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After meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said that Ukraine hopes to be invited this year to join a NATO Membership Action Plan. In his words: “NATO is the only way to end the war in Donbass. Ukraine’s MAP will be a real signal for Russia.”
Stoltenberg did not reply directly to this request, but repeated, in a tweet, the usual NATO line about supporting Ukraine against Russian aggression. The Biden administration on the other hand, is essentially trying to shelve the issue. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the administration has been discussing Ukraine’s membership aspirations with Kiev however, “we are strong supporters of them, we are engaged with them… but that is a decision for NATO to make.”
Shelving the issue of NATO membership for Ukraine (and Georgia) is good. Abandoning it would be even better. For what after all do Zelensky’s words about the Donbas really mean? He is suggesting that NATO, with Ukraine as a member, would threaten to go to war with Russia in order to force Russia to abandon the Donbas. And not just that: NATO would have to try to force Russia to give up the annexation of Crimea and abandon its naval base at Sevastopol and its entire strategic position in the Black Sea.
If NATO, with Ukraine as a member, really adopted such a strategy, this would mean planning for war with Russia. The whole of U.S. global strategy, military deployment and military spending would have to be redirected to this end. The containment of China would be abandoned. The U.S. Navy would be drastically downgraded, and the Army would be recreated as the massive armored force of the Cold War. NATO’s European members would have to vastly increase their military spending and reintroduce conscription. Western publics would have to be told to accept the risk of nuclear war, and the certainty of massive military casualties, for a Ukrainian Donbas and Crimea.
Of course, none of this is going to happen — and Moscow knows it perfectly well. The only result of threatening Russia in this way would be to make NATO look ridiculous.
Instead of thinking about such hard military realities, NATO since the 1990s has befuddled itself with warm and woolly mantras about “spreading democracy” and “enhancing security,” and “supporting this or that country’s European Vocation.” NATO secretaries-general have been retired politicians from countries that have not thought seriously about war for a century or more, and are culturally allergic to thinking about it. But if NATO takes in Ukraine as a member, then NATO is going to have to think seriously about war.