and the cycles of who-whom...
There is a problem with the received wisdom on a diplomatic resolution to the Ukraine crisis now apparently underway because there is more to NATO’s insistence that every country has the right to choose its relationships than a rhetorical commitment to national sovereignty and independence.
The wise men and women say there is an important distinction between that right and the necessity of the Alliance to honour it by offering membership. Thus NATO ought to have little difficulty with upholding the rights of self-determination in principle and at the same time giving some sort of formal assurance to Russia that Ukrainian membership in NATO will not occur in 10 or 20 years, or maybe never, so long as Russia agrees to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and independence.
To ‘neutralise’ Ukraine in this manner makes obvious sense. But it would go against the central premise of NATO enlargement since the end of the Cold War. That premise was clearly stated by Bill Clinton, who, when asked why the alliance was admitting new members from the former Warsaw Pact, said it was because they wanted to join.
Never mind who ‘they’ were – cynics have said they included co-ethnics in the American ‘swing states’; the important point for today is that NATO must repudiate this premise in any compromise over Ukraine’s status. That is, NATO must admit that enlargement undertaken mainly as an expression of the preferences of aspirants is, and therefore was, a mistake.
Talleyrand recalls hearing a Russian general say that he was fine with the Poles entering NATO because Poland has never joined a military alliance that didn’t subsequently collapse. Well, NATO hasn’t collapsed but still can’t decide whether it is a military alliance or something else more benign. Its rhetoric during the last 30 years suggests the latter; its actions, the former.
The Russians must understand that what they are demanding of NATO is nothing less than calling into question its basic role in European security and denouncing its own historical record as flawed, illegitimate, and hypocritical. If they really want NATO to do all those things, they will need to do much more than engage in a bit of exhibitionism on their side of the Ukrainian border.