Libertarian Perspective on the Russia-Ukraine War
Former Chair - Libertarian Party of Santa Clara County
June 25, 2022
The Libertarian Party has a long tradition of opposing wars. Our presidential candidate of thirty years ago, Harry Browne, once said, “War is a government program, and you know how we libertarians feel about government programs.” Indeed, war is one of the most destructive of government programs and that is saying a lot. Wars rarely involve the good guys against the bad guys. More often, they are the bad guys against the really bad guys. Involvement in foreign wars is especially troubling since US involvement frequently does more harm than good.
Let’s look at the Russia-Ukraine war and see how following Libertarian policies could have perhaps prevented it from happening.
Libertarian Party Platform
The entire Libertarian Party platform can be found at: https://www.lp.org/platform/
Here are the two relevant platform planks (National Defense and International Affairs) for reference.
3.1 National Defense
We support the maintenance of a sufficient military to defend the United States against aggression. The United States should both avoid entangling alliances and abandon its attempts to act as policeman for the world. We oppose any form of compulsory national service.
3.3 International Affairs
American foreign policy should emphasize peace with all nations, entangling alliances with none. We would end the current U.S. government policies of foreign intervention including military and economic aid; tariffs; economic sanctions; and regime change. We recognize the right of all people to resist tyranny and defend themselves and their rights. We condemn the use of force, and especially the use of terrorism, against the innocent, regardless of whether such acts are committed by governments or by political or revolutionary groups.
The head of Russia, like most heads of state, is autocratic and sometimes even brutal. The invasion of Ukraine is a vicious act that we Libertarians (along with the rest of the country) condemn. However, an important question remains: “could the war have been prevented?”
The view promulgated by the military-industrial-complex (MIC) is that Putin is focused on obtaining as much territory under his control as possible. MIC promotes the view that the only way to have dealt with Putin was to be aggressive ourselves. According to MIC, the invasion of Ukraine was merely the action of a power-hungry maniac, and the best possible response was a large US presence in the region. Notice that this view is entirely self-serving on the part of MIC. Of course, just because a view is self-serving does not mean it is inaccurate, but it does suggest questioning the assumption that the best way to deal with Russia was the hardline approach.
NATO was founded in 1949 to protect against the threat posed by the Soviet Union. About 30 years ago, the Soviet Union was disbanded. During the past 30 years, the US government took advantage of many opportunities to portray Russia as an aggressor. Taking an adversarial attitude toward Russia, the US government led the expansion of NATO to include parts of the defunct Soviet Union. It is clear that NATO is pointed at one country and one country only (Russia). Ukraine shares a border with Russia that is over 900 miles long. The threat, even a remote threat, that Ukraine could become part of NATO and have missiles pointed at Russia is a threat that any prudent Russian leader would be concerned about. When the shoe was on the other foot during the Cuban missile crises, the US was legitimately concerned about Soviet missiles in Cuba. Indeed, the situation faced by Russia is more dire since Russia and Ukraine share a long border whereas Cuba is 90 miles away from the US. While none of this remotely excuses the brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine, it does suggest alternative policies that might have avoided the war.
If the US had followed the Libertarian policy of “avoid entangling alliances”, the US would have pulled out of NATO thirty years ago when the Soviet Union disbanded. Without the US as a member, NATO becomes significantly less threatening to Russia. A much reduced threat means that Russia would not have needed to invade Ukraine to protect its sovereignty. It is even possible that Russia could have become a partner nation to the rest of Europe. Of course, this is counter-factual history so there is no way of knowing for sure, but there is a distinct possibility that Russia would not have invaded Ukraine if the US had pulled out of NATO sometime in the last thirty years.
What to do now
There are three policies that the Libertarian platform recommends:
Withdraw from NATO
- “avoid entangling alliances”
End all aid to Ukraine
- “end …. military and economic aid”
End sanctions of Russia and unfreeze Russian assets
- “end … economic sanctions”
There would be several benefits to pursuing the Libertarian approach:
De-escalation of the Russia-Ukraine War
- Without US involvement, the threat of nuclear war is dramatically reduced
Better chance for peace
- With a reduced NATO threat, the stakes for the war are reduced, thereby making it easier to pursue peace
US can save resources
- Instead of spending US resources on a foreign war, we could utilize the money in the US to improve the quality of life here.
A concern one might have about this approach is that it leaves Europe at the mercy of Russia. Russian domination of Europe is a European concern NOT an American concern. There is nothing to stop the nations of Europe forming their own version of NATO without the US as a member. Such an organization would allow the alliance to focus on European issues without having to cater to US interests. In the long run, that would clearly benefit Europe. It would even benefit the US since it would help the US step away from its global policeman role.
The US has two futures. Listen to the military-industrial-complex and remain a global policeman with its attendant foreign wars. The other future is the one promoted by the Libertarian party: keep a strong defense but bring the troops home (from all over the globe) resulting in a lot fewer wars and more resources to devote to improving the quality of life in the US.