Should Ukraine Join NATO?

The bane of every columnist: admitting fault. A change of heart is always hard to acknowledge, especially for someone conceited enough to air his thoughts in public. (Hello, mirror!) But integrity is important, if only for affording more peaceful slumber at night. Nothing’s worse than an ink spiller who talks out both ends of his mouth depending on political convenience. (See: almost every signee to National Review’s infamous Against Trump symposium.)

I’ve made a clean breast of my mistakes here before. So please, dear reader, trust my candid untrustworthiness. Even as I flip back to my previous flop after I had flipped.

Somewhere in my extensive archives, probably back when I was a singleton writing libertarian screeds for a defunct think tank, I pointed out the absurdity of poking the Russian Bear by extending NATO membership eastward. I cited all the usual experts: George Kennan said don’t do it!; Henry Kissinger warned us too!; Secretary of State James Baker adumbrated the danger! Article 5’s collective attack clause will invariably force us into a war footing!

My reductive conclusion: Why risk nuclear war with a country that houses more nuclear warheads than us over a lousy treaty alliance? Especially one where we pick up the tab for freeloaders!?

Over the last few years, I pivoted (a handy euphemism for an about-face) to a more nationalistic stance. Why should Russia get a say if its former satellites like Lithuania and Estonia want to join NATO? Isn’t self-determination a right of all countries? Sovereignty is paramount. If Russian kleptocrats are incensed one of their former wards wishes to join the Atlantacist gang, they can go pound Siberian snow. It’s not their choice, nor their business.

Plus, Article 5 was brilliantly designed with an escape hatch: the pesky preposition “including” leaves the option for force—a martial response is not necessary.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—the 2014 incursion into Donbas, and last year’s full-scale inbreaking—didn’t explode my position like thermobaric bombs pulverizing Maripol. Unlike everyone else along DC metro’s Orange Line, I didn’t turn maximalist Ukraine supporter overnight, adopting its bicolor flag emoji on my entire online presence. But Vladimir Putin’s bloody annexation attempt hadn’t cut against my conviction of Ukraine’s unquestioned autonomy.

Things and minds change, though. The recent NATO summit in Vilnius presented a prime opportunity for Ukraine to ascend to membership within the defensive compact. The globo-blob Atlantic Council was hectoring for it. Elite equivocation prevailed thankfully, with only a vague promise of integration sometime in the future.

Whatever bid Volodymyr Zelensky used his acting chops to make was thwarted, likely by the U.S. and Germany. Ahead of the summit, President Biden tamped down any hope of Ukraine becoming the newest western battle buddy, doubting “there is unanimity in NATO about whether or not to bring Ukraine into the NATO family now.” To make up for America’s chop block, President Biden is promising a steaming Zelensky a battery of cluster bombs, which, because of their indiscriminate incendiary range, are banned in many countries. Russia has had no moral qualms about dropping the same munitions on Ukrainian cities, wiping out scores of civilians. Why should Ukraine keep playing by the civilized world’s rules? This is war—a nation’s survival is at stake. It’s time to embrace what Wendell Berry called the “primordial symmetry of striking and striking back.” The Convention on Cluster Munitions is nice in peacetime, but our inner red tooth and claw can only be denied for so long.

The Russo-Ukrainian war ratcheting up the bloodshed should be a concern, even for the most ardent Ukraine backers and contrarian Russophiles. European conflicts have a history of becoming unwieldy, plunging the Continent into a casualty-strewn smoky hellscape. You wouldn’t know it by the Twitter saber-rattling of ergonomic-chair-squishing Twitter warriors and journalists, who froth over their typekeys for gruesome Muscovite casualties. Plying Ukraine with more combustible death-dealers evens the battlefield—making the war all the more protracted and interesting to safe spectators gorging on Lay’s and Diet Coke while rooting on their favorite “Call of Duty” side.

I’d be lying if I said seeing an endless stream of interchangeable bulbous faces on CNN screaming themselves ruddy over the dire need for Ukraine’s immediate NATO inclusion wasn’t a factor in my mind-change. I’m naturally averse to talking pudding-piles in collars and ties telling me what to think. The blowhard imprudery of a dumpy looking “senior fellow” at Raytheon Institute for Peace playing global politicking from a fluorescently lit TV studio is detestable to anyone who is cognitively dexterous enough to juggle two ideas at the same time.

And Ukrainian NATO membership is a multi-factor consideration. It’s not as simple as citing the Treaty of Westphalia and inducting sovereignty from there. Contingencies must be considered. The easiest example that comes to mind is the young lady walking home late at night unaccompanied through a rough neighborhood. Yes, she has a right not to be accosted. But is it wise to tempt libidinous men, probably too well into their cups? Or to use a less-cancellable example (apologies, ladies!): we enjoy the right to free speech, but is it smart to parade down Harlem wearing a sandwich board emblazoned with “I Hate N******” like Bruce Willis in “Die Hard with a Vengeance”?

Of course not on both counts. Neither is a smart, steady, cool-headed, and politic move. Assuming an inviolable right doesn’t take in the broad spectrum of possibilities, especially men’s capacity for reckless destruction. The psychiatric committal phrase “die with their rights on” comes to mind: Ukraine has a right to join NATO, and the alliance has a right to accept new members, but is it worth potentially killing our otherwise liberal order with a third world war?

I say “no,” after a blinkered jag of saying “yes.” (Betteridge’s law of headlines fulfilled!) Does that make me a flaky thinker, incapable of putting a foot down firmly on a strict moral? Maybe. But at least I’m not insecure and desperate-to-please enough to hang a Ukrainian flag above my garage. There’s merit in feeling ashamed for past opinions, and a shamelessness in unthinkingly wafting with the costless and convenient political winds.

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Free the People publishes opinion-based articles from contributing writers. The opinions and ideas expressed do not always reflect the opinions and ideas that Free the People endorses. We believe in free speech, and in providing a platform for open dialog. Feel free to leave a comment!

Taylor Lewis

Taylor Lewis writes from Virginia.

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