In Other News – A View from Abroad – 5-25-2023

A View from Abroad

Once a month, In Other News features a short op-ed heavily informed by the European perspective. We hope that these special monthly pieces will offer our readers an enriched understanding of global events and allow for a more robust international risk calculus.

The upcoming NATO Summit provides an opportunity for NATO members to support Ukraine’s security, even without membership. Ukraine’s security depends on countering both immediate and long-term threats and NATO’s strategy should reflect this.

European leaders have updated their outlook since Russia first invaded Ukraine last year: where before the predominant view was that Russia must not win and Ukraine must not lose, this view has since shifted to the Russia must lose, and Ukraine must win. This shift, combined with the demonstrated strength of Ukraine’s military and Putin’s intolerable disregard for respecting international law and territorial sovereignty, make a political solution to the conflict untenable at present. But to promote future regional security, NATO needs to determine not only how to sustain Ukraine’s strong military defense, but how to best ensure the nation’s security moving forward.

The upcoming NATO Summit in Lithuania this July will offer a forum for European nations to recalibrate given the myriad geopolitical factors at play. Although the ultimate security guarantee for Ukraine would be NATO membership, Ukraine isn’t likely to be admitted to the organization while actively involved in a military conflict with Russia. This is partially due to the way NATO has historically viewed enlargement, recommending that aspiring members settle any active territorial disputes by peaceful means, but it’s also heavily political. Indeed, NATO enlargement is based on a set of loosely defined criteria, without a formalized set of rules, and politics trump doctrine. At present, some NATO members like the Baltic states currently advocate for Ukraine’s immediate NATO entry, but many other members are unlikely to accept it.

As membership isn’t likely imminent, the upcoming NATO Summit presents an opportunity for NATO members to develop a new definition of the NATO-Ukraine relationship. NATO members can strategize about what kind of security package, underwritten by a coalition of countries, might be a realistic alternative in the short-term. These security imperatives can be broken down into physical and non-physical categories.

In the physical threat realm, NATO members can help strategize on the issue of land defense and land borders- including how to continue to provide equipment and training to deter a new ground attack and remove all unexploded munitions. It can also work on better securing the waterways, including how to limit Putin’s control over the Black Sea. NATO members can also focus on the air domain, assessing if it would it be possible to have Ukrainian air space fall under some kind of joint air command.

In the non-physical attack sphere, NATO members can further collaborate on cyber defense, addressing how to best assist Ukraine in deterring and countering massive cyber-attacks. They can also refine strategies in the information domain, including how to continue sharing current intelligence on Russian troop movements and how to monitor upcoming threats. In the realm of economic security, NATO members can also be instructive on how to rebuild the Ukrainian economy and further integrate it with its EU neighbors. Indeed, at the upcoming NATO Summit, there are opportunities to develop strategies that not only support Ukraine in the present moment but lay the groundwork for its growth and durability.

Given the current state of the battlefield, NATO countries will be under extra pressure to maintain cohesion and continue to support Ukraine even without a clear endpoint- and they need to stay the course. NATO’s unified resolve will not only serve to increase Ukraine’s physical security, but to impact Russia’s future geopolitical calculations. Indeed, future Ukrainian security will in-part depend on how strongly Moscow is deterred this time, and maintaining cohesion of Ukrainian allies even throughout a grueling stalemate will send a critical long-term message.