Ukraine's Sovereignty Is A Vital U.S. Interest
The function of the U.S. foreign policy is not defeating China. It is defending modified Westphalian order that favors freedom which both Russia and China threaten.
Russia’s escalation of its eight-year war against Ukraine presents a choice about what role America would like to play in the world. More precisely, should the United States conduct itself as a great power, and, if so, should it be a European power or restrict itself to preserving the order in Asia.
Before the end of World War II, American statesmen began to think about what world order should look like after the war. They designed a global order to mirror four tenets of the American regime at home: commerce, law, liberalism, and guns. This order has preserved the longest peace in human history. To be sure, there have been small wars. But this order has created a historical anomaly: No great war has yet broken out.
Notwithstanding the outbreak of conflicts between smaller states, Asia has enjoyed a considerable degree of peace since World War II. The wars of the Greater Middle East pale in comparison with the region’s violent history, only tamed by European imperialism. Indeed, the greatest catastrophes in the region since World War II are the Iran-Iraq War and the Syrian Civil War, both results of American inaction. And Europe, a continent plagued by continental wars, has been at peace for a quarter century. This has resulted in unprecedented prosperity, growth in life expectancy, and decline of violence—this was even true of Afghanistan at war for twenty years, and no longer the case now that the nation has found “peace.” Most importantly, due to the simple fact that America is the judge, the jury, and the executioner of this order, it has disproportionately benefited Americans. Russia’s threat to Ukraine is not simply a threat to Ukraine; it is a challenge to this very order.
Most Americans though don’t remember the pre-American world. They tend to take the world they live in for granted, not realizing the enormous investment their leaders make in preserving it. The late George Shultz, probably the greatest Cold War statesman and former Secretary of State, compared this task to gardening. If one studies history, it is obvious that in comparison the American world is a beautiful garden. If unattended, however, the unforgiving law of the jungle will rule.
The core of the American order is a legacy of the Westphalian peace, that the sovereignty of other states must be respected, a rule Russia has thus far broken thrice since the end of the Cold War, but none to the extent that it is about to do in Ukraine. Detractors argue that America has also broken this rule. True enough. But as much as it is unpopular to say that America is not the world’s policeman, our country has acted as the world’s law enforcement officer. And while citizens do not have a right to be violent with each other, the police have the right to use force against lawbreakers.
A second flaw of this false comparison could be explained by the late Bill Buckley, “to say that we and [Russia] are to be compared is the equivalent of saying that the man who pushes the old lady into the way of an oncoming bus and the man who pushes the old lady out of the way of an oncoming bus are both people who push old ladies around.” All American wars have been against autocracies. Especially in the recent era, at every point, America has tried to leave behind a democracy. Russia, on the other hand, is about to further invade Ukraine precisely because Ukraine’s experiment in democracy is finally succeeding. And unlike the Russian military, the U.S. military has never permanently stayed in a country against the will of a democratic host.