Should NATO embrace Ukraine?

Should NATO embrace Ukraine?

Ukraine is once again in a tough spot.

Since 2014, Moscow has supported and armed separatist rebels inside Ukraine's Donbas region along the border with Russia in order to weaken Ukraine's government and thwart its plans to one day join NATO and the European Union. Off-and-on fighting there, which began after Russian forces seized Crimea from Ukraine seven years ago, has killed about 14,000 people.

Earlier this week, in response to an ominous buildup of Russian troops near the Ukrainian-Russian border, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky told NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg that Ukrainian membership in "NATO is the only way to end the war in Donbas." He added that a NATO decision to give Ukraine a so-called membership action plan, opening a long-term process toward membership, would provide "a real signal for Russia." That plan would require political, economic, security, and legal reforms to bring Ukraine into line with NATO standards.

Russian officials have dismissed Zelensky's government as "children playing with matches" and warned that a new Ukrainian military operation in the Donbas would trigger "the beginning of the end of Ukraine."

So… should NATO now give Ukraine a plan toward eventual membership in the alliance? There are good arguments for and against.

Arguments for

Ukraine, an independent nation of 44 million people, has the right to decide for itself which allies to embrace and which clubs to join. The Russian government, which considers Ukraine a part of Russia's "sphere of influence," continues to undermine its territorial integrity to keep Ukraine in Russia's shadow. NATO should stand against this aggression by giving Kyiv the ultimate defense against Russian meddling.

Recent history exposes the absurdity of arguments that NATO membership for Ukraine would provoke Russia. NATO restraint didn't prevent Russia from invading Crimea and stoking war in the Donbas, both of which created new problems for Europe. Russia has no respect for NATO restraint.

By offering Ukraine a plan to join, the alliance would spur Ukraine to accelerate the reforms of its military, security services, politics, and economy that Europe and the US have wanted for a generation.

Ukraine can strengthen NATO. Last year, the alliance granted Ukraine "enhanced opportunities" for deeper cooperation, and Ukraine has already contributed troops to support NATO operations in Afghanistan and Kosovo. The reforms demanded for full membership would make Ukraine an even more valuable ally.

NATO promised. As Ukraine's foreign minister noted in February, NATO pledged in 2008 that Ukraine (and fellow former Soviet republic Georgia) will become NATO members one day and encouraged both countries to apply. How long must Ukraine wait to begin this process? Until Russia says it's OK?

Arguments against

Article 5 of NATO's founding treaty requires all member states to defend any fellow member that comes under attack. That's the cornerstone of the alliance. But a median of 50 percent of people in 16 NATO member countries states said last year that their country should not defend a fellow NATO ally against Russian attack. Just 38 percent said it should. If that many people won't support military action to help an existing alliance member, how many would back an armed defense of Ukraine? The leaders of NATO countries can't ignore that question.

And that's a special problem for Ukraine, because Russia has already invaded. NATO members don't recognize Russia's annexation of Crimea, and they condemn Russian involvement in the Donbas. By admitting Ukraine as a member, isn't NATO on the hook for evicting Russian troops from those two regions?

Initiating membership can make the current conflict worse. By itself, the membership action plan doesn't provide an Article 5 security guarantee. If NATO were to grant one to Ukraine, Russia would have every incentive to destabilize Ukraine much more dramatically than it already has in order to derail the membership process. That's the opposite of what NATO and Ukraine want.

Fear of that scenario helps explain why there's no groundswell of support for NATO membership even in Ukraine. In November 2020, just 41 percent of Ukrainians said NATO membership is a good idea. (About 37 percent hoped Ukraine would remain non-aligned, while 13 percent supported partnership with Russia.) These results are broadly consistent with other recent surveys.

The status quo isn't that bad for NATO or Ukraine. It isn't fear of NATO that prevents Vladimir Putin from ordering a full-on invasion of Ukraine. It's that large numbers of Russian troops would be killed, that occupation of Ukraine over many years would be hugely expensive, and that lasting support of the Russian people for that undertaking is far from certain.

So... strong arguments on both sides. Tell us what you think.

A sector that's rapidly expanding, domotics - domus (home) plus robotics - are smart houses that manage temperature and lighting to minimize wasted electricity. For example, smart thermostats sense your presence and set the temperature according to your needs, saving 20% a year on heating bills. Watch this episode of Eni's Energy Shot series to learn how domotics save money and increase a home's value.

Even if the US, Europe, China, and India reduce carbon emissions at the rate they've promised, much climate damage has already been done. That shouldn't stop these and other countries from doing all they can to meet their net-zero emissions targets, but they also better start preparing for a world of people on the move.

Climate change will displace an unprecedented number of people in coming years, creating not just a series of humanitarian crises in many parts of the world, but lasting political, economic, and social upheaval as those of us who live on higher ground try to find a sustainable place for these climate refugees to live.

More Show less

Listen: In a wide-ranging interview with Ian Bremmer, Pulitzer Prize-winning climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert assesses the current state of the climate crisis and answers a simple question: how screwed are we? And as the climate continues to warm at a record pace, she unpacks some of the more extreme climate solutions that some increasingly desperate nations are starting to consider. Such measures may sound like stuff of science fiction (see: injecting sulfur particles into the atmosphere or shooting millions of tiny orbital mirrors into outer space) as times become more desperate, their appeal is growing. Can we fix the planet the same way we broke it?

China is making its neighbors nervous these days. Chinese fighter jets are screaming into Taiwan's airspace. Hundreds of armed Chinese "fishing boats" are plying the disputed waters of the South China Sea. And Beijing is slashing imports from some trading partners because of disputes over political issues.

To push back against this increasingly aggressive behavior, regional powers Japan, India, and Australia, together with the US, are boosting cooperation via a 17-year-old grouping called the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or simply "The Quad." But how effectively can these four countries really work together to counter China? Eurasia Group's Peter Mumford discusses the Quad's future.

More Show less

Want to tackle climate change? If so you'll have to reach out to China, which is currently responsible for over a quarter of global carbon dioxide emissions. Beijing will certainly take your call, as climate is a huge priority for President Xi Jinping.

Xi has promised that China will go "net zero" — meaning its carbon emissions will be offset by equal amounts of either natural or tech-driven carbon capture — by 2060. Is a decade later than most of the top 10 polluting countries fast enough for the rest of the world? It is for the Chinese, who want to help but have their own ideas about how.

More Show less

When will it be safe for the world's children to be vaccinated against COVID-19? The World Health Organization's chief scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, says that vaccines are being tested in children down to the age of six or even lower, and promises that data on children will be shared as soon as it's available. She also notes that there are not enough studies on transmission in schools, and the WHO has advised governments to prioritize schools "over other things like shopping malls or cinema halls or pubs." Dr. Swaminathan spoke with Ian Bremmer in an interview on GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting April 9. Check local listings.

Watch the episode: Vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic

Over the past half century, climate change has had an immense impact on the farmers who produce the food we eat. A new study by Cornell University shows that global warming has knocked 21 percent off of global agriculture productivity growth since 1965, equivalent to seven years of normal growth if humans had not polluted the planet. But not all countries have been affected in the same say. Farmers in warmer parts of the world have been hit hard as conditions grow more arid, but sub-polar regions in Canada or Siberia are now actually better for agriculture because they are not as cold as they used to be. Here we take a look at how climate has affected farming productivity growth around the world.

On Tuesday, a major US intelligence report said the top threat to America right now is China. A day later, John Kerry, the Biden administration's "climate czar," got on a plane to... China.

Such is the drama of ties between the world's two largest economies these days.

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.


Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

Can "the Quad" constrain China?