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Why Can’t NATO Admit Ukraine Has No Chance of Joining?

Ukraine
Army Staff Sgt. Alex Manne, a combat photographer assigned to 982nd Combat Camera Company (Airborne), fires his rifle during Fleet Combat Camera Pacific’s Summer Quick Shot 2015 combined joint field training exercise in the Angeles National Forest near Azusa, Calif., Aug. 4, 2015. Quick Shot is a semi-annual exercise that improves combat camera service members' abilities to operate in a tactical environment. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brett Cote / RELEASED)

NATO Gambles with Ukrainian Lives in Standoff with Russia by Ignoring Reality: Now that Russian President Vladimir Putin has illegally recognized the independence of two breakaway parts of Ukraine – and the Russian Duma has handed Putin an authorization to use military force – the world is not just in the 11th hour before war, but also the 59th minute.

The West loves to wield sanctions to solve any international problem. That hasn’t deterred Putin since 2014 with Ukraine and it won’t work now. Recognizing reality and making rational choices, even at this late hour, remain the only things that can prevent major war in Eastern Europe.

What is now acutely clear: the only thing that has any prospect of forestalling war at this point is for the West to acknowledge the plain reality that Ukraine is never going to be invited into NATO. It is the foolishness of the highest order to pretend otherwise, especially when relentlessly keeping NATO’s door open is the most likely spark that would convince Putin that attempting a limited objective military strike into Ukraine might be better than having NATO as his next-door neighbor.

Ignore these realities by stubbornly clinging to the fiction NATO’s door remains open to Kyiv, and the U.S.  will likely reap rotten fruit: potentially tens of thousands of Ukrainian people dying in an avoidable war, NATO security damaged – and regardless of which choice NATO makes, Ukraine will remain outside of NATO.

The West at large is trying every diplomatic way imaginable to avoid compromising on any of its baseline positions and refusing to grant Putin any of his key demands (which are no NATO membership for Ukraine, a return to 1997 security lines, and no intermediate- or short-range missiles near Russian borders). NATO prefers to resolve the crisis in a way that results in Putin standing down his military buildup, preserves the territorial integrity of Ukraine, and keeps the door open to future NATO aspirants.

There is nothing wrong with the West having such goals, but for them to have any prospect of success, the objectives must be grounded in the complex reality surrounding Ukraine. That means there must be some practical, realistic prospect by which the gulf between NATO preferences and Russian demands can sufficiently be narrowed to produce a minimally acceptable non-war resolution.

But there is no way to narrow that gulf. If Western leaders continue holding out for their preferred outcomes and refuse compromise, the likelihood of war is high, and it will be the people and troops of Ukraine – not Western publics or troops – that will pay the price in blood.

Putin’s demand that NATO withdraws back to its 1997 position is a demand no Western leader could consider. But the declaration that NATO membership will not be offered to Ukraine and that missiles won’t be stationed near each other’s borders offers room for compromise for both sides. Putin may be amenable to resolving the crisis and avoiding war if he gets some portion of his demands.

Until or unless Russian military forces begin active combat operations against Ukrainian targets, the possibility of averting war remains. But Putin is deadly serious about not allowing NATO to advance any further towards Russia’s border. This might be the West’s last chance to avoid war by acknowledging political and military reality.

First, Russia has more than enough combat power to defeat the Ukrainian armed forces, potentially within days. Second, Zelensky is right: no NATO country is giving any consideration to fighting Russia on Kyiv’s behalf, meaning Ukraine will be on its own when bullets start flying and would likely suffer egregious military and civilian casualties.

Third, the end result of a Russian attack will be a devastated Ukraine that will never be admitted to NATO. If the alliance refuses to negotiate on any of Putin’s top three requirements, war is the almost-certain outcome and a Ukraine defeat all but assured. All rhetoric and optimistic words aside, that is the cold reality on the ground in eastern Europe.

The United States can either accede to this reality and prosper because of it, or we can ignore it, condemning Ukraine to a destructive and bloody war and a decrease in NATO’s security as the rift between Moscow and the West accelerates. That would mean taking actions including placing an indefinite moratorium on Ukrainian membership in NATO, negotiating a mutual distancing of Western and Russian combat forces from the Ukrainian border, and strengthening current NATO borders.

Policies of that nature would prevent war and save Ukrainian lives, preserve Ukrainian independence, and safeguard American and NATO security. Whether anyone likes it or not, Putin is deadly serious about preventing any further eastward advance of NATO. We either ignore this reality to our own harm or prosper by making good policy based on honest recognition of reality.

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.

28 Comments

28 Comments

  1. Alex

    February 22, 2022 at 6:21 pm

    As long as Russia is in the world, Ukraine will never be in NATO. Otherwise, disaster and the Canadian-Mexico Strait. Russia will be reborn again due to its geographical position. USA is not. Think about it.

  2. Anti-Putin

    February 22, 2022 at 7:39 pm

    That’s a nice idea, but Ukraine not joining NATO is just a front and an excuse for Putin to attack Ukraine. Putin knows these conditions won’t be accepted, which will allow him to attack. If they are accepted, then he’ll come up with new demands and keep pushing. It’s not really about Ukraine joining NATO, but about Ukraine leaning west instead of aligning with Russia.

  3. Paul

    February 22, 2022 at 9:31 pm

    If Russia takes over Ukraine, then NATO will be on Russia’s doorstep in the form of Hungary and Poland.

  4. Igor

    February 22, 2022 at 10:18 pm

    Great article. It should happened before recognition of the two republics. Hope that is not too late. Why nowbody in US government reads similar arguments from famous Mearsheimer? He predicted all this in 2015.

  5. Commentar

    February 22, 2022 at 10:44 pm

    NATO does not consent to mutual agreements and will never compromise on ukraine issue, even though it’s a shithole not much better than HAITI, that dark dank piece of muck situated on the underbelly of uncle sam.

    NATO does not respect niceties, it only understands the language of force as shown in nam and Afghanistan.

    Putin has recognized this inherently evil nature, and thus drew his RED LINE and dared to confront NATO.Putib is a man with BALLS (genuine male cojones), a backbone and enough courage to say to NATO and Biden ” f**k off, we can flatten ya and ya minions” !

  6. Slack

    February 23, 2022 at 1:13 am

    Putin is the man or boulder that stands in the way of NATO & US global conquest.

    The world must remember deep state cabal of uncle Sam forged “pre-emptive nuclear strike” as a viable tool for global conquest after GW Bush entered white house in 2001.

    Part of its global conquest arsenal is NATO’s requisite expansion to the borders near Moscow. This is being opposed by Putin who’s seen through the deep state’s book of dirty tricks.

    Putin is also riled about the future fate of the Donbass people, after witnessing what happened to minorities in Kosovo after the wildly successful NATO action.

    NATO is a fascist entity HELL-BENT on global conquest for the sake of deep state ambitions.

  7. Keith

    February 23, 2022 at 9:53 am

    While the authors comments may be true with regard to Ukraine becoming part of NATO, conceding this point to Putin only emboldens the bully. Even if NATO has no intention of ever making Ukraine a member, it cannot give Putin a victory. We need to consider that Putin’s goal here might not be the annexation of Ukraine. By declaring Donetsk and Luhansk independent regions and then moving “peacekeeping” troops into the area, he essentially made them Russian territories without firing a shot. This pattern is repeatable throughout previous Soviet states like the Balkans where there are significant numbers of Russians. Putin can back separatist movements in those countries and then move in peacekeeping troops to assist. This has the potential of destroying NATO from within.

  8. Rich

    February 23, 2022 at 1:02 pm

    So Putin has now defacto annexed territory that Ukraine calls its own. Yet Ukraine has not fired a single shot in defense. Why then should the US or NATO get involved? Ukrainian territory that is not worth the cost of Ukrainian sons is certainly not worth the cost of other countries sons.

  9. Quin Li

    February 23, 2022 at 1:57 pm

    Just before the priest can say, “Now you are husband and wife”, a man rushed to the front, telling the husband-to-be, “You can Not marry this woman, or I will break you balls.” What choice the husband-to-be has: either giving up the woman and the marriage ceremony, or standing up to fight for what he has been dreaming for.

    We all know that World War II has caused millions of lives, but the sacrifices have given the world more than 70 years of peace.

    Europeans and Americans need to join and stand up together again, bravely facing the current Hitler, and saying “NO”

  10. JR

    February 23, 2022 at 3:16 pm

    Or, NATO can immediately admit Ukraine and defend it.

  11. Jay Francis

    February 23, 2022 at 3:36 pm

    >While the authors comments may be true with regard to Ukraine becoming part of NATO, conceding this point to Putin only emboldens the bully.

    This is the “logic” that got Germany into ww1. No, Putin isn’t an 8 year old. He’s a realist who can’t afford to have a major powers tanks within commuting distance of his core territory. That’s worth paying almost any cost for him to stop – just like when England needed to occupy Ireland during its wars with France and Spain. Doing so didn’t encourage England to follow up by invading Spain.

    Rule of thumb: anyone compared a situation to Hitler and ww2 without explaining why it’s the appropriate comparison rather than ww1 or one of thousands of other wars, they don’t have an argument.

  12. Frank Blangeard

    February 23, 2022 at 6:53 pm

    The United States is willing to suffer the loss of any number of Ukrainian lives in order to hurt Russia and perhaps even hurt Europe. The U.S. came out on top after WW2 because the war took place far from U.S. borders. The hope is that the U.S. will come out on top again for the same reason.

  13. MichaelCee9305

    February 23, 2022 at 8:30 pm

    This is classic “If Only” magical thinking common among “Realists” regarding foreign policy.
    The fact of the matter is, some only know and are guided by force, for or against no matter what the circumstance.
    Putin and Russia will do exactly what is in their best interests until they are made to stop .. sanctions, derision or empty rhetoric will simply not do the trick.
    Sometimes you can talk your way out of a fight.
    Sometime the other guy just smacks you in the mouth.
    The outcome will rely on what one does next …

  14. Commentar

    February 23, 2022 at 8:39 pm

    Biden at the bidding of the deep state cabal is attempting to kickstart a war in Europe. Perhaps to demonstrate his manhood, but he’s just a fool, like Adolfo hitlero.

    Trump has described Putin as genius with his move to quickly protect Donbass, something BIDEN should have done at the southern US border. Instead BIDEN let the border patrol whipped Haitian migrants and kept children in steel cages, actions not much different from coarse practices of a century ago.

  15. Stefan Stackhouse

    February 23, 2022 at 8:42 pm

    It has been a standing NATO policy to not admit candidate members with unresolved border disputes. (They want to avoid committing themselves to fighting an ongoing problem.) Since Russia has annexed Crimea – an act which Ukraine and all NATO members refuse to recognize, this means that Ukraine CAN’T become a NATO member (or even be a candidate for membership, really) unless and until this dispute is resolved – either by Russia withdrawing and restoring Crimea to Ukraine, or by Ukraine agreeing with the Russian takeover and formally relinquishing its claims. Snowballs have a better chance in hell than do either of these prospects. Multiply all of the above times two for the situation in the Donbas. Thus, Russia effectively has a permanent veto against Ukraine’s future membership in NATO. They have had this since 2014, and nothing has really changed or is likely to change regarding this.

    This raises two questions:
    1) Why is Putin being so stubborn about an issue that he already controls?; and
    2) Why is NATO & the US being so stubborn about posturing over an “open door” policy that clearly can’t and won’t apply to Ukraine?

    The answer to the first question is that Putin’s moves against Ukraine obviously are more about Ukraine’s relationship to Russia than they are about Ukraine’s relationship to NATO. The rants about NATO are mostly just propaganda, a thinly veiled cover for what is really going on, but which should fool nobody.

    The answer to the second question is that everyone in Washington, Brussels, and all the other NATO capitals know full well what the reality of the situation is. Admitting such in public, however, would make them appear weak, as if they were caving in to Putin. They would rather give the appearance of hanging tough, even if this is yet another thinly veiled cover of their own. This also should fool nobody (and it certainly doesn’t fool Putin), but we have a lot of people who are not very smart or well educated, and are easily duped.

  16. Jay

    February 23, 2022 at 9:48 pm

    You assert that there is no chance that Ukraine will ever join NATO. Well, you must be smarter than Putin. He seems to believe it to be a risk.

    If he knows that Ukraine will never join NATO, then why make any promises to him about it? He will know that the West is offering him nothing.

    Frankly, your argument doesn’t appear to be logical.

  17. BuzzBoss915

    February 23, 2022 at 10:18 pm

    Seems obvious, but maybe too late for US and NATO to announce and promise, (wink, wink) that they will never allow Ukraine a NATO membership. There, problem solved and Putin has no excuse to invade….if that’s his true concern: GOOD HEAVENS! NATO RIGHT ACROSS THE FENCE, CAN’T HAVE THAT!

    However, it’s silly for him to be worried about the European NATO members, because they have no stomach for war. They hate America but still expect the US to contain Putin.

    It’s my guess that the Russians could do a NAZI and march right up to the English channel before anyone would get serious.

    Who is willing to risk nuclear war just to keep Russia from occupying all of western Europe? Raise our hand?

  18. Slack

    February 24, 2022 at 5:34 am

    Heh, heh, heh. Russia in the early morning hours Thursday, has commenced a limited special operation against Ukrainian military, including ukr units stationed in Kyiv and Mariupol, hitting air defenses and installations.

    Way to go, Mr Putin ! Show NATO and US ya mean business!

  19. Jimmy John Doe

    February 24, 2022 at 9:02 am

    Putin has done the right thing in the face of unbelievable stonewalling level of NATO intransigence and mountains of threats and propaganda.

    He has carried out a SPECIAL MILITARY OPERATION specifically designed to defang (remove the teeth) ukrainian missile bases supplied by UK, poland,US.

    Perhaps the vaunted Biden air force could start providing a helping hand to Mr zelensky.

  20. Charles

    February 24, 2022 at 11:05 am

    Davis claims that not inviting Ukraine to join NATO would solve the problem, but never explains how. Quite the contrary, the whole reason Putin wants Ukraine out of NATO is that he couldn’t invade them if they were in. Leaving them in a position where it’s possible to invade them makes it more likely that they would be invaded, not less.

  21. John Brown

    February 24, 2022 at 11:31 am

    When I see people talking about why we didn’t just appease Putin and give him what he wanted by taking NATO membership of the table I laugh and laugh. Putin knew Ukraine was never going to become part of NATO. Putin wants to put back together the old USSR and Ukraine was the biggest piece of it.
    He watched Alzheimer JOE BIDEN/Democrats in glee destroy US energy independence, triple oil prices, and send him hundreds of billions of dollars to fund his invasion. He watched their weakness, incompetence and stupidity in Afghanistan, and he watched Biden/Dems talk tough but surrender and appease and appease and appease.
    He knew he could invade and weak worthless brain dead Senile Biden and the idiots around his would do NOTHING. More appeasement would have made him move even faster. Worse, Folks Putin wasn’t, isn’t the only tyrant watching. China, Iran are laughing at Biden/Democrats and the USA right now. Taiwan is next and Iran will have nukes before we know it and ballistic missiles paid for by the Democrats.

  22. Alex

    February 24, 2022 at 12:48 pm

    Ukraine as a puppet of the West is dead.

  23. Thomas Paul Luedeke

    February 24, 2022 at 1:41 pm

    NATO should have been dissolved in 1991 along with the Warsaw Pact, and replaced with a European security agreement (including Russia).

    Now look where it has gotten us. The cynic in me says that the Pentagon never wanted the Cold War to go away, and now they have it back.

  24. Lynda K. Walker

    February 24, 2022 at 6:41 pm

    I think Putin wanted to attack no matter what.
    If he takes over Ukraine he will have NATO on his border anyway so that’s not a good excuse for him.
    Last night he attacked and has taken over a nuclear plant and is only 11 miles away from the capital.
    His attention was to protect the east separatist which east.
    What the heck is he doing in the north.

  25. Harry Dingus

    February 24, 2022 at 8:18 pm

    I am amazed that this Mister Davis managed to reach the rank of Lt. Col. with such limited foresight. This man believes if the West promises to never help or defend Ukraine, that Putin will simply leave them alone and never bite off more of their territory. Are you insane, an idiot or on Putin’s payroll, Mr. Davis? Perhaps all three? Anyone with an above average IQ should be able to find the plethora of holes in this incredibly naive argument.

  26. from Russia with love

    February 25, 2022 at 6:38 am

    John Brown:
    answer for yourself what the United States will do with a country in which every day they shell from artillery and kill Americans.

  27. Alex

    February 25, 2022 at 7:49 am

    How many stupid people are confused to talk about the capture of Ukraine. Nobody is going to capture Ukraine, Russia has 2 main goals:
    Russia will ensure the demilitarization of Ukraine.
    Russia will ensure the denazification of Ukraine.
    Everything. Get it into your head already.

  28. Concerned citizen of the world

    March 12, 2022 at 9:38 pm

    Geopolitical realities. Regardless of where you sit on this – what it is 100% as you say it in your article. If Ukrainian leaders were smart they would have taken an approach like Sweden and Finland. They played right the US interests (and yes you cannot pretend that the US has not been stirring up the pot here since 2014) – the only long term winner in this conflict is American oil and gas. he longer it runs the more of the world share gas it controls. I can’t help but say it, but the Ukrainian leader was a fool to think it would end any other way on Russias doorstep, and Putin was a fool for playing into it the charade. now the people die senselessly and America oil and gas laugh all the way to the bank.

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