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Revisiting the Question of NATO Membership for Ukraine

In light of the July summit and recent controversies surrounding a NATO official’s remarks, the question of Ukrainian membership in the alliance has again come into discussion. These developments come after years of so-called “strategic ambiguity” since the 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania, where the alliance decided that Ukraine should eventually become a member without providing any clear path to membership. NATO’s actions ultimately left the country vulnerable to neighbouring attacks, creating favourable conditions for Putin’s invasion. Despite statements from members looking to postpone ascension indefinitely, there remains a strong case for admitting Ukraine at the present moment.


There is little doubt that Ukraine has earned the moral right to membership. Its heavy sacrifices, including shouldering the bulk of Russian aggression at the moment, have indirectly protected NATO members from future Russian aggression by weakening the adversary’s military capabilities. Furthermore, the country has proven its commitment to the alliance’s liberal-democratic aims, having undergone several democratic transformations prior to the outbreak of war.


More pressing, however, is the idea that to continue to leave Ukraine outside the Western alliance is to invite further Russian aggression. Launching his invasion, Putin implicitly assumed that Western interests in helping Ukraine would dissipate as costs escalated and new issues inevitably arose elsewhere. Indeed, as long as Ukraine’s ascension to membership remains unclear, Putin will continue to attack the country in hopes of creating a new Russian Empire. By responding definitively with a clear path to admittance, the alliance could safeguard Ukraine against future Russian attacks – as recent history has shown, the Russian president has only ever been willing to invade non-NATO countries. As it stands now, the country is struggling to advance against Ukrainian armed forces – a full military confrontation with NATO would not be within its present military capabilities.


Finally, the possibility of bringing Ukraine into NATO poses several benefits for the alliance itself. Unlike other allies, the country would be capable of meeting NATO’s annual spending obligations. Moreover, the process could further contribute to the spread of liberal democracy within Europe, which would be intrinsic to the alliance’s aims. The country’s ascension would constitute a net contributor to European security and, by extension, strengthen the alliance itself. With that being said, there are bound to be challenges to immediate ascension – the alliance’s Southeastern flank has played a more ambivalent role in responding to the crisis and has expressed its unwillingness to support Ukrainian membership. Moving forward, the alliance must abandon ambiguity in favor of providing an explicit timeline for Ukraine’s ascension and look within itself to evaluate its decision-making capabilities in light of resistance from a select block of members.

 

References:


Berg, Alexandra Ward and Matt. “Zelenskyy Rages against ‘conditions’ for Joining NATO.” POLITICO, www.politico.com/newsletters/national-security-daily/2023/07/11/zelenskyy-rages-against-conditions-for-joining-nato-00105673. Accessed 14 Sept. 2023.


Cook, Lorne. “NATO Summit Results in Brief: Mixed News for Ukraine, Hope for Sweden and a Response to Russia.” AP News, 12 July 2023, apnews.com/article/nato-summit-vilnius-lithuania-ukraine-6eff9f614dd01746280e43f0473b1a26.


Getmanchuk, Alyona. “A NATO Invitation Will Make or Break Ukraine.” The New York Times, 9 July 2023, www.nytimes.com/2023/07/09/opinion/ukraine-nato.html.

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