World, Analysis, Russia-Ukraine War

ANALYSIS - NATO's impasse in the Ukraine-Russia War

NATO needs to go beyond only increasing military capability and capacity and should take political and diplomatic initiatives

Prof. Dr. Tarik Oguzlu  | 14.04.2022 - Update : 17.04.2022
ANALYSIS - NATO's impasse in the Ukraine-Russia War

The writer is an academic advisor with the Foreign Policy Institute based in Turkiye's capital Ankara.​​​​​​​


 Just as it is important to understand the factors behind Russia's decision to invade Ukraine and whether Ukraine's resistance in self-defense is sustainable, it is equally important to analyze the attitudes of Western actors against this invasion. Testing the credibility and continuity of NATO, a Western security organization, for the coming years depends on this. At the NATO summit to be held in Madrid in June, a new strategic concept that will shape the alliance's next decade will be determined.

 Is NATO returning to its founding mission?

Contrary to the prediction of French President Emmanuel Macron, who said "NATO is becoming brain-dead" in December 2019, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine seems to have revived NATO. Undoubtedly, this revival has various elements. Despite some fundamental differences of opinion among the members, the idea that NATO is currently the most fundamental defense organization of the transatlantic world and that the rules-based liberal international order will depend on NATO's security guarantees, if it has any chance of survival, has become stronger. It is now widely accepted that NATO's military and institutional capabilities need to be updated and improved to combat today's security threats.

It is noteworthy that, as a sign of political will, the European allies, particularly Germany, have committed to spend more money on defense. Besides, it should be carefully noted that the number of US soldiers in Europe and the number of war groups deployed in NATO members neighboring Russia have increased. It is also important that countries such as Finland and Sweden, which pursue non-alignment and neutrality policies, feel threatened by Russia's expansionism and have begun to seriously consider becoming members of NATO. With the perception that Russia poses a threat not only to Europe but also to the rules-based liberal order on a global scale, the belief that the West should allocate more resources to its security in order to protect its identity, values, and norms has become very strong in the last two months.

As we witness NATO's European members awaking from their geopolitical hibernation, NATO is almost returning to its founding mission.

Beyond the violation of the territorial integrity of an independent and sovereign Ukraine by brute force, the threat emanating from Russia amounts to that the Kantian values and norms on which the European security architecture rests are clearly put in danger. In the event that Russia becomes successful, it seems certain that Hobbesian principles and values will become stronger in world politics.

 NATO members are cautious

If the specification of an order in which the law of the superiors will prevail instead of the rule of law is placed at the center of international relations just because it is perceived more realistically, only conflict and turmoil will await our world in the future.

It seems that NATO members are careful to take a cautious stance in the face of Russia's aggression. Despite Ukraine's efforts, it is a fact that NATO refrains from sending tanks and warplanes to Ukraine and tries to provide military assistance mostly through logistics and side support elements. It is absolutely important that the Russia-Ukraine war does not escalate further and turn directly into a NATO-Russia war. After all, Ukraine is not a NATO member, and the aid NATO members have supplied to Ukraine and the political and economic sanctions they have imposed on Russia have already changed the course of the war. Even though NATO's support so far is important in Russia's failure to achieve its military goals and the increase in Ukraine’s defense resistance, this situation does not seem sufficient for Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy uses all the opportunities he finds to the fullest and tries to draw NATO more into the war.

In his meetings with the leaders of many NATO member and non-NATO countries, and in the speeches he addressed to the parliamentarians of those countries, the Ukrainian leader defines the struggle of his country not only as protecting his country against Russian attacks, but also as trying to make liberal values and the rules-based liberal international order livable from a broader perspective. Zelenskyy, who used the massacre-like interventions of the Russian army in regions like Bucha to gain more support, has succeeded in attracting Western public opinion to his side.

Current results of war

Reviving NATO, lending support to the claims of the US that "a second Cold War is taking place" through ideological fault lines, making the US’s vital position apparent in the defense of Western countries, directing the European Union to spend more money on its own defense, creating blood feuds between the Russian and Ukrainian nations and making Ukrainian nationalism more legitimate, facilitating that post-war Ukraine will move closer to the West instead of moving away from the West are among the most important results of Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine.

Although it would be a rational choice for the European members of NATO, who are heavily dependent on Russia in terms of oil, natural gas, and grain products, to want the war to end as soon as possible, the stance that NATO has taken so far shows that Russia's invasion of Ukraine is not viewed only from a rational profit-loss calculation perspective. Had it been otherwise, NATO should have contributed significantly to the diplomatic solution process between the parties, encouraged Ukraine in this regard, and even presented possible solution plans by itself.

 NATO is in cleft stick

NATO is on the horns of the dilemma. While NATO tries to cramp the military aid it offers to Ukraine so that the war does not escalate further and the world is not thrown into the fire as a whole, on the other hand, it is trying to increase Ukraine's resistance so that Russia does not gain a decisive victory. We saw the latest example of this in the decisions taken by the foreign ministers of NATO member countries at a meeting in Brussels on April 6-7. The outgrowth of this situation is that the war prolongs further and countless innocent people lose their lives in this process. The support given to Ukraine is enough to teach Russia a lesson but not enough to turn the course of the war and change the final result of the war in favor of Ukraine.

Seeing the possibility of Russia using nuclear weapons, even at a tactical level, NATO, which restrains itself, might be increasing Russia's appetite even though it does not want to. Getting the idea that "NATO can't go any further," Putin is escalating the violence even more to get out of the war undefeated. This is a complete stalemate.

If NATO wants to be considered as an institution to prevent possible nightmare scenarios, prevent both the Russian and Ukrainian people from being harmed further, have a sustainable relationship with Russia from now on and, above all, be seen as an organization that contributes to international peace and stability, it needs to go beyond just increasing its military capability and capacity and take political and diplomatic initiatives with a visionary perspective to end the war as soon as possible. Hiding behind Ukraine and relying solely on military aid and expecting that Russia will wear out would not bring anything to NATO in the medium and long term. The world needs more inclusive security, not permanent polarization and blocking. NATO has a great responsibility in this regard, and its members should see this and act accordingly.

*Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency

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