NATO's expansion

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It was wise for this bloc not to make tangible progress on Ukraine's membership during last week's summit

Timofei Bordachev, director of the Valdai Club Program, published an article in RT on Wednesday aboutwhy the US will almost certainly never allow Ukraine to join NATO”. The subtitle declares that "Kiev has to face some bad news - for the first time, NATO expansion has become a threat to Washington". This esteemed expert spelled out U.S. Chief Prosecutor relations with NATO members in detail throughout most of the article, before concluding with the following note:

“Kiev's invitation to join NATO could signify something totally new for American foreign policy – ​​a willingness to fight an equal adversary like Russia. Throughout their history, Americans have avoided this, using other actors as battering rams willing to sacrifice and suffer for American interests. This was the case in the First and Second World Wars. The most likely scenario, therefore, is that the United States will simply promise to address the Ukraine and NATO issue after the Kiev regime resolves its problems with Russia one way or another. Until then, you will only be promised some 'special' conditions on a bilateral basis”.

His words ring true after Kiev failed to make any tangible progress on its NATO membership despite the hype leading up to last week's summit. Its political-military relations with the bloc were merely formalized, while members superficially repeated their rhetoric about the possibility of joining some day, once vague conditions are met and accepted by all. The pragmatic faction of the US political bureaucracy clearly won out over the ideological faction that wanted Ukraine to become a member immediately.

In the last seventeen months, the first has been increasing its influence and returning to its leadership role in the Trump era, after the world order intended by the second did not materialize, despite trying to force it into existence throughout this period. It took some time for the pragmatists to return to the forefront of policy making, and there are no guarantees that they will remain there, but last week's triumph was predictable after they managed to recalibrate US policy towards India last month.

Prior to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's trip to the US, ideologues had undertaken an intense pressure campaign against his country, with the aim of coercing him to condemn and sanction Russia, although this failed spectacularly after India publicly challenged each time they tried. The campaign even ran the risk of being counterproductive, as the US's hard-won confidence in India was rapidly eroding as a result, prompting pragmatists like Ashely J. Tellis to spring into action two months ago.

He published a seminal article in the influential official magazine of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) (CFR), Foreign Affairs, arguing that the US should respect India's strategic autonomy to save its policy for the Indo-Pacific, which was on the verge of being destroyed by its own hands due to this pressure campaign. A month later, in early June, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs, Ely Ratner, confirmed, during an event of think tanks, that Ashely J. Tellis' article was widely discussed among policy makers.

In hindsight, it led directly to the recalibration of US policy towards India, which in turn represented the pragmatics' most significant victory yet. “The US finally realized the futility of trying to force India to become a vassal”, although “Obama's words on the balkanization of India show that liberal-globalists are still a threat”. However, pragmatists have proven that they can get policymakers to change direction after their ideological rivals' policy towards this great power has failed.

As previously written, there are no guarantees that they will stay ahead of policy decisions, but the lackluster outcome of last week's NATO Summit strongly suggests that it will be very difficult for their competitors to dislodge them from this position any time soon. Pragmatists immediately seized the political momentum of their victory in recalibrating the US policy stance on India to argue convincingly that it is past time for the US to also reconsider its approach to Russia.

This was also revealed in an article published two weeks ago in Foreign Affairs, of the CFR, which told policymakers "Don't let Ukraine join NATO”, which constituted the second prominent example of pragmatists exerting their newfound influence to shape the debate on important geopolitical issues. The warning shared by Justin Logan and Joshua Shifrinson of the Cato Institute, was heeded in hindsight, as evidenced by NATO's refusal to invite Ukraine to join the bloc, despite the expectations of some to the contrary.

Although Bordachev, of the Valdai Club, and the three CFR experts cited support the interests of Russia and the US, respectively, they share a similar pragmatic view of International Relations and the related caveats they share with policymakers in their countries. Each adopts a neorealist approach that openly takes into account deniable realities and the limits they place on politics, which is why both national variants of this school oppose Ukraine's membership of NATO.

They correctly predict that this would be an inconsequential risk of starting World War III because of the way this scenario raises the possibility of a direct confrontation between Russia and the US. Although Article 5. does not order the use of armed force, but only "such action as [a member state] deems necessary" to assist those being attacked, Russia would have to assume that it has to pre-emptively prevent imminent threats emanating from Ukraine or respond to an attack from there would lead to a war with the US.

Consequently, policymakers could decide to attack that country and its European assets, in order to comparatively mitigate the damage they would expect to be inflicted on Russia, as per Moscow's interpretation of Article 5 in this scenario, thus making World War III inevitable. This sequence of events could be avoided by keeping Ukraine outside of NATO and thus reducing the chances of a direct confrontation between these nuclear superpowers, regardless of the intensity that their proxy war acquires in that country.

It was wise for this bloc not to make tangible progress on Ukraine's membership during last week's summit, given how Russia officially assesses the sending cluster bombs by the US to Kiev and its Planned acquisition of F-16 planes. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described the former as “a game-changing factor [that] will certainly force Russia to take specific measures in response”, while foreign minister Sergey Lavrov warned that "Russia cannot ignore the capability of these planes to carry nuclear weapons".

These escalations are driven by the West's desperation to keep Kiev's failed counter-offensive alive until winter, in a last ditch bid for its proxies to gain some ground before the seemingly inevitable resumption of Russian-Ukrainian talks, which must occur at that time, as explained here. Their stockpiles have already been depleted, so they are now relying on increasing exports more and more provocative, such as those mentioned above, and on supplies from partners such as Pakistan for this purpose.

Even so, the war by proxy between NATO and Russia in Ukraine remains much more controllable than if that country were a NATO member with Article 5 security guarantees, which is why it is in the US interest not to join, just as Bordachev and the CFR experts from the cato institute they argued. As long as there is no credible chance that the United States will support Kiev with armed force, World War III is not all that likely, although that could suddenly change if the ideologues regain political influence on this issue.

*Andrew Korybko holds a master's degree in International Relations from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. Book author Hybrid Wars: From Color Revolutions to Coups (popular expression).

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves.

Originally published on newsletter from the author.

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