363Joined May 2021


Politics, foreign policy, UK & China.


I've often heard the phrase "numbers matter" but not sure if I prefer it. The concept reminds me of (the inverse of) the quote attributed to Stalin that "the death of one man is a tragedy, the death of a million is a statistic." In the EA for Christians community we have sometimes used the phrase "love thy statistic" as a slogan to counter this.

I don't completely disagree with your prediction about the outcome, but it seems highly likely to me that the compromise will be worse for Ukraine (and the West/world) than the concessions I outlined. Eg puppet government in Kyiv, death of Ukrainian democracy. I think Plus, this way thousands of people died from warfare and we carry the risk of nuclear war.

That's fair, it's not appeasement, but neither is it what people wanted of Chamberlain in WW2. 

In response to your two points:

  1. Agreed - I wasn't expecting Ukraine's military to hold out so well. In the longer run I suspect Putin still has the upper hand, but this isn't what he wanted. That said I still think the most likely outcome for Ukraine is still very bad, and note that my option would have (hopefully) avoided the loss/suffering/economic collapse that has already happened. Lastly, I could be ex ante right even if this week's events change our ex post calculations.
  2. I wouldn't say overwhelming, but I have been impressed with European unity and surprised by Sweden, Switzerland and Germany reversing longstanding policies. I agree that this will make future action for Russia technically harder, though it also backs Putin into a corner which is a bit of a dangerous place for him to be.

I also agree that 'realist' perspectives often risk losing track with reality - realism as an approach/philosophy in IR is often based more on pessimism about human behaviour than about how things turn out. But it's too early to judge.

I'm talking to a range of people. Not everyone agrees. But there are a good number of 'realists' including in the EA community who are focused on reducing the chances of nuclear war, and believe that these would have been lower if Russia had been offered some concessions last week, but all of us recognise why this was politically unattainable. 

Thanks Andrew - I'm glad you agree. I also agree that consequentialism encourages a high level of realism. That said, I was expecting a higher level of agreement from the EA community on this post, so it's interesting that not everyone shares my view.

I think the difference with GB/Germany is that the West is unwilling to provide meaningful military support for Ukraine, in the form of troops on the ground. From Ukraine's perspective I think this is the worst of both worlds, because the West won't actually stand up the bully, but also isn't willing to engage with it. This has resulted in war. 

This is what I meant by Ukraine being in an unusual position: it is sufficiently West-aligned that it won't give into Putin's demands, and he wants to cause trouble, but its lack of Nato membership means that US, UK etc won't actually provide the support it needs against Russia. 

Or to put it another way, I think the current outcome is a form of appeasement because we aren't actually willing to fight.

Yes, I agree that those options aren't super practical (if they were, they probably would have happened last week), but my main point is that they would be preferable to the current situation. I also don't want to reward Putin, obviously. However he's currently on course to take the whole country. Surely this is worse for the West/Ukraine, and better for him?

On the last two bullet points: the first is informed by talking to analysts and parliamentary researchers in the UK. I think most people would agree there is political pressure (both domestic and international) not to be seen to concede to Putin. The question is how much of a factor this is and whether it leads to worse. 

I think this broadly applies to the second bullet point too. It seems fairly clear to me that Ukraine's leadership was not in a position to concede to Putin's demands. To use a slightly facetious example, if China threatened nuclear war on the US in exchange for taking Hawaii, any US President would find it hard to agree to the demands, even if it could be better for the world in an EV/x-risk sense.

Hmm, I think I disagree. It's different to the 'fat man' case because in that case the fat man would otherwise survive if you didn't push him. In this case, the regions will be taken anyway. So the trade-off seems more similar to the classic trolley problem where you are diverting the trolley to save the five. 

I agree, however, that Ukraine should be involved with the decision process. My worry is that Nato allies and Ukraine were too quick to close down those channels last week, and that concessions would have been preferable to the current situation (including for Ukrainians). 

I agree that Putin would probably have an extended list of demands, many of which would not be worth meeting. The question is whether there was a compromise last week that would have been better than the war we are now seeing. 

I'm not sure I understand your first bullet point - obviously I'd love to see Ukraine join the EU. But now they won't anyway. What's the pathway from this war to EU membership?

I agree in an ideal world Ukraine would decide on concessions, but they have now had these regions taken by force. Is this really a better outcome for Ukranians? 

I have added something - let me know if you think more is needed!

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