Public Opinion on Ukraine Crisis Shows Lack of NATO Willpower

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.

We welcome your comments!

2 thoughts on “Public Opinion on Ukraine Crisis Shows Lack of NATO Willpower

  1. Harry C. Blaney III July 26, 2015 / 11:14 PM

    Mr Knight, we appreciate your serious comments and having served at the US Mission to NATO I know well the mandate of NATO and its member nations. Within the NATO Treaty text which applies to member states, there is an implied commitment to the defense of Europe and to look at the strategic situation from a long term perspective. I do agree with your definition of the strict NATO rule of membership and responsibility.

    Ms. Gerns main point was more that the NATO countries have fallen down in their support of a free Europe which does include Ukraine which is an independent nation to which both the U.S. and Russia pledged to respect the territorial integrity. But in a larger sense there is the strategic problem of how to deal with Russia as a aggressor nation using military force to take over at least part of another independent nation.

    I do agree however with your point about the need for care and proportionality, and was involved in my career with nuclear (and generally WMD) issues, there is a need for great caution but on both sides. This balance has not yet been found with a Putin run Russia.

    I do not share the view that Ukraine should be consigned forever to the kind hands of a ruthless dictator such as Putin, nor that the Ukrainian people should be simply the surfs for Russia and destined never to see the light of being a Western open society nor have the freedom to chose their own destiny. That would be anti-American that in our revolution choose freedom rather than be subject to the subjugation of the British empire that offered no self-rule or representation in the mother land.

    Nor do I believe that the security of Russia depends on ruling over the Ukraine. That is a fiction of Putin’s propaganda to maintain his rule over his own people in a fascist dark ruled nation. America nor NATO has any desire to make war on a pacific Russia. The treat that Putin feels is the threat of democracy, of spread of respect for human rights, and of freedom of speech and the media which he is now consolidating under his his total control.

    Finally, let me clear as I have often commented, I want to work with Russia so that one day its people can enjoy the fruits of freedom and democracy. I believe we need to continue to enter serious dialogue with Russia and Putin, work to help its people live a better life and make clear that we are not the enemy of Russia but want only for its people to live in peace and in cooperation with the community of nations.

    There are points that I do not fully agree with my intern Ms. Gerns, especially on the question of types of military support for Ukraine which I believe should be undertaken with care. And we need to acknowledge we are living in a nuclear world. But I do believe that as my intern, — and I have encouraged all my interns to have a chance to make their blog contribution free of my dictatorship. Thus, she has earned the right to post her views for criticism and as part of the learning process of writing about foreign policy issues.

    Finally, I also believe the Ukrainians need the tools to defend themselves as nations did against Nazi Germany. Above all we need to address corruption and economic problems of Ukraine, strengthen reconciliation among the Ukrainians themselves, and yes with Russia on fair terms and unforced conditions and to continue to help them integrate with Western Europe in ways that enhance their own lives and security.

  2. Charles Knight July 21, 2015 / 3:46 PM

    Ms Gerns interprets the hesitancy of many European NATO countries to intervene in Ukraine as ‘slacking’ and lack of will power. Perhaps, rather, it reflects prudence and a better understanding of the proper role and limits of a military alliance, especially a principled defensive alliance.

    What is beyond any doubt is the idea that Ukraine might join NATO is a formula for a long war in eastern Ukraine. And, of course, in the eastern European theater in which the Ukrainian conflict will play out Russia has the capacity for escalation dominance — in other words the US and NATO can’t win in Ukraine without escalating to a broader and more general war.

    According to NATOs own rules Ukraine can not join NATO as long as it does not fully control its borders — therefore Russia which strongly believes a non-aligned Ukraine is vital for its security will continue to destablize eastern Ukraine until the West backs off from any ambition it might have for Ukraine joining NATO, the pressures the Ukrainian government to grant rights and autonomy to Russian speaking areas of Ukraine and agrees to back permanent Ukrainian non-alignment.

    This is the reality for Ukraine, based on a century or more of history and geographic location. To advocate for ramping up military conflict in Ukraine is extremely dangerous — something luckily Europeans appear to understand better than many Americans.

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