benami197_ SAMEER AL-DOUMYAFP via Getty Images_ukraine soldiers SAMEER AL-DOUMY/AFP via Getty Images

Peace by Exhaustion in Ukraine

If Ukrainian leaders refuse to negotiate with Russia until after Ukraine crosses the threshold of war exhaustion, the outcome will be far worse than if they attempt to negotiate while they still have chips to bargain. Peace by exhaustion is better than no peace at all.

TEL AVIV – While wars invariably end, the underlying disagreements often remain. The peace is tenuous and interrupted by spasms of violence. The way a war ends – whether through outright victory, exhaustion, or mutual deterrence – might make a difference, with exhaustion less likely to prevent future flare-ups than, say, the wholesale defeat of one party. But this is not guaranteed. It certainly does not mean that some types of peace are not worth pursuing.

There is no shortage of examples of once-warring parties – North and South Korea, Ethiopia and Eritrea, and Serbia and Kosovo come to mind – now balanced in a fragile peace. Japan and Russia have yet to conclude a formal end to World War II hostilities, owing to their enduring dispute over the Kuril Islands. And despite signing a truce in 1994, Armenia and Azerbaijan have not reached a permanent peace agreement on Nagorno-Karabakh; fresh clashes occurred as recently as last year.

While enduring tension and intermittent violence is obviously not an ideal outcome, the brutal, bloody, often prolonged wars that preceded these periods of fragile peace were worse. In fact, those who resist imperfect peace – remaining committed instead to a “just peace” achieved, presumably, through the outright defeat of their opponents – often end up worse off. This has been true for the Palestinians. And Ukraine seems set to meet the same fate.