Commentary on Political Economy

Friday 14 July 2023


Ukraine is cur­rently doing Nato’s job for it

It is some­times dif­fi­cult to appre­ci­ate the sig­ni­fic­ance of major global changes while they are hap­pen­ing. Our ana­lyses, instincts and actions are rooted in what we already know, not fully appre­ci­at­ing the new envir­on­ment in which we find ourselves. We focus on the past when what we should really do is focus urgently on the future.

This is per­haps the best explan­a­tion of what took place this week at the Nato Sum­mit in Vil­nius, Lithuania. The alli­ance did very well at what it already knows how to do. It reit­er­ated its “iron­clad” com­mit­ment to defend every inch of its ter­rit­ory, reaf­firmed Nato’s nuc­lear strategy, adop­ted defence plans for all regions of the alli­ance, com­mit­ted yet again that each mem­ber state would spend at least 2 per cent of GDP on defence and addressed a wide range of secur­ity chal­lenges.

Fin­land was wel­comed as a new mem­ber; Sweden’s rat­i­fic­a­tion pro­cess should be com­pleted soon. Nato mem­bers also pledged to strengthen their east­ern flank in response to Rus­sian aggres­sion.

Per­haps the most pos­it­ive and under­re­por­ted devel­op­ment from the past week is Tur­key’s realign­ment with the rest of its allies on some crit­ical issues. Pres­id­ent Recep Tayyip Erdoğan relen­ted on his objec­tions to rat­i­fic­a­tion of Swedish Nato mem­ber­ship, spoke in favour of Ukraine being admit­ted, approved of fur­ther Bayrak­tar drone ship­ments to Ukraine, and has worked out a deal with the US on the acquis­i­tion of F-16s for Tur­key.

All these devel­op­ments show a Nato that is more uni­fied and cap­able of defend­ing its mem­ber states than it has been for years. These are the pos­it­ive out­comes. But as much as mem­bers cri­ti­cised Rus­sia’s inva­sion of Ukraine, and con­tinue to provide Kyiv with arms to defend itself, they do not seem to have grasped what Moscow’s inva­sion means for European secur­ity. In fact, it has changed everything.

Until now, Nato could afford to keep aspir­ing mem­bers in a hold­ing pat­tern for years at a time, insist­ing on reforms and weigh­ing the geo­pol­it­ical rami­fic­a­tions of each enlarge­ment decision. With rel­at­ive peace in Europe, it was safe to assume that the same secur­ity strategy used in the past would work in the future.

But under Vladi­mir Putin, the Krem­lin has expli­citly adop­ted a policy of ter­rit­orial expan­sion aimed at recon­sti­t­ut­ing a Rus­sian empire. It has launched a major war in Europe that has affected every coun­try on the con­tin­ent — and many bey­ond it. The war has already forced mil­lions of Ukrain­ian refugees into neigh­bour­ing European coun­tries, caused massive infla­tion (in part because of energy dis­rup­tions), dis­rup­ted global food sup­plies and Black Sea ship­ping, caused fur­ther eco­nomic dis­lo­ca­tions because of sanc­tions policies and the need to sup­port Ukraine’s state budget, and stretched European defence resources.

If Putin is not defeated in Ukraine, it will get worse. In his quest to rebuild the empire, he would next turn his gaze to Esto­nia, Latvia, Lithuania and even Fin­land — all EU and Nato mem­ber states, formerly part of the Rus­sian empire, and which the alli­ance is obliged to pro­tect. If the war stops in Ukraine, Rus­sia will simply regroup and pre­pare to attack again. With an author­it­arian, imper­i­al­ist Rus­sia on its door­step, no one in Europe is safe. This is, after all, what con­vinced Fin­land and Sweden to seek mem­ber­ship of Nato in the past year.

Yet at the sum­mit, Nato offered no assur­ances bey­ond what it said in 2008 when it affirmed that Ukraine would become a mem­ber one day. There is no actual pro­cess to achieve that goal. Indeed, the Vil­nius lan­guage can be seen as weaker, stress­ing that an invit­a­tion will be offered only when “all allies agree” (mean­ing they cur­rently do not), and when “con­di­tions are met” (mean­ing there are con­di­tions yet to be ful­filled). The exact nature of these con­di­tions remains vague.

This is not just a missed oppor­tun­ity. It reflects a fail­ure to under­stand that the nature of European secur­ity has changed. Ukraine is cur­rently doing Nato’s job for it — fight­ing to defend the fron­tier of a free Europe. It is more cap­able mil­it­ar­ily than most allies, and defend­ing the val­ues on which Nato is foun­ded. Rus­sia is attack­ing Ukraine because it seeks to defeat those val­ues: Kyiv remain­ing stuck in the Nato wait­ing room is a green light for Putin to attack again.

For Ukraine’s part, it must, of course, first win the war, which it is gradu­ally doing. It must also con­tinue to press the case for Nato mem­ber­ship and accel­er­ate its adop­tion of the EU acquis neces­sary for acces­sion. There is no future for Ukraine out­side these blocs.

There is now a fun­da­mental con­tra­dic­tion between Nato’s com­mit­ment to the secur­ity of the alli­ance and its refusal to give Ukraine a clear path­way to mem­ber­ship.

With a nuc­lear-armed, imper­i­al­ist Rus­sia lay­ing claim to swaths of ter­rit­ory that belong to other coun­tries — and foist­ing a proxy war on the entire con­tin­ent — it is hard to see how Nato can accom­plish its mis­sion of defend­ing Europe without accept­ing Ukraine as a mem­ber.

This is the con­tra­dic­tion that needs to be addressed urgently, so that a firm invit­a­tion can be exten­ded when the allies meet again next year.

No comments:

Post a Comment