Our New Quasi-Allies

On the way out the door, the Bush administration is extending something resembling security guarantees to Georgia and Ukraine.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Ukraine’s foreign minister signed a “Charter on Strategic Partnership” on December 19. According to the State Department, it will be the basis for the pact with Georgia, which will be signed within a week.

The deal with Ukraine is non-binding, meaning that it is legally meaningless. (Presumably, the same will be true of the Georgia-U.S. pact.) But its language can be read to commit the United States to defend Ukraine:

This Charter is based on core principles and beliefs shared by both sides:

1. Support for each other’s sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and inviolability of borders constitutes the foundation of our bilateral relations.

True, this is no formal commitment to mutual defense, as in the NATO treaty’s Article 5. But leaders in Ukraine might believe that this obligates the United States to aid them in a fight with Russia. That is doubly true because the agreement also says that the United States will help Ukraine prepare for NATO membership. The confidence that seeming–U.S. protection provides may cause leaders in these countries to provoke Russia, possibly dragging the United States into a crisis. In Georgia’s case, this sort of moral hazard was already obvious last August.

American commitments to defend these countries are nuts. If you could design a model of a state not to ally yourself with, it would look something like Georgia:

  • Hard to defend geographically.
  • A territorial conflict with a stronger, nuclear-armed rival.
  • A leader with a demonstrated capacity for recklessness.
  • Little or nothing to offer in exchange for our defenses.

With a population that by and large does not want to join NATO and a contentious, long border with Russia, Ukraine is little better.

Americans once formed alliances for self-defense. They did so with trepidation. The alliances were seen as necessary evils and temporary. Today, they are perpetual rewards that we hand out to almost anyone that adopts our ideology or its rhetorical trappings. Then we invent a strategic rationale. We confuse our sympathies with our interests. Wishing the best for young democracies does not mean that we should defend them.

These agreements are not subject to Senate approval under the current understanding of the treaty power. But this sort of unilateral presidential action is why the Constitution divides foreign policy power. The Senate should pass a resolution making it clear that these deals create no obligations. At a minimum, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee should hold hearings questioning the wisdom of casually extending the borders that we claim to defend and piling commitments onto our forces and taxpayers.

For more, see this op-ed I wrote with Justin Logan on possible NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia.