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How to Avoid a War with Russia: Declare Ukraine Can’t Join NATO

T-90 Tank
Russia's T-90 Tank. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Statements and incidents coming out of Russia and Ukraine in the past 12 hours represent a clear acceleration of the crisis, indicating events on the precipice of all-out war. Even at this late hour, no one can say whether there will, for sure, be a war (as Putin could be ratcheting up tensions to see if he can gain through talks what he will otherwise take with force). But it’s getting awfully close to the point of no return – if it hasn’t already passed it – even for Putin.

But before the moment Russian missiles start raining down on Ukrainian targets and Russian tanks streaming across the border, there is one, last, opportunity for the United States and NATO to accede to reality and prevent war.

In NATO’s Munich Security Conference in Germany this morning, Ukrainian President Zelensky took to the podium and made an impassioned plea to the assembled Western leaders. He explained that Ukraine has been “told the doors (to NATO) are open. If not all members want us, say so! Open doors are good,” Kyiv’s leader added, “but we need open answers.”  Zelensky is right and does deserve an authoritative answer.

That answer is clearly “no.” Every NATO country has been unambiguous about its declaration that it will not send one soldier to fight for Zelensky’s Ukraine – repeated again by U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris in Munich on Saturday – yet Alliance leaders have been unwilling to state the obvious: NATO not only won’t fight for Ukraine today, they will never fight Russia over Ukraine. That position is sound, logical, and appropriate for the 30-member bloc – but its unwillingness to acknowledge the truth could have deadly and unnecessary consequences.

The urgency of NATO to make a declarative statement was underscored on Saturday back in Ukraine, as events continued to pile up that indicate war truly is imminent. Within just a matter of hours, events spiraled closer and closer to what could be the start of hostilities:

The head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic Denis Pushilin ordered a general war mobilization of all his troops and civilians, saying his forces “will protect Donbass and all Russian people.”

Vyacheslav Volodin, Speaker of Russia’s Duma, farcically claimed on Saturday that “Russia doesn’t want war,” but then added that if “danger arises to the lives of Russians and compatriots living in the DPR and LPR, our country will defend them.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov ominously warned on Saturday that, “Kiev is blatantly… building up its military forces on the contact line in Donbass and is carrying out a campaign on militarizing citizens and continues armed provocations.”

Russia’s Ria Novosti claimed “intelligence sources” in the Donbass discovered a 5-day military plan by the Ukrainian Armed Forces to seize the Donetsk and Luhansk areas by force, producing an alleged detailed battle map to make it appear real.

And Putin himself on Saturday oversaw a massive nuclear triad exercise that the Defense Ministry in Moscow claimed was designed to “test the readiness of military command and control bodies, combat launch crews, crews of warships and strategic missile carriers,” – in a thinly veiled warning that if war escalates too far, Russia could resort to nuclear weapons.

Moscow is giving every signal that it is potentially hours away from launching a military blitz into Ukraine to ensure it never joins the Western alliance. Since his 2007 Munich speech, Putin has been issuing consistent warnings to the West that he views NATO expansion to his border as an existential threat – and he has demonstrated his resolve with the use of limited force on two occasions since (the 2008 Georgia war and the 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea).

It is irresponsible in the extreme for NATO now, in the face of an imminent attack that could see tens of thousands of Ukrainians killed, to ignore Putin’s signals and blithely keep to the fiction of NATO’s “open door” that they know will never be opened. Though it is almost too late, U.S. and NATO leaders still have a small window to avert war, save the lives of many Ukrainians, and preserve the stability of Europe by simply acknowledging reality and imposing an indefinite moratorium on NATO entrance for Kyiv.

Ukraine does not now and never will qualify for NATO membership. It has a virtual civil war raging within its borders and has a perpetual risk of external war on its border, both of which disqualify it for entrance. Further, NATO’s own rules state that no country should be granted membership unless doing so contributes “to the security of the North Atlantic area” – and inviting Ukraine, with all its internal and external chaos, into NATO would undermine, not strengthen, the alliance.

One last thing that is crucial to point out: the 30-member NATO military bloc remains overwhelmingly stronger than Russia in every conventional military category – while matching his nuclear deterrent – and will continue to deter Putin from attempting any moves against so much as an inch of NATO territory. Withholding membership from Ukraine does nothing to diminish the alliance’s overwhelming power, and ironically increases the chance Ukraine is never attacked by Russia.

Now is not the time to stick to the volatile status quo of claiming an open door for Ukrainian membership which every NATO country knows will never be opened for Kyiv. Keeping the door rhetorically open will likely doom Ukraine to an avoidable war.

A 1945 Contributing Editor, Daniel L. Davis is a Senior Fellow for Defense Priorities and a former Lt. Col. in the U.S. Army who deployed into combat zones four times. He is the author of “The Eleventh Hour in 2020 America.” Follow him Twitter: @DanielLDavis1.

Written By

Daniel L. Davis is a Senior Fellow for Defense Priorities and a former Lt. Col. in the U.S. Army who deployed into combat zones four times. He is the author of “The Eleventh Hour in 2020 America.” Follow him @DanielLDavis1.

23 Comments

23 Comments

  1. Bill Herman

    February 19, 2022 at 9:39 pm

    Then Biden can have a sheet of paper and declare “Peace in our time”. Wait I’ve seen that movie before.

  2. mackykam

    February 20, 2022 at 1:23 am

    Is Ukraine the new ‘Sudetenland?’

  3. MM

    February 20, 2022 at 1:25 am

    Russia is not a country. It’s a gas station ruled by crazy killer and theft. No one wants to live in Russia, even Russians.

  4. Koriolanus

    February 20, 2022 at 1:46 am

    It is quite possible for Ukraine to become a NATO member: Russia changes its policy, retreats its armies within its borders and pursues peace, the wellbeing of its citizens and friendship toward its neighbours and everybody else, like all normal countries.
    Then Ukraine keeps improving its democracy and becomes a NATO member. Russia could also become a NATO member some time in the future. There is no fundamental reason for conflict between NATO and Russia or between Ukraine and Russia.

    If entry to NATO is denied to Ukraine, by falsely stating it can’t join NATO (it can, in fact, in the above scenario, that fits in fact the interests of all peoples and states involved), then the result would not be peace but the invasion of Ukraine by Kremlin-directed Russia, made easier by the fact that the morale of ukrainians will be undermined by NATO. This is the purpose of Kremlin’s request, the demoralisation of Ukraine, not peace.

  5. John Frederic

    February 20, 2022 at 1:55 am

    Why risk the destruction of Kyiv and Ukraine as as a whole and thousands of deaths for a fact that is already evident. Ukraine will not be added to NATO as it is a bridge too far and everyone knows it. The Russian speaking Ukranians and the western Ukrainians need to learn to live together and be allowed to enjoy their traditions and languages and accept a little diversity. Remove the NATO threat once and for all while building a free’er Ukraine. In exchange Russia needs to agree to the free Ukraine.

  6. Cloud William

    February 20, 2022 at 2:29 am

    How can it be Russia’s business whether a sovereign nation, eg Ukraine, joins NATO or not?

    NATO an existential threat to Russia? A silly notion IMO esply w the Russian occupation of the Crimean Peninsula a fait aaccompi.

    Anyway historically the purpose of NATO was to keep the Soviets / Russians out.

  7. Edward J West

    February 20, 2022 at 3:58 am

    Thats just his excuse to invade his real goal is to regain what was lost when the ussr fell and I’m willing to bet that he wont stop there and it would be a smart move to let them join think about it

  8. Alex

    February 20, 2022 at 9:07 am

    Ukraine will never be in NATO. Everyone has already understood this.

  9. Alej Marcos

    February 20, 2022 at 9:15 am

    A NATO country on Russia’s border. That would be analogous to Virginia joining the Russian Federation . NATO is an obsolete concept, and became so with the breakup of the Soviet Union, thirty years ago.

    Old fat European generals at NATO HQ who have never seen combat are trying to justify their sinecure with this ploy.

  10. Вадим

    February 20, 2022 at 9:42 am

    Coriolanus there is another aspect that is much less talked about: the non-aligned status of Ukraine was initially declared at the birth of the state, when it began to secede from the Soviet Union as the Ukrainian SSR. And, in fact, it was consolidated by the Declaration of Independence and the referendum on its approval on December 1, 1991.

    Non-blocking goes through all the main documents of the state
    The non-aligned status lies at the very foundation of Ukraine’s statehood.

    When on July 16, 1990, the Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian SSR adopted the Declaration on State Sovereignty of Ukraine, it was clearly stated in the section “External and internal Security”: “The Ukrainian SSR solemnly proclaims its intention to become a permanently neutral state in the future, not participating in military blocs.” Even at the foundation of Ukraine, a nuclear-free status was declared: refusal to accept, produce and acquire nuclear weapons.

    The nuclear-free status was realized in 1994, when, according to the Budapest Memorandum, nuclear charges inherited from the USSR began to be exported from Ukraine for processing. But there was a problem with the refusal to participate in military blocs.

    Let’s return to the Declaration of Sovereignty. At the time of its adoption, the USSR still existed, and the Ukrainian SSR was an integral part of it. The declaration of sovereignty of Ukraine was then, rather, a tribute to political fashion. Before that, declarations of sovereignty were proclaimed by the Baltic republics, and even Russia.

    The Russian Federation proclaimed the Declaration of State Sovereignty on June 12, 1990, more than a month earlier than Ukraine. Then the largest Union republic was called the RSFSR. The Declaration of Sovereignty of the RSFSR was adopted at the First Congress of People’s Deputies of the RSFSR by an absolute majority of votes (907 for, 13 against). It was signed by the Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR Boris Yeltsin, who was then elected the first president of Russia.

    In general, proclaiming the Declaration of Independence, the Ukrainian Communist Party elite, then leading the republic, only repeated the steps of the republican authorities of Russia and the Baltic States.

    Then in Moscow on August 19, 1991, there was a GKChP. And after the collapse of the State Emergency Committee, the central government of the USSR staggered and began to collapse, and republican leaders throughout the Union began to pull power over themselves. The Ukrainian elites also set a course for complete separation.

    On August 24, 1991, the Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian SSR adopted the Act of Proclamation of Independence of Ukraine. It announced the creation of an independent state of Ukraine, and, importantly, the Declaration of Sovereignty was called the basis for the adoption of the Act. Which, we recall, provided for a complete refusal to participate in military blocs.

    The Act of Proclamation of Independence of Ukraine

    In general, the creators of the state of Ukraine initially declared that the country would not participate in military blocs, which in principle excludes the idea of joining NATO.

    Further, on December 1, 1991, a referendum was held, with one single question: “Do you confirm the Act of proclamation of Independence of Ukraine?” 90.3% of Ukrainians voted in favor. Thus, by a huge majority of votes, confirming the fundamental document that was adopted in the implementation of the Declaration of Independence. Where, we recall, there was a direct reference to the Declaration of Sovereignty, which, in turn, contained the rejection of military alliances.

    Then, in 1996, the first Constitution of independent Ukraine was approved. Before that, the country had a slightly chartered Constitution of the Ukrainian SSR.

    In the preamble of the new Constitution, both then and now it is indicated that the Verkhovna Rada adopted the Basic Law, guided by the Act of Proclamation of Independence of Ukraine. Which again refers to the Declaration of Sovereignty, where the non-aligned status of Ukraine was proclaimed.

    Preamble to the Constitution of Ukraine

    Source: zakon.rada.gov.ua

    As a result, all the main documents on which the creation and very existence of Ukraine as a state is based are based on the Declaration of Sovereignty of Ukraine of 1990, which prohibits the state from joining any military alliances. Since NATO is a military and political alliance, it is also prohibited to join it.

  11. RobertG

    February 20, 2022 at 10:58 am

    How we stay home and let Europe defend Europe? Russia 170+ million people vs European Union 400 million people? Europe Could if Europe Would. Oh Lord why can’t we let OUR young men stay home and enjoy their grandchildren?
    Beware of Foreign Entanglements.

  12. Rick

    February 20, 2022 at 11:14 am

    This article is what you get from highly paid garbage. First you start with a fraudulent premise, and then on the base of the fraudulent premise you build strawmen to slay with your article.

    First: Where was this writer and his articles saying “Ukraine should stay out of America’s conflicts and threats” when Ukraine was one of the first nations to send troops to fight and die beside us in Afghanistan and then Iraq after the 9/11 attacks?

    Can we see his article stating “Ukraine should stay out of our war with Islamic terrorists”? If any articles were written back then, it would have been praise for Ukraine for doing more than some of our NATO allies.

    Second: We wouldn’t be here today if Ukraine still possessed the nuclear arsenal they had after the USSR collapsed. The reason they don’t have them is WE convinced them to give them up. And to get them to do that, WE assured them that we would be their defense against Russian aggression if they were attacked. The scholarly writer too young to remember that?

    Putin would not be messing with a still nuclear Ukraine. But the Obama/Biden dumpster fire presidency reneged on our promise to defend when Putin launched his first grab.

    After Afghanistan, and now one of the original feckless team to abandon Ukraine to Russia still in the White House, why WOULDN’T Putin come back for more?

    Third: neither the writer of the article or any of those attempting to support his viewpoint would bet their lives that Putin would be satisfied if just allowed one more seizure of a foreign nation’s territory. Appeasement didn’t work for England and the world when Chamberlain tried it, and it won’t work when America tries it with Russia – and Communist China.

    And finally: we wouldn’t be here today, nor all the Chamberlains out there screaming “peace in our time” and arguing about NATO membership – if America/Obama-Biden had simply honored the promise we made to Ukraine to defend them in exchange for the surrender of nuclear missiles.

    But we didn’t under Obama/Biden, and now we’re signalling that we will renege again under Biden/Harris.

    Maybe this writer and the resident Chamberlains can write articles and comments explaining why we shouldn’t honor that promise now that Ukraine no longer has nukes for us to worry about.

    America, through Soviet Democrat presidents, is developing a well earned reputation as an ally you simply can’t trust. Your troops can fight and die beside Americans to protect America and it’s interests, but American troops won’t be sent in return to fight and possibly die beside your troops to defend your interests.

  13. CaptRebel

    February 20, 2022 at 12:15 pm

    Every single country involved in this most recent mess is corrupt up to their collective eyeballs, and folks still think NATO is somehow unaffected by said corruption…what a horrible, murderous joke.

  14. Lawrence

    February 20, 2022 at 1:34 pm

    OR, DECLARE THAT UKRAINE IS A NATO MEMBER AND RETURN THEIR NUCLEAR WEAPONS AND DELIVERY SYSTEMS.

  15. from Russia with love

    February 20, 2022 at 1:49 pm

    The article is another attempt at distortion of facts.
    Ukraine’s accession to NATO WILL NOT LEAD TO RUSSIA’S ATTACK.
    Ukraine’s entry into NATO will lead 1) to the fact that Ukraine will be able to demand from NATO the participation of NATO countries in the return of Crimea by force (to draw NATO countries into a war with Russia). 2) to the fact that Russian military bases and missiles will be located in South America and Cuba. yes, recognizing the right of sovereign countries to decide for themselves which alliances to join and whose troops to let into their territory, the United States is digging a hole into which they themselves will go. once again, THIS IS NOT ENOUGH FOR RUSSIA’S INVASION INTO UKRAINE.
    but under what conditions will Russia attack Ukraine? if Ukraine tries to solve the problem of the Luhansk and Donetsk republics by force, in which many have already received Russian citizenship, Russia will conduct an operation to force Ukraine to peace. NOT WHEN JOINING NATO, BUT WHEN ATTACKING SEPARATED REPUBLIC.

  16. from Russia with love

    February 20, 2022 at 2:07 pm

    article the usual falsification of facts and substitution of meanings. Ukraine’s entry into NATO is a red line, the passage of which will lead to the emergence of Russian military bases in South America and Cuba, but this will also happen if NATO does not return its infrastructure to the borders of the 90s.
    an attempt by force to resolve the Ukrainian crisis with the LDNR will lead to a Russian attack on Ukraine. in LDNR citizens of Russia and Russia will protect its citizens.

  17. Doyle

    February 20, 2022 at 4:22 pm

    So “Peace in Our Time” and Tsar Putin gets a cheap win. ARE YOU KIDDING ME, GET REAL.

  18. Rich

    February 20, 2022 at 6:28 pm

    Did any of the armchair warriors here ever ask the question why the EU, with over 10X the GDP and 3X the population of Russia still relies on the US for protection? Why should the US spend its treasure and sons defending nations that won’t defend themselves? NATO is an anachronism that is a net negative for the US. It can only draw the US into another war. A war where the US has little strategic interest. For the US to get embroiled in a European conflict is folly when the real threat is on the other side of the world. Think about it; Russia poses no threat to the US either militarily or economically. On the other hand, China represents a direct threat on many levels. Yet we beat the war drums in Eastern Europe and give China a complete and total pass. Insanity.

  19. Michael Veritas

    February 20, 2022 at 8:25 pm

    The 29 other nations that are NATO members are not paying their fair share of the costs. US taxpayers have paid the majority of bill since the beginning. Let’s look at the Baltic States for example they joined a decade ago and still have zero tanks or jet fighters. Now to wealthy nations like Germany who spend virtually nothing while mooching subsidized security from Uncle Sam. NATO’s primary purpose is the defense of Europe. Shouldn’t Europeans pay the majority of bill?

  20. Michael Kearins

    February 21, 2022 at 10:01 am

    Much better article this time from the author compared to some others that I read that were idiotic. The president of Ukraine committed a foreign policy blunder by pushing to join NATO knowing that Putin has declared he will invade to stop it if it ever was going to happen. The Russians want Ukraine as a buffer between them and NATO in case NATO ever wants to invade them they would have the increased time that it would take NATO to get to their border through Ukraine to mobilize. Thats one reason. Now if the Ukrainian president would have been smarter he would have armed his nation with modern missiles and trained his military to a high level then maybe moved to talk about joining NATO. But his irrational policy brougth this crisis about. The USA with a mentally unfit president put in power by a voter fraud op does not help the situation. I agree with the author that we can not get involved. Let Ukraine arm and train themselves to make it to a level of power that Russia would not want to take over their nation in a future crisis. They just have to avert this situation now and then begin that armament process. Modern jets, anti aircraft missiles and tank missiles etc… Right now they have two options to defend their nation. Fall back to the cities and fortify them in order to make it a costly affair for the Russians to take the cities because of the high costs of street fighting that favors the defender. Also set up supply depots throughout the Ukrainian wilderness supply a insurgency that will cost the Russians long term in lives in order to create a Russian home front anti war movement over the losses suffered. They did this insurgency very well in WW 2 against the Germans.

  21. Alex

    February 21, 2022 at 12:25 pm

    Russians will not fight Ukrainians. But if the Nazis in Ukraine (they are not even Ukrainians) commit provocations, then the same thing awaits them as their Nazi ancestors, who until the 50s were taken out of the forests, dugouts and put on trial. Ukrainians hate their Nazi neighbors, who are an absolute minority, but with the support of local oligarchs and Washington, these Nazis in power were briefly able to intimidate Ukrainians.

  22. TotallyNotBiased

    February 22, 2022 at 9:11 am

    glad Daniel got his 100 rubles for posting such nonsense 🙂

  23. Caroline

    February 27, 2022 at 5:17 pm

    What absolute nonsense. As if declaring Ukraine couldn’t join NATO would have any effect whatsoever – if you cannot see that was simply an excuse, you’re not paying attention.

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