Will the US go for the partition of Ukraine?
ANALYTICS 07 February 2023 - 16:58
Deliveries of American GLSDB munitions with a range of 150 kilometres to Ukraine will take about nine months, Bloomberg reports. At the same time, the number is still not clear, with some sources reporting that there are initially only a few dozen, which in the face of clashing huge armies is almost nothing. The Biden administration's decision echoes the story of the US supply of tanks - some 31 Abrams tanks in a year (against thousands of Russian tanks). The United States "supplies" weapons capable of changing the course of the conflict in such a way as not to supply them. Such behaviour begs the question: what are the Americans really trying to achieve?
The US gives a lot of weapons to enable the AFU to defend itself but does not give something that would enable it to attack quickly and effectively - F-16 aircraft, tanks, and long-range missiles like GLSDB and ATACAMS. Such actions should have a rational justification. However, the United States does not object to their allies providing Ukraine with some types of such weapons, knowing that they will not give much.
Perhaps it would be better if the Biden administration said what it really wants. Perhaps it wants a new Minsk agreement or in fact the partition of Ukraine between the powers. Maybe, less blood would have been spilled if they said honestly that "We fear Moscow will use nuclear weapons and we will not allow the Ukrainians to advance too quickly and effectively, but at the same time we will do everything we can to help them stop the Russian offensive".
Which parties will draw conclusions is the next question. But US public opinion is probably set today in such a way that the administration is still uncomfortable talking openly about its plans. These alleged plans are consistent with a recent publication in the Swiss-German newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung. The article quotes German politicians as saying that Biden, through CIA chief William Burns, who made a secret visit to Moscow, offered President Vladimir Putin part of Ukraine's territory on condition that he cease military operations. However, Moscow and Kyiv rejected the offer, as each is confident of victory. We do not know what was actually offered and whether such a visit took place at all, but rumours related to such talks and offers have been circulating for a long time.
RAND, an American non-profit organisation that serves as a research centre commissioned by the US government and the US military, recently published a detailed report on the conflict in Ukraine. RAND analysts point out that the US would not benefit from a Russian victory, as it would call into question the entire architecture of the world system, created largely through American efforts, and could encourage other countries to commit similar violations (referring primarily to China). But the US also has reason to fear a nuclear escalation if Russia were to suffer a major defeat. At the very least, such a threat exists and needs to be taken into account. A permissible option would therefore be to attenuate the conflict along certain lines of armed contact, similar to what happened in Korea during the 1950-1953 war.
It is also noted that Moscow's retention of control over the territories occupied after February 24 is not too desirable for the United States, as it means a more or less successful break up of the existing world order. In reality, as the experts point out, there is a debate going on in the US administration between those who want to push Russia back to the February 24 line and those who would like Ukraine to return to the 1991 borders.
But RAND analysts themselves go so far as to argue: "A conflict trajectory that allows Ukraine to control most of its internationally recognised territory would be beneficial to the United States. The United States has an interest in showing that Russia's actions after February 24 do not pay off and in reinforcing the norm of territorial integrity enshrined in international law. However, for US interests, the implications for Ukraine's continued advancement of control over the December 2022 line are not clear-cut. For example, even if Ukraine were to gain back all of the territory taken by Russia since February 24, 2022, Moscow would still violate the international norm of territorial integrity. In other words, it is not obvious that a trajectory in which Russia maintains the line of control as of December 2022 would be more damaging to international order than one in which Russian troops are pushed back to the February line. In both cases, Russia would control part of Ukrainian territory in violation of the international norm of territorial integrity. The end of the conflict, as a result of which Ukraine will be able to fully control its entire internationally recognized territory, would restore the norm of territorial integrity, but such an outcome remains unlikely."
As RAND experts note, the cessation of clashes, as is often the case, is hampered by the optimism of the sides (in this case Ukraine and Russia) about the prospects of the conflict. Each maintains confidence in its victory. The US, American analysts argue, can make it clear to both sides that they have no chance of winning, or at least help to diminish their optimism. On the other hand, they could make it clear to Russia and Ukraine that stopping the conflict would be better for both sides.
For example, the US could frankly tell Ukraine that it will not supply weapons indefinitely and build up its military power (or that it will not in principle supply the kinds of weapons necessary for effective offensive operations) but will promise to increase supplies if it agrees to a ceasefire. Admittedly, in that case, it is unclear what would prevent Ukraine from resuming the offensive once it receives new shipments of more powerful weapons. As for Russia, in case of a ceasefire, the US could offer it the removal of part of the sanctions.
Nevertheless, RAND experts point out that the real debate in Washington and other Western capitals about the future of the Russia-Ukraine conflict favours the issue of territorial control. "The hawkish sentiment centers on the idea that more military aid is needed to help the Ukrainian military reclaim all of the country's territory. Their opponents urge the US to adopt a line of control by February 2022 as a goal, citing the risks of escalation if it moves forward. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has said the aim of US policy is to allow Ukraine to retake territory it has seized after February 24." RAND experts themselves say: "Our analysis shows that this debate is too narrowly focused on one aspect of the war trajectory. Territorial control, while of great importance to Ukraine, is not the most important aspect of the future of the US. We have concluded that in addition to preventing a possible escalation - a war between Russia and NATO or Russia's use of nuclear weapons - preventing a long-armed conflict is also a higher priority for the United States than promoting much greater territorial control over Ukraine. This means that we should leave Moscow everything it has taken, just so long as it stops shooting and does not threaten nuclear weapons. This view, however, raises questions. First, the RAND corporation is not the US government. Secondly, if nuclear threats work so well, why wouldn't a country use them in the future to destroy US hegemony and change national borders in any part of the world?
We do not know what the final decision of the Biden administration will be, nor to what extent the opinions of the RAND experts themselves are related to the actual debates of US politicians and the military. The corporation only serves them up by offering its own analysis. Especially since the RAND analysts point out: there are hawks and doves within the administration, and even the doves want a return to the February 24 borders.
But so far, it seems very likely that the US intends to coerce the sides into a new Minsk by regulating arms supplies, i.e. following in the footsteps of the proposals voiced by RAND. The AFU may try to advance in the summer, but the results are not clear. Without powerful aircraft and long-range missiles, the offensive may not succeed. US officials are frankly saying that major developments should take place in the next six months. The very fact that crucial supplies of the weapons needed for the offensive - combat aircraft, tanks, and long-range missiles - have been delayed for those six months (if not forever) speaks to the unwillingness of the US to ensure decisive victories for Ukraine. The conflict could then last for years, reminiscent of either Afghanistan or Korea, until the parties are exhausted. And when that happens, the Americans are apparently hoping to implement their own plans, similar to what RAND is talking about.
Be that as it may, it could be a lesson to the world. There is no worldwide US struggle to establish systems of parliamentary representative democracy. To be sure, US politicians may have such considerations, but they are secondary to their most significant interests.
Countries are run by groups of big companies, high-ranking officials, and agencies. Some such alliances allow the public to rotate power by electing one of several parties every 4 years (in fact, the parties are committees of big business and part of the political class, professional managers). But this does not change the essence of the system.
In international politics, these groups compete with each other for control of markets, natural resources, and geographical space. In addition, in a more or less unified world economy, they create international production chains, so it is important for them to protect the most valuable and hard-to-replace links in these chains. These are their genuine interests.
The policies of the ruling groups are linked to their ability to control their sphere of influence and to repel enemy strikes. Nuclear weapons are an essential deterrent. Therefore, because of a country that is not too important (in terms of markets, resources, location, and membership in military alliances), the US ruling group has little desire to take too high a risk when the Kremlin talks about the possibility of using nuclear weapons in case of escalation.
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