Source Responsible Statecraft
WASHINGTON, U.S.--Amid a precarious proxy war with Russia, a brewing crisis with China, and a potential confrontation with Iran – not to mention considerable turbulence at home – Americans can at least take comfort in knowing that the NATO alliance is continuing to expand.
Or at least, that appears to be the message coming out of Washington.
On Tuesday President Joe Biden signed U.S. ratification documents for Sweden and Finland to join NATO, with overwhelming bipartisan approval from both chambers of Congress. So far, 23 of the 30 members of the alliance have ratified the applications, as NATO moves to expand in response to Putin’s brutal full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
One might hope that NATO’s strategy consists of more than doing what Putin does not want. But there is little sign of that in its new Strategic Concept.
But this strategy does not seem to grasp that Russia is likely to respond to NATO’s expanding conventional might by relying increasingly on its nuclear arsenal.
What might NATO be thinking? One can only speculate, given the lack of explanation in the Strategic Concept, but it appears that the alliance assumes that the West can orchestrate Russia’s defeat in Ukraine while somehow not risking escalation into a direct U.S.-Russian war.
But such reasoning is more of a hope than a strategy. There is a significant possibility that Putin would escalate rather than accept defeat in Ukraine. Polls show that Putin is more popular now than he was before the war.
Under the circumstances, should NATO forego its vision of a peaceful, whole, and free Europe? In a new Quincy Institute report entitled “NATO’s Tunnel Vision,” I argue that it should not.
Mending Europe’s wounds will of course be enormously difficult. The path to peace must begin with settling the conflict in Ukraine. The West must prevent Russia from re-subjugating Ukraine, and that requires continued military assistance to Kyiv.
Fortunately, Ukraine itself has offered a way forward. Early in the war, it proposed declaring itself a neutral state, neither part of NATO nor any Russian alliance, with its security ensured by a group of international guarantors. Russia welcomed the notion in principle, but it drew no support in Washington. We should support it now.
Ukraine’s neutrality would not resolve the difficult problem of delineating its borders, but it could help to shape an environment in which dealing with territory is less problematic. The world has numerous examples of wars in which fighting has ended but territory remains in dispute.
Progress toward a settlement will be impossible absent active U.S. leadership. Only the U.S. has the requisite mix of carrots and sticks required to convince Putin that continuing the war will be worse for Russia than settling it. And only the U.S. can persuade Ukraine that it can have a prosperous and secure future outside the NATO alliance.
The second part of America’s vision – making Europe whole – requires finding a way to integrate Russia into European security structures. This will perhaps be even more difficult than ending the war in Ukraine. But arrangements for securing Ukraine’s neutrality may offer a creative means for Russia over time to earn its way back into Europe’s graces.
Finally, if the United States is serious about advancing the cause of freedom in Eastern Europe, we must focus on revitalizing our own democracy, while helping to create a stable security environment in Europe.
Despite the enormous obstacles we face, the United States can and should pursue its vision of a stable, whole, and free Europe. But it must realize that achieving this goal will only be possible if NATO focuses narrowly on defense of its current members, rather than expanding its bounds and serving as Europe’s sole security arm.