[Opinion] : What’s the alternative to counterproductive?

Daniel Serwer - Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies


By Daniel Serwer,  @DanielSerwer ,    

Washington, 16 January 2024, / – Last week, I claimed that Russia, Israel, the EU and US are all pursuing counterproductive policies, respectively in Ukraine, Gaza, and the Balkans. But reasonable people will ask: what’s the alternative? So here I offer some answers.

Russia needs to lose

In Ukraine, it is clear Russia cannot gain more territory with its current force configuation. Putin’s best bet is a negotiation that would leave his forces in place. That would give them time to re-group, re-arm, and reinforce. Rumors circulated at the end of last year that he was looking for such a pause. In the meanwhile, he will use his political allies in Europe and the US to continue to block the respective $55 billion and $50 billion aid packages. That could weaken Ukrainian will and cause Kyiv to cave.

The best bet for the US and EU is to approve those aid packages as quickly as possible. They should also lift any qualitative restrictions on arms exports to Ukraine. The sooner Kyiv gets what it needs to retake all of its territory, including Crimea, the quicker this war will end. There is no evidence that Russia can or will escalate in response. To the contrary, its economy is weakening and Russians are wanting an end to the war.

Israel needs to hold Netanyahu accountable

Israeli policy on Gaza has been misconceived. Before October 7, Prime Minister Netanyahu relied on and helped finance Hamas to govern the Palestinians there. That also ensured they could not unite political with those in the West Bank. Now he is relying on continuation of the war to postpone any political reckoning inside Israel. He after all is responsible for the Israel Defense Forces’ lack of preparedness and slowness in response to the October 24 terrorist assault. No one expects him to survive in the prime ministry once the war subsides.

Destroying Hamas’ capability of carrying out another attack does not depend on leveling Gaza or killing tens of thousands of civilians. It will require a concerted effort to hunt the perpetrators. I’d prefer Israel bring them to trial, but the Israelis are more likely just to kill them. That would certainly not constitute anything like mass murder, crimes against humanity, or genocide. A good part of the Arab world would breathe a sigh of relief. The rest of the world might even applaud.

The US and EU need to focus their efforts in the right place

In the Balkans, the US and EU are ignoring what is important and focusing on trivia. They have failed to react effectively to Belgrade’s sponsorship of the September 24 terrorist attack inside northern Kosovo.

Washington and Brussels have also failed to respond to Belgrade’s free but unfair and fraudulent elections on December 17. They have allowed, once again, celebration of an illegal, genocide-promoting holiday in Republika Srpska, the Serb-controlled 49% of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The alternative is to focus on what counts and do it together. Their conclusions about the September 24 attack should be published and “consequences” levied on Belgrade until it turns over the perpetrators to Kosovo for trial. Brussels and Washington should demand a re-run of the fraudulent Belgrade election.

Allowing President Vucic impunity is not going to get him to embrace the West. His policy is hedging. Pulling him closer to the West requires that he feel the heat of Western displeasure with his outrageously anti-democratic behavior.

None of these alternatives is beyond the realm of real possibility. But they will require leadership from the Biden administration that has been lacking. Secretary of State Blinken has been rightly preoccupied with avoiding the slippery slope to a wider war in the Middle East.

President Biden himself needs to lead the effort to reverse counterproductive policies. Only he can win Congressional approval for the Ukraine aid, end Israel’s massive assault in Gaza, and block Serbia from its anti-democratic course.


Daniel Serwer is a Professor of the Practice of Conflict Management as well as director of the Conflict Management and American Foreign Policy Programs at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.         

This opinion was first published at website.                     

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of .   

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