The Case for Admitting Ukraine to NATO, Right Now
Although national security decisions should not be driven by emotional events, we cannot help but be moved by what we are bearing witness to the slaughter of innocent Ukrainian civilians under the pretext that Ukraine is a puppet state of NATO threatening Russia and exterminating ethnic Russians in Eastern Ukraine.
The answer to the question of whether to stand by and let things unfold or intervene is complicated and not something that nations throughout history have handled evenhandedly and consistently. I'm not even going to attempt to address that. But I think there is a middle ground that might provide NATO and Ukraine with some needed flexibility.
The U.S. and NATO are avoiding any "involvement" because Ukraine is not a NATO member, only a partner. However, if Putin could concoct out of whole cloth claims that Luhansk and Donetsk were independent republics and use that as a pretext for invading Ukraine, then why can't NATO expedite admission of Ukraine as a full member, triggering Article 5 — all for one and one for all?
If anyone has any complaints, what of it? NATO makes its own rules as to whom it admits and when. Concern that this would escalate the conflict and push Russia to slaughter more innocents ignores the objective reality that Putin has already escalated the conflict from one protecting Russia's border and ethnic Russians in Ukraine to a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Moreover, because he didn't get a quick surrender, he further escalated the conflict by attacking civilian targets — including quite possibly having detonated a thermobaric bomb or FOAB (father of all bombs). He then escalated this dispute specific to Ukraine to one involving NATO by threatening to use nukes if Finland or Sweden becomes a full NATO member.
Short of an abrupt retreat, we are going to be involved one way or the other.
As things currently stand, NATO can only move military assets into NATO states bordering Ukraine, not Ukraine itself. But if it grants full membership to Ukraine now, those assets can be moved directly into Ukraine through its western flank before Russia gains control of the entire country. Once Ukraine falls to Russia, it will lose that capability. Either way, Russia will accuse NATO of escalation and aggression, but we cannot let that affect our resolve; it's really meaningless blather that Putin has used to justify his invasion of Ukraine in the first place.
I am not aware of NATO having ever called an emergency meeting to expedite a membership that would immediately involve NATO in a bloody war, but this affects NATO whether Ukraine is a member or not. In addition to impacting NATO as Ukrainians seek refuge in NATO/EU border states of Hungary, Poland, and Romania, read Putin's speeches and take him at his word. He is intent on bringing all of the former Soviet satellite states back into an alliance with Russia. NATO and the U.S. are his enemies. Today, his goal is Ukraine, but his endgame is to pick off nation after nation, even if it takes time. Go ahead and laugh when I say "domino effect," but it's what he promises. We cannot predict what he'll achieve, but if he gets the band back together, he'll then work on Western Europe — fomenting unrest and financing movements among the youth, the poor and labor, inculcating them with propaganda against their homelands and in favor of what he promises.
Ignoring his saber-rattling won't make it go away.
Dangerous times call for improvisation and flexibility, not rigidity regarding NATO rules for membership. Frankly, Ukraine has jumped through endless hoops proving its democracy bona fides, having nearly fully complied with all of the conditions required by NATO: demonstrating a commitment to democracy, the rule of law, and individual liberty; an ability to contribute to the collective defense of NATO; economic reform; and eradication of corruption. (Ironically, in 2014, in a bit of the pot calling the kettle black, then-V.P. Biden told the Ukrainians they "have to fight the cancer of corruption that is endemic in your system right now." Unlike Biden, Zelensky has made huge strides fighting corruption in his country.)
Perhaps most significant is Ukraine's 2019 constitutional amendment reflecting its goal of attaining full NATO membership.
Their troops fought alongside ours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ukraine is a physical as well as ideological buffer against an aggressive Russia allied with China and Iran. And they turned decidedly westward and away from Russia after the Yanukovych government was ousted during the 2014 Maidan Revolution for failing to sign agreements with the E.U. — much to Putin's chagrin.
NATO openly welcomes any nation in Europe and has admitted nearly every former Soviet satellite state. Why hasn't Ukraine made the cut? Well, Russia wants Ukraine, and Ukraine wants NATO, but Germany and several other NATO members want good trade relations with Russia and access to Russian oil. Admitting Ukraine would not only isolate Putin from the West but also incur his wrath. As long as Putin was contained, NATO (and the E.U. as well) were willing to sacrifice Ukraine on the altar of Russian oil.
But the appeasement days of treading carefully so as not to rile up the Russian Bear are over. The crazed Mama Bear will do as she sees fit to protect her cubs, no matter whom she hurts, what she does to herself, and what her perceived foes are doing.
Still, I find it ironic that any NATO member would kowtow to Russia — which couldn't meet any of NATO's conditions for membership — while giving Ukraine the brush-off.
Once otherwise responsible members of the world community allow one nation to illegally violate the territorial integrity of another, the dominoes begin to tumble, and not just as Putin tackles Europe, but as other nations mimic his behavior. The only things keeping our fragile international map glued together are the mutually agreed upon international norms that maintain a modicum of peace and security. An imperfect world order based on the rule of law is better than chaos.
Worries that Ukraine's NATO membership would push Vlad into the arms of Xi or Iran's mullahs are nonsensical. He's already in their embrace.
I understand being skeptical about war, but are we really OK waiting for Biden's sanctions to kick in while Ukraine is in an epic battle for its existence? I think we can do more to help Ukraine and position ourselves against further Russian aggression by granting Ukraine NATO membership — we can even condition it on continued efforts when this is over against corruption. Even the E.U. has had a change of attitude and will consider admitting Ukraine under its fast-track procedure.
All of the excuses used to justify withholding NATO (and E.U.) membership from Ukraine came to an abrupt end the minute Vlad invaded. Ukraine is the very reason NATO exists.
Despite encouraging reports of Ukrainians holding off the Russians and problems with Russian logistics, unless something unexpected happens, Ukraine's days are likely numbered. Maybe young Russian troops will mutiny. Maybe Zelensky is a modern William Wallace. Maybe Gandalf will show up when all seems lost with 3,000 Rohirrim. Maybe a miracle will happen, and a day's worth of ammo will last for eight nights.
But I'm not one to wait for miracles when there are concrete things we can do. Ukraine is looking to her family in the West — nations she emulates. If we ignore her cries for help, when the hell of war has passed, and Putin rules Kyiv, will we have pushed Ukrainians clamoring for freedom, individuality, peace, and security right into the arms of their Russian overlords?
Image via Public Domain Pictures.