US President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson pose for the official family picture during the G7 Summit in Cornwall, England, on June 11, 2021. The two, along with European leaders, now face a massive challenge posed by Russia's aggression in Ukraine. Photo AFP / EyePress News

The warning by the US that Russia could invade Ukraine sounds like a repeat of the warmongering rhetoric used previously by George W Bush’s administration to oust Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi from power over unsubstantiated allegations that they were in possession of weapons of mass destruction.

To avoid being drawn into another US-led war or being used as a political pawn by the US, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called a press conference on January 29 to state that his country’s current problems “came from the West rather than the East” and accuse the media of causing panic and creating misinformation.

He said destabilization inside the country was the real threat, and not Russia, and this pointed to the challenges the central government faced in keeping the various regions within Ukraine together as a unified republic.

Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba also stepped up to question the US assessment of the “threat” posed by Russia, by urging people not to believe the “apocalyptic predictions,” and stressed that Ukraine has a strong army and unprecedented international support.

Simply put, Ukraine is struggling to address the growing concerns over separatists while the US and UK are looking to exact some advantages out of the situation.

Still, that does not explain why the US and its allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization are so eager to be pushing for another war by rushing troops into the region when the US has only recently pulled out of a 20-year war in Afghanistan, and not having won any war decisively since World War II.

Somehow in the latest conflict, the US, UK and NATO have chosen to ignore that prior to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, there were several security assurances and memoranda provided by the superpowers involved, including the US, UK, France and Germany, to ensure that NATO would not expand eastward toward Russia or Ukraine, or act in a manner that might threaten or impair their security interests as sovereign nations.

As Russia is currently supplying more than a third of Europe’s natural gas, energy-hungry countries in the European Union have vested interests in seeking closer relationships with Ukraine and having it in NATO or the EU, which makes a lot of economic and security sense to those nations.

For the US, its vested interest lies more in using Ukraine as a political pawn to ensure that Russia, its old Cold War antagonist, will not become too economically successful like China to threaten its global leadership.

Saddled with a $30 trillion gross national debt, the US does not have many financial options in challenging the Chinese on a dollar-for-dollar basis and needs to use its limited financial resources strategically if it wants to close the economic gap with China.

However, its latest involvement in the Ukraine conflict is not making any strategic sense, since any escalation of the crisis will drive up oil prices, which will inevitably cause an increase in inflation globally that is detrimental to US fiscal health when its overall cost of borrowing gets compounded.

With President Joe Biden suffering from a drop in approval ratings after just a year in office, it is understandable that his administration is desperately trying to find ways to shore up his popularity, but rallying for another war is like shooting itself in its foot.

The truth is that US foreign policy is broken and its obsession with trying to contain China using its old Cold War mentality is only going to hasten its own downfall as the world’s global superpower, and will drive many of its allies into the arms of the Chinese.

To “build back better,” the US needs to return to its roots that made it superior, and that lies in its ability to imagine and pursue technological innovations instead of wars and deceptions.

To stay relevant, the US must start to reinvent itself, and its first priority is to fix its broken foreign policy in order to ensure the proper reallocation of its dwindling resources by investing in its people and its infrastructure, instead of its destructive defense sector.

In pushing for war, the US risks being caught flat-footed should both the Russian and the Chinese start their own offensives concurrently, and should therefore act with more restraint by avoiding the use of war or military intervention as its first course of action.

Boris’ woes

But the Biden administration can take comfort that his approval rating is still much higher than that of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose rating fell to a pathetic 24% in recent days.

With his political opponents calling for his resignation over the “Partygate” scandal, it is understandable that Johnson is a much more desperate man looking for just about any detraction.

Instead of working with the EU on the many unresolved border, trade and investment issues over Brexit, it is a surprise that leaders in the EU actually allow him to meddle with the affairs of the Ukrainians.

After Brexit, the UK is trying to pivot itself as a secondary superpower, but with Johnson meddling in the affairs of countries in crisis instead of helping to bring the UK beyond Brexit, its economy will continue to deteriorate, and this will bring greater hardship to its people and businesses.

As such, it is unlikely that politicians in the UK, even those in his own party, will tolerate for much longer his mischief and may boot him out of office in the coming weeks.

Setting aside the UK, no country in Europe wants the Ukraine conflict to escalate into a war, as that would mean Russia is forced to turn off the supply of natural gas, which would in turn cause many families in Europe to suffer needlessly from the cold of winter.

While Russia and Ukraine are no angels in this conflict, the way forward to de-escalate it is for all stakeholders to address the valid concerns of the Russians and the Ukrainians, and find an amicable solution for their peaceful co-existence so that the peace and security in the region will not be threatened by any expansionary aspiration of NATO or any country seeking to exploit resources out of the Ukrainian Republic.  

In the short term, all parties can co-exist peacefully, and staying in constant dialogue is also vital for the region when Ukraine formally applies to join the EU in 2024.

If only the US had taken the initiative to act as the powerbroker in this conflict and assert its influence more strategically, this conflict could have been a great opportunity for the US to show its relevance as the world’s superpower and open up many opportunities for its businesses in the region.

Joseph Nathan has been a principal consultant with several consultancy agencies in Asia for more than three decades and is currently the founder and principal consultant at Asia Strategic Consulting. He is a Singaporean and holds an MBA from Macquarie Graduate School of Management, Australia.