Devnet – NATO Secretary General Suggests the war in Ukraine could last years.

Masahiro Tauchi, Advisor, DEVNET JAPAN Former Ambassador of Japan to Norway

Four months have passed since Russia launched its military invasion of Ukraine, and Russian and Ukrainian forces have been engaged in a war of attrition with heavy mutual losses in eastern Ukraine and the southern part of the Black Sea coast, with no clear path toward an end to the fighting. Ukraine has requested direct military intervention by NATO, but because Ukraine is not a full member of NATO (membership application is pending), NATO’s armed intervention to exercise its right of collective self-defense has not taken place.

According to Ukrainian information, the death toll of Ukrainian soldiers may total 10,000 so far, and as for the loss of Ukrainian weapons, the Ukrainian military commander in charge of supplying ground troops reportedly said that the Ukrainian military had lost about 400 tanks, 1,300 infantry fighting vehicles, and 700 missile launching systems (National Defense, June 15). According to a report by the University of Kyiv, the total amount of damage to infrastructure amounted to $103.9 billion as of June 8, and a wide range of damage was confirmed, including roads, airport facilities, medical institutions, and schools. According to a report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 4,677 civilians had been confirmed dead as of June 23. In addition, on June 27, it was confirmed that at least 20 people were killed in a Russian missile attack on a shopping center in central Ukraine.

With such extensive damage, one wonders how long the war will continue. And will NATO not intervene directly in Ukraine because it is not a NATO member, no matter how much damage has been done to the country? When and how will peace be restored? Many people must be wondering.

NATO’s answer to these questions is: “The war will be a long war, there will be no direct military intervention, and there will be a negotiated settlement.” A negotiated settlement will be reached, but unfortunately, there seems to be no prospect for an early solution.

In an interview with the German newspaper Bild on June 19, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (former Prime Minister of Norway) stressed the need for continued support for Ukraine, saying, “We must prepare for the fact that it could take years.” He stressed the need for continued support for Ukraine. He said, “We must not let up in supporting Ukraine. Even if the costs are high, not only for military support, but also for rising energy and food prices, that is no comparison to the price that the Ukrainians have to pay every day with many lives. The costs would be much higher if Russian President Vladimir Putin would obtain his goal of the invasion.” Secretary General Stoltenberg also stated that “With more modern weapons, the likelihood increases that Ukraine will be able to drive Putin’s troops out of the Donbas again,” In fact, the total amount of U.S. Military assistance to Ukraine is said to have amounted to about $6.1 billion so far (Sankei, 25 June), and on 27 June, U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan announced that the U.S. would provide additional military assistance to Ukraine, including advanced medium- and long-range surface-to-air missiles.

In relation to the protracted situation, Secretary General Stoltenberg also stated in a meeting with the President of Finland on 12 June: ”Yes, peace is possible. The question is what kind of peace? Because if Ukraine withdraw its forces and stop fighting, then Ukraine will cease to exist as an independent, sovereign nation in Europe. Surrender can provide peace. But as we have seen, the Ukrainians don’t accept such peace at any price. They are actually willing to continue fight for their independence. And it’s not me that judges how high price the Ukrainians should be willing to pay.”

It is the choice of Ukraine, which is making the greatest sacrifices, whether or not to continue fighting in order to remain an independent and sovereign state. Secretary General Stoltenberg continued: “The reason why we don’t move in with NATO troops in Ukraine is to prevent escalation. We have been, since the beginning of this war, very mindful about the need and the moral obligation, to support a country fighting for their freedom, democracy, and independence. But at the same time, we have been preventing escalation by not being directly involved in the conflict. What we can do for Ukraine is to provide assistance. Providing them with weapons is the most important thing we can do. This comes at the cost of prolonging the war. But as I have said many times, it is Ukraine’s decision whether or not to continue the war.” He stated that what NATO can do for Ukraine is to provide arms, not direct military intervention, and that even if this prolongs the war, it is Ukraine’s decision to continue the war. Even though prolonged war means more damage, NATO has no choice but to continue to provide assistance in the form of providing arms.

Through Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, each of the signatory countries can exercise the right of collective self-defense in the event of an armed attack, but not in the case of Ukraine, which is not a signatory. Why, then, has Ukraine been unable to join NATO for so many years? Ukraine has been accused of collusion between conglomerates and politicians, and of corruption, and it has been said that it does not meet the standards of a democratic system. More importantly, it is precisely because Ukraine is known to be geopolitically very sensitive to Russia that France, Germany, and other countries have taken a negative stance toward Ukraine’s accession, and Ukraine’s accession has not been realized. In other words, if Ukraine joined NATO, Russia might take military actions that would threaten the security of Europe as a whole, so France and Germany took a negative stance toward Ukraine’s accession. And if we look back at the current situation, intervening in a conflict in which Russia is a party would mean confronting Russia head-on, a military power with a total of 900,000 troops, and if escalated, could lead to nuclear war, which is why NATO could not directly intervene militarily.

Furthermore, Secretary General Stoltenberg has stated about the way to end this war:
“As President Zelensky has stated many times, this war will end at the negotiating table. The question is what kind of position will the Ukrainians have when they negotiate a solution? Our responsibility is to make that position as strong as possible. “
In other words, NATO will continue to provide arms and other assistance to Ukraine to strengthen Ukraine’s position as much as possible when Ukraine negotiates a solution with Russia, even though it will be a long- term war.

On June 28, ahead of the NATO summit, Secretary General Stoltenberg announced that Turkey had signed a memorandum of understanding with Finland and Sweden on the issue of Finland’s and Sweden’s NATO membership, and that the two countries agreed to address Turkey’s concerns regarding the arms export ban and the fight against terrorism. Secretary General Stoltenberg said that the accession of the two Nordic countries is also part of the strengthening of NATO.

At the NATO summit that opened in Spain on 29 June, Russia was regarded as a threat to NATO, and it has been expected that the defense posture of member countries will be greatly strengthened and long-term military support for Ukraine will be delivered (with China in mind, it is also expected to strengthen cooperation with Asia-Pacific countries, including Japan). It has also decided to increase the number of NATO Readiness Force (NRF), a multinational force with high capabilities to respond to emergencies in a short time, from 40,000 to more than 300,000.

Through the war in Ukraine, the threat of Russia as a tyrannical dictatorship became clear to the world, and it also became clear that Ukraine, which has yet to join NATO, suffered tremendous damage before Russia because it could not obtain direct military intervention through NATO’s collective security system. As the polarization between tyrannical dictatorships and democratic regimes advances as the “new normal,” Japan must make it clear that it belongs to the latter and ensure the security of democratic regimes.