaries and preparedness will force Putin or any other Russian despot to think twice before they dare to invade any of these countries.

Doubling NATO members' military appropriations As European NATO members bicker about their military expenditure, which is required to be two percent of each member's GDP, they continue to rely heavily on the US to carry much of the financial burden for their security. Meanwhile, Putin was busy building one of the most formidable military machines in modern times, which he put on full display as he invaded Ukraine.

It is time wake up. NATO members

As the US argued contentiously with China about its trade practices, Taiwan, and its human right abuses, Putin was investing much time and energy in developing close ties with China's leader Chairman Xi, while expanding trade and military cooperation between their two countries. Both leaders want to limit America's sphere of influence in Europe and Asia, and although they declared, when they met during the Winter Olympics, that there are "no limits" to the growth of their bilateral relations, the US can and should create daylight between them.


The Biden administration must now carefully recalibrate its China policy. Notwithstanding their deep conflicting issues, it is time to mend relations with China. This is necessary not only because it serves America's interest, but also will let the Chinese realize that there is a limit to Chinese-Russian bilateral relations and that the US remains an indispensable trading partner. China's trade interest with the US is critical to its economy, in addition to the fact that more than $1 trillion of China's reserve funds are held in US Treasury securities, not Russian banks.

Moreover, both the US and China concur when it comes to respecting the sovereignty and independence of other countries (albeit the Chinese are much stricter in their philosophy of non-interference), and although China did not condemn publicly Russia's invasion, it certainly expressed its displeasure with Moscow.

The Biden administration should initiate new and comprehensive discussions with the Chinese government about all their differences and follow Kissinger's negotiating approach to China by delinking the disputes over their conflicting issues. Regardless of how egregious China's human rights violations are, the US should raise critical issues in private as long as it achieves the same objective. China resists any country that interferes in its domestic affairs and does not want to air its dirty laundry in public once they agree to engage in such discussions. However, if private pressure does not work, especially in ending China's egregious violations, including genocide, public pressure can be resumed.

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About the Author

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

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