Ruling Out Ukraine’s NATO Membership
Nikolas Gvosdev finds that there is substantial opposition to further NATO expansion from within the alliance, but there is also no support for guaranteeing Ukraine’s neutrality in the future:
Yet even if a number of European capitals insist in their demarches to Moscow that Ukrainian membership in NATO is off the table, no NATO country is willing to guarantee, as Russia has demanded, that Ukraine will remain permanently neutral. Even among NATO members that oppose Ukrainian accession, none want to endorse the principle that any country outside the alliance can have influence over who joins it. Ukraine may never be allowed into NATO, the thinking goes, but Ukraine’s right to seek membership cannot be abridged.
It would make sense to hold one or the other of these positions, but it is very strange to hold both at the same time. Many members of the alliance agree that NATO membership for Ukraine is out of the question, but they are nonetheless reluctant to make this a lasting commitment for fear of appearing to legitimize Russian demands. The principle that no other country should have a veto over the alliance’s membership makes sense as far as it goes, and yet it is obvious that Russia has and continues to have such a veto in practice. Ruling out Ukraine’s membership in the alliance might have a salutary effect on the current conflict, and could make it easier to reach a negotiated settlement, and it would not really concede anything that hasn’t already been conceded. Everyone in the West already understands that Ukraine is never joining the alliance, and that’s as it should be, so all that remains is to make it as clear as possible that the door is truly shut. Ukraine may have a right to seek membership, but the alliance is not obliged to encourage it in that pursuit. That is especially true when most of its members already know that their response to Ukraine’s application will be to reject it.