Discover more from Economics Matters by Laurence Kotlikoff
Admit Ukraine to NATO
If I’m Vladimir Putin and my conventional military is being well matched by tens of thousands of courageous Ukrainians armed with increasingly sophisticated and heavy Western weapons, I do what I’m mostly doing — bombard Ukraine from long range until I’ve forced most of the population to flee, having left nothing standing to encourage their return. Then I cease fire, declare victory, and schedule my next move — for 2024.
Putin’s master plan may not have gone as expected. But he’s winning. At last count, 5.2 million Ukrainians — one in eight — have fled the country. The UN predicts another 3 million will shortly join them. Meanwhile, Ukrainian cities, bridges, factories, trains, airports, oil tanks, and everything else of value are being flattened.
Putin supposedly will stop the carnage once his military is degraded. Hum. To date, Russia has lost 900 tanks and 21,000 troops. That still leaves Putin with 11,000 tanks and close to a million soldiers. And Russia can build more tanks and draft more soldiers. It built over 20,000 tanks and thousands of other armed vehicles during WWII. By that war’s end, Russia had mobilized 11 million soldiers.
We are, in short, kidding ourselves. Putin wants what he wants — the Russian empire at its peak. That includes Maldova, Romania, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, and Finland. Like Hitler, he won’t stop until he’s stopped.
The good news is that we’re clearly determined to stop him. Secretary of State Blinken’s recent statement that “Ukraine will last longer than Putin” is a major line in the sand — a U.S. guarantee of Ukraine’s survival. And the $33 billion Ukrainian (mostly military) aid package now before Congress sends a message that the Russia’s military will pay an increasing price for its aggression. So do the 200 tanks coming from Poland, the 50 anti-aircraft tanks sent from Germany, the 4000 NLAW anti-tank weapons sent from Britain, the S-300 anti-aircraft systems sent from Slovakia, and the heavy artillery, helicopters, mortars, Stingers, Javelins, and other weapons on their way from the U.S.
What’s our best strategy? Is it to degrade Russia’s military while letting Putin bomb Ukraine into oblivion? No. Ukraine can’t spend months, let alone years under a constant rain of missiles. At some point, Ukraine will respond in kind and blow up the most likely target — the Kremlin. Putin will then have his excuse to nuke Kyiv, which he’s clearly eager to do. It will ensure any Ukrainian left standing leaves the country immediately. If this happens, things can quickly get out of control. Indeed, if Putin really wants to use nukes, he could blow up the Kremlin himself and blame it on Ukraine.
There’s a smarter strategy than “degrade the Russian military” that can end the war overnight.
We should simultaneously admit Ukraine to NATO, move NATO troops into Western Ukraine, have NATO (as a combatant) declare a cease fire, and announce five things.
First, if Putin violates the cease-fire, he will be at conventional war with NATO, meaning all Russian military assets used to attack Ukraine will be targeted.
Second, any use of WMD or clear preparation to use WMD will lead, at a minimum, to Putin’s immediate demise plus that of his generals and all top-ranking members of his government.
Third, the cease-fire will be followed by a separation of forces agreement and an armistice.
Forth, the armistice would recognize Russia’s ongoing control of all currently occupied Ukrainian territory.
Fifth, Russian energy sanctions will be lifted immediately. Non-energy sanctions will be lifted once Putin leaves power.
How will Putin react?
He will realize this is the best deal he’s likely to get and cease fire. The deal lets him declare victory and foreclose what’s coming — an end to all Russian energy exports to the West and the likely decimation of his military.
How will Zelensky react?
He will, under cover of following NATO’s orders, be able to end the war in a manner that de facto cedes significantly more land to Russia than the Ukrainian public would otherwise support. On the other hand, he will gain Ukrainian membership in NATO, and, surely, the EU. He too will be able to claim victory.
And the nukes Putin threatens to use if Ukraine joins NATO? Putin is not suicidal. This is why it’s critical that President Biden make immediately clear that any use, indeed any sign of use, of nuclear weapons will spell the instant end of Vladimir Putin and his associates.