NATO’s Role in Setting Ukraine War Peace Conditions

Western powers may be at odds with the people doing the fighting and dying.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy

A WaPo report by Michael Birnbaum and Missy Ryan reinforces my longrunning sense that the United States and its allies will make settling the war harder:

How to end the fighting and support Ukraine will be among the sharpest discussions at a gathering of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels that starts Wednesday. The United States and its allies say that Ukraine must be the ultimate decider as it defends itself, and that it shouldn’t be pushed to make compromises or encouraged to fight longer than it is willing.

But Kyiv’s decisions — and any concessions President Volodymyr Zelensky might embrace — will help determine whether the Kremlin is chastened or emboldened, and nations that have territorial ambitions over their neighbors, such as China, will be watching the outcome. Some NATO allies are especially cautious about ceding Ukrainian territory to Russia and giving Russian President Vladimir Putin any semblance of victory, according to alliance policymakers and analysts.

While Biden administration officials remain skeptical that the Ukrainian government’s negotiations with Russia will lead to a swift deal, officials say they are considering how a settlement — or any end to the fighting, however that might occur — will impact the security of NATO nations.

Which, of course, is what national governments are supposed to do. But, while NATO and others have been generous with financial, material, and intelligence support to Ukraine, they have left the fighting and dying to the Ukrainians.

“We believe that our job is to support the Ukrainians,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan said this week. “They will set the military objectives. They will set the objectives at the bargaining table. And I am quite certain they are going to set those objectives at success, and we are going to give them every tool we can to help them achieve that success. But we are not going to define the outcome of this for the Ukrainians.”

That’s contradictory: the Ukrainians are free to determine the end state, so long as the end state is the one we believe correct.

Some European countries, especially formerly communist ones with bitter memories of Russian invasion or occupation, are especially nervous about how the conflict will evolve, seeing themselves as next on the Kremlin’s target list. If Putin feels he has profited from the invasion, by winning territory, political concessions or other benefits, he may eventually be inspired to try the same thing against other neighbors, policymakers say.

The Ukrainians, as a result, are involved in a broader fight on behalf of Europe, NATO leaders say.

“I hope they will be hard as steel. I support maximum military support and maximum sanctions,” Latvian Defense Minister Artis Pabriks said in an interview. “Russia must lose and criminals should stand in court.”

Again, a perfectly reasonable position. Anything that leaves Putin able to claim a win will only embolden him and threaten other countries in his “near abroad.” But the resolve to fight to the last Ukrainian is not as valorous as it seems.

Even a Ukrainian vow not to join NATO — a concession that Zelensky has floated publicly — could be a concern to some neighbors. That leads to an awkward reality: For some in NATO, it’s better for the Ukrainians to keep fighting, and dying, than to achieve a peace that comes too early or at too high a cost to Kyiv and the rest of Europe.

“Many of us have, and it’s absolutely human, a willingness to see that the war ends as soon as possible, that people are not suffering, not dying, and that there are no bombings,” said a senior European diplomat who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk frankly about sensitive security issues. “There is an unfortunate dilemma. The problem is that if it ends now, there is a kind of time for Russia to regroup, and it will restart, under this or another pretext. Putin is not going to give up his goals.”

That NATO will never agree to invite Ukraine as a member—and thus pledge that an attack on Ukraine is an attack on all—and yet balks at Ukraine pledging not to join would be comical if it weren’t so cynical and deadly.

The Ukrainians have power of their own: Zelensky has been willing to criticize his Western backers when he has felt they weren’t doing enough to help him. If he publicized any attempt to pressure him to accept a settlement, or to reject one, that effort could backfire. And with Ukrainians doing the fighting, they aren’t as susceptible to Western pressure as weaker countries might be.

For sure. But Putin isn’t going to agree to a settlement that doesn’t offer significant relief from Western sanctions and only the West can agree to lift them.

If Ukraine and Russia agree to a peace settlement, Washington and the European Union will face a separate question about whether to offer sanctions relief to the Kremlin. The answer is not an automatic yes, some policymakers said.

“It’s a little tricky for the U.S. and other allies. … They don’t want something to come out of the negotiation that isn’t implementable,” said Alexander Vershbow, a former NATO deputy secretary general. “If the Ukrainians accepted a deal that does involve territorial concessions, it may be good enough for Ukraine in some circumstances, depending on what else they get, but it could set a bad precedent in terms of further legitimizing changing borders by force and by brutal, rapacious conquest, as the Russians are doing in many parts of Ukraine.”

But, of course, “the West” isn’t actually a single entity but a collection of sovereign states with different cultures and interests.

NATO members themselves do not appear united on how much of a direct threat Russia poses to the alliance, with officials in Paris, Berlin and elsewhere more inclined than their allies in Eastern Europe to feel that Putin’s aims stop at the NATO border. French President Emmanuel Macron — who this month is facing a surging far-right election opponent, Marine Le Pen — has spoken to Putin at least 16 times since the start of the year to try to preempt or end the conflict, French officials said. Le Pen has espoused pro-Russian views in the past.

For countries that are closer to the war, there is a belief that they have more at stake.

“This is a major issue for us,” said a senior diplomat from a country that borders Ukraine. “A divided, fragmented, frozen conflict in Ukraine is a very bad deal for us. An active Ukraine-NATO relationship is crucial for the Black Sea region. If that is broken, we will have a problem of unchecked Russians and the need for even stronger presence by NATO allies.”

Which, yet again, brings me to the fact that there’s no obvious condition for a settlement.

For now, the math that would favor a negotiated settlement does not appear to add up, analysts and policymakers said, despite some positive noise after discussions last week between Ukraine and Russia. With Russia pulling back from Kyiv and other cities, Ukrainians feel that the momentum is on their side. And the accounts of atrocities under Russian rule in BuchaLotskyne and elsewhere make it harder for Kyiv to concede an inch of territory, since there are now fears for the fate of Ukrainian citizens under any Russian rule.

“Who are we to tell Ukrainians what to do? How can we imagine a situation whereby given all of the destruction, all of the massacres, we just say, ‘Okay, that’s fine,’ ” said Nathalie Tocci, head of the Italian Institute of International Affairs and an adviser to E.U. policymakers in Brussels.

The Kremlin, too, may be unable to back down, since its citizens have been fed a steady stream of lies and propaganda about what is happening on the ground, and they have been told they are winning.

“I don’t see any indication that we’re anywhere close to a negotiated solution on this,” said Andrew Weiss, a former top White House adviser on Russia who is now vice president of studies at the Carnegie Endowment. “The Russians are prepared to continue doing horrible things in Ukraine with the goal of getting the Ukrainians to surrender and the West to back off, and the Ukrainians are prepared to fight. I don’t see the conditions for a settlement in place.”​

As to Western preferences:

While NATO officials say they are not trying to dictate terms of a potential deal to Kyiv, some Western officials have provided Ukraine with analysis of the country’s options and potential outcomes related to negotiations and the war.

Alliance countries — and particularly the United States, given the scale of its military aid to Ukraine — may have exerted their most significant sway in an indirect, perhaps unintentional manner, in their decisions about which weapons they will or will not supply to Ukraine. Those decisions have had a direct impact on the battlefield situation and, in turn, the Ukrainian government’s approach to peace talks. ​

Ukraine has said that in exchange for agreeing to give up its NATO aspirations, it would want legally binding security guarantees from the United States and others to defend it if it were attacked. A U.S. official said the U.S. military has not been consulted about what Western security guarantees for Ukraine would look like. The official said there wasn’t a lot of appetite among senior military leaders for such a notion.

“It appears like they’re looking for the same thing as Article V without being a NATO nation, and that probably would be a very rough row to hoe with the international community,” the official said, referring to NATO’s core collective-defense guarantee.

No matter how the war ends, the United States plans to review its military posture in Europe. Before the conflict, there were more than 80,000 U.S. troops on the continent. Today, with temporary deployments designed to shore up NATO’s eastern flank, there are more than 100,000, the official said.

Honestly, security guarantees without NATO membership simply make no sense. First, a pledge without a formal treaty simply has much less staying power. It’s highly questionable as to why countries that have allowed Russia to invade and commit atrocities, perhaps up to the level of genocide, rather than risk escalation would honor such a pledge. Second, if NATO members were truly committed to Ukraine’s security, then admitting them to the Alliance would be preferable to a mere “security guarantee” precisely because it would seem more credible to Russia and thus be more likely to deter another invasion.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Michael Reynolds says:

    I didn’t much like the idea of Ukraine in NATO because defending open plains directly connected to Russia seemed like a weak position to let ourselves be caught in. I mean, if Russian tank armies can’t take wheat fields. . . Well, turns out Russia’s military is about 50% hype. If Ukraine can hold Kyiv, NATO sure as hell can. Who is going to argue with a straight face that Ukraine’s military isn’t up to the standards of NATO?

    Our policy goal should be Russia out of all of Ukraine, including Crimea and the Donbas. Our goal that must not be spoken aloud is regime change in Russia and to those ends we should exert maximum economic pressure and think in terms of years, not months, before making even slight concessions. Basically Ukraine is a great excuse for us to fuck the Russians up economically and thus militarily.

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  2. drj says:

    Western powers may be at odds with the people doing the fighting and dying.

    Has there been any pressure whatsoever by any NATO member on Ukraine to continue the war beyond the point that Ukraine wants to pursue it?

    Nope.

    So basically premature concern trolling from the WaPo IMO.

    While there have been voices in several European countries (mostly Germany) calling on Ukraine to give up in order “to save lives,” that’s actually completely opposed to what the WaPo is suggesting here (NATO fighting to the last Ukrainian).

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  3. steve says:

    Ukraine gets to make whatever deal they want. They are the ones doing the fighting. However, we are also sovereign and get to decide what we want to do, as do other EU/Nato countries. If we want to maintain sanctions we get to do so. Russia can negotiate separately on sanctions.

    Steve

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  4. JohnSF says:

    As there is currently little sign of Ukraine being prepared to accept the likely minimum Russian terms, of ceding Crimea and DNR/LNR, the question is rather academic.

    Indeed, Russia as of now seems intent on taking at least all of the Donbas region, beyond the former DNR/LNR line.

    Regarding sanctions, it should be easy enough to lift the financial cut-off, as an informal deal but retain the trade embargoes.
    The first category are the short-term “economy breakers”, but the second are key to long term Cold War.
    If third parties are not signatory to any treaty, it can hardly bind them; especially as some sanctions predate the current war.

    Also, the analysis looking at NATO as a monolith may be mistaken.
    Insisting that sanctions could remain after a treaty is IMO aimed at part at undercutting the position of some west European political interests (mainly from Germany) who continue to lobby for a “compromise peace”.

    And to argue that arms for Ukraine should be restricted, and sanctions “calibrated” to encourage the “peaceful resolution”.

    This they justify as to preserve Ukraine from destruction, despite Ukraine asking for exactly the opposite.
    In fact its just an intense desire to return to the good old days of “wandel durch handel” and “ostpolitik”.
    Or more cynically, to get back to making money off the Russian trade, and having a good sleep after lunch.

    If such interests are confronted with “sanctions may stay anyway”, it forces them to drop their cover and argue openly for normalising relations with Russia.
    And then get told to buzz off.

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  5. drj says:

    But Putin isn’t going to agree to a settlement that doesn’t offer significant relief from Western sanctions and only the West can agree to lift them.

    This misreads the situation in various ways:

    * Putin cares much more about Ukraine than about sanctions.
    * It’s therefore unlikely that sanctions are high up in his calculus.
    * Thus, Putin will only (partially) back down if battlefield conditions force him to do so.
    * However, if battlefield conditions force Putin to settle with Ukraine then he must settle regardless.
    * Which means that he would be in no position to demand sanctions relief.

    As Russia is rapidly running out of troops, Putin is most likely down to only three options right now, none of which appear particularly viable:

    1) Get a decisive result in the Donbass with what he has.
    2) Declare war, call up conscripts, and try to win a war of attrition.
    3) Wait for Trump to ge re-elected in 2024 (if he can hold on that long).

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  6. Kathy says:

    NATO and the EU have two main cards to play to influence Ukraine: Supplying or not supplying weapons, and admitting or not admitting Ukraine to NATO and/or the EU.

    The former works to keep them from fighting, the latter might serve more to keep them fighting.

    A third card, relieving sanctions on Mad Vlad’s Empire, is more a pressuring Russia thing.

    But, while NATO and others have been generous with financial, material, and intelligence support to Ukraine, they have left the fighting and dying to the Ukrainians.

    That’s irony for you. Much the same happened when the US and UK supplied and supported the USSR, which did the bulk of the fighting and dying in WWII, even if Britain and the US also fought.

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  7. Woredewold Ferede says:

    When all is said and done, Russia will be economically bankrupt to the level of a third world country and Ukraine will be landlocked and unviable. NATO’s eastern flank will be highly militarized and tax payers will foot the bill to support the heavily armed NATO eastern flank. When all of this happens, the Chinese will rise to their primacy without much trouble. Then the rules based order as we know it will belong to the history books.

  8. Michael Cain says:

    @Kathy:
    IIRC, the NATO treaty requires that new members not be involved in territorial disputes. Which would seem to imply that Ukraine has to eject Russia (and quite possibly control Russian secessionists), or cede territory to Russia (or “independent” countries under Russia’s thumb), before they’re eligible for NATO membership. Or at least, the territorial dispute thing is recognized as a valid reason for an existing NATO member to veto the expansion.

  9. JohnSF says:

    @Kathy:

    …the USSR, which did the bulk of the fighting and dying in WWII

    True, and also the attitude of the US to the UK before Hitler lost the plot and declared war.

    Also calls to mind a quote from an uncle to a Russian who said something along those lines re. Russia being owed a debt of gratitude by the West:
    “Oh yes, and where were you when we were fighting the Battle of Britain? Busy invading Finland, co-operating with the Nazis, and murdering Poles. Now f@ck off.”

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  10. JohnSF says:

    @Michael Cain:
    Hungary would veto.
    Stone cold certainty. IMO.

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  11. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    I fear, drj, you have missed Russia’s 4th option: Escalation. First to chemical/biological weaponry, then to tactical nuclear strikes.

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  12. Michael Reynolds says:

    If Russia uses nukes in Ukraine this becomes a genuine battle for the survival of the West, a battle we absolutely must win no matter the risk. We should let the Russians know that if they use nukes, we will erase Kaliningrad, using whatever means necessary.

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  13. JohnSF says:

    @Just Another Ex-Republican:
    Russia would need to be very sure of rapid victory via escalation.
    If there is one country in the world that is not far below nuclear threshold, it’s Ukraine.
    (Or possibly Japan)

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  14. Kathy says:

    @Just Another Ex-Republican:

    I was just as happy to have left nuclear brinkmanship behind….

    Me, I’d let Mad Vlad know, very quietly, that any use of nukes on Ukraine would incur retaliation in kind by the US on Russian territory of similar kind*. I’d try to get France and Britain to issue the same warning, too.

    At the first use of chemical weapons on Ukraine, I’d make the warning public.

    None of this is a good option, but I fail to see any other way to deter Putin

    *That is, if they nuke a Ukrainian port, we nuke a Russian one. If they nuke Kyiv, we go after Moscow.

    Again, a terrible idea.

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  15. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Our policy goal should be Russia out of all of Ukraine, including Crimea and the Donbas.

    Those goals probably ARE our policy goals, and reasonable and desirable ones at that. Yet the very phrase “our policy goal” argues against the statement

    But we are not going to define the outcome of this for the Ukrainians.

    It would certainly be nice to have both Ukraine defining the outcome AND your stated “our policy goal” conditions. Any hawks out there in favor of forming an Abraham Lincoln Brigade of the Ukraine to keep Washington D.C.’s fingerprints off the outcome? I suspect not.

    And with all the cosplayers in the country, maybe a little surprising. Or not.

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  16. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @steve: ” Russia can negotiate separately on sanctions.”

    That’s been my position, too; knowing that such a position is ultimately a non-starter/deal breaker in the negotiations. It’s nice to say this is how the world works, but the world doesn’t really work this way. Over and over. Both internationally and nationally.

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  17. JohnSF says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    As I keep saying, there are sanctions and sanctions.
    Some (the fiscal transfer blocks) Russia will certainly want including as an element of a deal.
    And that can be a benefit both for “the West” and Ukraine.

    Make lifting conditional on Russia actually withdrawing forces, and state they will come slamming back on if Russia plays silly buggers.

    Other sanctions will remain.
    They are country based; there’s no central authority.
    Ukraine, or the US, could request; neither can command.

    What’s Russia going to do, refuse a treaty if Lithuania continues to freeze oligarch assets?
    Demand the return of Chelsea FC to Abramovich?

    I’d bet the German Greens would walk from the coalition if Nordstream 2 were approved.
    Neither the UK government nor the board is likely to approve BP sinking a fortune into Russian Arctic gas projects in the near future.
    The Poles will certainly press in the EU for continuing sanctions; just as surely as Hungary under Fidesz will push against.

    And in any case, the western countries could lift sanctions, wait till Russia pulls out, arm Ukraine to the teeth and then put sanctions back on.

  18. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    I agree with everyone saying escalation would be a horrible idea. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen. It’s not like we have a lot of evidence that Russia is making smart decisions about Ukraine these days, after all.

    And as pointed out multiple times in multiple articles and comment sections here, Putin can’t retreat (even if he wants to) without SOME sort of victory he can sell to the Russian public and elites, not without inviting a bullet to his brain. If conventional options fail, and depending on how “mad” he actually is, or how desperate, or how angry, or how embarrassed, what evidence is out there that he won’t keep doubling down and betting the “weak” West he is convinced exists will eventually buckle if he keeps pushing? As pleasant as it is to imagine Russia utterly defeated and Ukraine in full control of their own territory (including Crimea), I just can’t see Putin accepting that.

    I hope I’m wrong.

    1
  19. JohnSF says:

    @Just Another Ex-Republican:
    Or, he orders his commanders: “Nuclear attack, NOW!”
    They reply: “No. F@ck off.”
    (Questions: Are orders routed via military command? Does Putin have direct communications to launch sites? Can they be cut? Can military issue a 9mm countermand?)

  20. gVOR08 says:

    @drj: Complicating Biden’s role is that Putin, Zelensky, and the rest of Europe know that: A) should a treaty with the U.S. be part of a deal, the fucking Republicans will not provide a 2/3 majority for ratification. B) There is a fair risk of a GOP becoming prez in ‘24 and a high probability in ‘28. At which point, a la JCPOA, any agreement may be cancelled. So there’s option 3.b) Putin settles for what he can get, lies to Russians that it’s a huge win, and waits ‘til he can take another bite.

  21. Lounsbury says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Declarative statements are easy.
    Erase Kaliningrad = WWIII. Nuclear holocaust, every bit as much as a Russian erasure of say Baltimore. Once over that threshold every simulation and war game run since the 60s sees escalation up to strategic weapons as the implicite risk of décapitation runs away with the decision cycle.

    I for one do not wish to live through such

    Russian usage if tactical nukes in Ukraine needs to be warned off, sans foolish chest beating. French and American general reminders to Russia that we too are nuclear powers, as was done… perhaps the hint that any nuclear usage in Ukraine can see transfer of reply weapons to Ukraine. A more credible step wise threat.

    @JohnSF: various informed comments from defectors seem to suggest there’s some circuit breakers as it were, but given what Putin & his Securitate clique has done over the years including radiological poisoning with casual disregard for collateral damage…. or having poor bloody conscripts dig bloody trenches in the Tchernobyl Rxclusion zone in know Very Hot areas, well…. I rather would avoid testing either the common sense humanity of his Control lines or how he’s potentially bent them to personal will.

    Not for fear of “madness” and childish appellations like Mad Vlad, but the real risk of bad judgement under pressure.

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  22. Lounsbury says:

    @JohnSF: Indeed, after yesterday’s results, and Orbans charmante thuggish statement on Dear President Z….

  23. Gustopher says:

    @Lounsbury:

    I for one do not wish to live through such

    Don’t worry, you won’t.

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  24. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    We should let the Russians know that if they use nukes, we will erase Kaliningrad, using whatever means necessary.

    I have no objection to letting them know that, but actually following through is likely to be a very bad idea. Flinging nuclear weapons around seems like it might cause more problems than it solves.

    However, once we are in the realm of very bad ideas, how about hosting a summit, and then just having the marines come in and kill Putin? Sure, it probably breaks various international norms, and I have no doubt that Susan Collins would be concerned… but we’re already in the realm of really bad ideas, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    I think there are likely all sorts of really bad ideas that are less worse than nuking a city.

    1
  25. Andy says:

    I’ve been very busy with little time for commenting. But I’ll jump in here briefly to make a couple quick points/observations:

    – The effectiveness of sanctions in compelling behavior has a checkered, at best, history.
    – Those wishing for Putin’s demise should not assume that his replacement will be better.
    – The US is not accustomed to making strategic compromises or accepting other than decisive victory. Historically, this is an aberration.
    – Related to this, foreign policy ultimately serves domestic politics. The desire among the American elite and public to see Putin and Russia get their just desserts promotes certain policies and likely outcomes that could be counter to the desires of Ukraine and NATO members.

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  26. JohnSF says:

    @Andy:

    “…effectiveness of sanctions in compelling behavior (is) checkered…”

    As policy (as opposed to how they are sold politically), sanctions are about compelling behaviour.
    But only by way of their primary impact: degrading the economic capacity of an adversary.

    “Putin’s … replacement (may not) be better.

    In which case deal with the successor in the same way: attack Russia through whatever means are to hand, and are necessary, to oblige it not to violate our(= general “Western”) interests.

    “…accepting other than decisive victory. Historically, this is an aberration.”

    Perhaps not.
    Arguably, apart from some rather unusual periods of limited war (e.g. Europe in 19th Century) more conflicts were concluded with the total subordination or extinction of the defeated party. Or at least, that was the objective, if not the achievement.

    Obviously, this is problematic with regard to a nuclear Power.
    Overthrow, or compulsion to a required course, must be pursued more indirectly in such a case.

    The desire among the American elite and public to see Putin and Russia get their just desserts promotes certain policies and likely outcomes that could be counter to the desires of Ukraine and NATO members.

    On the contrary, the US elites and public are far more likely to see benefits in compromise with Russia than are Ukraine or Europe, who have far more greater interest in it’s being neutered, as it were.

    See for instance, a significant chunk of the Trump/Populist “America First” sections of the Republican elites and base.

    2
  27. DK says:

    Second, if NATO members were truly committed to Ukraine’s security, then admitting them to the Alliance would be preferable to a mere “security guarantee” precisely because it would seem more credible to Russia and thus be more likely to deter another invasion.

    Not sure I understand this. For one thing, if Putin wanted to keep Ukraine out of NATO, all he has to do is keep Ukraine at war perpetually. Per NATO rules, a country cannot join while at war, which Ukraine has been with Russia since 2014. So any security agreement given will neccesarily have to be outside of NATO.

    Ukraine has never been NATO eligible. Pre-2014, Ukraine either a) had a hopelessly corrupt Russian-puppet governments that precluded membership, or b) was subject to the Russian veto over NATO expansion per the Partnership for Peace (1994) and the NATO-Russia Council (2002).

    Incidentally, this also explains why the Greenwald/Carlson “Blame NATO expansion” canard is so dumb. Putin knows the presence of Russian troops in Crimea and Donbas precluded NATO membership for Ukraine. Prior NATO expansion happened in such close consultation with Russia that Putin himself once publicly floated Russian membership. NATO-Russia cooperation started to disintegrate only after, like clockwork, Russia’s usual militaristic imperialism kicked-in in response to its neighbors deposing Kremlin-backed puppets to embrace democracy.

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  28. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Lounsbury:
    The risk of allowing an unanswered use of nukes by Russia is too great to let it pass. You cannot let a psychopath know your limits. The risk is reduced if we make the threat early, and make sure everyone in the Russian military knows we mean it. But we have to mean it. We have to take that risk.

    @Gustopher:
    If we let Putin use nukes all of Europe is Putin’s bitch. Sometimes you just have to cowboy up. Kaliningrad is a careful escalation – the Kremlin can posture as if it’s Mother Russia, but it won’t resonate with the Russian people the way it would if we took out Vladivostok. But it’ll resonate like a motherfucker with the Russian military who really won’t want to lose that spot.

  29. DK says:

    @Andy:

    The desire among the American elite and public to see Putin and Russia get their just desserts promotes certain policies and likely outcomes that could be counter to the desires of Ukraine and NATO members.

    If you presume all the “elite” are neoliberal maybe. Once you recognize that Americans and Europeans are not a monolith, maybe not.

    The billionaire Koch family, rich Pultizer-prize winning Glenn Greenwald, and multimillionaire #1 rated ambassador’s son Tucker Carlson certainly qualify as The Elite, but are all publicly opposed to Russia getting just desserts. Along with many other American ruling class corporatists in a hurry for Ukrainian surrender, so the bankers and CEOs can get back to oligarching in Russia ASAP.

    More than a few in Europe want Putin definitively just desserted and neutralized. Meanwhile much of American public just wants to just see the war ended, couldn’t locate Donbas or Crimea on a map if you paid them and wouldn’t care less if Zelensky handed them over.

    Opinions all over the world are all over the map, non-elite and so-call elite both.

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  30. Andy says:

    @JohnSF:

    As policy (as opposed to how they are sold politically), sanctions are about compelling behaviour. But only by way of their primary impact: degrading the economic capacity of an adversary.

    I understand what they are intended to do. What they actually do in practice is both another matter and what actually matters. Having good or righteous intentions is irrelevant.

    In which case deal with the successor in the same way: attack Russia through whatever means are to hand, and are necessary, to oblige it not to violate our(= general “Western”) interests.

    Attack Russia to oblige it to not violate our interests? That language seems…strong. What are you advocating for exactly?

    Arguably, apart from some rather unusual periods of limited war (e.g. Europe in 19th Century) more conflicts were concluded with the total subordination or extinction of the defeated party. Or at least, that was the objective, if not the achievement.

    The US and other countries must and will defend their interests, but one must account for effects and tradeoffs (and unintended consequences).

    The situation for the US, however, is that short of nuclear war or direct armed conflict with Russia (likely the same thing) the US generally does not need to worry about consequences or tradeoffs except maybe higher oil prices. It is, therefore, easy for us to make maximalist demands because the costs of our various policies to punish Russia do not have much effect on Americans and are born by others. Ukraine and Europe are not in that position.

    Ukraine has the greatest justification to pursue maximalist goals as it is the victim of an unprovoked attack and war of aggression, yet the reality is that it cannot achieve those goals, so it must settle for what it might achieve. Hence the current talks with Russia and the desire for a negotiated end to the conflict.

    Europe (mainly Germany), for all it has done, is not willing to damage its own people and economy by cutting off Russian gas. It has to consider tradeoffs for its actions. Pursing the maximalist goals that you and many other Americans advocate for comes with substantial downsides for them – downsides the US does not face.

    So, because of these discrepancies and asymmetries and the historical reality that the US generally doesn’t believe we have significant tradeoffs to consider in foreign policy, I think there could be trouble down the line with our allies who have real and significant tradeoffs to consider. Time will tell.

    Obviously, this is problematic with regard to a nuclear Power.
    Overthrow, or compulsion to a required course, must be pursued more indirectly in such a case.

    I would just point out again that coercion, much less regime change, via “indirect” means, has a very poor historical track record. To me, this is magical thinking. It’s frankly the same kind of magical thinking that has driven US policy in many areas in unproductive ways. Having grandiose and maximalist policy goals and then taking actions that are unlikely to actually achieve those goals does little to promote US interests, much less those of allies who are in significantly more difficult strategic positions.

    It’s basically the same play as Cuba, Iran, North Korea, etc. except with a major nuclear power. The idea that sanctions and publically promoting regime change will somehow result in a different outcome than these other countries is magical thinking that ought to be challenged. And this is before even considering the risks of destabilizing a country with a nuclear arsenal that could destroy the United States.

    Sanctions and “indirect” courses of action are tools, and all tools have limitations. We need to use those tools consistent with the ends those tools can actually attain.

    On the contrary, the US elites and public are far more likely to see benefits in compromise with Russia than are Ukraine or Europe, who have far more greater interest in it’s being neutered, as it were.

    Outside of pro-Trump populists (who aren’t US elites), I don’t see that at all. Rather most are making the argument that our goals ought to be maximalist while the means we use to ostensibly achieve those goals should have few, if any, negative impacts on Americans. If there’s a foreign policy norm in the US, that is it, along with the usual rosy assumptions baked into these arguments.

    There is a hatred and special enmity for Putin here in America, particularly on the American left (for reasons that should be obvious), that is absent from other brutal authoritarian leaders – one that I really haven’t seen in my lifetime except maybe Saddam Hussein. That domestic political dynamic is, in my view, what will drive our policy. I think it is quite likely, actually, that we will – intended or not – not accept anything short of regime change and total loss and humiliation for Russia. And we will likely pressure allies to do the same. We are already seeing many arguments that anything short of that would be a “win” for Putin and Russia and therefore nothing short of maximalist goals should be accepted.

    I would think the problems with this view should be obvious.

    My view is that we have to deal with reality and not fantasies. The probability is that sanctions and the other measures we’ve taken won’t achieve maximalist ends. And this is what I was getting at in my third bullet point. Most wars end with unsatisfying conclusions where aggressors do not get the justice they deserve and this one looks very much like this historical norm.

    And to throat clear for the benefit of the usual suspects here, I’m not arguing that maximalist goals are not morally justified. Russia and Putin do deserve to lose this war decisively and if I could wave my magic wand, I would want to see Putin overthrown and replaced with a government that pursues Russia’s interests through non-military means and seeks friendly relations with its neighbors. But there is no magic wand and magical thinking is counterproductive and dumb. Despite my personal desires, I don’t think maximalist goals are remotely achievable, particularly considering the means we’re employing and the risks of escalation in utilizing measures that would actually result in regime change.

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  31. Andy says:

    James

    Honestly, security guarantees without NATO membership simply make no sense. First, a pledge without a formal treaty simply has much less staying power.

    Just as a point of fact, we have no formal military treaty with many countries where the US guarantees their security implicitly. Taiwan and most of our middle-east allies – to include Israel – are the most relevant examples. And we don’t even recognize Taiwan diplomatically.

    Secondly, none of our other defensive and collective security treaties are as binding as NATO. Most utilize this language, taken from the MOFA with Japan:

    Each Party recognizes that an armed attack against either Party in the territories under the administration of Japan would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional provisions and processes.

    There are actually many ways, in theory, to provide security guarantees that would act as a deterrent (which is the purpose of such guarantees) without joining NATO. The problem is that this early in the war, we don’t know what options would be possible or effective, much less who would guarantee the independence of Ukraine and to what extent.

  32. JohnSF says:

    @Andy:
    Some points:
    – I am not an American.

    – In my book the 63 House Republicans who voted against a motion affirming support for NATO are definitely an element of US leadership elite.
    If Representatives aren’t who the heck is?

    – Sanctions may or may not have a desired effect; my estimate is that ones aimed at damaging key sectors of the Russian economy such as extractive operations capital and machinery have the potential do degrade Russian production capacity over time.

    – You argue that coercion, or regime change, via “indirect” means, has a poor track record.
    Examples being Cuba, Iran, North Korea.
    However, you omit the big counterexamples: the Soviet Union, and arguably the East European states as well.

    – Personally I am willing to accept a resolution that leaves Putin in place.
    However, if the Russian government, be it Vladimir Putin or anyone else, subscribes to a “realist” view that the “Russian World” is rightfully subject to the hegemonic rule of Moscow, and that Russia is entitled to maximise it’s “security”, at the expense of Europe, by all means including wars of aggression and mass murder, Russia is a radically dangerous adversary to the interests of Europe.

    An adversary that must be curbed through containment, isolation and economic degradation: the policies of Cold War.

    If they abandon these attitudes and policies, and accept that they are not a privileged exception to the rules, as Germany has done, then they are welcome as friends and partners.
    If not, not.

    If those are “maximalist” ends, then anything less than maximalism is itself fantastic in the longer term.

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  33. JohnSF says:

    @Andy:
    @JohnSF:
    Some comments from Europe of rather more significance than mine:
    German Foreign Minister (Green Party) Annalena Baerbock:

    “No country is a pawn. No one is Russia’s backyard. No one is doomed to live in eternal bondage because that is the will of the Russian Government in its nationalistic fanaticism.”
    “…we as a European Union must completely phase out fossil energy dependence on Russia, starting with coal, then oil, and then gas…”

    Union High Representative Josep Borrell:

    “…Zelenskyy needs us to tell him less often that he is a hero and give him more weapons to fight. That’s what Ukrainians expect from us and that’s what we’re doing; and we must do it faster. Putting pressure on Russia and arming Ukraine. Help them to combat the invading forces with all the capabilities at our disposal…”

    EU President von der Leyen:

    “Only seven weeks ago, Bucha was a friendly and quiet suburb on the outskirts of Kyiv. But last week, humanity itself was killed in Bucha. It was killed in cold blood, executed with its hands tied and a bullet in the head. It was left to rot in the middle of the street or in mass graves….‘They shot everyone they saw’, one witness said about Putin’s soldiers. This, Honourable Members, is what is happening when Putin’s soldiers occupy Ukrainian territory. They call it liberation. No, we call it war crimes. And we really have to give it this name.

    Slava Ukraini. Long live Europe.”

    President Zelenskyy:

    “We do not trade our territory. So, the question of territorial integrity and sovereignty is out of discussion,”

  34. Lounsbury says:

    @Michael Reynolds: You do adore grand declarations. However, response to a Russian usage of tactical nukes in Ukraine to nuke Kaliningrad, their Baltic Fleet City (so sorry their Norfolk). Threatening WWIII is either stupidly non credible or it is madness.

    Interim and more credible threats as giving Ukraine theater response weapons in retaliation for any “weapons of mass destruction” (pity Ibn Bush gave the phrase its srupid history) is more credible to be executed and threatening to Russia.

    @JohnSF: Until the Germans do volte face on nuclear plants, the energy statements are unfortunately pious posturing.

    @Andy: While in broad agreement, it seems a valid observation that you are defining American Elite in an implicite fashion that might better be expressed as “traditional elites” insofar as the changes of the past decades have clearly upended old Republican party….

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  35. DK says:

    @Lounsbury: Few things in politics more amusing than Ivy League educated and/or demographically privileged 1%er multimillionaires and billionaires cosplaying like they aren’t part of the elite. Like, cut the crap.

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  36. Andy says:

    @JohnSF:

    However, you omit the big counterexamples: the Soviet Union, and arguably the East European states as well.

    Perhaps it’s an arguable point, but I don’t think sanctions did much to the USSR, their collapse was primarily due to the failure of Communism as a political and economic system. Regardless, if sanctions were the decisive factor, 50+ years is a long time to wait. If that is your example of sanctions working, then that is an extremely weak example.

    However, if the Russian government, be it Vladimir Putin or anyone else, subscribes to a “realist” view that the “Russian World” is rightfully subject to the hegemonic rule of Moscow, and that Russia is entitled to maximise it’s “security”, at the expense of Europe, by all means including wars of aggression and mass murder, Russia is a radically dangerous adversary to the interests of Europe.

    You misunderstand realism. That Putin’s and Russia’s interests seek to influence or control neighbors has nothing to do with realism. All countries have national interests and will pursue them to the extent that they can. All realism does is acknowledge that reality and factor it into analysis about a country’s goals and methods.

    Realism, as an analytical tool, is what correctly and accurately predicted how Russia and Putin would react over the course of the last quarter-century. Realism has nothing to do with moral evaluations about what is “rightful” it is merely a tool that explains the behavior of countries.

    And I would just return to a point I’ve made before about making assumptions about what other countries can and should do on the basis of parochial value judgments. The reason the realists have been right in predicting Russia’s actions for so long is that they’ve avoided this type of wishful thinking.

    And a realist worldview understands the limits of what sanctions can do (since we have plenty of historic examples) and doesn’t make rosy assumptions that they will foment regime change or compel a country to make a foreign policy 180.

    @Lounsbury:

    @Andy: While in broad agreement, it seems a valid observation that you are defining American Elite in an implicite fashion that might better be expressed as “traditional elites” insofar as the changes of the past decades have clearly upended old Republican party….

    Fair point – “elite” is yet another word that has become muddled in recent years.

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