Jeffrey Sachs speaking in Kiev in 2019. Photo: Courtesy Jeffrey D Sachs

Members of the Leadership Council of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), which includes high-ranking university, private-sector, and government leaders, sent a letter this month to UN member states calling for urgent and intensified diplomacy to end the war in Ukraine.

The letter called for a resolution from the United Nations General Assembly and an emergency session of the UN Security Council to negotiate an end to the war in Ukraine through diplomatic means. (You can read the statement here.)

On this occasion, I was invited to interview the SDSN president, Professor Jeffrey Sachs.

Jeffrey D Sachs is university professor and director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University.

Besides being president of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, he is chairman of the Lancet Covid-19 Commission, co-chairman of the UN Council of Engineers for the Energy Transition, commissioner of the UN Broadband Commission for Development, academician of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, and Tan Sri Jeffrey Cheah Honorary Distinguished Professor of Sustainable Development at Sunway University in Malaysia.

Sachs has been special adviser to three United Nations secretaries general, and currently serves as an SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) advocate under Secretary General António Guterres.

Sachs was twice named among Time magazine’s 100 most influential world leaders, and has received 38 honorary doctorates. He was named by the Legion of Honor of France in 2021 and received the Order of the Cross from Estonia in 2019.

Adriel Kasonta: Members of the SDSN Leadership Council have come up with a noble and very much needed initiative concerning a diplomatic solution to the ongoing conflict in Eastern Europe. Could you please tell our readers a bit more about this endeavor and what this could look like in practice, bearing in mind that the failure adequately to address Russia’s security demands related to Ukraine’s NATO membership led to this tragedy in the first place?

Jeffrey Sachs: The path out of this war is Ukraine’s neutrality and territorial integrity, with the withdrawal of the Russian military. The US push for Ukraine to join NATO starting in 2008 was deeply destabilizing and provocative. After 2014, the US heavily armed Ukraine, adding to the provocation to Russia. We need both sides to show restraint. Russia should end the war and return home; the US should make clear that NATO will not enlarge to Ukraine. 

Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) logo

AK: How does the constant supply of heavy weapons to Ukraine affect the possibility of a peaceful solution to the conflict?

JS: Of course, the greater the influx of arms, and the more destruction and death, the more risk of escalation to a nuclear war. Russia, Ukraine, and NATO should be negotiating, rather than escalating.

AK: What are the chances that the current war in Ukraine could escalate and turn into a nuclear war? Should trying to make peace necessarily mean appeasement?

JS: The risks are real. The West talks about defeating [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. This is dangerous and delusional, in my view. It risks escalation to nuclear war.

AK: The last two years of the Covid-19 pandemic have severely impacted the global economy. The sanctions on Russia are only increasing the economic hardships around the world, with the energy crisis trumping climate commitments aimed at reaching net-zero emissions. How sustainable is this policy of “punishing Russia” at all cost, as it looks like we are doing more harm to ourselves collectively than effectively influencing the Kremlin’s behavior?

JS: I believe that the sanctions system of the US has little global support and threatens massive economic damage. This is just another reason why we should intensify diplomatic efforts, rather than accept the current trajectory. The current path is one of destruction, death, and economic crisis.

Adriel Kasonta

Adriel Kasonta is a London-based political risk consultant and lawyer. He is former chairman of the International Affairs Committee at the oldest conservative think tank in the UK, Bow Group. His work has been published in Forbes, CapX, National Review, the National Interest, The American Conservative, and, to name a few. Kasonta is a graduate of London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). You can follow him on Twitter @Adriel_Kasonta.