So, just imagine you are one of the delegates to the NATO meeting in Wales later this week.
You know that your country's participation in the defence organization began as a response to a potential threat from the then Soviet Union's expansionist aims and goals. You also know that, for the last twenty years, following the collapse of that former Soviet Union, the west has treated the emerging Russia more as an ally than an enemy. You also know that your country's military budget has not permitted the 2% spending on military spending, both on new resources and personnel. It is probably more in the 1% range, and with the rest of your colleagues around the table, the people in your country are certainly not anxious to enter into a military conflict with the Putin-led Russia, especially as he has just reminded the world "not to mess with Russia, that I remind you is a nuclear-armed super power".....
And the question facing all of those seated at the table in Wales is "What does NATO do now in the face of the Russian continuing invasion of eastern Ukraine amid Putin's denials and Poroshenko's formal request for both military assistance and even NATO membership?"
An open military conflict with the Russian bear is likely off the table. And Putin is counting on that.
Another round of economic sanctions will likely produce either little impact on Putin or a reciprocal round of sanctions, possibly including the cutting off of needed heating oil and natural gas for the upcoming winter in Europe.
Approval of Ukraine's request for membership in NATO, while compelling, seems too big a step at this time, for most of those in the meeting, so will likely be deferred.
The EU has just announced a one week ultimatum for Putin to reverses course in Ukraine or face further sanctions, which most agree will likely have little impact on Putin's determination to prevent Ukraine from sliding further into what he sees as the 'western orbit' a position that could eventually include both EU membership for Ukraine and also NATO membership.
So, what's left could be a lengthy discussion of NATO's making enhanced contributions of military, intelligence and strategic resources to the Ukrainian government in Kiev....as a way of threading the needle with a very small opening, without actually ordering any "boots on the ground" or committing to what would eventually become an all-out war between Putin and NATO over the Russian meddling in eastern Ukraine.
While you contemplate making your own statement to those assembled at the table, you are fully aware that whatever you say will be reported to your government and people back home, and your capacity to deliver, should you agree to contribute substantially to the Ukrainian cause, on behalf of your government, could so raise the stakes between Ukraine Russia that could bring NATO into direct military conflict with the Kremlin. You also know that doing nothing is really not an option, especially when the future of both Ukraine and NATO are essentially on the line, at this moment.
As one EU leader has already stated publicly, "This is a significant moment in human history"...or words to that effect.
And so, you contemplate your words, very carefully. You listen intently to those words already being shared around the table. You recognize and respect the defensive aspect of the NATO origin, and recognize that Ukraine, although not a formal member, deserves the support of her neighbours, if invasions of other former Soviet satellites by Putin's Russian forces ( no matter how scantily disguised) are to be avoided. It was Poroshenko himself, in his petition for NATO support who warned that the stability of Europe was on the line, and while that scenario does not face this meeting in Wales, at this moment, he could well be foreshadowing a likely outcome should NATO come up short.
Even those people in countries represented at this table are, for the most part, deadly serious about avoiding another war and would be appalled if NATO succumbed to the slippery slope of full military engagement with Russia. Yet, talking with Putin, the very one openly seeking negotiations, is unlikely to generate the kind of resolution and withdrawal of his forces from the Ukrainian soil, or his agreement to resist further incursions. There seem to be no levers available for participants to deploy in an effort to reverse Putin's nationalist ambitions.
And so, you raise your hand, signalling your preparedness to speak to the meeting. When recognized you begin nervously:
With respect, ladies and gentlemen, we all agree that NATO, and in many ways, the world, seems to be a boiling cauldron of various forces of instability, and nervousness, as well as fiscal restraint and political impairment. We are meeting when well over 2000 people have already died in the fight to preserve the territorial integrity and legitimate aspirations of the people of Ukraine, including those who consider their Russian heritage to be integral to their identity, while living within the Ukrainian boundaries. We are also meeting staring statements of denial and blame coming from Putin, including even conflicting statements to his own coming from the Kremlin itself. The fog of war, especially regarding Putin's full intentions, already engulfs our deliberations.
We have a responsibility to our NATO treaty, as well as to the assurance of freedom of the people whom NATO represents, to see clearly through the most intense fog we have faced since our birth.We also have a responsibility to acknowledge and to repel all threats to the territorial sovereignty of our members, and in this case, to one seeking membership, knowing full well that this could well be prologue to an actual Russian invasion of one of our own members, in spite of Putin's vociferous denials of any such ambitions.
Increasingly, and transparently, NATO is being asked, perhaps some would consider it "forced," to demonstrate a level of courage, commitment and leadership that none of us at this table could or wold have envisaged when we accepted this responsibility. Nevertheless, there are clearly many leaders around the world who are watching and listening to our deliberations, and especially to our decisions. We must demonstrate that we are both willing and able to find a series of action steps that can and will support the Ukrainian people, while simultaneously, posing a serious and substantive pause in Putin's thinking and his determination to continue his reckless and dangerous threats.
Speaking for my own country, I submit a commitment of the best of our intelligence technologies, including both the personnel and the training required to operate these technologies to the co-ordinated complement of NATO contributions to the people and government of Kiev. I also commit to engage our government's foreign affairs department to the pursuit of substantive negotiations between Moscow and Kiev, brokered if necessary by NATO leaders in conjunction with EU leadership.
The future of NATO and the potential future of the Ukrainian people as well as the future of the nation state of Ukraine is at stake, and while not exclusively in our hands, nevertheless, our hands are intimately and permanently tied to its resolution. We must seek to remove the Russian rebels, indeed terrorists, from a future participation in the resolution of this conflict. And we must be seen to be and to remain steadfast in our resolve, through actions of which our grandchildren can and will be proud.
Thanks you for your attentive respect and continuing dedication to this moment in history.