Ukraine/Russia

1) Recommendation. A two-page proposal for the US President, British Prime Minister, and French President.

2) How to implement it. Clues from history for today’s decision-makers. It’s noted: “The Korean Armistice, which concluded despite opposition from Secretary of State Dulles, South Korean President Syngman Rhee, and also within Eisenhower’s party”, and by Eisenhower’s biographer, Stephen E. Ambrose, that it was “the greatest achievement of the administration”. How was the agreement reached with the North? How strong was Eisenhower’s personal conviction, and how was internal resistance overcome? What happened to South Korea’s leaders, and what would this imply for Zelensky?

3) Strategic Options Memo. Why this is the best route forward. Our aim: for this to be the most comprehensive – and interesting – ten-page document one can read on Ukraine. Written in a format for busy decision-makers, not as a magazine features piece. This will be evergreen; the memo will be kept up to date with a regular refresh. PDF download of the latest version.

If Rothko, Mondrian, Kandinsky and Kay Sage got together to paint the situation we find ourselves in today

Readers: Are there any creative solutions we have missed in the above documents? Rather than claim “We have the definitive answer”, we are attempting, in earnest, to create a process by which input can be crowdsourced – to arrive at a better solution than administration figures otherwise get presented.

Leave a comment at the bottom of this page. We will produce a regularly updated version of documents, and factor in thoughtful feedback to subsequent iterations.

Further articles:

What did Bill Burns (now CIA Director) say about NATO expansion in his 2019 book?

Diplomacy in March/April 2022 – a full chronology (video)

We would like to commission:

If you would like to write one of the below articles for us, please get in touch. We are seeking balanced writers (or writing duos – capable of harnessing civil disagreement), who can argue both sides. As Harold Ross (founder of The New Yorker) wrote to F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1929: “I wish to God you would write other things for us. You wouldn’t get rich doing it, but it ought to give you satisfaction.” We wish to commission very able writers on the following topics:

I) “Europe is at risk”. If Russia “wins” in Ukraine, what is the likelihood of Russia being emboldened to try and take further territory, and invade another European country? This is a key assumption underlying support for Ukraine. It is worth unpacking. What is the likelihood of a next invaded country being part of NATO (and Russia challenging Article V)? What timeframe would this realistically be in? A writer/writing team taking this on ought to be very familiar with Superforecasting.

II) What assurances actually came with the 1994 Budapest Memorandum? Samuel Charap and Sergey Radchenko have written in Foreign Affairs: “In 1994, it [Ukraine] signed on to the so-called Budapest Memorandum, joining the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as a nonnuclear weapons state and agreeing to give up what was then the world’s third-largest arsenal. In return, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States promised that they would not attack Ukraine. Yet contrary to a widespread misconception, in the event of aggression against Ukraine, the agreement required the signatories only to call a UN Security Council meeting, not to come to the country’s defense.” It’s true the document says “Ukraine, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States of America will consult in the event a situation arises that raises a question concerning these commitments.” But it does also say “none of their weapons will ever be used against Ukraine”. Is it fair to call it a misconception? This is a crucial element in the West’s justification for Ukraine’s defense (and it is precedent-setting for nuclear disarmament in general). How did the 1994 agreement come together? And how has it actually been interpreted by decision-makers, on all sides, for the past 30 years?

III) Comprehensive terms for a negotiated outcome. Pitch us a two-page plan that hits all tactical points that will ultimately be in question: future security guarantees, territory, intermediate-range missile agreements (revive the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty? Nuclear weapons in Belarus...), trade and possible EU accession, prisoner releases, de-mining, rebuilding infrastructure, access to the Black Sea, frozen Russian assets and sanctions… What should be done on each – that might actually be palatable to all sides in peace talks? We will publish any A* submissions. (Believe it or not: such a document did not exist inside the State Department during WWI, despite Woodrow Wilson wanting to broker talks.)

IV) A new foreign policy for Europe. Assume President Trump gets back in power, January 20, 2025. What does a sensible security architecture for Europe look like? Should there be a greater defense dimension to the EU? Though is this in itself provocative to Russia? What should Europe’s goals be, and how can they be achieved? What should Europe’s general stance with Russia be? With China? With America? What are the high-level contours for a new European foreign policy?

V) What should the West be doing to prepare for Putin’s (eventual) death and the power struggle that will likely follow? Who are the most likely successors? The late Dr Kissinger: “Russia’s military setbacks have not eliminated its global nuclear reach, enabling it to threaten escalation in Ukraine. Even if this capability is diminished, the dissolution of Russia or destroying its ability for strategic policy could turn its territory encompassing 11 time zones into a contested vacuum. Its competing societies might decide to settle their disputes by violence. Other countries might seek to expand their claims by force. All these dangers would be compounded by the presence of thousands of nuclear weapons which make Russia one of the world’s two largest nuclear powers.” Professor Kotkin has put forward his “five futures”. What are the West’s hopes for post-Putin Russia?

VI) Does Russia have the right not to be a democracy? And should the West be trying to encourage a change in governance structure in Russia? As noted by Michael McFaul, every enemy of the US for the past 100 years has been a dictatorship. Post-WWII transformation of autocracies into democracies (Germany, Japan, Italy…) has made countries allies of the US. Would Russia be stronger, in its own self-interest, if it became a legitimate democracy? But, is that not that country’s right to decide itself? Include Gorbachev’s hopes for democratization, and a brief history of National Endowment for Democracy activity. Best arguments for and against, presented together.

VII) The Maidan Revolution, 2014 – what actually happened? Was there a coup against Viktor Yanukovych, or did he flee? A lot is made of this by those arguing against Western policy today in Ukraine. The leaked Victoria Nuland and Geoffrey Pyatt call isn’t a great look. But it’s also not conclusive evidence of meddling. Oliver Stone has produced his documentary. Here’s one side. Here’s (briefly) the other. We would like to assemble an authoritative, digestible account of events.

VIII) The counterfactual of diplomacy. It’s now well established that there were advanced diplomatic talks between Ukraine and Russia in March/April 2022. Naftali Bennett, then Prime Minister of Israel, has stated things got as far as draft 18 of an agreement. And a draft agreement produced in Istanbul, though never made public, has been viewed by the Wall Street Journal and Foreign Affairs. Had the Bucha massacre not taken place, what would have happened had this gone ahead? Would Zelensky have been able to sell it to his people? Would it have emboldened Putin (and potentially Xi Jinping)? What would the world look like today, had this gone ahead? A counterfactual account.

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