Thinking Citizen Blog — So What About “Realism” in Foreign Policy? What about the Ukraine? Is “Right” and “Wrong” Relevant?

John Muresianu
5 min readJan 21


Thinking Citizen Blog — Saturday is Justice, Freedom, Law, and Values Day

Today’s Topic: So What About “Realism” in Foreign Policy? What about the Ukraine? Is “Right” and “Wrong” Relevant?

John Mearsheimer, a professor at the University of Chicago, argues that the expansion of NATO eastward was a provocation to Russia and the principal and very avoidable cause of the war in the Ukraine. Stephen Walt, Professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School appears to take a similar view. Both merely echo the views of the titan of US foreign policy theory, George Kennan, the champion of “realism.” So are they right? Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.

THE MEARSHEMIER VIEW — IT ALL STARTED IN 2008 — Portrait of Mearsheimer as Machiavelli

1. “I think all the trouble in ths case really started in April, 2008, at the NATO Summit in Bucharest, where afterward NATO issues a statement that said Ukraine en Georgia would become part of NATO. The Russians made it unequivocally clear at the time that they viewed this as an existential threat, and they drew a line in the sand.”

2. “Nevertheless, what happened with the passage of time is that we moved forward to include Ukraine in the West to make Ukraine a Western bulwark on Russia’s border.”

3. “Of course, this includes more than just NATO expansion…but it includes E.U. expansion as well, and it includes turning Ukraine into a pro-American liberal democracy, and, from a Russian perspective, this is an existential threat.”

NB: While I have no sympathy with Mearsheimer’s view of NATO expansion, I do feel that he was absolutely correct when he opposed the Ukraine’s return of its nuclear arsenal to Russia in 1995. It is often forgotten that for three years, the Ukraine was the third largest nuclear power in the world.

THIS IS JUST A REPEAT OF THE IRAQ ERROR OF GEORGE W. BUSH — history is repeating itself, again

1. “When you try to create a world that looks like that (a liberal democracy), you end up with the disastrous policies that the United States pursued during the unipolar moment. We went around the world trying to create liberal democracies. Out main focus, of course, was in the greater Middle East, and you know how well that turned out. Not very well.”

2. “The Bush Doctrine basically said that if we could create a liberal democracy in Iraq, it would have a domino effect, and countries such as Syria, Iran, and eventually Saudi Arabia and Egypt would turn into democracies.”


1. “My argument is that he’s not going to re-create the Soviet Union or try to build a greater Russia, that he’s not interested in conquering and integrating Ukraine into Russia.”

2. “It is very important to understand that we invented this story that Putin is highly aggressive and he’s principally responsible for this crisis in the Ukraine.”

3. “There are people who believe that when he is finished conquering Ukraine, he will turn to the Baltic states. He’s not going to turn to the Baltic states…”

NB: “We should be pivoting out of Europe to deal with China in a laser-like fashion, number one. And, number two, we should be working overtime to create friendly relations with the Russians. The Russians are part of our balancing coalition against China. If you live in a world with three great powers — China, Russia, and the United States — and of those great powers, China, is a peer competitor, what you want to do if you’re the United States is have Russia on your side of the ledger. Instead what we have done with our foolish policies in Eastern Europe is drive the Russians into the arms of the Chinese. This is a violation of Balance of Power Politics 101.”


1. “The most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-Cold War era.” (Kennan). Kennan was the “Dean” of American foreign policy while on the faculty of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton from 1956 until his death at 101 in 2005. He had served briefly as Ambassador to Russia in 1952 and then as Ambassador to Yugoslavia from 1961 to 1963. He is most famous as the author of the “Long Telegram” from Moscow in 1946 that became the basis for Truman’s “containment policy.”

2. “Kennan was not alone in his fears — they were championed and echoed by Senator Edward Kennedy, Senator Sam Nunn, and Thomas Friedman (of the New York Times).” (9th link below)

3. By sharp contrast, Madeline Albright, US Secretary of State from 1997 to 2001 welcomed Poland, Hungary, and Czech Republic into Nato in March 1999 with an “Hallelujah!” Albright was the daughter of Czech refugee who fled to the US after the Communist coup of 1948.

Why John Mearsheimer Blames the U.S. for the Crisis in Ukraine

Stephen Walt — Wikipedia

Stephen M. Walt

Stephen Walt on How 2022 Changed the World

Ignored Warnings: How NATO Expansion Led to the Current Ukraine Tragedy

Kennan Revisited: NATO Expansion into the Former USSR in Retrospect — FOREIGN AFFAIRS REVIEW

George F. Kennan — Wikipedia


“Whenever you are wrong, admit it. Whenever you are right, shut up.” - Ogden Nash

For the last four years of posts organized by theme:

PDF with headlines — Google Drive

Two special attachments below:

#1 A graphic guide to justice (9 metaphors on one page).

#2 “39 Songs, Prayers, and Poems: the Keys to the Hearts of Seven Billion People” — Adams House Senior Common Room Presentation, 11/17/20


Please share the coolest thing you learned in the last week related to justice, freedom, the law or basic values. Or the coolest, most important thing you learned in your life related to justice, freedom, the law, or basic values. Or just some random justice-related fact that blew you away.

This is your chance to make some one’s day. Or to cement in your mind something that you might otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply about something dear to your heart.



John Muresianu

Passionate about education, thinking citizenship, art, and passing bits on of wisdom of a long lifetime.