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.