In December 1994, Ukraine, with the world’s third largest nuclear arsenal, agreed to give it up and join a long list of nations acceding to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Mistakenly of course, when Ukraine signed the relevant Budapest Memorandum attendant thereto, it believed that having given up its nuclear arsenal it would be protected from attack by all the other signatory countries. Ukrainians had been fooled many times before, but we do not learn from past mistakes. Whether this time the fault lay with the naivete of then-President Leonid Kuchma of Ukraine or the mendacity of President Bill Clinton of the United States is not clear. In any event the Budapest Memorandum in retrospect gave Ukraine nothing tangible in terms of security irrespective of Budapest’s interpretations. Granted it would have been quite costly for Ukraine to maintain any nuclear arsenal and the United States in all likelihood would have withheld aid, but the specter of nuclear capability may have at least protected Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Fourteen years later, in April 2008, Ukraine’s hope for another form of defense security was dashed once again. The U.S. promised to deliver a NATO Membership Action Plan Map to Ukraine only to be stymied in its efforts by France and Germany at the Bucharest NATO Summit. This was not unusual given France and Germany’s centuries’ old romance with Russia and their dependence upon Russian gas. Germany and France may have acceded to Ronald Reagan. The U.S., however, was less than insistent and then-President George W. Bush was not very persuasive. History is replete with American promises and lack of delivery. This time Ukraine gave up little other than effort in reforming its military preparedness in accordance with NATO requirements. Two years later came the Yanukovich years when Ukraine’s military was reduced to roughly 6,000 men, opening the door to Russia’s invasion.
Now 13 years from Bucharest and after significant military buildup in the neighborhood of a quarter million strong and reform in its own weapons’ industry as well a joint training with NATO under former President Petro Poroshenko and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ukraine seeks new sponsors for NATO MAP. Perhaps the United Kingdom will assist as per President Zelenskyy’s solicitation of Boris Johnson. How this will go down is a mystery. President Biden has voiced some support, but has not even so much as reached out to Ukraine by telephoning President Zelenskyy.
In recent meetings with NATO representatives, Ukraine has been earnest in voicing hopefulness regarding MAP and reforming its military to NATO standards. The latter is theater essentially. Ukraine’s military in its current state offers NATO significantly more than the majority of NATO member countries. Reforming Ukraine’s military is a ridiculous concept as far as efficacy is concerned. Does a country which has staved off Russian aggression for seven years and served albeit not as a member in many NATO operations over the last 20 years need significant military enhancement? Only if one judges Ukraine’s military capability by American standards. Only the United States of all democratic NATO member countries has a larger military than Ukraine. Turkey doesn’t rank here because it takes a large military to maintain a dictatorship.
Frankly, it’s a choice of politics between appeasement and deterrence. These are two very different strategies. There once was a Republican president who believed in deterrence.
There hadn’t been one before or after. Most Western leaders including Americans insist on appeasement. Inasmuch as the definition of insanity or poor politics is repetitive behavior with expectations of different results. Post-Soviet Russia has been appeased to the point that in only 30 years it has invaded three of its neighbors, contrary to civilized international norms.
If America recognizes that deterrence is the only option, then NATO on Russia’s border is clearly the best strategy. NATO member Ukraine is Mr. Putin’s worst nightmare. This will not appease him; it will anger and deter him. The bad politics of such appeasers as Franklin D. Roosevelt later dictated the formation of NATO. F.D.R. in a wheelchair with Alger Hiss at his side sold out to appease Russia. I may be a Democrat by party affiliation, but I, unfortunately, do not recall a Democratic American president who exercised deterrence against the Russians. However, hope springs eternal. President Biden and Secretary Tony Blinken must be resolute, firm and persuasive with Boris Johnson at their side. If America leads strongly, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and others will follow.
Askold S. Lozynskyj is an attorney at law based in New York City who served as president of the Ukrainian World Congress in 1998-2008.