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Should NATO enter the Russian-Ukrainian fray?

By Alon Ben-Meir - posted Friday, 25 March 2022

It is hard to describe the excruciatingly painful destruction Putin is inflicting on Ukraine. However, whereas NATO should provide Ukraine with active defensive military equipment, it should not directly join the war which could ignite a major European if not world war.

Righting the Wrong

There are growing voices from academia, the military, and former and current American and EU officials calling on the Biden administration to heed Ukrainian President Zelensky's appeal to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine. Beyond a no-fly zone, they raise a legitimate question -do the US and its allies have a limit as to how far and for how long Russia's President Putin can indiscriminately bombard Ukrainian cities, killing thousands of innocent men, women, and children, before NATO intervenes to end the slaughter? Indeed, everyone with a conscience feels the horror of this unprovoked and utterly unjustified war. However, if we want to prevent an all-out war in Europe, we have to be extraordinarily prudent and not allow our sense of outrage about the war succumb to our compassion and moral obligation, albeit it should be the right thing to do.


There are many reasons why we should not confront Russia directly, especially now that we are taking many non-military measures, including crippling sanctions, while remaining united and resolved to indirectly inflict heavy military losses on Russia and render it a pariah state. In addition, once they become aware of the unspeakable horror Putin is inflicting on the people and cities of a peaceful neighbor, the Russian people would rise against their corrupt and brutal leader who is misleading them and subjecting them to nothing but more pain and misery.

Here are several reasons why NATO should not get directly involved in this horrific war and what it must do to inflict indirectly the heaviest toll on the Russian army while exposing Putin as a war criminal.

First, introducing a no-fly zone would pit NATO directly against Russia, as it will require an extensive campaign against Russian jet fighter planes, as well as destroying Russia's S-300 and S-400 air defense systems, which Russia would certainly use to intercept NATO missiles enforcing a no-fly zone. This move would escalate and draw NATO into a broader war.

Second, at the present the Russian people are demonstrating in growing numbers against the war as the public is becoming increasingly informed, with nearly 5,000 arrested at protests. However, if NATO intervenes and expands beyond Ukraine's borders, and NATO begins to attack numerous targets inside Russia, it would doubtless galvanize Russians against Western powers, when in fact the precise opposite is what the NATO alliance wants to realize.

Third, several European countries who are not NATO members, especially Sweden and Finland, do not want NATO to go to war with Russia, fearing that they would eventually be dragged into it without having NATO's protection, such as the case with Ukraine. They prefer to see Putin suffer from the consequences of his ill-fated misadventure.

Fourth, while most military analysts agree that Russia will lose any conventional war against NATO, given Russia's history and imperial mindset, losing a conventional war against NATO will be a recipe for the next war between them. This would destabilize Europe for decades, which should be avoided unless Russia attacks any NATO member state first.


Fifth, by avoiding direct military involvement, NATO will spare the lives of tens if not hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians on both sides. And so long as the West continues to supply Ukraine with military equipment while Russia is sustaining crimpling sanction and heavy military losses, NATO should continue with this strategy which may precipitate a coup inside Russia itself.

Sixth, a direct confrontation with Russia could deliberately or accidently escalate and engulf many countries beyond the European theater. This will essentially put us at the precipice of World War III. This must be avoided by any means possible unless Russia attacks first and leaves the West with no choice other than waging an all-out war against Russia.

Seventh, prior to escalating the conflict with Russia, NATO must consider where China stands. As Putin's atrocities are exposed, the Chinese may well heed the US' call to play a constructive role by using its influence on Putin to end the war without further catastrophic losses. Given however the closeness between Putin and President Xi, the latter would not do so if NATO engages Russia militarily.

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About the Author

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

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