As has happened so many times before in European history, an aggressor’s bombs and tanks are wreaking horror and havoc on a weaker neighbor. This time, the victim is Ukraine, a member state of the United Nations inhabited by 44 million people; the perpetrator is Russia, whose repressive ruler, President Vladimir Putin, insists — contrary to black-letter international law — that Ukraine has no sovereign rights he is bound to respect. Once again, civilized life in this strategically vital continent is being overwhelmed by blood and fire. The conflict may be contained — for the moment — in Europe’s eastern reaches. But it threatens to spread. And once again, the United States is called upon to respond.
MANY AMERICANS may wish, instinctively and understandably, not to get involved in a European war, even indirectly, by levying sanctions on the aggressor, Russia. Such measures could trigger disruptions in energy and financial markets, creating costs for the United States, when we already suffer from problems, ranging from a pandemic to inflation to racial injustice. Certainly this country, its service members — and their families — paid a high price, financial and human, in, and for, Middle Eastern wars that ended without clear victory.
And yet, President Biden is right to answer Mr. Putin robustly, even at some risk to the United States and allied nations, which are also isolating Russia economically and diplomatically. The United States has no mutual defense treaty with Ukraine and, thus, no legal or prudential obligation to protect it with U.S. forces. What we do have is a stake in the peace and stability of Europe, a continent of 740 million people with whom Americans share a long-standing commitment to democracy, innumerable familial ties and more than $1 trillion in annual commerce, upon which millions of jobs depend.