Ukrainian participation in NATO should be “off the table,” according to retired Army Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis, who warned that President Joe Biden had to be willing to “take the political heat” of acceding to the reality that NATO will never allow Ukraine to join — thus allaying Russia’s main concern — or he would be responsible for war without accomplishing any American national security objectives.
In an exclusive interview with Breitbart News on Friday, Retired Army Lt. Col. Daniel Davis warned of a potential major conflict between the U.S. and Russia as President Joe Biden continues to spar with Russia over Ukraine, announcing plans to send U.S. troops to Eastern Europe “in the near term” amid increasing tensions between the two countries.
Davis, a Defense Priorities senior fellow and military expert, spent over two decades in active service, which included combat deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, and was awarded two Bronze Star medals.
Russia’s Red Lines “Ignored”
Calling the current tensions a “crisis” that “should never have arisen,” Davis laid the blame on the continued ignoring of Russian warnings that Ukraine’s joining the NATO alliance “is a red line and a non-negotiable issue” for them.
“All the way back to 1994, when [then-President of the Russian Federation Boris] Yeltsin first took issue with it, and especially since 2008 when [Russian President Vladimir] Putin expressly said so, Ukraine membership in NATO is a red line,” he said.
“Now they’ve been consistent with that all the time, and we’ve ignored them at every point up until now,” he added.
He attributed the “foolish” move to poor foreign policy.
“Because we’ve had such a foolish, bad foreign policy for the last two decades, and probably going back three at least, we’ve based our policies on what we want to be true, not what is true,” he said, “and so we’ve ignored Russia.”
Asked why the president was continuing to ignore Russia’s red lines, Davis called out the “Washington foreign policy establishment that’s been making so many bad choices for decades,” adding that it is “continuing to make a bad choice by suggesting that [Biden] stand firm [against Russia regardless of the rationale] and all that’s gonna get people killed.”
Davis suggested the president either take “political heat” or face war.
“So either Biden decides that he’s going to take the political heat here and do what has a shot in succeeding [by tabling talk of Ukraine joining NATO], or there’s almost certainly going to be war,” he warned.
“Stick it to Russia” Mentality
He also attributed recent escalations to a long-held “mentality” of fostering tension between the two nations.
“Our mentality since the end of the Cold War has been: let’s just stick it to Russia,” he said. “Look how much trouble President [Donald] Trump got into during his term because he was not allegedly hard enough on Russia — trying to cooperate where he could, trying to improve relations — and he just got vilified for that ruthlessly because that’s just the mentality of [the entrenched foreign policy establishment] these days and Biden’s up against it now in a pretty similar fashion.”
“It’s gonna take an awfully strong leader to stand up to that and say, ‘We’re going to do what makes sense and what’s right and we’re not going to do what’s dumb and has no chance of success,’” he added.
Calling the approach, “something that both parties have been equally egregious violators of all the way through,” Davis explained how its long history had now come to bite the country back.
“[Former President Bill] Clinton started it off, and then [former presidents George W.] Bush and [Barack] Obama were, in my view, over and above, far and away, the worst offenders,” he said. “They’re the ones that did the most and ignored the most, but it just became institutionalized as an anti-Russian kind of thing and we’re always moving the borders [by further expanding NATO’s eastward march] and ignoring everything Russia says and it just became part of the mentality of bipartisanship.”
“And now it’s bearing its bitter fruit, frankly,” he added.
Russia No Longer “Powerless”
He also noted how current circumstances have rendered Ukraine “indefensible.”
“Really, [Russia was] too powerless to do anything about it [but] now they’re not powerless,” he explained. “In fact, because a lot of their [past] inability to do anything, especially when Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were brought into NATO in 2004, they simply didn’t have the military power to even contest it.”
“Now they do and they tested it first in 2008 in a limited incursion in Georgia, and then they went on a major military reform process after that,” he added.
Arguing that it was “foolish” to have pursued NATO membership for Kyiv, Davis declared the embattled country virtually “indefensible” against a Russian attack.
“Now that they have the tactical capacity to absolutely obliterate Ukraine if they want, it underscores why it has been foolish for us to ever have been pursuing Ukraine all the way back to the 2008 Bucharest Summit,” he said.
European Dependency on Russian Gas Supply
Davis also noted the futility of sanctioning the Nord Stream 2, Europe’s $11 billion energy project intended to double the amount of Russian gas delivered to Germany by bypassing the traditional transit route through Ukraine via a pipeline along the Baltic Sea.
“Russia already provides fifty percent of Germany’s gas needs without Nord Stream 2 and all it is gonna do is take Ukraine out of the play,” he said. “Killing the pipeline project really has no practical impact because the gas is already going through.”
As a result, according to Davis, Russia could leverage its energy dominance over Europe.
“If you do this and Russia says, ‘How about we just cut all the gas off?’ then what is Germany gonna do when, overnight, fifty percent of their daily gas requirements no longer exist?” he asked, adding that Europe lacks viable means of supplying that amount.
“Europe doesn’t even have the capacity to accept LNG from the United States or elsewhere to come and make up that gas,” he explained. “Even if the physical amount was available, they don’t have the capacity to process it [or] to bring it into the country anywhere near enough to meet their demands.”
Accordingly, Davis claimed, resulting economic issues would have a “tremendous negative” impact.
“That means economic problems if you don’t have the gas to keep the furnaces working or the factories operating and certainly just the normal households etc.,” he said. “So this is going to have tremendous negative ramifications.”
“That’s another major reason why we just need to accede to reality [and] take Ukraine out of play and remove the chance of war,” he added, “and all the things that would have to follow for Europe and everybody else.”
Ukraine in NATO “Not in Our Interest”
He then explained how Ukraine joining the defensive alliance was neither plausible nor in America’s interest, with “absolutely no chance” at accomplishing American national security objectives.
“It is not in our interest in any way because the chances of a clash are too high,” he said. “But forgetting the politics of it, just militarily it’s almost impossible to defend Ukraine from NATO against a Russian incursion because it’s on their border.”
“Ukraine is essentially indefensible for NATO as a result,” he added. “There’s just nothing we could do; we don’t have any space to do it.”
Therefore, Davis asserted, “we should never have even talked about Ukraine going into NATO,” he said. “We should have stopped at the end of the 2004 expansion; that should have been it and we wouldn’t be in this place right now if we had done that.”
Arguing that “we should never want Ukraine to be part of NATO” and that Russia won’t permit it anyhow, Davis explained that “threats of sanctions and the like are less critical to Russia than the existential threat of having NATO on its border, so all those processes are not going to deter them.”
“The only thing I think can deter them at this point is for us to say, ‘We’re just gonna put a moratorium on even the consideration of Ukraine indefinitely,’” he added. “We’re not even going to be talking about it.”
Not only do we have no interest in Ukraine joining NATO, Davis argued, but “it isn’t even good for NATO to have them,” while noting it would be “insane” to ever allow it.
“Even if it turned out Putin was bluffing today, it would be insane to say we’re gonna accede Ukraine into NATO [and] give them Article 5 [mutual defense] guarantees so that if there’s any future clash on the border between them all of Europe is now in a war,” he said. “We should never ever ever [entertain] that.”
Taking NATO Membership “Off the Table”
Though understandable that Ukraine “would want NATO membership more than anything,” Davis admitted, by us “continually saying the door is open” Ukraine has had little incentive to compromise with Moscow.
“Because consistent American foreign policy across every administration has continued to tell Ukraine — and this also goes for NATO itself, not just the United States — that NATO membership is on the table, then we have given them incentive not to follow through on anything that’s going to make any kind of negotiated settlement with Russia,” he said.
“All these Minsk agreements and the Normandy meetings etc. — they don’t have any motivation to give in or negotiate anything away because they think they’re going to get the maximalist outcome of NATO,” he continued. “But you take NATO off the table and now that they have incentive to make reasonable negotiations with Russia that maybe give something here and take something there so that they don’t get involved.”
“But we’ve taken that off the table so now they have no interest in negotiating anything with Russia,” he added.
Davis then highlighted the irrationality of unrealistic demands which can ignite global conflict.
“If Ukraine is not gonna be in NATO, then why should we continue to press for something that’s not going to happen?” he asked.
“That will almost certainly spawn war instead of the one thing that might take more war off the table,” he added, noting that “if you recognize that’s the risk [enough to evacuate the embassy and urge citizens to leave], then you need to take the next logical step and do what is necessary to take Ukraine out of play so that those people don’t suffer the attack.”
War “Any Day Now”
Davis warned the opportunity to table talk of Ukraine joining NATO may have already been lost.
“At this point, it may be too late,” he said. “Putin may have already made the decision; all the pieces are now in place.”
“Even some of the final smaller combat multiplier or force combat support units and the medical units, have now been reported mobilized in the vicinity,” he added, “so [Putin] may just be waiting for whatever spark he’s gonna choose to ignite this.”
Noting that Ukrainians would suffer most from war, Davis asserted that any attempts at avoiding conflict should still be made.
“At least we gotta try because by continuing to still say, ‘Nobody is going to give a veto over NATO expansion,’ all we’re doing is putting the people of Ukraine at risk because they’re the ones that are going to pay for this, not the arrogant people in Washington saying, ‘We’re gonna do what we want; we’re not gonna listen to Putin.’
“They don’t pay anything for it,” he added. “Ukraine pays a great deal for it.”
He also explained why Russia’s current beefed-up military presence on its border is more than mere “political posturing.”
“Russia has mobilized so much combat power — this isn’t just stationing of a large number of troops near the border which could, and often has been, political posturing, signaling, etc.,” he said. “This is all of the pieces necessary to actually make a military incursion.”
Highlighting the extent of “missile forces, armory, artillery, infantry, anti-aircraft capability, [and] the Navy — 140 warships have left port in Russian naval yards on various so-called exercises in both the Atlantic, Pacific and the waters around the area,” Davis suggested Russia was “dispersing their combat power from which they can launch missiles anywhere — including the United States — and so they are, I think, setting the stage for this.”
According to Davis, Russia appears serious in its threats and all that remains is a “spark” to set off conflict.
“In my view, there’s no way that they are doing this unless they’re ready to use it, and I think we’re probably just waiting to have a spark of some kind, whether it’s one that they launch with a false flag operation, which is my leading guess, or somebody does something dumb and accidental,” he said.
“But I think [it could occur] at the latest, maybe three weeks from now after the Olympics are over,” he added, though noting that “it might not be [that late]; it could literally be any day now.”
He also warned of how the current situation could spiral unpredictability out of control.
“Everybody likes to think, and that probably extends to Putin and the US — that we can control the way things are going,” he said, “but when you unleash something like this, oftentimes things spiral out of anyone’s control.”
Post-Olympics China — “All Bets Are Off”
He also explained that Russia-Ukraine tensions resemble those between China and Taiwan, how “we’ve ignored China and anything they may say on their borders,” and how tensions between each could impact the other.
“I think there’s also a probability that China moves on Taiwan, and for many of the same reasons,” he said. “We keep giving Taiwan every reason to think that we’re going to come to their defense and we’re going to increase their support.”
“There’s a lot of people wanting to talk about giving express defense guarantees to Taiwan, and Beijing is never going to allow that,” he added.
He then claimed China would have to be “crazy” to not take advantage of U.S. involvement in a Russia-Ukraine confrontation.
“I think that if Russia moves here, even if they didn’t actually specifically collude on this, which is entirely possible, I think that Beijing would be crazy not to actually take advantage of, or at least to give consideration of taking advantage of the fact that we’re maximally engaged [with Russia] and there’s no way we can do anything over there simultaneously,” he said.
“So their opportunity will be great if that happens because we can’t sanction both Russia and China to death because that would kill all of our economies and we’d put ourselves in a barrel here on both cases and there’s a high risk in either case,” he added.
However, noting the upcoming Winter Games in Beijing, Davis posited that China would delay making any moves on Taiwan until they are completed.
“China won’t do anything until after the Olympics because that’s their baby,” he said, “but once that’s over, all bets are off for both Ukraine and Taiwan.”
Follow Joshua Klein on Twitter @JoshuaKlein.