It’s Time to Bring Ukraine Into NATO

It’s Time to Bring Ukraine Into NATO
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy meets with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, in Kyiv, Ukraine, April 20, 2023 (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office photo via AP).

The chorus of voices calling for Ukraine to join NATO is growing louder. Former Ukrainian Defense Minister Andriy Zagorodnyuk recently wrote that the alliance should admit Ukraine “not sooner or later, but now,” because the country is “the world’s best enforcer and a state that can do much to ensure Europe’s safety.” Similarly, Ivo Daalder, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO, argued back in April that the only way to ensure that Ukraine is secure when the “fighting slows or the war stops” is to bring it into NATO.

The gathering crescendo had raised hopes among some observers that Ukraine might be offered membership in the alliance as soon as next month, at the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania. But those hopes were dashed this past week, when French President Emmanuel Macron said that, while he supported an eventual “path” for Kyiv to enter the alliance in the long term, the best option for the short term was a strong commitment to Ukraine’s security that would nonetheless fall short of “full-fledged membership.” Similarly, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock acknowledged that “NATO’s open door policy remains in place,” but said the allies “cannot talk about accepting new members in the midst of a war.”

That puts a serious damper on Ukraine’s membership aspirations, as accession to NATO requires unanimous consent by all existing alliance members—something that Sweden, whose accession is still being held up by Turkey and Hungary despite the remaining 28 members having already ratified its membership, knows well.* Indeed, it seems that few of the current NATO members back immediate membership for Ukraine. Even NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg recently remarked that although the allies “agree that Ukraine will become a NATO member,” the alliance’s current focus is to make sure that Ukraine remains an intact and sovereign nation. As Bruno Lete of the German Marshall Fund observed, “Everyone agrees membership is not for now, but everyone also agrees Ukraine needs an upgraded relationship with NATO.” Perhaps sensing the mood, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy admitted that it is was “impossible” for Ukraine to join NATO at the present time.

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