What was once Europe’s greatest peacekeeper is slowly turning into one of its worst troublemakers. Washington must take the lead and prevent this from happening.
BY JAD MAKDISSI, STAFF WRITER
On December 12, 2021, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky outlined an explicit and precise vision for his country’s future: “We want to unblock the Donbas peace process…return Crimea, gain membership in the European Union…and [join NATO] in 2022.” Europe is welcome to lead negotiations for the first three of those objectives, but Ukraine joining NATO must be left up to the United States.
Established in 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is a trans-Atlantic military alliance that was designed to contain Soviet communism in Europe during the Cold War. After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, NATO was kept intact, eventually welcoming membership from additional states that once formed the Soviet bloc.
Today, NATO sits at the heart of the intensified Russo-Ukrainian conflict. Ukrainian President Zelensky has been outspoken on his intent to join the alliance, ignoring previous Russian signals that doing so would amount to a serious provocation.
The critical question facing Washington amid this standoff is one that is logical yet unfortunately overlooked by its leaders: Is expanding NATO to include Ukraine in the interest of the United States? No, it is not, and ordinary Americans have many reasons to care why.
There are Americans reading this article who only care about domestic issues. These involve changes to the tax code, the national debt and the size of the federal government, as well as concerns about the passage of congressional legislation.
With Ukrainian membership in NATO, all of the above areas of concern will be impacted. Our large defense budget will be placed in the hands of Europeans with an interest in making it larger, which risks raising our taxes to fund greater federal expenses and ultimately increases our soaring national debt.
Worse yet, the politicians that we task with solving our debt crisis seem comfortable with leaving NATO as part of the future that Ukraine can determine for itself, while simultaneously being unaware of how doing so ironically undermines their political positions:
Progressive Democrats want to make universal healthcare and free public college the new norm, yet they allow Europeans, many of whom already enjoy these public privileges under our protection, to prevent the United States from doing the same by forcing it to expend additional resources to protect more Europeans?
Likewise, conservative Republicans, who pride themselves in putting “America First” and representing the forgotten taxpayer, are allowing special interests to lobby for an “America Last” foreign policy that empowers the military-industrial complex and keeps the world profiting off of permanent American security guarantees?
“Standing up to Putin” in recent years has produced political hypocrisy that runs both ways. It should not be controversial nor surprising to insist that Washington must be in full control of its military budget, national debt and foreign policy at all times.
Ultimately, the one variable that best measures how in control of our foreign policy we are is public support.
Today, if we randomly survey Americans and ask them if they are willing to increase our military budget, protect Ukraine for the rest of its existence and render permanent current tensions with Russia, chances are that the overwhelming majority of respondents will say “no”. Our politicians travel the world purporting to have our best interests at heart, yet by failing to test these propositions themselves, they undermine President Lincoln’s very central motto of “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”
If there is anything that unites today’s conservatives in Iowa with today’s progressives in Vermont, it is their mutual agreement over Washington’s inability to make a compelling, pro-America case for Ukraine joining NATO. Left unaddressed, this failure will eradicate establishment politics and render future Sanders’ and Trump’s, two icons of opposite political extremes, as the only hope for such voters.
Akin to any other sovereign country, Ukraine has the right to protect its sovereignty and determine its future untethered. Those rights, however, do not extend to forcing Virginians, Carolinians and Texans to protect Ukraine for the rest of its existence. The fact that Washington’s interest on this issue converges with Moscow’s own is a mere coincidence.
Additionally, given the current state of our domestic politics, we are not in a position to project global strength anyways. The United States is approaching $30 trillion in debt. Inflation has reached record highs. Global supply chain problems continue to disrupt our economic productivity. President Biden rules over a divided Democratic party with slim majorities in both chambers of Congress. And, worst of all, half the country hates the other half.
Our deterrence strategy toward Russia should prioritize us being strong at home over us securing a global posture that makes us look strong abroad. Amid these challenging times, putting “America First” can no longer be considered a political talking-point; it is a logical necessity for us to sustainably deter our enemies.
As Vice President Mike Pence famously said, “America first does not mean America alone.” It ought to mean being in full control of our country’s destiny and assessing global threats according to how they impact ordinary Americans.
In the end, deterring President Putin should not involve America growing its binding military alliances. Our failure to separate the expansion of NATO from our broader deterrence strategy toward Russia creates a dangerous hypocrisy that undermines our credibility vis-á-vis China.
Washington rightfully criticizes Beijing for violating the rules-based international order, yet by refusing to draw a red line on Ukraine joining NATO, it remains complicit in the chaos unfolding in Europe today. Ukraine sitting in a “grey zone” is the West’s fault, and glancing over Putin’s predictable security concerns in the name of liberalism makes us “disruptors” to world peace just as much as the Chinese are.
What was once Europe’s greatest peacekeeper is slowly turning into one of its worst troublemakers. As NATO’s strongest member, the United States must take the lead and prevent this from happening.