October 17, 2023


Thinking Ukraine Through: Part I

By: Rodney Rios

This will be a 4-part series where Rodney Rios breaks down the Russian war against Ukraine.

It is in the United States’ interest to continue supporting Ukraine in its war against Russia. This is consistent not only with America’s interest but also in accordance with the history of American foreign policy and grand strategy. Nevertheless, it has become increasingly fashionable in Republican circles to oppose any additional aid or assistance to Ukraine in its effort to defeat the Russian invasion of its territory. There are many reasons for this. These critiques and anxieties should be responded to thoughtfully and logically. Yet, I believe that once one examines the issue impartially, one can see clearly that the United States has an interest in thwarting Vladimir Putin.

A lot of the critique over America’s support for Ukraine stems from the belief, mistaken in my view that it is not in America’s interest to support Ukraine. Of course, the way to counteract this allegation is by demonstrating it to be false. To do that, one should first define America’s interests, which is not easy. Elbridge Colby, an eminent realist thinker, defines American interests as being physical or national security (i.e., being free of attack); economic prosperity (i.e., maintaining our quality of life and material well-being); and maintaining our constitutional order (freedom).

It is Colby’s belief that at least these three principles can be agreed upon as being in America’s interest, though how to safeguard them is, of course, up for debate. Colby also explained in his book that the regions that most matter to America’s interest are Asia, with the world’s largest economic area, Europe, with its economic size and because it belongs to the same civilization as the United States and, to a lesser degree, the Persian Gulf. Walter Russell Mead, the American foreign policy analyst and historian, explained in his book Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World that far from being true that America was isolated or isolationist in the past, it is more correct to say that American foreign policy aligned itself with the broader British foreign policy tradition of avoiding the emergence of a hegemon that could threaten it. In Britain’s case, the balance of power approach was focused mostly on Europe since, for a long time, no other great power in Asia existed that could threaten Britain or its Empire.

In America’s case, that is not a luxury we can afford. America must seek to keep the balance of power in both Europe and Asia. It is true most of our focus should, in effect, be centered on Asia since it is the largest region both demographically and economically. But perhaps it can be agreed that it is not in the interest of the United States to allow a revisionist anti-American hegemon to arise either in Europe or Asia. As Russell Mead explains in his book, that is why America sought to balance against Japan in the early twentieth century and then against China, while in Europe, the balance was against Germany and Russia at different times.

Why is the balance of power in the American interest? Merely because a nation that can dominate the entirety of Europe or Asia will have the economic power to affect our livelihoods, impede our trade, bully our ships and citizens, impose conditions on us, and even threaten us physically and manipulate us politically. It is not the first time such a thing has happened, the European powers treated America with contempt during the Napoleonic Wars, and the United States had to fight a Quasi-War with France and the War of 1812 to try and vindicate America’s security and interests. Such a state of affairs can arise again if a hegemon emerges in either Europe or Asia.

As such, America must lead. It cannot afford to hide from the world, and no other great power in the world shares our values or can protect our interests. No one else can defend freedom. This is a fact, whether we like it or not. As such, America must lead. In Asia, the threat emanates from Communist China. From Europe, the threat is an aggressive, revisionist Russia. Here we shall examine, for the most part, only the Russian threat.

Stay tuned for Part II.