The King’s College Hosts Panel Discussion: “The War on Ukraine”

Dr. Robert Carle, Dr. Joseph Loconte, Dr. David Tubbs, and Dr. Anton Fedyashin discussed the root causes and possible effects of Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine. 

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On March 23, The King’s College hosted a panel discussion on “The War in Ukraine.”

Moderated by Dr. Robert Carle, professor of Religious and Theological Studies, the virtual event featured remarks from Dr. Joseph Loconte, senior fellow of Christianity and Culture, Dr. David Tubbs, associate professor of politics, and Dr. Anton Fedyashin, associate professor of history at American University. The panel sought to make sense of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by exploring the conflict’s historical background, each country’s unique geopolitical motivations, and the consequences of the conflict on American foreign policy.

WATCH: “The War in Ukraine” full presentation

After an introduction by President Tim Gibson, Dr. Joseph Loconte began the discussion by speaking on American Exceptionalism and the different ways that both the American cultural left and right view potential involvement in Ukraine by the United States. To the cultural left, American concern for the people of Ukraine is only a result of racism, while to the cultural right, American concern for the war in Ukraine is only a result of expansionist foreign policy. The two sides complain about American injustice and NATO expansion, respectively, but are silent about Russian atrocities. They both ignore that the United States can have an important influence on the world in promoting human freedom.

To Loconte, both of these sides have forgotten a century of American diplomatic and military achievements around the world which have no historic parallel. They ignore the Russian Famine Relief Act in 1921, which delivered food to Russia to help feed 27 million starving people. They forget the Lend-Lease Act during World War II, which supplied the Allies with important military equipment. They also ignore events like the Berlin airlift, which in 1948 delivered food and fuel to Germans in Berlin who were blockaded by the Russians.

And many forget, maybe most importantly, that the United States helped to create NATO, which according to Lonconte, rescued Western Europe from social breakdown and Soviet Russia tyranny, making it possible for the illiberal societies of Europe to transform into peaceful, free-market democratic states which eventually became the European Union.

But due to the American wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq, America’s critics ignore these events in history and have settled into disillusionment. “Disillusionment isn’t a substitute for rational foreign policy informed by biblical principles,” Loconte said. Instead, the United States needs to recognize its leadership role in helping to preserve international peace and security. Americans should be concerned with the suffering of people throughout the world, not just those within her borders. “There is no holiday from history,” Dr. Loconte stated, “because there is no escape from the tragic dimension of the human story, the Fall.” Dr. Loconte concluded his talk by saying, “Moral indifference is not a Christian virtue.”

Next, Dr. David Tubbs explored the history of U.S. foreign policy towards Ukraine and Russia, combining a discussion on whether the war was avoidable with a discussion of responsibility for it. Dr. Tubbs said that while Russia is waging a war of aggression and bears primary responsibility, it does not bear sole responsibility for the conflict. “There are reasons,” Dr. Tubbs said, “to believe that this war could have been avoided.”

Dr. Tubbs introduced NATO’s eastward expansion as a potential cause of the war that merits serious consideration. This issue has contributed to the worsening of relations between Russia and the West over the last thirty years. The central question, though, is whether the United States and other NATO members in the early 1990s pledged to Russia that there would be no eastward expansion of NATO if the Soviet Union agreed to the reunification of Germany? There is substantial evidence, according to Dr. Tubbs, that such a pledge was made. Post-Soviet Russia continues to maintain that former-Communist states were supposed to remain neutral and not join NATO. But the first wave of NATO expansion took place in 1999 under President Bill Clinton, as Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic officially joined the treaty organization.

By allowing these countries to join NATO, some foreign policy experts predicted that these actions would decrease European security, strengthen anti-democratic opposition in Russia, and hurt those in Russia who favored cooperation with the West. Russia, in the eyes of many experts, should be allowed some sort of security buffer similar to what the United States has brought about through the Monroe Doctrine. With NATO expansion, Dr. Tubbs said, “Russia was likely to conclude that the U.S. was trying to isolate and encircle Russia, rather than integrate them into a new European system of collective security.”

When seven other nations were admitted to NATO in 2004, with three of these directly on Russia’s border, tension continued to grow. Then, when George W. Bush then proposed a membership action plan for Ukraine and Georgia, it became clear that Russia was going to try to disrupt that plan. Russia, wanting to keep neighboring Georgia and Ukraine out of NATO, invaded Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014. By invading Crimea in Ukraine, Russia was able to keep Ukraine from joining NATO when it seemed like they were close.

While Ukraine has a right to apply for membership in NATO, merely having that right doesn’t mean that NATO will ever offer membership to Ukraine. Dr. Tubbs wondered whether the United States has been acting in good faith towards Ukraine, or merely courting Ukraine to annoy Russia? Dr. Tubbs also asked whether the United States may be privately acknowledging that Russia is entitled to a security buffer of non-NATO states around it, but yet refuses to admit this in public due to potential embarrassment?

Dr. Tubbs believes that answering this second question in the affirmative is the only way to make sense of the Biden administration’s reluctance to send U.S. troops to Ukraine and reluctance to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine. While Dr. Tubbs sees these actions as wise, he can only make sense of them because he believes that there is some private acknowledgment that Russia is entitled to a security buffer. Dr. Tubbs closed his presentation by expressing his strong desire to see “a Ukraine that is free, prosperous, and at peace with her neighbors. But I am not certain that Ukraine will be pursuing these ends in the future as a member of NATO.”

The last presentation in the panel discussion was given by Dr. Anton Fedyashin, associate professor of history at American University. In his talk, Dr. Fedyashin reflected on what he perceives as a historical transition of monumental importance that is happening in the world today. He believes that we are gradually coming to a close of a 500-year-old era where the West dominated the history of the earth, and are entering into a world where power and influence are being recalibrated. According to Dr. Fedyashin, “We’re living through a tectonic and geopolitical shift” that is challenging the long-held assumption that Western countries set the pace for the world.

In the coming future, Dr. Fedyashin believes that China and India will increasingly dictate the rules of the global economic and political game. The tensions between the historical powers of the world and the coming powers of the world cause all kinds of problems for the countries, like Ukraine, that “get caught on the fault lines of these geopolitical tectonic shifts.”

What does this all mean? It means that America’s unipolar moment that began in the 1990s with the defeat of communism is coming to an end. After the Cold War, the whole world went towards a Western ideal for life, whether economically, militarily, geopolitically, or culturally. But now in this new stage of globalization, the world “is going to witness the gradual recalibration of American power.” Countries like China, India, and Russia are beginning to challenge the power of Western global institutions.

Dr. Fedyashin says that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a manifestation of this political recalibration. Russia is no longer playing by the rules of the West, but rather is seeking to display its own power in front of a watching world. The Russians are “now decoupling themselves from the West in the sense of being obedient partners. They are now taking things into their own hands.”

This desired shift in power has helped to create the war in Ukraine. While Zelensky has made a valiant effort to recruit Western support for a no-fly zone, Dr. Fedyashin doesn’t believe that’s going to happen. Zelensky’s real sales pitch, however, will be “to maintain the world’s attention and support for the reconstruction of Ukraine after this disaster is over.…Otherwise, Europe is going to be facing a region which is poor, unstable, and a source of instability.”

Dr. Fedyashin doesn’t believe that we are facing a new Cold War, solely because in a cold war you need to have two contrasting ideologies in conflict with each other. “What we’re facing now,” he concluded, “Is actually the return of the world to the more traditional great power politics state of affairs.…We are going to be living with these broader global trends that I’ve spoken about for generations into the future.”

After the three different presentations, Dr. Robert Carle moderated the ensuing question and answer time, which included discussions about the future of the global war on terror. The full conversation is available on YouTube.

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