Commentary. What’s the underlying issue? The simple and brutal fact that admitting Ukraine into NATO at this point, as the Poles and Baltics would like, would mean going to war with Russia.

The cluster of problems at the NATO summit in Vilnius

There was a whole cluster of problems to deal with at the NATO summit in Vilnius – not just the “cluster bombs” that the U.S. intends to supply to Kyiv against the objections of the Alliance’s most important members, including Italy, which signed the Oslo convention to ban such munitions along with more than 100 states.

The first issue was Ukraine’s pathway to NATO membership, explicitly postponed by U.S. President Biden until after the end of the war. It’s likely that the need for a Membership Action Plan (MAP) will be waived to facilitate Ukraine’s candidacy, a small consolation prize.

But the issue of getting Turkey to lift its veto on Sweden’s candidacy was an even larger one: Erdogan did not waste the opportunity to up the ante and tie Stockholm’s entry to progress on Turkey’s entry into the European Union, a process frozen since 2005 over human rights violations and the Turkish military occupation of Northern Cyprus: “Turkey has been waiting at the gate of the European Union for over 50 years now,” Erdogan said, and “almost all NATO member countries are European member countries.”

He was also asking for more money from the EU to keep Syrian refugees at home and free movement in the EU for Turkish citizens; and from Biden, whom he met with one-on-one in Vilnius, he demanded that the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey be resumed, and the green light to slaughter Kurds at will.

In return, he offered his mediation to renew the Russia-Ukraine agreement on the extension of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which expires on July 17, covering the exports of wheat and fertilizer across the Black Sea, on which 12 percent of the world’s food supply in terms of calories depends. He offered assurances that he could get it done due to his talks with Zelensky and his ongoing “telephone diplomacy” with Putin, who is coming to Turkey in a month to meet with the “Reiss” of NATO’s southeastern flank.

NATO is a defensive military alliance – according to its principles, although definitely not in deeds – which has progressively overlapped with the EU. The latter has not only failed to develop a common foreign and defense policy, as foreshadowed as early as the Ventotene Manifesto of 1944, but with NATO’s eastward enlargement, it has put economic and cashflow-related objectives (Germany’s in particular) before political and ethical ones.

Even more, it let NATO’s eastward enlargement overlap with and eventually overtake that of the Union.

And now a giant cluster of problems need to be dealt with: from Turkey to Ukraine, from raising defense budgets in line with the 2 percent of GDP target (bulked up more and more at the expense of social investments) to the issue of the leadership of NATO, where Norwegian Stoltenberg’s mandate has been extended by one year to avoid tensions, while there are rumors of a future candidacy of EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, a German, a possibility which the UK would take as an “insult” to the ironclad friendship between London and Washington, which no longer appears as solid as it once did, despite Monday’s meeting between Biden and King Charles at Windsor, with full military honors.

The Vilnius summit also appeared to be a precursor to an “Asian” NATO, something feared by China (where Janet Yellen’s visit had just ended).

NATO, which had already deployed in Afghanistan for 20 years, after which the disastrous U.S. withdrawal in August 2021 discredited the Alliance (according to General Giorgio Battisti in his book Fuga da Kabul – “Escape from Kabul”), is now relaunching by targeting the Asian region. The Vilnius summit was attended by the leaders of Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and Japan.

Many now believe that NATO is seeking to expand into the Indo-Pacific region, where the Taiwan issue is simmering.

The participation of these countries in Vilnius is hardly a mere courtesy; as Lamperti pointed out in il manifesto on June 9, this is an attempt to deepen a cooperation that gained momentum with the war in Ukraine.

This is a process that worries China, which has repeatedly lashed out against the creation of an “Asian NATO.” Prior to the Ukrainian war, Beijing was particularly irked by the Quad (the security platform that includes the U.S., Australia, Japan and India) and Aukus, the U.S.-U.K.-Australian security pact that provides for the deployment of nuclear submarines in the Pacific.

This also comes with its own cluster of problems. Not everyone agrees with NATO’s Indo-Pacific enlargement. This includes not only China, but also some member countries such as France. Already burned by the Aukus agreement, which cost it a deal for a large number of submarines to be sold to Australia, Paris sees the possible opening of a NATO office in Japan, for which unanimity is needed at the NATO Council, as a “big mistake.”

In the end, the core issue plaguing the Lithuanian summit was the substantive one that Monday’s New York Times headline summed up clearly: “Unity among the alliance has become harder to sustain.” What’s the underlying issue? The simple and brutal fact that admitting Ukraine into NATO at this point, as the Poles and Baltics would like, would mean “going to war with Russia.”

Perhaps there should have been more thought put into the plan of NATO enlargement up to Russia’s borders: in 1997, the American diplomat George Kennan called it “the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-cold-war era.”

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