10 July 2024

A Better Path for Ukraine and NATO

M. E. Sarotte

We know what will not happen at NATO’s 75th anniversary summit in Washington this week: Ukraine becoming the alliance’s 33rd member. U.S. officials are talking instead about giving Ukraine “a bridge to NATO,” as National Security Council Senior Director for Europe Michael Carpenter put it recently. But when it comes to membership, many of the alliance’s leaders—including the United States and Germany—remain concerned that a formal move will be impossible as long as Kyiv is at war, given the centrality of the alliance’s Article 5 guarantee that an attack against one will be considered an attack against all.

Yet such concerns, while understandable, do not take sufficient account of either the current state of U.S. politics or the war itself. Ukraine’s “bridge to NATO” could easily become a bridge to nowhere if Donald Trump wins the November U.S. presidential election. Trump has threatened to withdraw from the alliance—or, as former NATO and Trump administration officials wrote together in Foreign Affairs recently, he could undermine the alliance by “withholding funding, recalling U.S. troops and commanders from Europe, and blocking important decisions in the North Atlantic Council.” He has also pledged to end the war in Ukraine in a single day.

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