Ukraine in NATO: What Blinken Says Versus What Blinken Means

NATO is less a defensive alliance than it is a provocative alliance. A quarter of a century ago, the Soviet Union dismantled itself by its own will. With that titanic change, NATO’s sole purpose dissolved. Created to defend its members from a Soviet threat, NATO now self-perpetuated its extinct purpose by provoking the very threat it was meant to defend against. It did that by expanding east toward Russia’s borders and then, finally, toward Russia’s red line by filling Ukraine with NATO weapons and promising Ukraine NATO membership in a way that was seen as existentially threatening by Russia.

On April 4, at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers to prepare for this year’s NATO summit, which will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the alliance, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken continued that history of provocation. Standing beside the foreign minister of Ukraine after the meeting, Blinken again stated that “Ukraine will become a member of NATO.”

Blinken’s promise is a provocative one. NATO support for Ukraine has not protected its members: it has brought the risk back to them; NATO’s promise to Ukraine has not protected Ukraine: it has helped create the pre-conditions for the Russian invasion.

Blinken’s promise is a dangerous one. To promise Ukraine NATO membership is to promise Ukraine Article 5 protection. Article 5 means that an armed attack on Ukraine is considered an armed attack against every member of NATO who must then “take the actions it deems necessary to assist the Ally attacked.”

Taking action deemed necessary to assist Ukraine means one of two choices. The first is unthinkable: NATO coming militarily to the aid of Ukraine in a way that could lead to world, or even nuclear, war. The second is illogical: negotiating a diplomatic solution that would necessarily involve revoking the very NATO membership to Ukraine that NATO would be fighting to preserve. A diplomatic solution to Russia’s existential concern with Ukraine has as a pre-condition the written promise that NATO will not expand to Ukraine. That the refusal to sign that promise was the main reason Russia went to war has been confirmed by both Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

What seems certain is that the promise of NATO membership for Ukraine or an eventual delivery of that promise will cement the perceived existential threat to Russia that will ensure the indefinite continuation of the war that NATO security guarantees would be meant to protect against.

But, though that is what Blinken says, it is not what Blinken means. His promise is a promise without an effective date. It is the same contentless promise that NATO first offered Ukraine in 2008 with the declaration that “We agree today” that Ukraine and Georgia “will become members of NATO” and then again in July 2023 with the declaration that “Ukraine’s future is in NATO.”

It is the same words without content that prompted Zelensky, at the last NATO summit, to explode, “It’s unprecedented and absurd when time frame is not set neither for the invitation nor for Ukraine’s membership. While at the same time vague wording about ‘conditions’ is added even for inviting Ukraine.” It is the same words without content that prompted Zelensky to answer a question about NATO membership with the despairing words, “We don’t know how it will turn out. No one will be able to answer that for sure. Either we will be in NATO, or we won’t be in NATO. We want to, but—.”

Unless the Secretary of State has been excluded from the White House’s foreign policy discussions, he knows what he is saying is untrue.

Blinken knows that President Biden has said that “Ukraine isn’t ready for NATO membership.” More immediately, he knows that the administration in which he serves remains “opposed to offering Ukraine a start to membership negotiations in Washington as they did at last year’s summit in Vilnius.” Though, standing beside Ukraine’s foreign minister, Blinken told the world that “Our purpose of the [July NATO] summit is to help build a bridge to that membership and to create a clear pathway for Ukraine moving forward,” he knows that the Biden administration “want[s] that issue off the table in July.”

Blinken is well aware that, when it comes to the promise of NATO membership to Ukraine, “alliance officials agree that is not going to happen at the festivities planned for Washington in July.”

Blinken even knows that, though he spoke of “building a bridge to that membership,” there is no bridge, or “middle ground” being built. Proposals for what The New York Times called “something short of membership but meaty enough to show that it is backing Ukraine ‘for the long haul’,” have been shot down by the U.S.

A proposal to give NATO more control over “coordinating military aid, financing and training for Ukraine’s forces” was deflated by American “skepticism.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg twice tried to build that bridge. Twice that bridge was demolished. Stoltenberg suggested transferring some of the United States’ responsibility “for coordinating donations and delivery of weapons to Ukraine” to NATO. The U.S. opposed that increased NATO relationship with Ukraine. Blinken himself helped shoot down his promised bridge by defending the current U.S. led model, citing its “extraordinary results.”

The second, NATO providing Ukraine with $100 billion in continued aid over five years, was reportedly simply “met with confusion,” partly because even the U.S. congress is hesitant to provide further significant financial aid.

Though the Biden administration’s Secretary of State has said, once again, that “Ukraine will become a member of NATO,” it seems clear that that is neither what he means, nor what the Biden administration intends. Though Blinken’s formulation is meant to shore up support for the continuation of war in Ukraine, it is not meant to offer any real security assurance to Ukraine through the promise of membership in NATO.

Ted Snider is a regular columnist on U.S. foreign policy and history at and The Libertarian Institute. He is also a frequent contributor to Responsible Statecraft and The American Conservative as well as other outlets. To support his work or for media or virtual presentation requests, contact him at