Home/Daniel Larison/Ukraine Isn’t Joining NATO, And That’s a Very Good Thing

Ukraine Isn’t Joining NATO, And That’s a Very Good Thing

Alex Massie gets something very wrong:

Indeed, Putin’s behaviour demonstrates that, if anything, the problem with NATO expansion is that perhaps it did not go far enough.

This might seem superficially plausible, but it falls apart under scrutiny. If there is one thing that Russia has made quite clear over the last six years, it is that it is vehemently opposed to further NATO expansion on its borders. It’s all very well to say that Russia shouldn’t have a veto over this process, but it is quite obvious that they can and do have one if they choose to exercise it. Pushing for greater NATO expansion earlier would not have prevented Russia from acting as it has, but would have triggered similar crises even sooner. Angela Stent notes the Russian position in her book The Limits of Partnership:

From Moscow’s point of view, enlargement to the Baltic states had been hard enough to swallow. The prospect of NATO offering membership to Ukraine and Georgia was absolutely unacceptable. (p. 164)

It was also something that the alliance would have been very foolish to try. Even promising that the two countries would one day join the alliance was more than Russia was willing to accept, so we can just imagine how angrily Moscow would have reacted if the alliance had done more than that. Beyond that, neither country was remotely ready then for membership, nor are they ready for it now. On the contrary, the last few weeks have demonstrated very well something that should have already been learned in 2008, which is that Western governments have understandably never had any intention of defending either country in a conflict with Russia. It would have been very wrong and dangerous to offer guarantees that the alliance was never going to back up.

Massie continues:

A few weeks ago the idea that Ukraine might join NATO would have seemed fanciful. It no longer does.

If it seems that way, that’s very unfortunate, because Ukraine’s membership ought to be much less likely now, and it is less desirable than ever. For their part, the current Ukrainian government understands this better than many in the West, since they say they have no desire to join the alliance. That isn’t surprising, since most Ukrainians opposed joining in the past, and a substantial number even viewed the alliance as a threat to their country. Pursuing NATO membership would be exactly the sort of divisive and controversial move that Western governments should be discouraging the new government from making, and it could end up triggering more Russian intervention. NATO expansion was a bad policy in the 2000s, and it’s still a bad policy. The difference now is that it is also a much more dangerous one.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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