- - Sunday, September 7, 2014

The United States should refrain from intervening militarily or economically in the ongoing low-grade war between Ukraine and Russia instigated by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The fate of Ukraine or its borders is as irrelevant to the sovereignty of the United States and the safety and liberty of its citizens as was Chechnya when it was crushed by the Russian army in the 1990s.

As Bismarck would not risk the healthy bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier on the Balkans, the United States should not risk the life or resources of a single American citizen on defending the latest version of Ukraine’s oft-changed boundaries.

In any event, national borders are not inviolate. They change intermittently in response to military realities, i.e., the strong do what they can to change borders and the weak accept what they must.

Every nation’s borders are the result of power politics, not moral imperatives. The borders of the United States reflect its employment of military force to defeat Mexico in the Mexican-American War. President James K. Polk deceived Congress and the American people to justify the conquest of Mexican territory with the false assertion that Mexican soldiers had killed an American counterpart on American soil. The U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay reflects military victory in the Spanish-American War.

Ukraine’s borders have changed on numerous occasions since the middle of the 14th century. They have never been inviolate.

Borders are ordinarily respected as a matter of international custom because it is thought (rightly or wrongly) that stable borders will yield less conflict and mayhem than would obtain if boundaries were always up for grabs. Thus, Article 4 of the U.N. Charter provides: “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”

But the article is frequently flouted with impunity. India employed military force to facilitate the independence of Bangladesh from Pakistan. The United States employed military force to enable Kosovo to secede from Serbia. South Sudan obtained secession from Sudan with the military assistance of foreign nations.

Yet President Obama and the usual suspects in Congress have denounced Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, including the annexation of Crimea, as a crime against international order that must be rectified through military force or economic sanctions to save the world from chronic mayhem. The denunciation is both hyperbolic and myopic.

Let Mr. Putin invade, annex and occupy Ukraine. Russia would instantly be saddled with staggering sums to subsidize the decrepit Ukrainian and Crimean economies that would edge Russia toward bankruptcy. Further, Mr. Putin would be required to station large numbers of Russian soldiers in Ukraine to control its restive and fiercely antagonistic population. Large numbers remember Stalin’s Ukrainian genocide by starvation, the World War II deportations of hundreds of thousands of Crimean Tartars and the World War II martyrs who died fighting for Ukrainian independence against both the Stalin and Hitler.

The Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991 under Mikhail Gorbachev because of overreach. If Mr. Putin refuses to learn from that example, Russia will become unglued on his watch. Mr. Obama and his congressional myrmidons should shut up over Ukraine and wait for victory over Russia without fighting a single battle.

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