Justin Logan and Joshua Shifrinson, Foreign Affairs
As the war in Ukraine grinds on, policymakers and pundits, including Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and the former U.S. ambassador to NATO, Ivo Daalder, are pushing for NATO to offer Ukraine what French President Emmanuel Macron calls “a path toward membership” after the conflict concludes. This is not just show. Ukraine’s membership aspirations will now be a central topic of debate at NATO’s summit next week in Vilnius, with Ukraine arguing—as its former defense minister Andriy Zagorodnyuk wrote recently in Foreign Affairs—that it “should be welcomed and embraced” by the alliance. The way in which this issue is settled will have serious consequences for the United States, Europe, and beyond.
The stakes could not be higher. Membership in NATO encompasses a commitment by the allies to fight and die for one another. Partly for this very reason, its members worked throughout the post–Cold War era to avoid expanding the alliance to states that faced a near-term risk of being attacked. NATO leaders have also long understood that admitting Ukraine involves a very real possibility of war (including nuclear war) with Russia. Indeed, the chance of such a conflict and its devastating consequences is the main reason that the United States and other NATO members have sought to avoid being drawn in more deeply into the war in Ukraine. The tension is clear: almost no one thinks that NATO should fight directly with Russia for Ukraine today, but many favor promising Ukraine a path into the alliance and committing to fight for it in the future.
Ukraine should not be welcomed into NATO, and this is something U.S. President Joe Biden should make clear. Kyiv’s resistance to Russian aggression has been heroic, but ultimately states do what is in their self-interest. And here, the security benefits to the United States of Ukrainian accession pale in comparison with the risks of bringing it into the alliance. Admitting Ukraine to NATO would raise the prospect of a grim choice between a war with Russia and the devastating consequences involved or backing down and devaluing NATO’s security guarantee across the entire alliance. At the Vilnius summit and beyond, NATO leaders would be wise to acknowledge these facts and close the door to Ukraine.
William J. Burns
I et gradert telegram fra februar 2008 advarer USAs daværende Moskva-ambassadør William J. Burns om følgende av at Ukraina fortsetter tilnærmingen til NATO. Han skriver: «NATO membership for Ukraine could potentially split the country in two, leading to violence or even, some claim, civil war, which would force Russia to decide whether to intervene.»
The playbook the pimps of war use to lure us into one military fiasco after another, including Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and now Ukraine, does not change. Freedom and democracy are threatened. Evil must be vanquished. Human rights must be protected. The fate of Europe and NATO, along with a “rules based international order” is at stake. Victory is assured.
The results are also the same. The justifications and narratives are exposed as lies. The cheery prognosis is false. Those on whose behalf we are supposedly fighting are as venal as those we are fighting against.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine was a war crime, although one that was provoked by NATO expansion and by the United States backing of the 2014 “Maidan” coup which ousted the democratically elected Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych wanted economic integration with the European Union, but not at the expense of economic and political ties with Russia. The war will only be solved through negotiations that allow ethnic Russians in Ukraine to have autonomy and Moscow’s protection, as well as Ukrainian neutrality, which means the country cannot join NATO. The longer these negotiations are delayed the more Ukrainians will suffer and die. Their cities and infrastructure will continue to be pounded into rubble.
But this proxy war in Ukraine is designed to serve U.S. interests. It enriches the weapons manufacturers, weakens the Russian military and isolates Russia from Europe. What happens to Ukraine is irrelevant.
John R. Deni, Foreign Policy
In two months, NATO leaders will gather in Vilnius for their annual summit, and leading the agenda will be the West’s ongoing support for Ukraine today and in the years ahead. Prominent experts have called for the United States and its trans-Atlantic allies to formally lay out a path for Ukrainian membership in NATO, one that is clearer than the mere promise of eventually joining the club, or at least to provide Ukraine with some other kind of security guarantee short of NATO membership.
While these proposals are well-intentioned insofar as they seek to deter Russia from future attacks on Ukraine after the present war ends, neither of the alternatives suggested is likely to prove effective and may, in fact, worsen Ukraine’s security in the short run. Instead, a more prudent approach is to remain focused on helping Ukraine win the war by significantly expanding Western military assistance.
At a previous NATO summit—Bucharest in 2008—Ukraine and Georgia became the only two countries in the alliance’s 74-year history to be promised eventual membership, without conditions. The Kremlin reacted with concern over the threat NATO posed, even though the alliance was in the midst of a 25-year decline in defense spending and combat power. Given Moscow’s quiescence regarding several rounds of alliance enlargement—including Finland just last month, with which it shares an 830-mile border—Moscow appears more concerned with losing influence in the post-Soviet space than with an expanded NATO. Regardless, no other countries that have joined the original 12 alliance members have ever received such a no-strings-attached commitment from NATO.