James Stavridis, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe, writing for Bloomberg, argues that Washington should learn from “the lessons of South Korea” and negotiate a “land for peace conclusion to combat” in Ukraine. Commenting on his recent visit to Seoul in South Korea, the former US Navy admiral, who is also a Carlyle Group vice-chair, remarks that the visit to such a “pulsating city” has brought to his mind the end of the Korean war in 1953, and that in turn has led him to think that the “the end of the war in Ukraine may look similar.”
By Uriel Araujo – infobrics.org
After all, the Asian country he visited did remarkably go from a “war-devastated land” to “the largest economy in the world.” None of that, of course, “arose overnight” from “the ashes” of a war that, he acknowledges, “largely destroyed” the “entire Korean peninsula”. It took some effort. So, how can post-conflict Ukraine in the future become a place similar to today’s South Korea? The answer Stavridis provides involves three items: “serious [Western] reconstruction aid”, “ironclad security guarantees”, and, more interestingly, a “land-for-peace” agreement.
Regarding the first items, the American official remarks that, Western firms see an “economic upside in postwar construction activities in Ukraine”, after all, “mass communications”, “electric power facilities”, etc will all be on Kyiv’s “shopping list.” He thinks that “hundreds of billions of dollars in Russian funds that are under sanction in the West” may become available for all that.
The story of post-war South Korea economic growth and industrialization is not simple as Stavridis would have us believe, though: for one thing, any telling of it must include the years of general Park Chung Hee’s authoritarian dictatorship (1963-1979). Despite undeniable economic growth, the country is also known today for its rampant elderly female prostitution problem, the so-called “Bacchus ladies”, in their 60s or even older, being a regular sight in Seoul, perhaps unnoticed by Stavridis. The sex trade in South Korea, involving the so-called “Korean Military Comfort Women” has a lot to do with the US military presence there, being a key part of Korean-American relations, according to scholar Na-Young Lee – and is one of the many social problems South Koreans face.
Back to Ukraine, a nation infamous for being Europe’s most corrupt country, talks about “rebuilding” it are not new. It remains to be seen how the overstretched US will be able to keep funding that nation in this scenario: suffice it to say that US President Joe Biden has just signed a temporary spending bill to avert a government shutdown (for now), which, by the way, does not include the President’s nearly $106 billion request for aid for both Israel and Ukraine.
As for Stavridis’ “security guarantees”, it basically means “North Atlantic Treaty Organization membership”, which, according to him, “is similar to what South Korea was granted as a full US treaty partner in 1953.” That is indeed quite a stretch! By that, he means the bilateral Mutual Defense Treaty, which does not involve other Western powers and thus cannot be compared to a NATO membership in any shape or form. Moreover, to this day, a peace treaty has never been signed between the two Koreas, and the Korean peninsula remains a point of tension. In addition, Seoul has never mastered nuclear power, while neighboring North Korea has thermonuclear weapons, which it will never renounce.
In short, the former NATO Supreme Commander seems to entertain the notion that an arguably victorious Russia is to idly watch what is left of Ukraine become an Atlantic Alliance member. This is peculiar reasoning: NATO’s enlargement, according to University of Chicago’s scholar John Mearsheimer, one of the most influential realists, was one of the main causes of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict since 2014, in the first place, and remains one of the main causes of today’s crisis, together with American policies towards “encircling” Russia.
Being, among many other things, a chair emeritus of the United States Naval Institute’s board of directors, Stavridis is obviously no fool. This is a very well-accomplished scholar, diplomat, and statesman, to say the least. And yet, in his above quoted Bloomberg piece, he conjures a quite fanciful story, which appears to be more wishful thinking than anything else. It almost makes one think that, for a non-Western country, being destroyed and divided in a US proxy attrition war is not that bad at all, if only, mind you, the Washington-led West comes to help with its deep pockets, and helps finance the rebuilding of what is left of that nation. Then will come prosperity, “democracy”, and, maybe (who knows?), even “high-rise office buildings, glitzy apartments and marble shopping malls”, just like in Seoul.
Stavridis’ piece makes much more sense if one reads it as a kind of a sales pitch. The most telling part of it is its author’s admission, his third item, of the fact that “much as South Korea was not in a position to demand a complete territorial victory over the north in the 1950s, Ukraine is not in a position to demand a complete Russian withdrawal from its territory”, even with “the addition of F-16 fighter jets”. He also acknowledges that “this will probably bog down into a frozen conflict.”
Well, this is a depressive outcome to Kyiv and a major defeat from the perspective of Washington’s geopolitical goals – and yet it seems to be the most realistic scenario. All the retired admiral can do, as a kind of a consolation prize, is to imagine a future Ukraine. Although divided and devastated it will, he reassures us, with proper funding “overtake Russia in a few decades in terms of gross domestic product, overall agrarian output”, not to mention the bonus thrills of somehow becoming “a vital, democratic society” – even with a major domestic minority rights, human rights, and a neo-Nazi problem. He ends his piece with the following “optimistic” words: “Let’s hope a Korean-style miracle of reconstruction is on the horizon for Ukraine.” It would seem, after all is said and done, that this is the best the political West can hope for Ukraine now.
Uriel Araujo, researcher with a focus on international and ethnic conflicts