By Tom Piatak

Although the media continue to predict a Russian attack on Kiev, followed by an attempt to retake the whole of Ukraine, such a full-scale invasion seems very unlikely at this point. Instead, it appears that Vladimir Putin has achieved his objective in Ukraine, without taking any territory he did not already, de facto, control.

Despite what the Ukrainian people may or may not want, no one now believes they will be allowed to join NATO. From now on, Ukrainian sovereignty will be exercised only when Russia permits it. Not for the first time, a Russian leader has intimidated a weaker neighbor, or its timid allies, or both, into doing what Moscow wants.

The liberation of Eastern Europe from Soviet (and Russian) control was not why we fought the Cold War. We fought the Cold War to defend the United States from Soviet Communism.

But the liberation of Eastern Europe was a happy consequence of America’s victory in the Cold War. Is there any way to preserve this happy consequence without risking a war with Russia, a war that would be a disaster for America and Americans? I think there may be.

The first part of the solution is to announce our intention to withdraw completely from NATO by a date certain, after which Europeans will not shelter under an American nuclear umbrella. The benefits to America are obvious: we could reduce military expenditures, stop subsidizing countries that compete with us economically, and reduce the risk of being drawn into a war in Europe.

But our withdrawal would not be immediate. We could, say, give the countries we are currently pledged by treaty to defend two years to make adjustments to their defense expenditures, now that they can no longer count on us to defend them. This two year transition period will help us to refute the charge that America has a habit of leaving our allies in the lurch.

And, for those nations that border Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine, we could make them this additional offer: At the end of the two-year transition, each such nation might have the option of purchasing a small nuclear arsenal from the United States, if that nation convinces the United States, after first engaging in extensive discussions with Russia designed to achieve a non-nuclear modus vivendi, that there is no other way to guarantee its independence. Any weapons provided would be of limited range, able to reach targets in Russia, but nowhere near the United States.

To make the process fair to both sides, the decision as to whether the former NATO member will have its own force de frappe could be made by a five member tribunal. All members would need to be American citizens, but Russia could select two members, the soon to be former NATO member the other two, and all four of the members would then need to agree on the person wielding the fifth, deciding vote.

By now, we can say the following about the military value of nuclear weapons:

  • They have not been used in combat since 1945; and
  • No nation that possesses nuclear weapons has ever had regime change imposed on it by a hostile neighbor.

Possessing nuclear weapons does not cause one nation to invade another; possessing nuclear weapons makes such invasions unthinkable. Nuclear powers just don’t go to war with each other. Pakistan and India, for example, fought several wars before each country developed nuclear weapons; they have fought none since then.

The expectation would be that the two year transition would not end with a bevy of new nuclear arsenals in Europe. The Russian negotiators would be constrained by the knowledge that Russian intransigence could result in a new neighbor possessing nuclear weapons. The soon to be ex-NATO member woud be constrained by the knowledge that its intransigence could leave it without the protection of the United States or even its good will. With these constraints in place, Russia and its neighbors ought to be able to forge friendly, peaceful relationships.

Nor could Russia complain about being “encircled” by a hostile alliance, since a NATO long characterized by most members effectively outsourcing their national defense to the United States would be very unlikely to survive our departure.

All Russia could complain about was that free nations wanting to remain free now possessed weapons that enabled them to do so.

Let’s finally leave Europe to defend itself. But let’s also leave the Europeans the means to defend themselves, if Vladimir Putin is unable to convince his neighbors that they can trust their freedom to him, even after being given every opportunity to do so.

NOTE: As the subtitle indicates, this is intended to stimulate discussion and thought, not as a practical plan for action.

About the author

Tom Piatak

Tom Piatak writes from Cleveland, Ohio.

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