This July NATO’s summit will be held in Vilnius and there are emerging any number of articles and more addressing what might and/or should take place.
Two members of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation’s Friends of Ukraine Network (FOUN), Ian Brzezinski and Alexander Vershbow recently published a “Memo to NATO Leaders” as part of the Atlantic Council’s “Memo to …” series.
Their Memo is excellent and hopefully will be persuasive. It is time NATO embrace the country fighting for its own freedom and for the protection of the rest of the transatlantic community.
TO: NATO heads of state and government
From: Ian Brzezinski and Alexander Vershbow
Subject: Decisive action needed at NATO’s Vilnius summit on Ukraine and the completion of Europe
What do world leaders need to know? The Atlantic Council’s new “Memo to…” series has the answer with briefings on the world’s most pressing issues from our experts, drawing on their experience advising the highest levels of government.
Bottom line up front: NATO’s upcoming Vilnius summit has to produce more than an articulation of transatlantic solidarity against Russian aggression and a rhetorical expression of support for Ukraine. Allied leaders must leverage the opportunity to drive forward a NATO defense and deterrence posture that substantially and materially reinforces European security and peace, underscores NATO’s resolve to support Ukraine, and begins the process of completing a Europe whole and free where Ukraine is fully integrated within the transatlantic community, including as a member of NATO.
Background: The high stakes of this summit center on Ukraine but extend far beyond it and the current war
The central issue at the NATO summit in Vilnius,Lithuania this July will be the Alliance’s response to the threat posed by Russia’s brutal and unjustified full-scale invasion of Ukraine, now in its second, potentially decisive year.
In his public statements and in the draft treaties Russia presented to the United States and NATO before the invasion,Russian President Vladimir Putin made clear that his imperial ambitions go well beyond Ukraine. Today he remains convinced that time is still on his side despite the Russian military’s mediocre performance, and that the West willsoon tire of its support for Kyiv.
The United States and its allies need to take an unequivocal stand in Ukraine, where the courageous Ukrainian people are on the front lines fighting for their own freedom but also defending the values and security interests of the transatlantic community. If the United States and its allies don’t do enough to ensure that Ukraine prevails against Russia this year, they could face the need for direct and much costlier intervention in the future.
Much is at stake in the outcome of this nearly decade-long war that Russia launched against a democratic European state, first in 2014 with the seizure of Crimea and portions of eastern Ukraine, and which Putin escalated with his attempt to seize the entirety of Ukraine in February 2022:
Recommendations for actions to take in Vilnius
Russia’s aggression is not simply an attack on Ukraine. It is an attack on NATO’s core interests, one necessitating a more vigorous response by the Alliance to strengthen the security of all Europe’s democracies. That response must include the following steps:
Fortify NATO’s defenses along its eastern flank: Deterring Russian aggression requires more robust implementation of the Alliance’s pledge at its 2022 Madrid summit to “defend every inch” of NATO territory. In Madrid, allies decided to increase NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence deployments from battalion- to brigade-level formations, but only brigade-level headquarters are actually being deployed to front-line countries. Instead, full brigade units should be deployed to those countries along with essential intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; air and missile defense; long-range fires; and other necessary enabling capabilities so that there are sufficient forces in place to respond to any form of Russian aggression or land grab. Allies should deploy lead elements of these additional forces by the time of the Vilnius summit and set the goal of full deployment by year end. In confronting an aggressive Russia, allies should no longer be bound by the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act’s constraints on permanent stationing of substantial combat forces or tactical nuclear weapons on the territory of countries that joined NATO after the Cold War.
Fully endorse Ukraine’s war aims: Ukraine and Ukraine alone must define its objectives in this Russian-launched war. In Vilnius, allies should signal their complete commitment to supporting Ukraine in its effort to achieve its definition of victory in this conflict. According to the terms set by Ukraine’s president and embraced by its parliament and citizens, that means the expulsion of all Russian forces from occupied parts of the country and the full restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders of 1991, including Crimea. This is the only outcome that would deny Russia the fruits of aggression and fully uphold the principles of the rules-based order. Any ambiguity regarding these goals on the part of allies before negotiations between Ukraine and Russia have even begun would undercut Ukraine and strengthen Putin’s confidence in ultimately realizing his maximalist ambitions.
Significantly expand economic sanctions on Russia: The transatlantic community must lead an effort to substantially increase the economic costs that the international community is imposing on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.The International Monetary Fund’s projection that the Russian economy will actually grow in 2023 is a prominent indicator of the inadequacy of the current sanctions regime. A more painful sanctions strategy will, as always, involve some economic blowback on allies’ economies. But a failure to fully exercise the West’s economic leverage risks prolonging this conflict by fueling Putin’s war machine and communicating a lack of determination that sustains Putin’s confidence. Increased US and EU sanctions should include additional actions to cut Russian revenue from its exports; intensified restrictions on exports to Russia, particularly of high tech; and broader sanctions on Russian enterprises, including those engaged in sanctions evasion.
Launch a NATO initiative to increase member state production of defense capabilities necessary to achieve victory in modern conventional war: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has demonstrated that NATO defense stocks and production capacity are not sufficient for possible contingencies involving major powers, including the requirement for prolonged weapons supply to Ukraine. At the Vilnius summit, allied leaders should approve a two- to three-year timeline for expanding production capacity for weapons systems and ammunition critical to NATO’s defense needs, to include providing Ukraine what it requires to prevail against Putin’s invasion and deter Russia from invading a third time.
Expand and institutionalize NATO’s military support to Ukraine: Allies have succeeded in helping Ukraine recover more than half of the territory Russia captured since its full-scale invasion while avoiding the war becoming a direct conflict between NATO and Russia. But this has come at the cost of allies appearing deterred by Russian nuclear threats from providing Ukraine everything it needs to prevail. At the Vilnius summit, NATO should:
Move beyond the ambiguous formula regarding Ukraine’s NATO membership enunciated at the 2008 Bucharest summit, which has proved destabilizing in Europe. InVilnius NATO leaders should assert clearly that, as former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has stated, Moscow’s aggression means that European security requires a Ukraine anchored to NATO. This means membership and interim steps toward that goal. Such steps could include: