Russia-Ukraine conflict: America needs a better idea than NATO expansion to keep the peace
Dec 14, 2021
Ukraine and other former Soviet republics are proud countries. They are not, with all due respect, places we should send U.S. troops to fight and die.
Michael O’Hanlon | Opinion contributor
Can it really be true, at this date in 2021, that large-scale war in Europe is again possible? Why are about 100,000 Russian troops massing near their country’s border with neighboring Ukraine – a country with which Russia shares a close history, religion, culture and previous membership in the Soviet Union? And most of all, what can the United States and allies do about the situation?
President Joe Biden has taken the Russian troop buildup seriously, as he should. His call last week with President Vladimir Putin provided a good start to crisis management. Warning Putin about much more severe economic punishment than Russia has experienced to date, if it should invade Ukraine, Biden struck the right balance. He appears to have avoided ill-advised threats to start World War III over a distant part of Europe not integral to core American security, yet sent an unmistakable message of firmness.
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U.S. and European Union sanctions imposed over the past seven years, since Russia grabbed back Crimea back from Ukraine with its “little green men” attack and then fomented a separatist revolt in Ukraine’s east (that has since killed at least 13,000), have kept the Russian economy on its back. Its gross domestic product growth has for a decade averaged just about 1% a year.
I would have preferred that Biden be even more specific about the types of new sanctions and related steps we might consider – for example, he could have promised that NATO would fund construction of more liquid natural gas terminals in Western Europe to reduce the region’s need for Russian gas, should Putin choose war. But the message was still well delivered, in a calm yet firm manner, and the past seven years of previous policy give it credibility.
NATO membership won’t prevent war
However, we need to think bigger. The crisis this year arose partly because Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy recently asked NATO to bring his country into the Western alliance soon. He wonders why we have not done so. After all, back in 2008 during the Bush administration, the United States and NATO allies promised they would in fact someday invite Ukraine and Georgia into NATO – though they provided no timetable and no interim security help, in effect painting a bullseye on the back of both countries. Putin has been sure to keep them unstable, and thus ineligible for NATO membership, ever since. (…)
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