Governments, once created, are all but impossible to uncreate even if no one can precisely define what they’re for. Take NATO. During the Cold War, its purpose was fairly obvious, after the Cold War it doesn’t really have one. Ukraine’s request to join NATO is helpfully clarifying in that sense.
Ukraine’s war with Russia must conclude before the country can join NATO, President Biden said in an interview that aired Sunday.
Biden made the statement during a taped conversation with CNN, saying there is no agreement within NATO on when to allow Ukraine to join the military alliance. Biden also noted certain issues with Ukraine’s eligibility, such as a lack of democratization.
“I think we have to lay out a rational path for Ukraine to be able to qualify to be able to get into NATO,” Biden told CNN.
Having Ukraine join NATO would pretty clearly define its mission as countering Russia. But then again that’s why countries like Poland wanted to be part of NATO to begin with. Eastern Europe doesn’t especially like Western Europe, but the latter has useful markets and an even more useful military to keep the Russians from reclaiming their empire.
Contrary to Russian propaganda though, there’s no such vision on the part of core NATO nations. Especially America. That’s why no one really knows what to do with Ukraine’s membership request. Accepting it would mean committing to countering Russia while rejecting it would be an admission that NATO is formless, shapeless and has no real purpose.
It’s easier to just punt.
Take this very odd official NATO video which doubles as a Biden campaign commercial, and is all about Ukraine. If the NATO agenda is reducible to Ukraine, then why not let NATO join? If NATO’s agenda isn’t about Ukraine, then what is it?
Figuring this out would have been a simple matter of thinking ahead in the 90s. Or anytime before events took off without waiting for D.C. or London to figure out what it’s all about. But our governments are croft. They exist so they can spend appropriated money while pushing assorted political agendas. Confronted with clarifying problems, they fumble and run away.
Having Ukraine in NATO might very well be a terrible idea, but then why have NATO at all? What purpose does it serve? Whom is it supposed to deter? Once you ask questions like that, the answers become uncomfortable because they’re definitional. And when institutions are adrift, definitional questions are traumatic. What if all this vast infrastructure actually has no purpose except its own self-perpetuation?
The U.S. was dragged into the Russia-Ukraine war with no plan, shifting goal posts, no sense of outcome and no decisions that aren’t open to being revised two weeks later. Even by Biden standards, the decision-making has been a disaster. But that’s what happens when you don’t know what you’re doing and someone else does.