The Bystander Effect is Crippling the US-NATO Response to Ukraine

Each day of inaction forfeits more of the moral high ground

Greg Proffit


Photo by Dea Piratedea on Unsplash

The US and NATO response to Putin’s criminal invasion of Ukraine looks more like Bystander Effect than it does principled foreign policy. Each Allied countries’ strong rhetoric is insufficient as their inaction to effect any change on the ground that will stop Putin’s slaughter and save innocent lives.

Psychologists have long noted the phenomenon that the more persons present witnessing an assault or brutality, the less likely any one of them is to try to stop it. They attribute this reluctance to two main factors — social pressure and diffusion of responsibility.

On the other hand, if only one or two persons are witnesses to an assault, they are more likely to take action to stop the perpetrator.

Europe and the world stood by watching a madman invade his neighbor’s sovereign territory once before. By the time they took united action, Hitler had occupied almost every square mile of the European continent. And it was too late to save six million Jews.

Every nation involved vowed, “Never again.”

Unfortunately, it seems emptier words were never uttered.

If this bystander phenomenon is not limited to individuals but also infects countries and coalitions, it goes a long way toward describing the state of current events. By banding with the US and other European nations, a NATO country can shirk the responsibility to act. The alliance provides political and social cover.

Is it fair to question the value of a defensive alliance of nations if they lack the will and courage to defend the weak when atrocities are committed on their street, on their doorstep? They all admit Putin is violating international law. They are calling him a “war criminal”. But international law is impotent without enforcement. And none seem to value the law for its own sake.

If Putin can murder Justice and Freedom with impunity, just what does that leave NATO worth protecting? Some land? Some resources?

“Just take one step in my house, then you’ll get it,” they seem to signal.



Greg Proffit

2xTop Writer - I write eclectically about Love, Reading, Ideas, Politics, God, Psych., & Random Absurdities—325+ stories. Twitter @gproffit