, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Why reveal your intentions when you don’t have to? That’s exactly what the Biden Administration did with respect to the question of a “no-fly zone” over Ukraine, and it might as well apply to all future incursions backed by wild threats from aggressor states possessing WMDs. This was another unforced error by Biden’s team and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. John Cochrane writes that “strategic ambiguity” has real value in deterring an aggressor, but apparently our current leadership hasn’t thought that through. From Cochrane:

Once again, the U.S. declares, publicly, ahead of time — ahead of the possible collapse of the Ukrainian government — what we will not do, and elevates it to a matter of principle.

Who else is listening? Well, Xi Jinping. And the Iranians. And the South Koreans, Japanese, Saudi Arabians, and more. …

We have just wrapped Taiwan up and delivered it to China.

Message to Iran: test one nuclear weapon. Invade Syria, Iraq, or whatever. The US will not respond. Message to others. Get nukes. Now.

This war isn’t just about Ukraine. It is about the kind of world we live in for the next generation.”

As Cochrane’s says, the U.S. and NATO calculated that supplying anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons to Ukraine would not trigger Putin to make good on his larger threats. At the same time, the thinking is a no-fly zone is too chancy. It’s probably true, but there was no reason to say so. It could have and should have waited. It might have given Putin some pause, any instance of which could be of great value to the Ukrainians as they marshal their defense.

This kind of up-front pusillanimity more broadly undermines the credibility of other options we might wish to have against aggressors in the future, such as trade embargoes, naval blockades, or even conventional weapons. Nor do the particulars in this case limit the range of actions a future aggressor might make threats against. We’ve more or less revealed that whatever a future aggressor chooses to forbid, under the menace of some drastic reprisal, is off the table. Acquiescence is adopted as doctrine, and that is a huge blunder.