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Professor John Mearsheimer on the Ukraine War
Why didn't the West negotiate an Austrian-style neutrality deal with Russia?
The Canadian writer and journalist, Aaron Maté, just published what strikes me as the most intelligent and illuminating conversation about the war in Ukraine I’ve heard thus far.
I have studied European history for forty years and lived in Austria for a total of 15. For the last 18 months I have tried in vain to answer the question: Why didn’t the United States at least try to negotiate with Russia for an Austrian-style neutrality deal for Ukraine?
Consider that if a neutrality deal was struck and the Russians subsequently violated it, THAT would be clear grounds for war. Instead, the United States government has simply and and steadfastly dismissed Russia’s view of the matter—a view that Russia has plainly and repeatedly stated since at least 2008.
Note that the arrogant and dismissive attitude of the U.S. government towards Russia since 2008 was in spite of the fact that Cold War eminences such as George Kennan urged the United States government to abandon its harebrained NATO expansion plan in 1997. As Kennan put it in a February 5, 1997 New York Times essay titled “A Fateful Error:”
Why, with all the hopeful possibilities engendered by the end of the Cold War, should East-West relations become centered on the question of who would be allied with whom and, by implication, against whom in some fanciful, totally unforeseeable and most improbable future military conflict?
[B]luntly stated…expanding NATO would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-Cold War era. Such a decision may be expected to inflame the nationalistic, anti-Western and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion; to have an adverse effect on the development of Russian democracy; to restore the atmosphere of the cold war to East-West relations, and to impel Russian foreign policy in directions decidedly not to our liking …
Several of Kennan’s fellow Cold Warriors, including Robert McNamara and Paul Nitze, agreed wholeheartedly with him, as is evidenced by their June 26, 1997 letter to President Bill Clinton.
Back to the central question of this essay: for those unfamiliar with the 1955 State Treaty and Austrian Neutrality:
The treaty forbade unification with Germany or restoration of the Habsburgs and provided safeguards for Austria's Croat and Slovene minorities. Austrian neutrality and a ban on foreign military bases in Austria were later incorporated into the Austrian constitution by the Law of October 26, 1955. The 40,000 Soviet troops in Austria were withdrawn by late September. The small number of Western troops that remained were withdrawn by late October.
Austrian neutrality has been honored ever since and has served the Austrian people very well. The Austrian capital, Vienna, is routinely ranked as having the highest quality of life on earth. To be sure, there is a handful of incredibly stupid and venal people in Austria who claim they wish to abandon Austrian neutrality, but they merit so little attention that I almost didn’t write this sentence.
So, why didn’t the United States government negotiate with Russia for an Austrian-style neutrality for Ukraine? Professor Mearsheimer suspects that only sheer stupidity can explain it. Aaron Maté suspects cynicism.
I suspect it’s a combination of stupidity, ignorance, cynicism, greed, bloody-mindedness, narcissism, sadism, contempt, misanthropy, and recklessness—in a word, depravity. Holders of high political office who prefer to send hundreds of thousands of young men to their deaths without at least trying diplomacy are simply terrible people in every respect.