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Mon. May 29, 2023
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IAF Editorials
In Search of its Mission: NATO and the Ukraine
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by Jens F. Laurson & George A. Pieler An updated OpEd on this topic - taking into account of the developments regarding Georgia in this matter - can be found on FORBES.com. Perhaps with an eye to Putinist complaints, NATO has shelved the matter of Ukraine joining the alliance. For now. But when decision-time comes, the merits of the Ukraine’s NATO membership should be based on the will of the Ukrainian government and NATO’s candid assessment whether to entertain - and accept - such a bid, or not. Russia, not a member of NATO, ought not have a de facto veto over NATO membership decisions, whether it concerns a bordering nation or not. At the same time, denying Russia a Veto does not logically require that the Ukraine join NATO. It would be folly to conclude that everything but Ukraine-in-NATO would mean having caved to Russian pressure. By way of analogy: If one’s disliked neighbor, knowing of our intentions to build an outhouse next to his Gazebo threatens to scratch our car in retaliation, the inappropriateness of that response shouldn't be considered motivation in itself to build the outhouse. The point isn't that we don’t take the neighbor's threat seriously, but the necessity and desirability of the Gazebo itself, balanced with good neighborly relations. There are good reasons for and against the Ukraine joining NATO that can be considered independently of the noises coming from the Kremlin. Among these issues is - also reasonably - the reaction in Moscow. Not because the West bows before the increasingly belligerence with which Russia plays its international game of intimidation and threats, but because the West has an inherent security (and otherwise) interest in the relationship with Russia. And while the relationship is not good, it need not be made worse by decisions which offend, and which are not absolutely essential to Western strategy. These things need to be considered when considering Ukraine's membership in NATO. If it is more important than the, presumably temporary, cooling of Russian relations with the West, then NATO will go ahead and make the Ukraine a member. Because it is the collection of NATO members who decides on this, the outcome is not hard to predict, although it may be hard to follow to those who see NATO as an outdated security alliance desperately in search of meaning. Its meaning has become expansion in-and-of-itself, ever since the cold war is over. When it did evoke Article 5, its mutual defense clause, for the first and only time – after the attacks of 9/11 – it did so in a manner that was much more symbolic than operational in effect. Eastern NATO members may take the common defense obligation a little more seriously, because they see the threat of military incursion as more likely than do countries to the West of the river Oder – but within Europe, the main attraction of NATO is its role of antechamber to EU membership: NATO has come a long way from essential military alliance to free trade zone prerequisite. NATO's vestige of utility - a very legitimate one and possibly worth the apparatus altogether - is that it sweetly forces greater transatlantic ties in times where friendship alone can't be counted on to do the trick. As such NATO has value not unlike a marriage vow. In bad times, the partners can't run off quite so easily. Granting this need (or plausible rationales) for NATO, the expansion to the Ukraine – put off for now, but a forgone conclusion – should be settled by the question of original importance: Would we, were the Ukraine attacked in some way, be willing to put everything on the line in defending it? The official answer would likely contrast with the inner voice of most officials. Aside, what security does NATO offer business vis-a-vis Russia (not an official or even potential enemy, of course) when half of Western Europe is desperately dependent on Russian oil and gas? A true security policy for Europe would be a smart energy policy, which would also be more powerful in concert with its transatlantic allies. Alas, that likely won't be the discussion when NATO's leaders next meet in Strasbourg and Kehl for its 60th anniversary. Jens F. Laurson is Editor-in-Chief of the International Affairs Forum. George A. Pieler is Senior Fellow with the Institute for Policy Innovation.

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