NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has said Ukraine will join the US-dominated alliance after the war is over. But the war is far from over – and Ukrainian membership could have implications for any future settlement. At the same time, NATO‘s own rapid expansion could carry its own security implications in Europe, and globally.
Speaking ahead of a military summit in Germany, Stoltenberg said:
Let me be clear, Ukraine’s rightful place is in the Euro-Atlantic family.
Ukraine’s rightful place is in NATO.
However, Ukrainian membership will not be on the table until the war is over. Joining now would apply NATO’s Article 5 and drag all the bloc’s allies into direct conflict with Russia. Article 5 states:
Collective defence means that an attack against one Ally is considered as an attack against all Allies.
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Finland recently joined the bloc, much to the discomfort of Russia. This move effectively doubled NATO’s border with Russia and added thousands of troops to the bloc’s roster.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian president Volodymr Zelenskiy urged NATO to issue an invitation to join it immediately:
I am grateful for the invitation to attend the summit but it is important that Ukraine also receives a corresponding invitation [to join].
There were no barriers to an invitation, he said:
There is no objective barrier that would prevent the adoption of political decisions on inviting Ukraine to the alliance. And right now, when the majority of people in Nato countries and the majority of Ukrainians support our country’s accession to the alliance, it is time for appropriate decisions.
NATO has seen a rapid growth since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. New members like Finland are a significant boost to the alliance. In April 2023, Stoltenberg discussed further militarisation of the bloc’s eastern borders. Meanwhile, in August 2022 it was reported that NATO, China and Russia were all looking to the Arctic in their bids to expand.
In May 2022, Spain and the UK were lobbying NATO to counter Russian activity in Africa. British defence secretary Ben Wallace even suggested migrants flows were being used as a ‘weapon’:
If (Russia) can use migrant flows as a weapon at one end of Europe, they can certainly use it at the other.
He was referring to claims that Belarus and Russia steered non-Ukrainian refugees into Poland, in retaliation for EU sanctions in 2022. It’s a claim with an unclear basis in evidence which can hardly help the plight of refugees and displaced people.
Meanwhile, NATO’s decision to allow a post-war Ukraine to join is largely symbolic. There are various barriers to this in practice. The most obvious one being Russia, which is determined to stop such a thing occurring. Plus, there is little sense that the war could actually end soon. As the Canary has already suggested, one possibility is a decades-long stand-off in the mould of India and Pakistan.
In light of these complications, NATO’s membership plans for Ukraine look rather empty.
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