Photo: The Telegraph
By: Allison Gerns
The situation in Ukraine and the international threat that Russia and Putin pose has begun to shine a light on the flaws and lack of trust in the NATO alliance and among Europe and the United States.
Pew Research Center recently published polling data about Ukraine, asking residents of NATO countries, Ukraine, and Russia their opinions on Ukraine’s current situation. Overall, Pew found Americans were willing to defend NATO allies, while European NATO members were not willing to defend each other but instead expected the United States to come to their defense.
Two options have been introduced to address the crisis in Ukraine. First, Ukraine could join NATO. This would apply article 5 of the Washington Treaty, which states when one member of NATO is threatened or attacked then it is considered a threat against all NATO members. So far it has only been invoked once, in Afghanistan after September 11th.
However, would it really be the best option for Ukraine to join NATO? As the recent Pew poll demonstrated, European countries are not willing to back each other. In the end, the data suggests that the U.S. will probably take the lead in assisting Ukraine. The unfortunate reality for Ukraine is that given the current situation, they are not likely to join NATO anytime soon.
The second option for Ukraine would involve supplying arms to assist them in fighting off the ever-growing threat posed by Vladimir Putin and Russia. In another finding by the Pew poll, every country in NATO considered Russia a security threat, yet most are hesitant to contain the current situation in Ukraine.
Currently, the U.S. is considering supplying arms to Ukraine. This has left many Europeans skeptical. European NATO members, Germany in particular, are concerned that the U.S. will come in with a quick fix, and leave Europe to deal with the repercussions. As Europe waits around expecting the U.S. to intervene, some are quick to criticize U.S. policies.
With supplying arms, there is always concern over where the arms are going. History has shown time and again that arms can fall into the wrong hands, for example, currently ISIL has millions of dollars worth of U.S. military equipment. But as Constanze Stelzenmuller discussed at a recent Brookings event, many European countries are more caught up with their own current “security illusion.” Recent generations are not remembering how to world was when NATO and the EU formed. Since the expansion of NATO and the EU, many countries no longer understand the importance of article 5. These organizations were designed to help each other out, not abandon allies during an incident of isolated threat. Germany and others are in a safe bubble, surrounded by friends and allies, but they are thinking locally, not globally.
Not too far away, Russia is a permanent member of the United Nations and a leading world power. They are seen by some as threatening the world with their reemerging imperialist actions. Given the history, there are critics of the U.S. sitting back and watching as Russia tries to expand their borders and control.
Similar to the situations in Yemen and Syria, regional countries should be expected to lead the charge in stabilizing the region. A Saudi led coalition of states has led the charge in Yemen, a similar Europe based coalition should take the lead in dealing with Ukraine. Europe will have to deal with with whatever outcome comes from the Ukraine crisis, so why do they poll saying they would not jump to the defense of their neighbors?
The United States plays a huge role in NATO operations. The US contributes 75 percent of NATO’S military budget. It is not surprising given those statistics that the U.S. feels responsible for helping their allies – and their allies expect the US to come to their aid. So the US is dammed if they do intervene, dammed if they don’t in the eyes of many on both sides of the Atlantic
When looking at the recent Pew polls, it is difficult to blame the U.S. for seriously contemplating more drastic intervention. So far intervention has been sanctions, some training, the supply of non-lethal military equipment, and other aid. Russians blame the U.S. primarily for the sanctions recently imposed on Russia. Furthermore, Ukraine’s poll results demonstrate that they want assistance from the West.
It is understandable on many levels why the US is considering intervening and possible making the situation more dangerous, especially as current allies are slacking in their regional and global responsibilities. European countries are not stepping up in their region and the U.S. is hoping not to repeat the mistakes of the past, most recently in waiting too long to intervene in Syria.
The U.S should act deliberately despite criticisms. It will be easy no matter what the U.S. decides to do for others to criticize in hindsight. It would be better for the U.S to intervene and properly equip Ukraine against Russia while continuing diplomatic efforts and not risk letting Ukraine fall into Russia’s hands completely.
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