As Russian forces cross the border into Ukraine and begin a military assault, Professor Mark Harrison of the Department of Economics comments on the factors that have led to this situation, and the effectiveness of economic sanctions.
Professor Harrison said: "Russia’s invasion of Ukraine shows that Western deterrence has failed. Also, Russian deterrence is working: we daren't help Ukraine militarily because of the fear of what Russia would do next. So the situation now resembles a Cold War nuclear standoff: When the Soviet Union suppressed uprisings in East Germany or Hungary, fear of nuclear war forced the West to accept that this was Russia's backyard. This situation is exactly what Putin wanted when he called recently for a new Yalta agreement – one that would assign the Russian backyard to Russian control."
"Was the failure of Western deterrence avoidable? Possibly, although not easily. NATO countries, and Britain in particular, have made at least two unforced errors.
"First, we have placed far too much reliance on economic sanctions for crisis management. Of all weapons, economic measures are slowest to work (and, incidentally, have the highest ratio of collateral damage to intended damage). So the adversary that is economically weak but militarily strong will *always* be tempted to escalate military violence in response. Besides, in the short term, Russia is not weak in fiscal capacity. I heard a government minister claim on the radio this morning that we are going to strike at Russia's capacity to fund the war, he emphasized the damage being done by the overnight fall in Russian equities. Unfortunately this is nonsense. If anything, the climb in oil and gas prices is making Russia stronger, not weaker.
"Second, for the same reasons, economic measures are not a way to avoid conflict. They go *with* (not instead of) military defence and deterrence. If we engage in economic war with Russia and we don’t have strong military defences, Russia will respond with more war. Britain and other Western European state have underinvested in defence for many years. It is not a good time to say so, given Britain’s needs to fund health care, the courts, and the levelling up agenda. At the same time, we also need to look to our defences."
24 February 2022