The global community continues to hear about the escalating conflict between Russia and Ukraine. At the NATO summit in Wales on September 5th, Prime Minister Poroshenko called on NATO nations to come to the defense of Ukraine in light of the latest failed cease–fire. While the conflict between the two countries is becoming increasingly more serious, Ukraine’s reliance on NATO is not the solution to the problem.
First of all, not only is it very unlikely that NATO will even consider Ukraine’s plea for military assistance, but NATO could at most only provide Ukraine with the bare minimum of military assistance because Ukraine is not a NATO country. In accordance with NATO protocol, the most that can be provided to Ukraine would be a spearhead force of 4,000 troops ready to deploy throughout Eastern Europe at short notice as well as a cyber defense program. It’s a significant symbolic move, but by no means a definitive security assurance for the alliance’s eastern flank. The spearhead force is part of NATO’s “Readiness Action Plan,” which is designed for the hypothetical and, according to most analysts, unlikely event that Russia launches a full-scale invasion of the Baltic EU and NATO member states. But at the rate at which the conflict between Ukraine and Russia is intensifying, 4,000 troops will not be able to sustain or quell the fighting. If anything, the move on NATO’s part could serve to worsen the tensions between Russia and the rest of the world, and the spearhead force could exacerbate tensions. Also, while the cyber defense program appears promising, it seems as though NATO still has no cyber weapons of its own and, apparently, no strategy for how it might use the weapons of member states to strike back in a cyber conflict.
Moreover, NATO has continued to experience a decline in its funding, compounding the problem of a creating an ineffective taskforce. Despite all of the talk about the need to increase military spending because of a new Russian threat, Reuters reported that there was no agreement at the most recent 2014 NATO summit for each member to abide by the member commitment and devote at least 2% of their GDP on defense. In reality only a handful of NATO’s 28 members, including the US and the UK but not Germany, currently honor the 2% GDP commitment. The only consensus that was made at the summit was that NATO leaders agreed to stop cutting their defense budgets. If Western European countries continue to plateau their funding of NATO, the U.S. could potentially find itself fighting a war by itself against a nuclear power country. In a time where US foreign policy is governed by hasty military decisions and a doctrine of global interventionism, the last thing that the United States needs is to get over-involved in a conflict that it is unable to fully support.
Overall, NATO does not have the means to provide full support to Ukraine in a conflict that is becoming more and more serious by the day. The only possible strategic move that NATO could make to assist in the region would be to continue to arm its Baltic state members Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania against the possibility of a Russian invasion of their borders. This option is not an unreasonable one; however, in light of NATO’s continuing functional problems of underfunding and ill-equipped troops, an intervention on behalf of NATO could ultimately be interpreted as a move on the part of the United States to involve itself in yet another global conflict. On the other hand, diplomatic solutions, such as creating a more comprehensive cease-fire agreement, could be more effective than engaging in military conflict in helping Ukraine reconcile with Russia. Ultimately, Americans should sympathize with the Ukrainian people, who have been ill-served by their own government as well as victimized by Moscow, but must refrain from extending military support or security guarantees to Kiev unless NATO can become fully committed to aiding a non-member state with full capacity.
Featured Image Source: rt.com, June 9, 2014
U.S. army paratroopers attend the opening ceremony of a NATO military exercise called “Saber Strike” in Adazi, Latvia on June 9, 2014.