President Biden continues to argue that a Ukrainian NATO membership would draw the alliance into the war with Russia due to the collective commitment in NATO's Article 5:
“The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defense recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.”
Biden concludes that Ukraine’s war with Russia must end before NATO can consider its membership, thereby giving Russia all the motivation it needs to continue the war. Using Biden’s logic, as long as the war continues – on land, at sea and in the air; by conventional or hybrid means; low or high intensity – Ukraine will be denied NATO membership. More crucially, as long as Ukraine remains outside the Alliance it will lack the full range of tools it needs to defeat Russia. It will lack the sea and air power required to break the maritime embargo and to establish control of the air space. The Alliance is the only body that can provide these means at the scale and scope needed to succeed.
President Biden fails to explain the subtle nuisance between the notion of “one of all, all for one” and the realities of the NATO collective defense commitment.
“Allies can provide any form of assistance they deem necessary to respond to a situation. This is an individual obligation on each Ally and each Ally is responsible for determining what it deems necessary in the particular circumstances.”
Ukrainian membership of NATO does not automatically mean that the member states will provide more support than they already do. It only means that the Alliance, in contrast to today – will become visibly committed to the Ukrainian victory. NATO’s credibility and deterrence will be at stake.
Ukraine has never asked for NATO boots on the ground. It has, however, repeatedly asked the Alliance to close the sky and ensure the freedom of navigation in the Black Sea (breaking the ongoing maritime embargo and weaponizing food at the cost of famine globally). It is asking for the military capabilities it lacks, including modern aircraft such as the F-16 and long-range weapons. It is also asking for more of everything it has already received, like ammunition and air defense systems. But it is not asking for boots on the ground.
President Biden fails to explain the risk.
He does not rationalize why Russia, which presently risks being defeated by Ukraine, would choose to stay and fight Ukraine and NATO’s 31 member states. He fails to explain Ukraine’s present contribution to European security and stability paid by its horrendous sacrifices. He fails to consider the benefits of Ukrainian NATO membership, including the closure of the “grey zones” triggering Russian aggressions; Ukraine’s contribution to European defense and security autonomy; and its role in containing a country that is imperialistic and aggressive by nature.
Biden fails to explain the consequences of a Ukrainian Defeat.
A potential Ukrainian defeat will have an unknown but ultimately negative impact on European security and stability. Make no mistake: Russia has every reason to believe that victory is within its reach. One only has to lift one’s eyes from the 1-dimensional land war and to focus on multi-dimensional hybrid war to see the merits of its thinking.
He fails to understand that NATO members are defending themselves against future Russian aggression by supporting Ukraine today. Eastern Europe is, generally, acting according to NATO’s original strategic concept which was committed to stop conflicts and wars threatening the security and stability of its member states.
NATO is divided between those who acknowledge that the Alliance needs to defeat Russia today to avoid future military confrontations and those that desperately hope Russia will self-destruct in Ukraine. Biden is supporting the group that has argued for a reduced NATO level of ambition because of a lack of sustainability and military capabilities after decades of underfinancing and cutbacks.
President Biden is, in essence, upholding the strategic messaging he presented after Feb. 24 2022: If Ukraine becomes a NATO member the Alliance will be involved in a war with Russia. This entails the risk of nuclear war.
In Biden’s mind and that of some of his allies in Europe: Ukrainian membership of NATO has no benefits; only risks and costs.
The narrative is intriguing as NATO is already very much involved. This was always a Russian-induced confrontation with the West. All Russian strategic threat assessments, diplomatic statements and initiatives, military and non-military actions, strategies, concepts, doctrines, disinformation, and propaganda are all about NATO.
Russia accuses the US, NATO and the EU of waging an information war, economic war, war of proxy and total war against Russia. Their sanctions are portrayed as an act of aggression.
Russia’s war in Ukraine is only the military element of the hybrid war it has waged against NATO and the West using non-military elements for years.
It is stopping Ukraine’s membership accession while simultaneously, trying to secure a foothold against a continued Western “enlargement”. Its ultimatum from 17 December 2021 underlines its ambitions of re-establishing its sphere of interest over the post-Soviet space (many of which are NATO members today).
President Biden, along with a number of western-European leaders, fails to explain the broader confrontation. Russia has been waging a hybrid war against the US and Europe for years already. Consequently, NATO has failed to come up with a strategy that counters Russia’s ongoing efforts to destabilize the West from within. The political landscape in Europe is, therefore, slowly being transformed in a manner that has the potential to undermine NATO and EU cohesion.
Lacking the courage to offer Ukraine NATO membership at Vilnius – despite this being the only diplomatic initiative that might potentially end the war - the US, the UK, Poland, France, and Germany are unlikely to offer Ukraine security guarantees beyond what they are already providing: more slow and incremental defense support.
A Vilnius Summit declaration that does not include Ukrainian NATO membership and the consequential security guarantees will be seen by Russia as yet further evidence of NATO being deterred by the world's biggest nuclear power.
Hans Petter Midttun, Independent Analyst, Hybrid Warfare, Non-resident Fellow at Centre for Defence Strategies, board member Ukrainian Institute for Security and Law of the Sea, former Defence Attaché of Norway to Ukraine, and Officer (R) of the Norwegian Armed Forces.
The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.
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