Over the past year, Western leaders and commentators have increasingly interpreted the war in Ukraine through the lens of imperialism. Their “imperialist interpretation” offers a comprehensive diagnosis and prescription. Attributing Russian aggression to an internal drive, it suggests that Russia must be completely defeated in Ukraine and therefore either contained or decolonized. It also insists that Western governments avoid pressuring Ukraine to make peace. The imperialist interpretation has considerable explanatory power and political appeal, especially when judged against prewar conventional wisdom. Yet it has limitations and risks of its own that have so far gone unexamined. Does the West’s newfound anti-imperialism promise justice for Ukraine and open up creative possibilities for international order, or does it make the war in Ukraine more intractable and escalatory and provide a selective warrant for a new cold war?
Global Legal Challenges