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Ukraine: What Is To Be Done?  

by | Mar 8, 2022

William E. Jackson, Jr.

This week, in correspondence with two eminent political science scholars and one-time national security practitioners (one at Columbia University; one at the University of Georgia), I raised for discussion this conundrum: 

As Ukraine is being reduced to rubble, and more and more people are being murdered, we must confront this moral and security conundrum: The invasion has continued for almost two weeks. At some point, not far off in time, the United States must consider: shall we and NATO invade Ukraine to fight the Russians–at the risk of American and European deaths–until Vladimir Putin interrupts the buildup to genocide, and leaves the field?  

Within the last two days, President Putin has warned that the declaration of a “no-fly” zone in the sky above Ukraine would mean “participation in an armed conflict,” and Western sanctions should be considered a “declaration of war.”  

 In Brussels, Secretary of State Tony Blinken and the Secretary General of NATO, warned that establishing a no-fly zone over Ukraine could lead to a “full-fledged war in Europe,” with the likelihood that NATO planes would engage Russian planes in combat. 

Very recently, during a “zoom” call (March 5) with an informal joint session of Congress, President Zelensky reiterated his request for the introduction of a no-fly zone over his country, with more fighter jets. NOTE: In a recent development, Secretary Blinken and Poland (NATO member) seem to have found a way to aid Ukraine in gaining more control over the air war, that is, by sending Soviet-era jets that Ukrainian pilots know how to operate. 

All the variables aside, are we in the United States prepared to look on from the other side of the border – because Ukraine is not a NATO member – as the resources (human and material) of a country of 40 million are leveled to the ground?  

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is steering history in a new direction, or “to a place we have never been before.” But where? 

Response # 1: 

I understand your deep emotions about this, even rage. Yet, I would not escalate this to what could be the nuclear level by taking more militarily invasive U.S. or NATO steps. I understand the moral dilemma; but I also understand the immorality of a strategic nuclear war (or even a tactical one, in the unlikely event that that is even remotely possible) that would lead to the deaths of untold millions of people – or perhaps the scorching of Earth beyond repair (if Carl Sagan and his team, who have modeled this with computers, are correct). 

 We must continue to press hard on the diplomatic front; show the world on TV the monstrosity that Putin is; and, immediately, insist on the return to the United States of the U.S.-owned multi-national corporations, still shamefully operating in Russia. The Russian oligarchs – who work closely with these MNCs – may be, indeed, the key to unlocking Putin’s “leadership.” 

 We may have to fight at the nuclear level (and we’ve already scrambled to prepare for this in still-secret ways); but we must work hard to try everything short of that, first.

As for other means of removing Putin from the scene, I do not think assassinations work. First, we’re not good at it; second, Putin is incredibly well-protected; and, third, this immediately invites retaliation against our own leaders, who are infinitely more vulnerable in our democratic setting. 


At Eniwetok in the South Pacific, the world’s first thermonuclear explosion was conducted on November 1, 1952…during my senior year in high school. I have seen the official film several times and the orange mushroom cloud. Following multiple visits to Los Alamos and SAC bases, and a candid conversation I had with an SLBM boat captain in Charleston about “playing God,” I assure you that you give voice to a core conviction of mine on the immorality of a strategic nuclear war. 

Our conventional (non-nuclear) theater forces pack a terrible punch. We do not know what is in Putin’s mind—and there is no collective Politburo check on him, alas. We do not know how far West he wishes to go. I infer that you would not use the “conventionals,” even if we were looking eastward across the NATO line and observing the liquidation of a nation? 

Then, I submit, “the mad dictator” has us in a vise, in that he has read our minds (and hearts) and can proceed to march westward, accordingly! 

Response: # 2 

We need to do everything short of a shooting war to bleed the Russian economy, while the Ukrainians bleed Putin’s military on the ground. We can make this their Afghanistan. (And take Russia back to the 1950s.) The more territory and cities Putin takes, the more he’ll bleed his economic, military, and political resources. 

Meanwhile, Putin’s military convoy outside Kiev is like the Persians invading Greece, facing the 300. All he’s done is what the Persian King did – unite the fractious city-states against him (i.e. NATO). 

As for our conscience, we’ll feel as bad as we did in 1953 with East Germany, 1956 with Hungary and Poland, and 1968 with Czechoslovakia. This is going to be far worse for the Russians.

Whatever we feel, it beats World War III. Or don’t you agree? 


I know that you think that is advice I need to hear. But we should not let a Hitler – or a Putin – keep biting off chunks of cake just because he is hungry (or crazy) and free of constraints. Or because he is careless about bombing the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, in the country of Chernobyl, no less; or because the discredited Russian Foreign Minister, Lavrov, is running around predicting the next war will be nuclear! 

If NATO countries do not countenance (or enforce) a no-fly zone, one begins to think about hiring Mossad – or Russian mafia – assassins to try to take him out.

There are too many people, already, who do not take Putin seriously enough and who did not take Trump seriously enough. 

William E. Jackson, Jr.
[Executive Director of President Jimmy Carter’s General Advisory Committee on Arms Control & Disarmament, and Special Assistant to the Chief Negotiator at the SALT II negotiations in Geneva, 1978-1980. Chief Legislative Assistant, Senate Majority Whip, U.S. Senate, 1974-1977.] 

William E. Jackson, Jr.

Through three careers--college professor, government official in Washington, and journalism - Bill Jackson has enjoyed poetry more than prose.

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