The Spectacle Blog

Why NATO Should Offer Ukraine Full Membership

By on 3.14.14 | 11:15PM

On Wednesday, President Obama hosted Ukranian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk at the White House and pledged to "Stand with Ukraine".  He added that the international community "will be forced to apply costs" if Russia does not withdraw from the Crimean peninsula. 

Today, Secretary of State John Kerry said if Russia did not reverse course by Monday that sanctions would be applied by both the U.S. and the EU
 
I'm sure that Russia will say, "Go ahead, sanction us." They will be staying put and the Crimean referendum to join the Russian Federation will proceed.
 
The Russians will only take the West seriously either if it acts with force or if there is a credible threat of force. I realize this country is weary of war and not without justification. Which is why I think NATO should play a more significant role in demonstrating the West's solidarity with Ukraine. It is true thatNATO did send a couple of AWACS to monitor Poland and Romania's border with Ukraine. And NATO will continue conducting military exercises in Ukraine. But there needs to be a more explicit declaration of solidarity with Ukraine.
 
To be precise, I believe NATO should offer Ukraine full membership. NATO has wanted Ukraine to join its ranks for some time now, but Russian anger and Ukrainian opposition has kept that from happening. In February 2008, not long after plans were announced that Ukraine was a candidate to join NATO, Putin said Russia would point nuclear missiles to Ukraine if it joined NATO. Perhaps in part because of these threats, Ukrainians have been opposed to joining NATO and historically have viewed NATO unfavorably. Five years ago, Ukrainians opposed joining NATO by nearly a two to one margin while unfavorable views of NATO prevailed by a 20 point margin. 
 
But circumstances have changed on the ground. Ukraine hasn't joined NATO and yet Russian boots are in Crimea. Nevertheless NATO should be sensitive to the reservations Ukrainians have about it. In this spirit, NATO could do is to pass a resolution inviting Ukraine to join. If, for some reason, there still existed significant domestic opposition, the resolution would leave the door open for Ukraine to either politely decline the invitation with thanks or it could reserve making a decision pending further consultation such as through a national referendum. 
 
A NATO invitation to Ukraine would tell Russia that NATO would be prepared to defend Ukraine if Russia refused to withdraw from Crimea or made further advances. Now I understand that some members of NATO are more equal than others and this country would be expected to bear a considerable burden of that greater equality. It certainly doesn't help matters when the Obama Administration is cutting our military to the bone thus reducing its capacity to act in our national interests and on behalf of our allies. 
 
Yet at this point Russia doesn't take the Obama Administration or the West seriously when it comes to Ukraine and that won't change with the imposition of sanctions. I realize that a NATO resolution which extends an invitation to Ukraine to join is not without its risks. But that's exactly my point. As long as Russia believes the U.S., the West and, by extension, NATO is unwilling to take a risk then Russia will pursue its national ambitions on the global stage undeterred. In addition to the subjugation of Ukraine it will also result in a weaker United States. 
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