WASHINGTON.- With his support for the move by Finland, and in a few days by Sweden, to join NATO, the US president Joe Biden and its allies in the West are redoubling their bet that Russia will pay a heavy price for its huge strategic mistakes of the last three months: suffer the expansion of the Atlantic alliance that the president Vladimir Putin had intended to fracture.
But the decision leaves several important questions in suspense. doWhy not allow Ukraine to join too? -that corrupt and flawed democracy, but also heroic, the core of the current conflict- to consecrate on paper the obligations of the West with the security of that country?
And will expanding NATO to 32 members, which in turn will add thousands of miles of borders with Russia, help prevent Russia from attempting a savage and unwarranted invasion again, or will it only cement the existing fracture with an isolated, angry, nuclear-armed adversary, already in fact paranoid about the West’s “encirclement”?
On Thursday, the White House welcomed the Finnish government’s announcement that their country “will apply to join NATO without delay”and it is expected that government of Sweden follow these steps in the coming days. To no one’s surprise, Russia immediately replied that it would take “retaliatory measures”among other things, a “technical-military” response, which many experts interpreted as the veiled threat of a tactical deployment of nuclear weapons on the Russian-Finnish border.
US officials have been meeting quietly with their Finnish and Swedish counterparts for weeks to bolster security guarantees for the two countries as their applications to join the Atlantic alliance are processed.
For Biden and his team, the argument for bringing in Finland and Sweden and leaving out Ukraine is very simple: the two Nordic states are exemplary democracies and have modern armies with which the United States and other NATO nations regularly conduct exercises, such as joint operations to track Russian submarines, protect undersea communications cables and conduct aerial patrol of the Baltic Sea.
UkraineConversely, it was in the heart of the former Soviet Union that Putin is now trying to rebuild, at least in part. And although three years ago it modified its Constitution to consecrate joining NATO as a national objective, the truth is that in Ukraine there is too much corruption and lack of democratic institutionsand its NATO membership would have to wait years, or rather decades.
Key NATO members, led by France and Germanyhave made it clear that they are not willing to include Ukraine. And less than less now that the government of the president Volodymyr Zelensky is at war: if Ukraine were a full member of the alliance, the United States and the other 29 members would be forced to become directly involved in the conflictbecause of NATO’s basic promise that “Attack on one is an attack on all”.
Zelensky understands what is happening and after weeks of insistence stopped calling for Ukraine to join NATO. At the end of March, a month after the Russian invasion and when there still seemed to be some prospect of a diplomatic solution, the Ukrainian president made it clear that he was willing to declare Ukraine a country “neutral” if that would definitely end the war.
“We are willing to give guarantees of security and neutrality, and that we will be a non-nuclear stateZelensky told Russian journalists, a phrase he has since repeated several times.
His remarks were a relief to Biden, whose first goal is to get the Russians irreversibly out of Ukraine, but whose second goal is to prevent World War III.
And that means avoiding direct clashes with Putin’s forces and avoiding anything that could end in a potentially nuclear escalation. If Ukraine were to join NATO, it would reinforce Putin’s view that the former Soviet state was conspiring with the West to destroy the Russian stateand it would only be a matter of time before a direct confrontation broke out, with all its attendant dangers.
So the big question is whether expanding NATO does not imply start a new cold war, or worse. The same discussion took place during the Bill Clinton administration, when the White House was warned about the dangers of expanding NATO. At that time, George F. Kennan – the architect of the “containment” strategy that was applied during the Second Postwar period to isolate the Soviet Union – described this expansion as “the most fateful error of US foreign policy in the Post-Cold War”.
Last week, Anne-Marie Slaughter, executive director of the New America think tank, warned that “all parties involved should take a deep breath and down a gear”.
“The probability of Russia invading Finland or Sweden is very remote,” Slaughter wrote in The Financial Times. “But admitting those countries to the military alliance will redraw and deepen the divisions that were established in Europe in the 20th century, and that will probably block the appearance of innovative and courageous ideas on how to achieve peace and prosperity in the 21st century.”
That is the long-term concern, but in the short term what NATO and White House officials want is ensure that Russia does not become a threat to Finland or Sweden before they become formal members of the alliance. (That means no current member of the alliance objects to joining, and many believe Putin will lean on Hungary and its prime minister, Viktor Orban, to reject the two countries’ request.) Only Britain has been explicit on the issue, with the signing of a separate security pact with the two countries, while the United States has not said what security guarantees it is willing to offer them.
But the US government says it was Putin who brought about the enlargement of NATO, when invading a neighboring country of the alliance. White House press secretary Jen Psaki freely quoted Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, who made it clear that it was the situation in Ukraine that had forced the Finns to rethink their country’s security.
“The cause of this is you,” Psaki said, referring to Putin. “Look in the mirror.”
David E Sanger
New York Times
(Translation by Jaime Arrambide)