Since Moscow has already declared NATO membership for Ukraine to be completely unacceptable and an existential threat — the prevention of which is one of its chief war aims — a Vilnius Declaration that Ukraine will join NATO when the war ends will effectively ensure that the war goes on forever. It will also take off the table the West’s central bargaining chip to achieve peace, which is a neutral Ukraine, writes David O. Sacks, well-known American entrepreneur, author, and investor in internet technology firms.
It’s clear that the “pressure” on Biden is coming from Zelensky and some of the eastern NATO countries, specifically Poland and the Baltic States. Zelensky said two weeks ago that Ukraine would not even attend the Vilnius Summit unless given a firm signal on its eventual membership.
The NYT article implies that the current secretary general Jens Stoltenberg agrees with the hardliners on the need for a concrete timetable for Ukraine’s admission into NATO, but he made no such promises during his joint address with President Biden on Tuesday. By Wednesday, Stoltenberg and NATO were making it clear that no specific timeline for Ukraine’s NATO membership would be on the agenda in Vilnius. He reiterated comments from April that “Ukraine’s future is in NATO,” and said there would be agreement from member states on a “multi-year program” to help Ukraine “become fully interoperable with NATO,” but wouldn’t commit to anything more specific than that.
Whatever Stoltenberg’s personal views may be, he knows NATO is divided on the question of admitting Ukraine in the near future. Even the NYT name-checks three countries – Germany, Hungary, and Turkey – whose leaders would definitely oppose membership at a specific future date. Many more leaders have privately expressed concern, and Biden, to his credit, appears to be one of them.
Short of giving Ukraine the security guarantees that NATO membership provides, some in Biden’s foreign policy circle, such as Secretary of State Antony Blinken, have been pushing a different idea, which is to give “Israel status” to Ukraine. This consists of long-term security guarantees (which run for ten-year intervals in Israel’s case) including weapons, ammunition, and money “not subject to the fate of the current counteroffensive or the electoral calendar.”
In other words, America won’t reassess support even if the counteroffensive fails. Indeed, support won’t cease even if those pesky voters change their minds. Biden’s War for Democracy is too important to be subject to elections.
Now a difficult start to the counteroffensive coupled with a proposed multi-year deal at Vilnius makes clear that this was a lie or a pipe dream. But isn’t this what always happens?
Administrations ease us into war with promises of quick and easy victory, and then once involved, tell us we can’t back out no matter the cost because American credibility is at stake. It’s Vietnam, Afghanistan or Iraq all over again, except this time with a nuclear-armed adversary creating the heightened risk that the war could escalate into WWIII at any point.
So our insistence that Ukraine be allowed to join NATO “someday,” combined with our (sensible) desire not to be drawn into World War III, means that “someday” will never arrive. This begs the question: why continue to make a promise when there is no realistic path to achieving it?
Why fight over a principle (NATO’s “open door”) that’s largely theoretical anyway because Ukraine can’t actually join the alliance without triggering the continent-wide conflagration NATO was established to avoid in the first place?