Can the US, Nato Really Rescue Ukraine?


President Joe Biden assisted by Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky must meet President Vladmir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva to hammer out a compromise.

A. G. Noorani

THE US owes a heavy responsibility to save Ukraine from destruction at the hands of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. He is reckless but the West had led Ukraine up the garden path. Would it really have intervened if Ukraine was a member of Nato? For long, Americans and Europeans have discussed the efficacy of Nato’s guarantee. Would the US indeed risk nuclear annihilation to save Italy? And now the expanded Nato?

The legendary PM, Jim Hacker, had to confront this agonising dilemma in the BBC’s Yes Prime Minister serial when he met the government’s chief scientific adviser Isaac Rosenblum. He was merciless in questioning the PM on the futility of the nuclear deterrent and on defining the “last resort” when the nuclear button had to be pressed. He asked, “So what is the last resort? Piccadilly? … The Reform Club?” America’s nuclear strategists have long wrestled with this question — risk America’s annihilation while saving Italy? Or Ukraine?

This misses an important point. The Nato guarantee itself is of questionable worth and Nato’s expansion was a dangerous folly. Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty of 1949 says: “The parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that … each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the party or parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.”

Explaining Article 5 to a Senate Foreign Relations Committee, secretary of state Dean Acheson said: “This … does not mean that the [US] would be automatically at war if one of the other signatory nations were the victim of an armed attack. … The obligation of this government under Article V would … be to take promptly the action it deemed necessary to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area. That decision would, of course, be taken in accordance with our constitutional procedures. The factors which would have to be considered would be the gravity of the attack and the nature of the action which this government considered necessary to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.”

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