Fukuyama’s remarks on Russia’s war in Ukraine are doomed to fail

In the study of International Relations, Francis Fukuyama is a “big name” due to his best-seller book, The End of History and the Last Man. It was published in 1992 during the sea-change in the world order and he argued that the demise of communism had ushered in the definitive triumph of Western liberalism and democracy. Accordingly, the world had reached the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution.

There is no question that Fukuyama is right ideologically since there is no longer one single strong competitor to liberal capitalism as an overarching ideology. Yet geopolitically, the end of history argued by Fukuyama is a fragile and misread expression. As Joseph Nye said that the post-Cold War world could be better described as the return of history because Fukuyama’s vision suffered from trying to fit the post-Cold War world order into one universal pattern. As early as 1981, Robert Gilpin had rejected the similar argument when he observed that human species had remained deeply divided by race, religions, wealth and particularly divergent security concerns.

Admittedly, Fukuyama’s analysis, though controversial, is seen as a piece of scholarly writing. Since then, he has been apparently obsessed with his credibility of foretelling the future. This illusion has driven him to make outrageous prognostications on the global issues and particularly the prospect of Russia’s military operation in Ukraine nowadays. On March 10, Fukuyama made the comments on the ongoing war in Ukraine and the dire consequences of Russian invasion of a sovereign neighboring country in Europe since the World War II.

First, Fukuyama claimed that Russia was heading for an outright defeat in Ukraine. Although he himself has no military expertise, Fukuyama pretentiously listed the reasons that Russian military operation was doomed to fail due to Moscow’s flawed military planning, Putin’s political ambition, poor logistic management and lack of strategic reserves of forces. Accordingly, Fukuyama foretold that the collapse of Russia could be sudden and catastrophic, rather than happening slowly through a war of attrition. He even held that there was no diplomatic solution to the war since no conceivable compromise would be acceptable to both Russia and Ukraine given the losses they had taken over the past weeks.

Fukuyama’s remarks have led to a wide debate in the countries concerned. People wonder if he is a sane political scientist in analysis of international crisis or a sorcerer’s thinking on the human behaviors. Frankly speaking, there have been numerous decent scholars and military officers who have spoken out their insightful views on the origins of the ongoing war and Russian soldiers in actions. For instance, Harvard scholar Stephen Walt wrote in January that the United States and its NATO allies had contemplated how they would make Russia pay dearly should it press forward with an invasion. This implies that had the U.S. and its NATO allies not succumbed to hubris, wishful thinking and relied instead on realism’s core insights, the present crisis would not have occurred. Yet, now the world is paying a high price for relying on a flawed theory of liberal world order.

In terms of Russian operation in Ukraine, it is necessary to listen to the well-trained experts and professional soldiers’ opinions rather than any kind of liberal scholars. As retired U.S. veteran William Doug said, from military point of view, Russian soldiers have performed professionally with clear and well-designed goals in Ukraine. It is clear that President Putin has no design to take Ukraine under control. This analysis was further verified by Russian scholar of MGIMO as he put it that first, it is sensible to note that inherited from the former Soviet Union, the Ukrainian army remains one of the biggest in Europe with sophisticated weapon system and significant training. This force has been further strengthened by receiving more advanced training, weapon, advisory support and high-valuable intelligence from the U.S-led NATO over the past months or years. Accordingly, Russia meets a very capable rival.

Similarly, due to the scenario that the Ukrainian force has committed to holding a bunch of strongholds within cities of sizable population, Russia has to make all efforts to evacuate civilians through the humanitarian corridors while moving firmly and cautiously to minimize the civilian casualties. This is the core part of what Fukuyama has simply ignored or misperceived. According to Gen. Sahashi Asthana, who is a professional soldier and international security analyst from India, the Russian military aim was set to demilitarise Ukrainian military to ensure Ukraine not to be used as a launch-pad by NATO to threaten security of Russia. So far, Russia has mostly achieved this strategic goal by extensive air and missile strikes to neutralise air defence capability and air assets including air fields, training centre and weaponry depot in Ukraine.

Fukuyama also revealed that the United Nations Security Council has proven once again to be useless. However, he seemed to forget the consistent peace talks between Russia and Ukraine, and also numerous summit talks among the major powers concerned including the steady effort as the mediators of Turkey and Israel. In addition, China stands ready to offer an honest broker between the two Slavic nations as both sides have high reputation among Chinese elites and ordinary people. On March 2, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said to his Chinese counterpart that China has played a constructive role on this issue and he looked forward to China’s mediation efforts for the ceasefire. Given all these, it is clear that Fukuyama has acted like a street foreteller rather than a decent scholar on the serious issues of peace, war and diplomacy.

For sure, Fukuyama is American with full right which was granted by law. Yet, when he speaks in public as a scholar, he has equal responsibility to present a balanced analysis of international crisis rather than wielding his wishful persuasion. Actually, he needs to read more and think more prior to talking more. It is very hypocritical for Fukuyama to say that “it is much better to have the Ukrainians defeat the Russians on their own, depriving Moscow of the excuse that NATO attacked them, as well as avoiding all the obvious escalatory possibilities.” Once again, he acted to foretell the future that Ukrainian forces are already being vectored by NATO intelligence operating from outside Ukraine and are moving to destroy the Russian invaders inside the country.

In sum, it is good for Fukuyama to follow his personal faith and political preference. Yet, as scholarship requires the balanced, sound and relatively fair argument, it is equally good for him and actually for anyone who study foreign affairs to read the classics by Hans Morgenthau, George Kennan, Henry Kissinger, Stephen Walt and many others. Since geography is one of the most stable elements of national power and history is the permanent memory of nation-states, it is imperative for Fukuyama to explore the issue between Ukraine and Russia from the perspectives of geopolitics and the doctrine of security indivisibility. After all, realpolitik is a reality rather than wishful thinking.

Paul Wang
Paul Wang
Wang Li is Professor of International Relations and Diplomacy at the School of International and Public Affairs, Jilin University China.