It is America’s Obligation To Negotiate an End to the War

As the war in Ukraine grinds on and the world pays and Ukrainians suffer and
die, the US has an obligation to end it. If everyone is to return to the negotiating
table, it is the US that must set the table and send out the invitations.

Moral Obligation

It is not just that the US needs to force diplomacy, it is that there is a
legal and moral obligation for the US to begin diplomatic talks on the end to
the war.

If there is a way to accomplish your goal other than war, then there is a moral
obligation to explore that way. There is also a legal obligation. Chapter
VI, Article 33 of the United Nations Charter
says that “The parties
to any dispute, the continuance of which is likely to endanger the maintenance
of international peace and security, shall, first of all, seek a solution by
negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement,
resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their
own choice.”

Prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there were at least two opportunities
to prevent war while accomplishing all the foreign policy goals. The first was
the Minsk II agreement. The Minsk agreement promised autonomy to the Donbas
and neutrality to a Ukraine that would not be a member of NATO. It provided
the most promising diplomatic solution to the crisis. Former US Ambassador to
the Soviet Union Jack Matlock has recently said
that “The war might have been prevented – probably would have been prevented
– if Ukraine had been willing to abide by the Minsk agreement, recognize the
Donbas as an autonomous entity within Ukraine, avoid NATO military advisors,
and pledge not to enter NATO.”

But Zelensky needed US support if he was going to implement Minsk, as he had
promised to do in his presidential campaign. He didn’t get it. Abandoned and
under pressure, Zelensky refused to implement the agreement. The US then failed
to pressure him back onto the road of diplomacy. Richard Sakwa, Professor of
Russian and European Politics at Kent, told me that “As for Minsk, neither
the US nor the EU put serious pressure on Kiev to fulfil its part of the agreement.”
Anatol Lieven, Director of the Eurasia Program at the Quincy Institute for Responsible
Statecraft, agrees. Though the US officially endorsed Minsk, Lieven told me
that “they did nothing to push Ukraine into actually implementing it.”

Minsk II would not be the last chance to accomplish the goal without war. In
December 2021, in the days before the war, when it still could have been prevented,
Putin presented the US with a proposal
on mutual security guarantees
and a request for immediate negotiations.
The US refused to discuss the core points, including
the central point
of Ukraine becoming a member of NATO.

Since the US hindered pathways to the goal of a settlement that might have
prevented war, they have a moral and legal obligation to attempt to return to
exploring those pathways to end the war now.

If You Break It, You Fix It

If an item is on the table, and you break it, there is an obligation on you
to fix it.

A diplomatic solution to the war was on the table in April when a settlement
seemed to be within
reach
 at the Istanbul talks. But the US and UK pressured Ukraine not
to pursue its own goals and sign an agreement to end the war. They then pressured
Ukraine to continue the war to fight for larger US foreign policy goals.

The State Department rejected ending the war on Ukraine’s terms because “this
is a war that is in many ways bigger than Russia, it’s bigger than Ukraine.” The
war could have ended with Ukraine’s interests addressed. But the US insisted
that it continue until US interests were addressed.

Then UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson then rushed to Kiev to tell Zelensky
that Putin “should be pressured, not negotiated with.” He added that,
even if Ukraine was ready to sign some agreements with Russia, the West was
not.”

Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, said in
an interview that “There are countries within NATO who want the war to
continue.” He said that “following the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting,
it was the impression that…there are those within the NATO member states that
want the war to continue, let the war continue and Russia get weaker.”

The US has an obligation to attempt to end the war through negotiations because
they participated in breaking the negotiations that could have ended the war.
The US has a further obligation to end the war through diplomacy because, having
substituted Ukraine’s interests for their own, the war after the Istanbul talks
is, in some important ways, the US’s war.

It’s Up to Ukraine

Since then, the Biden administration has consistently “ruled out the idea
of pushing or even nudging Ukraine to the negotiating table,” insisting
that “That’s a decision for the Ukrainians to make.”

And it is Ukraine’s decision if they want to negotiate or go on fighting. But
they are only able to go on fighting because they are fighting with US weapons.
It is the US’s decision whether they go on providing all those weapons.

It is the US, as the primary arms supplier, that is enabling the war to grind
on. The US is providing the weapons, the training, the targeting intelligence
and, at times, even the strategy. That gives the US a say on if the war should
go on or if it is time to push for diplomacy.

No One Else Will Talk

On October 5, Zelensky invoked
a decree banning negotiating with Putin
. The decree “acknowledge[s]
the impossibility of holding negotiations with President of the Russian Federation
Vladimir Putin.” Zelensky added in a video address that “we are ready
for dialogue with Russia, but with another president of Russia,” effectively
ruling out peace talks.

On October 11, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov claimed that
Moscow would be willing to consider an offer for a meeting between Putin and
Biden. Since Russia and Ukraine are not talking, short of allowing the war to
go on until one side is completely victorious – an outcome which, even if possible,
could only come with massive destruction and loss of life – US mediated talks
are the best hope. The only hope for the fighting to stop seems to be the US
pushing for a diplomatic settlement.

There is an urgent necessity to return to the negotiating table. And the US
has the moral, legal and political responsibility to be the one to set the table.

Ted Snider has a graduate
degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in US foreign policy and
history.

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Ted Snider