WASHINGTON - NATO ministers this week reaffirmed their committment to collective defense following Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen used strong language to describe Russia’s military incursion into Ukraine and its annexation of Crimea.
“Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is the gravest threat to European security in a generation.”
That view is shared by Charles Kupchan, a NATO expert at Georgetown University.
“There have been other competitors for that honor, including the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008,” said Kupchan. “But I think this represents the most serious development in that Mr. [Vladimir] Putin has broken the rules. He has done so in a way that threatens a rules-based international system.”
Kupchan said for the first time since the collapse of the Berlin Wall (1989) NATO is thinking about increasing its ability to defend the territorial integrity of its member states.
“We’ve seen F-15s, F-16s [jet fighters] and AWACS [surveillance planes] deployed in central Europe," he said. "And so in that respect, we are witnessing what could be the return of militarized rivalry between Russia and the West. We are not there yet, but if Putin doesn’t hold off, we will be headed in that direction.”
NATO to Defend its Members
NATO’s 28 members are committed to the notion of “collective defense” - in other words, an attack on one member is an attack on all of them.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, 12 countries from eastern and central Europe (Albania, Croatia, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia) have become NATO members.
Charles Kupchan said President George W. Bush favored NATO membership for two other states.
Ukraine NATO Membership on Hold
“In 2008, there was a discussion about the possibility of putting Ukraine on a path to membership along with Georgia. Washington was pushing that agenda,” said Kupchan. “There was considerable resistance coming from Europe. And I think it is safe to say that the prospect of Ukraine joining NATO is on ice for now - maybe on ice permanently - we do not know.”
Sean Kay, NATO expert at Ohio Wesleyan University said public opinion surveys in Ukraine in 2008 indicated only about 30 percent of the population favored NATO membership.
“So we were really pushing something that the Ukrainians did not want, the Russians said was clearly going to be a problem - and for some reason we pushed that,” said Kay. “And ironically it made it more difficult to get Russian help on Iran and - what did we gain out of that? Virtually nothing - and I think history is going to treat that 2008 NATO declaration rather poorly.”
That declaration simply stated that NATO leaders agreed that Ukraine and Georgia “will become members of NATO” - but no time frame was given.
Russia Strongly Opposes Ukraine NATO Membership
Sean Kay says Putin has been consistently against Ukraine’s NATO membership “because from his point of view, he has used the role of NATO as a way to rally this Russian sentiment of defeat and humiliation and therefore they have to do bold things to be respected, when in fact that is actually counterproductive to Russia’s own interests.”
Analysts point to Russia’s annexation of Crimea as “a bold thing.” Experts wonder whether Putin has other “bold things” in mind.