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It has been said that if the Ukraine had been a member of NATO before 2022, Russia would never have invaded it.

That is a sentiment that is hard to ignore and hard to reject !

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was created in 1949 by the United States, Canada, and several Western European nations to provide collective security against the Soviet Union. That’s nearly 75 years of collective protection for its membership which has grown from the original 12 member countries to today’s total of 31 which will grow to 32 once the Turkish parliament ratifies the agreement made this month between President Erodgan and the Swedish President Mr Ulf Kristersson. Sweden is already being integrated into NATO militarily.

NATO’s chief, Jens Stoltenberg, has set the challenge for the NATO Summit in Lithuania this week (11th-12th July). There are however arguments against Ukraine being invited to join NATO so let’s take a look.

First of all, Mr Stoltenberg in a recent article declared that NATO has an open invitation to the Ukraine to join NATO however that will be decided by NATO allies and in Kyiv. NATO’s approach to Ukraine and NATO’s own defensive posture have been revised continually ever since Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014. NATO now focuses on ‘collective defence’ rather than military operations beyond its boundaries. It has strengthened its eastern presence and now has 300,000 troops on a higher level of alert in the region. Finland’s membership, as we have reported previously, now doubles NATO’s boundaries with Russia. Sweden’s imminent membership will add to NATO’s defences by encompassing both naval and aerial defences.

In Vilnius, NATO will be looking for a commitment of 2% of GDP of each ally for defence spending – as a starting point rather than a ceiling. NATO cannot offer Ukraine membership while the war rages however it will be keen to present new detailed defence plans to Ukraine. These will also enable NATO membership to be fast-tracked for Ukraine when conditions suit.

NATO’s stance seems to be centred on the notion that if Russia defeats the Ukraine, then it would be a tragedy for all Ukrainians as well as the rest of the world at large. Stated another way, if the Ukraine is defeated, then it will cease to exist! It would send a dangerous message to other like-minded authoritarian countries.

Despite blind statements to the contrary this week from a former Labor PM, Paul Keating, NATO does NOT see China as an adversary. It may well wish, like many western countries, that China was not so repressive at home, and that it takes a more influential stance to end the war. We know that next year NATO will open a new regional office in Japan in order to better connect with its allies in the region such as Australia, New Zealand and India. Contrary to some outlandish statements, NATO is not trying to provoke China in any way. On the contrary, NATO would welcome a constructive leadership role by China. None of us want to see China control global supply chains (eg. rare earth metals) and infrastructure or in any other way compromise member nations and their allies.

In Vilnius more especially, NATO will be striving to assist the Ukraine to keep fighting. In the past, NATO was loathe to upset the Western-Russian relations so it was less than enthusiastic to embrace Ukraine. But when Russia annexed Crimea and then last year invaded Ukraine, NATO’s stance firmed dramatically. Stoltenberg said “Ukraine’s future is in NATO”. That seems to be the opinion of the member countries. We can probably only realistically expect a new roadmap for the Ukraine’s earliest possible membership.

Ukraine would strengthen NATO considerably given how it has fought so strongly against a bigger rival. With aid from the West and others, it has shown us that they are capable of sapping Russia’s military strength. Given that NATO is designed to protect Europe, an asset such as Ukraine would further strengthen Europe’s protection.

When Ukraine became independent in 1991, it was not interested in alliances and it disbanded it’s Soviet inherited nuclear arsenal. Kyiv signed an agreement with London, Moscow and Washington in which the signatories all promised to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty. (Pretty much as per the UN Charter). Russia’s promise turned out to be an empty one and its covert activities grew to the point where Ukraine asked NATO in 2008 for membership. This was agreed but without a timeframe. Now see where we have ended up.

In a way, the war has been a wake-up call to the West. Too many western countries allowed their military supplies and manufacturing to atrophy after the Cold War ended. When Ukraine initially needed aid, the West was slow to react. Now we see Ukraine is a well-equipped strong military – probably the best in Europe! Why wouldn’t NATO want them onboard now? Ukraine military is no charity case. It now has a large well trained army with good commanders and civilian staffers. They know all too well how to defeat Russian forces. Even Prigozhin described Ukraine as the equivalent of the Greeks or Romans when they were at their peaks.

While the arguments for admitting Ukraine into NATO are various and well founded, the nay-sayers claim the stakes are too high. Putin has always claimed that as a member of NATO, Ukraine would be an unacceptable threat to Russia’s security. Russia will not tolerate any such security threats. That’s why they invaded Georgia and still hold some of its territory, and why they invaded Crimea and annexed it. It’s why they invaded Ukraine. It had nothing to do with a special measure to rid Ukraine of neo-Nazis. They also wanted to protect the Donbas region’s Russian supporters.

NATO members have consistently been worried about Russia’s ambitions in the event of NATO admitting Ukraine. They have worried that Russia would widen its attacks and target members on Russia’s borders including Poland and the Baltic states. So even if Ukraine (and Georgia) were admitted to NATO, Russia could conceivably continue the war and perhaps expand it. Given the amount of US aid and other foreign aid given to Ukraine already, it is hard to see how formal membership would make any difference. In fact, the US could be backed into a corner to provide much greater aid to Ukraine and other NATO members.

There is much much more to the arguments for and against Ukrainian accession to NATO but for now, and while the war continues, it is hard to see anything changing in Vilnius this week.

There is however an opportunity for NATO to lay out a strong roadmap not only to Ukraine’s accession, but to a much stronger and better equipped alliance. While many of the NATO members have had limited militaries, they are going to have to commit more to the alliance and be better prepared to enforce 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-defence 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.

Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall immediately be reported to the Security Council. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.”

Footnote: We realise that many of you will relate to Vilnius thanks to the legendary 1990 film, ‘Hunt for Red October’ starring Sean Connery as Marko Ramius, the Vilnius School Master.


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