Dr. Michael Horowitz Deals With "Crisis in Ukraine" At World Affairs Council

Gabrielle Lantieri, for GPA -- On June 4, Dr. Michael Horowitz, associate professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, spoke about the conflict in Ukraine at the World Affairs Council (WAC). He began his discussion by outlining the historical context of the conflict, citing the surrender of nuclear arms after the Budapest Memorandum and the transformation of Ukraine into a neutral figure as an important factor when looking at the current situation.

Dr. Horowitz continued his lecture by outlining the United States’ response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He highlighted President Barack Obama’s “deep concern” for Russian aggression and the promise of retribution if it continued. That is when Dr. Horowitz turned his attention to the audience. “What exactly does this mean and what would these costs be?” he asked. “Could the U.S. response to further aggression result in war?”

Dr. Horowitz then polled the audience: “Who thinks we should get into a war with Russia?” and few raised their hands in support. Often, the conversation in Washington is very different than the popular opinion, Dr. Horowitz explained. Other foreign affairs issues often create a more complex situation than the general public understands and consultants such as Dr. Horowitz know that the answer to these problems is rarely as simple as it seems.

In the weeks following the Russian invasion of the Crimean Peninsula, conservative politicians were outspoken that Obama’s response was not strong enough. They felt that the United States was not doing enough to support the Ukrainian pursuit of democracy. The liberal camp, in what they considered a more realistic approach, noted that the United States had done too much and that issues such as these are not American problems. The government’s involvement in the Russia and Ukraine conflict is not worth the time and money, they said.

For his part, Dr. Horowitz feels that there needs to be a compromise between these two responses and Obama’s decision to impose sanctions and create a global coalition was a step in that direction. U.S. foreign policy initiatives seek to “put Putin in a box” and address the issue without war, referring to Russian president Vladimir Putin.

The conversation then shifted to consider the possibility of Russia invading a NATO member country. If that were to happen, political scientists agree that the U.S. would be obligated to become involved. The implications of this hypothetical situation have already taken form, with billions of dollars flooding into the countries bordering Russia, going towards military support.

Dr. Horowitz feels the best approach would be to make foreign policy decisions based on “what kind of leader Putin is” and how we have seen him operate thus far. He sees Putin as someone seeking to create a reassuring presence. After the fall of the U.S.S.R., Dr. Horowitz imagines that Putin is “happy to be at the negotiating table and seen as an equal” in terms of international issues.

With additional Russian aggression taking place in both eastern and western Ukraine, the U.S. is doing what it can to reassure allies. What it should be doing, Dr. Horowitz argues, is working to prevent the invasion of a NATO member.

But Dr. Horowitz recognized this is easier said than done. There are many other foreign policy issues that are affected by U.S. involvement in Ukraine. Almost like a game of chess, every decision the U.S. makes has an effect somewhere else. In this case, that could be its international relations with China. If the United States does not take strong action, it provides space for other military expansions.

During Dr. Horowitz’s talk, there was a lot of active participation from the audience. Many audience members asking pointed questions and offered their own personal experiences with traveling in Ukraine and Russia during the Sochi Olympics.

One question in particular stood out from the rest, offered by a student from the WAC’s global education program: “What can political science do to solve this issue?” she asked. “Well that is a very good question,” Dr. Horowitz responded.

It seems that when it comes to international disputes such as this, the simplest questions can be the most difficult to answer.

The World Affairs Council of Philadelphia is an educational organization dedicated to informing and engaging people of all ages on matters of national and international significance as well as enhancing the education of area students who are the citizens, workforce and leaders of the future. For more information, visit its website

Photo courtesy of the World Affairs Council.