One of the silver linings of the very large dark cloud of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is the clarity it provides. This is, broadly speaking a contest between good guys and bad guys.
A lot of people who fancy themselves foreign policy realists roll their eyes at talk about “good guys” versus “bad guys.” The world is made up of nation-states with interests and those states act rationally on their interests. Good and bad ain’t got nothing to do with it.
I’ve never bought this argument, on either analytical or moral terms.
Yes, nations have interests, but the way they define their interests is not always strictly rational. History is full of examples of nations committing vast resources to causes that are extra-rational. “The mistake of the ‘realists’ is not their interest in the struggle for power but their deliberate neglect of everything else, especially the non-scientific, contingent, very human feelings and beliefs that most powerfully move people,” the late, great Donald Kagan wrote in Honor Among Nations: Intangible Interests and Foreign Policy.