America, Russia, and the Golden Rule in Foreign Policy
“The great law of morality ought to have a national as well as a personal and individual application. We should act toward other nations as we wish them to act toward us….”
- Millard Fillmore, 1850 State of the Union Address
“Biden Weighs Deploying Thousands of Troops to Eastern Europe and Baltics” is the New York Times headline that just flashed across my phone.
In the story’s first paragraph we read,
President Biden is considering deploying several thousand U.S. troops, as well as warships and aircraft, to NATO allies in the Baltics and Eastern Europe, an expansion of American military involvement amid mounting fears of a Russian incursion into Ukraine, according to administration officials.
The situation in Ukraine, long-simmering in the background, appears to be coming to a head. There are a number of issues contributing to the growing tensions between Russia and NATO, the most important of which is the possible inclusion of Ukraine in the NATO alliance. Russia has made it clear that NATO expansion into Ukraine is unacceptable. In the words of Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergey Ryabkov, “It is absolutely mandatory to make sure that Ukraine never ever becomes a member of NATO.” American Secretary of State Antony Blinken and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg have countered by stating that Russia has no say in the matter of who is allowed into NATO.
What are Christians to make of this? Is Russia right to object to Ukraine joining NATO, or are the Americans right to seek to incorporate Ukraine in the NATO alliance? Are both sides wrong? Scripturalists, those who believe that the Bible has a systematic monopoly on truth, including truth on foreign policy, seek to answer these questions by appealing to the Word of God, the 66 books of the Bible. What do they say?
At the top of this post is a quote from President Millard Fillmore’s 1850 State of the Union Address. Now it is fashionable today to bash Millard Fillmore. Historians consider him to have been an ineffective president. For example, a 2012 article in Foreign Policy Magazine, “Ron Paul invokes the…Millard Fillmore doctrine?”, called Fillmore “the undistinguished, uninspiring 13th president of the United States.” That same article also included a joke mocking Fillmore by New York Times columnist Gail Collins. Commenting about an upcoming 2012 Republican presidential debate, she wrote, “When five of your six candidates could not be elected president if they were running against Millard Fillmore, I think you can presume there will not be much serious issue discussion.”
Such is the typical view of Millard Fillmore.
The author of the “Foreign Policy” article, Uri Friedman, clearly does not like either Millard Fillmore or Ron Paul and seeks in his article to disparage the latter by quoting the former. To Friedman’s credit, he quotes a paragraph-length portion of Fillmore’s 1850 State of the Union Address. In so doing, Friedman seeks to discredit Fillmore. But oddly enough, by quoting Fillmore Friedman actually shows the former president in a good light.
Here is the full quote as it appears in Friedman’s article,
Among the acknowledged rights of nations is that which each possesses of establishing that form of government which it may deem most conducive to the happiness and prosperity of its own citizens, of changing that form as circumstances may require, and of managing its internal affairs according to its own will. The people of the United States claim this right for themselves, and they readily concede it to others. Hence it becomes an imperative duty not to interfere in the government or internal policy of other nations; and although we may sympathize with the unfortunate or the oppressed everywhere in their struggles for freedom, our principles forbid us from taking any part in such foreign contests. We make no wars to promote or to prevent successions to thrones, to maintain any theory of a balance of power, or to suppress the actual government which any country chooses to establish for itself. We instigate no revolutions, nor suffer any hostile military expeditions to be fitted out in the United States to invade the territory or provinces of a friendly nation. The great law of morality ought to have a national as well as a personal and individual application. We should act toward other nations as we wish them to act toward us, and justice and conscience should form the rule of conduct between governments, instead of mere power, self interest, or the desire of aggrandizement. To maintain a strict neutrality in foreign wars, to cultivate friendly relations, to reciprocate every noble and generous act, and to perform punctually and scrupulously every treaty obligation — these are the duties which we owe to other states, and by the performance of which we best entitle ourselves to like treatment from them; or, if that, in any case, be refused, we can enforce our own rights with justice and a clear conscience (bold added by Friedman).
Now after mocking Fillmore and calling him, “the undistinguished, uninspiring 13th president of the United States,” one would reasonably expect Friedman to demonstrate why Fillmore is wrong for applying the Golden Rule, or the great law of morality as Fillmore called it, to foreign policy. I would like to hear what Mr. Friedman’s objections are to a foreign policy that treats other nations the way we would like to be treated.
Oddly, there is no argument at all from him.
Friedman quotes the University of Virginia’s Miller Center saying that, while president, Fillmore adopted a “foreign policy agenda that emphasized expanding trade while limiting American commitments outside the Western Hemisphere.” In other words, Fillmore’s foreign policy practice matched his words.
The only other “argument” against the Golden Rule in foreign policy invoked by Friedman was a video of Ron Paul getting booed in the South Carolina Republican Presidential Debate when he explicitly called for using the Golden Rule in foreign policy. According to Paul, America needs to treat other nations the way Americans would like to be treated by them.
Friedman has no answer to Paul’s usage of the Golden Rule in foreign policy. The best he can do is end his article with a bit of snark, saying that Paul might have pacified the crowd if he told them he was “echoing Millard Fillmore.”
What, then, has all this to do with the current tensions between the U.S. and Russia over Ukraine?
Quite a lot, I think.
In late 2013, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich – the duly elected leader of Ukraine – announced that the nation would seek closer ties to Russia as opposed to striking a deal to join the European Union (EU). Just a few months later in February 2014, the Yanukovich government was overthrown in the Maidan Revolution which installed a pro-Western government. Many people, and with good evidence in the opinion of this author, believe that the Maidan Revolution was fomented by the CIA. The idea behind the CIA's overthrow of Yanukovich seems to be that of prying Ukraine away from Russia and bringing it back into the West’s sphere of influence. Note how far this is from Fillmore’s statement above that the U.S. “instigate[s] no revolutions.” What was true in 1850 no longer is the case.
In 2016, the US completed the installation of an $800 million dollar missile shield in Romania, a nation that borders Ukraine to the southwest. Russia perceived this as a threat, with one official saying, “It is part of the military and political containment of Russia.” U.S. officials responded that the missile shield was to protect Europe from Iranian missile attacks.
The U.S. currently is building a similar installation in Poland, which borders Ukraine on the west.
Now let us stop and do a thought experiment. What if the roles were reversed? What if Russia's policy toward America was the same as America’s has been toward Russia?
What if Russia had overthrown the duly elected government of Mexico and installed a puppet regime friendly to Russia?
What if Russia were to put missile installations in nations near the U.S. border?
What if Russian naval ships regularly cruised the Gulf of Mexico?
What if Russia were providing military aid to America’s neighbors?
If all these things were true, Americans likely would be a bit annoyed at what was happening. And, I would add, they would have good reason to be concerned and perceive these actions as a threat to American security.
This is exactly what the Russians have said concerning America’s actions listed above in Eastern Europe.
If Americans would not like the Russian fleet sailing in the Gulf of Mexico, American naval ships should not be in the Black Sea.
In this space, I’ve written frequently about the Protestant Westphalian World Order, which was established by the Peace of Westphalia at the end of the Thirty Years’ War. One definition of the Westphalian system is,
A global system based on the principle of international law that each state has sovereignty over its territory and domestic affairs, to the exclusion of all external powers, on the principle of non-interference in another country’s domestic affairs, and that each state (no matter how large or small) is equal in international law. The doctrine is named after the Peace of Westphalia, signed in 1648, which ended the Thirty Years’ War.
Such a system certainly implies that nations have an obligation to treat one another as they would like to be treated. As the definition points out, “each state (no matter how large or small) is equal in international law.” This means, among other things, that one nation-state does not have the right to bully, threaten, foment revolution within, or invade without cause, another nation-state.
On the contrary, it requires that each nation-state recognize the legitimate interests of other nation-states and not seek to encroach on those interests.
In the opinion of this author, the U.S. has overstepped its bounds in Ukraine, with respect to Russia and needs to reverse course and dial down the tensions that are of its own making. But the foreign policy apparatus in America seems to be incapable of doing this. There are several reasons for this inability, among them are,
- The need of the military/security complex to have an enemy dangerous to justify the $1 trillion annual Pentagon budget
- The need of a badly reeling Biden regime to find a way to rally people to its cause
From just a practical standpoint, it’s fascinating to watch the Biden regime obsess over what is essentially a border between Russia and Ukraine while at the same time deliberately and treasonously ignoring a border crisis of its own making on America’s southern border with Mexico.
Perhaps it’s time Biden considered employing another Christian concept along with the Golden Rule to aid his failing presidency: mind your own business. It would be good for the Russians, good for the Ukrainians, and good for the American people who are tired of a government that moves heaven and earth to solve problems on the other side of the world that are none of its business while ignoring very real issues that are.