Wednesday, July 12, 2023

NATO's empty promise to Ukraine

Why Ukraine has no future and never will

Please read added endnote also

The just-adjourned NATO summit in Lithuania pledged to admit Ukraine (UKR) into NATO - but sorry, Ukraine, just not yet. As the photo shows, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky attended the summit. 

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine being applauded by NATO members,
 including Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of Britain, center, and President Biden
during a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Wednesday.
Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

The New York Times reported,

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine praised NATO on Wednesday for offering his nation a path to membership after the war with Russia is over, seeking to move past differences over the lack of a clear timeline as leaders of the alliance concluded a major two-day summit.

A day after NATO’s 31 members confirmed that Ukraine would eventually join the alliance, but with no firm time frame, some Western officials called on Kyiv to express more thanks for the mammoth military and financial aid that allies have provided since the invasion began.

More than a few NATO members were for admitting Ukraine very quickly. But President Joe Biden (of all people) talked them out of it, according to Foreign Policy.

Despite public condemnation [by Ukrainians] of NATO’s decision, the biggest winner of the summit appeared to be the United States for Biden’s ability to sway the rest of the alliance into postponing Ukrainian membership. “It turned a minority position into a majority position in NATO,” said Jamie Shea, a former NATO deputy assistant secretary-general for emerging security challenges. “I think the allies will sort of feel that they’ve managed to preserve the unity on Ukraine, give Ukraine a significant upgrade in the relationship, and move the cursor forward.”

To my point: I oppose admitting Ukraine into NATO - not now, not later. Some reports from the summit, including summit delegates speaking on camera, say that NATO decided not admit UKR now because they knew that UKR President Zelensky would immediately invoke Article 5 of the NATO Charter, thus requiring NATO nations to take substantive action against Russia, "including the use of armed force," according to the text of the Article. And guess how many NATO nations want to do that? 

Hence, the summit's assurances to UKR that yes, NATO will admit UKR into NATO are (let us strongly hope!) empty.

But Russian President Vlad Putin does not think so, and he has said for a very long time that he was deeply suspicious of NATO already having decided long ago that it would admit Ukraine. Last February, for example, Putin said

The information we have gives us good reason to believe that Ukraine’s accession to NATO and the subsequent deployment of NATO facilities has already been decided and is only a matter of time. We clearly understand that given this scenario, the level of military threats to Russia will increase dramatically, several times over. And I would like to emphasize at this point that the risk of a sudden strike at our country will multiply. 

Update for clarity: For the record, I have supported the US and NATO efforts to date in assisting Ukraine diplomatically and materially, with military supplies and weapons (but Biden's admission that, "America Is Running Out of Ammo," because of we have sent so much to UKR does give me pause). I continue to support such measures. 

Without question this war must be brought to an end, preferably with Russia's ejection from UKR, for the sake of the people suffering from it now. 

But let us not lose sight of the inalterable fact that even if Vlad Putin completely gives up the invasion tomorrow, Ukraine has no inherent, possible future worth the risks to NATO nations that will come from UKR's NATO membership. Even before the present war, UKR was literally dying from increasing death rates and decreasing birth rates (I explain below). That "military age" men and women also are "child-bearing age" men and women makes UKR's future even worse, especially since combat-killed men and women simply cannot be replaced.

Demographically, Ukraine has been in much worse shape than Russia for many years. And because of that, Ukraine has already lost this war no matter who wins on the battlefields. 

Six million Ukrainians have refugeed out of the country, and eight million others have been displaced from their homes within the country. They are mostly women of childbearing age and their children. The next generation of adult Ukrainians is largely not living in the country any more. Most of them will not be back.

Families evacuating from Irpin during Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Women, children, and the elderly evacuated from Irpin were relocated to Kyiv
by the Kyiv territorial defense battalion.

The Ukrainians birth rate in pre-war 2020 was 1.22 births per woman, the lowest in Europe and one of the lowest in the world, much less than the 2.1 needed just to keep the population level. And the rate plummeted afterward. According to The Wilson Center

The total fertility rate (TFR) in 2021 was 1.2, and for 2022 it is expected to be 0.9. Since the births planned before the war were still delivered in 2022, a much more dramatic drop in fertility rate is expected in 2023: it will most probably achieve 0.7, and this level will remain at least until the end of the war.

Half of the country is more than 41 years old, meaning that the birth rate will never go up by any significant amount, if at all. So much for a post-war baby boom - sorry, it will not happen, as The Wilson Center understands: 

I see no reason to expect any compensatory effect in that regard, and the demographic dynamics will follow the models of what was seen after World Wars I and II. This means that after Ukraine’s victory, the TFR may return to the level of 1.3–1.4 only in the 2030s.

This assumes, of course, that Ukraine will win (extremely doubtful), and it must be noted that a TFR of between 1.3 - 1.4 still means that far more Ukrainians will die every year than will be born. The population was steadily aging even before the war, so the mismatch between the high number of Ukraine's deaths and the low number of its births will grow greater each year. 

In fact, even in the former peacetime hundreds of thousands more Ukrainians died annually than were born. In 2021, according to, "the death rate was 18.5 per 1,000 people (~ 816,000 deaths) and the birth rate was 7.3 per 1,000 people (~ 322,000 births)." That is 494,000 more deaths than births. And as I said, this war only accelerates that.

Ukraine's end, one way or the other, is certain. Hopefully, it will not be violent, but either way, it will be the grave. Ukraine has no national future either in war or peace. 

As I wrote above, this war must be brought to an end for the sake of the people suffering from it now. But not for the sake of Ukraine's future generations, because Ukrainians already decided not to produce them. Ukraine is putting up a heroic defense. But the country was already literally dying. Now it will not recover, ever.

So what do these figures have to do with Ukraine's NATO membership? I say this: 

If Ukrainians abandoned having children to grow up and fight for their country, on what possible basis can we morally require American parents to send their children to fight for their country? 

Our young men and women would not be fighting for Ukrainians. They would be fighting instead of Ukrainians. 


I received some responses on a site where this essay was linked, mainly objections that I am "negating and condemning" Ukraine and that I think we should "bail" on Ukraine. My text never says any such thing, although the feedback did move me to add the "for clarity" update above. I responded there as such to commenters who made those claims:

So my questions to you:

1. Do you support Ukraine's admission into NATO membership? If so, why and when? If not, why not?

2. If Ukraine is admitted into NATO while still fighting the Russians, do you believe that the other NATO countries will send their own combat forces to fight there if (well, when) Ukraine demands them? (Not should they send them, but will they send them.)

3. If Ukraine is admitted in NATO, do you specifically think the United States should send our own military forces to Ukraine when Ukraine demands them?

If no, then why admit Ukraine to NATO? What would we be doing differently than we are now? 

If yes to sending US forces, do you accept that Russian forces will attack US forces inside Ukraine? If such an attack comes from Russian forces (i.e., aircraft) based inside Russia, do you think we should destroy those bases (inside Russia), and if so, what risks of escalation by Putin are you willing to accept? 

4. If you support sending US troops to Ukraine if demanded by Zelensky, how many Americans are you willing to see killed in order to help Ukraine? In fact, in order to help Ukraine do exactly what? Don't just say "win the war" unless you can also describe what that means on the ground, and how the combatants will know it has been won (or lost, for Russia). 

5. Once you have decided answers, then define what are the conditions of success for NATO and/or the United States. In every operations plan I helped write in the Army, from HQ, XVIII Airborne Corps up to the Army staff at the Pentagon, we were always required to answer this question when presenting them to the commander for approval: "How will we know when we have won?" What is your answer to that regarding NATO, Ukraine, Russia, and the United States?

That Ukraine's status quo is dreadful and unacceptable hardly needs be said.  As I wrote in the essay, "Without question this war must be brought to an end for the sake of the people suffering from it now." 

But let us not delude ourselves that we are working to that goal for the sake of Ukraine's future generations. Ukrainians decided long ago not to produce them. Ukraine is putting up a heroic defense. But the country was already literally dying. Now it will not recover, ever. So, NATO membership to what end and why? 

See also my follow-up post, "Ukraine: Zelensky is a true hero, but does he have a clue?"

BTW, I strongly recommend David Goldman's article, "What Is America’s Strategic Interest In Ukraine?"

Also, this, written one month before Russia invaded: "Fateful Collision: NATO’s Drive to the East Versus Russia’s Sphere of Influence"

Update, March 2024: "NATO Should Not Accept Ukraine - for Ukraine’s Sake. The top five reasons that expanding the Western alliance would make Kyiv even worse off," in Foreign Policy by Harvard Prof. Stephen M. Walt. 

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