A strategy of détente with Russia and China would buy the United States time to rebuild its technological and military capabilities, writes David P. Goldman.
Historian Niall Ferguson, the official biographer and occasional alter ego of Henry Kissinger, proposed to “dust off that dirty word détente and engage China” in a June 5 essay for Bloomberg News. Wrote Ferguson:
Back in the 1970s, that little French duosyllable was almost synonymous with “Kissinger.” Despite turning 99 last month, the former secretary of state has not lost his ability to infuriate people on both the right and the left—witness the reaction to his suggestion at the World Economic Forum that “the dividing line [between Russia and Ukraine] should return to the status quo ante” because “pursuing the war beyond that point could turn it into a war not about the freedom of Ukraine … but into a war against Russia itself.”
Ferguson distinguished himself earlier this year as a skeptic of Western policy towards Ukraine, writing for example on March 9:
Western media seem over-eager to cover news of Russian reverses, and insufficiently attentive to the harsh fact that the invaders continue to advance on more than one front. Nor is there sufficient recognition that the Russian generals quickly realized their Plan A had failed, switching to a Plan B of massive bombardment of key cities, a playbook familiar from earlier Russian wars in Chechnya and Syria.
Prof. Ferguson’s skepticism was prescient. Far from halving Russia’s economy, US-led sanctions will cut Russia’s GDP by just 8% in the International Monetary Fund’s estimate, not nearly enough to cripple Russia’s war effort. According to a Finnish study, Russia’s energy export revenues reached a record €93 billion during the first 100 days of the war.
Russia has taken Mariupol and Severodonetsk, using massive artillery barrages that Ukraine cannot match. Russia is pursuing a war of attrition that has severely depleted both Ukraine’s manpower and ammunition stocks. Russia appears to be able to clear the sky of Ukrainian drones, possibly neutralizing the impact of American long-range rocket launchers. The outcome of the war is far from certain; at this writing, Russia appears to have the strategic initiative.
Kissinger’s controversial advice—to accept a negotiated solution with Putin’s Russia—is bitter medicine for the Biden Administration, after the president’s declaration that Putin is a war criminal who cannot be allowed to remain in office. But the facts on the ground favor Putin. Ukraine is not well-positioned to fight a war of attrition against an aggressor with four times its population. Ukraine’s stocks of ammunition, moreover, appear to be close to exhaustion, and the West does not have the means to replenish them. According to a British military think tank, a year’s worth of US production of artillery shells at the current levels would last Ukraine ten days’ worth of combat.