Why one political scientist says the U.S. should focus on China instead of Russia's war in Ukraine
John Mearsheimer, professor of political science at the University of Chicago, believes the priority of the U.S. in Ukraine should be de-escalation, and that it should shift its focus to China, which he calls the bigger threat.
Political scientist John Mearsheimer holds a belief that isn't all that common in the U.S.: that the West holds significant blame for the war in Ukraine.
A distinguished professor of political science at the University of Chicago, Mearsheimer belongs to the "realist" school of thought, which posits that the world's most powerful countries jockey for power and react accordingly when that power is threatened.
"Realists like me believe that this conflict is all about power. It's all about the balance of power," said Mearsheimer. "And when you take a military alliance like NATO that was a military foe of the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and you march it up to Russia's border, Russia is going to react, and the end result is you're going to get a conflict — and that's what's happened."
The U.S. and much of Europe view this war as one between democracy and autocracy. But Mearsheimer ultimately views China as the much larger threat on that front, believing that the U.S. should shift its focus from Ukraine to put all of its energy into preventing China from becoming the world's leading power.
"I think Russia is the weakest of the three great powers, and is not a serious threat to conquer Europe — it's not even a serious threat to conquer all of Ukraine — I don't worry much about the Russians," he says. "I do worry about the Chinese, but the United States worries about both of those countries."
Where Mearsheimer does worry about Russia is in the possibility of nuclear war. He thinks there is a "non-trivial" chance that nuclear war could occur if the two sides don't make attempts to de-escalate.
"If the Russians were to lose in Ukraine, if Western assistance put the Ukrainians in a position where the Ukrainians could actually defeat the Russians on the battlefield, I believe the Russians would turn to nuclear weapons," he says.
Ukraine does not possess nuclear weapons to retaliate, so Mearsheimer guesses that Russia would likely target Ukraine itself, not a member of NATO.
In the meantime, he believes that the best foreign policy decision for the U.S. is to de-escalate the situation before it gets to that point.
"I actually believe the Russians now have the momentum in this war. And if we're not careful, the Russians are going to end up conquering even more territory," Mearsheimer says. "So, I'd be in favor of working out a negotiated settlement as soon as possible for the benefit of the Ukrainians and for the West."
- John Mearsheimer, PhD, professor of political science at the University of Chicago
The New Cold War: The United States versus China & Russia, 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 23 at the Pierson Auditorium, UMKC Atterbury Student Success Center, 5000 Holmes St., Kansas City, Missouri 64110.