Why The U.S. May Be Pushing The Controversial “Korea Scenario” For Ukraine
Ukraine was promised fast-tracked NATO membership last week. But promises often are overtaken by politics, and voices in and around the U.S. government are looking for softer ways out of the Ukraine war, including freezing the conflict like what was done between the two Koreas 70 years ago.
The final communiqué of the NATO summit in Vilnius mentioned Ukraine 45 times, always with great respect and sympathy. But when it came to outlining any specific conditions for Ukraine's actual NATO membership, the statement fell short of making any definitive commitments.
When there are no concrete conditions, there are only promises, and as the famous French diplomat Talleyrand said more than a century ago: "Promises are like pie crust, made to be broken."
It appears clear now that Ukraine's NATO accession is on hold, at least until Kyiv reaches what the U.S. refers to as a "peace agreement" with Moscow.
The recent tepid stance of the Biden administration regarding Ukraine may be influenced by factions in the U.S. who seek to resolve the conflict promptly, even if it means implementing what has been referred to as the "Korea scenario."
Under this scenario, the war in Ukraine would essentially be frozen, and an armistice would be established along a demarcation line determined by the existing military status quo. In essence, the scenario is similar to the armistice between North and South Korea, where a ceasefire has been in place since 1953, even if hostilities were never formally ended.
But would this approach actually bring peace in the case of Russia and Ukraine?
In the past two to three months, numerous articles have appeared in the American press and academic journals close to government circles, calling on the White House to seek a conflict resolution that would consider Russian demands. The arguments put forth by their authors can be summarized as follows: Ukraine alone cannot achieve victory in the war, and a significant increase in Western military assistance, primarily from the United States, will either lead to nuclear escalation or the utter defeat of Russia, which would cause the country to collapse and lose control over its nuclear weapons.
“The Russian military's numerical superiority likely gives it the ability to counter Ukraine's greater operational skill and morale. Accordingly, the most likely outcome of the conflict is not a complete Ukrainian victory but a bloody stalemate," Richard Haas and Charles Kupchan, two eminence gris of American diplomacy, wrote in the influential American journal Foreign Affairs.
According to the authors, the West should provide Ukraine with enough military aid to convince Moscow that its forces would not be able to achieve victory. At the same time, the authors claim that "ending the war while deferring the ultimate disposition of land still under Russian occupation is the solution."
For them, to put it simply, a total Ukrainian victory is not even on the table.
A few days before the Vilnius summit, Foreign Affairs published an even more poignant article by authors from the Cato Institute, occupying prominent positions in this prestigious center for policy analysis. They urged Biden not to agree to Ukraine's membership in NATO: "President Joe Biden should make clear. Kyiv's resistance to Russian aggression has been heroic, but ultimately states do what is in their self-interest."
The text continues. "Admitting Ukraine to NATO would raise the prospect of a grim choice between a war with Russia and the devastating consequences involved or backing down and devaluing NATO’s security guarantee across the entire alliance"
A file photo of the DMZ dividing North and South Korea
Fear of the new
Occasionally, Washington's position on Ukraine, including the delay in delivering combat aircraft, missiles with a range of up to 300 kilometers, and other weaponry, as well as the overall reluctance to grant Ukraine NATO membership, is ascribed to Russian influence or agents.
Careers dedicated to seeking a compromise with the Soviet Union and, later, with Russia.
But there is a more profound reason for this half-hearted stance on Ukraine.
Much of the American foreign policy establishment, including academics, retired and active diplomats, and military officers, have dedicated years of their careers to seeking a compromise with the Soviet Union and, later, with Russia. Consequently, a certain Moscow-centric perspective may have taken hold within the U.S. political landscape. This perspective suggests that Russia is both a crucial partner and a rival to the United States.
Until February 2022, many of these individuals persistently argued that it was not only possible but necessary to deal with Russia, including Vladimir Putin's Russia. The very assumption that one can simply ignore Moscow's demands is unacceptable to them. They sought to tie Russia to the West through a tight network of contacts while avoiding actions that would irritate the Kremlin. Only its full-scale invasion of Ukraine has revealed to them the fallacy of such views.
Since then, the fear of the new and unknown has taken root. Today, scenarios that were previously deemed implausible are being earnestly deliberated, encompassing possibilities such as the disintegration of Russia, its isolation, internal turmoil, the rise of a violent Orthodox fascist regime within its borders, and so on. The potential ramifications of such scenarios are both incomprehensible and unpredictable.
The uncertainty begets fear, leading many to want to return to familiar territories. In essence, this entails preserving Russia as a somewhat diminished yet influential actor on the European stage but avoiding its complete defeat.
Whatever its cause — whether Moscow-centrism, fear of the new, or some geopolitical calculations — the lack of clear commitments regarding Ukraine's admission to NATO means the U.S. effectively does not want to irritate the Kremlin.
In Moscow, in turn, this will be perceived as proof of the West's weakness, which the Russian authorities will use to try to impose their conditions for ending the war in Ukraine.
And a final point worthy of consideration for the future: the apparent unwillingness of Washington and Berlin to risk their security for the sake of Ukraine will sooner or later raise doubts in the front line states that the leading NATO countries will fulfill their obligations under Article 5 in the event of a Russian attack.
The instinctive response of the eastern-flank nations may be to adopt the proverbial approach of "the drowning must save themselves." Then, in addition to NATO, a military-political structure may well be created, the center of which will be an alliance of Poland and Ukraine.
This would mean tectonic shifts in the European security system, exactly the kind the United States is trying so hard to avoid.
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