“Why should U.S. taxpayers be interested in Ukraine?” That’s what Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reportedly asked at a recent meeting in Italy with some European counterparts. The French foreign minister said he told Tillerson the United States should want a strong Europe. That’s true, but there are many other reasons for Americans to care about Ukraine.
First and foremost, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, including its takeover of Crimea and its continued interference in eastern parts of the country, violates the most basic principle of international relations — that borders between countries should not be changed through the use of military force. This is what Saddam Hussein attempted in Kuwait in 1990, and what Hitler’s Germany attempted before and during World War II. Respect for this principle is the bedrock of what peace and order there is in the world.
A second reason has to do with Russia specifically. Vladimir Putin’s Russia is a one-dimensional power. Its influence is tied to its ability to dominate others through the use of force, be it military, cyber, or related to Russian oil and gas exports. It is important that Putin not conclude that continued use of force is a viable path to make Russia great again. If he does, he will continue to invade, coerce and interfere.
Ukraine’s nuclear history is another reason to care. It was once an integral part of the Soviet Union and a good many of the Soviet Union’s nuclear warheads were located there. At the time of the breakup, there was concern that many of the newly independent states carved out of the old Soviet Union would become nuclear weapon states. That would increase the number of countries possessing nuclear weapons and the odds they would fall into the hands of terrorists.