Your one-stop shop for everything related to the Peace of Westphalia

Before this post, a quick reminder that you can buy a lovely Peace of Westphalia mug as a last-minute Christmas present.

Apparently, I have been labouring under the misconception that peace is better than war, and negotiations are the best way to peace. I have found articles in the past month arguing the contrary position, from those questioning whether the time is ripe (Negotiations can’t end the Russia-Ukraine war until one side has lost and What’s the Harm in Talking to Russia? A Lot, Actually.) to those arguing that there is no need for negotiations at all (Cut the Baloney Realism: Russia’s war on Ukraine need not end in negotiation). I did not think I would see the time when those supporting negotiation could be accused of “baloney realism,” yet here we are.

All of these articles are pro-Ukraine. Most of them make reference to wars that ended in unconditional surrender, such as World War II and the Civil War, as evidence that we don’t need negotiation to end wars. They do not suggest how such a model would apply to the Russia-Ukraine war, probably because the idea of Russia’s unconditional surrender is inconceivable while Ukraine’s is not. (It is very unlikely at the moment, but few thought it impossible back when Russia’s army’s were at the doorstep of Kyiv.)

The “What’s the Harm” article points out the downside to negotiations:

a negotiated settlement—even if it successfully freezes a conflict—comes with a host of moral, operational, and strategic risks. It leaves millions of Ukrainians to suffer under Russian occupation. It gives the Russian military a chance to rebuild, retrain, and restart the war at a later date. Above all, a pause gives time for the diverse international coalition supporting Ukraine to fracture, either on its own accord or because of Russian efforts to drive a wedge into the coalition.

All of those points are true, but are also true of most negotiated settlements. Do the authors oppose negotiated settlements that leave some people under control of a government that they do not support? Then it is hard to see when they would agree with negotiation. The people concluding the Franco-Prussian War didn’t stop to ask Alsace-Lorrainers if they supported being transferred to Germany; if they had, and the answer had been negative (as it probably would have), Prussia would have gone on killing Frenchmen for many more months. World War II ended with millions of additional people under involuntary Russian sovereignty, but the U.S. didn’t think it was worth continuing the war for their sakes.

I am particularly puzzled by the statement that a peace “gives the Russian military a chance to rebuild, retrain, and restart the war at a later date.” What do the authors think the outcome is going to be without a negotiated settlement? The destruction of Russia’s ability to wage war? I will stake anything that Russia will continue to exist and be territorially complete (minus, perhaps, the disputed areas in Ukraine) no matter how the war in Ukraine ends. There is literally no outcome that involves the destruction of Russia’s military strength.

When it is time for negotiations, the same article continues, “it should be Ukraine’s choice whether or not to pursue it. Ukraine and its people, after all, are paying the price in blood.” Agreed, but how long would they be able to continue their successful prosecution of the war without foreign funding, especially from the U.S.? Are we required to fund the just side in any war until they decide to stop prosecuting it?

An important part of achieving peace is envisioning what a successful peace would look like, and I have a hard time figuring what these authors have in mind. The author of “Negotiations can’t end the Russia-Ukraine war” writes that “any cease-fire or negotiated peace that falls short of Russia’s defeat almost certainly ensures that the Kremlin will not pay any reparations for war damages.” How exactly does he propose to convince Putin to pay reparations in a war where he is under no threat of invasion? If Russia simply withdrew to its pre-war borders and stopped attacking Ukraine, support for anti-Russian sanctions would quickly dissolve as countries pursued their own interests, especially to get gas for winter fuel. I would be surprised if Europe could maintain an embargo on Russian gas while its citizens remained cold, certainly not if there was no active war to punish them for.

The final article (“Cut the Baloney Realism”) at least suggests a plausible way for the war to end in a way that would fundamentally transform the Russian threat:

Ukrainian tank armies will not roll into Moscow to dictate peace, of course. But throughout Russian history, defeat on the periphery—Crimea in the 1850s, the Russo-Japanese War in the early 20th century, and Afghanistan in the 1980s—has led to political change domestically. It is perfectly reasonable to see that as our objective.

The means to that end are clear: extensive and unstinting arming of Ukraine with all weaponry short of nuclear bombs, and a crushing and comprehensive system of economic sanctions on an isolated Russia.

He has a point: this could be the outcome of the war. On the other hand, my “baloney realism” tells me that political change in Russia might not necessarily be for the best. It is not guaranteed in any case, but it is also quite possible that Putin would be replaced by a warlord who promised to restore Russian strength by rebuilding the military, and potentially by using nuclear weapons. Isn’t this kind of optimistic thinking what leads countries into bad wars in the first place? “We could make things so much better if only we launch a quick war…”, which then turns into a long war that they can’t get out of and might not even win. I don’t have the same optimism that the only possible result of giving Ukraine every possible weapon short of nuclear warheads is going to be Putin’s defeat and replacement by a more peaceful successor. If that’s baloney realism, I’ll have mine with some mustard.

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