In the old days of the post-Cold War world, the U.S. learned the hard way that when we could make a difference, we should. In Rwanda, we didn’t, and 800,000 died. In Bosnia, we tarried, and more than 100,000 died and 2 million were displaced before we acted. It’s time to take those lessons and now act in Ukraine.
In the Balkans in 1991, we let the Europeans lead with diplomacy to halt Serb aggression disguised as ethnic conflict. Diplomacy failed. We supported the Europeans when they asked for United Nations peacekeepers, from Britain, France, Sweden and even Bangladesh. That also failed. Only when the U.S. took the lead and applied military power to reinforce diplomacy did we halt the conflict. And we did succeed in ending it with minimal expense and without losing a single soldier.
In Ukraine today, Russian-backed forces continue to reinforce and attack Ukrainian positions. The Minsk II agreement that calls for a cease-fire, pullback of heavy weapons, and withdrawal of foreign forces hasn’t been implemented. Losses on both sides are heavy, far heavier than publicly acknowledged. Russia is using its newest equipment — tanks, long range rockets, cluster munitions, drones, electronic warfare — to slowly grind away Ukrainian forces that lack modern equipment. Russia, of course, still denies its troops are present: This is “hybrid warfare,” military aggression covered by the cloak of lies and propaganda. But, actually, except perhaps for a few stubborn European diplomats, there is surprisingly little dispute as to the facts.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel insists there is no military solution — but, as in the Balkans, there will be no diplomatic solution until the military “door” is closed for Russian President Vladimir Putin. And closing the door is actually simpler than many would have you believe.