Vivek Ramaswamy’s sit-down conversation with Tucker Carlson saw the GOP candidate do what no other individual vying for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination has come close to doing: he laid out a set of concrete proposals for engaging in a negotiated settlement to end the Ukraine war. This stands in sharp contrast to the escalatory rhetoric coming from the neoconservative wing of the party as represented by Mike Pence, and is more detailed than the proposals put forth by others such as Ron DeSantis. Ramaswamy’s argument is therefore worth considering in greater depth.
The first part of his prospective peace plan is to acknowledge the reality that Moscow must retain control of certain areas of the Donbas. This is something that no other candidate has said up until now, despite the fact that it is based on the most realistic analysis of the situation. Crimea houses Russia’s only warm water naval base at Sevastopol. Securing a land bridge to the peninsula is therefore a strategic imperative, a point emphasized by the attack on the Kerch bridge several weeks ago.
Likewise, the Lugansk People’s Republic is entirely under Moscow’s occupation and Russian armed forces continue to move westward in Donetsk. Both of these regions have large ethnic Russian populations that want to be a part of the Russian Federation. Ceding control of at least some of these territories is an inevitability in any type of peace proposal, as are likely parts of the Zaporizhzhia and Kherson oblasts that provide Moscow with contiguous territory leading to Crimea.
Point two of Ramaswamy’s prospective settlement is that there must be “a hard commitment that NATO never admits Ukraine to NATO.” This, again, is a common sense proposal that acknowledges Moscow’s legitimate security interests. There is no way out of the current war that does not base itself on the premise that Russia is a regional power with a sphere of influence that must be respected. An Article 5 security guarantee to Ukraine is unacceptable from both a political and strategic perspective. Moscow will never acquiesce to this; such a move would therefore guarantee a wider European conflagration.
For Ramaswamy, the primary consideration in Ukrainian ascension to NATO is the subsequent likelihood that the United States will then be engaged in that wider conflagration. This is in keeping with his response to Carlson’s questionnaire on the Ukraine war sent out to Republican candidates this past March. While most other respondents provided a brief overview of their general views on the situation, Ramaswamy replied with nearly 1,700 words of in-depth analysis. His central thesis is that Ukraine is not a vital U.S. strategic interest. Without absolving Vladimir Putin of blame, he points out that European energy dependence on Russia helped incentivize the aggression. Ramaswamy then contends that a strong American energy and oil sector would provide a remedy to “petro dictators” by decreasing their leverage in international affairs.
He also acknowledges that it is the Europeans who have largely been the beneficiaries of U.S. policy in the post-Cold War era, and that it is they—particularly the Germans—who must take up the mantle of their own defense. As concerns Ukraine, the United States should limit itself to “[respecting] any prior legal treaty commitments the U.S. has made.”
This is true, but it does not go far enough—at least not explicitly. Ramaswamy has laid out an excellent (if perhaps esoteric) argument for a significantly reduced U.S. role in NATO. His reasoning suggests that he understands the nature of geopolitics as proceeding from—and in many ways an extension of—human nature, and therefore subject to rational analysis. The focus on incentives and power balances, and the need for deterrence logically lead to the conclusion that Washington handing off leadership over European security is the necessary catalyst for reworking the continent’s security architecture into a more sustainable and stable form.
Nor would it be left defenseless by a decreased U.S. presence—far from it. Another foreign policy objective as stated in Ramaswamy’s questionnaire response would be to deter further Russian aggression and expose its military weakness. Non-U.S. NATO currently records $308 billion in military spending compared to Russia’s $62 billion. The former number will only continue to rise in the wake of the ongoing war. The non-U.S. NATO population also dwarfs Russia’s at 585 million to 146 million. Even without France and Germany, its military spending still stands at $170 billion with a population of 435 million.
Such a move could be a step toward a new Concert of Europe. France, Germany, Italy, and other Western European countries could form a subgroup within NATO that allows them to prioritize problems that they hold in common, such as security issues regarding North Africa and the need to stem the large numbers of illegal immigrants crossing the Mediterranean. Meanwhile, a much more stable situation in Central and Eastern Europe could see an increased focus on joint military training and strategic coordination between Ukraine and the Baltics with the Nordic and Visegrad countries. Without disregarding the Russian threat, this more limited alliance would acknowledge Moscow’s sphere of influence while checking any tendency toward expansion.
Reducing Washington’s entrenchment in Europe would also increase the likelihood of accomplishing the other features of Ramaswamy’s peace proposal. He states that “Putin [must] exit his military partnership with China and remove nuclear weapons from Kaliningrad which border Poland.” Russia would be much more amenable to both of these prospects if the United States was committed to prioritizing stability over expansion. Ramaswamy is additionally right to view China as the primary strategic competitor of the United States, and to subsequently propose that the country must formulate its foreign policy according to this reality. Even a partial divestment from the enormous U.S. defense presence in Europe—physical as well as financial—would free up significant resources to address the challenge from China.
Ramaswamy also states that he would demand that Moscow “get the Russian military out of Cuba and Venezuela and the West.” This is in keeping with his broader desire to turn the nation’s gaze away from disadvantageous foreign entanglements and toward the U.S. homeland. Included is a broader desire to rebuild American industrial capacity and ensure energy security, both of which he believes have been exposed as weak by the U.S. response to the Ukraine war.
The only part of his negotiated settlement that is rather lacking is that no mention is made of compensation for Ukraine. This is a necessary component of getting Kyiv to go along with a cessation of hostilities. While disengagement from waging a proxy war against Russia is a necessary condition for the latter, Ukrainian leadership will also not agree to end the fighting if there is a high likelihood of their country deteriorating toward a failed state in the wake of a peace settlement. Russia and Europe both also have an interest in avoiding such a situation.
One area that is optimal for providing Kyiv with aid is the energy sector. Gas and coal remain the largest sources of the country’s energy consumption. Since 2014, the Ukrainian government has refused to buy from coal mines in the Lugansk and Donetsk People's Republics, which hold around 90 percent of the nation’s reserves and are by far its largest and most developed mines. Peace negotiations could see an agreement where Moscow is forced to sell coal at a highly discounted price for a set period of time. Likewise, something similar to the stipulation in the 2010 Kharkiv Pact that required Russia to provide Ukraine with $40 billion in natural gas subsidies could be imposed. Ukraine also depends on Russian gas transit pipelines to maintain its own domestic gas supply system. Reworking the Ukrainian gas transit contract that is set to expire at the end of 2024 on advantageous terms for Kyiv should therefore also be a part of this deal.
Ramaswamy seems to be the most intelligent of the candidates vying for the 2024 GOP nomination, and that is reflected in his discussion of Ukraine. Nonetheless, he has a negligible chance of winning it. But this consideration may also be evidence of his savviness. He has openly touted the mutually shared antagonism between himself and the “Republican donor class” as a point of pride. Closing out his interview with Carlson, Ramaswamy stated that “it takes an outsider to get that job done.” These statements are eerily similar to those made by another candidate—one who just so happens to currently be atop the field.
If the law allows it, former President Donald Trump is more or less guaranteed the Republican nomination. And if it then comes to pass that Trump finds himself with another term in the Oval Office, the name “Vivek Ramaswamy” will almost certainly be on a short list of potential candidates for high-level appointments. Perhaps even in foreign policy.
Dominick Sansone is a Ph.D. student at the Hillsdale College Van Andel Graduate School of Statesmanship. A previous Fulbright grant recipient to Bulgaria, he also attended graduate school at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Bologna, Italy. He writes regularly on international relations and U.S. foreign policy.