On July 14, the Ukrainian government published a bizarre list of academics, politicians, policymakers, and contrarian journalists, who are allegedly propagandists for Russia. The list includes sitting U.S. senators such as Rand Paul, R-Ky., former politicians such as Tulsi Gabbard, and military theorists such as Martin van Creveld and Edward Luttwak, as well as perhaps the foremost living international relations theorist of our times, John Mearsheimer.
A report in Unherd cites a report from the Ukrainian Center for Countering Disinformation explaining that “the exact criteria for inclusion are also unclear, although next to each name the report lists the ‘pro-Russian’ opinions the individual promotes. For example, Edward Luttwak’s breach was to suggest that ‘referendums should be held in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions;’ Mearsheimer’s breach is recorded as him saying that ‘NATO has been in Ukraine since 2014’ and that ‘NATO provoked Putin.’”
If that sounds familiar, one might wish to recall documents unearthed by Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., about similarly oriented programs planned by the Biden administration. They sound extremely similar. As the Unherd story adds, “The ‘Center for Countering Disinformation,’ established in 2021 under Volodymyr Zelenskyy and headed by former lawyer Polina Lysenko, sits within the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine. Its stated aim is to detect and counter ‘propaganda’ and ‘destructive disinformation’ and to prevent the ‘manipulation of public opinion.’”
Given that the Ukrainian government is being subsidized with billions of American dollars, this censorship amounts to American taxpayers paying the Ukrainian government billions of dollars to blacklist American citizens for thought crimes.
John Mearsheimer is one of the kindest mentors young scholars might ever have. Not to mention, he is a towering intellect and a pioneer of the school of international relations theory, known as Offensive Realism. Simply put, this theory argues that the world order is anarchic with no global policeman and that states should be nationalist and take care of their own, instead of pursuing utopian financial and military adventures abroad.
Mearsheimer also understood, before everyone else, why the rise of China is the greatest hegemonic threat that the U.S. faces in history, long before the concept of the Thucydides Trap was coined, and long before the economic coercions, unprecedented naval build-up, intellectual property thefts, and espionage attempts started. He also understood before all contemporary intellectuals, why wasting blood and treasure in the Middle East will dissuade the U.S. from balancing China.
But notably, what likely landed Mearsheimer on Ukraine’s blacklist, was how he understood why pushing NATO expansion would lead to war, why there would be no NATO cavalry to save Ukraine as nuclear deterrence works both ways, what structural forces led to American foreign policy turning increasingly crusading in the last couple of decades, and why America is prone to be influenced by foreign lobbying.
If not anything else, purely from a sense of propriety or respect for academic eminence, the attempted thought policing by Ukrainian officials should be considered internal interference and should infuriate any decent man.
As Dan Caldwell, the VP of Stand Together, tweeted, “Let’s be clear: this is an attempt by an increasingly illiberal Ukrainian government to silence, intimidate, and smear several prominent American foreign policy scholars whose views are increasingly shared by the American people and policymakers. @StateDept should condemn.”
Caldwell added, “Yes there are some goofballs on this list. But that is the point. The Ukrainian government wanted to lump Mearsheimer, Bandow, Luttawak et al in with the loony toons to make it harder to defend the ones who are actually well-respected and credentialed.”
Caldwell is, of course, succinct and correct, except the Ukrainian government, the country’s assorted lobbying network, and the relentless war propaganda blinded us to the fact that, culturally and tactically, there is no difference between the two warring sides.
Ukraine is rife with true-blue fascists who were all called fascists by the same people who now bizarrely write different history: that high-profile supporters of Ukraine repeatedly sought collective punishment on Russians, and that Ukraine repeatedly interfered in previous U.S. elections; that Ukraine cannot survive without American money and that nothing is worse than the toxic combination of victimhood, chain-ganging, and sanctimony; and that the current Ukraine government, despite the relentless one-sided propaganda and despite individual heroism of average Ukrainians, is a perfect mix of it.
Ultimately how Ukraine deals with dissenters within Ukraine at a time of war is no one else’s business. States turn illiberal during war; it is an iron law of history. What matters, however, is this global state-sponsored crusade on “disinformation,” that seeks to delegitimize any alternative viewpoint using any smear necessary.
The same people who are the most vocal about the threat to democracy are the same ones currently arguing that “systemic racism” is a major threat to U.S. national security. And these are the very same forces that argue that anyone who wants to remain neutral in a war on the furthest periphery is a “Putinist.” It is past time to see the connection between these worldviews and perceive the totalitarian threat emerging from this new ideological edifice.
Dr. Sumantra Maitra is a national-security fellow at The Center for the National Interest; a non-resident fellow at the James G Martin Center; and an elected early career historian member at the Royal Historical Society. He is a senior contributor to The Federalist, and can be reached on Twitter @MrMaitra.