This Wednesday marked the thirty year anniversary of the Serbian invasion of Bosnia, where the ethnically charged Army of Republika Srpska waged total warfare against the Bosnian countryside. This invasion would mark the beginning of a three-year-long conflict that would see the destruction of millions of homes and a genocide of thousands and countless warcrimes.
Many have been quick to point out the similarities between Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Serbia’s invasion of Bosnia in terms of geopolitics. Both Russia and Serbia were the dominant states in the USSR and Yugoslavia respectively and both propagandized their invasions under false, romanticized versions of ethnic grandeur and history. It should come as no surprise, then, that we’ve recently seen emerging evidence of Russian war crimes in Ukraine. In the past week, Human Rights Watch has issued several reports of war crimes in Ukraine including “repeated rape, summary execution, unlawful violence and threats against citizens” commited by the Russian army against Ukranians. These reports come alongside images from the frontlines outside of Kyiv– as Russian forces retreated out of the city, the corpses of at least 20civilians have been found with their hands tied behind their back. The Ukranian Defense Ministry has issued statements about the terror found in Bucha, comparing the town most notably to Srebenica, where the Serbian military carried out a mass execution of over 8000 unarmed civilian men and boys.
The massacre at Srebrenica is seen by many as the ultimate failure of a post-war Europe. For this reason, it’s disheartening to see that the world is making the same mistake now as Russian forces pile into Ukraine. Because of this, I believe that it’s imperative that there be interventions to prevent any further atrocities from happening. In fact, I would argue that not intervening in Ukraine makes us, and every nation that doesn’t, complicit in Russia’s conquest and resultant massacres in Ukraine. As George Orwell argued during WWII, “If you hamper the war effort of one side you automatically help that of the other. Nor is there any real way of remaining outside such a war as the present one. In practice, he that is not with me is against me.” By not intervening on behalf of Ukraine, the United States, and all other nations, aid and abet Russian massacres.
There are those in the US, and in several European countries, that have noted Putin’s supposed threat of nuclear warfare if any outside nation engages in the Ukrainian conflict. This threat seems to have been enough to deter the United States and every other country from actually placing troops on the ground. To actually launch nuclear weapons in the event of intervention, however, seems illogical. Putin is a genocidal madman; he’s not an idiot. Putin understands that the United States matches Russia in terms of nuclear weapons, and that Britain, France and Israel also would have nuclear weapons that would be fired in retaliation in the event of a Russian first strike. To nuke the United States for intervening on behalf of Ukraine would result in the United States retaliating immediately, making any efforts that Putin has made in Ukraine moot. There is no winning for Putin in the event of a nuclear war—in Putin’s eyes, the only way to win Ukraine is through conventional warfare. For this reason, nuclear war is not a real option in Putin’s risk calculation—it is only a bluff. It seems that the United States and other major powers have not called this bluff, but will only bow to Putin’s favor. Indeed, I would argue that the United States has an obligation to be the first to intervene because of its status as the sole hegemonic power and coequal to Russia in terms of nuclear strength.
Even now, as Russian forces retreat and utilize a scorched earth policy as they leave, the trend of the conflict should not deter intervention. There should be no question as to the necessity of military intervention until all Russian forces have been evacuated from Ukraine. As long as there are Russian forces in Ukraine, there exists a real chance of massacres, war crimes and other atrocities. Many of you might look at US intervention in Ukraine as an extension of American imperialism, and others may fear that Ukraine would become another Iraq. To both of these I ask the following question: then what do we do? Sanctions have barely seen a tangible effect on the Russian invasion. To have the power to end the conflict but to not use it is cruel. There is a right way and there is a wrong way to assist in a conflict when it comes to placing boots on the ground. There is no right way to cower to the demands of a dictator.
I write this viewpoint not as a warmongering battle cry, but as a reminder of terrible foreign policy decisions in order to inform our current ones. Future generations will look back on the policy choices we have made so far and regret the comparative lack of assistance that the US and other countries have provided. The longer we stay disengaged from this conflict, the more that will stain the collective American conscience.