The future of Ukraine in the NATO alliance will prove critical to the balance of power in the Pacific and U.S. economic leadership around the world.
Tensions within NATO on the embattled nation’s status were on full display at the Vilnius Summit last week. On the agenda was Ukrainian membership, an issue sidestepped by the United States, Germany and others even after Russia invaded Georgia in 2008, seized Crimea in 2014 and supported separatists in Luhansk and Donetsk.
Under Article 5 of the NATO charter, an attack on any NATO member is considered an attack on all. Membership for Ukraine now would compel NATO to put troops on the ground, and that’s politically untenable for most NATO leaders.
After the current hostilities end, the Eastern European members favor a detailed roadmap for Ukrainian to join NATO. Whereas the United States and Germany are signaling support for softer security guarantees, like those the Americans afford Israel.
This would include giving Ukraine access to more advanced weapons and continued financial assistance to deter another Russian invasion, but that would hardly be enough. Ukraine is not Israel. Its civilian economic infrastructure has been devastated, and it sits next to Russia — with more than three times its population and 20th-century imperial designs.
The absence of Article 5 guarantees and NATO troops positioned in Ukraine, as they are in other Eastern European states, would be an invitation to Russian President Vladimir Putin to regroup and try again — at a later date and perhaps with radically different tactics.
It’s doubtful the United Sates would provide Ukraine with all the technology that Israel can access, because that would permit Kyiv to strike inside Russia and enjoy technological superiority to compensate for its size disadvantage. Such steps would provoke Putin in a manner that U.S. President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz are disinclined to do. That’s why Ukraine’s military are not adequately equipped now.
“The odds are quite strong that Putin’s army will bog down the Ukrainian counteroffensive.”
After hostilities end, either NATO puts troops on the ground to protect Ukraine from another invasion or enhanced security commitments are not much different than the promises of a cheating spouse seeking to avoid a messy divorce.
The odds are quite strong that Putin’s army will bog down the Ukrainian counteroffensive, because Russian forces had all winter to build tough defensive positions and outnumber Kyiv’s forces. NATO has not given Ukraine adequate aircraft and long-range missiles to strike Russian sanctuaries in Crimea and supply lines and infrastructure inside Russia to further destabilize Putin’s regime.
The general thrust of recent advances in military technology favor defensive over offensive operations in land warfare. In a stalemate, Russia would hold onto considerable occupied territory and face little accountability for its war crimes, and saddle the West with financing an endless proxy war.
China’s President Xi Jinping has staked his legacy on regaining control of Taiwan — the lynchpin of the island chain running from Japan through the Philippines and Malaysia and an essential component to global manufacturing of semiconductors.
Losing Taiwan to China would severely compromise the security of Japan and other Pacific allies and make China the preeminent power in the Indo-Pacific. Beijing would gain a chokehold on global state-of-the-art chip-making. Then it would be China threatening export embargos that could retard the technological development and weapons production of the United States and Europe, not the reverse.
Moreover, China would then have effective control over the hardware needed to develop and deploy artificial intelligence software for applications in both industry and defense.
If the West can’t deliver a knockout punch to Putin and Russia’s perverted political culture now, China will be on track to deliver the fatal blow in the Pacific and take control of the global economy.
Peter Morici is an economist and emeritus business professor at the University of Maryland, and a national columnist.