Dean Stewart’s “Ukraine, America, and the Next World War” repeated some commonly heard and easily corrected errors in its analysis of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Following John Mearsheimer, he blames the invasion on NATO. “NATO is an aggressive military alliance,” Stewart wrote, “with a single goal: intimidate Russia” — as if the idea of inviting Russia itself to join NATO never came up. Alas, it did; Putin himself expressed interest in it in 2000, but did not want to “line up behind others” to apply for it. NATO expanded in response to East European countries’ desires to protect themselves from the precise scenario that is unfolding now in Ukraine. Stewart acknowledges that Russia attacked Georgia in 2008 when it was not a NATO member. (It still is not.) The same occurred in Chechnya years before, with both countries — along with Moldova and later Ukraine — all losing territory to Russian-supported “separatist” military forces. Is it a coincidence that Ukrainians would want some protection from a larger-scale attack?
Stewart also blames nefarious Ukrainian “nationalists” for misleading Americans like John McCain and the “failing” (in Stewart’s estimation) American media. We’ve heard plenty of claims about the failings of “fake news” media in the last six years, and my hope is that American media consumers have learned to use their judgments about who makes those claims and what they are based on. The civic nationalism that has been demonstrated by Ukrainians in this war, whether they are from Ukrainian- or Russian-speaking parts of the country, and by their (Russophone and ethnically Jewish) president, put the lie to Stewart’s vacuous claims, which happen to coincide with the “fake news” being manufactured by Russian state media in support of this very invasion.
The article’s subtitle asked whether “the next world war” is “inevitable or a consequence of western action?” It is neither. But it becomes more inevitable if we support the neo-imperialist adventures of a fumbling autocrat — one whose klepto-capitalist petro-state can only survive by feeding our addiction to its oil and gas (all Russia has to offer the world these days), and who is so threatened by the existence of a neighbor that wants a future separate from him that he is prepared to destroy that neighbor entirely.
Adrian Ivakhiv is a professor of Environmental Thought and Culture at the University of Vermont, and a visiting scholar at the Carsey-Wolf Center, UC Santa Barbara.