Feb 2, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Exclusive: Hawley calls on Biden to drop support for Ukraine membership in NATO

Photo: Tom Williams-Pool/Getty Images

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) is calling on the Biden administration to drop longstanding U.S. support for Ukraine's eventual membership in NATO, arguing that a binding commitment to defend the country would undermine efforts to counter China.

Why it matters: Hawley is staking out a position increasingly supported by the Republican base but historically at odds with the mainstream GOP consensus still backed by his Senate colleagues.

Context: Former President George W. Bush and all NATO leaders agreed at the 2008 Bucharest Summit that Ukraine and Georgia "will become" members of the alliance — though no specific roadmap was offered at the time.

  • Russia, which vigorously opposed the accession of either former Soviet republic, went on to invade Georgia later that year, and Ukraine in 2014.
  • As Russian President Vladimir Putin threatens to renew his invasion of Ukraine with a massive military buildup on its borders, he is demanding legal guarantees that the country will never be allowed into NATO.
  • NATO has no plans to admit Ukraine any time soon but has refused to allow Putin to set limitations on its foundational "open-door policy."

Driving the news: Ahead of a pair of all-member Ukraine briefings for the House and Senate on Thursday, Hawley is asking for "clarity" from Secretary of State Antony Blinken on how Ukraine's future membership in NATO would serve U.S. interests, according to a letter obtained by Axios.

  • Hawley said he supports sending assistance that Ukraine needs to defend itself, but contends that the U.S. interest "is not so strong" to warrant going to war with Russia.
  • Biden himself has ruled out sending troops to Ukraine but plans to deploy forces to eastern Europe to bolster NATO's defenses — a position overwhelmingly supported by Senate Republicans.

What they're saying: "Such a deployment can only detract from the U.S. military’s ability to ready and modernize forces to deter China in the Indo-Pacific," Hawley writes, arguing that "Americans’ security and prosperity rest upon our ability" to curtail Beijing's dominance.

  • "But those opportunity costs pale in comparison to what would be expected — indeed, required — of the United States, were NATO actually to admit Ukraine as a member."
  • Pointing to the failure of NATO member states to spend 2% of their GDP on defense, Hawley called on Biden to rethink "basic assumptions" about U.S. foreign policy that have been "collapsed" by the rise of China.

Read the letter.

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