All of us have been doing it this year: talking about the war in Ukraine.
Europe was the center of two global wars and now has its biggest war since World War II. A war that has disrupted global trade and caused spikes in fuel and food costs around the world. A war that has seen horrific atrocities. A war that has created 10 million refugees. A major modern war where the United States does not have direct military involvement.
It is well known that non-aggression is a core principle of libertarianism and that we are decidedly anti-war. Unfortunately we are often presented with a false dichotomy of how this works in practice: supposedly we must either take the position of the duopoly on wars of aggression, imperialism and the military industrial complex, or that we must seek to be a completely non-interventionist country waiting for foreign oppressors to murder our families before we can respond.
However, these are not our only options when dealing with foreign aggression, and we need to be able to present pro-liberty options, of which there are many. If we decide that the United States should support Ukraine against their Russian aggressor, there is still the question of what American support for Ukraine should look like from the point of view of a libertarian defense of non-aggression.
Within libertarian principles, any intervention must be consistent with the principles of non-aggression and consent. The American draft, aggression against innocent third parties, and wealth confiscation of Americans violate these principles.
Violations are happening right now, and to be effective in pushing back, we need to offer alternatives that are neither doing nothing nor all-out war. We have three options as a nation that we can use: embargoes and sanctions, letters of marque and reprisal, and material aid.
Nobody has a right to trade in stolen property or profit via aggression
It is immoral to trade with bandits, thieves, or those responsible for slave labor. As such, libertarians can advocate for embargoes or sanctions against these activities and demand restitution for the victims (in this case Ukraine and its trading partners).
When a state like the Russian Federation deliberately obscures its theft by mixing morally created products and services with stolen products and services then we are right to sanction or embargo all of the comingled goods and services.
Furthermore, it is immoral to sell something knowing that it will be used to commit acts of aggression. You are free to give someone your firearm because it is your property, but you become an accessory to murder if you know they intend to use it to commit murder.
However, it is wrong under American principles to single out individuals who have done nothing wrong. Russian “oligarchs” deserve a day in American courts to show they have not been profiteering off of theft and murder; they deserve a right to due process the same as everyone else.
Now, the long practiced pro-Russian counter argument is whataboutism. For instance, what about the United States selling arms to authoritarian regimes in the Middle East that murder civilians? What about selling guns to the ATF that they illegally give to cartels? Yes, we need to oppose all of those things too, and we need to be consistent about it. Embargoing all such regimes and the ATF makes that libertarian argument stronger instead of weak and hypocritical.
Marque and Reprisal is a valid military strategy
Marque and Reprisal is a license to outsource military action to a third party without direct involvement. It is covered in the U.S. Constitution Article 1, Section 8, clause 11 as:
[The Congress shall have Power . . . ] To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water; . . .
It is often derided as being legalized piracy, but it is actually the opposite. Marque and Reprisal was passed by Congress and signed by President Thomas Jefferson during the Barbary Wars to fight the Barbary pirates.
Those who kill and steal should not be protected by national laws from stealing and killing. As an alternative to occupying Iraq and Syria to fight ISIS, we could have passed letters of marque and reprisal making it legal for Americans to voluntarily fight ISIS without legal repercussions back home.
While this has limited usefulness against Russia, we should never forget that this is a tool we have to not start wars while also not ignoring aggression. Congress can declare open hunting season on the enemies of peace.
It is not wrong to give material aid for defensive purposes
Finally, offering material aid for the purpose of defense is justified, while weapons sales for aggression are not. Just as it would not be morally wrong for your uncle to give a firearm to a friend of yours who had their house repeatedly burglarized. However, that doesn’t make it okay for Uncle Sam to steal the money for that firearm from your wallet.
The problem of giving material aid to Ukraine isn’t the aid, it’s how it is funded on the backs of struggling Americans. According to the 61st NDAA bicameral agreement, the United States will spend 777.7 billion dollars on the national defense budget for the fiscal year 2022. This money isn’t just used to defend the United States from threats like Russia and China, we also use it to defend Europe and invade foreign nations for nation building exercises.
We need to stop, and Russia’s war in Ukraine provides us with an exit opportunity. Instead of increasing the budget to replace what we are giving Ukraine, we should draw down the military permanently. We should plan on giving Ukraine enough aid to reduce the future Russian military threat to both Ukraine and the United States.
If we were to reduce the 2023 NDAA to $500 billion, we could afford a one time donation this year of $250 billion to Ukraine and still substantially reduce the ongoing federal deficit. We need to remain focused on the fact that Biden’s error from a pro-liberty perspective isn’t helping a defender against a military aggressor. Biden’s error is financing it with more inflation and debt.
We must stand up for the non-aggression principle. Whenever we are faced with the false dichotomy of war or pacifism, we must demand that we follow American principles and consider alternatives.
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