NATO must set additional red lines for Russia — immediately

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has been very clear about his red lines for going to war with NATO. But NATO has its own red lines. It’s just failed to articulate them beyond the key one — defending every inch of every NATO member’s soil. Unless NATO articulates its other red lines and does so immediately, Putin may cross them, which will either inadvertently start World War III or eliminate their deterrence value. In game theory, economists call this establishing your threat points

NATO has limits to how much barbarism it will tolerate before being compelled to take humanitarian actions. For example, as the humanitarian situation worsens, NATO will be forced to airlift humanitarian supplies. Putin needs to be told this publicly. NATO will not permit him to starve tens of thousands, let alone millions, of Ukrainians to death as Stalin did in the Holodomor in the early 1930s.

{mosads}Putin should also be publicly warned that Russian forces that approach too close to NATO countries will be viewed as invading those countries. Putin claims he needs a buffer zone against NATO. Hence, he will understand that NATO needs a buffer zone against Russia. NATO should declare a deep demilitarized zone along all borders of Russian-held territory and demand that Russia adhere to that zone on its side of the border. It’s one thing for Russia to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO. It’s a very different and strategically intolerable thing for Russia to turn Ukraine, Belarus and, shortly, surely Moldova into jumping-off points for a war on NATO.

Third, Putin should be told publicly that any damage to any nuclear facility in Ukraine or any other country, where such facility is under Russian control, pursuant to the conflict, and where such damage would place citizens of NATO countries at risk of nuclear poisoning, would be viewed as a nuclear attack on NATO with all imaginable consequences.

Fourth, Putin should be publicly warned that any use of chemical, biological, nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction, including releases of radioactivity from nuclear plants, in Ukraine will cross NATO’s red line and put Russia at war with NATO. In short, NATO must publicly refuse to passively witness a Ukrainian genocide. 

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Fifth, Putin should be told that any attack on Moldova or Finland would be viewed as an attack on NATO.   

Finally, President Biden should continue to emphasize that this is Putin’s war and that Putin and his top generals will be in immediate personal danger should hostilities break out. Certainly, Putin and his top generals need to know that any use of nuclear weapons would effectively mean signing their death warrants.

Putin may be considering a negotiated settlement, but one that likely requires Ukrainian neutrality, demilitarization and loss of Crimea and the Donbas region. The last of these demands appears non-negotiable to both sides. But there is a solution. Russia could permanently cede its Sevastopol Naval Base in Crimea and both sides could jointly own these regions with governance responsibility switching sides every four years.

{mossecondads}This, of course, is just one potential solution. But both sides need to be able to claim victory. As for neutrality and demilitarization, a joint NATO-Russian guarantee of Ukrainian sovereignty in the short run with a pathway toward joint Russian and Ukrainian membership in NATO would satisfy these demands.

Finally, a peace agreement formulated along these lines should come with a major carrot for Russia, namely the elimination of all past and recent sanctions on Russia and Russians and the renewal of all prior economic trade arrangements with Russia. 

Let’s hope a peace agreement will be reached soon. We are, in the language of the Cuban Missile Crisis, “eyeball to eyeball.” This is no time to blink. 

Laurence Kotlikoff is a professor of economics at Boston University.

Tags Enlargement of NATO Global politics Joe Biden NATO Post-Soviet conflicts Russia Russia-Ukraine war Russian irredentism Russia–NATO relations Russo-Ukrainian War Ukraine Vladimir Putin

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