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Culture war games: the mighty miss

Sixty Years Later, the Bay of Pigs Remains a Cautionary Tale
By Max Hastings

Some years are so crowded with memorable anniversaries that it seems like the world once faced one damn sensation after another. So it is now, the 60th anniversary of 1961. That spring, French generals in Algeria attempted to overthrow President Charles de Gaulle through a military coup, including a planned Foreign Legion parachute drop on Paris. That summer, the ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev defected to the West. On April 12, it will be six decades since the launch into orbit of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, first human being in space.

As it was, on the morning of Gagarin’s triumph, the first question Kennedy faced at a press conference in Washington was not about space, but instead about the much-leaked impending strike against Castro. The president ruled out any role for U.S. armed forces. “The basic issue,” he said, “is not one between the United States and Cuba. It is between the Cubans themselves.”

Yet before dawn on Monday, April 17, the CIA unleashed 1,400 Cuban exiles on the island’s southeast coast, at a place known as the Bahia de Cochinos, a name that has passed into history as the Bay of Pigs.

Today, the operation figures in every textbook of statecraft as a template for how not to do stuff. To paraphrase the great cynic Talleyrand, it was worse than a crime, it was a blunder. It was less significant that the assault was immoral and foolish, condemning its Cuban participants to death or captivity, than that it made the U.S. appear ridiculous.

Preparations for the Bay of Pigs took place under the Eisenhower administration. Kennedy certainly had the power and opportunity to order the attack to be aborted. But a president only three months in the White House still had everything to prove to himself and the world, above all that he was not “soft on communism,” the deadliest charge that conservative critics might lay against him.

U.S. foreign policy is often unwisely influenced by a president’s belief in what he thinks his people want him to do, even when experts counsel against it. Many Americans in the spring of 1961 viewed Castro’s defiance of their might, from a tinpot island a few minutes flying time from their shores, as an insult to the flag.

Bay of Pigs Invasion: Kennedy’s Cuban Catastrophe
By Mark White

Kennedy decided to go ahead with the invasion for a variety of reasons. First of all, it reflected his own foreign policy ideology, which was based on the idea that democracies like the United States must develop considerable military power and show an uncompromising toughness when dealing with aggressive dictatorships, such as Castro’s Cuba and Nikita Khrushchev’s Russia. This conviction derived from Kennedy’s analysis as a student at Harvard of the British appeasement of Nazi Germany. To a young JFK, the lessons of the 1930s were clear: confront totalitarian dictators, don’t mollycoddle them.

That is precisely what Kennedy planned to do by ordering the Bay of Pigs invasion. He also believed that if Castro were to remain in power he would promote a series of communist revolutions throughout Latin America. In the mind of the new president, Castro’s Cuba represented a dangerous and unacceptable extension of Russian influence in America’s own backyard.

Kennedy, moreover, had taken a strong stand against Castro in the 1960 presidential campaign, railing against his Republican rival Richard Nixon for being part of an administration that had failed to prevent the Cuban revolutionary from coming to power. JFK pledged to take robust action to overthrow Castro if elected president and so, once he’d won that election, felt compelled to honour his promise and support the CIA plan.

60 years after Bay of Pigs, New York Times role – and myth – made clear
By W. Joseph Campbell

The April 7 article was written by Tad Szulc, a veteran foreign correspondent who reported from Miami that an assault by CIA-trained Cuban rebels was imminent.

According to subsequent accounts by senior editors at the Times, references to imminence and the CIA were removed before the article was published.

They reasoned that “imminent” was more prediction than fact. The managing editor, Turner Catledge, later wrote that he “was hesitant to specify the CIA when we might not be able to document the charge.” The term “United States officials” was substituted. Both decisions were modest and judicious.

Dispute arose among Times editors internally about trimming to a single column the headline that accompanied Szulc’s story. A headline spanning four columns had been planned.

The size of a newspaper headline typically corresponds to an article’s relative significance. A four-column headline would have signaled “a story of exceptional importance,” former Times reporter and editor Harrison E. Salisbury noted in “Without Fear or Favor: The New York Times and Its Times,” an insider’s account. Four-column display was infrequent, although not unheard of, on the Times’ front pages of the early 1960s.

But without a reference to the invasion’s imminence, a four-column headline was difficult to justify. Even so, Szulc’s lengthy article received prominent placement at the top of the Times’ front page.

Anti-Castro Units Trained To Fight At Florida Bases,” the headline read.

It’s highly unlikely that Kennedy made a private appeal to anyone at the Times on April 6, 1961, the day Szulc’s dispatch was filed, edited and readied for publication. White House logs show no telephone calls to Catledge or other senior Times executives on April 6, according to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston.

The run-up to the Bay of Pigs was no one-off story. Indeed, the ongoing nature of the Times’ pre-invasion coverage is almost never noted when the suppression myth is told.

After publishing Szulc’s article, the Times expanded its reporting about the pending invasion. Its front page of April 9, 1961, for example, carried a story by Szulc that Cuban exile leaders were trying to reconcile their rivalries while “preparing a thrust” against Castro.

“The first assumption of the [leaders’] plans,” Szulc wrote, “is that an invasion by a ‘liberation army,’ now in the final stages of training in Central America and in Louisiana, will succeed with the aid of an internal uprising in Cuba.”

With that, Szulc broadly described the objectives of a mission that brought 1,400 armed exiles to landing beaches in southwest Cuba.

Their assault was crushed within three days.

After 60 years, Bay of Pigs disaster still haunts veterans who fought
By Bill Newcott

Demoralized and defeated, brigade survivors were rounded up and trucked to two notorious old prisons. Knowing the brigade felt betrayed by the United States, Castro soon made an extraordinary jailhouse visit for a bizarre town hall-type session.

“It was surreal,” recalls Zayas-Bazan. “He came into our galley and said, ‘Hi, guys! How are you being treated? Any complaints?’”

If Castro thought he was going to win over this crowd, however, he was mistaken. At the Bay of Pigs Museum, Lopez points to a fuzzy news photo of that meeting. A black Cuban exile named Tomas Cruz Cruz is standing among his comrades and speaking.

Castro had looked at him and asked in Spanish, “Hey, negro, why are you here?” Unlike in America, he boasted, “In Cuba, you are free to go to the beach.”

But the prisoner wasn’t having it. “Commandante,” he said, “I didn’t come here to go to the beach. I came to defeat communism!”

No one knows why, but Cruz got away with his impertinence. Another young man, an Asian Cuban named Jorge Kim, was less fortunate. A photo on the same wall shows him in intense conversation with Castro. No one knows what the two talked about, but the next day Kim was executed.

Of all the tales of courage that unfolded in those Cuban prisons, perhaps none is more remarkable than that of 10 men, elected by their fellow captives, who were sent to the United States to negotiate a ransom. There they were, safe and comfortable in a swank Washington, D.C., hotel, only to voluntarily return to the squalor of their Cuban prison—not once, but twice.

“Those men,” Lopez says, nodding toward their photo, “had balls.”

WATCH: Daughter of Alabama Airman killed in failed Bay of Pigs invasion talks about government cover-up
By Drew Taylor

On Tuesday, a ceremony was held to honor four Alabama airmen who died in the secret Bay of Pigs mission in Cuba 61 years ago.

During the ceremony at Forest Hill Cemetery, a wreath was laid at the Birmingham gravesite of Thomas “Pete” Ray, who was part of the 117th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing based in Birmingham. The mission was part of a CIA operation to overthrow Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. On April 19, 1961, Ray and other Alabama Airmen were shot down and killed before the mission could be carried out. It was almost two decades before their families were told the truth about what happened to them.

Ray’s daughter, Janet, joined CBS 42 Morning News anchor Andrea Lindenberg to talk about what the family went through after Ray’s death, as well as the year’s of not knowing the truth.

“The CIA told us that they were mercenaries and they drowned flying a plane in the Caribbean,” said Ray, who was 6 years old when her father died. “They did not tell us the truth.”

But why would the government deny this? Ray has her theory on the matter.

“I think everybody knew the United States was involved, but I think a lot of it was to protect the president (John F. Kennedy),” she said. “We need to destroy these men’s reputations and make them look like mercenaries so no one will ask any questions.”

1961 | The C.I.A. Readies a Cuban Invasion, and The Times Blinks
By David W. Dunlap

Two weeks after the Bay of Pigs disaster, Mr. Catledge was among a group of editors summoned to the White House to discuss with the president the issue of newspapers prematurely disclosing government security information.

As an example, President Kennedy cited the January report from Guatemala by the other Mr. Kennedy.

Mr. Catledge countered that the information had already appeared in The Nation.

“But it wasn’t news until it appeared in The Times,” President Kennedy said.

Then, in an aside to Mr. Catledge, the president said, “Maybe if you had printed more about the operation, you would have saved us from a colossal mistake” — the implication being that if The Times had said the invasion was likely to occur in mid-April, it would almost certainly have been scrubbed, or at least postponed.

“His logic seemed to me faulty,” Mr. Catledge concluded. “On the one hand, he condemned us for printing too much and in the next breath he condemned us for printing too little. He wanted it both ways, and he did not change my view that the newspapers, not the government, must decide what news is fit to print.”

The Medical Ordeals of JFK
By Robert Dallek

The lifelong health problems of John F. Kennedy constitute one of the best-kept secrets of recent U.S. history—no surprise, because if the extent of those problems had been revealed while he was alive, his presidential ambitions would likely have been dashed. Kennedy, like so many of his predecessors, was more intent on winning the presidency than on revealing himself to the public. On one level this secrecy can be taken as another stain on his oft-criticized character, a deception maintained at the potential expense of the citizens he was elected to lead. Yet there is another way of viewing the silence regarding his health—as the quiet stoicism of a man struggling to endure extraordinary pain and distress and performing his presidential (and pre-presidential) duties largely undeterred by his physical suffering. Does this not also speak to his character, but in a more complex way?

Evidence of Kennedy’s medical problems has been trickling out for years. In 1960, during the fight for the Democratic nomination, John Connally and India Edwards, aides to Lyndon B. Johnson, told the press—correctly—that Kennedy suffered from Addison’s disease, a condition of the adrenal glands characterized by a deficiency of the hormones needed to regulate blood sugar, sodium and potassium, and the response to stress. They described the problem as life-threatening and requiring regular doses of cortisone. The Kennedys publicly denied the allegation.

It appears that Richard Nixon may have tried at one point to gain access to Kennedy’s medical history. In the fall of 1960, as he and JFK battled in what turned out to be one of the closest presidential elections ever, thieves ransacked the office of Eugene J. Cohen, a New York endocrinologist who had been treating Kennedy for Addison’s disease. When they failed to find Kennedy’s records, which were filed under a code name, they tried unsuccessfully to break into the office of Janet Travell, an internist and pharmacologist who had been relieving Kennedy’s back pain with injections of procaine (an agent similar to lidocaine).

Earlier this year a small committee of Kennedy-administration friends and associates agreed to open a collection of his papers for the years 1955–63. I was given access to these newly released materials, which included X-rays and prescription records from Janet Travell’s files.

The Travell records reveal that during the first six months of his term, Kennedy suffered stomach, colon, and prostate problems; high fevers; occasional dehydration; abscesses; sleeplessness; and high cholesterol, in addition to his ongoing back and adrenal ailments. His physicians administered large doses of so many drugs that Travell kept a “Medicine Administration Record,” cataloguing injected and ingested corticosteroids for his adrenal insufficiency; procaine shots and ultrasound treatments and hot packs for his back; Lomotil, Metamucil, paregoric, phenobarbital, testosterone, and trasentine to control his diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, and weight loss; penicillin and other antibiotics for his urinary-tract infections and an abscess; and Tuinal to help him sleep. Before press conferences and nationally televised speeches, his doctors increased his cortisone dose to deal with tensions harmful to someone unable to produce his own corticosteroids in response to stress. Though the medications occasionally made Kennedy groggy and tired, he did not see them as a problem. He dismissed questions about Jacobson’s injections, saying, “I don’t care if it’s horse piss. It works.”

Kennedy continued to need extensive medication. His condition at the time of the Cuban missile crisis is a case in point. The Travell records show that during the 13 days in October of 1962 when Moscow and Washington brought the world to the brink of a nuclear war, Kennedy took his usual doses of anti-spasmodics to control his colitis, antibiotics for a flare-up of his urinary-tract problem and a bout of sinusitis, and increased amounts of hydrocortisone and testosterone, along with salt tablets, to control his Addison’s disease and boost his energy. Judging from the tape recordings made of conversations during this time, the medications were no impediment to lucid thought during these long days; on the contrary, Kennedy would have been significantly less effective without them, and might even have been unable to function. But these medications were only one element in helping Kennedy to focus on the crisis; his extraordinary strength of will cannot be underestimated.

The Cuban Missile crisis and the Bay of Pigs
By Jonathan Power

The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 is well remembered, even by those not yet born when it happened. The word has been passed down the generations and probably always will be. It was the first and only time, say many historians and political scientists, that the world faced the likelihood of nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the USA.

One can’t start to understand how all this came about until one investigates the so-called Bay of Pigs invasion. Its 60th anniversary was on Saturday.

Thankfully, Kennedy had his fingers burnt with its failure. He spent nearly all the subsequent day on the phone to his father, Joseph, the oligarch who owned the New York Herald Tribune and had been the war-time US ambassador to Great Britain. The president was a shattered man, his face blanched, almost tearful in front of his wife, and needed the cool paternal mind to help him sort a way out of the political mess the aborted invasion of Cuba had brought about. Kennedy took to his bed, his ailments including chronic debilitating back disease, flaring up. He was both mentally and physically in pain. His wife, Jacky, said she’d never seen him so depressed.

Not least of Kennedy’s problems was how to deal with the US military who had conceived the whole operation and had egged him on. At that time the military had more independent power.

The Bay of Pigs invasion plan was conceived by Kennedy’s predecessor, Dwight Eisenhower. The idea was for the CIA to arm and supervise a group of dissidents to overthrow Cuba’s leader, Fidel Castro. Kennedy was advised soon after he took office that the CIA plan was slipshod, incomplete and unprofessional. Nevertheless, Kennedy didn’t want to be accused of chickening out.

The hierarchy of the CIA had believed that if anything went wrong the President would unleash whatever military support was necessary. The entire operation was designed to “entrap” the president, according to Thomas Hughes, the assistant secretary of state for intelligence. According to Walt Rostow, Kennedy’s closest foreign policy aide, “All my friends and colleagues were having nervous breakdowns. They were in terrible shape. Literally, they could not function.” As for Kennedy, he observed, “You always assume that the military and intelligence people have some secret skill not available to ordinary mortals”. He didn’t make that mistake again.

Without Eisenhower, it can be said to be certain there would have been no Bay of Pigs. Without its failure Kennedy may not have been wise enough or determined enough to stand up to his advisers and the generals who were ready for a military solution to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Cuban missile crisis: Nikita Khrushchev’s Cuban gamble misfired
By Paul Wingrove

As the Cuban missile crisis unfolded in October 1962, President John F Kennedy found himself wondering why Nikita Khrushchev would gamble with putting nuclear missiles into Cuba. The Soviet leader felt he had justification enough. There were American missiles in Turkey and Italy; US bases dotted the globe; and Castro was a friend and ally under threat from the US.

Shipping nuclear missiles to Cuba in secret was, in fact, Khrushchev’s dangerous quick fix – militarily and psychological – for a substantial strategic imbalance between the superpowers. Of course, the defence of Cuba by deterrence remained a part of the equation.

Too often forgotten is that Kennedy, using mercenaries, had tried, and failed, to remove Castro at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961. The US had then continued a vicious and extensive campaign of overt and covert aggression against Cuba, encompassing harassment, sabotage, economic and political warfare, plans to destroy the sugar crop and to assassinate Castro. Kennedy – and, possibly even more, his brother Robert – wanted to see Castro finished.

The secrecy essential to Khrushchev’s plan was breached when a U-2 overflight of Cuba spotted the missiles on 14 October. Kennedy had the aerial photographs on his desk on 16 October, initiating “13 days” of an “eyeball to eyeball” crisis, which ended on 28 October.

The Real Cuban Missile Crisis
By Benjamin Schwarz

Sheldon M. Stern—who was the historian at the John F. Kennedy Library for 23 years and the first scholar to evaluate the ExComm tapes—is among the numerous historians who have tried to set the record straight.

Reached through sober analysis, Stern’s conclusion that “John F. Kennedy and his administration, without question, bore a substantial share of the responsibility for the onset of the Cuban missile crisis” would have shocked the American people in 1962, for the simple reason that Kennedy’s administration had misled them about the military imbalance between the superpowers and had concealed its campaign of threats, assassination plots, and sabotage designed to overthrow the government in Cuba—an effort well known to Soviet and Cuban officials.

In the 1960 presidential election, Kennedy had cynically attacked Richard Nixon from the right, claiming that the Eisenhower-Nixon administration had allowed a dangerous “missile gap” to grow in the U.S.S.R.’s favor. But in fact, just as Eisenhower and Nixon had suggested—and just as the classified briefings that Kennedy received as a presidential candidate indicated—the missile gap, and the nuclear balance generally, was overwhelmingly to America’s advantage.

Moreover, despite America’s overwhelming nuclear preponderance, JFK, in keeping with his avowed aim to pursue a foreign policy characterized by “vigor,” had ordered the largest peacetime expansion of America’s military power, and specifically the colossal growth of its strategic nuclear forces. This included deploying, beginning in 1961, intermediate-range “Jupiter” nuclear missiles in Italy and Turkey—adjacent to the Soviet Union. From there, the missiles could reach all of the western U.S.S.R., including Moscow and Leningrad (and that doesn’t count the nuclear-armed “Thor” missiles that the U.S. already had aimed at the Soviet Union from bases in Britain).

The Jupiter missiles were an exceptionally vexing component of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Because they sat aboveground, were immobile, and required a long time to prepare for launch, they were extremely vulnerable. Of no value as a deterrent, they appeared to be weapons meant for a disarming first strike—and thus greatly undermined deterrence, because they encouraged a preemptive Soviet strike against them. The Jupiters’ destabilizing effect was widely recognized among defense experts within and outside the U.S. government and even by congressional leaders. For instance, Senator Albert Gore Sr., an ally of the administration, told Secretary of State Dean Rusk that they were a “provocation” in a closed session of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in February 1961 (more than a year and a half before the missile crisis), adding, “I wonder what our attitude would be” if the Soviets deployed nuclear-armed missiles to Cuba. Senator Claiborne Pell raised an identical argument in a memo passed on to Kennedy in May 1961.

Given America’s powerful nuclear superiority, as well as the deployment of the Jupiter missiles, Moscow suspected that Washington viewed a nuclear first strike as an attractive option. They were right to be suspicious. The archives reveal that in fact the Kennedy administration had strongly considered this option during the Berlin crisis in 1961.

It’s little wonder, then, that, as Stern asserts—drawing on a plethora of scholarship including, most convincingly, the historian Philip Nash’s elegant 1997 study, The Other Missiles of October—Kennedy’s deployment of the Jupiter missiles “was a key reason for Khrushchev’s decision to send nuclear missiles to Cuba.” Khrushchev reportedly made that decision in May 1962, declaring to a confidant that the Americans “have surrounded us with bases on all sides” and that missiles in Cuba would help to counter an “intolerable provocation.” Keeping the deployment secret in order to present the U.S. with a fait accompli, Khrushchev may very well have assumed America’s response would be similar to his reaction to the Jupiter missiles—rhetorical denouncement but no threat or action to thwart the deployment with a military attack, nuclear or otherwise. (In retirement, Khrushchev explained his reasoning to the American journalist Strobe Talbott: Americans “would learn just what it feels like to have enemy missiles pointing at you; we’d be doing nothing more than giving them a little of their own medicine.”)

On the first day of the crisis, October 16, when pondering Khrushchev’s motives for sending the missiles to Cuba, Kennedy made what must be one of the most staggeringly absentminded (or sarcastic) observations in the annals of American national-security policy: “Why does he put these in there, though? … It’s just as if we suddenly began to put a major number of MRBMs [medium-range ballistic missiles] in Turkey. Now that’d be goddamned dangerous, I would think.” McGeorge Bundy, the national security adviser, immediately pointed out: “Well we did it, Mr. President.”

In a 1987 interview, McNamara explained: “You have to remember that, right from the beginning, it was President Kennedy who said that it was politically unacceptable for us to leave those missile sites alone. He didn’t say militarily, he said politically.” What largely made the missiles politically unacceptable was Kennedy’s conspicuous and fervent hostility toward the Castro regime—a stance, Kennedy admitted at an ExComm meeting, that America’s European allies thought was “a fixation” and “slightly demented.”

In his presidential bid, Kennedy had red-baited the Eisenhower-Nixon administration, charging that its policies had “helped make Communism’s first Caribbean base.” Given that he had defined a tough stance toward Cuba as an important election issue, and given the humiliation he had suffered with the Bay of Pigs debacle, the missiles posed a great political hazard to Kennedy. As the State Department’s director of intelligence and research, Roger Hilsman, later put it, “The United States might not be in mortal danger, but … the administration most certainly was.” Kennedy’s friend John Kenneth Galbraith, the ambassador to India, later said: “Once [the missiles] were there, the political needs of the Kennedy administration urged it to take almost any risk to get them out.”

Indeed, Washington’s self-regard for its credibility was almost certainly the main reason it risked nuclear war over a negligible threat to national security. At the same meeting in which Kennedy and his aides were contemplating military action against Cuba and the U.S.S.R.—action they knew could bring about an apocalyptic war—the president stated, “Last month I said we weren’t going to [permit Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba] and last month I should have said … we don’t care. But when we said we’re not going to, and [the Soviets] go ahead and do it, and then we do nothing, then … I would think that our … risks increase.”

The risks of such a cave-in, Kennedy and his advisers held, were distinct but related. The first was that America’s foes would see Washington as pusillanimous; the known presence of the missiles, Kennedy said, “makes them look like they’re coequal with us and that”—here Treasury Secretary Douglas Dillon interrupted: “We’re scared of the Cubans.” The second risk was that America’s friends would suddenly doubt that a country given to appeasement could be relied on to fulfill its obligations.

In fact, America’s allies, as Bundy acknowledged, were aghast that the U.S. was threatening nuclear war over a strategically insignificant condition—the presence of intermediate-range missiles in a neighboring country—that those allies (and, for that matter, the Soviets) had been living with for years. In the tense days of October 1962, being allied with the United States potentially amounted to, as Charles de Gaulle had warned, “annihilation without representation.”

Where Do Wars Come From?
By Michael T. Klare

As US and Soviet nuclear capabilities expanded and the consequences of an eventual nuclear conflagration became ever more catastrophic, senior American officers, like their Soviet counterparts, were expected to possess nerves of steel and the willingness to contemplate, without hesitation, the launching of multiple warheads capable of killing tens or hundreds of millions of people. For the key participants in the 1962 events, these attitudes had become totally ingrained.

In defending their behavior during this crisis, the principals involved uniformly described their actions as having been guided by a noble purpose, whether the defense of their country, the eradication of an antithetical political system, or the preservation of their nation’s highest ideals. Looking at this from the vantage point of hindsight, however, it is hard not to detect the more ignoble impulses that have led humans to engage in warfare throughout history: personal ambition, the pursuit of honor and glory, and the preservation of one’s status and perquisites. Every member of ExComm sought Kennedy’s ear and approval, while Kennedy himself was fearful that any sign of hesitation on his part would be used by his political enemies to clobber Democratic candidates in the forthcoming midterm elections and to defeat his own reelection campaign two years later. Khrushchev, for his part, was desperate to demonstrate his capacity to stand up to Washington in the increasingly high-stakes game of nuclear brinkmanship and to stave off challenges to his leadership of the communist world from Mao Zedong and other more radical voices.

Inside JFK’s Key Decisions During the Cuban Missile Crisis
By Martin J. Sherwin

“The Joint Chiefs of Staff saw Fidel Castro’s regime as a cancer that must be removed, by whatever means proved necessary,” accord­ing to Walter Poole, the official historian of the JCS. “They came to that conclusion in March 1960 and conveyed it repeatedly thereafter to their civilian superiors.” They insisted that a Communist Cuba threatened the security of the Western Hemisphere, and they assured the commander in chief that it was possible to depose Castro “with­out precipitating a general war, and without serious effect on world opinion.”

The meeting in the Oval Office on October 19th began at 10 a.m. with JCS chairman, Gen. Maxwell Taylor, explaining that the chiefs unanimously agreed on a minimum of three steps: a surprise [bombing] attack against the known missile sites, continued surveillance, and a blockade to prevent reinforce­ments from entering Cuba.

“Let me just say a little, first, about what the problem is, from my point of view,” President Kennedy interrupted. Returning to a question he had asked during the initial ExComm meeting, he proposed that “we ought to think of why the Russians did this.”

The president’s more cautious attitude reflected the advice he had first received from his Ambassador to the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson: Focus on diplomacy and make it as easy as possible for Khrushchev to back down.

The Cuban Missile Crisis Revisited: Nuclear Deterrence? Good Luck!
By Martin J. Sherwin

On October 27, 1962, almost six days (five days and 22 hours to be exact) have passed since Kennedy announced his decision to “quarantine” Cuba. This was only the initial step, he said, to force the Soviet Union to remove the nuclear missiles it had secretly shipped to the island over the past several months. “These actions may only be the beginning….We will not prematurely or unnecessarily risk the costs of worldwide nuclear war in which even the fruits of victory would be ashes in our mouth, but neither will we shrink from that risk at any time it must be faced.”

Certain now that he can do little to prevent an assault, Castro has become grimly fatalistic. Determined to confront the inevitable head on regardless of the consequences, he has dictated a letter to Khrushchev urging him to launch Soviet intercontinental missiles against the United States should an assault occur. If “the imperialists invade Cuba with the goal of occupying it…the Soviet Union must never allow the circumstances in which the imperialists could launch the first nuclear strike against it…[so] that would be the moment to eliminate such danger forever through an act of clear legitimate defense, however harsh and terrible the solution would be, for there is no other.”

Living so intensely at the center of the crisis, Castro has abandoned any hope of a peaceful resolution. He has embraced Armageddon as an act of retributive justice.

Khrushchev is close to exhaustion, nearly overcome by the contradictory emotions that have roiled him for days. He is 9,000 miles from Havana, but only 32 minutes from an intercontinental minuteman missile launched from Wyoming. He is terrified of skidding sideways into a nuclear war. Yet he remains furious about the blockade of Cuba, which he considers an illegal, outrageous act of war. Kennedy calls it a “quarantine,” but Khrushchev is not appeased by the euphemism. It is “outright banditry…. The folly of degenerate imperialism…[and an] act of aggression that pushes mankind toward the abyss of a world nuclear-missile war,” he angrily writes to Kennedy on October 24. Khrushchev appears determined then to dare the Americans to sink a Soviet vessel.

Kennedy and Khrushchev are enemies, ideological and military adversaries, who have blundered into a dangerous confrontation that neither wanted nor anticipated. Each is aware that an accident or even a misinterpretation can instantly set off a nuclear exchange. Yet the circumstances of their political and international obligations, as well as their personal interests, compel them to continue to press their goals against each other despite their recognition that nothing they can achieve is worth the consequences of a nuclear war. What they believed they shared during the crisis—and what histories of the Cuban Missile Crisis have generally agreed they shared—is the conviction that the fate of the world is in their hands.

They are mistaken.

On this Saturday evening, the fate of the world is not in the hands of any head of state. It has slipped from their grasp, inadvertently and furtively, into the hands of two young Soviet navy officers—Captain 2nd Rank V. G. Savitskii, and Brigade Chief of Staff Captain V. A. Arkhipov—who are aboard a floundering Project 641 Soviet submarine. Savitskii’s boat, B-59, is one of a quartet of Foxtrot class (their NATO designation) submarines sent “to strengthen the defense of the island of Cuba.” Their arrival two days earlier at the quarantine line launched the U.S. Navy’s ASW forces into action and turned the area into a veritable war zone.

What no one in the U.S. government knows—not the Joint Chiefs, the CIA, Navy Intelligence, or the skippers of the U.S. Navy ASW forces chasing the Soviet submarines—is that one of the 22 torpedoes aboard B-59 (and each of the other three submarines) is armed with a 15-kiloton nuclear warhead. The range of the torpedo is 19 kilometers (about 12 miles) and carries an explosive force equivalent to that of the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. If fired, it could easily sink several ships, an act guaranteed to trigger a nuclear response.

At this point the nightmarish conditions within B-59 and the terrifying explosions around it, are driving Savitskii to the breaking point. “Maybe the war has already started up there, while we are doing somersaults here,” he literally screams. In a rising fury he orders his special weapons officer to arm and load the nuclear torpedo. “We’re gonna blast them now! We will die, but we will sink them all—we will not become the shame of the fleet.”

I want to pause here to dwell on the role that chance plays in history, as in each of our lives. Little in our existence is foreordained, and history is not a story composed of inevitable events. The destinies of nations, just as the lives of individuals, are moved inexorably forward through crossroad after crossroad by decisions and chance, with the influence of each in constant flux. In 1969, former Secretary of State Dean Acheson, made this point explicit when he compared Robert Kennedy’s memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis (Thirteen Days) with his own experience of that affair. The subtitle of his review was “Homage to Plain Dumb Luck.”

Luck, extraordinary good luck or plain dumb luck, took command of events aboard B-59 in the minutes that followed Savitskii’s order.

Soviet submarine officer who averted nuclear war honoured with prize
By Nicola Davis

Arkhipov refused to sanction the launch of the weapon and calmed the captain down. The torpedo was never fired.

Had it been launched, the fate of the world would have been very different: the attack would probably have started a nuclear war which would have caused global devastation, with unimaginable numbers of civilian deaths.

Now, 55 years after he averted nuclear war and 19 years after his death, Arkhipov is to be honoured, with his family the first recipients of a new award.

The prize, dubbed the “Future of Life award” is the brainchild of the Future of Life Insitute – a US-based organisation whose goal is to tackle threats to humanity and whose advisory board includes such luminaries as Elon Musk, the astronomer royal Prof Martin Rees, and actor Morgan Freeman.

“The Future of Life award is a prize awarded for a heroic act that has greatly benefited humankind, done despite personal risk and without being rewarded at the time,” said Max Tegmark, professor of physics at MIT and leader of the Future of Life Institute.

Speaking to Tegmark, Arkhipov’s daughter Elena Andriukova said the family were grateful for the prize, and its recognition of Arkhipov’s actions.

“He always thought that he did what he had to do and never considered his actions as heroism. He acted like a man who knew what kind of disasters can come from radiation,” she said. “He did his part for the future so that everyone can live on our planet.”

Department of State Telegram Transmitting Letter From Chairman Khrushchev to President Kennedy, October 26, 1962
By N. Khrushchev

… we and you ought not now to pull on the ends of the rope in which you have tied the knot of war, because the more the two of us pull, the tighter that knot will be tied. And a moment may come when that knot will be tied so tight that even he who tied it will not have the strength to untie it, and then it will be necessary to cut that knot, and what that would mean is not for me to explain to you, because you yourself understand perfectly of what terrible forces our countries dispose.

Consequently, if there is no intention to tighten that knot and thereby to doom the world to the catastrophe of thermonuclear war, then let us not only relax the forces pulling on the ends of the rope, let us take measures to untie that knot.

One Step from Nuclear War
By Martin J. Sherwin

Stevenson’s contribution to reason was more detailed and direct. Having fortuitously arrived in Washington on October 16 to attend a White House luncheon, the President briefed him after lunch about the missiles and the conclusions of that morning’s ExComm meeting.

“The alternatives are to go in by air and wipe them out,” he told his ambassador, “or to take other steps to render the weapons inoperable.”

Stevenson strongly demurred. “Let’s not go into an air strike until we have explored the possibilities of a peaceful solution,” he insisted, and then composed a memorandum that, in effect, outlined 90 percent of the steps that Kennedy followed in resolving the crisis.

Stevenson pointed out that while the United States had superior force in the Caribbean, any military action against Cuba could be countered by the Soviets in Berlin or Turkey, and that process would most likely escalate rapidly out of control.

“To start or risk starting a nuclear war is bound to be divisive at best,” he dryly noted, “and the judgments of history [a serious concern to JFK] rarely coincide with the tempers of the moment.” He understood the President’s dilemma, he said, but wrote, in an underscored sentence: “the means adopted have such incalculable consequences that I feel that you should have made it clear that the existence of nuclear missile bases anywhere [e.g., the Jupiter missiles in Turkey] is negotiable before we start anything.”

The problem with this interpretation is that Kennedy intensely disliked Stevenson, for both political and personal reasons. His enmity went so deep as to lead him to plant false stories after the crisis portraying his ambassador as having advocated “another Munich.” They suggested that Stevenson was a coward, not cut from the same heroic cloth as the Kennedy brothers.

But, in fact, Stevenson had been heroic in his dissent and, during those first confused days, had provided the clearest analysis of the dangers the crisis raised and the range of possible peaceful solutions.

Presidents and the Mythology of Munich
By Newsweek Staff

It may be true, as the saying goes, that leaders who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. But it’s also true that leaders who carelessly or heedlessly use historical analogies, who twist or hype the lessons of the past, may be destined to make even bigger mistakes than their predecessors. In modern American history, no metaphor has been more used—or abused—than “Munich.” The lesson of appeasement—that giving in to aggression just invites more aggression—has calcified into dogma. Neville Chamberlain’s name has become code for a weak-kneed, caviling politician, just as Winston Churchill has become the beau ideal of indomitable leadership. American politicians have gone to extraordinary lengths to be seen as Churchill, not Chamberlain, with results that have not always been in America’s best interests.

By the late 1950s, the meaning of Munich was deeply embedded in the psyches of not just politicians but academics and the old East Coast foreign-policy establishment. In “The Best and the Brightest,” David Halberstam captured Prof. McGeorge Bundy teaching “Government 180: The U.S. in World Affairs” at Harvard: “His Munich lecture was legendary … and when word got out that it was on the day’s schedule, he played to standing room only. It was done with great verve, Bundy imitating the various participants, his voice cracking with emotion as little Czechoslovakia fell, the German tanks rolling in just as the bells from Memorial Hall sounded. The lesson of course was interventionism, and the wise use of force.”

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy made Bundy his national-security adviser. The Kennedys’ favorite word—and highest praise—was “tough.” Kennedy wanted to show how tough he was by standing up to the Soviets in divided Berlin and by trying to overthrow the Kremlin’s client, Fidel Castro, in Cuba. Fortunately, his early impetuous blunder at the Bay of Pigs, the failed CIA-backed invasion of Cuba in 1961, was followed by a shrewd balancing of force and diplomacy during the Cuban missile crisis. Kennedy was fortunate enough, or wise enough, to have a speechwriter (and World War II conscientious objector), Ted Sorensen, who would write into JFK’s Inaugural Address, “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.” (The words are much quoted by Obama.)

The way the Kennedys played the Cuban missile crisis in public is deeply revealing of the power of Munich analogy—and later, the Vietnam analogy. After the crisis subsided in the fall of 1962, Kennedy arranged to have leaked to two friendly newsmen, Charles Bartlett and Stewart Alsop, the “inside story” of the crisis.

Charles Bartlett, Pulitzer-winning journalist and Kennedy loyalist, dies at 95
By Adam Bernstein

Mr. Bartlett’s friendship with the future president and first lady stemmed from their overlapping social circles as children of vastly wealthy Catholic business executives. Mr. Bartlett, the son of a Chicago stockbroker, was a seventh-generation Yale graduate whose family wintered in South Florida near the Kennedys. Mr. Bartlett briefly dated Bouvier, who reportedly found him too buttoned-down for her taste.

He and Kennedy cemented a friendship in 1946. Both were back from wartime service in the Navy and on the cusp of careers in journalism and politics, respectively. They ran across each other at a Palm Beach, Fla., nightclub called Ta-boo. There was “a lot of common ground,” Mr. Bartlett later said.

Perhaps the most vivid example of his loyalty and impeccable insider credentials took place during his reporting of the president’s handling of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis for the Saturday Evening Post, an article on which he teamed with journalist Stewart Alsop and that popularized the phrases “hawks and doves” and “eyeball to eyeball.”

The story caused a stir for its depiction of Adlai Stevenson II, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, as an appeaser willing to deactivate the Guantanamo naval base and others in return for removal of Soviet missiles on Cuba.

Mr. Bartlett had secured Kennedy’s cooperation for the story and made a version available to Kennedy to review for accuracy. It came back with many hand edits by the president, and Alsop wanted to keep a copy for posterity. Mr. Bartlett said he “threw it in the fire at Stewart’s house to protect Kennedy.”

What Did LBJ Know About the Cuban Missile Crisis? And When Did He Know It?
By Max Holland and Tara Marie Egan

Out of the 12 regular members of the fabled ExComm, four were not privy to the secret codicil that helped end the October 1962 missile crisis, namely, the explicit guarantee that America’s Jupiter missiles in Turkey would be quietly removed following a Soviet withdrawal of offensive missiles from Cuba. The ExComm members who were denied this knowledge were General Maxwell Taylor, C. Douglas Dillon, John McCone, and Lyndon Johnson.

As Stanford Professor Barton Bernstein, a leading missile crisis scholar, was the first to point out in 1992, the myth of the missile crisis settlement created an enormous burden of expectation for Lyndon Johnson, one that could never be actually met.

This burden was also one that Johnson was peculiarly—almost uniquely—ill-suited to shoulder, given his deep-seated insecurity and the barely concealed attitude of many Kennedy loyalists, most notably the attorney general. Their view was that Johnson was an undeserving successor, even a usurper, who occupied the White House temporarily, and only because of a terrible accident.

Of course, Johnson realized that several elements of Kennedy’s “finest hour” were sheer puffery, if not downright wrong. LBJ well knew that the ExComm deliberations had not been coolly analytical, closely argued, and rational at all times, but rather, “desultory, spastic, and often inchoate,” in Bernstein’s words. Johnson was also cognizant of Operation MONGOOSE, and surely realized the instrumental role that provocative covert action had played in precipitating the crisis.

Yet unbeknownst to Johnson, other elements that he believed were true were, in fact, false. The most critical fact about the settlement—the reality that Kennedy had claimed toughness, but cut a private deal—was not beyond Johnson’s ken, because such deal-making was hardly foreign to him. Still, he did not know such subterfuge had been employed here. Instead, LBJ labored under the false impression that American power, when expertly applied, could force a Communist leader bent on “nuclear blackmail” to back down and become pragmatic.

Being privy to the truth about the missile crisis settlement might not have altered materially Johnson’s decisions about Vietnam. Had Johnson had a more accurate understanding of the missile crisis’ true history, he still would have had to contend with the false analogies and “lessons” that were rife in public. But more knowledge would have indisputably served him better than what he was allowed to know.

Nixon, the CIA and the JFK Assassination
By Jefferson Morley

With the Vietnam War sputtering and the 1972 election looming, Nixon expected a tough reelection campaign that would pit him against Sen. Ted Kennedy, the younger brother of the slain president. Nixon’s plan was to frontally attack the Kennedy legacy. From his first days in office, Nixon had ordered adviser John Ehrlichman to obtain the CIA’s files on two embarrassing events in JFK’s presidency: the failed invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961 and the assassination of South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem in November 1963. Every six months or so, Ehrlichman visited CIA headquarters in Langley and invariably returned empty-handed.

Irritated, Nixon summoned Helms to the Oval Office on October 8, 1971, for some blunt talk. The tape of their exchange (collected and annotated on captures a ruthless president pressuring a proud intelligence chief. While the tape has been in the public record for years, one key passage has been largely overlooked by historians.

“Let me come to this delicate point that you’ve been talking to John about,” Nixon started. “John’s been talking to me about it, and I know he talked to you about it. Maybe I can perhaps put it in a different perspective than John. You probably wondered what the hell this was all about.”

It was about CIA operations.

“Now to get to the dirty tricks part of it,” Nixon went on. “I know what happened in Iran [a CIA-sponsored coup in 1953]. I also know what happened in Guatemala [a CIA-sponsored coup in 1954], and I totally approve both. I also know what happened with the planning of the Bay of Pigs under Eisenhower and totally approved of it.”

Watergate’s Cuban American history
By Russell Contreras

It’s been 50 years since the Watergate break-in that resulted in the fall of President Richard Nixon, but the story of the three Latinos on an anti-communist crusade who carried out the burglary is still little known.

Details: Virgilio González, Bernard Barker, and Eugenio Martínez, all since deceased, were three of the five burglars who broke into the Watergate Office building to illegally obtain information on Democrats.

  1. The crew, which also included Frank Sturgis, an Italian American, and Oklahoma-born James McCord, the head of security for Nixon’s Committee for the Re-Election of the President, carried bugging devices, cameras, film, and walkie-talkies.

The Cuban Americans were exiles and right-wing hardliners who believed, with no evidence, that Cuban leader Fidel Castro was helping Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern against Nixon in the 1972 election. They wanted to ensure McGovern lost and also hoped Nixon would help topple Castro.

  1. González was a Cuban-born locksmith who fled after Castro took power. He was recruited by Nixon aides to join the Watergate mission due to his skills as a locksmith and his anti-Castro activism.
  2. Barker was born in Havana to a Russian American father and a Cuban mother. He was part of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion and was recruited by Nixon aide E. Howard Hunt to join Nixon’s dirty “Special Investigations Unit.”
  3. Martínez was born in western Cuba and is said to have infiltrated Cuba hundreds of times on C.I.A. missions to plant anti-Castro agents. Hunt also enlisted him.
  4. Frank Sturgis, born Frank Fiorini to Italian immigrants, was a mysterious figure who worked as an undercover operative for the CIA and was often mistaken for a Cuban American because of his work to overthrow Castro.

Flashback: The men were arrested at the Watergate complex with McCord on June 17, 1972. In the coming months, more of Nixon’s aides would be arrested and indicted as investigators and journalists unveiled a massive political cover-up.

  1. “Watergate was the mother of all political scandals that gave birth to all future political scandals,” Michael Dobbs, author of King Richard: Nixon and Watergate–An American Tragedy, told Axios.
  2. Dobbs said the Cuban Americans told a judge they broke into the DNC headquarters to fight communism. “They were unable to explain the nature of the connection — and did not worry too much about the distinction.”
  3. The men pleaded guilty to conspiracy, theft, and wiretapping. They each served over a year in prison.

The intrigue: Some of the men were unapologetic in later news interviews.

  1. “I wanted to topple Castro, and unfortunately I toppled the president who was helping us, Richard Nixon,” Martínez said in a 2009 interview with the Spanish newspaper El Mundo after telling an English-language journalist years earlier that he regretted the decision.

When a Candidate Conspired With a Foreign Power to Win An Election
By John A. Farrell

Nixon was especially anxious on the night October 22, 1968. He had entered the fall campaign with a formidable lead over Vice President Hubert Humphrey, but the polls were narrowing as working-class Democrats returned to their party and Johnson’s efforts to make peace made news. Nixon believed he would prevail, unless a major event reset the political topography. He knew that Johnson knew that too.

As did the Soviet Union. Kremlin leaders had never much liked the red-baiting, anti-communist Nixon. To keep him from the Oval Office, and help Humphrey become president, they were meddling in the U.S. presidential campaign—pressing their clients in North Vietnam to agree to a ceasefire and hold constructive talks to end the war.

According to Haldeman’s notes, Kissinger alerted the Nixon campaign in late September, and again in early October, that something was up. Johnson was willing to halt the U.S. bombing of the North, and with the Soviets applying pressure on Hanoi to meet certain American conditions, the odds were never better for an early settlement of the conflict, which had already claimed 30,000 American lives and torn America apart.

Nixon had no influence in Moscow, or Hanoi. But he was not completely vulnerable to events. He had that pipeline to Saigon, where South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu and his associates feared that LBJ was selling them out. If Thieu would drag his feet, and stall the proposed peace talks, Nixon could portray Johnson’s failed peace initiative as a desperate political trick. But to do so, Nixon had to get word to Thieu, and tell him to stand firm.

Nixon’s main conduit was Chennault, the Chinese-American widow of Claire Chennault, the American aviator who led squadrons of “Flying Tigers” into battle on behalf of China against the Japanese invaders during World War II. She had many friends in the palaces of South Vietnam, nationalist China and the other pro-Western countries on the Asian rim.

Anna Chennault: the woman who helped Nixon sell out peace to win the presidency
By Jules Witcover

Days before that election, Chennault — the China-born widow of World War II hero Gen. Claire Chennault of the famed Flying Tigers and a major Nixon fund-raiser — passed word to South Vietnam President Nguyen Van Thieu that if he boycotted planned peace talks in Paris, he could count on the support of a President Nixon.

The Nixon campaign feared that Thieu’s presence would result in a deal that would end the war and swing the election to Humphrey. President Lyndon Johnson had ordered a halt in the bombing of Hanoi, also raising those hopes. But when Thieu indeed stayed away, the talks collapsed and Nixon was elected by 0.7 percent of the vote.

At the time, Humphrey had received from LBJ surveillance by the FBI of Chennault visits to the South Vietnamese Embassy in Washington to urge Thieu not to go to the Paris meeting. The FBI reported she had gone to the embassy, then to the Nixon campaign headquarters and back to the embassy. But Humphrey declined to make the information public, knowing it was classified, and he — incredibly — doubted Nixon would be capable of engaging in such a nefarious undertaking.

LBJ himself told Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen he considered Nixon’s actions an act of “treason,” as a possible violation of the little-known Logan Act forbidding individual citizens to inject themselves into the conduct of foreign policy.

At least two reporters were onto the Chennault story — Tom Ottenad of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Saville Davis of the Christian Science Monitor — and both were shunted off it by Johnson officials, though both made general references to it in their newspapers.

In 2014, Ken Hughes, a diligent researcher at the Miller Center of the University of Virginia, confirmed the story in exhaustive detail in his book on the Chennault affair, as did Nixon biographer John A. Farrell in his book last year.

By this time, however, Nixon had already been undone politically by Watergate, and the earlier affair that could have changed history sooner was reduced to an obscure footnote, demonstrating the lengths through which the man was willing to go to gain power.

Nixon, in getting away with the Chennault caper, may have convinced himself he could do so again in Watergate. “If only we had known,” Mr. Hughes wrote. “Nixon wasn’t a rogue with a redemptive streak of patriotism. He played politics with peace to win the 1968 election. He did the same to win re-election in 1972 at the cost of thousands of American lives.”

How G. Gordon Liddy Bungled Watergate With an Office-Supply Request
By Garrett M. Graff

As inevitable and foregone as President Richard Nixon’s fall might seem in hindsight, what’s remarkable looking back at the events of 1972 to 1974 is how close he came to getting away with the whole thing — how well the cover-up held for so long and how narrowly he came to barreling right past the embarrassment of what his press secretary called a “third-rate burglary.” Months later, after all, he was reelected by the largest presidential landslide in American history.

Ultimately, multiple Cabinet officials would face criminal charges related to the scandal, an FBI director would resign and face prosecution, a congressman would die by suicide and a CIA director would plead guilty to misleading Congress. All told, 69 people would be indicted on charges stemming from the related investigations.

Why We’re Still Obsessed With Watergate
By David Greenberg

Nixon may be the rare political subject who never ceases to be interesting, but even he would not captivate us anew every five or 10 years had not Watergate tapped into something deep in the American psyche. The United States was fractured and divided in the early 1970s, in some ways as divided as we are today, but Nixon managed to bring about, however temporarily, a strange and rapid consensus. As the evidence mounted, Republicans and Democrats, right-wingers and left-wingers, converged around the imperative that he must resign or be removed from office. Across the spectrum people saw that at the root of Watergate was Nixon’s heedlessness toward the legal and constitutional limits on his power, his belief, as he later told the British television personality, “that if the president does it, that means it’s not illegal.” Nixon treated the FBI, the CIA and the IRS as instruments of his own will and desire. Burglaries and perjury did not trouble him.

This view of limitless executive power alarmed Americans — and still compels our attention — because it taps into the most fundamental concerns in American politics since its founding: the fear of the subversion of democracy by an overly powerful executive. The American Revolution may have begun as simply a war for independence from Britain but it came to embrace the rejection of monarchy itself. So fearful did the Americans remain of centralized power that their first government, the Articles of Confederation, allowed for no executive at all. And while the Constitution of course established a presidency, its powers were carefully hedged. Thereafter, whenever any president sought to expand those powers — Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt — he was decried as a would-be monarch, tyrant or dictator, with the terminology changing according to the era.

Typically, after a moment of controversy passes, we come to see these sorts of attacks on a president as partisan, hyperbolic, even hysterical. (Remember the panic about Barack Obama’s supposedly dangerous appointment of executive branch “czars”?) But with Nixon they were well-founded. They came, moreover, after several decades of an increasingly “imperial presidency”,” as the phrase had it: an executive branch that was growing in size, scope and power, through World War II and the Cold War, consigning the (relatively) weak presidency of the 19th century irretrievably to the dust heap of history. Watergate was a real and necessary reckoning with the growth of presidential power and the dangers that it posed.

The Madman and the Bomb
By Garrett M. Graff

The scene from the White House south lawn on August 9, 1974, is vivid in the nation’s memory. That morning, President Richard Nixon famously boarded Marine One for the final time, put on a wide grin and fired off a final double-V to the assembled crowd.

But one of the most interesting aspects of that day is what didn’t happen on the south lawn: Even though Nixon had more than two hours left in his tenure, the most critical tool of the modern presidency had already been taken away from him. He never noticed it, but the nuclear “football” didn’t travel with him as he boarded the helicopter, and later, Air Force One for his flight back to California.

In a democratic country without hereditary power, royal crowns or bejeweled thrones, the nuclear football is in some ways the only physical manifestation of our nation’s head of state.

Yet, on that August day, it had been quietly removed from Nixon’s hands—remaining behind at the White House with the incoming commander-in-chief, Gerald Ford.

Moreover, Defense Secretary James Schlesinger recalled years later that in the final days of the Nixon presidency he had issued an unprecedented set of orders: If the president gave any nuclear launch order, military commanders should check with either him or Secretary of State Henry Kissinger before executing them. Schlesinger feared that the president, who seemed depressed and was drinking heavily, might order Armageddon. Nixon himself had stoked official fears during a meeting with congressmen during which he reportedly said, “I can go in my office and pick up a telephone, and in 25 minutes, millions of people will be dead.” Senator Alan Cranston had phoned Schlesinger, warning about “the need for keeping a berserk president from plunging us into a holocaust.”

Cranston’s concern is something that has nagged at nuclear war planners since the earliest days of the Cold War. The U.S. nuclear system is designed to respond to a commander in chief’s launch order instantaneously. Missiles would leave their silos just four minutes after the president’s verbal command. During the Cold War, there wasn’t a second to waste.

That unilateral launch authority is so powerful, so unchecked, and so scary that, years before Watergate, Nixon had turned it into its own geopolitical strategy, the so-called Madman Theory, with which he threatened the Soviets and the Vietnamese that he might actually be crazy enough to nuke Hanoi—or Moscow—if they didn’t accede to his demands. The “mutually assured destruction” of the Cold War was predicated on the idea that the leaders of both superpowers were rational enough to avoid a war that would end with the destruction of both nations. The Madman Theory forced the world to consider a more frightening option: That the man in charge of the nukes might not be rational at all.

In the summer of 1969, Nixon knew he needed to do something bold about Vietnam. He’d been elected with a promise to end the war, but months later, the conflict continued to consume his presidency, and peace was nowhere in sight. When the Paris peace talks had collapsed earlier that summer, the North Vietnamese had declared that they’d sit silently “until the chairs rot.”

Nixon and Kissinger sought to restart the negotiations by pushing the Soviets to lean on the North Vietnamese. And so, Nixon turned to what came to be known as the “Madman Theory”—a game-theory based approach he had witnessed as Dwight Eisenhower’s vice president that was meant to raise uncertainty in the Soviet mind about whether Nixon would launch his nuclear weapons if provoked. The White House needed to convince the Soviets that Nixon would resort to anything—including a nuclear attack—to get peace in Vietnam. As Defense Secretary Melvin Laird said later, “He never [publicly] used the term ‘madman,’ but he wanted adversaries to have the feeling that you could never put your finger on what he might do next. Nixon got this from Ike, who always felt this way.”

The first step of the Madman Plan was setting a public deadline for progress at the peace talks. Nixon and Kissinger agreed on November 1, and during a secret August meeting, Kissinger relayed that date to the North Vietnamese. “If by November 1, no major progress has been made towards a solution,” he told the envoy, “we will be compelled—with great reluctance—to take measures of the greatest consequence.” What precisely Kissinger meant was purposefully left to the imagination. “I want the North Vietnamese to believe that I’ve reached the point that I might do anything to stop the war,” Nixon told Haldeman during one meeting that fall. “We’ll just slip the word to them that ‘For God’s sake, you know Nixon is obsessed about Communism. We can’t restrain him when he’s angry—and he has his hand on the nuclear button.’”

As the fall unfolded, Nixon and a small group of senior advisers took the bluff one step farther. On October 6, Kissinger telephoned Laird, ordering a “series of increased alert measures designed to convey to the Soviets an increasing readiness by U.S. strategic forces.”

“Could you exercise the DEFCONs for a day or two in October?” Kissinger asked the defense secretary, using the phrase for the nation’s defense readiness. “The president will appreciate it very much.”

Eventually the White House, the Pentagon, and the National Security Council settled on a menu of eight options, including suspending training flights, maintaining communications silence, and the dispersal of nuclear bombers to airfields around the country.

As Kissinger told an interviewer decades later, “Something had to be done,” to back up the threats Nixon had made and push the Soviets toward helping with Vietnam. “What were they going to do?” he said dismissively.

That, of course, was the big question: What might the Soviets have done? Had they really thought Nixon was crazy enough to launch an unprovoked nuclear attack, they very well might have decided to launch their own attack first.

At least some of the nation’s military leaders feared that possibility, and were not so sanguine about feinting nuclear war. As Laird’s aide, Colonel Robert Pursley, who had developed with Haig the plan to scare the Soviets, said later, “It was wrong to push sticks through the bar at a caged animal; that was not in our strategic interest.”

The whole “madman” strategy hinges on one pivotal fact: That the president has almost unlimited and instantaneous authority to push the button. It’s undoubtedly the most powerful unilateral action that a commander in chief can take. Whereas there are careful multi-branch checks on most presidential powers, over many decades the U.S. carefully honed its nuclear launch procedures to strip away any check or balance that could delay or stymie a launch. It was important that the country be able to launch its arsenal as quickly as possible.

“All this was driven by Cold War thinking,” explains Joe Cirincione, who runs the Ploughshares Fund, which advocates the elimination of nuclear weapons. “The president needed to be able to launch our missiles before the Soviets destroyed them. The whole process is set up to be rapid and decisive. Anything that would slow it down was taken away. We have a system that makes the president a nuclear monarch.”

“If you decide for whatever reason that you don’t want Congress involved, that you don’t want the body that is supposed to have sole authority over warmaking have a say in the war that matters most, well at least have it be two monarchs—have it be the chairman of the Joint Chiefs who has to weigh in as well,” Cirincione says. “There should be an institutional barrier to an insane president launching nuclear war.”

“This is highly dangerous, undemocratic system,” he says. “It’s an obsolete vestige of the Cold War.”

The Rise and Fall of Richard Helms
By Thomas Powers

The Watergate and Church committee investigations uncovered a great deal about Nixon, the CIA and the secret history of the last 20 years before they finally came to a halt, but as far as I know, no one ever learned anything from Helms. He testified on more than 30 separate occasions, sometimes in open hearings, more often in executive session, but the secrets which emerged did not come from him. During his testimony in February 1973, he did not tell the Foreign Relations Committee about the aid to E. Howard Hunt in 1971, or about his meeting with Ehrlichman and Haldeman on June 23rd, 1972, when he was asked to scuttle the FBI’s investigation of Watergate funding. He did not mention the Ellsberg break-in, although he certainly ought to have known of it by that time, and he flatly denied CIA attempts to overthrow Allende even though one of the senators present, Stuart Symington, knew a good deal about it. He did not mention the Huston domestic intelligence plan or Nixon’s request through Ehrlichman for certain CIA files which might discredit the Kennedys—files which Helms finally handed over to Nixon himself with the observation that he worked for only one president at a time. He did not tell them what explanation Nixon gave for his dismissal, if any, or suggest who might have been hired behind the Watergate break-in. Helms was, then as later, the least forthcoming of witnesses.

There are three reasons why Helms kept the secrets. Obviously, the first is that he was at the heart of a lot of them; candor would amount to self-incrimination. Helms was protecting himself.

The second is that the secrets to which Watergate led threatened to wreck the CIA by shattering that complacent trust in the Agency’s honor and good sense, without which it can have no freedom of action. If Congress once insisted on real oversight of the Agency’s operations the secrets would begin to get out and the CIA would be hobbled. Helms was protecting the Agency.

The third reason is harder to explain. The history of the CIA is the secret history of the Cold War. Over the last 30 years one-half of the CIA only answered questions—sometimes rightly, sometimes not—but the other half. . . did things. . . . The things it did were not all as bad as bribery, extortion and murder, etc., but they were all the sort of things which cannot work unless they are secret. If a foreign leader is known to be on the CIA’s payroll he ceases to be a leader. Who would believe in the anticommunism of a newspaper which could not publish without CIA funds? How can it be argued that Allende is a threat to American security when it is known that ITT is a principal advocate of his removal? There is a chasm between what nations say and what nations do, and the CIA—or the KGB, or MI-6, or Chile’s DINA, or Israel’s Shin Bet, as the case may be—is the bridge across the chasm.

The CIA’s belief in secrets is almost metaphysical. Intelligence officers are cynical men in most ways, but they share one unquestioned tenet of faith which reminds me of that old paradox which is as close as most people ever get to epistemology: if a tree falls in the desert, is there any sound?

The CIA would say no. The real is the known; if you can keep the secrets, you can determine the reality. If no one knows we tried to kill Castro, then we didn’t do it. If ITT’s role in Chile is never revealed, then commercial motives had nothing to do with the Allende affair. If no one knows we overthrew Premier Mossadegh, then the Iranians did it all by themselves. If no one knows we tried to poison Lumumba, it didn’t happen. If no one knows how many Free World politicians had to be bribed, then we weren’t friendless.

So it wasn’t just himself and the CIA that Helms was protecting when he kept the secrets. It was the stability of a quarter-century of political “arrangements,” the notion of a Free World, the illusion of American honor. Only Helms would not have admitted it was an illusion, perhaps not even to himself. If no one knows what we did, he would have thought, then we aren’t that sort of country.

The Plot Against American Democracy That Isn’t Taught in Schools
By Jonathan M. Katz

Most Americans prefer to think of ourselves as plucky heroes: the rebels who topple the empire, not the storm troopers running its battle stations. U.S. textbooks — and more importantly the novels, video games, monuments, tourist sites, and films where most people encounter versions of American history — are more often about the Civil War or World War II, the struggles most easily framed in moral certitudes of right and wrong, and in which those fighting under the U.S. flag had the strongest claims to being on the side of good.

“Imperialism,” on the other hand, is a foreign-sounding word. It brings up images, if it brings any at all, of redcoats terrorizing Boston, or perhaps British officials in linen suits sipping gin and tonics in Bombay. The idea that the United States, a country founded in rebellion against empire, could have colonized and conquered other peoples seems anathema to everything we are taught America stands for.

And it is. It was no coincidence that thousands of young men like Smedley Butler were convinced to sign up for America’s first overseas war of empire on the promise of ending Spanish tyranny and imperialism in Cuba. Brought up as a Quaker on Philadelphia’s Main Line, Butler held on to principles of equality and fairness throughout his life, even as he fought to install and defend despotic regimes all over the world. That tension — between the ideal of the United States as a leading champion of democracy on the one hand and a leading destroyer of democracy on the other — remains the often unacknowledged fault line running through American politics today.

How Wars Abroad Damage Democracy at Home
By Jonathan M. Katz

General Butler and his fellow Marines were deployed in much the same way drones are today — a tool for presidents to quietly kill and meddle in other countries without having to commit large contingents of ground forces. And kill they did. During the brutal U.S. occupation of Haiti, which lasted from 1915 to 1934, then-Major Butler helped to pioneer the creation of local client forces, who — like their latter-day successors in Afghanistan and Iraq — often depended on U.S. air power.

A description of a Marine-led attack on a Haitian village circa 1919 could be ripped from Ms. Khan’s reporting, except the attack involved a biplane instead of a drone:

“It descends, spins, its motor screaming. It drops bombs and goes straight back up. It turns around again, aims at another group and resumes its hellish noise. This maneuver is repeated several times. The cows moo, panic-stricken, the women scream, the men empty the plaza with their machetes and guns … We then advance toward the camp, finish off the wounded and count the corpses.”

General Butler eventually became disillusioned by the horrors he participated in, and his realization that the greatest beneficiaries of them were the banks and corporate interests who always seemed to follow his Marines ashore. But it was only after returning to the United States and retiring in 1931 that he began to understand how imperial impunity abroad breeds authoritarianism at home.

His first wake-up call came in 1932, when thousands of World War I veterans and their families converged on Washington to demand long-promised payments they needed to weather the Depression. Instead of sending help, President Herbert Hoover sent the Army under the command of Mr. Butler’s fellow general, Douglas MacArthur. The soldiers fired chemical weapons at the veterans and their families and burned their makeshift shacks to the ground. A baby choked on the gas and died shortly after. It was as if a scene from Haiti or the Philippines had come to the shadow of the Capitol.

Facing history to avoid repeating it
By Stephen Kinzer

Some countries have done terrible things, but not my country. Throughout our history we have promoted peace. We never brutalized our citizens or launched aggressive wars. The world would be a much better place if other countries were as good as ours is.

People in many places grow up believing this. Narratives of national innocence are comforting. When reality crashes against them, some people panic. That’s why a bill has been introduced in the New Hampshire legislature to forbid the teaching of any “negative account” of American history. A bill in Texas would ban textbooks containing material that might “make students feel uncomfortable.” Virginia has opened a “tip line” where parents can report “divisive” school assignments.

Advocates of this kind of censorship argue that studying the ugly aspects of our history erodes national unity and weakens traditional patriotism. They’re right. Refusing to face history, though, ignores the reality that many nations, especially great nations, have at some point committed great crimes. How fully should we confront the worst things we’ve done? The United States is hardly the only country wrestling with this dilemma — and Donald Trump was hardly the first world leader to rail against books “that try to make students ashamed of their own history.”

The United States has been the hope of generations, the giver of freedom to countless millions, and an inspiration to the world. It also tolerated slavery for generations and imposed bloody dictatorships on foreign countries. These facts are not contradictory. Good and evil coexist in national histories just as in individual characters. Acknowledging one does not make the other disappear.

Americans, like people everywhere, inflate our national successes and minimize or forget our failures. There will never be an end, for example, to the torrent of American books, movies, TV shows, video games, comic books, exhibitions, articles, conferences, speeches, and general chest-thumping about the American role in World War II. In our version, we won the war and liberated the world. Never mind that the United States lost fewer than a quarter million soldiers during its one year of fighting the Nazis in Europe, while the Soviet Union fought them for four years and lost 10 million.

Our version of this story is endlessly satisfying because it portrays us as we like to see ourselves: crushing evil and leaving democracy as our gift.

‘I’ve never regretted doing it’: Daniel Ellsberg on 50 years since leaking the Pentagon Papers
By David Smith

Only recently, as he prepares for the 50th anniversary, has Ellsberg dwelled on how doubts about the war went higher in the political hierarchy than is widely understood. “The Pentagon Papers are always described as revealing to people how much lying there was but there was a particular kind of lying that’s not revealed in the Pentagon Papers.

“Yes, everybody was lying but for different reasons and for different causes. In particular, a very large range of high-level doves thought we should get out and should not have got involved at all. They were lying to the public to give the impression that they were supporting the president when they did not believe in what the president was doing.

“They did not agree with it but they would have spoken out at the cost of their jobs and their future careers. None of them did that or took any risk of doing it and the price of the silence of the doves was several million Vietnamese, Indochinese, and 58,000 Americans.”

The Nixon administration obtained a court order preventing the Times from printing more of the documents, citing national security concerns. But Ellsberg leaked copies to the Washington Post and 17 other newspapers, prompting a legal battle all the way to the supreme court, which ruled 6-3 to allow publication to resume.

“It was Nixon’s fatal decision to enjoin them and the willingness across the country to commit civil disobedience and publish material that the attorney general and the president were saying every day, ‘This is dangerous to national security, we can’t afford one more day of it.’ Nineteen papers in all defied that. I don’t think there was any other wave of civil disobedience like that in any respect I can think of by major institutions across the country.”

But the government wanted revenge. Ellsberg spent 13 days in hiding from the FBI but eventually went on trial in 1973 accused of espionage, conspiracy and stealing government property. The charges were dismissed due to gross governmental misconduct and illegal evidence gathering against him – crimes which ultimately contributed to Nixon’s downfall.

Vietnam war leaker Daniel Ellsberg warns against extraditing Julian Assange
By Reuters

Daniel Ellsberg, who in 1971 leaked documents known as the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times and other news outlets, told the court that WikiLeaks’ disclosures had shown Americans how they had been misled about US action in Iraq and Afghanistan just as his leaks, which also revealed previously secret information, did about the Vietnam War.

Ellsberg cited a US military video, which WikiLeaks published in 2010 under the title “Collateral Murder”, showing a 2007 attack by Apache helicopters in Baghdad that killed a dozen people, including two Reuters news staff.

“I was acutely aware that what was depicted in that video deserved the term murder, a war crime,” he told London’s Old Bailey court via videolink. “I was very glad that the American public was confronted with this reality of our war.”

Earlier, John Goetz, an investigative reporter who worked for Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine on the first publication of the documents in 2010, said Assange was careful to ensure that the names of informants in hundreds of thousands of leaked secret US government documents were never published.

Goetz said WikiLeaks was frustrated when a password that allowed access to the full, unredacted material was published in a book by Guardian reporters in February 2011.

Julian Assange: WikiLeaks founder’s case endangers press freedom, his wife tells DW
By Zac Crellin

Human rights lawyer Stella Assange — the wife of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange — says her husband’s ongoing extradition battle has set a dangerous precedent for press freedom worldwide.

Assange is wanted in the United States on 18 criminal charges, including espionage, for publishing classified documents that detailed war crimes. If he is extradited, he could be sentenced to up to 175 years in prison.

“This is the most dangerous attack on press freedom globally because it is the United States that is going after a foreign journalist working abroad, publishing abroad,” Assange’s wife told DW’s Birgit Maas.

The South African-born lawyer called on other Western governments to push back against the extradition of her husband, who is an Australian citizen detained in the United Kingdom.

“It will define the scope of press freedom in Europe. Is it permissible for a foreign power to reach into the European space and limit what the press can publish?” she added.

“Think about if China were to do exactly the same thing and prosecute a journalist in Germany on the same principle because that journalist exposed Chinese crimes against humanity. The premise is complete insanity and it cannot stand.”

The First Casualty
By Garry Wills

Much of the German populace was stunned by the quick ending of World War I. The government had kept it in the dark about reversals, defeat and the need for armistice. Many refused to believe that the causes for the war’s end were military. The country had not lost on the battlefield, but was sold out at the top. Ironically, these people would not believe the conquered government, because they had believed too well the losing government. They only called the liars “Liars!” when they stopped lying.

Winston Churchill, who was First Lord of the Admiralty in that war and who had been a correspondent himself (a very bad one) in the Boer War, suggested that all journalists be confined to London, and then tried to have the government take over The Times of London as its official voice. General Kitchener gave orders that any journalist who showed up at the front be arrested and deprived of his passport.

There was a great deal to hide in those early days of the war. At the Battle of the Frontiers, between August 14 and 25, 1914, the Germans killed a quarter of a million French soldiers. The British did not hear about that until after the war. Journalists present censored themselves and were praised by their editors for doing so. When the chief of the British press bureau tried to “’clear” slightly higher casualty figures, to stress the urgency of larger military recruitment, he was rebuked by the papers for letting them carry a closer approximation to the truth.

The American record was no better than the British. General Pershing shared Kitchener’s attitude toward the press. Each journalist going to the war zone had to post a $10,000 bond forfeitable if he did not obey the censors in every detail. The great American scandal of the war was a total breakdown of supply. Mr. Knightley checks off aspects of the problem: “’The United States finished the war without forwarding a single aircraft to the battle zone; of 4,400 tanks put under contract for building, only fifteen reached France, and they arrived after the Armistice; by January, 1918, eight months after entering the war, America had not turned out a single heavy gun, because she had neither the tools nor the workmen. But for the arsenals of her allies. the United States would have been unable to fight.”

Yet none of this could he reported. Only a handful of journalists tried to break the ban on such information —to their cost. It helped to be young. without an established career. Westbrook Pegler, a brash 23‐year‐old, revealed that men were dying of pneumonia for lack of blankets, dry clothes and proper heating equipment: Pershing himself called up the United Press to “suggest” that Pegler he recalled (he was). Heywood Broun wrote a longer expose—how mules had been sent to the cavalry without harnesses, trucks without motors, tractors in place of motorcycles. His $10,000 bond was confiscated, and Pershing tried to bring action against him as a traitor.

Most cover‐ups are costly. Governments begin by trying to hide the truth from outsiders, and end by hiding it from themselves.

Those not fighting assuage any guilt they may feel by a different kind of obedience. They volunteer their wilingness to believe as a proof of devotion to the cause. The injunction to silence—World War II’s “Loose Lips Sink Ships”—makes those submitting feel virtuous, important and involved.

A liberal democracy submits to propaganda more readily than a totalitarian state. Self‐censorship is always more effective than bureaucratic censorship.

Koch showers millions on think tanks to push a restrained foreign policy
By Nahal Toosi

Libertarian business tycoon Charles Koch is handing out $10 million in new grants to promote voices of military restraint at American think tanks, part of a growing effort by Koch to change the U.S. foreign policy conversation.

The grants, details of which were shared exclusively with POLITICO, are being split among four institutions: the Atlantic Council; the Center for the National Interest; the Chicago Council on Global Affairs; and the RAND Corporation.

Each institution is using the funds in different ways. But, broadly speaking, the money will pay for scholarly positions and activities that explore various aspects of U.S. foreign policy, with a focus on testing widely held assumptions about the use of U.S. military force.

Will Ruger, vice president for research and policy at the Charles Koch Institute, the vehicle for the grants, said it’s high time that the concepts of “realism and restraint” got a second look.

“We think that the marketplace of ideas has been too narrow and has not been healthy,” Ruger said. “There are a lot of important ideas that either need to be leveraged in our policy analysis or discovered or re-discovered.”

Around $4.5 million will go to the Atlantic Council, which will use it to establish what it is calling the New American Engagement Initiative. The grant will support five scholars and activities related in part to how the U.S. balances its use of diplomacy, international alliances and the military.

“This is our biggest engagement to date with the Koch Institute, and it’s because we both recognize that the world we’re facing can’t be addressed with the tools we’ve used in the past,” said Fred Kempe, president and CEO of the Atlantic Council. “We just need to be more creative to address a dramatically changed international landscape, including new major power competition.”

Last year, Koch turned heads when he gave nearly $500,000 to help establish the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a new think tank devoted to reining in the use of U.S. military action. The institute also received roughly the same amount from liberal billionaire financier George Soros.

Ruger stressed that the Koch Institute respects the freedom of the think tanks it is funding and realizes that the research they do may not always produce results that align with the pro-restraint model.

What matters more, he said, is simply to get people to think beyond the conventional wisdom that places a priority on military force.

“There is an inflection point in American politics right now,” Ruger said. “There’s a real opportunity for good scholarship to impact the debate.”

Charles Koch Is Keeping His Business in Russia, Despite Zelenskyy’s Pleas
By Caleb Ecarma

Koch Industries, conservative mega-donor Charles Koch’s Kansas-based manufacturing and energy behemoth, announced on Wednesday that it will continue operating in Russia, even as hundreds of corporations worldwide pull operations from the country in response to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Dave Robertson, the president and COO of Koch Industries, said in a statement the conglomerate’s glass-manufacturing subsidiary Guardian Industries would “not walk away” from its roughly 600 employees in Russia—stating it would only put them “at greater risk and do more harm than good”—or “hand over these manufacturing facilities to the Russian government so it can operate and benefit from them.” Guardian has two glass-making plants in Russia that make up a small fraction of the roughly 14,000-person Koch subsidiary. Robertson, cited a Wall Street Journal report that Russian prosecutors have warned Western companies that their assets could be seized if they withdraw from the country. Robertson did condemn Putin’s “horrific and abhorrent aggression against Ukraine” in his Wednesday statement, calling it “an affront to humanity,” adding that the company has provided “humanitarian aid” to Ukrainians and those affected in neighboring countries. Koch Industries, which employs more than 122,000 people worldwide, is complying with all applicable sanctions and regulations, according to Robertson’s statement.

Koch Industries’ decision to stay in Russian is consistent with the positions others in Charles Koch’s network have taken. Earlier this week, Stand Together, Koch’s nonprofit, warned against completely severing the West’s business ties with Russia and called for “targeted sanctions against Russia.” “We also believe that sanctions are a legitimate tool of statecraft. However, broad-based economic sanctions rarely achieve their desired policy outcomes,” Dan Caldwell, the nonprofit’s vice president of foreign policy, wrote in a Monday statement. He went on to question the effectiveness of “overly-aggressive” sanctions, saying they do more to strengthen authoritarian regimes—and punish civilians—rather than actually weaken adversarial governments. Will Ruger, president of the American Institute for Economic Research, a Koch-backed think tank, also argued against U.S. sanctions in Russia, as did the Koch-backed organization Concerned Veterans for America.

Koch Industries reverses course and says it will stop doing business in Russia
By Kate Gibson

Koch President Dave Robertson told employees in a memo that Guardian Glass, a subsidiary of the Wichita, Kansas, industrial conglomerate, is working with its local managers in Russia “to find an exit strategy” that also ensures the safety of their employees.

“Sanctions announced in early April, combined with the Russian government’s response and other actions, have made conditions untenable for Guardian to continue operations in Russia,” Robertson, who is also chief operating officer at Koch, said in the memo, which was posted Thursday on the company’s website.

Guardian, one of the largest glass manufacturers in the world, has roughly 600 workers at two factories in the Russian cities of Ryazan and Rostov. Guardian earlier this month asked its Russian workers to shut down the plants, prompting Russian authorities to repeat warnings that such moves could lead to their prosecution and imprisonment, Robertson stated.

Along with seeking to protect workers, Koch wants to avoid Russia seizing the plants and “financially benefiting” from the facilities, the memo also states.

Koch, the second-largest privately owned business in America with $115 billion in annual revenue, had drawn criticism for continuing to operate and sell products in Russia despite that nation’s assault on Ukrainian cities.

“All other Koch companies, none with operating assets in Russia, have ended or are ending business activities there,” Robertson said.

More than 750 companies have said they’re voluntarily curtailing operations in Russia to some degree beyond the minimum legally required by international sanctions, while others continue undeterred, according to a tally compiled by Yale University professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld and his research team.

Atlantic Council cuts ties to Koch-funded foreign policy initiative
By Hailey Fuchs

The Atlantic Council is parting ways with a Charles Koch-funded foreign policy strategy initiative after staff at the Washington think tank raised concerns about the arrangement and the initiative’s position on U.S. policy toward Russia.

Koch, who is a major funder of conservative, libertarian and philanthropic initiatives, provided the Council with a $4.5 million grant in 2020. The money was designed to set up the New American Engagement Initiative, a national security effort that planned to use the funds to support scholars and their efforts, which was housed under the Council’s Scowcroft Center for Security and Strategy.

The Council’s staffing shake-up is the latest example of turmoil that has come either in the wake of think tanks accepting Koch funding or taking positions on the Ukraine war that has ruffled feathers. Two experts at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft — launched, in part, from a $500,000 gift from Koch — recently resigned from the organization. National security analyst Joseph Cirincione, a former senior nonresident fellow, said he decamped from the Quincy Institute over its position on the war in Ukraine. And another Quincy affiliate, Retired Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, announced his resignation from the board in June.

What think tank drama tells us about the US response to Russia’s war
By Jonathan Guyer

Think tanks want to be quoted in every story. They never want to be the story.

But given that Washington’s dozens of foreign policy think tanks influence what policymakers do and how the media thinks about the global issues of the moment, think tank drama matters.

That’s why it’s noteworthy that scholars from the New American Engagement Initiative (NAEI), a program that pushes for “unconventional thinking,” are decamping from the Atlantic Council, one of Washington’s biggest foreign policy institutions, to the smaller, independent Stimson Center.

A personnel change in the corridors of Washington’s think tanks may seem insidery, but the exit reveals an emerging ideological fault line that is less about the source of funding and more about the contours of the debate about American primacy, especially around Russia’s war on Ukraine. In part, it reflects a bigger debate about restraint.

How the West should respond to the war is becoming the ideological issue around which foreign policy scholars and institutions define themselves.

The Atlantic Council has about $38 million of annual revenue according to the most recent records available (in contrast to Stimson’s $8 million). Atlantic Council experts regularly testify before Congress, attend policy calls with the White House, and are quoted all over, including outlets like Vox. Though think tanks rarely take institutional views on policy writ large, they do have ideological leanings, and it’s clear the Atlantic Council is pro-NATO by design, with many European government bodies as major donors.

All think tanks run on money from somewhere, and in addition to its European donors, the Atlantic Council receives gifts from weapons-makers (Raytheon, General Atomics, Lockheed Martin), surveillance firms (Palantir), oil companies (ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP), and undemocratic nations (the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain). Even Burisma, the energy company that invited Hunter Biden to its board, donated between $100,000 and $250,000.

When Ashford and Burrows argued in a 2021 article not to center human rights in US discussions with Russia, it caused an uproar within the Atlantic Council. Twenty-two of the think tank’s staffers published an open letter seeking to “disassociate ourselves from the report.” While policy disputes sometimes arise at think tanks, and that can be very healthy indeed, it spilling out into public in such an acrimonious way is unusual.

As policy recommendations that advocate restraint enter the American mainstream and into the halls of places like the Atlantic Council, there’s new pushback: accusations of isolationism and questioning of the motives of funders, rather than real engagement with the ideas at hand.

One indication of the initiative’s tenuous fit was an article that Ashford wrote in May arguing against Finland and Sweden joining NATO. The Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, it might be noted, donated more than $250,000 recently to the Atlantic Council, and the Ministry of Defense of Finland more than $100,000. In April, an internal email from Stand Together was leaked, and Atlantic Council fellow Daniel Fried, a former US ambassador to Poland, used it as an opportunity to bash NAEI’s funder.

In April 2021, the Biden administration was considering Matthew Rojansky, director of the Kennan Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center, to be the White House’s top Russia official. But a high-profile campaign went after Rojansky for being “soft on the Kremlin.” Then dozens of foreign policy leaders came out in favor of him, but ultimately Rojansky was blocked from a crucial role as the National Security Council’s Russia director.

This week’s think tank commotion recalls what those experts writing in support of Rojansky’s candidacy said last year: “We the undersigned wish with this letter to defend the ideal of free inquiry and discussion. We encourage others as well to defend and uphold it.”

That’s something that’s badly needed in Washington policy circles as the Ukraine war enters the half-year mark.

Anti-war think tank attacked
By Robert Wright

There are various ways to reconcile (a) believing that unwise US policies made invasion more likely with (b) blaming Putin for the invasion. Here’s my own approach:

Those unwise US policies didn’t violate international law, whereas Russia’s invasion did. So Russia is the criminal, and it’s important to punish criminal behavior (though I share the view of some people at Quincy that pushing Russia entirely out of Ukraine probably can’t be done without courting an unacceptable risk of regional or even nuclear war).

There are other ways to reconcile the belief that wiser American policy might have averted this war with the belief that Russia is nonetheless to blame for it. But it’s not shocking to see people overlook these possibilities and fallaciously conflate criticizing American policy with excusing Russia’s behavior. After all, to not make that conflation is to exhibit a kind of nuance that’s rare not just in foreign policy discourse but in discourse about blame and responsibility generally.

As a rule, an argument about the moral responsibility for some calamity is an argument with two sides, advanced by two teams. One team dwells on things Actor A did that led to the calamity, and the other team dwells on things Actor B did that led to the calamity. And the two teams contend, respectively, that Actor B or Actor A deserves all the blame.

The problem with this kind of discourse isn’t just that it’s binary—that it assumes 100 percent of the blame must lie on one side or the other. Another problem—and one more relevant to the Ukraine issue—is that this kind of discourse doesn’t take account of the ambiguity of the word “blame.” Blaming a country for unwise policy isn’t the same as blaming it for violating international norms, let alone blaming it for violating international law.

Mikhail Gorbachev, a too-trusting statesman
By Stephen Kinzer

Early in 1990, just a few months after the Berlin Wall fell, Gorbachev came to Berlin for decisive talks with Western leaders. He was in a generous mood. He was open to dissolving the Warsaw Pact, the alliance through which the Soviets had subjugated Eastern Europe; allowing Germany to reunite; and even bringing all Soviet troops home to Russia. In return, he wanted a guarantee that the countries Moscow was liberating would not use their newfound freedom against Moscow. Specifically, no expansion of the American-led military alliance, NATO, into Central or Eastern Europe. New nations would be independent but neutral — not part of NATO.

Western leaders jumped at the offer. James Baker, the US secretary of state, assured Gorbachev that whatever happened, NATO’s jurisdiction would not shift “one inch to the east.” Years later, Baker said he had never intended this as a promise and conceded that he “may have been a little bit forward on my skis” when he said it. Nonetheless, the next day Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany reiterated the assurance, telling Gorbachev that NATO should not “expand the sphere of its activity.” Later the British and French agreed. It was a highly promising deal: an end to the Soviet empire in exchange for a promise that the swath of land between Russia and Western Europe remain neutral.

The moment he heard Western leaders promise not to expand NATO, he should have whipped out his pen and asked for their signatures on a binding accord. Instead, he walked away with nothing more than the kind of “pinky promise” children make on the playground. Years later, it became clear that this too-trusting soul had committed a historic diplomatic blunder.

Events moved at breakneck speed following the Berlin talks. Gorbachev fell from power at the end of 1991. President George H. W. Bush, who had been the deal’s main Western guarantor, left office barely a year later. The pinky promise was forgotten.

Sorry, Liberals. But You Really Shouldn’t Love NATO.
By Stephen Wertheim

Lacking an adversary of Soviet proportions, NATO has also found new foes “out of area” — its euphemism for waging wars in the greater Middle East. The bombing of Libya in 2011 was a NATO operation, signaling to war-weary Americans that this time the United States had real partners and multilateral legitimacy. The war proved disastrous anyway.

NATO helped fight the forever war in Afghanistan, too. Seeking to support U.S. aims after Sept. 11, it undertook “our biggest military operation ever,” Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg boasted in March. Two decades later, European soldiers are leaving, having failed to remake Afghanistan but perversely succeeded in making NATO seem relevant. Absent the Soviet threat, as Secretary General Stoltenberg admitted, the alliance has had to go “out of area or out of business.”

NATO and the Ukraine war: It took 30 years for Russia and the West to create this disaster
By Medea Benjamin and Nicolas J.S. Davies

During a pre-summit June 22 talk with Politico, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg bragged about how well-prepared NATO was for this fight because, he said: “This was an invasion that was predicted, foreseen by our intelligence services.” Stoltenberg was talking about Western intelligence predictions in the months leading up to the Feb. 24 invasion, when Russia insisted it was not going to attack. Stoltenberg, however, could well have been talking about predictions that went back not just months before the invasion, but decades.

Stoltenberg could have looked all the way back to when the USSR was dissolving, and highlighted a 1990 State Department memo warning that creating an “anti-Soviet coalition” of NATO countries along the USSR’s border “would be perceived very negatively by the Soviets.”

Stoltenberg could have reflected on the consequences of all the broken promises by Western officials that NATO would not expand eastward. Secretary of State James Baker’s famous assurance to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was just one example. Declassified U.S., Soviet, German, British and French documents posted by the National Security Archive reveal multiple assurances by Western leaders to Gorbachev and other Soviet officials throughout the process of German unification in 1990 and 1991.

The NATO secretary general could have recalled the 1997 letter by 50 prominent foreign policy experts, calling Bill Clinton’s plans to enlarge NATO a policy error of “historic proportions” that would “unsettle European stability.” But Clinton had already made a commitment to invite Poland into the club, reportedly out of concern that saying “no” to Poland would lose him critical Polish-American votes in the Midwest in the 1996 election.

Stoltenberg could have remembered the prediction made by George Kennan, the intellectual father of U.S. containment policy during the Cold War, when NATO moved ahead and incorporated Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary in 1998. In a New York Times interview, Kennan called NATO expansion a “tragic mistake” that marked the beginning of a new Cold War, and warned that the Russians would “gradually react quite adversely.”

After seven more Eastern European countries joined NATO in 2004, including the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which had actually been part of the former Soviet Union, the hostility increased further. Stoltenberg could have just considered the words of President Vladimir Putin himself, who said on many occasions that NATO enlargement represented “a serious provocation.” In 2007, at the Munich Security Conference, Putin asked, “What happened to the assurances our Western partners made after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact?”

But it was the 2008 NATO summit, when NATO ignored Russia’s vehement opposition and promised that Ukraine would join NATO, that really set off alarm bells.

The NATO Critics Who Predicted Russia’s Belligerence
By Jordan Michael Smith

“The big question most people who opposed NATO enlargement don’t address is what would their alternative policy have been,” said James Goldgeier, an American University political scientist who wrote a book on NATO enlargement. Perhaps Russia would have invaded the Baltic states were they not NATO members, he suggested.

The 2008 NATO Summit in Bucharest, Romania, proved more fateful than previous rounds of expansion, however. The organization declared that Ukraine and Georgia would eventually become members, over Russia’s threats of retaliation. “I think that was a huge mistake; it was hugely provocative,” said Goldgeier. A few months later, the Russian-Georgian War erupted. The Rand Corporation’s Samuel Charap said that the actions the West took in 1999 and 2004 were fundamentally different than NATO’s 2008 choice to promise eventual membership to Ukraine.

Even after the bloody Russian-Georgian conflict, however, Russia and NATO still were civil. “They had a functional relationship; they actually have areas of cooperation on things like anti-piracy and even theater missile defense, counterterrorism, training police for Afghanistan,” recalled Charap, who served in the State Department and is the co-author of Everyone Loses: The Ukraine Crisis and the Ruinous Contest for Post-Soviet Eurasia.

But the 2014 revolution in Ukraine was transformative. The Obama administration, along with Republican senators like John McCain, blatantly supported the pro-Western, anti-Russian forces in Ukraine. When the pro-Russian president was removed and fled the country after months of protests, Putin saw an urgent threat and annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine.

John Mearsheimer on why the West is principally responsible for the Ukrainian crisis
By John Mearsheimer

The next major confrontation came in December 2021 and led directly to the current war. The main cause was that Ukraine was becoming a de facto member of NATO. The process started in December 2017, when the Trump administration decided to sell Kyiv “defensive weapons”. What counts as “defensive” is hardly clear-cut, however, and these weapons certainly looked offensive to Moscow and its allies in the Donbas region. Other NATO countries got in on the act, shipping weapons to Ukraine, training its armed forces and allowing it to participate in joint air and naval exercises. In July 2021, Ukraine and America co-hosted a major naval exercise in the Black Sea region involving navies from 32 countries. Operation Sea Breeze almost provoked Russia to fire at a British naval destroyer that deliberately entered what Russia considers its territorial waters.

The links between Ukraine and America continued growing under the Biden administration. This commitment is reflected throughout an important document—the “us-Ukraine Charter on Strategic Partnership”—that was signed in November by Antony Blinken, America’s secretary of state, and Dmytro Kuleba, his Ukrainian counterpart. The aim was to “underscore … a commitment to Ukraine’s implementation of the deep and comprehensive reforms necessary for full integration into European and Euro-Atlantic institutions.” The document explicitly builds on “the commitments made to strengthen the Ukraine-u.s. strategic partnership by Presidents Zelensky and Biden,” and also emphasises that the two countries will be guided by the “2008 Bucharest Summit Declaration.”

Unsurprisingly, Moscow found this evolving situation intolerable and began mobilising its army on Ukraine’s border last spring to signal its resolve to Washington. But it had no effect, as the Biden administration continued to move closer to Ukraine. This led Russia to precipitate a full-blown diplomatic stand-off in December. As Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, put it: “We reached our boiling point.” Russia demanded a written guarantee that Ukraine would never become a part of NATO and that the alliance remove the military assets it had deployed in eastern Europe since 1997. The subsequent negotiations failed, as Mr Blinken made clear: “There is no change. There will be no change.” A month later Mr Putin launched an invasion of Ukraine to eliminate the threat he saw from NATO.

Mr Putin surely knows that the costs of conquering and occupying large amounts of territory in eastern Europe would be prohibitive for Russia. As he once put it, “Whoever does not miss the Soviet Union has no heart. Whoever wants it back has no brain.” His beliefs about the tight bonds between Russia and Ukraine notwithstanding, trying to take back all of Ukraine would be like trying to swallow a porcupine. Furthermore, Russian policymakers—including Mr Putin—have said hardly anything about conquering new territory to recreate the Soviet Union or build a greater Russia. Rather, since the 2008 Bucharest summit Russian leaders have repeatedly said that they view Ukraine joining NATO as an existential threat that must be prevented. As Mr Lavrov noted in January, “the key to everything is the guarantee that NATO will not expand eastward.”

Tellingly, Western leaders rarely described Russia as a military threat to Europe before 2014. As America’s former ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul notes, Mr Putin’s seizure of Crimea was not planned for long; it was an impulsive move in response to the coup that overthrew Ukraine’s pro-Russian leader. In fact, until then, NATO expansion was aimed at turning all of Europe into a giant zone of peace, not containing a dangerous Russia. Once the crisis started, however, American and European policymakers could not admit they had provoked it by trying to integrate Ukraine into the West. They declared the real source of the problem was Russia’s revanchism and its desire to dominate if not conquer Ukraine.

My story about the conflict’s causes should not be controversial, given that many prominent American foreign-policy experts have warned against NATO expansion since the late 1990s. America’s secretary of defence at the time of the Bucharest summit, Robert Gates, recognised that “trying to bring Georgia and Ukraine into NATO was truly overreaching”. Indeed, at that summit, both the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, were opposed to moving forward on NATO membership for Ukraine because they feared it would infuriate Russia.

For Russia’s leaders, what happens in Ukraine has little to do with their imperial ambitions being thwarted; it is about dealing with what they regard as a direct threat to Russia’s future. Mr Putin may have misjudged Russia’s military capabilities, the effectiveness of the Ukrainian resistance and the scope and speed of the Western response, but one should never underestimate how ruthless great powers can be when they believe they are in dire straits. America and its allies, however, are doubling down, hoping to inflict a humiliating defeat on Mr Putin and to maybe even trigger his removal. They are increasing aid to Ukraine while using economic sanctions to inflict massive punishment on Russia, a step that Putin now sees as “akin to a declaration of war”.

The Untold Story of the Ukraine Crisis
By Simon Shuster

In early December, as over 100,000 Russian troops stood at the border with Ukraine, Biden held a call with Putin to defuse the tensions. According to the White House, the President offered to hear out all of Russia’s “strategic concerns,” opening the door to a far more sweeping set of talks. It was a breakthrough for Putin to get a U.S. President to engage with him on the future of the NATO alliance, which Putin has long described as the main threat to Russian security.

The response from Russian diplomats smacked of an old negotiating tactic: start high. They demanded a written guarantee from the U.S. that Ukraine would never join NATO. They also told the U.S. to withdraw its military forces from Eastern Europe, retreating to positions they held before Putin took power. As the lead Russian envoy put it ahead of talks in January, “NATO needs to pack up its stuff and get back to where it was in 1997.” Rather than defusing the standoff, Biden’s overture allowed Russia to air a long list of grievances against the West, unleashing what one Kremlin insider in Moscow described to me as “an enormous pile of pent-up tensions.”

As the talks progressed through January, Russians came to believe they had the upper hand as long as they could keep up the military pressure on Ukraine. “It’s the perfect time to make some trades, to get sanctions removed, to talk about security concerns,” says the Kremlin insider, who agreed to discuss the negotiations on condition of anonymity. “The logic is simple,” the source adds. “If we don’t put a lot of fear into them, we will not get to a clear solution, because that’s just how the Western system works. It’s very hard for them to reach a consensus on something. All those moving parts, all those checks and balances, each one pulling in different directions. So the aim is to present a threat of such massive consequences that it forces everyone on that side to agree.”

The gambit appears to be failing. The U.S. has rejected Russia’s core demands out of hand, and prepared a raft of sanctions that would cut much of the Russian economy off from the rest of the world. “The gradualism of the past is out, and this time we’ll start at the top of the escalation ladder and stay there,” says a senior Administration official.

Ukraine war follows decades of warnings that NATO expansion into Eastern Europe could provoke Russia
By Ronald Suny

If you think the war in Ukraine is the work of a determined imperialist, any actions short of defeating the Russians will look like 1938 Munich-style appeasement and Joe Biden becomes the reviled Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister who acceded to Hitler’s demands for territory in Czechoslovakia only to find himself deceived as the Nazis steadily marched to war.

If, however, you believe that Russia has legitimate concerns about NATO expansion, then the door is open to discussion, negotiation, compromise and concessions.

Having spent decades studying Russian history and politics, I believe that in foreign policy, Putin has usually acted as a realist, unsentimentally and amorally taking stock of the power dynamics among states. He looks for possible allies ready to consider Russia’s interests – recently he found such an ally in China – and is willing to resort to armed force when he believes Russia is threatened.

But at times he has also acted on the basis of his ideological predilections, which include his fabricated histories of Russia. Occasionally, he’s acted impulsively, as in seizing Crimea in 2014, and rashly, as in his disastrous decision to invade Ukraine. Annexing Crimea after Ukraine’s pro-democracy Maidan revolution in 2014 combined both a strategic imperative to hold onto the Black Sea naval base at Sevastopol and a nationalist justification, after the fact, to bring the imagined cradle of Russian Christianity and a historic conquest of the czars back into the fold of the “motherland.”

Putin’s sense of Russia’s insecurity vis-à-vis a much more powerful NATO is genuine, but during the current impasse over Ukraine, his recent statements have become more fevered and even paranoid.

Usually a rationalist, Putin now appears to have lost patience and is driven by his emotions.

Putin knows enough history to recognize that Russia did not expand in the 20th centurylosing parts of Poland, Ukraine, Finland and eastern Turkey after the 1917 revolution – except for a brief period before and after World War II when Stalin annexed the Baltic republics and pieces of Finland, and united lands from interwar Poland with Soviet Ukraine.

Putin himself was traumatized by the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, the loss of one-third of its former territory and half of its population. In an instant, the USSR disappeared, and Russia found itself much weaker and more vulnerable to rival great powers.

Many Russians agree with Putin and feel resentment and humiliation, along with anxiety about the future. But overwhelmingly they do not want war, Russian pollsters and political analysts say.

Leaders like Putin who feel cornered and ignored may strike out. He has already threatened “military and political consequences” if the currently neutral Finland and Sweden attempt to join NATO. Paradoxically, NATO has endangered small countries on the border of Russia, as Georgia learned in 2008, that aspire to join the alliance.

One wonders – as did the American diplomat George F. Kennan, the father of the Cold War containment doctrine who warned against NATO expansion in 1998 – whether the advancement of NATO eastward has increased the security of European states or made them more vulnerable.

Biden’s CIA Director Doesn’t Believe Biden’s Story about Ukraine
By Peter Beinart

The Biden narrative isn’t entirely false. Putin surely does fear that a democratic, pro-Western Ukraine could inspire popular uprisings in his country. But it is partially false because it suggests that were Putin not in power, Russia’s government would have no problem with Ukraine joining NATO. And it implies that the US bears no responsibility for the current standoff. According to Bill Burns, Biden’s own CIA Director, neither of those claims are true.

Two years ago, Burns wrote a memoir entitled, The Back Channel. It directly contradicts the argument being proffered by the administration he now serves. In his book, Burns says over and over that Russians of all ideological stripes—not just Putin—loathed and feared NATO expansion. He quotes a memo he wrote while serving as counselor for political affairs at the US embassy in Moscow in 1995. ‘Hostility to early NATO expansion,” it declares, “is almost universally felt across the domestic political spectrum here.” On the question of extending NATO membership to Ukraine, Burns’ warnings about the breadth of Russian opposition are even more emphatic. “Ukrainian entry into NATO is the brightest of all redlines for the Russian elite (not just Putin),” he wrote in a 2008 memo to then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. “In more than two and a half years of conversations with key Russian players, from knuckle-draggers in the dark recesses of the Kremlin to Putin’s sharpest liberal critics, I have yet to find anyone who views Ukraine in NATO as anything other than a direct challenge to Russian interests.”

While the Biden administration claims that Putin bears all the blame for the current Ukraine crisis, Burns makes clear that the US helped lay its foundations. By taking advantage of Russian weakness, he argues, Washington fueled the nationalist resentment that Putin exploits today. Burns calls the Clinton administration’s decision to expand NATO to include Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic “premature at best, and needlessly provocative at worst.” And he describes the appetite for revenge it fostered among many in Moscow during Boris Yeltsin’s final years as Russia’s president. “As Russians stewed in their grievance and sense of disadvantage,” Burns writes, “a gathering storm of ‘stab in the back’ theories slowly swirled, leaving a mark on Russia’s relations with the West that would linger for decades.”

As the Bush administration moved toward opening NATO’s doors to Ukraine, Burns’ warnings about a Russian backlash grew even starker. He told Rice it was “hard to overstate the strategic consequences” of offering NATO membership to Ukraine and predicted that “it will create fertile soil for Russian meddling in Crimea and eastern Ukraine.” Although Burns couldn’t have predicted the specific kind of meddling Putin would employ—either in 2014 when he seized Crimea and fomented a rebellion in Ukraine’s east or today—he warned that the US was helping set in motion the kind of crisis that America faces today. Promise Ukraine membership in NATO, he wrote, and “There could be no doubt that Putin would fight back hard.”

Were a reporter to read Burns’ quotes to White House press secretary Jen Psaki today, she’d likely accuse them of “parroting Russian talking points.” But Burns is hardly alone. From inside the US government, many officials warned that US policy toward Russia might bring disaster. William Perry, Bill Clinton’s Defense Secretary from 1994 to 1997, almost resigned because of his opposition to NATO expansion. He has since declared that because of its policies in the 1990s, “the United States deserves much of the blame” for the deterioration in relations with Moscow. Steven Pifer, who from 1998 to 2000 served as US ambassador to Ukraine, has called Bush’s 2008 decision to declare that Ukraine would eventually join NATO “a real mistake.” Fiona Hill, who gained fame during the Trump impeachment saga, says that as national intelligence officers for Russia and Eurasia she and her colleagues “warned” Bush that “Putin would view steps to bring Ukraine and Georgia closer to NATO as a provocative move that would likely provoke pre-emptive Russian military action.”

Why Can’t Spy Agencies Predict a Country’s Will to Fight?
By Julian E. Barnes

Ukrainian citizens learned to make Molotov cocktails from government public service announcements, then recorded themselves setting Russian armored vehicles on fire. Ukraine’s soldiers waited in ambush and fired Western-provided missiles at Russian tanks. The country’s president recorded messages from the streets of his capital, urging his country to fight back against the invaders.

It was a stark contrast from a different set of images, just seven months ago, when the Taliban rolled into Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, unopposed. Most Afghan troops abandoned their uniforms and weapons. The president fled to the United Arab Emirates, leaving his country to the Taliban militants it had fought for some two decades.

The intelligence community and American military appear to have misjudged both countries’ will to fight, according to lawmakers. In Afghanistan, intelligence agencies had predicted the government and its forces could hold on for at least six months after the U.S. withdrawal. In Ukraine, intelligence officials thought the Russian army would take Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, in two days. Both estimates proved wrong.

Assessing how well and how fiercely a military, and a nation, will defend itself is extraordinarily difficult. There are many factors to consider, including its leadership, the supplies at its disposal, the strength of the enemy and whether an opposing force is seen as an invader.

… Lt. Gen. Scott D. Berrier, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said this month that, before the invasion, he had thought the Ukrainians were not as ready for an attack as they needed to be.

“Therefore, I questioned their will to fight. That was a bad assessment on my part because they have fought bravely and honorably,” General Berrier said.

The United States has a bad track record of assessing its partner forces stretching back to Vietnam, when U.S. officials thought the South Vietnamese army would be able to hold off the north after the American withdrawal. Indeed, the more the United States has invested in training partner forces, the less cleareyed officials have been on their prowess.

In Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, American officials believed the units they had trained would fight longer and harder than they did. It is nearly impossible to make an objective analysis of the fighting spirit of a partner force in those situations, former intelligence officers said.

Exclusive: Secret CIA training program in Ukraine helped Kyiv prepare for Russian invasion
By Zach Dorfman

In early 2014, Russia had already invaded and annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula. Shortly thereafter, pro-Russia insurgents in the eastern Donbas region began a grinding secessionist war against Kyiv.

Russian troops soon entered the fray. So, quietly, did the CIA.

As the battle lines hardened in Donbas, a small, select group of veteran CIA paramilitaries made their first secret trips to the frontlines to meet with Ukrainian counterparts there, according to former U.S. officials.

CIA paramilitaries soon concluded that, in Russia and its proxies, the agency was facing an adversary whose capabilities far outmatched the Islamist groups that CIA had been battling in the post-9/11 wars. “We learned a lot real quick,” says a former senior intelligence official — including about the Russians’ laser-blinding techniques. “That s*** wouldn’t happen with the Taliban.”

Since Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine last month — which transformed a long-simmering, attritional conflict into an explosive, all-out war — the Ukrainian military has defied predictions of a rapid collapse, holding key cities against the Russian advance and inflicting punishing losses to Russian troops and materiel.

At least some of the fierce resistance by Ukrainian forces has its roots in a now shuttered covert CIA training program run from Ukraine’s eastern frontlines, former intelligence officials tell Yahoo News. The initiative was described to Yahoo News by over half a dozen former officials, all of whom requested anonymity to speak freely about sensitive intelligence matters.

The program was run under previously existing authorities for the CIA and did not require a new legal determination for the agency, known as a covert action finding, according to a former national security official.

As part of the Ukraine-based training program, CIA paramilitaries taught their Ukrainian counterparts sniper techniques; how to operate U.S.-supplied Javelin anti-tank missiles and other equipment; how to evade digital tracking the Russians used to pinpoint the location of Ukrainian troops, which had left them vulnerable to attacks by artillery; how to use covert communications tools; and how to remain undetected in the war zone while also drawing out Russian and insurgent forces from their positions, among other skills, according to former officials.

After Russia’s 2014 incursion, the U.S. military also helped run a long-standing, publicly acknowledged training program for Ukrainian troops in the country’s western region, far from the frontlines. That program also included instruction in how to use Javelin anti-tank missiles and sniper training.

Yahoo News reported in January on the CIA’s secret U.S.-based training initiative for Ukrainian special operations forces and other intelligence personnel. That program, which began in 2015, also included instruction in firearms, camouflage techniques and covert communications. Yahoo News’ prior report also revealed that CIA paramilitaries had traveled to eastern Ukraine to assist forces loyal to Kyiv in their fight against Russia and its separatist allies.

Because of the sensitivities of the mission, the agency chose to send experienced, mature operatives, recalled former officials. The thinking was, “one miscalculation, one overzealous paramilitary guy, and we’ve got ourselves a problem,” said the former official. “Everything we did in Ukraine had a chance to be misinterpreted, and escalate the tensions.” Accompanying the more strategic-minded, veteran paramilitaries sent by the agency were tactical specialists, like snipers, who also worked for the CIA Special Activities Center.

One big question was, “How far can you go with existing covert action authorities?” recalled the former official. “If, God forbid, they’ve shot some Russians, is that a problem? Do you need special authorities for that?” White House officials also worried about what might happen if CIA operatives were captured by pro-Russian forces on what was supposed to be a secret mission, recalled the former official.

The discussion about the agency’s program was part of a broader review at the Trump White House of U.S. support for Kyiv — and what Moscow’s red lines might be, recalled the former official. “There was a school of thought that the Russians spoke the good old language of proxy war,” and that the CIA’s covert (as well as the military’s acknowledged) training programs and the U.S.’s overt supplying of weapons to Ukraine were therefore within historically acceptable bounds, the former official said.

CIA leadership and White House officials both understood — but still fretted over — the risks. “I don’t know how we didn’t get anybody injured, to be honest,” says the former senior intelligence official. But the covert nature of the mission ensured deniability. U.S. officials “wouldn’t want to say, We just had a CIA officer killed by a Russian” in Ukraine, recalled the former official. “That would put the president or the White House in a very bad position.”

U.S. Quietly Assists Ukraine With Intelligence, Avoiding Direct Confrontation With Russia
By Ken Klippenstein and Sara Sirota

Current and former U.S. officials knowledgeable about the operations told The Intercept that the U.S. military has deployed extensive ISR — or intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance — assets to countries neighboring Ukraine to monitor developments within the embattled nation. The sophisticated intelligence regime requires the Biden administration to walk a fine line in which one wrong step could spell disaster: providing Ukraine with as much assistance as possible without becoming an active participant in the war and risking a direct conflict with nuclear-armed Russia. The balance relies on the assumption that Russia will recognize and respect the United States’s compliance with its self-imposed rules.

Crossing into Ukrainian airspace could turn the United States into a direct combatant in the conflict, heightening the risk of a nuclear confrontation.

And despite best efforts, there are always risks of accidents in which intelligence operations can run afoul of red lines. On Sunday, a Russian drone briefly crossed into Poland, a NATO member, leading to a warning from the alliance that it could respond with force — an alarming threat of direct confrontation with Russia. The drone was conducting the same kind of surveillance operations as the United States’s ISR aircraft do just along Ukraine’s borders.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has already warned that the military will consider weapon shipments to Ukraine as “legitimate targets.” On Sunday, Russia launched a deadly airstrike on a Ukrainian military facility just 15 miles from the Polish border, killing at least 35 and injuring 134 people, per Lviv officials. The Russian government called the facility — where NATO has trained Ukrainian forces and where U.S. troops had been stationed up until a few weeks ago — a “training center for foreign mercenaries” and a storage center for foreign weapons shipments.

The U.S. has particular experience with this type of indirect weapons and intelligence assistance against Russia, having previously sent arms to Syrian rebels combating the Russian-backed regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Although Biden has called for an end to Saudi Arabia’s U.S.-backed war in Yemen, the Defense Department also gives intelligence and weapons support to the Saudi regime, which is engaged in a brutal offensive that has resulted in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The United States amplifies data its intelligence can confirm, while discrediting what it cannot validate, in order to support partners in the region without being considered an active combatant, a retired U.S. Air Force general with experience leading operations in the Middle East told The Intercept. If the U.S. has information that a production facility also serves as a prison, for example, it will tell its partner that the target has other uses to be considered before attacking. (Two other retired military officers confirmed that such information-sharing functions this way.)

Earthling: Was Obama right about Russia-Ukraine?
By Robert Wright

Obama, the Times reported, “has told aides and visitors that arming the Ukrainians would encourage the notion that they could actually defeat the far more powerful Russians, and so it would potentially draw a more forceful response from Moscow.”

An anonymous source paraphrased Obama as asking questions like, “Okay, what happens if we send in equipment – do we have to send in trainers?” And, “What if it ends up in the hands of thugs? What if Putin escalates?” In the absence of satisfactory answers, Obama confined aid to things like helmets and night vision goggles.

After he left office, Washington reversed course and sent lethal military aid to Ukraine—billions of dollars worth. And, to answer Obama’s questions: Yes, that turned out to involve sending trainers to Ukraine—as well as conducting NATO-Ukraine military exercises on Russia’s doorstep; and yes, Putin escalated.

In Putin’s famously intense speech on February 21, a few days before the invasion, the flow of western weapons to Ukraine, and Ukraine’s increasingly close relationship to NATO, were central themes. Some American hawks claimed otherwise; they said Putin “barely mentioned” NATO (Josh Marshall of TPM), that NATO “barely merited a mention” (Julia Ioffe on WNYC)—and this view became the conventional wisdom. But in fact Putin mentioned NATO no fewer than 40 times in that speech. He said things like:

In the last few months, there has been a constant flow of Western weapons to Ukraine, ostentatiously, with the entire world watching…

The United States and NATO have started an impudent development of Ukrainian territory as a theater of potential military operations. Their regular joint exercises are obviously anti-Russian…

Ukraine is home to NATO training missions which are, in fact, foreign military bases. They just called a base a mission and were done with it.

If you object that NATO is a purely defensive alliance, so Putin has no grounds for treating it as a threat, you are missing Obama’s point. He wasn’t interested in judging the merits of Putin’s worldview; he was interested in predicting Putin’s behavior—which is what a responsible president should do in a situation like that. (And, actually, he was just assuming that Putin would react the way American leaders had long reacted to perceived threats that, viewed objectively, were pretty remote.)

The War in Ukraine May Be Impossible to Stop. And the U.S. Deserves Much of the Blame.
By Christopher Caldwell

In the Paris daily newspaper Le Figaro this month, Henri Guaino, a top adviser to Nicolas Sarkozy when he was president of France, warned that Europe’s countries, under the shortsighted leadership of the United States, were “sleepwalking” into war with Russia. Mr. Guaino was borrowing a metaphor that the historian Christopher Clark used to describe the origins of World War I.

Naturally, Mr. Guaino understands that Russia is most directly to blame for the present conflict in Ukraine. It was Russia that massed its troops on the frontier last fall and winter and — having demanded from NATO a number of Ukraine-related security guarantees that NATO rejected — began the shelling and killing on Feb. 24.

But the United States has helped turn this tragic, local and ambiguous conflict into a potential world conflagration. By misunderstanding the war’s logic, Mr. Guaino argues, the West, led by the Biden administration, is giving the conflict a momentum that may be impossible to stop.

He is right.

In 2014 the United States backed an uprising — in its final stages a violent uprising — against the legitimately elected Ukrainian government of Viktor Yanukovych, which was pro-Russian. (The corruption of Mr. Yanukovych’s government has been much adduced by the rebellion’s defenders, but corruption is a perennial Ukrainian problem, even today.) Russia, in turn, annexed Crimea, a historically Russian-speaking part of Ukraine that since the 18th century had been home to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.

One can argue about Russian claims to Crimea, but Russians take them seriously. Hundreds of thousands of Russian and Soviet fighters died defending the Crimean city of Sevastopol from European forces during two sieges — one during the Crimean War and one during World War II. In recent years, Russian control of Crimea has seemed to provide a stable regional arrangement: Russia’s European neighbors, at least, have let sleeping dogs lie.

But the United States never accepted the arrangement. On Nov. 10, 2021, the United States and Ukraine signed a “charter on strategic partnership” that called for Ukraine to join NATO, condemned “ongoing Russian aggression” and affirmed an “unwavering commitment” to the reintegration of Crimea into Ukraine.

Since 2018, Ukraine has received U.S.-built Javelin antitank missiles, Czech artillery and Turkish Bayraktar drones and other NATO-interoperable weaponry. The United States and Canada have lately sent up-to-date British-designed M777 howitzers that fire GPS-guided Excalibur shells. President Biden just signed into law a $40 billion military aid package.

In this light, mockery of Russia’s battlefield performance is misplaced. Russia is not being stymied by a plucky agricultural country a third its size; it is holding its own, at least for now, against NATO’s advanced economic, cyber and battlefield weapons.

And this is where Mr. Guaino is correct to accuse the West of sleepwalking. The United States is trying to maintain the fiction that arming one’s allies is not the same thing as participating in combat.

Are We Sure America Is Not at War in Ukraine?
By Bonnie Kristian

Presidents have a history of insisting they have no intention of going to war, until they do. “He kept us out of war,” President Woodrow Wilson’s 1916 re-election slogan declared, only for Wilson to take us into World War I a mere month into his second term, right after describing American intervention as inevitable.

During the presidential election of 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson promised he was “not about to send American boys nine or 10 thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.” But in February 1965, within a month of his inauguration, Johnson authorized the bombing campaign known as Operation Rolling Thunder. A month after that, “American boys” were in Vietnam.

In recent decades, however, especially in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, we’ve moved into a model of perpetual warfare, with ambiguous boundaries of chronology, geography and purpose. The line between what is war and what is not war has perilously blurred, and determining the moment we move from one to the other has become a more difficult task.

It’s also a function of executive war-making: Congress hasn’t formally declared war since 1942, but successive presidents have relied on the broad war powers granted to George W. Bush in 2002 to authorize the use of military force.

Are we at war in Pakistan or Somalia, for example, where we have been conducting drone attacks against Qaeda, Islamic State and Taliban militants in Pakistan since 2004 and Al Shabab in Somalia since 2011? Or at war in Niger, where U.S. forces were deployed and where four American soldiers were killed in an ambush in October 2017?

The United States has never officially joined the civil war in Yemen, but a Saudi-led coalition has killed civilians with U.S.-made warheads and chosen targets with American guidance.

And what we’ve done in Yemen looks a lot like what we’re doing in Ukraine. Last month, leaks by U.S. officials revealed that the United States helped Ukraine to kill Russian generals and strike a Russian warship, and Mr. Biden signed a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine, a lot of which is for military assistance like weaponry and intelligence sharing.

Are we at war in Ukraine? If we swapped places — if Russian apparatchiks admitted helping to kill American generals or sink a U.S. Navy vessel — I doubt we’d find much ambiguity there. At the very least, what the United States is doing in Ukraine is not not war. If we have so far avoided calling it war and can continue to do so, maybe that’s only because we’ve become so uncertain of the meaning of the word.

Biden moves US closer to confrontation with Russia
By Stephen Kinzer

For complex reasons that are as much psychological as political, many Americans have come to regard Russia as a font of evil. Many in Washington dream of destroying Russia utterly and forever — stripping it of all power and then perhaps breaking it up into smaller states that would submit to American influence.

For American strategic planners, this war has little to do with Ukraine. They see it as a battering ram against Russia. Since saving Ukrainian lives is not their priority, they view diplomacy as an enemy. Negotiation would inevitably give Russia at least some of what it wants. Russia’s war with Ukraine, on the other hand, holds out the delicious prospect of bringing Russia to its knees. That’s why Congress voted to send Ukraine billions of dollars in weaponry, and why President Biden asserted when making his announcement that rather than send diplomats to the crisis zone, he prefers “stepping up” US military involvement there.

Outlines of what will probably be the peace settlement in Ukraine are already clear. Russia will withdraw its army, eastern regions of Ukraine will be guaranteed autonomy, and Ukraine will agree to keep Western troops out of its territory. Such a peace, however, would end the dream of inflicting a “strategic defeat” on Russia. That is why many in Washington consider it anathema — and why Secretary of State Antony Blinken refused to meet his Russian counterpart when both were at a summit in Bali last week.

Democrats and Republicans alike insist that we only ever wanted freedom for Ukraine, that we offered to bring it into the NATO military alliance in 2008 to guarantee that freedom, that we helped depose its Russia-friendly government in 2014 because it was corrupt, and that we are sending tens of billions of dollars in weaponry to Ukraine only to help it defend itself against aggression.

Russians see things quite differently: America is fiercely dedicated to destroying Russia; it is increasing troop strength in Europe to prepare for a future assault; and if Russia doesn’t stop this tide in Ukraine, it will sooner or later find itself defending Moscow against a US-led attack.

It’s not necessary to decide which of these versions is right, only to recognize that both exist.

Does Anyone Still Understand the ‘Security Dilemma’?
By Stephen M. Walt

The “security dilemma” is a central concept in the academic study of international politics and foreign policy. First coined by John Herz in 1950 and subsequently analyzed in detail by such scholars as Robert Jervis, Charles Glaser, and others, the security dilemma describes how the actions that one state takes to make itself more secure—building armaments, putting military forces on alert, forming new alliances—tend to make other states less secure and lead them to respond in kind. The result is a tightening spiral of hostility that leaves neither side better off than before.

Adding new members to NATO may have made some of these states more secure (which is why they wanted to join), but it should be obvious why Russia might not see it this way and that it might do various objectionable things in response (like seizing Crimea or invading Ukraine). NATO officials might regard Russia’s fears as fanciful or as “myths,” but that hardly means that they are completely absurd or that Russians don’t genuinely believe them. Remarkably, plenty of smart, well-educated Westerners—including some prominent former diplomats—cannot seem to grasp that their benevolent intentions are not transparently obvious to others.

Or consider the deeply suspicious and highly conflictual relationship among Iran, the United States, and the United States’ most important Middle East clients. U.S. officials presumably believe that imposing harsh sanctions on Iran, threatening it with regime change, conducting cyberattacks against its nuclear infrastructure, and helping organize regional coalitions against it will make the United States and its local partners more secure. For its part, Israel thinks assassinating Iranian scientists enhances its security, and Saudi Arabia thinks intervening in Yemen makes Riyadh safer.

Not surprisingly, according to basic IR theory, Iran sees these various actions as threatening and responds in its own fashion: backing Hezbollah, supporting the Houthis in Yemen, conducting attacks on oil facilities and shipments, and—most important of all—developing the latent capacity to build its own nuclear deterrent. But these predictable responses just reinforce its neighbors’ fears and make them feel less secure all over again, tightening the spiral further and heightening the risk of war.

The same dynamic is operating in Asia. Not surprisingly, China regards America’s long position of regional influence—and especially its network of military bases and its naval and air presence—as a potential threat. As it has grown wealthier, Beijing has quite understandably used some of that wealth to build military forces that can challenge the U.S. position. (Ironically, the George W. Bush administration once tried to tell China that pursuing greater military strength was an “outdated path” that would “hamper its own pursuit of national greatness,” even as Washington’s own military spending soared.)

In recent years, China has sought to alter the existing status quo in several areas. As should surprise no one, these actions have made some of China’s neighbors less secure, and they have responded by moving closer together politically, renewing ties with the United States, and building up their own military forces, leading Beijing to accuse Washington of a well-orchestrated effort to “contain” it and of trying keep China permanently vulnerable.

In all these cases, each side’s efforts to deal with what it regards as a potential security problem merely reinforced the other side’s own security fears, thereby triggering a response that strengthened the former’s original concerns. Each side sees what it is doing as purely defensive reaction to the other side’s behavior, and identifying “who started it” soon becomes effectively impossible.

The key insight is that aggressive behavior—such as the use of force—does not necessarily arise from evil or aggressive motivations (i.e., the pure desire for wealth, glory, or power for its own sake). Yet when leaders believe their own motives are purely defensive and that this fact should be obvious to others …, they will tend to see an opponent’s hostile reaction as evidence of greed, innate belligerence, or an evil foreign leader’s malicious and unappeasable ambitions. Empathy goes out the window, and diplomacy soon becomes a competition in name-calling.

Adversaries will assume the worst about what you are doing (and why you are doing it) and you must therefore go to enormous lengths to persuade them their suspicions are mistaken.

Lastly, the logic of the security dilemma (and much of the related literature on misperception) suggests that states should work overtime to explain, explain, and once again explain their real concerns and why they are acting as they are. Most people (and governments) tend to think their actions are easier for others to understand than they really are, and they are not very good at explaining their conduct in language that the other side is likely to appreciate, understand, and believe. This problem is especially prevalent at present in relations between Russia and the West, where both sides seem to be talking past each other and have been surprised repeatedly by what the other side has done.

Another Cuban Missile Crisis?
By Walter Russell Mead

Both sides have been repeatedly surprised by the intense military conflict, and both sides keep raising the stakes even as the danger of nuclear confrontation grows.

For Mr. Putin the surprises were almost all bad. The initial attack collapsed into a slog through hostile terrain by an army whose leadership, intelligence and logistical failures have exposed the inner weakness of the decadent Russian state. Far from dividing and intimidating Europe, the attacks have energized and united the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, led to a revolution in German strategic thinking, and made it likely that Sweden and Finland will join the alliance even as it moves more forces closer to Russian territory.

Washington has encountered some strategic surprises of its own. President Biden’s strategy called for “parking Russia,” believing that diplomacy could prevent new conflicts in Eastern Europe. That calculation was obviously wrong. Once the war started, Ukraine did not, as Washington anticipated, quickly collapse. Ukraine’s initial successes led the U.S. to provide more help, but Washington’s unprecedented sanctions failed to weaken Mr. Putin’s resolve or shake his domestic political support.

Having been drawn this far into the conflict, Washington cannot now accept a Ukrainian defeat without a serious loss of honor and prestige. But even discounting the nuclear risks, the task of assisting a bankrupted Ukraine to prevail against larger Russian forces in a war of attrition is a daunting one. Currently, the Biden administration is committed to winning a war it thought wouldn’t happen on the side of a country it believed to be helpless in the face of dangers and difficulties it does not yet know how to assess.

The revolution in American thought about Ukraine is reminiscent of the changed perceptions of Korea in 1950. At that time, American policy makers signaled that South Korea was outside Washington’s defense perimeter—until the North Korea’s invasion led them to realize how important Korea was.

Before Mr. Putin’s invasion, the West generally thought of Ukraine as a strategic and economic backwater. It was a weak and corrupt state whose politics reflected shadowy struggles among oligarchs. Today we think of Ukraine as a strong democratic state whose security is critical to European stability.

What is most notable about this crisis so far is the speed with which it has moved toward threats of nuclear war. Senior Russian officials like Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are openly speculating about the possibility of nuclear escalation, presumably in hopes of deterring Western support for Ukraine. In its volatility and its ability to take both Russia and the West toward the nuclear option, the Ukraine war so far resembles the confrontational early decades of the Cold War, when nuclear threats from one or both powers routinely were invoked at moments of crisis. After the Nixon administration, such threats moved into the background as the superpowers adjusted to the balance of terror and the rules of the nuclear dance.

During the Cold War, the West used nuclear deterrence to offset the Soviet superiority in conventional forces in the European theater. Moscow’s huge armies might, at least initially, prevail in an attack across Germany, but the threat that NATO would retaliate with nuclear weapons kept Soviet aggression in check. Now, however, the evident weakness and disorder of Russian conventional forces suggests a new possibility: that a weaker Russia must try to deter NATO in Ukraine by nuclear threats.

IAEA warns of ‘catastrophic’ threat from shelling in Ukraine nuclear report
By Claire Parker and Karen DeYoung

U.N. Secretary General António Guterres on Tuesday called on both Russian and Ukrainian forces not to engage in any military activity toward or from Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Russia, he said, must withdraw “all military personnel and equipment” from the facility, and Ukrainian forces must not “move into it.”

Guterres’s appeal to a meeting of the U.N. Security Council on the issue came as the International Atomic Energy Agency called for the creation of a “special safety and security zone” in and around the plant. Without placing blame on either side for shelling the facility, IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi told the council that the attacks were “simply unacceptable.”

“They are playing with fire,” Grossi said, “and something very, very catastrophic could take place.”

During the visit, the IAEA team “closely witnessed shelling” near the site and observed damage to several buildings, including one that houses the solid radioactive waste storage facility. The building containing the plant’s central alarm station was also damaged, the report said.

In one incident in late August, experts learned, shelling caused the radiation monitoring system to go down for about 24 hours. The agency did not ascribe blame for the rocket and mortar fire or damage to the complex, but it urged Russia and Ukraine to “immediately” halt the fighting to avoid any further damage to the plant.

More than 1,000 Ukrainian workers are keeping the plant running — about 10 percent of its typical workforce. Staffers have said they suffer intimidation and abuse from Russian authorities overseeing the site. According to the IAEA report, Ukrainian workers “are under constant high stress and pressure” that is “not sustainable and could lead to increased human error with implications for nuclear safety.”

Ukraine military chief says ‘limited’ nuclear war cannot be ruled out
By Miriam Berger

Ukraine’s top military chief warned Wednesday that a “limited” nuclear war between Russia and the West cannot be discounted, a scenario with grave global implications.

“There is a direct threat of the use, under certain circumstances, of tactical nuclear weapons by the Russian Armed forces,” commander in chief Valeriy Zaluzhnyi wrote in an article published by Ukrinform, a state-run media outlet. “It is also impossible to completely rule out the possibility of the direct involvement of the world’s leading countries in a ‘limited’ nuclear conflict, in which the prospect of World War III is already directly visible.”

We shouldn’t be even this close to nuclear war
By Stephen Kinzer

Soon after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his army to invade Ukraine last month, he took the wildly irresponsible step of publicly announcing that he was placing his nation’s nuclear forces on “high combat alert.” He has made clear that he considers a hostile Ukraine to be a mortal threat to his country. If his forces do not quickly win this war, and especially if other countries come to Ukraine’s aid, he may be tempted to use his full arsenal — including nuclear weapons. I doubt he would do it, but I also doubted he would invade Ukraine in the first place.

President Biden deserves credit for not replying to Putin’s nuclear threats with counterthreats. Yet Americans are now caught in a spiral of emotion even more intense than the anti-Saddam frenzy that preceded our invasion of Iraq. Relentless images of Russian bombing and suffering Ukrainians provoke outrage and demands for punishing revenge. That can lead us to lose sight of the terrible stakes. By arming Ukraine and seeking to smack Russia, we may be sleepwalking toward the ultimate nightmare.

Using nuclear weapons in Ukraine would break a longstanding taboo and turn Putin into the most despised world leader since Hitler. More important, the situation could quickly escalate. When the Pentagon conducts “war games” based on this possibility, the result is always the same. In these simulations, one side uses a battlefield nuclear weapon, the other side responds in kind, and soon both countries’ cities are in ashes.

“It escalates; it doesn’t stop,” says Joseph Cirincione, a fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, in Washington, who is a leading student of nuclear weaponry. “Each side thinks their use will be decisive. There’s no way to avoid these risks. And if Putin feels he’s losing, the risk increases. Russia’s doctrine of ‘escalate to de-escalate’ is specifically designed for these situations. It says that if Russia is losing, they will use nuclear weapons first. The military believes in this doctrine, which means that if Putin gives the order, they will likely obey.”

Harsh economic sanctions on Russia will reshape life in what until last month seemed to be emerging as a stable and prosperous globalized society. Major oil companies have pulled out of Russia despite its position as one of the world’s leading oil producers. Germany is sharply increasing its defense budget. Finland and Sweden are considering applying for NATO membership. Switzerland broke with its longstanding policy of neutrality to adopt the European Union’s potent sanctions against Russia. Each of these steps may be seen as reasonable. Together, they could give Putin the sense that he is being forced into a corner and has no choice but to use his ultimate weapon.

Master of Deterrence
By Carter Malkasian

As this new generation of analysts and top national security officials grapples with updating deterrence for a time that may be even more challenging than the Cold War (given changes in technology, declining U.S. economic might, and a greater number of nuclear powers), they would do well to consider the work of Robert Powell, who served as Robson Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley, until his death in December. An economist by training, Powell was responsible for groundbreaking research on game theory that shed light on aspects of deterrence often overlooked in today’s discourse. Policymakers and academia have yet to combine efforts to the degree that was the case in the Cold War.

The unavoidable chance of things sliding out of control can dominate the behavior of nuclear powers in crisis and in war, possibly more so than the balance of military or economic strength. In this situation, Powell noted how the balance of interests—which side places greater value in the stakes at play—matters for which side is better able to deter. The side with greater interests at stake can be more willing to face the risk of escalation. They simply care more.

Powell returned repeatedly to the concept of brinkmanship as defined by the pioneering American game theorist Thomas Schelling. Brinkmanship, Schelling wrote, “is a competition in risk-taking. It involves setting afoot an activity that may get out of hand, initiating a process that carries some risk of unintended disaster.” Powell was impressed by the notion that a war between states with nuclear second-strike capabilities would boil down to a competition in risk-taking. A state that highly values the stakes, he wrote in 2015, has “an incentive to adopt doctrines and deploy forces that make the use of force riskier and thus easier to transform a contest of military strength into a test of resolve.”

Powell’s models focused on determining not relative military strength but which side had the greater stake in the issue at hand. Although a state may be able to bluff an adversary into backing down by feigning a greater stake, the side that genuinely has the greatest stake will likely tolerate more risk and display more endurance. This logic is apparent in the infamous veiled threat contained in Chinese Lieutenant General Xiong Guangkai’s remark to U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Chas Freeman during the Taiwan Strait crisis of 1996: “Americans care more about Los Angeles than they do about Taiwan.”

Against a determined adversary, the risk of brinkmanship runs high.

The Vanishing Nuclear Taboo?
By Nina Tannenwald

The nonuse of nuclear weapons since 1945 is the single most important accomplishment of the nuclear age.

There are 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world’s arsenals, many on high-alert status. The risk of a nuclear launch or exchange started by accident or miscalculation remains high, and the consequences of even one such incident would be catastrophic. In fact, since the nuclear age began, there have been an alarmingly high number of nuclear near misses—­accidents or miscalculations that almost led to a nuclear detonation or nuclear war. The qualitative arms race now under way, which increasingly mixes conventional and nuclear capabilities in deterrence strategies, is raising the risk of nuclear use. The new technologies increase the likelihood that a conventional strike could provoke a nuclear attack, whether through misperception or miscalculation. The threat to incinerate millions of people in the name of national security is both bad policy and morally bankrupt.

Many have argued that nuclear weapons are the United States’ “instruments of peace,” that they deter major-power war, or that they are needed as an insurance policy. Yet one need not be a radical antinuclear activist to arrive at the same conclusion that former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, former Secretary of Defense William Perry, and former Senator Sam Nunn arrived at in 2007, when they went public with their belief that disarmament—working toward “global zero”—is in the United States’ interest. As these senior statesmen realized, nuclear deterrence comes with tremendous risks and costs. The arguments in favor of deterrence, if sometimes true, are not likely to be true in every case. What happens when deterrence fails?

Why America Should Not Deepen Its Military Involvement in Ukraine
By Tom Z. Collina

The U.S. nuclear arsenal does nothing for us in this conflict. It did not keep Mr. Putin out of Ukraine. Because he is willing to use the threat of nuclear war to deter intervention in Ukraine, the existence of nuclear weapons, if anything, helped enable him. He is the only one suggesting a willingness to use nukes as a cover to brutalize weaker states. We must continue to stigmatize and limit nuclear weapons to reduce the chances that Russia will do this again.

The Biden administration can help by changing its nuclear policies accordingly. Mr. Putin is threatening to use nuclear weapons first in this conflict. The Biden administration should rule out first use and seek to build an international consensus around the idea that the sole purpose for nuclear weapons is to deter their use by others. Mr. Biden has supported this position for years. In addition, the United States should start now to build international support for the deep reduction and eventual elimination of nuclear weapons so they cannot be used by strongmen and autocrats to enable their atrocities.

We should all want to end this senseless war, protect Ukraine and avoid nuclear catastrophe. The hard part is striking the right balance. To reduce Russia’s leverage in the future, we must face the fact that nuclear weapons are more useful to Mr. Putin than they are to the West. The bomb is a weapon of terror, pure and simple, and we must do all we can to keep it in check.

US military aid to Ukraine guarantees more suffering and death
By Stephen Kinzer

Those of us who have seen war up close know that it is the worst thing in the world. It destroys innocent lives and shatters families and communities forever, long after political and military conflicts end. Yet for nearly everyone in Washington and for huge numbers of Americans, war is distant and antiseptic, something like a geopolitical video game with added fireworks. It isn’t. It’s about bodies blown apart and entire nations laid waste. The only winners are gleeful arms makers, for whom this war is a bonanza of bloodstained profit.

Our obsession with Ukraine is unlike anything in living memory. People who had never heard of that country a month ago, and who even today could not find it on a map, have almost overnight come to believe that the future of human freedom is being decided there. They boycott Russian vodka and display the colors of the Ukrainian flag, which most had never seen before. This tsunami of delirium will be rich fodder for future psychologists studying mass hypnosis, group frenzies, and the power of the media to whip populations into self-destructive fury. Less laughable is the Niagara of armament that is flooding into Ukraine. If Russian President Vladimir Putin needed any more evidence for his conviction that the West wants to use Ukraine as a battering ram against Russia, we are providing it.

It’s bad enough that the United States and NATO have joined Putin in a mad escalation, recklessly fueling war and making no serious effort to reach peace. Even worse is that the peace formula is clear for all to see. It’s mind-numbingly simple: a non-aligned Ukraine without foreign troops or weapons. Call it the Henry Kissinger Plan, since 10 years ago he wrote that “if Ukraine is to survive and thrive, it must not be either side’s outpost against the other — it should function as a bridge between them.” By today’s standards, that makes Kissinger a “Kremlin stooge” who is “parroting Putin’s talking points.”

The best-case scenario in Ukraine
By Stephen Kinzer

Ukraine is hardly the first European country to find itself torn between East and West. During World War II, the Soviet Union failed to overrun Finland and settled for an accord guaranteeing Finnish neutrality. Over the decades that followed, Finland studiously avoided provoking Moscow. It did not participate in US-sponsored projects like the Marshall Plan and did not join NATO. In exchange for this deference, the Soviets generally respected Finland’s independence and democracy.

A similar arrangement shaped Austria. American and Soviet troops that occupied the country after World War II withdrew in 1955. As part of the deal, which took years to negotiate, a declaration of “permanent neutrality” was added to the Austrian constitution. “In all future times,” it says, “Austria will not join any military alliances and will not permit the establishment of any foreign military bases on her territory.”

President Eisenhower didn’t like this deal. He wanted Austria to be on our side, not neutral. Today many in Washington feel the same way about Ukraine. They see it as a valuable chess piece in our campaign against Russia. Allowing it to be neutralized would end this contest without victory. In the United States, where the “will to win” is deeply ingrained in both security policy and collective consciousness, that feels close to defeat.

Ending Wars Was Never Easy
By Robert Gerwarth

By August 1916, World War I had been raging for two years, and millions of men had perished on various battlefronts in Europe and the Middle East. If, in August 1914, generals and politicians had anticipated a short and decisive conflict, the movement of armies on the Western front had quickly given way to a series of deadly stalemates. At Verdun, German and French armies were embroiled in a siege that would ultimately result in nearly 1 million casualties. In July 1916, the Allies had also started the Battle of the Somme, one of the bloodiest battles in history, that left even more soldiers dead or maimed than the Battle of Verdun.

It was at that time that British essayist Edward Thomas enlisted in the armed forces. For more than a year, he had been torn over whether to volunteer for military service or emigrate to then still neutral United States, where he had numerous friends. One of them, poet Robert Frost, even made Thomas’ indecisiveness the subject of his famous poem, “The Road Not Taken.” “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—/ I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference.” Thomas did eventually join the army. He was killed in the Battle of Arras soon after he arrived in France.

Frost’s poem and Thomas’ agonizing decision-making process inspired the title of a new book by former diplomat and policymaker Philip Zelikow, The Road Less Traveled: The Secret Battle to End the Great War. It offers an engaging and detailed account of the secret peace negotiations among the warring nations from the autumn of 1916 to the spring of 1917.

Many current conflicts—notably in the Middle East but also in Ukraine—simply cannot be grasped properly without a deep understanding of World War I and the way in which it ended. The world is still paying the price for the ill-conceived dismantling of multiethnic empires and Western meddling in Eastern Europe and the Middle East in particular.

Zelikow’s story begins with a secret telegram. A week before Thomas reported for duty in France, on Aug. 18 1916, then-German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg sent a covert cable to Washington, requesting that his ambassador, Count Johann von Bernstorff, make contact with then-U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. He wanted Bernstorff to convey to Wilson that the German government wished for “mediation by the President to start peace negotiations among the belligerents who want to bring this about.”

The German request for Wilson to act as an honest broker was not as absurd as it may now seem. Wilson had just won a second term on the basis of keeping the United States out of the war, and he was clearly in favor of a negotiated peace. If Germany agreed to a U.S. peace arbitration, the other Central Powers would follow. The Germans also knew that the Western Allies’ war effort was essentially financed with U.S. loans. Given the high level of Allied dependence on U.S. money and supplies, Wilson was uniquely placed to put pressure on London and give the Allies a face-saving way out of the war. Wilson was aware that at least some influential figures in London and Paris were secretly open to the idea of a negotiated settlement. Even France’s president, the conservative nationalist Raymond Poincaré, had confided to the British king, George V, that he was willing to engage in peace talks.

“Peace is on the floor waiting to be picked up!” Bernstorff argued in November 1916, and Zelikow agrees with him. Yet despite cross-national longing for an end to the war, the peace initiatives ultimately proved futile for several reasons. Some of these are better known than others: The change in British leadership in December 1916, when David Lloyd George became prime minister, clearly did not help as Lloyd George was famously opposed to Wilson’s mediation proposal. Nor did the Zimmermann Telegram—the German offer of a war alliance with Mexico in January 1917—and Germany’s decision to resume unrestricted submarine warfare against ships in the Atlantic Ocean help gain Wilson’s trust. Yet Zelikow makes a convincing case that the Germans abandoned the road to peace in January 1917 only because they believed the secret peace talks were going nowhere.

Wilson thus missed a unique window of opportunity by not pushing for it hard enough. He did send his key foreign-policy advisor and friend, Edward House, to Europe to conduct secret peace negotiations. However, in Zelikow’s view, Wilson should have forced the British, shielded from the worst effects of the war by the English Channel and therefore less interested in a settlement than the French and the Germans, to the negotiation table.

Zelkow acknowledges that in all of the warring countries, policymakers and senior military figures remained divided on the issue of a peace that would essentially confirm the geopolitical status quo of 1914. In his final face-to-face meeting with the House of Commons on Jan. 26, 1917, Bernstorff offered his prediction for what a negotiated peace might look like. Bernstorff’s prediction, as the body relayed it to Wilson, was that such a peace would “leave the map of Europe pretty much as it was before the war.” The hawks in Berlin, London, and Paris were left wondering what their soldiers had suffered and died for if nothing was to be gained.

The deep internal divisions in Germany in particular became visible three months after Bernstorff’s final meeting with the House of Commons. After reluctantly supporting the war effort for years, the parties of the left and center in the German parliament, the Reichstag, now openly supported a peace “without annexations and without indemnities.” This peace resolution passed in the Reichstag with a comfortable majority but was ignored by the kaiser. Instead of further pursuing any peace negotiations, German Emperor Wilhelm II dismissed Bethmann-Hollweg and replaced him with Georg Michaelis, the preferred candidate of the hawkish Armed Forces High Command under Gen. Paul von Hindenburg and Gen. Erich Ludendorff, who rejected a negotiated peace and aimed for total victory.

The consequences of the failure to secure a peace agreement in late 1916 were obviously momentous: Millions more soldiers perished, including some 50,000 Americans who died in battle in the final months of the war after Congress approved the U.S. declaration of war on Germany. Had the war ended in late 1916, it is possible to imagine an alternative future. The Bolshevik Revolution, which counted on the desperation of starving peasants and war-weary soldiers, may never have happened. The world may even have been spared the Nazi dictatorship—after all, Adolf Hitler’s most popular election promise was the undoing of the “Carthaginian” Treaty of Versailles.

Why Wars Are Easy to Start and Hard to End
By Stephen M. Walt

… “It’s much easier to start a war than to end it.”

Illustrations of this phenomenon are ubiquitous. As Geoffrey Blainey described in his classic book The Causes of War, many past conflicts were fueled by “dreams and delusions of a coming war,” and especially the belief that it would be quick, it would be cheap, and it would yield a decisive victory. In 1792, for example, the armies of Austria-Hungary, Prussia, and France all rushed to the battlefield believing the war would be resolved after a battle or two. The French radicals thought their recent revolution would quickly spread to others, and the opposing monarchies believed the revolutionary armies were an incompetent rabble that their professional soldiers would easily sweep aside. What they got instead was nearly a quarter-century of recurring warfare that dragged in all the major powers and spread around the globe.

Similarly, in August 1914, the nations of Europe marched off to war saying the soldiers would be home by Christmas, blissfully unaware that the anticipated Christmas homecoming wouldn’t take place until 1918. Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein succumbed to much the same illusion in 1980, believing that the 1979 revolution had left Iran vulnerable to an Iraqi attack. The resulting war lasted eight years, and the two states suffered hundreds of thousands of deaths and vast economic damage before calling it quits.

Even highly successful military campaigns often lead not to quick victories but to interminable quagmires. The 1967 Six-Day War lasted less than a week, but it resolved none of the underlying political issues between Israel and its neighbors and merely set the stage for the more costly War of Attrition (1969-1970) and the October War in 1973. Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982 was a near-total success militarily, but the resulting occupation of southern Lebanon lasted 18 years, cost hundreds of lives, led to the creation of Hezbollah, and laid the groundwork for several even more costly clashes. One would be hard-pressed to find a more successful military operation than Operation Desert Storm in 1991, but Saddam managed to cling to power after his army was ousted from Kuwait, and the United States ended up patrolling no-fly zones over Iraq and conducting occasional aerial attacks for another decade.

The United States’ initial successes in Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 proved to be wholly illusory. Instead of “Mission Accomplished,” as then-U.S. President George W. Bush infamously proclaimed prematurely aboard an aircraft carrier less than two months after invading Iraq, in both cases what lay ahead was a costly and ultimately unsuccessful war against surprisingly resilient and effective insurgencies. Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman should have pondered that experience before launching his own ill-advised war against the Houthis in Yemen.

… wars also have a powerful tendency to escalate and widen. If one side is losing, it may consider using more force, striking at new and more dangerous targets, or raising the stakes in other ways. The recent explosions in Crimea, the dangerous situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, and the car bombing in Moscow of a pro-Putin commentator show exactly how this process can work, no matter who is ultimately responsible for these actions.

Wars also expand because outside parties jump in to prop up one side, as NATO has done for Ukraine since the beginning of the war, or to make gains for themselves while others are distracted. The Syrian civil war is a perfect example: What began as a domestic uprising inside Syria eventually triggered direct or indirect military interventions by Russia, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United States, Israel, and several others. Unfortunately, the more other countries get involved and have a stake in the outcome of a conflict, the harder it is to get all of them to agree to end it.

If both elites and publics in all the warring parties believe the war is going well for their side, there won’t be much pressure to bring it to a close. They can’t all be right, of course, but it may take a long time before the real situation is widely understood. As British Prime Minister David Lloyd George remarked in 1917, “If people really knew [about conditions at the front], the war would be stopped tomorrow. But of course they don’t know and can’t know.”

There’s one final problem: The people who started a war have little incentive to end it before achieving something they can portray as a victory, because settling for less is an admission that they screwed up big time. In his fascinating book Every War Must End, the late Fred C. Iklé (who was no dove), pointed out that bringing a war to a close often requires bringing in new leaders, because the people who chose to go to war are often unwilling or unable to admit they were wrong. This is disheartening news, because removing those responsible is always difficult, is sometimes impossible, and may not occur before many more lives are lost.

What the Mighty Miss
By Ngaire Woods

Leaders in positions of tremendous authority often wear blinders that can cause them to make profound mistakes. Power can mislead insofar as it prevents the powerful from taking full stock of the consequences of their actions.

Putin’s assault on Ukraine has demonstrated many of the pitfalls of power. The powerful often imagine themselves to be above the rules, and Putin has sought to exempt himself from international law, even as he has deployed legal language to justify his actions. But in flouting international law, Putin has eroded Russian security. Leaders often think they are stronger than they really are; in Putin’s case, he misjudged the true fighting prowess of his military, plunging his country into a war of attrition that some Russian planners had assured him would be a cakewalk. That failure may stem in part from another pitfall of the powerful: an unwillingness to seek counsel and countenance criticism. Putin did not consult across his own government or with Russia’s neighbors and partners in planning for the war and its aftermath, and the repercussions of that mistake have hit Russia hard.

Power often convinces its wielders that they are exceptional, that the rules don’t apply to them. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in February breached the code enshrined in the UN Charter that prohibits any use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of another state.

It is tempting to believe that democracies have built-in protections that stop policymakers from committing flagrant breaches of the most foundational international legal norms. But this is not the case. In 2003, U.S. and British forces invaded Iraq. U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair sought to legitimize the invasion by invoking international law, pointing to a 1990 UN Security Council resolution that authorized the use of force against Iraq after it invaded Kuwait and arguing that Iraq’s failure to comply with weapons inspections was a “material breach” of the cease-fire agreed to over a decade earlier. Therefore, they asserted, the United States and the United Kingdom had the right to suspend the cease-fire and to continue hostilities against Iraq under the original 1990 UN Security Council resolution. The United States also asserted the right of preemptive self-defense in its strike against Iraq. Peter Goldsmith, the British attorney general at the time, disavowed these claims as a basis for war, but the British position, as expressed by a later attorney general, Jeremy Wright, in 2017, moved closer to the American one. International lawyers remained skeptical that these justifications amounted to much more than window-dressing, a view echoed in 2016 by the findings of the Chilcot Inquiry, the British government’s investigation of the country’s role in the war.

The Iraq war represents a conundrum. The United States and the United Kingdom, two countries that had done so much to set up the rules-based international order, flouted its rules and undermined that order.

But some rules command a particular legitimacy and force that make their breach more costly than the violation of other ones. The UN Charter is such a rule, emanating from an instrument of international law ratified by 193 countries that codifies the most basic principles of international relations.

This legal order anoints the powerful by giving them special responsibilities for upholding it. Enforcement of the UN Charter lies in the hands of the UN Security Council and, more specifically, its five permanent members—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—whose unanimous consent is required for any enforcement action. Whereas weaker states that breach the UN Charter might be punished by the Security Council, the permanent members can veto any Security Council enforcement action against themselves. Effectively, they can act with impunity, or so they might believe.

Great powers still pay costs for breaking these laws, even if they think they are shielded from repercussions. The most obvious cost of falling afoul of the UN Charter is that it signals to other countries that the violator cannot be trusted to abide by core international law. The fear could spread that other states will do the same, weakening the resolve of all countries to comply with the rules. The UN Charter constructs an international society to which states belong and in which they can forge some baseline expectations about the behavior of others. If the most powerful break the very rules they have created, they end up undermining and fundamentally threatening the existence of that social order.

The United States, the G-7, and the EU are moving fast to widen their economic sanctions on Russia. But their attempts to get other rising powers to join them have been less successful. Their blind spot is an overestimation of their position in the world. They have clung too long to the idea that the G-7 countries are the rule-makers and the rest are the rule-takers, even as the global balance of economic power has shifted. Countries outside the G-7 now have other ideas, and they have reason to doubt the intentions of powerful countries that have often failed to abide by the very rules they’ve set. The United States and other G-7 members must be wary of dividing the world into good guys and bad guys, democracies and authoritarian regimes, lest they become blind to the concerns of other countries that don’t see the world in the same way.

The West is languishing without great leaders
By Stephen Kinzer

A war is raging in Ukraine that skillful diplomacy might have prevented. Tensions between the West and China are at a frightening peak. Countries in the “Global South” are drifting away from the “rules-based international order” that the United States and its allies seek to impose, arguing that it is actually a cover for the consolidation of Western power. The vision that united Western countries in the wake of the Cold War is dissolving. The West has no coherent strategy other than the sustained application of economic sanctions and military power.

Can You Blame Poor Countries Like Mine for Turning to China?
By Dorothy Wickham

For decades, we identified with the West, a legacy forged when the United States, Australia and their allies halted Japan’s imperial advance during World War II in the Battle of Guadalcanal. But that was long ago. There is a creeping sense today that we are being ignored, if not forgotten. So who can blame us if we open the door to new friends who can help with our needs?

And those needs are great.

Forty-four years after independence, we are still struggling to build a nation. Despite rich natural resources, around 80 percent of our 700,000 citizens still live in hard-to-reach rural areas, subsisting on family-run plots of lands. Many still lack access to running water, basic sanitation and electricity. Jobs are scarce, access to health care is limited, and high numbers of children are stunted by poor diets. Already prone to earthquakes, tsunamis and cyclones, we face ominous new threats because of climate change, including coral bleaching and rising sea levels that are slowly washing away islands.

We don’t blame anyone for these problems, but as Western leaders point fingers at China and chide our leader, we’d like to ask: Where have you been?

China’s growing presence, on the other hand, has become impossible to miss in Honiara, the capital. Chinese-run businesses — construction, hardware, fishing, transport and other sectors — have quickly become part of the local economy since our government established diplomatic relations with Beijing in 2019.

That meant severing longtime relations with China’s rival Taiwan, an unpopular move. But minds are slowly changing. Chinese construction companies are building a new wing that will significantly upgrade our main hospital and a long-overdue stadium that will host the Pacific Games next year. China’s profile has been rising across the Pacific.

While Solomon Islands trade with the United States is negligible, China is our biggest trading partner by far.

All Democracy Is Global
By Larry Diamond

Only a slim majority of Africa’s 54 states backed the March 2022 UN General Assembly resolution condemning this act of aggression. The next month, in a vote on suspending Russia from the UN Human Rights Council, 58 countries abstained, including prominent democracies and “semi-democracies” such as Brazil, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Senegal, and South Africa. Ninety-three yes votes were enough to expel Russia from the council, but they were a minority of the UN’s 193 members.

The lack of African support for censuring Russian President Vladimir Putin is a sign of the ties his regime has forged with the continent. In exchange for lucrative mining rights and economic access, Russia has provided roughly a dozen African autocrats with formal military assistance and mercenary fighters and has carried out social media disinformation campaigns to help them maintain their rule. Several African countries are also heavily dependent on Russian exports of fertilizer and wheat. Even Africa’s most influential elected leader, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, blamed NATO expansion for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Russian influence extends beyond Africa. The majority of intellectuals and leaders in the rest of the developing world refuse to sign up for anything that smacks of a new cold war against Russia or China. Many Latin Americans view Western sanctions as selective and politicized—“a tool of the U.S. hegemony,” according to Guillaume Long, a former Ecuadorian foreign minister. Resentments against European colonialism and “Yankee imperialism” lurk beneath the surface, ready to be stirred by Russian and Chinese propaganda and resurgent leftist movements.

America’s hypocrisy over Ukraine and ‘spheres of influence’
By Katrina vanden Heuvel

The Russian invasion of Ukraine “is in many ways bigger than Russia, it’s bigger than Ukraine,” State Department spokesman Ned Price recently declared. “There are principles that are at stake here … Each and every country has a sovereign right to determine its own foreign policy, has a sovereign right to determine for itself with whom it will choose to associate in terms of its alliances, its partnerships and what orientation it wishes to direct its gaze.” The United States, Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated last year, does not recognize “spheres of influence,” adding that the concept “should have been retired after World War II.”

Those are noble but empty words — because they obviously do not apply to the Western Hemisphere. Take Cuba, which continues to suffer under an embargo that has been enforced for 60 years. That, plus the pandemic and President Donald Trump’s reversal of Obama-era liberalization — a crackdown sustained by the Biden administration — has bludgeoned the island’s economy. Food and medicine are scarce; many young and entrepreneurial Cubans are leaving the island in droves. The pressure contributed in large measure to the protests that stunned the island last July.

Yes, the one-party regime remains and still represses much dissent. But the embargo and related policies have failed for six decades and 11 presidents. Cubans are still applauded for their humanitarian efforts, dispatching doctors to help in disasters across the developing (and developed) world. The United States and Cuba cooperate in efforts to police drug trafficking and limit terrorism. Yet the embargo continues — punishing the Cuban people until they get rid of the government the United States does not approve of. So much for “choosing their own path.”

The Echoes of America’s Hypocrisy Abroad
By Howard W. French

With the United States obsessed with preventing the transmission of Cuba’s revolutionary model to other parts of the Americas, Washington condoned or at least ignored the Duvaliers’ use of state terror and their massive self-enrichment at the expense of the Haitian people to keep the country in the U.S. camp. The same logic applied in the Philippines (as elsewhere in Asia) and in Africa, most notoriously in Zaire. In these cases, America’s concern with containing the spread of Chinese or Soviet influence overrode considerations of governance and democracy.

When the Marcoses fled in 1986, the most famous symbol of their corruption was the 2,700 pairs of shoes that first lady Imelda Marcos left behind in her closet. But they were a mere token of the predation that had just ended: The Presidential Commission on Good Government established in the Philippines in the wake of the uprising found that the deposed dictator had amassed between $5 billion and $10 billion, stolen from the Central Bank of the Philippines during his reign.

Years later, in Zaire, I was one of less than a handful of reporters who managed to bypass roadblocks and evade detection by the fierce loyalist soldiers who were guarding access to the airport to witness President Mobutu Sese Seko’s airborne escape from Kinshasa after its capture by rebels in May 1997. The United States had helped Mobutu seize power after a brief and turbulent experiment in democracy in what was then the Democratic Republic of the Congo under Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, who was brutally murdered with Western support.

These events, too, were inspired by a fear of communist contagion in Africa. It is likely that during his 32 years in power Mobutu surpassed even the Marcoses in corruption, with estimates of his embezzlement in a mineral-rich country where most people live in crushing poverty ranging as high as $15 billion.

Few in the United States spend much time nowadays ruminating over their country’s role in backing ruinous regimes like these across what was once fancied as the Third World. And even among those who recall, much is misremembered.

Take for example the fact that, however belatedly, Washington eventually decided the tide of history was moving decisively against its longtime clients and abruptly cut them loose. With the despots who toppled in 1986, Marcos and Duvalier, this happened under U.S. President Ronald Reagan. With Mobutu, it was President Bill Clinton who finally cut the strings.

In some ways, the history of the U.S. role in the overthrow of Mobutu and its aftermath is even more revolting than its complicity in Lumumba’s overthrow in 1960 and possibly in his murder the following year. Rather than promote a democratic transition in Zaire, the United States provided diplomatic backing for Rwanda as it organized a covert invasion of its vastly larger neighbor in 1996 to install another leader with clear dictatorial tendencies named Laurent-Désiré Kabila. This was done not to fight communism, by then already a negligible force in the world, but seemingly out of expedience to promote order on the cheap in a region of the world Washington cares little about.

Millions of people were killed during that war, including through acts the United Nations later likened to genocide. But Washington had no appetite for looking into such matters. It seemed to treat Africa as a distraction from problems more worthy of a superpower. For all of America’s ritual invocations of democracy, six of the seven African countries Albright visited on that trip were ruled by authoritarians, some of whom Washington had explicitly begun promoting as a refreshing new generation for the continent.

The details of the transitions from longtime U.S.-backed dictatorships in Central Africa, the Philippines, and Haiti are, of course, all different, but these histories share a common thread in opportunities lost through a shortsightedness about U.S. responsibility and power. This is not to say that the United States can or should attempt to manage the domestic affairs of other nations, nor that it has the power or even right to impose democratic outcomes on other countries. But the ending of dictatorships that Washington had a strong hand in supporting should have given way to generative new forms of engagement that did much more to favor the emergence of stable democratic rule.

Neutralism returns — and gets more powerful
By Stephen Kinzer

War in Ukraine has galvanized the US-led NATO. It has also, however, led a growing number of countries to conclude that they have no stake in a European conflict or a confrontation with Russia. President Biden summons them to “the battle between democracy and autocracy,” but they remain noncombatants. When pressed to support NATO’s campaign against Russia, they reply, like Bartleby the Scrivener, “I would prefer not to.”

There have always been countries unwilling to follow America’s lead in the world. What is new is their eagerness to join together. A bloc is emerging that may become a robust global force in coming decades. The recent meeting of Russian, Turkish, and Iranian leaders foreshadows it. This would be one of the farthest-reaching consequences of the Ukraine war.

Many countries recoil from us-versus-them confrontations like the one Biden is now promoting. They prefer to resolve disputes through compromise and to maintain good ties even with countries they fear or dislike. Besides, Biden’s insistence that he is leading a global war against autocracy is hard to take seriously as he kowtows to Saudi Arabia, where dissent is punished by beheading or dismemberment.

A second reason more countries are drifting away from the United States is that to many of them, we seem unreliable. In recent years our foreign policies have zigzagged wildly. Written accords with other countries appear and disappear according to election results. Add our acute domestic problems to this mix, and it’s easy to understand why some countries feel reluctant to hitch their wagon to our star.

Few countries among the Abstainers support Russia’s action in Ukraine. They simply want to pursue their own national interests and stay out of big-power conflicts. This is hardly a new impulse. In 1954, leaders of 29 African and Asian countries representing most of the world’s people met in Bandung, Indonesia, to form what became the Non-Aligned Movement. The United States refused to recognize or acknowledge the conference, but it unleashed forces that still reverberate around much of the world.

The West Is With Ukraine. The Rest, Not So Much.
By Colum Lynch

This month, South Africa’s ambassador to the United Nations, Mathu Joyini, took a moment from a debate in the U.N. General Assembly about the humanitarian fallout from the Russian invasion of Ukraine to scold the United States for its past military follies, including in Iraq.

The United States and its Western allies, she suggested, had committed their own violations of the U.N. Charter and were simply pursuing their own geopolitical advantage over Russia by championing U.N. resolutions denouncing Moscow as an aggressor. “Making this point today in our discussion on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine is not a form of ‘whataboutery,’ underscoring the point that many countries and their peoples suffer the consequences of wars that are not of their own doing,” she said.

Many still harbor deep resentment toward the United States, whose military interventions from Afghanistan to Iraq and Libya have left a path of death and destruction. Key countries in Africa and Asia, including South Africa and India, have trod carefully, seeking to maintain good relations with Russia and the United States while underscoring the need to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty. Some 35 countries, including many from Africa, abstained on a U.N. General Assembly resolution denouncing Russia’s aggression. No African countries have imposed sanctions on Russia, which has emerged in recent years as the world’s largest exporter of arms to Africa.

Asked why his country had abstained from a U.N. General Assembly vote denouncing Russian aggression in Ukraine, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni told the Asian news organization : “We do not want to be involved in this and stayed out. Don’t threaten me, and I will not threaten you.”

Museveni also criticized the United States and Europe for exercising a double standard, citing their military intervention in Libya, which resulted in the overthrow of Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi. “They destroyed the country while spreading terrorism beyond its border,” he added. “This is a criminal and unacceptable act.”

Libya still plagued by conflict, 10 years after NATO intervention
By Kersten Knipp

Libya’s revolt 10 years ago was supposed to usher in change. In the wake of the Arab Spring, in February 2011, Libyans too took to the streets to protest against the country’s authoritarian ruler Muammar Gaddafi, who had been in power since 1969. The protest escalated into a military conflict, with part of the army joining opposition rebel groups and the other part remaining loyal to the regime.

On March 17, the United Nations passed a resolution allowing for measures to establish a no-fly zone, to protect the civilian population. Two days later, the US, Britain and France launched airstrikes. On March 31, NATO took sole command of international air operations over Libya.

NATO support proved vital to the rebel fighters. In October, they entered Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte and a last heavy battle took place, ending with the capture and killing of Gaddafi on October 20. A picture of the dictator’s bloodied face went around the world.

For many politicians in the West, his death represented an opportunity for a new beginning: “We hope that after decades of dictatorship the people of Libya can now begin a new, peaceful and democratic chapter for their country,” said German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. “We stand by the new Libya on its path to a better, peaceful and democratic future.”

By Ignoring African Leaders, the West Paved the Way for Chaos in Libya
By Siba N’Zatioula Grovogui

Before the invasion of Iraq, an American journalist asked me during a radio interview if the politically dependent African leaders of the financially dependent countries of Cameroon, Angola, and Guinea would cave to Powell’s demand to support the U.S. position against Saddam Hussein at the U.N. The reporter was stunned by my brief answer, which was no.

The obstinacy of African leaders and elites—with exceptions of course—on questions of conflict and conflict resolution baffles only observers who are oblivious to near-canonical statements, iconic actions, and awe-inspiring gestures from the likes of Nelson Mandela in South Africa, Patrice Lumumba in Congo, and Amílcar Cabral in Guinea-Bissau, among others. Even if only in cynical attempts to retain power and legitimacy, few African leaders would publicly disagree with or endorse a policy that seems to violate the kernel truth in Mandela’s famous speech during his 1964 trial.

In it, Mandela enunciated a view that progressives in Africa today understand as an ethical principle: to stand in defense of all lives, including those of our oppressors: “During my lifetime, I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against Black domination,” Mandela declared to the judge who would sentence him to life imprisonment until his release nearly 27 years later. “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Cabral took up Mandela’s pronouncement as his own creed in relation to Portuguese colonialists in Africa, whose right to full citizenship in postcolonial Africa he defended, and the examples abound elsewhere across the continent.

When then-South African President Jacob Zuma traveled to Tripoli in 2011 to negotiate an inclusive diplomatic solution, Western media and policymakers doubted his motives. While Zuma is no hero and his tenure as president exposed many moral and ethical shortcomings, his policy toward Libya was based on Mandela’s principles.

Indeed, the solution Zuma proposed was predicated on the idea that the responsibility to protect applied to all. Just as Mandela and Zuma’s African National Congress had long envisaged universal protection in relation to white South Africans—rather than domination by the victors—Zuma imagined it was possible to bring about an end to Qaddafi’s regime while demanding that his children, family, and clan be protected against an impending onslaught by their opponents.

Without bothering to look for the moral principles underlying Zuma’s proposals, many critics simply cast suspicions on his motives. Others, including human rights advocates, faulted him for lack of moral clarity and political decisiveness. In contrast, they promoted a policy that would have been anathema to the principle of Mandela’s trial speech: a total war that risked physical and moral annihilation of a category of sinners (Qaddafi’s entire clan) by supposedly saintly people (those opposing him).

The undeclared total war was seized on by many Libyan political factions and militias that continue to wage it today in their respective struggles over power, territory, and resources. The cost of ignoring the moral clarity and political decisiveness that Africa supposedly lacked has now become clear. Libya lives with the consequences nearly a decade later, with no end in sight. The ensuing chaos has once again supplied racial stereotypes of life on the “coast of Barbary,” driven by imagined African, Arab, and Berber infighting. The racialized subtext prevails in reporting on the country despite the fact that France, Turkey, and the Arab Gulf states are the primary sponsors of the fighting forces on the ground.

Libya’s Chaos Is a Warning to the World
By Jason Pack

Sustained analysis of Libya presents a unique vantage point to demonstrate why the contemporary international system fails to solve collective action problems, and many major actors choose to promote disorder rather than make small compromises for the common good.

Although they worked together to enforce the NATO no-fly zone immediately after the collapse of the Qaddafi regime, major Western players were tugging in different directions—suspicious of one another’s motives, clients, and actions in Libya.

A power vacuum inherently sucks in external actors; this is especially true if the country is resource rich and geostrategically located. Libya is both. Soon, the Turks, Qataris, Emiratis, Egyptians, and Russians were all deeply entrenched, occupying niches previously held by Western nations. Had a Western-backed uprising overthrown Qaddafi during the Cold War, the ensuing government would have, without question, been supported by a Western-backed coalition with the United States at the helm, boxing out destabilizing, non-Western foreign actors. Back then, it would have been unthinkable that if civil war ensued, core European NATO states like Italy and France would be supporting opposite sides. But in the current era, that is exactly what happened.

In today’s world, NATO members are willing to undermine the actions of their allies without even consulting them.

The spiraling effects of lost trust among the core Western allies were already evident immediately in the wake of Qaddafi’s fall. Back in 2011, Sidney Blumenthal, a key advisor to then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton whose emails were released by the Clinton email probe, suspected the British and French of trying to undermine U.S. objectives in Libya to promote their own business interests. As a result, he advocated that the United States not coordinate its own reconstruction objectives with its two closest U.N. Security Council allies but rather pursue them unilaterally.

NATO Killed Civilians in Libya. It’s Time to Admit It.
By Joe Dyke

NATO’s seven-month intervention in Libya in 2011 was ostensibly carried out to protect civilians.

Qaddafi had brutally crushed an Arab Spring rebellion against his four-decade rule and was closing in fast on Benghazi, the last bastion of the uprising. The U.N., fearing a new Srebrenica, voted to intervene to protect civilians.

NATO led a subsequent international bombing campaign, with the U.S.-dominated alliance claiming to take significant steps to avoid killing civilians—employing rigorous target monitoring and delayed-fuse weapons. At the end of the war, its head Anders Fogh Rasmussen boasted of “no confirmed civilian casualties caused by NATO.”

Human rights groups and U.N. investigators on the ground unearthed a more complicated story. They found multiple cases of civilian harm, with a U.N. commission concluding that while NATO fought a “highly precise campaign with a demonstrable determination to avoid civilian casualties,” the coalition had killed at least 60 civilians in the 20 events the commission investigated.

New research from Airwars concludes that this number could be higher still. Using hyperlocal open-source material to assess for the first time the entirety of reported civilian harm by all parties during the 2011 war, it found NATO strikes resulted in between 223 and 403 likely civilian deaths in the 212 events of concern reviewed.

This paled in comparison to the killings by Qaddafi’s forces; according to local communities, they were responsible for between 869 and 1,999 civilian deaths. And rebel actions resulted in between 50 and 113 fatalities.

The real Qaddafi and rebel numbers are likely higher still; documentation of NATO strikes was more comprehensive at the time, and much online social and local media from 2011 has disappeared.

After the U.N. investigation into the 2011 war, NATO carried out its own six-month internal review of alleged cases of civilian harm, retired British Army Maj. Gen. Rob Weighill, the Combined Joint Task Force head of operations during the conflict, said in an interview.

With the campaign fought almost exclusively from the air, NATO had no on-the-ground mechanisms for measuring civilian harm post-strike.

“We went to ultra lengths,” Weighill said. “I know for a fact that the targeting pack, the data, everything that went toward striking those targets was sufficiently accurate and timely to warrant a legitimate strike.”

He insisted that even the second NATO attack in Majer, which killed many of those rushing to rescue the injured, was justified. Such so-called double-tap strikes are often criticized for killing civilians. “It was still operating as a command and control bunker,” Weighill said. “We wouldn’t have hit it if it hadn’t been.”

Yet with the campaign fought almost exclusively from the air, NATO had no on-the-ground mechanisms for measuring civilian harm post-strike, he acknowledged.

Weighill described a conversation he had with the then-supreme allied commander Europe, U.S. Adm. James Stavridis, after the war. “He said, ‘What level of confidence do you have that you didn’t kill people?’” according to Weighill’s recollection. “And I said, ‘Zero level of confidence.’”

“We really had no idea,” he adds. “If you look me in the eye and say, ‘Were there any missions you undertook that edged outside the targeting directive or were not legal?’ I would say, ‘No.’ Now, did we kill civilians? Probably.”

Long a military taboo, admitting to killing civilians has become more common in recent years.

The U.S. Department of Defense has led the way, admitting that its forces killed more than 1,300 civilians in the U.S.-led coalition campaign against the Islamic State—though watchdogs such as Airwars estimate the real number to be far higher.

Other key allies remain in denial. The U.K. has admitted to just one civilian fatality in six years of bombing the Islamic State, and France none.

NATO itself now has a dedicated Civilian Casualty Investigation and Mitigation Team for Afghanistan. Mark Goodwin-Hudson—who as a lieutenant colonel in the British Army headed that team in 2016 and is now a consultant for the Center for Civilians in Conflict—said it was not just morally right but made military sense to compensate families.

“In terms of winning the war, you have got to admit mistakes, particularly in the case of committing civilian harm and appropriate reparations,” he said. “Especially in contexts where you are meant to be fighting for hearts and minds.”

But victims of NATO strikes in Libya find themselves caught in a bind. To seek an apology, they have to know which individual country carried out the strike, yet states still hide behind the anonymity of the coalition.

Eight NATO nations carried out airstrikes in Libya during 2011: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Airwars submitted Freedom of Information requests and press questions to each regarding individual strikes that reportedly killed civilians, including in Majer. Denmark and Norway provided partial information, while all others either did not respond, or declined to answer—citing collective responsibility.

The U.S. military said all questions should be answered by NATO. Current NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu did not respond to requests about specific incidents.

In theory, international coalitions such as NATO are about collective responsibility. Yet for the civilians they harm it often feels like collective evasion.

The Secretive Prisons That Keep Migrants Out of Europe
By Ian Urbina

In the past six years, the European Union, weary of the financial and political costs of receiving migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, has created a shadow immigration system that stops them before they reach Europe. It has equipped and trained the Libyan Coast Guard, a quasi-military organization linked to militias in the country, to patrol the Mediterranean, sabotaging humanitarian rescue operations and capturing migrants. The migrants are then detained indefinitely in a network of profit-making prisons run by the militias. In September of this year, around six thousand migrants were being held, many of them in Al Mabani. International aid agencies have documented an array of abuses: detainees tortured with electric shocks, children raped by guards, families extorted for ransom, men and women sold into forced labor. “The E.U. did something they carefully considered and planned for many years,” Salah Marghani, Libya’s Minister of Justice from 2012 to 2014, told me. “Create a hellhole in Libya, with the idea of deterring people from heading to Europe.”

What came to be called the migrant crisis began around 2010, when people fleeing violence, poverty, and the effects of climate change in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa started flooding into Europe. The World Bank predicts that, in the next fifty years, droughts, crop failures, rising seas, and desertification will displace a hundred and fifty million more people, mostly from the Global South, accelerating migration to Europe and elsewhere. In 2015 alone, a million people came to Europe from the Middle East and Africa. A popular route went through Libya, then across the Mediterranean Sea to Italy—a distance of less than two hundred miles.

Europe had long pressed Libya to help curb such migration. Muammar Qaddafi, Libya’s leader, had once embraced Pan-Africanism and encouraged sub-Saharan Africans to serve in the country’s oil fields. But in 2008 he signed a “friendship treaty” with Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minister, that committed him to implementing strict controls. Qaddafi sometimes used this as a bargaining chip: he threatened, in 2010, that if the E.U. did not send him more than six billion dollars a year in aid money he would “turn Europe Black.” In 2011, Qaddafi was toppled and killed in an insurrection sparked by the Arab Spring and supported by a U.S.-led invasion. Afterward, Libya descended into chaos.

One of the first major tragedies of the migrant crisis occurred in 2013, when a dinghy carrying more than five hundred migrants, most of them Eritrean, caught fire and sank in the Mediterranean, killing three hundred and sixty people. They were less than half a mile from Lampedusa, Italy’s southernmost island. At first, European leaders responded with compassion. “We can do this!” Angela Merkel, Germany’s Chancellor, said, promising a permissive approach to immigration.

As the number of migrants rose, European ambivalence turned to recalcitrance. Migrants needed medical care, jobs, and schooling, which strained resources. James F. Hollifield, a migration expert at the French Institutes for Advanced Studies, told me, “We in the liberal West are in a conundrum. We have to find a way to secure borders and manage migration without undermining the social contract and the liberal state itself.” Nationalist parties such as the Alternative for Germany and France’s National Rally exploited the situation, fostering xenophobia. In 2015, men from North Africa sexually assaulted women in Cologne, Germany, fuelling alarm; the next year, an asylum seeker from Tunisia drove a truck into a Christmas market in Berlin, killing twelve. Merkel, under pressure, eventually insisted that migrants assimilate and supported a ban on burqas.

In 2015, the E.U. created the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, which has since spent nearly six billion dollars. Proponents argue that the program offers aid money to developing countries, paying for COVID-19 relief in Sudan and green-energy job training in Ghana. But much of its work involves pressuring African nations to adopt tougher immigration restrictions and funding the agencies that enforce them. In 2018, officials in Niger allegedly sent “shopping lists” requesting gifts of cars, planes, and helicopters in exchange for their help in pushing anti-immigrant policies. The program has also supported repressive state agencies, by financing the creation of an intelligence center for Sudan’s secret police, and by allowing the E.U. to give the personal data of Ethiopian nationals to their country’s intelligence service. The money is doled out at the discretion of the E.U.’s executive branch, the European Commission, and not subject to scrutiny by its Parliament. (A spokesperson for the Trust Fund told me, “Our programs are intended to save lives, protect those in need, and fight trafficking in human beings and migrant smuggling.”)

The Libyan Coast Guard’s name makes it sound like an official military organization, but it has no unified command; it is made up of local patrols that the U.N. has accused of having links to militias. (Humanitarian workers call it the “so-called Libyan Coast Guard.”)

In 2018, the Italian government, with the E.U.’s blessing, helped the Coast Guard get approval from the U.N. to extend its jurisdiction nearly a hundred miles off Libya’s coast—far into international waters, and more than halfway to Italian shores. The E.U. supplied six speedboats, thirty Toyota Land Cruisers, radios, satellite phones, inflatable dinghies, and five hundred uniforms. It spent close to a million dollars last year to build command centers for the Coast Guard, and provides training to officers. In a ceremony in October, 2020, E.U. officials and Libyan commanders unveiled two state-of-the-art cutters that had been built in Italy and upgraded with Trust Fund money. “The refitting of these two vessels has been a prime example of the constructive coöperation between the European Union; an E.U. member state, Italy; and Libya,” Jose Sabadell, the E.U.’s Ambassador to Libya, said in a press release.

Perhaps the most valuable help comes from the E.U.’s border agency, Frontex, founded in 2004, partly to guard Europe’s border with Russia. In 2015, Frontex began spearheading what it called a “systematic effort to capture” migrants crossing the sea. Today, it has a budget of more than half a billion euros and its own uniformed service, which it can deploy in operations beyond the E.U.’s borders. The agency maintains a near-constant surveillance of the Mediterranean through drones and privately chartered aircraft. When it detects a migrant boat, it sends photographs and location information to local government agencies and other partners in the region—ostensibly to assist with rescues—but does not typically inform humanitarian vessels.

A spokesperson for Frontex told me that the agency “has never engaged in any direct cooperation with Libyan authorities.” But an investigation by a coalition of European news organizations, including Lighthouse Reports, Der Spiegel, Libération, and A.R.D., documented twenty instances in which, after Frontex surveilled migrants, their boats were intercepted by the Coast Guard. The investigation also found evidence that Frontex sometimes sends the locations of the migrant boats directly to the Coast Guard. In a WhatsApp exchange earlier this year, for example, a Frontex official wrote to someone identifying himself as a “captain” in the Libyan Coast Guard, saying, “Good morning sir. We have a boat adrift [coördinates]. People poring water. Please acknowledge this message.” Legal experts argue that these actions violate international laws against refoulement, or the return of migrants to unsafe places. Frontex officials recently sent me the results of an open-records request I made, which indicate that from February 1st to February 5th, around the time that Candé was at sea, the agency exchanged thirty-seven e-mails with the Coast Guard. (Frontex refused to release the content of the e-mails, saying that it would “put the lives of migrants in danger.”)

A senior official at Frontex, who requested anonymity out of fear of retaliation, told me that the agency also streams its surveillance footage to the Italian Coast Guard and Italy’s Maritime Rescue Coördination Center, which, the official believes, notify the Libyan Coast Guard. (The Italian agencies did not respond to requests for comment.) The official argued that this indirect method didn’t insulate the agency from responsibility: “You provide that information. You don’t implement the action, but it is the information that provokes the refoulement.” The official had repeatedly urged superiors to stop any activity that could result in migrants being returned to Libya. “It didn’t matter what you told them,” the official said. “They were not willing to understand.” (A Frontex spokesperson told me, “In any potential search and rescue, the priority for Frontex is to save lives.”)

The Coast Guard appears to operate with impunity. In October, 2020, Abdel-Rahman al-Milad, the commander of a Coast Guard unit based in Zawiya, who had been added to the U.N. Security Council’s sanctions list for being “directly involved in the sinking of migrant boats using firearms,” was arrested by Libyan authorities. Milad had attended meetings with Italian officials in Rome and Sicily in 2017, to request more money. This past April, authorities released him, citing a lack of evidence. The Coast Guard, which did not respond to requests for comment for this piece, has often pointed to its success in limiting migration to Europe, and argued that humanitarian groups hinder its efforts to combat human trafficking. “Why do they declare war on us?” a spokesman told the Italian media. “They should instead coöperate with us if they actually want to work in the interest of the migrants.” The spokesperson for the Trust Fund said that the E.U.’s work with the Coast Guard is intended “to save the lives of those making dangerous journeys by sea or land.”

Migrants captured by the Coast Guard are loaded onto buses, many supplied by the E.U., and brought to the detention centers; sometimes Coast Guard units sell them to the centers. But some migrants never make it there. In the first seven months of 2021, according to the I.O.M., more than fifteen thousand migrants were captured by the Libyan Coast Guard and other authorities, but by the end of that period only about six thousand were being held in designated facilities. Federico Soda, the I.O.M.’s chief of mission in Libya, believes that migrants are disappearing into “unofficial” facilities run by traffickers and militias, where aid groups have no access. “The numbers simply don’t add up,” he said.

The E.U. concedes that the migrant prisons are brutal. The Trust Fund spokesperson told me, by e-mail, “The situation in these centres is unacceptable. The current arbitrary detention system must end.” Last year, Josep Borrell, a vice-president of the European Commission, said, “The decision to arbitrarily detain migrants rests under the sole responsibility” of the Libyan government. In its initial agreement with Libya, Italy promised to help finance and make safe the operation of migrant detention. Today, European officials insist that they do not directly fund the sites. The Trust Fund’s spending is opaque, but its spokesperson told me that it sends money only to provide “lifesaving support to migrants and refugees in detention,” including through U.N. agencies and international N.G.O.s that offer “health care, psycho-social support, cash assistance and non-food items.” Tineke Strik, a member of the European Parliament, told me that this doesn’t relieve Europe of responsibility: “If the E.U. did not finance the Libyan Coast Guard and its assets, there would be no interception, and there would be no referral to these horrific detention centers.”

Qaddafi-era laws allow unauthorized foreigners, regardless of age, to be forced to work in the country without pay. A Libyan national can pick up migrants from a prison for a fee, become their “guardian,” and oversee private work for a fixed amount of time. In 2017, CNN broadcast footage of a slave market in Libya, at which migrants were sold for agricultural labor; bidding started at four hundred dinars, or about eighty-eight dollars, per person. This year, more than a dozen migrants from detention centers, some as young as fourteen, told Amnesty International that they had been forced to work on farms and in private homes, and to clean and load weaponry at military encampments during active hostilities. Perhaps the most common money-making scheme is extortion. At the detention facilities, everything has a price: protection, food, medicine, and, the most expensive, freedom. But paying a ransom doesn’t guarantee release; some migrants are simply resold to another detention center. “Unfortunately, as a result of the high number of centres and the commodification of migrants, many are detained by another group after their release, leading to them having to make multiple ransom payments,” the Trust Fund-financed study reads.

Europe’s commitment to anti-migrant programs in Libya remains unshaken. Last year, Italy renewed its Memorandum of Understanding with Libya. Since this past May, with support from the E.U., it has spent at least $3.9 million on the Coast Guard. The European Commission recently committed to building the Coast Guard a new and improved “maritime rescue coördination center” and to buying it three more ships.

U.N. Report Says China May Have Committed Crimes Against Humanity in Xinjiang
By Chun Han Wong and James T. Areddy

The United Nations human-rights agency said China’s government may have committed crimes against humanity in its treatment of ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, in a report that broadly supports critical findings by Western governments, human-rights groups and media detailing mass abuses in the region.

In a long-awaited report issued Wednesday, the U.N. agency assessed that serious human rights violations have been committed in the course of Chinese government’s efforts to combat terrorism and extremism. The agency quoted what it described as former detainees of internment camps in Xinjiang with credible accounts of torture and other forms of inhuman treatment between 2017 and 2019, including some instances of sexual violence. The U.N. body said detainees had no form of redress.

The 46-page report characterized what it termed arbitrary detentions in Xinjiang as stemming from a system of antiterrorism laws in China “that is deeply problematic from the perspective of international human rights norms and standards,” noting that detainees were apparently targeted for their religious practices and other vague criteria.

The report also cited descriptions of possible forced labor associated with internment camps, including labor and employment schemes for the purported purposes of poverty alleviation and the prevention of extremism. It said the extent of arbitrary and discriminatory detention of members of Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim groups “may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.”

The U.N. body urged Chinese authorities to take “prompt steps to release all individuals arbitrarily deprived of their liberty” in Xinjiang and to undertake “a full review of the legal framework governing national security, counterterrorism and minority rights,” as well comply with international conventions on forced labor.

Book Review: Barbed-Wire Imperialism: Britain’s Empire of Camps, 1876-1903 by Aidan Forth
By Aidan Forth

Histories of the development of concentration camps usually take their starting point as colonial military crises, with the Spanish use of ‘reconcentrados’ in Cuba in the 1890s being the most cited origin. While the term ‘concentration camp’ was coined during this conflict, the camps themselves did not correspond to what we might think of when we imagine them today. In Barbed-Wire Imperialism: Britain’s Empire of Camps, 1876-1903, Aidan Forth presents a broad history of the concentration camp during the late nineteenth century that maps their origin not in military conflict, but rather through their development as part of the British empire in accordance to Victorian ideals concerning the preservation of physical and moral health. At the same time, Forth addresses imperial security concerns raised by destitute and displaced populations who were considered socially, racially or politically suspect. The horrors of modern warfare developed in tandem with the birth of humanitarianism, and this is epitomised in the space of the camp.

The scale of internment is shocking: in the final decades of the nineteenth century, Britain interned more than ten million men, women and children in camps during a series of colonial, military, medical and subsistence crises. These people were interned ‘for their own good’ and in the name of relief and humanity. Yet, camps also responded to metaphors of social danger and contagion, which dehumanised those who were detained.

Camps addressed the central question of imperial rule: how do a small contingent of Europeans occupy, survey vast landscapes and effectively manage the populations in these areas? Forth demonstrates the connection between camps and the ‘science of relief’. The practice of colonial famine policy had its origins in the Irish Famine of the late-1840s, which framed the agendas of the subsequent famine in India. While India did not have the permanent system of workhouses that operated in Ireland, new techniques developed that mirrored the empire’s attitudes towards colonial poverty. Famine camps emerged to distribute food, relief and, most importantly, discipline to India’s poor, performing much the same functions as their equivalents in the penal infrastructure in Britain and Ireland. In line with hardening attitudes towards race and poverty, the image of those affected by famine shifted from one of charity to suspicion. Famine wanderers became ‘able-bodied parasites’ and were seen as causing a law-and-order problem. For the imperial planners, the best method to deal with them was containment.

The radicalising effect of the First World War on politics and the revolutionary context of inter-war Europe altered the form and function of the concentration camp. However, Forth points out that the Anglo-Boer Wars did present an important rupture in the history of war, and one that had implications for future total conflict in Europe. This was the application of ‘colonial methods’ to ‘Europeans’. Britain’s racialisation of the enemy signified a turning point in the treatment of the captured enemy. During the Boer Wars British generals dissolved the distinction between soldier and civilian. The Boers, a previously ‘white and respectable’ diaspora, were now transformed into an untrustworthy and conniving race.

Camps were a defining tool of liberal empire: methods deployed to intern people during famine, plague and war in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century offered the blueprint for the development of the modern concentration camp. Forth’s book offers an insightful look into this evolution, but is rightly careful to criticise the idea of a linear progression from the colonial camp network to that established under the Nazi regime, despite Nazi leaders’ own references to Boer War concentration camps as a model. The camps of the British empire had a different purpose to those used in Europe during the Second World War, and despite their violence and coercion, they maintained a humanitarian mandate. In this sense, the Nazi extermination camps present a break from the norm of the camp.

Nonetheless, British concentration camps have had their own lasting legacy. During the Mau Mau Rebellion and struggle for independence in Kenya in the 1950s and early 1960s, the British empire once again presided over a camp network that strove to isolate its inmates and prevent social contagion. As global power has shifted from Britain to the USA, the camp system transferred with it.

Concentration camps have deep roots in liberal democracies
By Aidan Forth

Heeding advice from a young Winston Churchill, the United States soon established its own camps during the Philippine War (1899-1902), contributing to an American tradition — already prevailing in the form of guarded Indigenous encampments — of concentrating unwanted groups behind barbed wire.

Some decades later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt revived this well-established practice when he ordered Japanese immigrants and their descendants into what he called “concentration camps” (like the one at Fort Sill, recently proposed as a migrant detention facility).

As America carried the “white man’s burden” across Latin America and the Pacific, it articulated a familiar language when detaining “semi-civilized” “half-breeds” in Philippine camps.

Stemming from racist tropes rooted in Euro-American settler expansion, meanwhile, concentration camps during the Second World War were aimed at preventing Japanese newcomers from “taking over” American jobs.

The crisis mentality in the U.S. following Pearl Harbor facilitated longstanding ideas about racial cleansing. In this context, it’s hardly surprising that Trump’s White House has used militarized language to present migrant flows as an “invasion” and “national crisis.” It revives an Anglo-American practice of suspending civil rights and constitutional protections under the guise of a declared emergency.

Britain’s concentration camps demonstrate what not to do. But they also offer lessons in the virtues of engaged journalism and open democracy.

As images of detained and suffering children infiltrated London newspapers, humanitarian activists like Emily Hobhouse, who travelled to South Africa to personally visit the camps, and opposition politicians like Liberal Party leader Henry Campbell-Bannerman, who condemned the camps as “methods of barbarism,” mobilized civil society.

After months of complaints about “hysterical women” meddling in politics — Hobhouse was no more popular than Ocasio-Cortez — daily revelations about “prison camps” surrounded by “barbed-wire fences” eventually forced action.

War Secretary St. John Brodrick appointed an independent commission to report on camp conditions, and he rapidly accepted its recommendations.

In doing so, the government drastically reduced camp mortality and silenced its critics. More importantly, High Commissioner Alfred Milner conceded the camps had been a tragic mistake —the “one black spot of the war” —and rapidly disbanded them as soon as inmates could viably return home.

Britain went on to develop future camps —most controversially in Kenya during the Mau Mau rebellion. But in the immediate future, lessons from South Africa helped prevent Britain from interning German women and children during the First World War, a policy lauded as a moral and political success

Q&A with Aidan Forth, Author of Barbed-Wire Imperialism
By University of California Press Blog

Q: … How did your interest in this important topic develop?

A: Camps have long fascinated me as emblems of the twentieth century and of everything that went wrong—violence, prejudice, and even genocide—in the two world wars. When I learned the first “concentration camps” were erected not in Nazi Germany but in the British Empire during the South African War (1899-1902), I realized there was a hidden history of camps that could tell us much about ourselves. That a regime as racist and violent as Hitler’s Third Reich would concentrate racial minorities and other social “undesirables” in barbed-wire pens is hardly surprising. That a liberal democracy like Britain, which valued (or claimed to value) human rights, individual freedom, and the rule of law, first “invented” the concentration camp is an advent that demands more explanation. In the concentration camps of the British Empire we are confronted with the dark side of liberalism: we see what happens when a liberal and imperial power confronts populations deemed dangerous, “uncivilized,” and supposedly unworthy of exercising freedom. We are also provided with the opening chapter of a larger, global narrative of mass incarceration that encompasses the “concentration camps” of the United States and other liberal democracies, from the Japanese “internment” camps of WWII to Guantanamo Bay, which Amnesty International recently deemed the “Gulag of our times.” Moreover, the attitudes and anxieties that governed British colonial camps live on today in the detention of refugees and migrants in vast barbed-wire enclosures across the global south and on the frontiers of Europe and America.

The Next Mediterranean Migration Crisis Will Be Worse
By Rhoda Feng

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has displaced around 6 million people, yet one silver lining is that refugee-hosting European Union countries have been, by many accounts, “extraordinarily welcoming” to these refugees. Instead of being indefinitely detained in inhumane detention centers, many of these Ukrainian refugees, who are mostly white Christians, have been able to stay with host families in Europe or hotels and dormitories free of charge. Even nationalist governments like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s regime have been willing to take in Ukrainian refugees—despite the prime minister saying as recently as December 2021 that “we will not do anything to change the way the border is protected. We won’t change it, and we aren’t going to let anyone in.”

Orban, who has become a hero to the American right and embodies a certain illiberal style of “strongman” leadership, has previously peddled the claim that mass migration poses an existential threat to his country and has caged and starved refugees. Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski was also quick to show his solidarity with Ukrainian refuges, announcing in February that “anyone fleeing from bombs, from Russian rifles, can count on the support of the Polish state,” despite his government having spent hundreds of millions of euros on building a 115-mile border wall to deter Middle Eastern asylum-seekers from entering the country from Belarus a few months earlier.

The contrast between the treatment of Ukrainian refugees and those from African and Middle Eastern countries is stark—one group has been warmly embraced while another has been rebuffed—sometimes at the same time and fleeing across the same border.

The West has a hand in Afghanistan’s bleak state
By Ishaan Tharoor

The West’s fixation on the war in Ukraine stands in contrast with its tacit disregard for the situation in Afghanistan. The world watched with horror as the Taliban swept to power in Kabul at the end of last summer, marking a brutal coda to two decades and trillions of dollars worth of American-led state-building and counterinsurgency. In Washington and various European capitals, there was fury at the Biden administration for its chaotic withdrawal and lamentations for the plight of Afghan women and girls, once more in the draconian grip of a fundamentalist militia bent on curtailing their freedoms.

But that was about it, and in recent months, the wealthy nations of North America and Europe have instead focused their energies and a considerable amount of financial muscle on reinforcing the government in Kyiv. All the while, though, conditions in Afghanistan have gone from bad to worse over the past eight months.

The Taliban takeover came with a shuddering collapse of the Afghan economy. The international funding that had long propped up the country’s frail government was cut off, while the United States and its allies froze Afghanistan’s more than $7 billion of foreign reserves. Millions of Afghans are now unemployed, including a vast swath of public sector workers. The banking system is no longer functional and cash is in short supply.

A United Nations report last month calculated that nearly half the country’s population is facing acute hunger, a problem exacerbated by an ongoing drought and the supply disruptions linked to the war in Ukraine. The U.N.’s World Food Program now estimates that some 18 million people will be in need of urgent food assistance in June. That number likely includes almost 10 million Afghan children, according to a report last month from Save the Children. Mounting hunger and spiraling poverty have forced desperate families into unthinkable scenarios, including forcing families to put their young children to work and to seek dowries for girls as child brides. According to one estimate by several aid agencies, more than 120,000 children have been bartered for some sort of financial incentive in the eight months since the Taliban captured Kabul.

Yet for many Western governments, pouring further funding into Afghanistan is a non-starter. “Some Taliban officials have called for international investment to ease unemployment and inflation,” reported my colleague Susannah George. “But for most companies and banks, economic sanctions on Taliban leaders are the most significant barrier to investment.”

In February, President Biden signed an executive order formally setting aside some $3.5 billion of Afghan foreign reserves frozen by the U.S. Treasury to help “the welfare of the people of Afghanistan,” while leaving the rest available to the families of 9/11 victims. But it is unclear exactly how that funding will be transferred to Afghanistan, with the Biden administration keen on it not reaching the Taliban. Afghans have expressed outrage at the administration for exploiting Afghan reserves for its domestic political purposes.

In a separate interview with the Financial Times, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani bemoaned the West’s “boycotting” of Afghanistan and suggested that early dialogue with the Taliban government may have dissuaded its leaders from pursuing their current approach, including the restrictions on women’s rights. “We believe if we had engaged earlier, we wouldn’t have allowed such things to happen,” Mohammed said. “Right now it’s very important not to let the situation get worse and maybe we end up with a very chaotic situation in Afghanistan.”

Absent a change in the wider world’s engagement with the Taliban, he warned, things will get far worse. “We will see maybe a rise of extremism. We will start to see an economic crisis, which has already started, and this will just drive the people to more radicalization and conflict,” Mohammed said. “This is what we are trying to avoid.”

Newly Declassified Video Shows U.S. Killing of 10 Civilians in Drone Strike
By Charlie Savage, Eric Schmitt, Azmat Khan, Evan Hill and Christoph Koettl

Newly declassified surveillance footage provides additional insights about the final minutes and aftermath of a botched U.S. drone strike last year in Kabul, Afghanistan, showing how the military made a life-or-death decision based on imagery that was fuzzy, hard to interpret in real time and prone to confirmation bias.

The strike on Aug. 29 killed 10 innocent people — including seven children — in a tragic blunder that punctuated the end of the 20-year war in Afghanistan.

Capt. Bill Urban, the spokesman for the U.S. Central Command, reiterated the Pentagon’s apology.

“While the strike was intended for what was believed to be an imminent threat to our troops at Hamid Karzai International Airport, none of the family members killed are now believed to have been connected to ISIS-K or threats to our troops,” he said. “We deeply regret the loss of life that resulted from this strike.”

In November, the Air Force’s inspector general, Lt. Gen. Sami D. Said, released findings of his investigation into the strike, which found no violations of law and did not recommend any disciplinary action. The general blamed “confirmation bias” for warping operators’ interpretation of what they were seeing.

Officials have said that intelligence had indicated that an ISIS-K attacker would be driving a white Toyota Corolla, and that a certain building was a terrorist safe house. In fact, the building was the residence of the director of Mr. Ahmadi’s aid organization. But operators did not realize that error when Mr. Ahmadi headed to that building in his white Corolla — and from that premise over the next eight hours, they interpreted other mundane actions as threatening, too.

When someone in his car retrieved a black bag from that building, the operators interpreted the bag as an explosive since the airport bomber had used a black backpack; in fact, it was his boss’s laptop. When several people later placed canisters in the trunk of his car, the operators saw more bombs; in fact, the objects were most likely water containers. And when there appeared to be a secondary explosion after the missile blew up the car, they saw evidence of a bomb; in fact, the military later said, it was most likely a propane tank.

A trove of military reviews of reported civilian casualty incidents in the air war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria obtained by The Times revealed repeated instances of a similar confirmation bias.

“We know we need to improve situational awareness, communication between strike cells and nodes, and introduce a more robust process by which the analysis of intelligence can be scrutinized in real time,” Captain Urban told The Times in response to questions about confirmation bias.

The U.S. government has offered to resettle the relatives of the victims — and employees of the aid organization — and to make unspecified condolence payments to the families, Ms. Shamsi said, but they have received no compensation and are instead focused on leaving Afghanistan.

“We aren’t even discussing compensation because our clients’ safety comes first,” she said.

Afghans who survived errant drone strike still waiting for visas promised by U.S.
By Nabih Bulos

“I’m surprised we’re still here,” said Ahmadi’s widow, Anisa, 50. “I feel that it’s all just talking and no action. Yes, the others have been taken abroad, but we should have been a priority. We’ve gone through so much.”

The situation is even worse for the hundreds of thousands more Afghans who are also trying to get out but whose cases have received far less attention. Critics say that the U.S. evacuation program has failed to live up to its promise.

“We left behind the vast majority of the Afghans we were attempting to evacuate, and haven’t really lifted a finger helping them get to safety,” said Matt Zeller, a former CIA analyst and military veteran who co-founded the nonprofit No One Left Behind, which aims to help Afghans and Iraqi interpreters and employees who worked with the Americans.

In two weeks last August, the U.S. and its allies evacuated more than 122,000 people from Afghanistan, with 76,000 sent for immediate resettlement to the United States, according to aid groups. The intensity of that airlift — one of the largest in history — stands in sharp contrast to the torpid pace of evacuations after the withdrawal.

In the last year, the United States has awarded 8,000 special immigrant visas, which are for U.S.-allied forces and their dependents. An additional 160,000 qualified applicants are still waiting, according to a recent report by the Assn. of Wartime Allies, a veteran-led advocacy group.

A total of 66,000 people have applied for humanitarian parole — which is not a visa but facilitates urgent resettlement — since July 2021, with each paying $575, a small fortune in Afghanistan. Just 123 have been approved.

“At this rate, it will take over 18 years to successfully get our Afghan allies out, almost as long as the war in Afghanistan,” Zeller said.

He said his anger was compounded by the contrast with Ukrainian resettlement programs, which had accepted more than 100,000 people since the war started in February.

“I now know what can be done for people who are in a war zone,” he said. “They’ve done it for Ukrainians who had their application fees waived, the background investigations that are supposed to be done to them waived.”

Many in Mideast see hypocrisy in Western embrace of Ukraine
By Joseph Krauss

The U.S.-led war in Iraq, which began 19 years ago this month, was widely seen as an unlawful invasion of one state by another. But Iraqis who fought the Americans were branded terrorists, and refugees fleeing to the West were often turned away, treated as potential security threats.

The Biden administration said Wednesday the United States has assessed that Russian forces committed war crimes in Ukraine and would work with others to prosecute offenders. But the U.S. is not a member of the International Criminal Court and staunchly opposes any international probe of its own conduct or of its ally, Israel.

When Russia intervened in Syria’s civil war on behalf of President Bashar Assad in 2015, helping his forces to pummel and starve entire cities into submission, there was international outrage but little action. Syrian refugees fleeing to Europe died on perilous sea voyages or were turned back as many branded them a threat to Western culture.

In Yemen, a grinding yearslong war between a Saudi-led coalition and Iran-backed Houthi rebels has left 13 million people at risk of starvation. But even searing accounts of infants starving to death have not brought sustained international attention.

Bruce Riedel, formerly of the CIA and National Security Council, and now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said it was “understandable” that many in the Middle East see a double standard by the West.

“The United States and the United Kingdom have supported Saudi Arabia’s seven-years-old war in Yemen, which created the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe in decades,” he said.

Israel’s occupation of lands the Palestinians want for a future state is well into its sixth decade, and millions of Palestinians live under military rule with no end in sight. The U.S., Israel and Germany have passed legislation aimed at suppressing the Palestinian-led boycott movement, while major firms like McDonald’s, Exxon Mobil and Apple have won praise by suspending business in Russia.

On social media, the world has cheered Ukrainians as they stockpile Molotov cocktails and take up arms against an occupying army. When Palestinians and Iraqis do the same thing, they are branded terrorists and legitimate targets.

The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan was a response to the 9/11 attacks, which Osama bin Laden planned while being sheltered by the Taliban there. The U.S. justified its war in Iraq with false claims about weapons of mass destruction, but the invasion also toppled a brutal dictator who had himself flouted international law and committed crimes against humanity.

Still, the invasion is regarded by most Iraqis and other Arabs as an unprovoked disaster that set the stage for years of sectarian strife and bloodletting.

Russia’s intervention in Syria was part of a complex civil war in which several factions — including the Islamic State group — committed atrocities. As IS seized large parts of Syria and Iraq, many feared extremists would slip into Europe amid waves of refugees.

Still, many in the Middle East saw harsh treatment of Arab and Muslim migrants as proof that Western nations still harbor cultural biases despite espousing universal rights and values.

Many feel their suffering is taken less seriously because of pervasive views that the Middle East has always been mired in violence — never mind the West’s role in creating and perpetuating many of its intractable conflicts.

“There’s this expectation, drawn from colonialism, that it’s more normal for us to be killed, to grieve our families, than it is for the West,” said Ines Abdel Razek, advocacy director for the Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy.

Why the World Isn’t Really United Against Russia
By Howard W. French

The proximate birth of the international civil society we are familiar with today should probably be situated in the period at the closing of World War I when the Treaty of Versailles was signed, eventually leading to the formation of the League of Nations amid much high-flying rhetoric.

The League of Nations failed for many reasons, not least that the United States, an early proponent of a new system of international governance, never joined the organization. Much less famous though are the many ways that the progressive-sounding diplomacy begun at Versailles failed a vast majority of the world’s people by not making their interests a priority—or even taking them into consideration. China’s nationalist government, to take one example, was surprised to learn that as a result of a kind of horse-trading at the organization’s high table among Britain, France, and Italy, the league granted legitimacy to Japan’s takeover of its territories that had been controlled by Germany before World War I. As a result, China refused to sign the treaty.

Japan, for its part, was disgusted by the league’s failure to address notions of racial hierarchy then so dear to the West. As scholar G. John Ikenberry noted in his recent book, A World Safe for Democracy: Liberal Internationalism and the Crises of Global Order, former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson “projected a vision of universalism in rights and values, but quickly compromised when it was expedient.” When the Japanese put forward a resolution affirming equality among nations with no distinctions based on race or nationality, Washington backed down in deference to Britain, which saw an idea like this as a threat to the legitimacy of its settler colony project then underway in Australia. This may have been the operative rationale in this diplomacy, but it should also not be forgotten that the United States at the time was itself a country that practiced legally enforced white supremacy and separatism. Wilson, himself, praised the Ku Klux Klan and oversaw the segregation of the federal work force.

China and Japan both had obvious reasons to feel disserved by the era’s international diplomacy, but as bad as they were, the humiliations they suffered were of a categorically smaller nature than the insults delivered to a large host of then-still-colonized lands. The League of Nations gave powerful endorsements to Western imperialism, granting European countries the authority to extend their control over broad stretches of territory under the guise of the league’s so-called mandates.

The continent of Africa was especially targeted by these arrangements. African colonies had just supplied hundreds of thousands of troops and invaluable economic support to their European masters during World War I, and returning African veterans clamored for independence. In response, European powers argued that Africans had not yet reached a level of civilization required to even begin contemplating self-rule. The irony was lost on the Europeans that they themselves had just emerged from what was arguably the most barbarous war in history.

CIA director says China ‘unsettled’ by Ukraine war
By James Politi

The director of the CIA said that Chinese president Xi Jinping had been “unsettled” by the war in Ukraine, which demonstrated that the friendship between Beijing and Moscow had “limits” at a time when western allies were moving closer together.

Speaking at the FT Weekend Festival in Washington on Saturday, Bill Burns said the “bitter experience” of the first 10 to 11 weeks of the conflict had come as a surprise to China’s leadership and could be affecting its calculations with respect to Taiwan.

“It strikes us . . . that Xi Jinping is a little bit unsettled by the reputational damage that can come to China by the association with the brutishness of Russia’s aggression against Ukrainians [and] unsettled certainly by the economic uncertainty that’s been produced by the war,” Burns said, adding that Xi’s “main focus” was on “predictability”.

He added that China was also dismayed by “the fact that what Putin has done is driving Europeans and Americans closer together” and was looking “carefully at what lessons they should draw” for Taiwan.

“I don’t for a minute think that it’s eroded Xi’s determination over time to gain control over Taiwan,” Burns said, although it was “affecting their calculation”.

How Nancy Pelosi’s Taiwan Gambit Backfired
By Craig Singleton

History is replete with unintended consequences, few of which mattered much. Not so in the case of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s recent layover in Taipei, Taiwan’s capital. The trip, which garnered rare bipartisan support in Washington, aimed to demonstrate U.S. confidence in Taiwan’s leadership. Instead, the visit and China’s reaction to it left the region reeling, with Beijing apparently more confident than ever that it could retake the self-governed island nation by force if necessary.

China cannot veto if, when, or how foreign governments, companies, or other entities engage Taiwan. But make no mistake: Beijing certainly gets a vote, which it wielded hours after Pelosi left Taipei. China has long sought to erode the status quo in the strait, aiming to coerce Taipei into accepting that the path to peace and prosperity runs through Beijing, not Washington. Nevertheless, the military spectacle that followed Pelosi’s trip was without precedent in scope and scale. Think less salami tactics and more shock and awe. Nor did these maneuvers appear out of thin air. They were likely devised in recent years by PLA planners with the understanding that Beijing would one day enjoy, however briefly, the political cover to justify such provocations.

Of course, these drills paid psychological dividends too. China confirmed that it could, at a time and place of its choosing, severely disrupt—if not outright block—critical global air and sea trade routes, including those involving Taiwanese-produced semiconductors. The drills also served to shake Taiwan’s confidence in the very sources of its political and economic survival by raising the stakes for friendly governments that might be considering whether or how to deepen their ties to Taipei. Already, some U.S. firms are reportedly eyeing a Taiwan exit, and others will likely follow. The region’s mixed response was also telling, with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations issuing a post-drill communique that managed to omit the words “Taiwan” and “China.” Just as deafening was the silence out of New Delhi to Beijing’s drills.

But China’s greatest triumph by far is that its leaders likely believe, rightly or wrongly, that an invasion may now be practical, not purely theoretical. That does not imply that an invasion is imminent or that Beijing intends to accelerate its reunification timetable. Rather, it simply suggests that China is on its way to overcoming what is arguably the greatest psychological barrier to any invasion: internal doubts about its will and disposition to fight, keep fighting, and win.

Regrettably, the U.S. intelligence community has proven incapable of accurately assessing this most human fundamental of war, similar to its flawed predictions that Russia would quickly overrun Ukraine and the U.S.-equipped Afghan military could hold off the Taliban. These analytical shortcomings increase the potential for serious miscalculations from here on out, compounded by China’s reckless decision to sever key communications channels with the West. Adding to the danger, the PLA will now almost certainly operate closer to Taiwan’s shores, in effect shrinking the buffer zone and the corresponding margin of error that previously existed in the strait.

Going forward under these new and less stable conditions, Washington and its allies must develop more intelligent, less risky ways to aid Taipei. Translation: fewer symbolic visits and more strategic substance. U.S. policymakers must also recognize that forcefully responding to each and every Chinese provocation is a fool’s errand that could lead to war—one that the pro-Taiwan bloc may well lose. Refraining from taking Beijing’s bait is not a sign of “passivity,” as some charge, but pragmatism as the balance of power temporarily shifts in Beijing’s favor. Look no further than former U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s example in occasionally pulling punches while remaining steadfastly committed to undermining the Soviet Union.

The same practical mindset should also be applied to urgently establish a de-escalation ladder between Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, much like the channel employed by then-U.S. President John F. Kennedy and then-Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. Granted, those exchanges largely took place in secret, which shielded both leaders from charges of capitulating to their countries’ sworn enemy. Ultimately though, both sides ceded some ground, a calamitous war was averted, and a useful precedent was established for subsequent U.S. leaders to dial down tensions without sacrificing their values or strategic goals.

Today’s leaders may not benefit from the privacy enjoyed by Kennedy and Khrushchev. But regardless, the next photo op involving U.S. and Chinese politicians should be one focused on instilling confidence rather than needlessly undermining it.

Blinken: China should not hold global concerns ‘hostage’
By Jim Gomez

Pelosi’s trip to the self-governed island outraged China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory to be annexed by force if necessary. China on Thursday launched military exercises off Taiwan’s coasts and on Friday cut off contacts with the U.S. on vital issues, including military matters and crucial climate cooperation, as punishments against Pelosi’s visit.

“We should not hold hostage cooperation on matters of global concern because of differences between our two countries,” Blinken said. “Others are rightly expecting us to continue to work on issues that matter to the lives and livelihood of their people as well as our own.”

He cited cooperation on climate change as a key area where China shut down contact that “doesn’t punish the United States — it punishes the world.”

“The world’s largest carbon emitter is now refusing to engage on combatting the climate crisis,” Blinken said, adding that China’s firing of ballistic missiles that landed in waters surrounding Taiwan was a dangerous and destabilizing action.

“What happens to the Taiwan Strait affects the entire region. In many ways it affects the entire world because the Strait, like the South China Sea, is a critical waterway,” he said, noting that nearly half the global container fleet and nearly 90% of the world’s largest ships transited through the waterway this year.

China shut “military-to-military channels, which are vital for avoiding miscommunication and avoiding crisis, but also cooperation on transnational crimes and counter-narcotics, which help keep people in the United States, China and beyond, safe,” he said.

Russia and the U.S. are entering ‘dangerous and uncharted’ nuclear territory
By Nahal Toosi

… ongoing fighting around a Ukrainian nuclear power plant captured by Russian forces has injected fresh uncertainty into a U.S.-Russian nuclear relationship that was already reeling from Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent U.S. and European sanctions on Moscow.

But the invasion and its fallout have affected an array of other nuclear-related issues, from the Iran nuclear talks to recent international discussions about the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a bedrock pact.

Russia and the U.S. also have been tangling over inspections of each side’s nuclear weapons facilities allowed by the New START treaty. There are fears that New START, the last arms control treaty between the two countries, will not get renewed or replaced if tensions between the nuclear powers worsen.

Russia and the United States have the two largest nuclear arsenals in the world. Even during the Cold War, Washington and Moscow were able to cooperate on ways to avoid an atomic disaster. Still, the sensitivity of anything nuclear-related means both countries must reassure the world that they can cooperate now, former officials and analysts say.

The tensions over the power plant spilled into recent international talks for a conference reviewing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT.

Russia blocked a final document that would have summarized conclusions from the review because it objected to language proposed to discuss the situation at the power plant. In a statement Sunday, the U.S. slammed what it called Russia’s “cynical obstructionism.”

Kimball, who was involved in the event, said the draft document included language that had Russia and the U.S. committing to pursue talks on a successor to New START in good faith — a sign that Moscow remains open to arms control in general.

But the section about the power plant was contrary to Russia’s war aims, leading to it blocking the whole document, Kimball said.

The overall picture on New START appears grim to some observers.

Jeffrey Edmonds, a former White House National Security Council official with expertise on Russia, noted that Moscow is expanding its “upload capacity” — the number of nuclear weapons it can place on a missile. He predicted that a follow-on treaty to New START is unlikely to be negotiated. “We will be moving into potentially dangerous and uncharted territory,” Edmonds said.

The complications over New START come amid growing sentiment among U.S. officials that it’s time to bring China into arms control treaties as well, especially given Beijing’s growing economic and military clout on the world stage — and ballooning nuclear arsenal at home. But Beijing has shown little, if any, interest in such talks.

How the US brought China and Russia together
By Stephen Kinzer

Two generations ago, President Richard Nixon realized that the intensifying partnership between Moscow and Beijing could ultimately threaten the United States. To prevent that, he launched what turned out to be a spectacularly successful effort to disrupt their partnership. Now we are doing the opposite: pushing China and Russia together.

US-China and US-Russia tensions have risen steadily in recent years. For Russia, this month’s accord may have been motivated by the Ukraine crisis. As Russia put military pressure on Ukraine and faced intense opposition from the United States and other countries, having a powerful friend was reassuring. For China, the motivation may have come last year at a high-level meeting in Anchorage at which Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivered a blistering denunciation of Chinese foreign and domestic policies and very little in the way of offers to cooperate. Afterward, the retired ambassador Chas Freeman, who was Nixon’s interpreter during his groundbreaking trip to Beijing in 1972, offered an acid summary of Blinken’s message — and of how the United States addresses China today: “You’re a moral reprobate, I despise you, your values stink and I’m going to do everything possible to keep you down and maybe push you down. But by the way, I have a problem or two I’d like you to help me on.”

The China Trap
By Jessica Chen Weiss

In Washington, the standard account for why the relationship has gotten so bad is that China changed: in the past decade or two, Beijing has stopped “biding its time,” becoming more repressive at home and assertive abroad even while continuing to take advantage of the relationships and institutions that have enabled China’s economic growth.

That change is certainly part of the story, and it is as much a product of China’s growing clout as of Xi’s way of using that clout. But a complete account must also acknowledge corresponding changes in U.S. politics and policy as the United States has reacted to developments in China. Washington has met Beijing’s actions with an array of punitive actions and protective policies, from tariffs and sanctions to restrictions on commercial and scientific exchanges. In the process, the United States has drifted further from the principles of openness and nondiscrimination that have long been a comparative advantage while reinforcing Beijing’s conviction that the United States will never tolerate a more powerful China. Meanwhile, the United States has wavered in its support for the international institutions and agreements that have long structured global interdependence, driven in part by consternation over China’s growing influence within the international system.

The more combative approach, on both sides, has produced a mirroring dynamic. While Beijing believes that only through protracted struggle will Americans be persuaded to coexist with a strong China, Washington believes that it must check Chinese power and influence to defend U.S. primacy. The result is a downward spiral, with each side’s efforts to enhance its security prompting the other to take further steps to enhance its own.

There is reason to believe that Beijing cares enough about stabilizing relations to reciprocate. Despite its claim that the “East is rising and the West is declining,” China remains the weaker party, especially given its uncertain economic trajectory. Domestic challenges have typically tended to restrain China’s behavior rather than, as some Western commentators have speculated, prompting risky gambles. The political scientist Andrew Chubb has shown that when Chinese leaders have faced challenges to their legitimacy, they have acted less assertively in areas such as the South China Sea.

Because Beijing and Washington are loath to make unilateral concessions, fearing that they will be interpreted as a sign of weakness at home and by the other side, détente will require reciprocity. Both sides will have to take coordinated but unilateral steps to head off a militarized crisis. For example, a tacit understanding could produce a reduction in Chinese and U.S. operations in and around the Taiwan Strait, lowering the temperature without signaling weakness. Military operations are necessary to demonstrate that the United States will continue to fly and sail wherever international law allows, including the Taiwan Strait. But ultimately, the United States’ ability to deter and Taiwan’s ability to defend against an attempt at armed unification by Beijing have little to do with whether the U.S. military transits the Taiwan Strait four, eight, 12, or 24 times a year.

In the current atmosphere of distrust, words must be matched by actions. In his November 2021 virtual meeting with Biden, Xi said, “We have patience and will strive for the prospect of peaceful reunification with utmost sincerity and efforts.” But Beijing’s actions since have undercut its credibility in Taipei and in Washington. Biden likewise told Xi that the United States does not seek a new Cold War or want to change Beijing’s system. Yet subsequent U.S. actions (including efforts to diversify supply chains away from China and new visa restrictions on CCP officials) have undermined Washington’s credibility among not just leaders in Beijing but also others in the region. It does not help that some administration officials continue to invoke Cold War parallels.

To bolster its own credibility, the Biden administration should also do more to preempt charges of hypocrisy and double standards. Consider U.S. policy to combat digital authoritarianism: Washington has targeted Chinese surveillance technology firms more harshly than similar companies based in the United States, Israel, and other Western democracies.

Renewing U.S. leadership will also require doing more to address criticism that a U.S.-led order means “rules for thee but not for me.” Clear and humble acknowledgment of instances where the United States has violated the UN Charter, such as the invasion of Iraq, would be an important step to overcoming that resentment.

The United States cannot cede so much influence to Beijing that international rules and institutions no longer reflect U.S. interests and values. But the greater risk today is that overzealous efforts to counter China’s influence will undermine the system itself through a combination of paralysis and the promotion of alternate arrangements by major powers.

Will Sanctions Force Putin to Back Down in Ukraine? History Suggests It’s Unlikely
By David Luhnow, Andrew Restuccia and Sune Engel Rasmussen

Sanctions have a mixed track record, often falling short of causing a dramatic change in behavior, particularly in authoritarian countries like Russia, according to most analysts who study them. Sanctions on Iran were one of the factors analysts believed pushed it into a 2015 deal on its nuclear program and brought its leaders back to the negotiating table recently, but they didn’t dislodge the government or stop what the U.S. sees as its aggressive military behavior in the Middle East. Sanctions by the U.S., the U.N. and others have failed to make North Korea give up its nuclear weapons.

The U.S. and European sanctions against Libya from the early 1980s for its activities sponsoring terror lasted roughly 20 years before Libya disclosed and scrapped its weapons program, and Moammar Gadhafi remained in power nearly another decade before being overthrown in a violent civil war. Iraq’s Saddam Hussein resisted more than a decade of U.N. sanctions before being removed by the U.S invasion, and Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic was stopped by military force after sanctions failed to deter his military aggression in the 1990s. Sixty years of a U.S. trade embargo on Cuba failed to dislodge that regime.

In some cases, the targeted regime has tightened its grip on power. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has not only weathered major U.S. and European sanctions but sent his political allies into hiding or exile.

When it comes to goals like regime change or reversing a military action against another country, sanctions work only about 5% of the time absent the threat or use of military force, says Robert Pape, a University of Chicago political scientist who reviewed decades of sanctions after World War II.

The Toll of Economic War
By Nicholas Mulder

To better grasp the choices to be made in the current economic sanctions against Russia, it is instructive to examine sanctions use in the 1930s, when democracies similarly attempted to use them to stop the aggression of large-sized autocratic economies such as Fascist Italy, imperial Japan, and Nazi Germany. The crucial backdrop to these efforts was the Great Depression, which had weakened economies and inflamed nationalism around the world. When Italian dictator Benito Mussolini invaded Ethiopia in October 1935, the League of Nations implemented an international sanctions regime enforced by 52 countries. It was an impressive united response, similar to that on display in reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

But the league sanctions came with real tradeoffs. Economic containment of Fascist Italy limited democracies’ ability to use sanctions against an aggressor who was more threatening still: Adolf Hitler. As a major engine of export demand for smaller European economies, Germany was too large an economy to be isolated without severe commercial loss to the whole of Europe. Amid the fragile recovery from the Depression, simultaneously placing sanctions on both Italy and Germany—then the fourth- and seventh-largest economies in the world—was too costly for most democracies. Hitler exploited this fear of overstretch and the international focus on Ethiopia by moving German troops into the demilitarized Rhineland in March 1936, advancing further toward war. German officials were aware of their commercial power, which they used to maneuver central European and Balkan economies into their political orbit. The result was the creation of a continental, river-based bloc of vassal economies whose trade with Germany was harder for Western states to block with sanctions or a naval blockade.

The sanctions dilemmas of the 1930s show that aggressors should be confronted when they disrupt the international order. But it equally drives home the fact that the viability of sanctions, and the chances of their success, are always dependent on the global economic situation. In unstable commercial and financial conditions, it will be necessary to prioritize among competing objectives and prepare thoroughly for unintended effects of all kinds. Using sanctions against very large economies will simply not be possible without compensatory policies that support the sanctioners’ economies and the rest of the world.

Ukrainian Invasion Adds to Chaos for Global Supply Chains
By Ana Swanson

In just a few days, Western governments moved to exclude certain Russian banks from using the SWIFT messaging system, limit the Russian central bank’s ability to prop up the ruble, cut off shipments of high-tech goods and freeze the global assets of Russian oligarchs.

The Biden administration said the technology restrictions alone would stop about a fifth of Russian imports. But the impact on trade from the financial curbs is likely to be even larger, cutting off Russia’s imports from and exports to nearly all of its major trading partners, said Eswar Prasad, a professor of trade policy at Cornell University.

“Even when trade flows may take place directly between Russia and its trading partners, the reality is that payments often have to go through a Western-dominated financial system, and usually have to go through a Western currency,” he said.

In a statement on Saturday, the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said that Europe and its allies were “resolved to continue imposing massive costs on Russia” and that disconnecting Russian banks from SWIFT would also halt Russian trade.

“Cutting banks off will stop them from conducting most of their financial transactions worldwide and effectively block Russian exports and imports,” she said.

Sanctions on Russia Pit the West Against the Rest of the World
By Walter Russell Mead

In a development that suggests trouble ahead, China’s basic approach—not endorsing Moscow’s aggression but resisting Western efforts to punish Russia—has garnered global support. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa blamed the war on NATO. Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, refused to condemn Russia. India and Vietnam, essential partners for any American strategy in the Indo-Pacific, are closer to China than the U.S. in their approach to the war.

Western arm-twisting and the powerful effect of bank sanctions ensure a certain degree of sanctions compliance and support for symbolic U.N. resolutions condemning Russian aggression. But the lack of non-Western enthusiasm for America’s approach to Mr. Putin’s war is a phenomenon that U.S. policy makers ignore at their peril. Just as Western policy makers, lost in fantasies about building a “posthistorical world,” failed to grasp the growing threat of great-power competition, they have failed to note the development of a gap between the West and the rest of the world that threatens to hand the revisionist powers major opportunities in coming years. The Biden administration appears not to understand the gap between Washington and what used to be called the Third World, the degree to which its own policies contribute to the divide, or the opportunities this gap creates for China.

Opposition to Russia looked like a global slam dunk to many in the West. World opinion would so robustly oppose Moscow’s attack that countries like China would pay a high political price for failing to jump onto the anti-Russia bandwagon.

That is not how it is working. Some countries, like America’s disheartened and alienated Middle East allies, worry about backing a withdrawing Washington against an ascendant Russia. Others balance their detestation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine against other concerns. Many non-Western countries fear the consequences of Western responses to Russia’s behavior more than they fear Russia, don’t trust the West’s willingness or ability to manage the economic consequences of the war in ways that protect the interests of non-Western states, and are shocked by the imposition of sanctions on Russia’s central bank—a weapon they fear will one day be directed against them.

To those who share this perspective, an unpredictable America at the helm of the liberal West is a greater threat to the independence of many postcolonial states than Russian or even Chinese ambition could ever be. Chinese propaganda about the need for alternative economic arrangements that limit Western power are significantly more influential now than they were a month ago.

International Relations Theory Suggests Great-Power War Is Coming
By Matthew Kroenig

We are entering a more multipolar world. To be sure, the United States is still the world’s leading power, according to nearly all objective measures, but China has risen to occupy a strong second-place position in military and economic might. Europe is an economic and regulatory superpower in its own right. A more aggressive Russia maintains the largest nuclear weapons stockpile on Earth. And major powers in the developing world—such as India, Indonesia, South Africa, and Brazil—are choosing a nonaligned path.

Realists argue that multipolar systems are unstable and prone to major wars of miscalculation. World War I is a classic example.

Multipolar systems are unstable in part because each country must worry about multiple potential adversaries.

Realists also focus on shifts in the balance of power and worry about the rise of China and the relative decline of the United States. Power transition theory says that the fall of a dominant great power and the rise of an ascendant challenger often results in war. Some experts worry that Washington and Beijing may be falling into this “Thucydides Trap.”

Their dysfunctional autocratic systems make it unlikely that Beijing or Moscow will usurp global leadership from the United States anytime soon, but a closer look at the historical record shows that challengers sometimes start wars of aggression when their expansive ambitions are thwarted. Like Germany in World War I and Japan in World War II, Russia may be lashing out to reverse its decline, and China may also be weak and dangerous.

The free world is recognizing that it is too economically dependent on its enemies in Moscow and Beijing, and it is decoupling as fast as it can. Western corporations pulled out of Russia overnight. New legislation and regulations in the United States, Europe, and Japan are restricting trade and investment in China. It is simply irrational for Wall Street to invest in Chinese technology companies that are working with China’s People’s Liberation Army to develop weapons intended to kill Americans.

But China is also decoupling from the free world. Xi is prohibiting Chinese tech firms from listing on Wall Street, for example, because he doesn’t want to share proprietary information with Western powers. The economic interdependence between the liberal and illiberal worlds that has served as a ballast against conflict is now eroding.

Economic Ties Among Nations Spur Peace. Or Do They?
By Patricia Cohen

There are good reasons for the European Union to believe that economic ties would bind potential combatants more closely together, said Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. The proof was the European Union itself. The organization’s roots go back to the creation after World War II of the European Coal and Steel Community, a pact among six nations meant to avert conflict by pooling control of these two essential commodities.

“The idea was that if you knit together the French and German economies, they wouldn’t be able to go to war,” Mr. Haass said. The aim was to prevent World War III.

Scholars have attempted to prove that the theory worked in the real world — studying tens of thousands of trade relations and military conflicts over several decades — and have come to different conclusions.

In terms of the current crisis, Mr. Haass argued, in some ways the economic benefits were not mutual enough. “The Germans needed Russian gas much more than Russia needs exports, because they can make up for lost revenue with higher prices,” he said.

“That’s where Europe handled the relationship all wrong,” Mr. Haass added. “The leverage wasn’t reciprocal.”

Despite its huge land mass, nuclear arsenal and energy exports, Russia is otherwise relatively insulated from the global economy, accounting for 1.7 percent of global output. And since Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014, Mr. Putin has moved to isolate the economy even more to protect against retaliation.

Adam Posen, president of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said that the willingness to impose such devastating sanctions against Russia may point to the flaw in that strategy. If Russia’s financial system was more integrated with those of the allies, they might have been more hesitant to take measures that could provoke a financial crisis.

At the moment, economic relations with Russia are running on parallel tracks. Countries opposed to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have imposed a series of damaging financial and trade sanctions, yet Russian oil and gas — exempted from the bans — are still flowing.

The reality is economic interdependence can breed insecurity as well as mutual benefits, particularly when the relationship is lopsided.

Philippe Martin, the dean of the School of Public Affairs at SciencesPo in Paris, said that the 2014 agreement between Ukraine and the European Union may have marked a turning point for Russia. “That translated into more trade with the E.U. and less with Russa,” he said.

Mr. Martin has written skeptically that economic ties promote peace, arguing that countries open to global trade can be less worried about picking a fight with a single nation because they have diverse trading partners.

When Trade Leads to War
By Dale C. Copeland

Both China and Russia rely to an extraordinary degree on trade for economic growth and to secure their positions on the world stage. China has managed to quintuple its GDP over the last two decades in large measure through the export of manufactured products; more than 50 percent of Russia’s government revenue comes from the export of oil and gas. According to an influential strand of thinking in international relations theory, these crucial economic ties should put a much higher price on military conflict for both countries. Yet at least from appearances, neither power seems restrained by the potential loss of such trade.

As long as state leaders expect their trade relationships to remain strong into the future, they are likely to allow the state to become more dependent on outsiders for the resources and markets that drive state growth.

Yet if expectations of future trade turn sour and leaders come to believe that the trade restrictions of other states will start to reduce their access to key resources and markets, then they will anticipate a decline in long-term economic power and therefore military power. They may come to believe that more assertive and aggressive policies are necessary to protect trade routes and ensure the supply of raw materials and access to markets. This was Japan’s predicament in the 1930s as it saw France, the United Kingdom, and the United States retreating into increasingly closed and discriminatory economic realms. As a result, Japanese leaders found themselves compelled to expand Japan’s control over its commercial ties with its neighbors. Yet they also came to see that such moves made them only look more aggressive, giving the United Kingdom and the United States new grounds for restricting Japanese imports of raw materials, including oil.

Today, China’s leaders understand that they face a similar dilemma—as have the leaders of almost every rising state in modern history. They know that their foreign policy needs to be moderate enough to sustain the basic trust that allows trade ties to continue. But they also need to project enough military strength to deter others from severing those ties.

Consider the actual details of China’s reaction to Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, despite the threats it made beforehand. Although Beijing demonstrated its anger with robust military exercises and missile launches that passed into Taiwan’s airspace, it restricted its economic response largely to sanctions on Taiwanese agricultural exports. Notably, Chinese officials carefully avoided placing any restrictions on Taiwanese semiconductor exports, since China depends on Taiwan for more than 90 percent of its high-tech chips and a large portion of its low-level chips. And, of course, China was careful not to sanction the United States directly for fear of causing a new trade war that would exacerbate an already slowing Chinese economy.

Nonetheless, China’s economic dependence could lead it to take aggressive action should Chinese expectations of future trade plummet. Take the case of Taiwan’s high-tech semiconductors. China now has some capability to produce chips with transistors that are under 15 and even under ten nanometers in size. But to stay on the cutting edge of technological developments in artificial intelligence, self-driving vehicles, and smartphone production, it needs chips measuring under seven or under five nanometers, which only Taiwan can mass-produce at a high level of quality. The latest Apple iPhone, for example, although it is assembled in China, uses an Apple-designed five-nanometer chip that is made by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company in Hsinchu, Taiwan.

It is not going too far to say that the whole future of China’s ability to catch up to the United States depends on continued access to Taiwanese chips, just as Japan’s position in the 1930s was dependent on access to oil controlled by the Americans and the British. And just as in 1941 with the American oil embargo, if Chinese officials suspected that the United States might take steps to cut off Chinese access to Taiwanese chips, they might determine that it is necessary to take the island now to avoid long-term economic decline. This is not some far-fetched scenario. In June 2022, a prominent Chinese economist declared that if Washington placed sanctions on China similar to those imposed this year on Russia, China should invade Taiwan to secure possession of its chip-production facilities.

But here’s the good news. Chinese expectations for future trade, as Japanese expectations were in 1941, are a function of American policy decisions. If U.S. officials understand that their policies directly shape the way Beijing sees the future commercial environment, not just in overall trade but in high-tech trade as it relates to Taiwan, they can avoid making Chinese Communist Party leaders feel their economy will collapse unless they act forcefully. The spirals of hostility that can lead to war stem from choices, not given realities. By reassuring Beijing that China will continue to receive semiconductors from Taiwan—even if not the sophisticated machines from the Netherlands needed to make them—the Biden administration can moderate Beijing’s concerns about future trade and reduce the likelihood of crisis and war.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and his cohorts will, of course, object to even this U.S. posture, since it leaves China dependent on outsiders for the chips that are the foundation of both a modern high-tech economy and military power. Yet since an attack on Taiwan would not only invoke economic sanctions that would jeopardize China’s trade ties with the Western world but might also lead to the inadvertent destruction of the chip-making plants themselves, China has every reason to moderate its behavior, if not its rhetoric, when it comes to the island’s status.

If leaders in Washington and Beijing can improve each other’s expectations of both trade and future behavior, many more decades of peace in East Asia should be achievable.

What the Fall of Empires Tells Us About the Ukraine War
By Anatol Lieven

The Soviet Union is commonly described in the West as the “Soviet empire”—or even “Russian empire”—and in key respects this was indeed the case. During the Cold War, Moscow occupied and controlled a collection of states along its periphery, and the historical record of Russia’s expansion through conquest and colonization is abundantly clear. But in neither journalism nor academia has this led to what should have been a logical conclusion when it comes to understanding conflicts in the former Soviet space: Namely, to place these conflicts into the wider context of what happens when empires fall.

In every case without exception, the end of empire has led to massive violence. In some cases, this occurred during and immediately after the imperial collapse. In others, the violence occurred after several decades had passed. In Ireland, the Middle East, South Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Balkans, the consequences of the Habsburg, Ottoman, and British empires—and of the nature of their dissolution—are still working themselves out today, generations later.

The relationship between empire and local conflicts has been a thoroughly ambiguous one, summed up most famously in Tacitus’s epithet about imperial Rome, which the Roman historian placed in the mouth of a British chieftain: Ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant—“they make a desert and call it peace.” The creation of empires involves massive violence, sometimes on a genocidal scale. Thereafter, however, the imperial power’s economic and political interests require the maintenance of peace across its territories. The claim to have ended conflict and brought peace—whether under a Pax Romana, Pax Britannica, or Pax Americana—is also fundamental to its legitimacy and sense of imperial mission.

Yet empires notoriously also freeze, generate, and incubate conflicts. Sometimes this is because imperial rule suspends previous conflicts, as between Hindus and Muslims in British India or Armenians and Azeris under the tsars and Soviets. Sometimes the source of conflict is the empire’s creation of completely new states or states with new borders—such as Iraq in the Middle East—that lump together different ethnicities that had never previously lived in the same polity, divide a people among neighboring states, or force ancient enemies under one roof, as in the former Yugoslavia and many African nations. This leads not only to civil conflicts but sometimes to wars between successor states—as in Kashmir, the former Yugoslavia, and Ukraine—as successor states fight to redraw borders in accordance with their version of ethnic or ethno-religious legitimacy.

One funny aspect of contemporary Western liberals is that even as they have publicly beaten their own breasts with contrition and shame for the past sins of Western colonialism, they go on to claim moral superiority over other countries that have inherited some of the same problems and committed some of the same sins.

Empire Burlesque
By Daniel Bessner

Whereas the United States had been wary of embroiling itself in extra-hemispheric affairs prior to the twentieth century, Old Glory could now increasingly be seen flying across the globe. To facilitate their crusade, Americans constructed what the historian Daniel Immerwahr has dubbed a “pointillist empire.” While most empires traditionally relied on the seizure and occupation of vast territories, the United States built military bases around the world to project its power. From these outposts, it launched wars that killed millions, protected a capitalist system that benefited the wealthy, and threatened any power—democratic or otherwise—that had the temerity to disagree with it.

When one takes a long, hard look at U.S. foreign policy after 1945, it’s clear that the United States caused an enormous amount of suffering that a more restrained approach would have avoided. Some of these American-led fiascoes are infamous: the wars in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq resulted in the death, displacement, and deracination of millions of people. Then there are the many lesser-known instances of the United States helping to install its preferred leaders abroad. During the Cold War alone, the nation imposed regime changes in Iran, Guatemala, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, British Guiana, South Vietnam, Bolivia, Brazil, Panama, Indonesia, Syria, and Chile.

As this record suggests, the Cold War was hardly “the long peace” that many liberal internationalists valorize. It was, rather, incredibly violent. The historian Paul Thomas Chamberlin estimates that at least twenty million people died in Cold War conflicts, the equivalent of 1,200 deaths a day for forty-five years. And U.S. intervention didn’t end with the Cold War. Including the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, the United States intervened abroad one hundred and twenty-two times between 1990 and 2017, according to the Military Intervention Project at Tufts University. And as Brown University’s Costs of War Project has determined, the war on terror has been used to justify operations in almost half the world’s countries.

Such interventions obviously violated the principle of sovereignty—the very basis of international relations. But more importantly, they produced awful outcomes. As the political scientist Lindsey O’Rourke has underlined, countries targeted for regime change by the United States were more likely to experience civil wars, mass killings, human rights abuses, and democratic backsliding than those that were ignored.

When it comes to the benefits that ordinary Americans received from their empire, it’s similarly difficult to defend the historical record. It’s true that in the three decades after World War II, armed primacy ensured favorable trade conditions that allowed Americans to consume more than any other group in world history (causing incredible environmental damage in the process). But as the New Deal gave way to neoliberalism, the benefits of supremacy attenuated. Since the late Seventies, Americans have been suffering the negative consequences of empire—a militarized political culture, racism and xenophobia, police forces armed to the teeth with military-grade weaponry, a bloated defense budget, and endless wars—without receiving much in return, save for the psychic wages of living in the imperial metropole.

The more one considers the American Century, in fact, the more our tenure as global hegemon resembles a historical aberration. Geopolitical circumstances are unlikely to allow another country to become as powerful as the United States has been for much of the past seven decades. In 1945, when the nation first emerged triumphant on the world stage, its might was staggering. The United States produced half the world’s manufactured goods, was the source of one third of the world’s exports, served as the global creditor, enjoyed a nuclear monopoly, and controlled an unprecedented military colossus. Its closest competitor was a crippled Soviet Union struggling to recover from the loss of more than twenty million citizens and the devastation of significant amounts of its territory.

The United States’ power was similarly astounding after the Soviet Union’s collapse in the early Nineties, especially when one aggregates its strength with that of its Western allies. In 1992, the G7 countries—Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States—controlled 68 percent of global GDP, and maintained sophisticated militaries, which, the Gulf War seemed to demonstrate, could achieve their objectives quickly, cheaply, and with minimal loss of Western life.

But this is no longer the case. By 2020, the G7’s GDP had dwindled to 31 percent of the global total, and is expected to fall to 29 percent by 2024. This trend will likely continue. And if the past thirty years of American war have demonstrated anything, it’s that sophisticated militaries do not always achieve their intended political objectives. The United States and its allies aren’t what they once were. Hegemony was an anomaly, an accident of history unlikely to be repeated, at least in the foreseeable future.

And when examining what China has done, the evidence is clear: while the nation obviously wants to be a major power in East Asia, and while it hopes to one day conquer Taiwan, there’s little to suggest that, in the short term at least, it aims to replace the United States as the regional, let alone global, hegemon. Neither China’s increased military budget (which pales in comparison to the United States’ $800 billion) nor its foreign development aid (which is not linked to a recipient country’s politics) indicates that it desires domination. In fact, Chinese leaders, who tolerate the presence of tens of thousands of troops stationed near their borders, appear willing to allow the United States to remain a major player in Asia, something Americans would never countenance in the Western Hemisphere.

Ironically, liberal internationalists are imposing their own goals for hegemony onto China. Their commitment to armed primacy—a commitment that has led to war after war—threatens to increase tensions with a country that Americans must cooperate with to solve the real problems of the twenty-first century: climate change, pandemics, and inequality. When compared with these existential threats, the liberal internationalist obsession with primacy is a relic of a bygone era. For the sake of the world, we must move beyond it.

The Future of the American Empire
By Nick Turse

NT: You end your book with several scenarios for the decline of the United States. These are detailed intelligence assessments that offer a really thoughtful—and in many ways frightening—look at the possible ends of the American empire. Without giving away too much, can you talk about what you see coming in the decade ahead?

AM: Even the mightiest of empires is surprisingly fragile, vulnerable to sudden collapse from unforeseen causes. Who could have guessed that the British empire that covered half the globe for over 200 years would be gone in less than 20? That the French imperium ruling over 10 percent of humanity would dissolve in a decade. Or the ferocious Soviet bloc would collapse in just two years.

So I projected four scenarios for the end of US global power by 2030, in the expectation that actual events would combine elements of each in ways that nobody could imagine. At the most benign level, the tides of geopolitical power flow toward Beijing, the US military retreats from Eurasia, and Washington becomes just one of several major powers. More malign would be an American version of the British bumbler Sir Anthony Eden, either Trump or some inept successor, blundering into an ill-conceived military strike, akin to Suez, that exposes the limits of American power. Or there could be a World War III with China that America, according to recent Pentagon assessments, might not win.

If all else fails, the crushing costs of climate change, which nobody in Washington has yet managed to add up, will redirect the roughly 5 percent of GDP now used for global defense to domestic recovery. Every modern empire is, more or less, a 5 percent proposition. During the 1950s, Britain liquidated its vast empire by diverting that imperial 5 percent to domestic social programs, and found its last imperial adventure at Suez brought its currency to the brink of collapse. It’s possible that climate change will do the same for America by 2040, forcing abandonment of overseas bases to rebuild the country.

The Crisis in Progressive Foreign Policy
By Stephen Wertheim

Recently, restrainers have found themselves on the back foot amid an outpouring of sympathy for Ukrainians and outrage at Russia’s brutality: the moment has rewarded flag-waving moral clarity rather than the caution and consequentialism urged by advocates for U.S. restraint. Restrainers might get a fuller hearing in the coming months and years as the war in Ukraine drags on and reaches an almost inevitably less than satisfying conclusion. More profoundly, the factors that have elevated restraint over the past decade—the costs of an overreaching and unachievable U.S. foreign policy and the demand for more “nation-building right here at home,” as President Barack Obama put it—are likely to become more salient as Americans confront the prospect of catastrophic war with the world’s number two power, China, or a first-rank nuclear power, Russia.

The U.S. public and its representatives in Congress will not easily accept the need to fight a war likely to cause mass casualties or a recession. Accustomed to dealing with minor threats from small states and terrorist groups, the U.S. political system has been slow to adjust to this reality. This inertia gives progressives an opportunity to drive the national debate by laying out the consequences of great-power war. At this late date, there remains room to shape U.S. politics before the moment of crisis arrives. Despite overwhelmingly supporting Ukraine, few Americans favor sending U.S. forces into the fight. Biden has rightly ruled out that option, warning of “World War III.” And although a Pew Research Center poll taken in March made headlines for revealing that a whopping 82 percent of Americans hold an unfavorable view of China, it also found that only one-quarter of the public sees China as an enemy, with most preferring to describe it as a competitor.

Foreign Policy By Example
By Richard Haass

The United States has long retained many positive features when seen from abroad: excellent universities, innovative companies, and a tradition (currently compromised) of openness to immigration. The election of Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 seemed to show that racism had abated to a significant degree; the gains of the civil, women’s, and gay rights movements were a source of inspiration elsewhere; and even the country’s multiple experiences with impeachment seemed to showcase a system in which no person was above the law. Now, however, the image of a United States consistent with former President Ronald Reagan’s “shining city on a hill” grows ever more distant in the eyes of the world.

As that image recedes, the capacity diminishes for the United States to present itself as a model for others to emulate. So, too, does the ability of the United States to criticize or pressure other countries for their failings.

Human rights and democracy promotion have long been a staple of American foreign policy—partly for normative reasons, because Americans believe that such principles enhance the meaning and value of life, and partly for practical reasons, because many U.S. policymakers believe that democracies act with restraint not just toward their own citizens but toward others and in so doing, make the world less violent. Now, democracy is in recession around the world, and the ability of the United States to arrest that retreat is likewise in decline.

The country’s absolute power, above all military and economic power, is still considerable. The bigger question concerns its available power.

The answer to this question is anything but clear. Available power consists not just of military and economic instruments but also the ability and the will to use them—and this measure is the one most sensitive to the condition in which the United States now finds itself. The impulse to turn inward and do less in the world was already rising after the United States overreached in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now, the country faces formidable domestic strife, which will likely quell much of the remaining appetite to intervene abroad, however justified on occasion it might be. Some of those who bemoan American missteps over the past two decades may welcome such an inward turn. But no less dangerous than overreach is underreach—a United States that fails to act to protect its interests. Such a United States will not be able to isolate itself from a world in which viruses, greenhouse gases, terrorists, and cyberattacks cross borders at will.

The perception that the United States has been shorn of much of its available power will likely affect the decision-making of other countries. The danger is that foes will see a United States weakened and distracted and move to take advantage.

How to Prevent a War in Asia
By Michèle A. Flournoy

The more confident China’s leaders are in their own capabilities and the more they doubt the capabilities and resolve of the United States, the greater the chance of miscalculation—a breakdown in deterrence that could bring direct conflict between two nuclear powers.

A strategic miscalculation might involve Chinese leaders choosing to blockade or attack Taiwan in the near term or midterm based on a set of strongly held beliefs about the United States as a declining power—one racked by internal political divisions, preoccupied with domestic crises, no longer showing up in the region diplomatically, lacking the military capabilities that might be effective in the face of A2/AD, and with an uncertain commitment to defending Taiwan. They could conclude that China should move on Taiwan sooner rather than later, a fait accompli that a weakened and distracted United States would have to accept.

Alternatively, a tactical miscalculation could have strategic consequences. For example, Chinese military planning for taking Taiwan by force envisions early cyberattacks against the electric power grids around key military bases in the United States, to prevent the deployment of U.S. forces to the region. But these same power grids also support the surrounding civilian population, including hospitals, emergency services, and other functions critical to public safety. Any such attack would have a high risk of killing American citizens. So rather than deter U.S. action, the envisioned cyberattacks could actually increase the U.S. determination to respond.

Effective deterrence does not depend just on Chinese leaders believing the United States has the capability to thwart any act of aggression; they must also believe it has the will to do so.

The United States should also leverage its unique advantage of having an unrivaled network of allies and partners around the world. The best way to deal with the challenges China poses, be they unfair trade practices or orchestrated disinformation campaigns, is by making common cause with allies and partners whenever possible, confronting violations of the rules-based order as a coalition of like-minded states committed to a shared set of norms. The United States should work closely with its allies and partners to make a clear-eyed assessment of what each country can contribute to stabilizing the region and deterring increasingly aggressive behavior. This will also require reassuring them in words and deeds that they can count on the United States to have their backs in disputes with Beijing and ultimately to help defend them against gray-zone coercion or outright attacks.

Washington should spell out to countries in the region the stark contrast between what international rules and norms shaped by Beijing would look like and those the region has enjoyed to date—especially when it comes to enduring norms such as the freedom of navigation and peaceful resolution of disputes. In an Asia dominated by an authoritarian, revisionist China, ships that today can freely navigate the seas would be vulnerable to possible harassment.

Reestablishing a forum in which China and the United States could regularly discuss their respective interests and perspectives, identify areas of potential cooperation (such as nonproliferation and climate change), and manage their differences short of conflict is essential; tactical discussions on trade issues are simply not enough. After all, deterrence depends on the clear and consistent communication of interests and intent in order to minimize the risk of miscalculation.

Two insecure superpowers stumble towards collision over Taiwan
By Stephen Roach

There has been an ominous escalation of conflict between the US and China since 2017 — a trade war, a tech war, and the early stages of a new cold war — that bodes ill. But this conflict would not have occurred without a confluence of false narratives that both nations have embraced with respect to the other.

Among many examples, two stand out: America blames China for a massive trade deficit, even though it ran trade deficits with 106 nations in 2021 due to a self-inflicted shortfall of domestic saving. China’s fears of US containment are viewed as an existential threat to its aspirations of prosperity, deflecting focus away from an urgent consumer-led transformation of its economy. Two vulnerable nations are blaming the other for their own shortcomings. Amplified by censorship (China) and information distortion (America) and exacerbated by the viral spread of social networks, this blame game has become the high-octane fuel of conflict escalation.

With Chinese test missiles now flying, the spark of Taiwan tensions could ignite this fuel quickly. The US denies antagonistic motives, arguing that innocent visits of legislators have long been the norm. This is patently absurd. As second in line to the US presidency and hardly an inconsequential member of Congress, Pelosi was explicit in offering support for a free and independent Taiwan. This is a direct affront to the “One China” principles of reunification stipulated in the 1972 Shanghai Communiqué. China, now faced with innumerable problems of its own making — an unworkable zero-Covid policy, property deleveraging, demographic pressures, as well as Xi Jinping’s bid for reappointment at the upcoming 20th Party Congress — sees any threat to Taiwan reunification as particularly intolerable at this moment.

The parallels with Vladimir Putin’s “rationale” for going to war in Ukraine are especially worrisome. Just as Putin has justified unconscionable acts of aggression by his paranoia over Nato enlargement, Xi could well view US support for Taiwan as the tipping point in his own fears of western containment of China. Autocrats are most dangerous when cornered. Are we guilty of squeezing Xi just as many have argued we did Putin? Unfathomable carnage in Ukraine is a warning we should all heed before provoking a great power clash with China over Taiwan.

Henry Kissinger recently warned of America’s unfortunate penchant for seeking “endless confrontations” with China, hinting that behind bipartisan China-bashing is the mistaken belief that Beijing’s system will eventually implode or morph into a democracy. America’s failure to accept the permanence of China is at the core of its anxieties over a rising rival. Similarly, China’s fixation on rejuvenation — a legacy of its “century of humiliation” at the hands of foreigners — explains its fears of US containment. Two insecure superpowers are stumbling towards dangerous collision.

The Coming Crisis in International Affairs
By James Traub

In retrospect, the end of the Cold War gave birth to an extraordinary, and very brief, moment of consensus in which liberal values appeared to be universal and the institutions of the “liberal world order” seemed poised to operate as their founders had imagined. (In the new world order that George H. W. Bush envisioned, the United Nations Security Council would be empowered to truly enforce the global rule of law.) Peace and prosperity disposed citizens to defer to their leaders, who enjoyed the support needed to make tough decisions. That consensus is gone, along with the deference it fostered. Different times produce different leaders; Americans have lost confidence in self-effacing patricians. (See: Bush, Jeb.)

What happened? How did we lose faith in George H. W. Bush’s optimistic vision of American global engagement and sink into the toxic brew of bellicosity and isolationism that Donald Trump now promotes and exploits? Rice and Zelikow blame the economic crisis of 2008 and, incredibly, the preoccupation of the left with “the diversity narrative” rather than with poverty and inequality — blithely skipping over George W. Bush’s huge tax cuts for the rich. But that is hardly the chief omission. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 presented Bush and his national security team with their own “catalytic episode.” They could have closed ranks with allies and worked closely with the United Nations, as the elder Bush and his team had done. They chose a different path, one that ultimately damaged America’s standing in the world and soured the American public on engagement abroad.

The Path to a New 1914?
By Jonathan Schell

Historically, nations have responded to terrorist threats and attacks with a combination of police action and political negotiation, while military action has played only a minor role. Voices were raised in the United States calling for a global cooperative effort of this kind to combat al-Qaeda. President Bush opted instead for a policy that the United States alone among nations could have conceivably undertaken: global military action not only against al-Qaeda but against any regime in the world that supported international terrorism.

The president announced to Congress that he would “make no distinction between the terrorists who commit these acts and those who harbor them.” By calling the campaign a “war,” the administration summoned into action the immense, technically revolutionized, post-Cold War American military machine, which had lacked any clear enemy for over a decade. And by identifying the target as generic “terrorism,” rather than as al-Qaeda or any other group or list of groups, the administration licensed military operations anywhere in the world.

In the ensuing months, the Bush administration continued to expand the aims and means of the war. The overthrow of governments — “regime change” — was established as a means for advancing the new policies. The president divided regimes into two categories — those “with us” and those “against us.” Vice President Cheney estimated that al-Qaeda was active in 60 countries. The first regime to be targeted was of course al-Qaeda’s host, the government of Afghanistan, which was overthrown in a remarkably swift military operation conducted almost entirely from the air and without American casualties.

Next, the administration proclaimed an additional war goal — preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. In his State of the Union speech in January 2002, the president announced that “the United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.” He went on to name as an “axis of evil” Iraq, Iran, and North Korea — three regimes seeking to build or already possessing weapons of mass destruction. To stop them, he stated, the Cold War policy of deterrence would not be enough — “preemptive” military action would be required, and preemption, the administration soon specified, could include the use of nuclear weapons.

Beginning in the summer of 2002, the government intensified its preparations for a war to overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and in the fall, the president demanded and received a resolution from the Security Council of the United Nations requiring Iraq to accept the return of U.N. inspectors to search for weapons of mass destruction or facilities for building them. Lists of other candidates for “regime change” began to surface in the press.

The sharp turn toward force as the mainstay of the policies of the United States was accompanied by a turn away from treaties and other forms of cooperation. Even before September 11th, the trend had been clear. Now it accelerated. The Bush administration either refused to ratify or withdrew from most of the principal new international treaties of the post-Cold War era. In the nuclear arena alone, the administration refused to submit to the Senate for ratification the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which would have added a ban on underground tests to the existing bans on testing in the air; withdrew from the A.B.M. Treaty, which had severely limited Russian and American deployment of antinuclear defensive systems; and jettisoned the START negotiations as the framework for nuclear reductions with Russia — replacing them with the Strategic Offensive Reduction Agreement, a three-page document requiring two-thirds of the strategic weapons of both sides to be removed from their delivery vehicles, but then stored rather than dismantled.

In addition, the Bush administration withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which had become the world’s principal forum for making decisions about reducing emissions that cause global warming; refused to ratify the Rome treaty establishing an international criminal court; and declined to agree to an important protocol for inspection and enforcement of a U.N. convention banning biological weapons.

The consequences of this revolution in American policy rippled through the world, where it found ready imitators. On December 12th, the Indian Parliament was attacked by terrorists whom India linked to Pakistan. Promptly, nuclear-armed India, citing the American policy of attacking not only terrorists but any state that harbored them, moved half a million men to the border of nuclear-armed Pakistan, which responded in kind, producing the first full-scale nuclear crisis of the twenty-first century.

The revolution in American policy had been precipitated by September 11th, but went far beyond any war on terror. It remained to give the policy comprehensive doctrinal expression, which came in an official document, “The National Security Strategy of the United States of America,” issued in September 2002. In the world, it stated, only one economic and political system remained “viable”: the American one of liberal democracy and free enterprise. The United States would henceforth promote and defend this system by the unilateral use of force — preemptively, if necessary. The United States, the president said, “has, and intends to keep, military strengths beyond challenge, thereby making the destabilizing arms races of other eras pointless, and limiting rivalries to trade and other pursuits of peace.”

In other words, the United States reserved the entire field of military force to itself, restricting other nations to humbler pursuits. In the words of the “National Security Strategy,” “Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States.” If the United States was displeased with a regime, it reserved the right to overthrow it — to carry out “regime change.” “In the world we have entered,” President Bush has said, “the only path to safety is the path of action. And this nation will act.”

It is of course impossible to predict how and where history might again go over the precipice. It could be nuclear war in South Asia, bringing the deaths of tens of millions of people. It could be the annihilation of one or several cities in the United States in a nuclear terrorist attack, or the loss of millions in a smallpox attack. It could be a war spinning out of control in the Middle East, leading by that route to the use of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. It could be war in Korea, or between the United States and China over Taiwan. It could even be — hard as it is to imagine now — intentional or semi-intentional nuclear war between Russia and the United States in some future crisis that we cannot foresee but cannot rule out, either. Or it could be — is even likely to be — some chain of events we are at present incapable of imagining.

After September 11th, people rightly said that the world had changed forever. Before that event, who could have predicted the galloping transformation of the politics of the United States and the world, the escalating regional crises, the vistas of perpetual war? Yet the use of just one nuclear weapon could exceed the damage of September 11th ten-thousandfold.

Would the global economy plunge into outright depression? Would the people of the world flee their menaced cities? Would anyone know who the attacker was? Would someone retaliate — perhaps on a greater scale? Would the staggering shock bring the world to its senses? Would the world at that moment of unparalleled panic and horror react more wisely and constructively than it has been able to do in a time of peace, in comparative calm, or would it fall victim to an incalculable cycle of fear, confusion, hatred, hostility, and violence, both between nations and within them, as it did after 1914 — but this time, in all likelihood, far more swiftly and with incomparably direr consequences? In the face of these questions, predictive powers dim. But attempts at prophecy are in any case the wrong response. Decisions are required.

With Great-Power Crisis Comes Great-Power Opportunity
By Francis J. Gavin

… the Cuban missile crisis altered the world’s perception of the international system, revealing the United States’ power and resolve to be stronger—and the Soviets’ to be weaker—than previously thought. Prior to the crisis, the Bay of Pigs fiasco, a humiliating summit between Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna, and the disarray of the Western alliance had made the Kennedy administration seem weak. The Soviets, by contrast, appeared to be made of steel, with the forces of history on their side.

All that changed after 13 days of threats and back-channel diplomacy, when Khrushchev acceded to Kennedy’s demand that the Soviets remove nuclear-tipped missiles from Cuba. Although Washington publicly promised not to invade the island and privately agreed to remove similar missiles from Turkey, the outcome was seen as a victory for the United States. The view in capitals around the world—including in Moscow—was that the balance of power, interests, and resolve now decisively favored the United States.

But instead of exploiting this newfound strength to take a harder line against the Soviet Union, Kennedy chose the more difficult, politically risky but ultimately more productive path—a political accommodation. This was not an easy task. He had to sideline hawks within his administration, including military leaders; win over Congress; and push back against recalcitrant allies, including French President Charles de Gaulle and West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer. Kennedy understood that the Soviet Union was an aggressive authoritarian state bent on challenging American values and interests around the world. But he also understood that the Soviet Union wasn’t going away any time soon, that many of its political interests had to be acknowledged as legitimate, and that the dangers of the nuclear age obligated him to minimize the possibility of great-power war. Critically, he grasped that the two powers shared an interest in stabilizing the international system and preventing other states from acquiring nuclear weapons.

After months of quiet diplomacy, Kennedy signaled the reorientation of U.S. strategy in a speech at American University in June 1963. The president, who just two years earlier had promised that the United States would “pay any price” to “assure the survival and success of liberty,” now argued that if Washington and Moscow cannot end “our differences, at least we can make the world safe for diversity.” The speech had its intended effect, and the previously recalcitrant Soviets became more open to negotiations. According to Khrushchev, Kennedy’s address was the “best statement made by any President since Roosevelt.”

Kennedy built on this goodwill by sending Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Averell Harriman, who was well regarded by the Kremlin, to Moscow to discuss efforts to limit nuclear proliferation. Kennedy empowered his emissary to tell the Soviet leadership that he sought a broad understanding that would avoid great-power war. The goal was not to resolve long-standing differences—such as the political status of Germany and Berlin, which had nearly led to war—but rather to agree to put those issues “on ice.”

These extraordinary efforts produced what the historian Marc Trachtenberg has called “a constructed peace.” The Cold War did not end in 1963, but the risk of nuclear war was dramatically reduced. Kennedy’s diplomacy laid the foundations for the landmark 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and for the 1975 Helsinki Accords, which stabilized great-power politics and dramatically reduced the risk of conflict. And although this détente unraveled for a time in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Cold War never again brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.

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