Ukraine War, April 16, 2022: Military spectators: NATO fails to take the initiative in confronting Russia; The strategic balance must be restored


In wartime, no one wants to criticize the strategy of their own country.

In democracies where there is real freedom of speech, that essential task can be undertaken by independent scholars and commentators.

Many, however, may worry about the effect of their analyses on their future job or consulting opportunities. This is particularly true of the fomer military and foreign policy experts whose analyses and criticisms would be most valuable.

Still, there are some writers who can provide the kind of critical analyses our leaders need most to hear.

One should ask, for example, what might the situation in Ukraine look like today if earlier advice had been heeded?

If Biden and NATO had put force back on the table.

If Biden had reaffirmed loudly current American nuclear doctrine, making it clear that the U.S. was not moving toward a “sole purpose” doctrine such as the one he had proposed in the past.

If Poland had been authorized by March 1 to transfer its old Mig 29’s to Ukraine.

If the U.S. had sent Ukraine its most advanced weapons and air defense systems early in the war, or even before the Russian invasion.

If the U.S. had imposed some of its serious economic sanctions against Russia before the Russian invasion, in response to the Russian threat of the use of force against the territorial integrity of Ukraine in violation of Article 2 paragraph 4 of the U.N. Charter.

If the U.S. had not reprimanded its embassy in Kviv for calling out Putin’s war crimes, and instead denounced Russian war crimes and “crimes against humanity”–explaining what these are–as soon as they were committed, without getting tangled up in technical legal issues related to proving a case before a war crimes tribunal.

By not taking these actions or not taking them early, without agonized public discussion of the fear of provoking Putin, Biden and NATO demonstrated weakness and lack of resolve.

Vladimir Putin appears to respond only to strength.

All of the attempts by Western leaders at finding a diplomatic solution, all of the telephone pleas for reason and moderation, all of the visits by Western leaders to meet with him in Moscow, seem only to have strengthened Putin’s disdain for the weakness of the West.

1. The weakness of Biden and Western leaders, and divisions in the EU and NATO

All of the telephone calls and meetings with Western leaders seem to have only confirmed Putin’s existing beliefs about the weakness of Joe Biden and Western leaders, and his belief that divisions among Western allies would in the end thwart any serious opposition to his invasion of Ukraine.

He could only have laughed at Joe Biden when Biden publicly announced that he was taking force off the table in terms of the potential U.S. response to a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

He could only have been reassured by the public debates over whether to cancel the Nordstream II gas pipeline, or whether to ban Russia from the SWIFT international payments system.

He had much bigger plans in mind.

2. Military responses from NATO

With Biden setting the policy for NATO, taking force off the table, Putin could only have smiled when he saw NATO Secretary General Jens Staltenberg fly to an airbase in Southern Poland, on March 1, 2022, to block the transfer by Poland of old Mig 29 jets to Ukraine.

Putin must have been smiling for a long time whenever he read in the American press that Biden and his administration were afraid of “provoking” him. He must have been particularly amused by the Biden administration’s reluctance to call him a “war criminal”.

Putin’s nuclear saber-rattling seemed to have had great effect, particularly on Biden but also on other NATO leaders who routinely spoke of the need to avoid any military or other action that might provoke Putin and thereby cause “World War III”.

All of the talk of avoiding any action that might “provoke” Putin certainly must have reassured him that he would not face any military opposition from the U.S. or NATO as he proceeded with his campaign of war crimes and crimes against humanity, deliberately aimed at destroying Ukrainian cities and killing tens of thousands of civilians.

And he must have been reassured as he proceeded with these crimes by the fact that NATO took no military action in response.

His cynicism has known no bounds. Russia has even complained that Ukraine took military action against his military inside of Russian territory.

Ponder that one.

3. Putin’s fear of NATO

But while Putin has been quick to wield nuclear threats, he has been careful to avoid actions that might draw NATO militarily into the conflct.

His probing on the use of chemical weapons, using a small and ambiguous attack in Mariupol to test the waters, was met with a very strong NATO response and warning. No further use of chemical weapons has occurred.

The U.S. did not respond to his earlier announcement that he was putting his nuclear forces on a higher state of alert.

Yet when his repeated nuclear threats provoked reactions from the U.S. and other NATO leaders suggesting that the use of a tactical nuclear weapon might lead NATO to becoming directly involved in the conflict, his press secretary Dimitry Peskov was quick to rule out any use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine. The only qualification was a reservation clearly stated in longstanding Russian nuclear doctrine that it would use such weapons only if there were an “existential” threat to Russia itself.

It certainly appears that Putin is afraid of NATO.

The main demands he made before the war had to do with NATO. At the beginning of the conflict, Russia had S-400 and other aerial defense systems arrayed in the North to defend against NATO forces.

It seems that not only is Biden concerned about provoking Putin, but that Putin is greatly concerned about NATO’s potential entry into the military conflict. Even with only conventional forces.

Nonetheless, following a policy based on fear instead of strategic initiative, NATO has failed to check Putin’s attacks and the barbaric atrocities in Ukraine.

If the U.S. and NATO had not taken nuclear weapons and the use of any force to oppose an invasion off the table, the invasion may not have taken place, or taken on its current dimensions.

Now, it appears that we can only expect further atrocities, with Russians killing Ukrainians like fish in a barrel, until those options are put back on the table.

Only in this manner might a strategic balance be restored.

The Trenchant Observer