benami199_BULENT KILICAFP via Getty Images_ukraine BULENT KILIC/AFP via Getty Images

Peace Requires Betrayal

Over the past year, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has become an unlikely war hero. But now he faces an excruciating dilemma, because ending the war will most likely require an imperfect and almost certainly unpopular negotiated settlement with Russia.

TEL AVIV – In 1795, German philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote that perpetual peace could come either through diplomacy or a “war of extermination” that annihilates all parties and leaves only the “vast burial ground of the human race.” Historically, humanity has tended to favor the latter, at least until the ravages of war forced warring states to come to an accommodation. And even then, bold leadership was needed to end the bloodshed.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s courage as a wartime leader is undeniable. But Zelensky is also a hostage of his political environment. Against a ruthless invading army, his political (and perhaps physical) survival depends on his steadfast commitment to total Russian defeat.

When it comes to the transition from war to peace, public opinion is often more bellicose than political leaders are. Whereas patriotic wars like Ukraine’s tend to unite countries, seeking an imperfect peace during wartime is inherently divisive and often viewed as an act of betrayal.

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