The other—unpleasant—choice is to decide that whatever one thinks of Russia’s behavior and motives, America needs to find some way to ensure that the confrontation over Ukraine does not becoming an enduring reality of twenty-first century Europe and an organizing principle of U.S. foreign policy at a time when Washington should be focusing its resources and attention on East Asia. That requires an inherently imperfect compromise with Moscow.
Such a compromise need not damage any vital American national interests. The United States has survived for well over two hundred years without a military alliance with Ukraine (which we could have had the day after Ukraine’s independence, without NATO, if we really considered it vital to U.S. security). Likewise, whether Ukraine has elected governors and stronger regional governments, whether Ukraine’s regions can send trade missions abroad like U.S. states do, or whether Ukraine’s citizens can speak Russian in government offices, is not of great importance to the United States.
An imperfect compromise will not solve all or even most of America’s problems with Russia. Among other things, Washington and Moscow can’t and won’t return to the pre-Crimea status quo and Russia’s continuing possession of Crimea will impose costs on Moscow. More important, Russia’s conduct in Ukraine has appropriately changed how Western governments and publics view the country. Russia’s domestic evolution has become increasingly troublesome as well. The United States can avoid a new Cold War with Russia, but only with a Cold Peace.
Paul J. Saunders is executive director of The Center for the National Interest and associate publisher of The National Interest. He served in the U.S. State Department from 2003 to 2005. Follow him on Twitter: @1796farewell.
Image: U.S. State Department Flickr.