Paul Poast discusses a theory of causes for the war, highlighting the Mearshimer hypothesis which does have some adherents.
This is going to be a LONG thread (with lots of links to other threads). In it, I want to:
- Recap John's argument
- Share where I agree with it
- Share where I disagree with it
- Show that Offensive Realism offers a better explanation
To begin, let's recap Mearsheimer's argument on the causes of the Ukraine-Russian War.
He claims that since NATO/EU are dominated by USA/W. Europe, and (particularly w/ NATO) were formed primarily to counter the USSR during the Cold War, Russia is going to be angry by them encroaching on its neighborhood (i.e. former Soviet Republics)
Now, you might think this is all just academic/ivory tower opining. But then there's this 😬 👇
Having laid out his argument (and why it matters), do I agree with any of it?
Yes, I agree with some key parts of it.
Finally, I like that John's argument takes seriously the point made long ago by Bob Jervis that while states might view their own actions as benign (i.e. "hey, NATO expansion is good, right?"), others will not perceive them that way. Unroll available on Thread Reader
That is where I agree with Mearsheimer.
Where do I disagree? I disagree on some key points.
...eastern expansion of NATO was far from "imposed" or even "pushed" by the United States or NATO. It was desired by the Eastern Europeans (we'll come back to this).
In fact, THEY often had to take measures to PUSH the USA/NATO, not the other way around.
...scholars and analysts have LONG viewed Ukraine-Russia relations as holding the greatest potential for conflict in post-Cold War Europe.
Such views well predate NATO expansion.
What these three points suggest to me is that, at most, NATO expansion exacerbated an already tense situation.
But it didn't CAUSE the situation to be tense or carry the potential for conflict.
So if the Ukraine-Russian War is not caused by NATO expansion, then what explains it?
Given the above facts, I actually think a better explanation can be found in Mearsheimer's earlier work.
As Mearsheimer himself will acknowledge, the core ideas of Offensive Realism don't start with him. Indeed, they date back to World War I and the work of G. Lowes Dickinson Unroll available on Thread Reader
Dickinson, looking at the onset of World War I in Europe, put forward the argument that the war was caused by the inherent desire of states to seek supremacy over one another Unroll available on Thread Reader
Mearsheimer fleshed out key elements of Dickinson's claims, namely giving it a focus on regional domination.
According to his theory of Offensive Realism, the ideal situation for any country in international politics is that it dominates its region of the world and make sure that no other country dominates that region. This is the only way to safeguard their interests.
Mearsheimer's model for this theory is not Russia, but the United States. See Manifest Destiny + Monroe Doctrine
But Russia also followed behavior consistent with this theory, most notably during the Cold War.
But Russia was eventually unable to sustain that regional dominance. It was willing, but not able. Maintaining the empire and domination of Warsaw pact countries proved too costly (in a variety of ways, including economic) to maintain.
But just because it stopped, doesn't mean that it couldn't start again. That is what offensive realism predicts and, more importantly, that is what many in the Eastern European countries feared.
So the states in Central and Eastern Europe, fully understanding that Russia would again seek regional dominance, wanted to safeguard their sovereignty and autonomy before it was too late.
The solution? Gain @NATO
As the above quote by Clinton from the 1990s makes clear, US officials understood the risk: Russia is going to seek dominance of the region again and expanding NATO eastward, especially into the Former Soviet Republics, could create a security risk for the USA.
What does this all mean? It means that if there is any faulting NATO, it is in not expanding NATO *fast enough* and *far enough*. Once the Baltics were in, bringing in Ukraine needed to follow.
@SeanDEhrlich made this point the other day Unroll available on Thread Reader
In sum, Offensive Realism, as described by Mearsheimer in his "Tragedy of Great Power Politics", explains well Russia's behavior over the past century, including today: like all great powers, it seeks to dominate its region. That is ultimately the cause of the current war.
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