Judy Asks: Is Ukraine's NATO membership realistic?

Opinion piece (Carnegie Europe)
06 July 2023

Ukraine’s NATO membership is essential if the West wants to deter Vladimir Putin — or a Putin-like future Russian leader — from attacking the country again. The alliance could certainly absorb Ukraine, which now has the largest, most battle-hardened armed forces in Europe, increasingly trained along NATO lines and using NATO-standard equipment.

Whether membership is realistic depends on the political will of NATO leaders. So far, the signs are that the Vilnius NATO summit will not offer Ukraine a clear pathway to membership and will suggest that membership will only be possible once the war is over — thus encouraging Putin to keep fighting.

NATO leaders should be more courageous. Putin has been reluctant to confront the alliance directly, but happy to exploit ambiguity. His hostility to Ukraine’s existence independently of Russia, expressed over many years, will not vanish because NATO shows restraint.

At a minimum, NATO should vastly increase the amount of weapons and ammunition it supplies: for most allies, keeping some back “just in case” makes little sense when there is already a war in Europe. Better still—though less effective than NATO membership —would be genuine defense guarantees, of the kind the United States offers Japan and South Korea, provided by a coalition of the willing on a bilateral basis, with Western forces stationed on Ukrainian soil, backed up by (at least) the UK and French nuclear deterrents.

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