NATO never really wanted to defend Ukraine. To pretend otherwise was dangerous.
An explicit US promise that Ukraine would never be allowed to join NATO might not have prevented the Russian attack on that country. The American reaction to the outbreak of war suggests that there would have been no harm in giving up this option anyway.
The invasion prompted swift and strong condemnation from President Joe Biden and other European allies. But other than promising more sanctions, no one in a position of power is suggesting direct military intervention to support Ukraine in its war with Russia.
“We have made it clear that we have no plans or intentions to deploy NATO troops to Ukraine,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said earlier today. Reuters. Biden also told a press conference today that if he deploys more US troops to the region, they “won’t be going to Europe to fight in Ukraine.”
This aversion to getting into a fire war with Russia over Ukraine is widely shared across the domestic political spectrum in the United States.
Democratic leaders in Congress have deployed a lot of impassioned rhetoric, but they have offered nothing harsher than sanctions against Russia. On the right, even normally enthusiastic interventionists like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) have dismissed the idea of sending troops to Ukraine.
And earlier this week, a bipartisan group of 43 House members — ranging from socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D–NY) to libertarian Rep. Thomas Massie (R–Ky.) — sent Biden a letter reminding him that any deployment of troops in Ukraine would first have to be approved by Congress.
This non-interventionist attitude is also shared by the public. Polls consistently show that only about a quarter of Americans support war with Russia over Ukraine or want the United States to play a major role in the conflict.
All this to say that, even in the face of explicit Russian aggression, the vast majority of the American public and public policymakers have no interest in spending blood and treasure to defend the distant Ukrainian nation.
Despite this reluctance to defend Ukraine, the United States has continually expressed openness to the country eventually joining NATO – an arrangement that would commit us and the rest of the 30-nation alliance to defending it. against attacks.
As recently as October, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was in Kiev to say that Ukraine had the right to decide for itself whether to join NATO and that “no third country “(i.e. Russia) had no veto power over NATO membership decisions.
Given America’s widespread apathy in defending Ukraine, a country that has little bearing on our security or economic well-being, it seems dishonest to continually raise hopes among Ukrainians that they might be accepted into the covenant.
Worse still, leaving open the possibility of Ukraine joining NATO has heightened Russian President Vladimir Putin’s security concerns.
“A lot of this is about Russian security fears,” William Ruger, president of the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER) and President Donald Trump’s nominee for ambassador to Afghanistan, said during a briefing. recent podcast. “Russians would have basically the same fear [of Ukrainian NATO membership] we would have if China wanted to enter into an alliance with Mexico, and Mexico was a willing partner. We wouldn’t put up with that.”
Putin has now invaded Ukraine in a bid to prevent another NATO member from ever appearing on his border. This does not justify the Russian invasion, but it is an understandable exercise in power politics.
Had the US permanently closed the door on Ukraine’s NATO membership, it would have alleviated some of Putin’s security concerns. That might have been enough to prevent a Russian invasion of the country. Maybe the war would have happened anyway.
At the very least, it would have signaled more clearly the now obvious fact that neither the United States nor other NATO members are prepared to go to war in defense of Ukraine. Even if the chances of this gesture preserving the peace are low, there would have been no cost in doing so.