Questioning the significance of security through NATO membership has become a tactic of Russia appeasers. The purported logic for this argumentation is twofold: nothing has disturbed Vladimir Putin more than NATO expansion; and nothing would exacerbate the current Ukraine-Russia crisis more than NATO membership for Ukraine. In any event, the appeasers suggest, NATO membership is hardly an absolute security guarantee since each NATO member country acts at its own discretion. Thus, Ukraine should relinquish its NATO membership aspirations. So the argument goes.
Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty provides that an armed attack against one shall be considered an attack against all and each will assist the one attacked. Detractors of this article point out that the all for one and one for all language is followed by “such action as it deems necessary,” thereby rendering any assistance discretionary for each member.
There are currently 28 NATO members. To assume the extreme that all will “deem necessary” to do nothing or next to nothing is to suggest that the members will decide that NATO is no longer needed. More importantly, that logic assumes that all member countries will feel so certain of their own security that by doing nothing or very little they are prepared for a reciprocal action in the event their own security is in peril. The question, then, is why did those countries join NATO if not because they sought collective security?
The reality is very different. In fact with Russia attacking Ukraine, Poland – as Ukraine’s close neighbor and a NATO member – invoked Article 4, seeking NATO consultation. NATO responded by convening a summit and deploying special units to Poland and the Baltic countries. Several NATO members currently are providing military equipment to Ukraine itself.
The only example of an attack on a NATO country since NATO’s formation was the terrorist attack on the United States on September 11, 2001. The U.S. invoked Article 5. Following a determination that the aggressor was based in Afghanistan, NATO led an International Security Assistance Force against the aggressor there. According to NATO sources, all 28 NATO countries participated. Only Luxembourg did not provide troops. Even such smaller NATO members as Slovenia, Estonia, Iceland and Albania did.
Granted, this was an attack on the United States and perhaps no NATO member wanted to disappoint the ultimate guarantor of its security. Nevertheless, on the other hand, the theater of operations was not the North Atlantic area, which is the geographic location named in the NATO treaty. Article 5 provides “the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.” Coming to the aid of the U.S. brought other NATO members under fire on their own territory.
NATO expansion and Russian aggression are not a cause-and-effect phenomenon, as suggested by the Russia appeasers. Moldova was not a serious candidate for NATO membership in 1992 when the 14th Army decided to secure the borders of the Russia-inspired breakaway state of Transdniester. Georgia’s NATO membership aspirations had suffered a severe blow at the Bucharest NATO summit in April 2008, before Russia decided to invade Georgian territory (Abkhazia and South Ossetia) four months later. Ukraine’s very tangible NATO aspirations were also dashed in Bucharest, and Ukraine certainly had not revived its NATO aspirations or solicitation when Russia invaded Crimea in February of 2014.
To the contrary, Russian history is replete with Russian aggression – mostly, not when its victim was particularly secure in its defense, but rather when Russia saw its victim at its weakest. The Russian Federation today spans 10 time zones; 150 nations live within that federation, not because Russia is a country of immigrants, but because Russia even today is an ill-acquired empire.
Ukraine’s Russia problem dates back to 1654, when Ukraine was besieged by Poland and the Tatars and needed an alliance with Russia. Russia exploited Ukraine’s security issues at that time by simply overrunning Ukraine’s territory. Frankly, Ukraine has never recovered from that alliance.
Removing the Ukrainian, Georgian and Moldovan possibility of NATO membership has a serious deleterious effect on the security of those countries. They are significantly weakened because Russia is emboldened. Why? Because that’s what bullies do. Furthermore, the security of NATO members neighboring those countries is affected. Ultimately global security is at risk.
If the events of the 20th century regarding Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union have taught us anything, it’s that appeasement only serves to embolden the aggressor.
Askold S. Lozynskyj is an attorney based in New York City. He is a former president of the Ukrainian World Congress.