On February 22nd, Russia invaded Ukraine, initiating a longstanding conflict that has tested the strength of NATO. The Russian invasion force has exhibited little distinction between civilian and military targets. The engagement has cost the lives of more than a thousand Ukrainian civilians with nearly twice that wounded. Given the Cold War idea of NATO—an organization aimed at preventing the expansion of Russia on the European continent—one may think that Europe could have steered clear from this brutal conflict by accepting Ukraine into NATO earlier. However, an acceptance into NATO would have caused an even earlier Russian attack. US and Europe’s prior interest in accepting Ukraine into NATO only invigorated Russia to engage in war preparations. NATO should not accept countries bordering Russia due to Russia’s firm stance in maintaining strategic depth and its belief that war is justified in response to closer NATO movements.
Russia fears the increasing Western presence around its borders, feeling obligated to keep bordering countries free from NATO. During the Cold War, major Russian cities were more than 1,000 miles away from NATO forces. However, today distances are less than 500 miles. With Putin at the helm, the country desires to return to its former strategic depth. Russia fears closer missile placements and Western military bases placed even closer to their borders. Accordingly, Russia feels that the absence of European influence in its buffer states is vital to the security of its nation. To these ends, the country vehemently opposes any NATO involvement in these countries and would attempt to thwart plans for a bordering country to enter NATO. This situation could stir diplomatic and economic conflict that would be detrimental to Europe as a whole. In the worst case, Russia could even initiate military operations around its borders as purely defensive.
Indeed, Russia believes it is acting the same way as the NATO countries have responded to mounting military buildup close by, which they believe justifies war. They feel Western precedents allow them to invade as they did with Ukraine. As a concrete example, after the rise of Castro’s communist Cuba, the US felt threatened by Castro’s communist ideology and connections to Russia—not to forget, the proximity of Cuba to American soil. As a result, the US intervened. As the US initiated the Bay of Pigs Invasion to drive Castro from power, Russia feels it is acting similarly in its attempts to remove Zelensky from power. In that sense, Russia is unwilling to have NATO countries on the border—even if it means war. If NATO accepts a bordering country, Russia believes it has history on its side and is in the right to engage militarily. Tensions could even rise as they did in Cuba to a confrontation akin to the Cuban missile crisis—however, we cannot know if diplomatic meetings will be as successful.
Ultimately, the costs outweigh the benefits in the acceptance of countries bordering Russia into NATO. Although acceptance into NATO would benefit the individual countries themselves in military support and economic support, confirmation would likely never happen. Russia would attempt to intervene in the country’s affairs, even to the point of war. With the vast nuclear arsenals at the fingertips of many NATO countries and those around Russia, nuclear war could begin at any minute. It is in the best interest of the US and NATO to avoid accepting a bordering country in order to prevent a large-scale nuclear war.