A response to defending the truth
Trevor Lwere | Thursday, April 7, 2022
This is a rejoinder to Eoghan Fay’s Letter to the Editor from March 31 which was a response to my column from March 28 which unfortunately was littered with thinly veiled vitriol and diversionary aspersions. I will attempt in this rejoinder to respond to his arguments.
Fay’s analysis of the origin of the Russia-Ukraine conflict is simply a distortion of history. He writes that “since 2014, Ukraine has had a legitimate cause to protect itself, by any means necessary. Russia sacrificed any claim to ‘security concerns’ when its troops occupied Crimea.” In other words, Ukraine’s program of arming itself does not constitute a threat to Russia because it was a pre-emptive act of self-defense prompted by Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. While it is true that Ukraine embarked on boosting its defense capabilities following the annexation of Crimea, the conflict does not begin with Russian annexation of Crimea.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea was driven primarily by security concerns over the emergence of an anti-Russian, pro-European regime in Kyiv following the overthrow of a pro-Russian government in 2014. The new government was intent on pursuing both EU and NATO membership which was a real possibility given NATO’s eastward expansion since 1991 despite committing not to. Moreover, this government was unwilling to engage constructively with Russia about its legitimate security concerns that pertain to the principle of indivisible security. In response, Russia annexed Crimea so that it could take control of the Russia-Ukraine border as a bargaining chip to force negotiations with Ukraine. To further demonstrate its obstinacy, the new government undermined the Minsk agreements signed between Russia, Ukraine and other guarantor states that were intended to be a diplomatic solution to the conflict. It is in this context that Ukraine’s armament program is to be understood as part of the pro-Western government’s determination to not engage constructively with Russia’s concerns. Therefore, while it is true that Ukraine’s defense program was in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, given both countries legitimate security concerns, it was not prudent for Ukraine to embark on an armament program that disregarded the principle of indivisible security that had prompted the annexation of Crimea in the first place.
Fay also argued that the principle of indivisible security no longer holds in Ukraine because it was thrown out of the window when Russia annexed Crimea. Therefore, for him, the U.S.’s obligation is not to the principle of indivisible security but to the sovereignty of Ukraine. Such indifference to Russia’s legitimate concerns by the U.S. and its allies is what accelerated this conflict. Fay’s analysis conflates a memorandum with a treaty. This is especially important if we are to understand the present situation in Ukraine. While a treaty is a legally binding document, a Memorandum is not.
The principle of indivisible security is enshrined in the documents of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), particularly the European Security Charter of 1990 to which the US is a signatory, and which are legally binding. Thus, it can’t cease to hold arbitrarily. On the other hand, the Budapest Memorandum that Fay cites as the basis for U.S. support to Ukraine only talks of “assurances” and not “guarantees.” Contrary to Fay’s claims that the U.S. is a guarantor of Ukrainian sovereignty, there is no single country in the world that is a “guarantor” of Ukrainian sovereignty. Assurances are promises, guarantees are commitments. Perhaps Ukraine, like Fay, misunderstood the assurances of support in the Budapest Memorandum to mean guarantees which then misled them to think they could count on the West in their war against Russia. Now, after paying a heavy price for being obstinate and for counting on an unreliable partner, Ukraine has realized its mistake and is willing to change course. In the most recent round of negotiations with Russia, Ukraine has expressed willingness to assume a neutral status and to consider the status of the separatist regions in Eastern Ukraine.
Finally, Fay argues that NATO is not an imperialist organization. Yet, elsewhere in his letter, quoting the Norwegian historian Geir Lundestad, he writes that NATO maybe an American empire, but it is an “empire by invitation.” I cannot tell where he stands on the matter. In any case, what I asserted in my column was that NATO expansionism, driven by U.S. imperialist anxieties, is fueling conflict with Russia. Ukraine finds itself caught in the middle. Eoghan admits that NATO, while serving Europe, is also the U.S.’s special purpose vehicle. Yet, at the same time, he tries to downplay the U.S. role in NATO’s founding by attributing the idea to a former British diplomat. Be that as it may, our historian once again distorts history.
The idea broached by Sir Ernest Bevin was for a military alliance between Western Europe and the U.S. to guarantee Western Europe’s security in the aftermath of WWII. It was on the insistence of the U.S. that NATO membership was expanded beyond Western Europe and the United States. The same imperialist anxieties that drove the original expansion of NATO is the same that drives NATO expansionism today. To drive this point home, let us put this conflict in proper historical perspective. In essence, the Cold War never really ended; it was simply frozen. What we are seeing in Ukraine today is a thawing of the Cold War tensions. U.S. and the West’s recognition of this fact is what lead them to maintain NATO even if its express purpose had effectively ceased with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989. Since 1989 NATO has embarked on an expansionist campaign to bring into its orbit countries that were previously within the USSR’s sphere of influence. Meanwhile, since Putin came to power, he has embarked on resuscitating Russia’s status as a global power by rebuilding and modernizing its military. Now better equipped to engage in a contestation for supremacy with the United States, Russia seeks to keep NATO as far away from its borders as possible. An expanding NATO, acting as a proxy for the U.S., has met its match in a resuscitated Russia. Ukraine is therefore a proxy war between a world as sanctioned by the U.S. and a possible new world to be born out of fractures to the present order coming from Russia’s resurgence coupled with the rise of China and India. What we have therefore is a contradiction between an expansionist NATO, driven by imperial anxieties, and a shifting balance of power from West to East.
Trevor Lwere is a senior from Kampala, Uganda, studying Economics and Global Affairs with a minor in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE). He is a dee-jay in his free time and can be reached at [email protected] or @LwereTrevor on Twitter.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.