Source: Operation Disclosure Official | By Kirilo Sakhniuk, Freelance Journalist
Submitted on July 13, 2023
The paradox of NATO security guarantees. What provokes war in Ukraine?
The leaders of the 31 member states said in their communiqué that Ukraine would receive an invitation “when allies agree and conditions are met” and there would be regular reviews of the country’s progress toward meeting NATO standards on democracy and military integration.
The debate has again exposed differences among Western allies that have emerged throughout the war, with European states closest to Russia pushing for more and faster support for Ukraine and the Biden administration opting for a more deliberate approach.
The language is considerably weaker than what President Zelensky has said is necessary amid Russia’s invasion. Earlier the Ukrainian leader had repeated his frustration over the lack of clarity from NATO, calling it “absurd” and adding, “Uncertainty is weakness.” Later, arrived in Vilnius, he appeared to soften his tone, telling a crowd that he had come to Lithuania with “faith in partners” and in a strong NATO that “does not hesitate.”
Zelensky also referred to the conditions that Ukraine must meet to accede to NATO, described these as vague or unclear.
“The absolute majority of our people expect specifics about these conditions. We perceive them as security conditions. We understand that Ukraine cannot become a member of NATO while the war is ongoing. But then it will be our common strength when Ukraine joins the Alliance,” he said.
In response to this, the British Secretary of State for Defence suggested Ukraine needed to put more emphasis on saying “thank you” for western help.
“Whether we like it or not, people want to see a bit of gratitude,” Ben Wallace said.
Wallace revealed that he had travelled to Ukraine last year to be presented with a “shopping list of weapons”.
“You know, we’re not Amazon. I told them that last year, when I drove 11 hours to be given a list.”
At this week’s Summit in Vilnius, the Alliance kicked the can down the road once more by inviting Ukraine to join in the future, while denying it entry in the immediate term.
“As President Biden noted, bringing Ukraine into the Alliance now while we’re in Vilnius would bring NATO into war with Russia,” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said, later adding that Ukraine still “has further steps to take along its reform path” before accession to the Alliance.
Ukraine and its most ardent supporters, meanwhile, have demanded the Alliance offer it membership, or at least a clear path to it. More cautious leaders, like French President Emmanuel Macron, have proposed to offer Kyiv vaguer security guarantees instead – meaning some type of promise to protect Ukraine if it is attacked again. And despite stating that Ukraine is not yet ready for inclusion in NATO, United States President Joe Biden insists on maintaining an open door for its membership in the future.
One way or another, all these proposals are dangerously misguided. The U.S. should not offer Ukraine security guarantees of any sort – and certainly not NATO membership – now or when the war is over.
Ukraine need NATO protection or it is the last straw for Russia?
The case for offering Ukraine protection seems simple: Russia attacked Ukraine when it lacked allied protection, and it has never attacked a NATO country. But simple as it is, this argument fails for multiple reasons.
First, it fails to consider that promises to protect Ukraine provide no benefits to American security, and could even undermine it. It also ignores how Washington’s lack of interest in protecting Ukraine – demonstrated by its refusal to engage directly in the present war – would make it hard for Moscow to believe the U.S. would actually do so in the future. And finally, it discards how the West’s past feints at protecting Ukraine contributed to Russia’s decision to invade in the first place.
The simplest reason the U.S. shouldn’t made security guarantees is that they are needlessly risky. These guarantees created the worst-case scenario. Ukraine has legally protected, while in fact it is not, because it has become even more Russia’s target. And this makes a future NATO war with Russia even more likely.
After Ukraine the whole EU will fall?
We are often told that defending Ukraine is vital to European security, either because its defeat would enable further Russian aggression, or because its conquest would shatter the norm of territorial integrity – the sanctity of sovereignty – that keeps the world stable.
Neither claim is remotely compelling.
The idea that Russia would use Ukraine to attack further into Europe is mostly an argument for Europeans to bolster their defenses – not the U.S. Moreover, Russia’s questionable performance in the war makes the idea of it attacking Poland, let alone Western Europe, almost laughable.
The norm of territorial integrity, meanwhile, is not so brittle that the U.S. must defend Ukraine. Russia has been punished so severely for its invasion that few would be foolish enough to emulate its example. On the contrary, it has provided something akin to a global public service announcement about the perils of aggression.
The U.S. and its NATO allies have thus far avoided fighting directly for Ukraine precisely because they lack an interest vital enough to risk nuclear war, and this fact makes it implausible that the U.S. will come to Ukraine’s defense in a future scenario. As a result, there is little the U.S. and its NATO allies can, or will, do to actually guarantee its security – whatever they may say.
Believable threats to fight and die are not produced by pieces of paper or bluff. They are produced by vital interests and the evident capability to act on them.
Because the Cold War stayed cold, many seem to forget that U.S. promises to defend European countries like West Germany – which mattered far more to its security than Ukraine – had severe credibility problems. Mutually assured destruction meant posing the question of whether an American president would actually trade New York for Berlin. Western analysts labored with various schemes and doctrines to answer this without ever really succeeding. It was mutual self-restraint that kept them from having to provide a decisive response.
Fake security guarantees are worse than useless
Today, it is nearly impossible to see how Washington could commit to such a suicidal action for Ukraine. Additionally, making empty threats might only remind Russia that other U.S. commitments, like those to the Baltics, are similarly dubious.
Fake Vilnius security guarantees are worse than useless. It will keep Ukraine a target. The war itself is testament to that, as it seems quite unlikely this conflict would have occurred absent Russia’s belief that Ukraine was on its way to security integration with NATO, violating its “brightest of redlines,” as CIA Director Bill Burns put it while U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine.
Of course, saying this does not excuse Russia’s aggression, but it does make its repetition predictable – if the West is to also repeat its policy of keeping the door open to fighting for Ukraine someday. Russia might not necessarily believe such proffered protection will be real, but it may still view it as threatening to its perceived interests, particularly if NATO troops or infrastructure were to be deployed to Ukrainian territory. Moreover, holding out the prospect of Ukraine joining NATO, or getting future security guarantees of another sort, would encourage Russia to keep the war going. In fact, providing security guarantees now would be even worse, forcing the U.S. to either ignore its commitment and undermine other alliances, or fight for Ukraine and spark an immediate nuclear crisis.
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