Dr. Mark Green Commentary: It’s Time for NATO to Draw a Line in the Sand in Ukraine

Today starts the annual NATO Summit with President Trump in attendance. Founded in 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has been one of the most effective alliances in history, from standing against the Soviet Union to cooperating fully in the War on Terror.

When in Iraq and Afghanistan, I served alongside British Special Operations Soldiers deployed as a joint special operations task force. In one firefight my aircraft hauled off three wounded British Special Operators. It was a rewarding experience and reinforced the link between NATO countries.

The challenges facing NATO today are no less strenuous than at the organization’s founding. The primary protagonist, Russia, seeks to recreate the power and influence of the former Soviet Union. Nowhere is this more prominent than in Ukraine, where as many as 12,000 Russian soldiers work with separatist to destabilize the country, where Ukrainian Defense leadership asserts Russia shelled Ukrainian positions over 15,000 times in 2017, and where Russian hybrid warfare focuses on shifting public opinion. Perhaps the most egregious act was the illegal and forced annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.

NATO has a significant relationship with Ukraine: “Ukraine joined the North Atlantic Cooperation Council in 1991 and the Partnership for Peace in 1994. In 1997, the NATO–Ukraine Commission (NUC) was established to direct relations between Ukraine and NATO, providing a forum for discussion of security topics of mutual concern.” Because that relationship is as advanced as it is, and because of the history of Russian foreign policy, NATO cannot turn its back on Ukraine.

Since the time of the Tsars, Russia’s means of defense centered around creating buffer states to provide early warning and preparation. Clearly, the Warsaw Pact was more than just the expansion of global communism; it was a defense mechanism following the devastation wrought on the country by Hitler and Nazi Germany. In a recent Foreign Affairs magazine edition dedicated to Russia’s place in the new world order, author Fydor Lukyanov said it best.  “For centuries, Russian security strategy has been built on defense: expanding the space around the core to avoid being caught off guard.”

It’s intuitively obvious with their actions in Crimea, Moldova, The Republic of Georgia, and their propaganda warfare in the Baltics, Russia is again slowly attempting to expand the space around the core. NATO has to decide where to draw the line. If not soon, Russia will just move to the next state to expand its buffer. If we don’t hold the line now, we need to ask ourselves, “who’s next?”