Sachs’ & the New Appeasers have it wrong
20 July 2022
Sachs appears to be one of the New Appeasers whose starting premise is that Putin is a rational actor, not an unrepentant neo-imperialist whose territorial aspirations cannot be satisfied through negotiation or by conceding land for peace
ADELAIDE - In his recent speech, ‘The world imperilled at the end of US leadership’, Jeffrey Sachs has advanced several propositions that are highly contestable.
Professor Sachs evidently believes that the underlying cause of the Russia-Ukraine War was the constant expansion of NATO – a military alliance of 28 European, Canada and the USA, which strongly supports NATO’s expansion.
This claim that NATO’s expansion caused the war is one much repeated by elements of the political left and academia and rests largely upon the false idea that the USA promised Russia after the fall of the Berlin wall that there would be no further eastern expansion of NATO.
The credible figure of former Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev has refuted this claim.
He said he believed after negotiations with then US president Ronald Reagan in 1987 that there was no intention to expand NATO.
The worst that can plausibly be said is that the expansion of NATO to encompass countries like Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic was an irritant to Moscow. But it certainly did not represent an existential threat to Russia.
In fact, until very recently, it was clear that NATO was an organisation in search of a raison d’etre. Its role was under close scrutiny.
“What we are currently experiencing is the brain death of NATO,” said French president Emmanuel Macron in 2019.
It is thus a heavy irony that Vladimir Putin has now provided NATO with the impetus to reinvent and reinvigorate itself as a bulwark for democracy, and a force against autocracy, in Europe.
Another proposition put by Sachs in his address was that the world is witnessing the end of American leadership.
This is demonstrably untrue. No other power has anything like the military capability and diplomatic influence as the USA.
However, it is true is that the USA’s capacity to influence world events has been diminished.
This process was accelerated during the Presidency of Donald Trump, when the USA seemed to deliberately offend and marginalise its allies.
Trump’s behaviour did probably permanent harm to the USA’s credibility in international affairs, although the Biden administration is actively working to recover lost prestige and influence in Europe and elsewhere.
Sachs’ assertion that the Covid virus was a product of US biotechnology is, as far as I can ascertain, entirely unsupported by credible evidence.
Similarly, there is no credible evidence that it came out of Chinese biotechnology, despite Trump’s strident and continuing assertions that was the case.
As is often the case, the truth is likely to be much more ordinary. Available evidence strongly suggests that the virus made the leap from the animal world into human beings through one of China’s exotic animal meat markets.
It would be fair to characterise the current pandemic as another consequence of persistent ill advised human interference with the natural environment.
Another example of this is Ebola fever (also called Marburg Fever) which also made the jump from animals to humans.
As to the idea that the USA insisted there should be no negotiations with Russia regarding the current war in Ukraine, I have yet to see evidence of this.
What I have seen is clear and unequivocal evidence that Ukraine is entirely unwilling to cede land for peace, which is what Putin has made clear is a minimum precondition for even beginning to discuss a negotiated settlement.
Virtually all European countries that were formally part of the Russian empire (the USSR) strongly support Ukraine’s determination to resist at all costs.
Their lived experience was that Russia cannot be trusted to adhere to agreements, and that distrust remains.
I think Sachs’ claim that the USA has a neurotic fear of China is an exaggeration.
It is more accurate to say that the USA recognises China as a strategic rival in many areas where the USA has been utterly dominant, notably in the Pacific region.
Most of the USA’s behaviour in relation to China is premised upon the idea that Chinese attempts to exert political, military and economic influence beyond its borders ought to be resisted.
This behaviour is logical and rational, not neurotic.
History has clearly and repeatedly demonstrated that all expansionist autocratic regimes represent a threat to smaller powers and to the democratic world.
Russia and China, under their current leadership and political systems, clearly fit into this category.
That we no longer live in a unipolar world, with the USA the one unchallenged power, is widely recognised. Sachs is saying nothing exceptional in pointing to this fact.
Similarly, it is now readily apparent that regional cooperation amongst small and medium sized powers will be important in a multipolar world where two or more great powers are once again engaged in a contest for power and influence.
Professor Sachs appears to be amongst what I call the New Appeasers - those who persist in believing that, despite all evidence to the contrary, it is possible to negotiate a just and enduring settlement for events such as the current Russia-Ukraine War.
A starting premise for the New Appeasers is that Putin is a ‘rational actor’, not an unrepentant neo-imperialist whose territorial aspirations cannot be satisfied by conceding land for peace.
They appear to struggle to understand that anyone would cause untold carnage and death in the pursuit of such ambitions even when the evidence is staring them in the face.
It is incredible to me that such ideas can persist when the most cursory examination of history reveals the truth: people will indeed maim, kill and destroy in pursuit of their imperialist dreams.
It is my and many other commentators’ view that the only way Putin will be brought to the negotiating table is when his forces in Ukraine are destroyed.
This is a necessary precondition for any enduring peace.
Any concessions to Putin will merely embolden him or his successors.
The lesson of history is that only from the ashes of defeat can a new and internationally responsible version of Russia arise.
Poetry for Peace
There’s a ‘tremblin’ in the Kremlin,
And a rumour in the Duma,
That it‘s a serious time to definitely make a change,
For there’s those who can’t deny,
That there’s no good reason why,
Putin’s downfall's taking too long to arrange.
Posted by: Paul Oates | 03 October 2022 at 02:06 PM
Since I wrote this piece the appeasers have become silent. The appalling atrocities committed by the Russians in Ukraine have revealed the true nature of the Russian regime.
Vladimir Putin is not merely a wronged and misunderstood man: he is an old school imperialist of the worst kind. You do not do deals with such a man and expect them to be honoured.
Today, the Ukrainians continue to advance in the Donbas and near Kherson. They appear to have mastered manoeuvre warfare, something that the Russian army seems incapable of doing. Strategic and tactical ineptitude, combined with severe logistical and personnel problems, renders the Russian army highly vulnerable to a fast-moving enemy force.
While it is too early to be sure, there are signs that the Russian army is crumbling in the face of the better led, better armed and better motivated Ukrainians.
The implications of this are profound, both for Ukraine and Russia as well as for the rest of the world.
If Putin sees his mighty army collapsing his desperation to retain power may lead to even more of the very bad decision making that has been the hallmark of the Russian conduct of this war. The use of tactical nuclear weapons may become his last resort.
Consequently, whether we like it or not, we are now all invested in the outcome of this appalling conflict.
For those readers who are interested in military matters and want an objective and dispassionate assessment of events in Ukraine, I recommend the commentaries posted on YouTube by Colonel Markus Reisner PhD, commander of the Austrian Army's principal staff training college and its elite Vienna Guards Regiment.
Posted by: Chris Overland | 03 October 2022 at 12:33 PM
Supposition of connection in mention of the name Putin?
Posted by: Lindsay F Bond | 03 October 2022 at 06:18 AM
When war is declared, nothing is so 'rational' as the common folk, as with the men of Russia putting momentum to places beyond home.
"On Tuesday, Kazakhstan said around 98,000 Russians had entered the country since mobilisation was announced."
This follows a war of words about the status of captured territories, with Putin claiming "any attempt by Ukraine to regain them [territories] as an attack on its [Russia's] sovereign territory."
By the way, Kazakhstan was delightful to visit, as I found in 2016.
Posted by: Lindsay F Bond | 29 September 2022 at 09:57 PM
"Most Americans are constantly wavering between servitude and license and when a nation reaches this point, it must either change its laws and mores or perish, for the well of public virtue has run dry.
"In such a place one no longer finds citizens but only subjects" - Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America
Posted by: Bernard Corden | 24 July 2022 at 10:24 AM
Stephen is right, trust is a very scarce commodity right now and notoriously hard to re-establish once lost.
As to democracy, it is pretty clear that there are various forms of democracy ranging from those that are mere facsimiles to quite robust systems such as are found in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK.
Some of the European democracies are struggling with what appears to be a renaissance of right wing ultra nationalism although most seem to be operating effectively.
Democracies in the developing world seem to generally operate effectively but there are real problems with some in Africa and South America. The main causes of problems appear to be difficulties in managing long standing animosities based upon ethnicity along with ideological differences and disagreements over the distribution of resources.
In the Middle East, the overwhelming source of problems is religious differences and, of course, the status and behaviour of Israel.
Meanwhile, in the Pacific, its democracies are all experiencing problems of one sort or another. Tribal and economic tensions are evident in many countries.
The USA is struggling with the consequences of a constitution that is no longer fit for purpose and an ascendant secular and religious right seeking to impose its doctrinaire views upon others. The left in US politics seems bereft of either effective and inspirational leadership or a coherent and saleable policy platform. This all augurs badly for the resolution of the current problems anytime soon.
Overall, it is not a pretty picture but I still have confidence in the ability of democratic systems to self correct over time.
This capacity is perhaps democracy's greatest strength. It has enabled it to survive and thrive despite the periodic development of dangerous social tensions. Authoritarian regimes have historically proved unable to manage such tensions other than through coercion and violence.
Part of the self correction that will be required is abandoning the failed neo-liberal economic experiment and replacing it with a system whereby the rapacious and destructive activities of the great international corporations and their often super rich owner class are appropriately regulated and controlled once more.
If self correction proves impossible then Plan B is revolution.
The current political and business elites ought to be very cognisant of history and, like their forebears, make whatever socio-economic concessions may be necessary to allow them to continue to operate comparatively freely.
As the various revolutions of both the 19th and 20th century demonstrated, those who do not bend before the wind are destined to fall.
Posted by: Chris Overland | 21 July 2022 at 06:07 PM
Russian proverb: “Doveryai no proveryai” — trust, but verify.
In Putin's case "vis a vis" Western Europe, all trust has gone.
Posted by: Stephen Charteris | 21 July 2022 at 01:24 PM
I agree with you, Michael. Putin is obviously a gangster but he is supported by a body of Russian mafia that probably created and control him.
I imagine that the Chinese Communist Party ultimately control their leader too and would have no scruples about removing him if he got out of line.
Re George W Bush and lying - I find it difficult to accept that the weapons of mass destruction saga was not a CIA deception that Bush knew was a lie but wholly supported, as did Howard. That makes them all liars.
Politicians all lie.
People lie. That's why it's always good to see the evidence - KJ
Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 21 July 2022 at 11:46 AM
Regardless of current actors, "History has clearly and repeatedly demonstrated that all expansionist autocratic regimes represent a threat to smaller powers and to the democratic world."
Assuming that an autocracy is not necessarily headed by one person, but say an administrative body of elected or appointed representatives with a determined political and economic agenda, then by such terms a sovereign state may consider that China, the EU and NATO to have similar ambitions.
That may be how democracy, and specifically Western Democracy and it's neoliberal ideology, encroaching on national borders and therefore regional relationships, may be similarly perceived.
Or like the old time explorers bringing the Holy Bible and salvation to us heathens, we are now expected to accept that this god, Democracy, and it's Neoliberal Messiah, will usher in Paradise, while avoiding China like Sin.
Perhaps it's the 6 - 9 problem.
Perhaps the suggestion is that, there's nothing too bad about democracy and we'll all get it even if it means collapsing the global economy.
Umdunno, but it will make a good movie some day, maybe with a cameo by The Donald.
Posted by: Michael Dom | 21 July 2022 at 10:34 AM
Phil, it is a fallacy to think that there is moral equivalence between, say, George W Bush and Vladimir Putin.
Bush's faults lay in his erroneous thinking and bad judgement which led him (and us) into a quagmire in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
Also, he was duly removed from power through democratic means. History will not be kind to Bush.
Putin is another piece of work entirely. He knows perfectly well that the grounds he has offered up to justify invading Ukraine are lies.
He also knows that the killing of civilians is an act of policy, not an accident of war. His objective is conquest and the crushing of freedom.
There is a qualitative moral difference between Putin and Bush. The former is a war criminal while the latter is a fool.
All warfare results in cruel injustice, usually to the weak and helpless.
Yet we humans remain all too willing to resort to violence to 'solve' problems. War is always a crime even if the cause is deemed 'just'.
But, as has been observed many times, the winners write the initial history of wars in which their crimes become regrettable necessities (like the bombing of Dresden) while the loser's actions (such as the Blitz) are heinous crimes against humanity.
As for Kool Aid, I never imbibe.
Posted by: Chris Overland | 20 July 2022 at 02:52 PM
I can see little difference between Putin and the succession of US presidents who have led their country into pointless and bloody wars.
Got to be careful of that Kool Aid.
Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 20 July 2022 at 10:54 AM