NATO Membership for Ukraine is a Bargaining Chip, Not an “Irreversible” Reality

Ukrainian mortar team fighting in Zaporizhzhia Oblast. Photo by National Guard of Ukraine. Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.
Ukrainian mortar team fighting in Zaporizhzhia Oblast. Photo by National Guard of Ukraine. Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.

“Two red lines remain,” the Associated Press reported on July 5, regarding the topic of Ukraine at this week’s North Atlantic Treaty organization summit: “No NATO membership until the war is over, and no NATO boots on the ground there.”

But, Politico reports as the summit opens, citing two anonymous sources, one a Ukrainian official, “NATO members are likely to declare that Ukraine’s path to membership in the alliance is ‘irreversible.'”

The reality:

Ukraine was, and is, never going to formally become a NATO member state.

Why is that never going to happen?

Because formal NATO membership requires unanimous consent from all of the current member states, because several NATO member states enjoy friendly relations with the Russian Federation, and because there’s no way at least one such member state wouldn’t exercise its veto for the purpose of maintaining and enhancing those friendly relations.

That being the case, why does NATO keep dangling the prospect of membership in front of Ukraine? And why do defenders of Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine continue to pretend that the prospect is real — just as Putin himself has from the beginning of the conflict?

As a bargaining chip, of course.

If peace talks ever begin in earnest, NATO negotiators get to offer a meaningless concession (withdrawing the non-existent prospect), and the Russian Federation’s negotiators get to pretend they got a meaningful concession (withdrawal of the non-existent prospect).

A key element of international negotiations is that all sides have to “get something.” Unconditional surrenders occur only when one side is militarily defeated and/or economically exhausted.

NATO’s likely “irreversible” statement is just NATO’s way of saying it’s not ready to negotiate yet. And if NATO isn’t ready to negotiate, neither is Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who has essentially become a US/UK/EU/NATO puppet “president.”

Zelenskyy wants the “irreversible” statement because he fears the appearance of any daylight at all between him and his regime’s western backers. Any slight crack in the wall of western support for his regime would encourage Russian forces to stay their military course, and likely end with him in exile at best, and more probably dead.

As a non-interventionist, I’ve opposed US meddling in Ukraine for a decade — ever since the US-sponsored coup that culminated in the secessions of Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk, and eventually in the 2022 Russian invasion.

The US and its allies worked hard to bring the current situation about, and — with the full cooperation of Vladimir Putin — succeeded.

If it was up to me, US aid to Zelenskyy’s regime would end today. Not because I support the Russian invasion, but because it’s simply not (and never was) any of “my” government’s business.

Of course, that aid WON’T end today, and after more than two years of stalemate, the war is far more likely to end in a negotiated settlement that leaves neither side completely happy than in either side collapsing.

The sooner Ukraine and its backers come to the table and start their horse-trading, the better for everyone involved.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter:@thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.