«War is business». Professor Jeffrey Sachs speaks out on what really triggered war in Ukraine and will the West keep its global hegemony from collapsing

13:23 20.02.2024 • By Alexander Gasyuk for the International Affairs

Jeffrey Sachs, a renowned Columbia University Professor of economics and outspoken public policy analyst is frequent commentator on most burning issues of global development. Professor Sachs does not agree with the Washington’s policy vis-à-vis ongoing crisis in Ukraine, condemns US push for NATO enlargement that in his view triggered war in Ukraine and argues that the era of Western hegemony is over. We reached out to Prof. Sachs asking him to elaborate on these and other thoughts. Неre they are.

Q: This February marks the second year since the start of Russia’s Special Military Operation in Ukraine. Do you believe this tragic anniversary could have been avoided should the “collective West” (namely US and its allies) was more open to diplomacy versus pressuring Russia against the wall?

Jeffrey Sachs: Yes, this war surely could have been avoided.  It is the result of the US attempt to expand NATO to Ukraine and Georgia as part of a long-standing plan to surround Russia in the Black Sea by NATO countries (the US plan has been that Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, and Georgia will all be part of NATO).  The US therefore opposed Ukraine’s neutrality and took repeated steps to push NATO enlargement, including support of the violent coup in February 2014.  In the end, the US persistent actions to expand NATO, coupled with the Russophobic approach of the post-coup regime in Ukraine, led to the war and to its continuation.  


Q: In your recently published op-ed you argue that «Ukraine’s security can only be achieved at the negotiating table, not by some fantasized military triumph over Russia». Moscow has repeatedly said that it always was and still remains open for negotiations. However, Ukraine with endorsement from its Western sponsors – primarily US and Britain - does not want to negotiate. Does this mean that the war will go on until the last Ukrainian? Do American people, media and pundits realize this? 

Jeffrey Sachs: The American people are not consulted.  This is the work of the US security state, not a decision by the American people.  There is very little honest discussion or reporting in the US.  There is no awareness of Russia’s repeated attempts to negotiate – over Minsk II, US-Russia Security, or ending the war. The Biden Administration has been resolutely against negotiations.  Britain is even more war-mongering, since this follows a pattern of nearly two centuries, reminiscent of the Crimean War.


Q: You said that Joe Biden foreign policy is failure and imply that US foreign policy is a scam built on corruption. You also claim that US proposed new $61 billion aid package for Ukraine aims to keep Biden’s failure hidden from view until after the November election. Does this mean that US president is taking American foreign policy hostage of internal politics in the US?

Jeffrey Sachs: The US security state is always keen to continue wars, and that is why US wars (Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Ukraine) last for many years or decades.  War is business.  These wars end up weakening the US, but still enriching the military-industrial complex.  That’s why I call them a scam built on corruption.  The failures also embarrass the politicians, so they never like to admit failures during an election season. 


Q: President Vladimir Putin of Russia in his recent interview to US conservative host Tucker Carlson laid out in details his take on the reasons why US-Russia ties have deteriorated to the lowest level since the Cold War. However based of what I saw in American mainstream media coverage of Putin-Carlson talk I got impression that its substance was biased and mocked as pro-Russian propaganda. Even without serious analysis of its content. How come so shallow? What do you make of it?

Jeffrey Sachs: The mainstream media are only interested in repeating the official narrative.  For that reason they do not seriously consider the evidence or listen to arguments that are contrary to the official media. The public, it seems, is much more interested, and the interview has been viewed tens of millions of times around the world.  The US and UK coverage of the interview by the mainstream press was disgraceful. Of course, the US government wants to hide Russia’s willingness to negotiate.  


Q: EU – not the US – is taking the heat and is bearing most of the burden of the war in Ukraine. Acute energy crisis, migration waves, inflation and possible food shortages – Europeans know better. What are the reasons for European policymakers to promote US political and economic interests over conflict in Ukraine and continue to inflict damage to European economy?

Jeffrey Sachs: To a great extent today’s politicians in Europe are also at the command of the US military-industrial-intelligence complex.  They have their own military firms that are embedded in the US security state.  Nonetheless, the lack of coherent policies for Europe by the leaders of France, Germany, Italy, and others has been striking.  They have all simply followed the US lead. 


Q: Let’s turn to the broader geopolitical context. The world’s structure as we knew it for the last 30 years – with sole hegemon center of power – is rapidly changing. Where do we go from here? How would multipolar world look like? Will it be stable or bring new bloody conflicts? 

Jeffrey Sachs:  We are already in a multi-polar world, though the US leadership does not accept that.  The hardest change is in the US is to accept the reality of the independent polarities of China, Russia, India, Brazil, Iran, African Union and elsewhere.  So far, this multipolarity is avidly resisted in Washington.  That is what makes the current situation so dangerous. 


Q: The US and its allies through G7, NATO, World Bank, major news outlets and other institutions are doing their upmost to prevent the collective West dominance in global affairs from fading. Covert regime change, political pressure, military blackmail, sanctions are being imposed against those trying to defend their vital national interests and sovereignty. Do you believe that by sticking to such practices the West will maintain its collapsing global leadership?

Jeffrey Sachs: There is no return to Western hegemony.  That was the result of a specific historical confluence during 1800-2000, mainly resulting from the early industrialization of Britain and the North Atlantic region.  That period is over.  Advanced technology is now widely diffused.  The return of China and India to global strength, the high technological and scientific capacity of Russia, and the emerging capacity of the African Union as a unified region, to name just some examples, are part of the fundamental trend towards multipolarity. 


Q: With ongoing Middle East crisis US seems to be dragged more and more in the conflicts in this region. Once again. To your mind, could US-led bombing campaigns against Houthis and Iran proxies (in Syria and elsewhere) trigger wider destabilization of that region?

Jeffrey Sachs: The Israeli government, which is the most right-wing extremist government in Israel’s history, is hoping to pull the US into a war with Iran.  Of course, this would be a catastrophic disaster, including for Israel, which nonetheless wants such a war.  The US is in no position for such a war, and so I hope very much that it avoids it.  Israel will keep trying as long as this extremist government has a say. 


Q: We in Russia are seriously concerned about unprecedented political polarization in the US. Being an American citizen, could you explain what is going wrong with your country?

Jeffrey Sachs: America’s political institutions became deeply corrupted by large campaign funding.  The government serves the rich donors and lobbies, not the public.  The social situation of the public therefore worsens: financial distress, addiction, falling life expectancy.  These are the root causes of the US political instability.  The US needs strong and honest leadership, but instead it gets lobbying and an unwillingness to address the real needs of the average American, much less the poor. 


Q: Last year you attended Athens Democracy Forum in Greece where you brought an example of the UK and US that started most of the brutal wars in not so distant past. However you were cut off again and again. «Stop Jeff!», - the moderator had finally said. Why to your mind inconvenient truth has become so intolerable nowadays for the «champions» of liberal democracy and free speech?

Jeffrey Sachs: Well, to the moderator’s defense, I was perhaps talking too long. But seriously, there is an ongoing confusion of slogans and reality in American official discourse. The slogan is that democracy leads to peace.  The reality is that the two great democracies of the past two centuries – the UK and US – have been highly militaristic.  So, democracy at home, empire abroad.  It’s not a viable approach in the 21st century.  Only peaceful cooperation in a multipolar world is viable.  We need a world in which the US, Russia, China, African Union, Arab League, Mercosur, ASEAN, and other regions each work together in peace and with mutual respect.  Such a world is feasible. We are past the age of hegemons.


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