By KEVIN D. WILLIAMSON. Dec 28, 2021
Just as the family budget is not really a very good model of the national economy, schoolyard rules are not normally the best guide for international relations. That being said, sometimes the best thing for a bully is giving him a bloody nose.
With China having comprehensively eclipsed Russia as the baddest bad actor among nation-states on the world stage, Vladimir Putin is begging for attention from the West. Perhaps it is time to give him some.
Putin, already having invaded and annexed part of Ukraine in 2014, has threatened further war on Ukraine and attempted to intimidate the country and its Western allies with a massive troop buildup throughout December. Now, he demands that the United States and its allies promise that there will be no expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), ever, as the price of peace with Russia.
NATO has been slow-walking Ukraine’s membership since the 1990s. But the country is, at least formally, on track to become a full NATO member. In 2008, NATO and Ukraine agreed to an accession plan, with NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg specifically affirming that Russia would not be permitted to veto Ukraine’s membership. As recently as June of this year, NATO reiterated its commitment to Ukraine. And now Putin demands that which NATO has specifically denied him: veto power over NATO membership decisions.
Because we are so accustomed to outrages from Russia, we do not seem to really appreciate how outrageous this is. Ukraine is a sovereign nation that can decide for itself which international organizations to join; NATO is an organization of sovereign states, including the United States, that can decide for itself what its policies will be and to whom it will offer membership. Russia is a third-rate gangster state whose idiotic policies have immiserated its people. In spite of its petroleum wealth, Russia’s GDP/capita is half of Lithuania’s, Latvia’s, or Slovakia’s, a third less than Poland’s, and below that of China, Panama, or Costa Rica. Its record of barbarism and inhumanity at home is well-attested, and its penchant for violating the sovereignty not only of its near neighbors but also that of countries such as the United Kingdom (where it has carried out assassinations) and the United States (where it has attempted to monkey with elections) marks it as a particularly egregious malefactor.
The Biden administration talks a good game about strengthening the trans-Atlantic alliance, but it has, in fact, done at least as much to aggregate U.S.-European alienation as the Trump administration did, confusing — and endangering — our allies with its headlong and unilateral evacuation from Afghanistan and insulting them with its clumsy and undiplomatic rollout of AUKUS. It is, for this and other reasons, in a poor position to do what it needs to do, which is to convene an extraordinary NATO summit and begin the process of formally admitting Ukraine to the alliance.
And maybe someone over in Antony Blinken’s shop could remind the boss that Poland is a full NATO member, one that currently is being subjected to a destabilization campaign by Belarus, where the regime of Putin dependent Alexander Lukashenko is recruiting refugees and immigrants from the Middle East and Africa to come to his country and then marching them illegally into Poland. This is if not quite an act of war in the conventional sense then an act of Mark Leonard’s “unpeace,” weaponizing refugees and immigrants in a campaign of soft social warfare. This ought to be understood — and responded to — as an act of military aggression against a NATO member.
The Europeans understand that they need to develop a more robust and unified foreign policy and a more credible self-defense capability. But they currently view the United States as an erratic and unreliable partner — at best. Repairing and reinvigorating that relationship is the work of years and decades, not something that can be accomplished at a single summit or with a few conciliatory speeches.
A cursory telephone call to Olaf Scholz, the new German chancellor, is not going to get it done. The Biden administration needs to get serious — and get serious now — about rebuilding the Atlantic alliance, with an eye not only toward Russian shenanigans in the here and now but also toward the imminent confrontation with China. That is, unless we are to conclude that all that happy talk about diplomacy and responsible internationalism was just a campaign talking point.
Kevin D. Williamson
Kevin D. Williamson is a fellow at National Review Institute, the roving correspondent for National Review, and the author of Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Woolly Wilds of the ‘Real America.’