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NATO Has One Last Chance To End Russia’s War on Ukraine

NATO F-16 Fighter. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

NATO’s Last Chance to Acknowledge Reality and Support an End to the War in Ukraine – While much of the United States remains mesmerized watching the graphic and shocking images pouring out of Ukraine as a result of Russia’s illegal and unprovoked attack, Western leaders pillory Russian President Vladimir Putin with condemnation and promises of “decisive action” to punish the Russian leader for the invasion.

While Putin is deserving of the condemnation heaped upon him, it is also useful to examine whether these same Western leaders might not have some degree of culpability for this disaster as well. It doesn’t take much scrutiny to realize that, in fact, there are many who share responsibility for the still-unfolding disaster.

It must be stated upfront, unambiguously, that the responsibility for this war, the destruction of infrastructure, and the detestable loss of Ukrainian life ultimately lie at the feet of one individual: Vladimir Putin. Whether he was afraid of NATO expansion to his border, believed the threat of Western missiles stationed near his border represented an existential threat or wanted a rollback of NATO to its 1997 positions, the right and mature path would have been tough diplomacy. Instead, Putin is tired of waiting and chose war.

War wasn’t forced on Putin. There was no imminent threat. Hell, even the theoretical formal invitation of NATO membership to Kyiv wasn’t even being considered by Western leaders. The Russian leader instead made a calculated, conscious decision to choose a military solution that he knew would result in the likely deaths of thousands of innocent Ukrainians and possibly even the same number of casualties among his own troops. By any calculation, it was an unethical and immoral choice.


Even the cold, calculating Putin preferred to solve his security dilemma via diplomatic means. Not that he cared whether lives would be lost or saved, but because successful negotiations would have lowered the cost of him attaining his political objectives. The West had two golden opportunities to leverage Putin’s cost-benefit propensities to simultaneously prevent war and assure the security of the alliance members. Western leaders abjectly failed at both.

First, Western leaders have, since the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, been on autopilot of the eastward expansion of NATO. Never mind that the near-simultaneous overnight collapse of both the Warsaw Pact military alliance and the Soviet Union dramatically reduced the military threat against which NATO was originally formed. The inclusion of most of the former eastern and central European members of the Warsaw Pact into NATO by 2004 effectively eliminated any remaining threat against which the Atlantic alliance might fear.

At that point the West had its first golden opportunity to solidify the security of the entire European continent by capping NATO and working to effectively form a new European security relationship that included both NATO, the rest of eastern Europe, and Russia. There needn’t have been any basis for any of them to feel threatened by the other.

Brussels made its first major error by throwing away its golden opportunity in a lust to further isolate Moscow by expanding its military alliance closer to Russia’s border. At the 2008 Bucharest Summit, NATO formally declared Georgia and Ukraine would at some point be invited into the alliance. Putin issued a declaration of his own four months later, when he ordered a limited military incursion into Georgia, effectively eliminating them from future consideration of NATO membership.

Instead of realizing Putin was deadly serious about preventing any further eastward expansion of NATO – and instead of spending the Alliance’s time and energy solidifying its then-current membership – NATO continued additional rounds of expansion in both 2017 and 2020 – and relentlessly focused more energy on seeking membership for Ukraine.

The Alliance’s last golden opportunity to avoid this war came within just the last few months. Putin had already shown he was willing to use lethal force to keep NATO off his border in the 2008 Georgia war and the 2014 seizure of Crimea.

When he started building up the type and number of combat forces on Ukraine’s border in late 2021 while saying he needed “written guarantees” of no further NATO expansion to his borders, the West could have acknowledged the reality that Ukraine was never going to qualify for entrance into the alliance, and claimed that for our own security and to reduce the threat of war to Ukraine, we would withdraw the membership offer.

Without question, that would have taken immense political courage for any Western leader to make such a declaration, but it should have been abundantly clear that such a move was necessary to reduce the threat of invasion for Kyiv. Instead, we let the last opportunity evaporate by adamantly emphasizing that no one was going to tell us who could and couldn’t join NATO – predictably condemning Ukraine to its fate of war.

On Friday, Ukrainian President Zelensky publicly admitted he was willing to negotiate a declaration of neutrality, and Moscow almost immediately indicated its willingness to negotiate such a deal. That is the one thing that has a good shot at ending the war now before any more Ukrainians pointlessly die. Sanctions will never do it because Putin obviously calculated he was willing to endure sanctions before he ordered his troops to cross the border; if the threat of sanctions didn’t prevent him from starting a war, the threat of more sanctions surely won’t make him stop mid-stream.

Arrogance and an unwillingness to recognize simple geopolitical reality led the Western alliance to refuse to do what made sense for its own security and give Ukraine the best chance of avoiding war when it had chances to stop it. NATO should eat its stubborn pride now, publicly support Zelensky’s desire for negotiations, and accept a neutral Ukraine. Failure to do so will likely condemn yet more Ukrainian people to pointless deaths.

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.



  1. CWM

    February 25, 2022 at 5:04 pm

    The only answer Liberals have is capitulation!

    • London

      May 12, 2022 at 2:26 pm

      That is not true, at all.
      Democracy is the only way, every other system has failed.
      You can keep your surrender talk.
      It takes strength not weakness to build a liberal democracy, and even more strength to retain it.
      We need to work together not slate each other. This is the hard part. If you want it easy, build a totalitarian regime, and never have to make a decision again.

  2. Commentar

    February 25, 2022 at 5:53 pm

    NATO’s last chance would be to dismantle itself but it would like asking the ruler of hades to give free showers to his subjects.

    Zelenskyy (little hitlah of Kyiv) late last year (2021) boldly proclaimed his wish to have his country join NATO.

    NATO is no different from the fascist outfit known as Tripartite Treaty set up by Germany, Japan and Italy of 1940 which later added more states as members.

    NATO serves no purpose other than to provide US to gain control of the earth, though it failed spectacularly in AFGHANISTAN despite committing numerous war crimes there in 20 years of all out war.

  3. Alex

    February 25, 2022 at 6:15 pm

    Russia has been trying for 8 years to force Ukraine to comply with the Minsk agreements. Western countries have done nothing to help with this. Then Ukraine began to threaten with an attack on a nuclear power plant in Russia and the creation of its own atomic bomb. Russia’s patience has come to an end. If Russia has decided to conduct a special operation to demilitarize and denazify Ukraine, then the opinion of the West is now the least that worries Russia.

  4. Capturedbyfire

    February 25, 2022 at 6:39 pm

    And Conservatives genuflecting and licking ? Putin’s boots.
    So basically what your saying is we’re pissing away trillions $$$ on a American War Machine that looks awesome but afraid to use it against enemies with much, much better toys or that our enemies truly know how to use them. Why buy a Lamborghini if you never take it out of the garage, and only race kids on mopeds? If our president is gun shy, and the previous president liked to look at solar eclipses and actually thought the Russian Military was actually American Troops, it’s best to just be in the Arms selling Market. If our intelligence is so advanced, they would know who to sell too, kinda like insider trading.

  5. Rich

    February 25, 2022 at 8:18 pm

    Such things worked so well with Hitler.

  6. PJB

    February 25, 2022 at 8:22 pm

    There was one last final tripwire, you neglected to mention:

    From latter months 2021 (BEFORE Russia built up its forces) Ukraine increased its own forces along the frontline with the Donetsk & Lugansk breakaway republics.

    Ukraine increased the forces in complete disregard for Minsk treaty but that wasn’t new. What was new was it had amassed a force to invade and recapture the rebel Russian speaking republics.

    The front line had been frozen since 2015. Most deaths were of Donbas civilians hit by sniper and mortar fire from Ukrainian side – often not regular army but the Nazi battalions with their Swastika and SS insignia. The Donbas population rightly feared ethnic cleansing genocide if they ever lost – not from regular Ukrainian army, but from the Nazi battalions like Azov and Aidar. They did this early in the civil war when they took towns in western part of Donetsk and Lugansk republics.

    The Russian build up was 1. to deter, but 2 to invade if felt necessary.

    Russian Duma recognised Donbas republics as independent by 400 votes to nil. PS Russia is a democracy with several parties, such unanimity is rare.

    Putin ratified the bill.

    Ukrainian army had at this stage been bombing with heavier artillery in a barage for a week bigger than anything since 2015. Ukraine ceased fire for about 24hrs to consider Russia’s move to recognise Donetsk & Lugansk republics. But foolishly they then opened fire and sent a couple of tank columns as a probing move to advance.

    At same time Zelensky says Ukraine (with 15 nuclear reactors) will start working fast on developing nuclear weapons.

    That was the final tripwire.

    A bad horrible conventional war now.
    Or a nuclear holocaust later.
    If we had an accurate crystal ball we might see that Putin, Lavrov, Shoigu and the Russian security council had chosen the lesser of two awful evils.

    And NATO, plus Obama-Biden-Kerry-Nuland with their coup in Ukraine in 2014 – set this inevitable train in motion.

  7. mangtimang

    February 25, 2022 at 8:52 pm

    which wars are worse and caused more fatality? Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Syria or Ukraine?

  8. Commentar

    February 25, 2022 at 9:37 pm

    NATO’s last chance to avoid direct war with Russia is to call on Biden to resign and let Harris (or trump/pence) to take over.

    GOP senator Ted Cruz has faulted the war in ukraine on Biden’s mistakes made in 2021 – the chaotic disorderly and panicky withdrawal from Kabul and the flip-flop policies over Nord stream2 without consulting Germany.

    Shows that Biden urgently needs to have his head and brains examined by a doctor , one from trump’s bevy of doctors like Dr Ronny Jackson or Dr Harold Bornstein or Dr Phil…

  9. Just Moi

    February 26, 2022 at 4:33 am

    I see a lot of people seem to forget a few basic facts. First, Ukraine is an independent country. It does not belong to Russia or NATO or anyone else. What government it has is entirely their own business. No other country has any say in it.

    Secondly, the breakaway areas are not independent. They are part of Ukraine. Crimea is a part of Ukraine. A vote sponsored by Russia does not make an independent country. It is like Canada holding a vote in Idaho and declaring it a part of Canada.

    Another lesson shown to North Korea, Iran and any other country is do not ever give up your nuclear weapons regardless of any promises made. This mess has shown all countries that the only way to stay independent is through nukes. God help the world.

  10. Txh2540

    February 26, 2022 at 4:42 am

    Better yet. Just invite Russia to join NATO.

  11. TrustbutVerify

    February 26, 2022 at 9:04 am

    Yes, because Putin’s actions in Ukraine show that Eastern Europe has NOTHING to fear and no reason to want to join an expanded NATO. I don’t thinkvreality has touched the ideology of the Colonel yet.

  12. Scott

    February 26, 2022 at 12:51 pm

    This is another backwards logic, denial of history, capitulation to thuggery spin on what is not at all morally, ethically, strategically, or legally complex or clouded.

    A sovereign nation with democratically elected leadership was invaded in 2014 and has been undermined / attacked asymmetrically since then by an autocratic regime that is Very much a threat to any nation on its border.

    It’s an alliance – and a defensive one – built to counter a massive and hostile threat. Russia vs (insert a European country here) is the fear. That’s why NATO expands! Fear, very justified, that unless you’re in the alliance, you’re vulnerable. Putin is not benign. At all.

  13. Lepke Buchalter

    February 26, 2022 at 2:50 pm

    The problem of Nato expansion starts with WWII. Russians have fed the fallacy of the Soviet “liberation” of Eastern Europe when the people in those countries only saw the removal of one bad dictator for a worse one. That led to 45 years of oppression and poverty.
    If, at the end of the USSR, Russia would have become a peaceful country and concentrated on improving their citizens life and growing their economy instead of rebuilding the USSR’s empire, there would have been no reason for Nato. It would have become weaker and eventually dissolved.

  14. BobbyD

    February 26, 2022 at 5:19 pm

    Ronald Regan promised Micail Gorbatschow back in 1990, at the fall of the Berlin Wall, that he (Regan) would not expand any U.S. troops or Nato allies further east than East Germany. We fridge lied, just like we lied to the Apache Indians and everyone else we’ve ever made expansion agreements with. Now we have U.S. bases in Poland, Romania, Lithuania and all along the Russian border.
    What the fk did you think was going to happen?

  15. Joel Weymouth

    February 26, 2022 at 6:35 pm

    What the war without end Internationalists NEVER DISCUSS is that we were ready to go to a shooting war with Russia (USSR) even to the point of a nuclear strike over missiles in Cuba. Are we so stupid to think that Russia would not respond in the same way being confronted with missiles in Ukraine? These members of the foreign policy elite of the United States Department of State have always been foolish. For example, they pushed MacArthur to drive headlong to the Yalu not once considering how we would have reacted if a major power was driving up through Mexico toward the Rio Grande.
    Russia is acting in a reasonable manner. Ukraine is a den of human trafficking and the power elite in DC are afraid that Putin will get a hold of the evidence and expose our den of pederasts and moral deviants.

  16. Alex

    February 27, 2022 at 9:50 am

    Russia has introduced a special regime of nuclear deterrence. Does anyone else think that Russia will take a step back? Really?

  17. Emanuel

    March 12, 2022 at 1:59 pm

    On the top it looks like a behemoth of a totalitarian power (Russia) crushing a sprouting democracy (Ukraine). The innocent are welcome to this pure and simple perception of reality. Beneath the simplicity, reality and what we know of it, is far murkier. To consider why other nations reborn after the Soviet collapse, at more or less the same time as Ukraine in 1991 have mostly succeeded to put a lot of matters within their own borders in enough shape to be accepted as both EU members and NATO ones too, to mention a couple, Poland and Romania. But not Ukraine where corruption is massive and apparently the order of the day to the extent that is has become the playground of American covert services. What was the need for NATO to move up to Russian borders? To increase the chances of WW3? It’s not that I am trying to justify Russian actions or that I am some Putin fan. Far be it the case. But using the same parallel, Cuba was equally independent to accept missiles on its territory, yet America baulked at the Russian project and sealed off the entire island with its navy. The Russians, wisely, turned their ships back (after extracting a concession from Kennedy that was not publicised at the time). Now Putin is acting exactly like the Americans had done. Either leave Ukraine free of NATO interference or he would intervene. And he intervened. Is it moral behaviour? No. Do great powers do it? All the time. America did it under Kennedy. Russia is doing it under Putin. Some day China might decide to do it with Taiwan or some other area contiguous to its border. I see absolutely no difference between the two. If anything, Russia allowed that quite a number of other countries on its border join Nato, such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Poland. Wasn’t that enough for NATO to be able to invade Russia should the need have arisen? Did it need to occupy the whole western Russian border with its members to ensure that it was robust enough to take on Russia both defensively and offensively? It seems that acumen is a rarity in the West. These are people who NEVER LEARN. They learned nothing from Caesar, Napoleon, Hitler, whomsoever. They keep making the same mistakes. It would have been much better for NATO members to find alternative sources of energy to Russia rather than mess around with moving via Belarus and Ukraine all the way to the Russian border. What would have been an ideal situation to the Russian populace and the West? Very possibly a democratic Russia inducted in the EU and NATO itself. I think that would have been the best option for both not anymore behaving default thinking that they are prone to invade each other as well as to lock in China pretty well comprehensively. I do not know about the Russians, never studied them deeply, but I am practically sure that the west was neither interested in such an option nor produced the statesmen of stature to embark upon realising such a scenario – the coupling of Russia in Western institutions to the full and as a fully equal member. The West had everything in its favour: A divested Soviet Union, time, a mostly caucasian and christian land plus other positives. A massive opportunity wasted in American vanity priding itself that it had contained and defeated communism. Good, great. But what were America and the West capable of building upon that? Absolutely nothing. They were happy seeing the Soviet Union becoming a total mess as the new Russia. Putin was not always the Putin of today. In the beginning he would have been far more amenable to fair negotiation. The West and America let the opportunity slip. Disdainful senators such as Biden was then sarcastically remarking that Russia had absolutely no chance finding refuge in an approachment with China were it to try and could well try approachment with Iran. The senator said this dripping disdain and sarcasm, as idiotic as ever he was during the whole course of his political life, an ignorance so steeped that he has been unable to ever come out of it and which is where we still find him today. The trouble with all this, is that at least some 80 million contemporary Americans have become as dumb as him which practically guarantees that Russia will continue to produce uninterrupted series of Putins. Irresponsible people are always looking at others to find fault with never crediting themselves with any of the lack.

  18. Eric

    March 15, 2022 at 9:05 pm

    Defense Prioirities is funded by the Koch Foundation, so take it for what it’s worth….

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