Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has the worst idea—ever.
If NATO went along with it, a war would start like none we’ve ever seen: Endless troops, streams of tanks, a sky blotted out by warplanes.
And that’s the best-case scenario. It’s far more likely that there would be little left of humanity after war was joined between the United States/NATO and Russia. And would China pick a side? Or simply see an opportunity?
Could we avoid at least a “limited” nuclear war under such circumstances? It’s doubtful. Desperation is a powerful motivator and last resorts are not never resorts.
And that’s what Zelensky is asking for with his request for “accelerated” consideration of his country’s NATO application. Accelerated or not, the idea is a non-starter. Article 5 of NATO’s founding document promises that an attack on one member is an attack on all. Definitionally, bringing in a country at war brings the entire alliance into the fight. That means tanks, bombs, artillery, HIMARS, drones, operated by—God forgive us—valorous men and women of the U.S., the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Germany, and 25 others, including tiny Montenegro.
Admitting Ukraine to the alliance, Mr. Zelensky, is the worst idea ever.
It’s easy to understand Zelensky’s request. Russia is “officially” annexing large chunks of his country. What Russian President Vladimir Putin is doing is illegal by every measure but his country’s laws—and those he makes up on the fly.
So, where does that leave NATO?
Every which way, allowing Ukraine to join is insanity. The problem is, and I’ve said this before, we’re already in this war.
Not having a formal security alliance with our friends in Ukraine hasn’t stopped us from sending all of the weapons systems mentioned above, if not the troops to operate them. And every day we change the definition of what’s acceptable to send. President Biden has so far resisted sending a long-ish-range missile system to Ukraine, for fear that giving Zelensky weapons that could strike into Russia, or do extensive damage in Russian-held Crimea, could spark World War III.
But the latest aid package includes $1 billion in immediate military assistance to Ukraine itself—ammunition, vehicles, etc.—and another $2 billion to be split among 18 NATO members whose lawns face out onto Putin’s disputed property.
These are not things you do unless you’re expecting trouble—a lot of trouble. It’s more than a reassurance that the United States is however far behind you, that’s real money to those countries—even if it’s far less than one hundredth of an Elon Musk to us.
At the highest levels, the U.S. thinks there’s a good chance there’s going to be a fight, as Thomas Hobbes said, of “all against all.”
In a previous column, I’ve written about Russia’s war of inflation and starvation against the world. Russia has since allowed a diminished number of ships to leave Ukraine’s grain ports. The energy war is starting to get far worse, however.
Nord Stream 1 is a key natural gas pipeline between Russia and Germany, and therefore the West. The pipeline didn’t make the list of sanctions against Russia, despite limits on coal and oil. The why is simple: Europe can’t afford it. The gas is used for cooking, heating, running electric turbines and even making fertilizer. Where else can Germany and the European Union make up the deficit? Nowhere. Enough gas can’t be transported from the U.S., for example, in part because countries on both sides of the Atlantic never built up the capacity to do so. Why would they? Europe has always gotten plenty of cheap gas from Russia, after all.
Now, someone has blown a big hole in the pipeline, probably using hundreds of pounds of explosive to do so. Who did it? Nobody knows as of today, but everyone in the West is guessing Russia. Even before these bombings—another struck Nord Stream 2, which was never brought online because of the war—Russia was playing with the pressure valve, allowing far less gas through the pipe than normal. The pipeline might be patched by October.
As gas runs short, prices have skyrocketed in Europe. Russia is certainly hoping for bidding wars over the remaining gas between NATO allies and EU members (which overlap in most cases), pulling the continent apart and weakening resolve on Ukraine. All we can say is “not yet.”
It’s possible to look at this energy fight as Russia’s own version of harsh sanctions on Europe, but it’s not crazy to view leaving millions of people in the cold as an act of war. Destroying energy infrastructure has been part of the Ukraine fight.
We can call the situation what we want, but war is the reality. Russia is provoking a shooting war and NATO is preparing for one. What comes next? It depends on whether Zelensky gets his wish.
Jason Fields is a deputy opinion editor at Newsweek.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.