Lots of folks are hoping for NATO to do something to stop Putin in Crimea. As always, I am reminded of Mike Lombardi (formerly of NFL.com and more recently formerly of the Cleveland Browns) who reminds us not to confuse hope with a plan.
Still, let’s think about this for a second anyway. Let’s say that folks within NATO want something to be done, either fast-tracking Ukraine into NATO (I almost could not type that amidst my laughs — NATO, fast track!) or deploying NATO troops to the countries bordering Ukraine or something else.
Get consensus at NATO. Oops. To be clear, what we mean by consensus is not that every country has to agree or contribute (see ye olde NATO book on the latter), but that no country or group of countries feels strongly enough to “break silence” and object to a course of action. Gaining consensus can be very hard to do, especially when countries have very conflicting interests. Who might object to NATO acting?
- France, because France often is not thrilled at NATO actions that might require folks to pay up. France blocked sending NATO’s AWACS planes to Afghanistan for a while in 2008-09 because of the cost that they might have to incur.
- Greece. Just because.
- Turkey. If Greece doesn’t object, Turkey might partly to do the opposite of Greece but mostly because NATO did not respond too energetically when Turkey was attacked. Yes, remember back to when Syria engaged in some violence across the border in Turkey? Remember that NATO did not do that much that quickly, and then finally agreed to deploy a few Patriot batteries? Turkey might not be above being just a bit spiteful.
- Hungary. Why? Because Hungary is not immediately menaced by Russia’s military actions in Ukraine but is quite vulnerable to Russia’s threats to stop the flow of gas. (Remember back when the Reagan administration was not thrilled about Europe becoming dependent on Soviet gas/oil? Those folks were right about that) Hungary is not alone in this at all, by the way, but has a bit more distance than some others so that it probably focuses more on the gas threat than the conventional military threat (unlike Poland and the Baltics).
- How about Italy, Portugal, and Spain with their budget problems? They were hardly enthused about Libya.
- Germany? Hmmmm.
- The US? Obama does not want any new wars, but I could imagine supporting deployment of something nearby to demonstrate concern. Still, the US recognizes that Ukraine/Crimea is soundly within the Russian sphere of interests.
Anyhow, consensus would be mighty, mighty hard to get. And consensus to do what?
- Deployment of forces into Ukraine. Please. Not even as a joke. Not going to happen.
- Fast tracking Ukraine into NATO? This is almost as silly. While I have scoffed (in print) about the conditions imposed upon those seeking to become members of NATO, one basic idea was not to import existing border disputes. Sure, that was a pie crust promise, but this is an entirely different thing here. How many countries have been admitted to NATO with Russian troops engaged in a serious effort to undermine their political system? Last I checked, Moldova was still on the outside.
- Also, keep in mind that NATO likes to have democracies with civilian control of the military — does Ukraine meet those and other relevant conditions?
- Deploying forces to Poland, the Baltics. Well, NATO regularly has air patrols based in the Baltics to demonstrate commitment (very much like Iceland). This would have to be careful — to not threaten Russia might but still reassure the nervous members. It would not stop Putin at all, but would make the members a bit less worried, maybe.
- Sanctions. NATO could coordinate sanctions against Russia, but how long would they last given that Russia is so important for Syria, Iran, and heaps of other issues? It is one thing to cut off trade with a minor country, but cutting ties with Russia? Not likely to last very long. If only we could just not go to the Olympics?
Did any of this make a difference? Not much.
A version of this post first appeared at the author’s blog.