Warsaw, Poland – President Joe Biden’s high-stakes summit with other NATO leaders on Thursday will be one of the most verified meetings on the world stage in decades and could have a huge impact on both Ukraine’s war and the global balance of power. .
Despite calls from Ukraine to do more to prevent Russia’s brutal invasion, Biden erred in his caution – warning of escalating conflict with US forces as part of a more direct NATO response. But after nearly a month of fighting, some foreign policy and national security experts have told ABC News that it may be time for the coalition to play a more direct role.
Preparing for the ‘worst case scenario’
Before the war began, Biden insisted that American troops would not fight Russian forces inside Ukraine, warning that fighting head-on would lead to a “third world war.”
But Barry Powell, a senior official at the National Security Council during the Bush and Obama administrations, and senior vice president and director of the Scotcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council, said that was not inevitable.
“There have been other incidents where US and Russian forces have unfortunately clashed and World War III has not started,” Pavel said, referring to the strategy as simple. “There are hundreds of alternatives to what NATO is doing now and at the risk of World War III.”
The bigger threat, Pavel warns, is that Putin may not be checked.
“If he is motivated by success in Ukraine, he will be more aggressive in trying to move into areas of perceived weakness among NATO members,” he said. “If he achieves his goal, you will have Russian forces on the border with the seven NATO members, including the Belarusian nuclear force, and so he will use that new tactic to really increase the level of European insecurity.”
And it’s not Biden’s – or NATO’s – choice alone. Moscow could escalate the conflict by intentionally or accidentally hitting a NATO member, triggering a massive response.
“Article 5 – in the most basic sense – is NATO’s ‘Three Musketeers’ provision, meaning ‘one for all and one for all’ – an attack on any member, an attack on every member of NATO,” said a former UK Defense Department civilian. And Shawn Monagan, a visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, called it “the most important red line in international politics.”
“This is an unfortunate situation for which NATO forces are already preparing,” Monaghan said. “Whatever the army does – prepare for the worst.”
Although the response to the Russian strike does not necessarily need to be monitored closely, Monaghan theoretically said that the alliance would be forced to provide an “irresistible response” if it hit any member state.
“The practice, some would say, is that NATO is a group of 30 nations that must reach a consensus to take any action, which could hinder a response. But I think in this conflict, NATO has shown itself to be much more determined and to act faster than many people have predicted, “he added.
The next step for NATO
Although the Biden administration has underscored the strength of NATO’s irresistible unity in the face of Russian aggression, when it comes to finding a way to deal with the Kremlin, rifts have begun to appear within the alliance. While the summit will be an opportunity to come to the same page for power, it can also shed light on areas of disagreement.
Poland, for example, plans to propose a peacekeeping mission to Ukraine – a move that the United States has effectively rejected. Article 5 makes it clear that an attack on a member is a retaliatory measure, but will the alliance retaliate if Russia adopts chemical weapons in Ukraine? And while NATO may not be willing to establish a no-fly zone over the country, Pavel says that doesn’t mean the country doesn’t need to debate what more can be done to protect its own airspace.
“As far as the arms pipeline is concerned, we should do more. Can’t we allow Ukrainians to fly in their own defense? Forget these ridiculous restrictions on what equipment we can supply to a sovereign country that wants it to defend itself against Russia for fear of Russian retaliation.” He spoke in support of the US Alliance, but said that maintaining some independence was not the answer.
Pavel added that additional anti-aircraft and anti-ship weapons, as well as advanced intelligence assistance and efforts to prevent humanitarian aid on the ground could go a long way.
Thomas Graham, Russia’s former NSC senior director and a prominent fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said that outside the discussion on Ukraine’s support, NATO leaders should use the upcoming summit to sharpen their grip on the Kremlin.
“NATO leaders want to make sure they do everything they can to deter the Russians,” he said. “Have we justified our forces in Eastern Europe? And have we convinced the Russians that we are committed to respecting the Article Five Guarantee and protecting every inch of NATO territory?”
Monahan predicted that this week’s rally would have the opposite effect of a mentality not seen since the days of the Soviet Union.
“We can predict this as the beginning of a step change, almost a return to NATO’s Cold War stance, if not a regional defense, a much more advanced presence designed to prevent a Russian regime that is clearly willing to resort to war.” Says
The battle line of the future
Beyond addressing the immediate crisis, experts say NATO needs to make sure it is ready to respond to a more aggressive Russia and that it is ready for the new geopolitical frontier it is creating.
“The war in Ukraine will end at some point, but so will Russia,” Graham said. “And what the conflict has shown is that our hopes of uniting Russia with the Euro-Atlantic community are dead.”
Pavel said it was important to develop a strategy to manage the conflict, not just to end it.
“When the war ended in the past, new borders were drawn where the forces had set up, through the middle of Germany, through the middle of Berlin,” Pavel said. “When the dust settles, where do we want Russian forces and where do we want Ukrainian and potential NATO forces?”
Another reaction could be an attack on the arms race. Russia’s alleged deployment of hypersonic missiles, a technology the United States has not yet mastered, is a field of competition, but Pavel says it is not the only one.
“Putin has spent 10, 15 years modernizing Russia’s nuclear arsenal – lots of new types of foreign Russian nuclear weapons, quite significant,” he said. “Of course, the United States and some NATO members have nuclear capabilities, but they are aging. They have not been modernized at the pace we should.”
“All of this means we have a lot more to do, unfortunately, on the security agenda up front,” Pavel added.