“I want to be clear: We will defend every inch of NATO territory with the full might of a united and galvanised NATO. But we will not fight a war against Russia in Ukraine. A direct confrontation between NATO and Russia is World War III. And something we must strive to prevent.”
A tweet from the account of US President Biden on March 12th, 2022.
I have been trying to make sense of this. “No escalation” has been NATO, (and Warsaw Pact), doctrine since the iron curtain descended across Europe at the end of World War II. Any and all conflict has been conducted through “proxies”. It’s worked, in so far as there hasn’t been a World War 3. The logic is that any war between nuclear powers is likely to end up in Armageddon. Either the side that is losing launches in desperation, or one or other side launches pre-emptively. However we get there, it ends badly. For everyone.
For the moment, the West appears united. “No direct intervention,” is the mantra.
The tweet tells Mr Putin, and us, that if Russia’s aggression is turned upon a NATO country, then there will be trouble. What it also says is that while the aggression is at a non-NATO country, there will be no direct intervention.
Of course, the West has other things that it can do - and is doing. We continue to provide weapons and supplies to Ukraine. Financial sanctions, economic warfare, if you will, is being waged on Russia. There’s an enormous amount of collecting blankets going on. We’re even confiscating boats from billionaires.
To be effective, “No escalation” requires a common understanding.
- Both sides must agree what constitutes a direct confrontation.
- Both sides must believe that the other will escalate if provoked.
Ukraine has to date mounted a brilliant defence. It is outnumbered and outgunned, but is, for want of a better phrase, kicking ass. It has made fantastic use of anti-tank weaponry from NATO. Can it prevail? Perhaps. Putin has been made to look, well, a bit of a fool. Evil? For sure. Murderous? Absolutely. But the failure of his army to see off a much smaller foe makes him look a bit useless.
It’s alleged that he believed he would take and subjugate Ukraine quickly, and that having been thwarted, he has resorted to the systematic destruction of cities and massacre of innocents to grind down resistance. He is disregarding every treaty and rule in the book. Putin appears hell-bent on the total destruction of Ukraine.
NATO continues to supply arms, advice, and support. Everything short of getting “directly” involved. What if Mr Putin decides that what’s preventing his victory, are those weapons that keep blowing up his tanks and support vehicles? What if he decides that the provision of arms is a direct confrontation? (Newsflash, he has said exactly that.) In fact, since the tanks started rolling, he has been saying that this his “special operation”, is against the West.
He doesn’t agree with Mr Biden as to what constitutes a direct confrontation.
Let’s say he blows up an ammunition holding area in Poland, which is where most the weapons are crossing the border. Will NATO retaliate? Mr Biden talks about defending territory, not about acts of aggression.
I’m not sure that Mr Putin believes that NATO will escalate if provoked. In any event, he will claim that keeping his enemy supplied is direct confrontation, and that he is being very measured in his response.
NATO’s stance is encouraging him to keep going. We are pinning our hopes on a palace coup in Russia, or a heroic victory from Ukraine. A legitimate strategy? Perhaps - but we need to be straightforward about it. NATO is effectively saying that it will allow every single person in Ukraine to die, in order not to escalate.
Then, NATO will be assuring all its members that “we will defend every inch of NATO territory…” The Poles, Hungarians, Slovaks, Lithuanians among others will be listening very carefully. Will the US and Western Europeans really go to war for Bulgaria?
I daresay the Finns, not in NATO, but with a land border to Russia might be a tad nervous too.
Allowing Russia to take Ukraine emboldens Putin, creates precedent for non-intervention, and will sow seeds of doubt in NATO and all across Europe. China will be watching too. Why not reclaim territories that they covet? Those are unlikely to be in NATO, after all.
I’m sure that none of the above has escaped the notice of our elected leaders or the people who advise them. It’s hardly an obscure analysis.
I hope that the Head of Virtue Signalling, who runs the @POTUS account is being allowed to carry on tweeting idiotic nonsense, while the professionals are working out the best way to remove Putin as a threat to the world.
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