In February 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin listed several reasons why his country had to invade Ukraine, among them the notion that Ukraine could never join NATO. At the time, Ukraine’s desire to join the Western alliance had hit several roadblocks, not the least of which was the country’s systemic corruption, which made several members question Ukraine’s fitness to be a NATO member.
Putin also had several bogus claims for war, including the fantastical notion that Ukraine was “historically” Russian and that Nazis had taken over Ukraine’s government
But the primary reason at the time for NATO’s reluctance to admit Ukraine was that NATO didn’t want to risk war with Russia.
How times have changed.
Plans are afoot to make a move to formally begin the process of admitting Ukraine to full NATO membership at the NATO summit in Vilnius this July. NATO nations would agree on designing a “Membership Action Plan” (MAP) to lay out a roadmap to admit Kyivv when they complete the necessary steps.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has suggested that after the war is over, there would be no need for Ukraine to follow any plan to join NATO. This would put NATO on a fast track to membership. Obviously, it disincentivizes Putin from making peace, since NATO membership for Ukraine would follow the end of the war automatically.
It’s a recipe for U.S. involvement in another “Forever War.”
Indeed, since Moscow has already declared NATO membership for Ukraine to be completely unacceptable and an existential threat — the prevention of which is one of its chief war aims — a Vilnius Declaration that Ukraine will join NATO when the war ends will effectively ensure that the war goes on forever. It will also take off the table the West’s central bargaining chip to achieve peace, which is a neutral Ukraine.
It’s clear that the “pressure” on Biden is coming from Zelensky and some of the eastern NATO countries, specifically Poland and the Baltic States. Zelensky said two weeks ago that Ukraine would not even attend the Vilnius Summit unless given a firm signal on its eventual membership. Former NATO secretary general Anders Rasmussen, now a consultant to Zelensky, even threatened that “if NATO cannot agree on a clear path forward for Ukraine, there is a clear possibility that some countries individually might take action.” In particular, “the Poles would seriously consider going in,” triggering direct war between NATO and Russia.
As the war has gone on, Biden has been emboldened to cross several of Putin’s numerous “red lines.” Some of those red lines have included arming Ukraine with Javelin and Stinger missiles, HIMARS rocket launchers, advanced missile defense systems, drones, helicopters, M1 Abrams tanks, and, soon, fourth-generation fighter jets.
Syrian President Bashar Assad used poison gas against his own people after President Obama told him it was a “red line” to U.S. involvement, but the American president did nothing and Assad continued to murder his own people. A “red line” is only as good as the word of the person giving it. In this case, Obama’s failure emboldened Assad — just like Putin’s failure to enforce his “red line” has emboldened Biden and NATO.
While his overall conduct and rhetoric has been hawkish (and I continue to maintain he could have avoided this war altogether with better diplomacy in the months leading up to it), Biden has been admirably consistent in his desire not to plunge America into direct war with Russia. The threats from Rasmussen underscore how easily a proxy war can turn into a real one in an alliance where all members are pledged to come to the military defense of any one member. The American people may begin to question the wisdom of making new Article 5 guarantees if foreigners like Rassmussen can use existing ones to blackmail the United States into reckless action.
Polish or Ukrainian tails should not wag American dogs into World War III.
That’s it exactly. An alliance is only as strong as its weakest member. Neither Poland nor Ukraine should have the power to start a war with Russia in which the United States would be forced to carry the bulk of the fighting.
Something similar happened in World War I. The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand should never have led to a general European war. Germany, the strongest member of the Central Powers, was forced to go to war when the weakest member — Austria-Hungary — decided to punish Serbia instead of negotiating.
Should the U.S. be forced to go to war with Russia because NATO members Poland, Hungary, or other Eastern European former Soviet satellites want to support Ukraine? It’s a recipe for a World War, a forever war, and the biggest question facing the U.S. is does Joe Biden have the intelligence and cognitive ability to resist the pressure to get the U.S. involved?