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Antony Blinken Plays Politics with Ukraine’s NATO Membership

State of the Union: It is cynical and cruel to make false promises to Ukraine about a NATO membership that will never come.

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, reiterated that Ukraine will one day join NATO. It is a meaningless, almost theological gesture—practically pagan hymn-chanting at this point. Blinken knows his promise to be untrue. European allies know it to be untrue. The majority of Americans either don’t care about Ukraine or are actively opposed to further engagement in Europe. The Republicans are a changed party, as evident from thunderous responses from Republican senators. Ohio’s Senator J.D. Vance tweeted, “This is completely irresponsible. Ukraine should not join NATO, and to invite them during a war is to invite our nation into war. Do you want American ground troops in Ukraine? If not, we must push back against the idea that Ukraine should join NATO.” Senator Lee echoed the sentiment, tweeting (with a link to an op-ed published in these pages), “NATO can have Ukraine. Or the U.S. But not both.”

It is, of course, deeply cynical to dangle the NATO carrot in front of Ukraine especially, when NATO did not let them join after the Bucharest summit and will not in future. The argument goes that NATO members will welcome Ukraine only once they have solved their existing security issue, i.e. join a defensive alliance when the need for defense is over. To any sane person, that sounds absurd—that would mean the security issue will not be solved in this lifetime, and it will continue to be a frozen conflict. Russia has no incentive to end the simmering conflict in Ukraine unless Ukrainian neutrality is legally guaranteed, and will continue to bleed Ukraine dry until there are no men left to fight. 

To argue against unlimited expansion of NATO and the EU goes against liberal theology and the current raison d’etre for both the organizations. To say openly that there will be no expansion and the club will remain closed, because (despite weakness) Russia is a major power and Russian tacit veto in her backyard matters, will be tantamount to admitting that norms are nonsense, the world is anarchical, realism is still the best path to equilibrium and great power peace, history hasn’t ended, and only great powers matter in foreign policy—which is to say, all is as it has always been. 

To admit that publicly  is verboten, regardless of how true it is. Hence all this incoherence from an administration that argues that the U.S. will not send troops to Ukraine and start a third world war, while arguing that the U.S. will be treaty bound to defend Ukraine someday and risk a third world war. It makes no sense, but such is the current grand strategy of the preeminent great power of the world. 

Naturally, this nonsense is purely for domestic consumption. Yet the result is a continuation of false hope for Ukraine and Georgia, one that may lead to their extinction as states. There will not be any NATO cavalry over the hills (although not for lack of trying by some). The best we can do is seek a compromise making Ukraine and Georgia neutral buffers, similar to Austria during the Cold War. But for that, Washington needs bolder leadership to admit some hard truths and render some strategic coherence.