Nikolas Gvosdev comments on Sen. Corker’s bill (the so-called Russian Aggression Prevention Act or Ukraine Freedom Support Act), which would designate Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova as “major non-NATO allies.” He points out that this could have the effect of making Russia more aggressive towards all of these countries:
Far from deterring Putin, such a declaration might inspire the Kremlin to take measures to demonstrate just how hollow major non-NATO ally status might actually be.
There are a few reasons the U.S. shouldn’t be giving this status to these countries. The first is the one Gvosdev mentions, which is that it could trigger new aggressive measures from Moscow. In trying to “help” these countries, the U.S. could end up doing them harm. Even if these states are identified as “non-NATO” allies, it doesn’t change the fact that Moscow is strongly opposed to the creation of more U.S. allies in its vicinity. The label itself is somewhat misleading, since the U.S. is not formally obliged to defend all of its “major non-NATO allies.” Giving these countries this status won’t mean that the U.S. is giving them a security guarantee, but by labeling them as allies it does create the impression that the U.S. is on the hook for supporting them if they get into a conflict. Gvosdev notes that the real purpose of this designation is “is less about security guarantees and more about removing the roadblocks for a country so designated to be able to purchase advanced U.S. weaponry,” which brings us back to the folly of arming Ukraine.
Gvosdev observes that Ukraine hasn’t lacked for weapons:
Yet Ukraine, whose factories supplied the Soviet arms industry and have continued to supply the post-Soviet Russian military, was not without weapons. Shipments of U.S. arms are not a panacea for a country that must find a way to deal with the corruption that hollowed out its military.
He also points out the dangers of blithely giving these countries the name of ally without thinking through what the U.S. would actually be prepared to do for them in a crisis:
Words like “ally” and “partner” are thrown about with little care or sense of responsibility. It was partially a result of this carelessness that Georgia’s president in 2008, Mikheil Saakashvili, believed that Georgia would have substantial Western support in the event of any clash with Russia. The outcome of the 2008 Russia-Georgia War proved otherwise. Ukraine too has discovered the painful gap between flowery U.S. rhetoric and concrete assistance. The request to consider designating Ukraine as a U.S. ally could have been the start of a long-overdue conversation about what is at stake in this part of the world. So far, however, sloganeering seems to have won out over seriousness.
The truth is that the U.S. isn’t and won’t be prepared to do very much for these countries in a crisis, and it would be both cruel and foolish to give these governments the false impression that they are going to have more U.S. backing than they really will. Short of expanding NATO or intervening militarily, naming these countries as “major non-NATO allies” is probably the worst thing that the U.S. could do in this part of the world.