It’s time to take a strategic break from NATO enlargement
It’s easy to see why some would think that bringing Sweden and Finland into NATO is a good idea. It would be in Putin’s interest if his illegal, immoral and unwarranted invasion of Ukraine ended up more than doubling the border between Russia and NATO. This would reflect what appears to be the majority sentiment in Finland and a growing majority of Swedes. Both countries have “first-class” military capabilities as well as strong democratic traditions, which would enhance NATO’s power and reputation.
But the desire to humiliate Putin and reinforce US global military dominance is short-sighted and dangerous. This risks aggravating, extending and prolonging the war in Ukraine. This will greatly increase the likelihood of a nuclear exchange, which could easily escalate into a global holocaust. The US Senate – which, by a two-thirds majority, must give its opinion and consent to the ratification of protocols adding new members to the alliance – should give serious thought before approving the admission of new candidates.
Escalation, expansion, prolongation of the war in Ukraine
America’s highest priority should be to bring this war to a speedy conclusion through an immediate ceasefire and a just and lasting negotiated settlement.
Yet the Biden administration — under pressure from Congress and the foreign policy establishment — has only reinforced its war goals, from subduing Russia to crushing it. Following a high-level visit to Ukraine, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin described the United States’ goal as seeing “Russia weaken to the point that it cannot do the kind things she did by invading Ukraine,” while Democratic leaders called for “outright military victory.” ”.
The growing involvement of the United States is not mere rhetoric; the United States has now admitted to providing operational intelligence that Ukrainian forces used to target and kill Russian generals as well as sink the valuable Russian warship. The increasingly heavy and sophisticated arms shipments from the United States and its allies have gone beyond enabling Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to defend his country; they encouraged him to greatly expand his demands for entering into peace talks. While previously indicating significant flexibility on Donbass, Zelensky now demands “restoration of pre-invasion borders, return of more than 5 million refugees, membership of the European Union and accountability Russian military leaders”.
In this environment, pushing NATO to Russia’s doorstep is a provocation that will only raise the stakes of the war in Ukraine and make it harder for Putin to back down. It was a mistake to bring the former Warsaw Pact countries into NATO after the end of the Cold War, as many leading analysts and policymakers at the time argued, and it ultimately served reinforce Russia’s sense of isolation and encirclement.
Indeed, Ukraine’s desire to join NATO and its receipt of weapons and training from the United States were certainly key factors in Putin’s decision to invade. Expanding NATO now will raise the stakes for Putin in a way that virtually guarantees the war will last longer and increase the chances of it spreading beyond Ukraine’s borders.
Roll back the prospects for peace in Europe
Saying “yes” to Finland and Sweden will make it much harder to say “no” to Ukraine. More importantly, Finland’s and Sweden’s NATO membership could end up destabilizing Europe rather than protecting it. Neither country faced a serious threat from Russia before this crisis, but the windfall of armaments that will inevitably result from their incorporation into NATO could tempt Russia to push back. The war has already provided a huge boon to defense contractors, as pressure mounts to modernize and improve system interoperability and flush out the last remaining Russian military equipment.
What Europe needs is not a reshuffling of Cold War borders and the creation of a larger NATO footprint, but a new architecture of security and economic institutions. which all European countries, including Russia, could possibly join.
Increase nuclear risks
The world has been rightly appalled by Russian threats to use nuclear weapons if its existence is threatened, although the United States has also refused to rule out the first use of nuclear weapons. Given the danger that even a single tactical nuclear weapon could cause catastrophic damage and quickly escalate into a full-scale nuclear exchange, preventing the war in Ukraine from going nuclear should be a central goal of US and US military planners. NATO. Which begs the question: how does NATO expansion advance this goal?
Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines testified that Putin might turn to nuclear weapons if he believed he was losing the war in Ukraine, especially if NATO were to intervene. Confusingly, a “resounding military defeat” is exactly what some US senators are urging the Pentagon to seek. Moreover, NATO’s growing involvement in the war – and potentially, NATO’s growing size – are raising the stakes for Putin, dramatically increasing the chances of a nuclear conflagration. Even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, experts considered the world to be “the closest it has ever been to a civilization-ending apocalypse.”
President Biden himself seems to understand the need to avoid pushing Putin to his limits. “The problem that worries me now,” he told a rally of Democrats, “is that he has no way out right now, and I’m trying to figure out what we’re doing on this subject.” Yet imposing debilitating economic sanctions, branding Putin a “war criminal” and prematurely announcing US support for Sweden and Finland joining NATO only narrows Putin’s options and makes Russia increasingly likely to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine.
Nuclear risks are not limited to deliberate use. As Thomas L. Friedman explains, “the longer this war lasts, the more opportunities there are for catastrophic miscalculations – and the raw material for that is accumulating fast and furiously.” The base of more NATO troops and nuclear weapons closer to Russian soil could certainly make Putin’s fingers more nervous.
In addition to taking NATO membership off the table for Ukraine, the West could put Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership on the negotiating table with Russia. A promise not to expand NATO at all would be fairer to Ukraine and could help Russia reduce its territorial ambitions. Such a proposal should be part of a broader international effort to stop the fighting, address Russia’s legitimate security concerns and prevent more people from dying in Ukraine and around the world. After all, the impacts of war are beginning to be felt in the form of global food shortages that could end up killing far more people than fighting.
More broadly, Europeans and Americans should start thinking about what kind of cooperative security arrangements would be most likely to deter violent conflict, build positive peace, and promote human development within and beyond. of their borders. What they eventually find may bear little resemblance to the NATO we have now – and hopefully will not necessitate the increased spending on arms and war that is now projected. At the very least, US and NATO leaders must avoid falling prey to the same hubris that Putin succumbed to during his disastrous invasion of Ukraine.
Diana Ohlbaum served as a foreign policy adviser to Congress for more than 20 years, including serving as a senior professional member of the House and Senate Foreign Affairs and Foreign Relations Committees. She currently leads the foreign policy team of FCNL, the Quaker lobby for peace and justice, and chairs the board of the Center for International Policy, a progressive foreign policy think tank.