William Ruger on Russia's Invasion of Ukraine

Instituting a "no-fly" zone would be the U.S. "essentially going to war with Russia."


William Ruger, who holds a Ph.D. in politics specializing in foreign policy, is the newly appointed president of the American Institute for Economic Research. A veteran of the war in Afghanistan, he was a prominent voice in calling for U.S. withdrawal from that country. He was picked by former President Donald Trump to be ambassador to Afghanistan, but his nomination was never voted on.

Ruger supports "libertarian realism" in foreign policy, holding that America's interventions abroad should be focused on defending a narrowly defined national interest.

In March, Ruger went on The Reason Interview With Nick Gillespie to discuss NATO expansionism, what role the U.S. should play in the Russia-Ukraine war, and whether punitive sanctions actually achieve what they are intended to.

Q: Were you surprised that Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine?

A: This is one of the largest uses of force we've seen in Europe since 1945. So in that sense, it shocks a lot of people. On the other hand, you can see that this was somewhat predictable. The reason why we could think about it as being somewhat predictable is because even though it's unjustified, you can understand why it happened. And a big part of that is because of the fact that Russian national interests dictate that they should be concerned about the expansion of Western and American power eastward.

Q: How does Russia's experience fighting in wars stack up against Ukraine's?

A: I think a lot of the Twitterazzi have been out there really gushing about Ukrainian bravery. And I get that. I'm excited to see people standing up against this aggression. But we shouldn't get too excited that this is necessarily going to end well for Ukrainians. I think they're going to get a good dousing of cold water as Russia learns, as it reconstitutes itself and starts to adjust on the battlefield. The local balance of power favors Russia. And then the question is, what is the balance of will?

Q: Why is instituting a "no-fly" zone a bad response to Russia invading Ukraine?

A: It's essentially going to war with Russia. The fact is that we would have to enforce it. No-fly zones don't enforce themselves. It means that we would have to shoot down Russian aircraft that were involved in either bombing or close air support on the battlefield. And so what happens when you start shooting down Russian planes? Well, they're going to shoot back. You can imagine the escalatory spiral.

Q: Do you think NATO should exist at all?

A: You know, that's not a debate that's happening right now. I think the bigger question is one of enlargement, right? That's where the actual debate is right now. And I think it's very clear to me that enlargement creates problems where you may not have them.

Q: Are sanctions legitimate and moral?

A: The history of sanctions shouldn't leave anyone all that sanguine about their ability to effect the ultimate ends that you're trying to seek. Now, these sanctions may be extreme in many ways. If you impose essentially a financial blockade, they may have more bite. But the question is, do they actually cause what you're trying to achieve or do they make it much harder for Russia to stand down? You can imagine Putin and the Russian state not wanting to appear to cry uncle to this pressure. I think that's a real concern.

This interview has been condensed and edited for style and clarity. For a video version, see below.