Alex Lo
SCMP Columnist
My Take
by Alex Lo
My Take
by Alex Lo

United States is responsible for Ukraine war

  • Nicholas Burns, the US ambassador to China, wants to blame it all on Russia, but his country helped create the conditions for the conflict and has poured the most petrol onto the flame, resulting in the threats of famine in some poor countries and runaway inflation across the world economy

Every war has an immediate trigger, and an underlying cause, or causes. Most historians worth their salt would agree, though they may dispute the causes. Not diplomats, though.

They are there to advocate for their own side and often to accuse, and lay all the blame on the other side. Nicholas Burns, the US ambassador to China, told the World Peace Forum in Beijing this week that the Russian war in Ukraine was “unprovoked” and that it was “the greatest threat to the world order”.

Both his claims could be true if you only consider the immediate trigger of the war. It looks different, though, when you examine the underlying causes. With respect to the latter, Burns’ country bears direct responsibility both for creating the conditions for the conflict and continuing to pour the most petrol onto the flame to make sure its burning affects the entire world, including the threats of famine and runaway inflation.

US warns Europe that Russia may plan to invade Ukraine

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, among others, have said the war needs to end quickly; Washington and its Western allies are making sure it doesn’t.

In analysing the underlying causes of the war, I can do no better than quote John Mearsheimer, an influential political scientist at the University of Chicago.

“First, the United States is principally responsible for causing the Ukraine crisis,” he said in a lecture at the European University Institute last month.

“This is not to deny [Vladimir] Putin started the war and that he is responsible for Russia’s conduct on the battlefield.

“Nor is it to deny that America’s allies bear some responsibility, but they largely follow Washington’s lead.”

He argues that the US has pushed for policies on Ukraine that Putin and his colleagues have long considered an existential threat to their country, that is, Nato’s eastern expansion. The Russians have made known their view repeatedly, over many years, but were ignored.

Moscow was responding to “America’s obsession with bringing Ukraine into Nato and in making it a western bulwark on Russian borders”, Mearsheimer said. The Biden administration recommitted itself to getting Ukraine into Nato in 2021. Then it doubled down against Russia and used all sanctions after the invasion. It was not interested in a diplomatic solution and was dragging Ukraine and the rest of the world down with it, he added.

Most Americans and Europeans would not agree with that assessment, but the rest of the world does.