Raluca CsernatoniFellow at Carnegie Europe

The question is not if NATO is doing anything in Ukraine. Rather, it is whether European allies are doing enough to share the burden and if the war could finally spur much-needed defense cooperation among them to strengthen the European pillar in NATO.

While NATO helps coordinate Ukraine’s request for assistance and supports allies in delivering substantial humanitarian, non-lethal, and financial aid, individual allies are sending billions of Euros’ worth of ammunition and military equipment.

After the NATO summit in Madrid, allied leaders also agreed on a strengthened package of support to accelerate the delivery of non-lethal defense equipment, improve Ukraine’s cyber defenses and resilience, and assist Ukraine on its path of postwar reconstruction and defense sector reforms.

Yet, the unfolding energy crisis and economic downturn looming in Europe might dampen such support and reduce Europe’s defense spending. The war in Ukraine, despite triggering a united and strong show of solidarity and support across the alliance, has also exposed long-standing strains within NATO regarding its geostrategic priorities and differing threat perceptions among NATO members of their security environment, especially when it comes to the Eastern European and Baltic flanks.

It has also revealed how vulnerable Europe is without the United States ramping up military presence across the continent and stepping up deliveries of security assistance and weaponry to Ukraine.

Indeed, Russia’s military invasion has prompted a need to reassess the security situation in Europe and the role of European countries within the alliance in terms of upholding deterrence and defense without the full force of U.S. power. The question is, will the war in Ukraine lead to real Euro-Atlantic burden-sharing on collective defense?

John R. DeniResearch professor at the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute

It’s certainly true that most Western assistance has come in the form of bilateral arms transfers, training, and other support. The alliance organization hasn’t played a leading role here. To some degree, this makes sense given that most of the military materiel Ukraine needs belongs to the nations and not the alliance per se.

But why isn’t NATO doing the job of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, coordinating and deconflicting all assistance? Unclear, but reasons probably include concern in some leading European capitals over placing NATO in that role with regard to Russia.

Nonetheless, the alliance has responded dramatically to Vladimir Putin’s second invasion of Ukraine. At the broadest level, the political solidarity the alliance has exhibited and maintained has been remarkable. Arguably, it’s only strengthened since spring, largely as a result of Russian atrocities in Ukraine.

More concretely, the alliance’s efforts through the so-called Comprehensive Assistance Package have helped Ukraine improve capabilities both qualitatively and quantitatively.  The Madrid summit reinforced NATO’s efforts, and looking ahead it’s clear Ukraine will require more of nearly everything the alliance has provided to date to have any hope of outlasting Russian aggression and reversing the course of the conflict.

The views expressed above are the author’s own.

Martin EhlChief analyst at Hospodářské noviny

I would pose the question in a different way. What is Ukraine doing for NATO? It is clear that the alliance as an organization did not find unity but it serves as a platform for organizing and discussing assistance.

While Ukraine provides NATO experience and lessons learned, nobody could repay that, to put it cynically. So one might say that NATO is not doing anything. But practically, without the alliance, the Western help Ukraine receives would be less effective, less coordinated and smaller. Common NATO standards in ammunition and other technical aspects also help.

Politically, the work on bridging Ukraine to the West is done more by the EU, which is now considering also establishing a military training mission—something I would rather expect from NATO.

However in these times, what matters most is not whose flag the help is wrapped in but whether there is any help and whether it is delivered on time and in necessary quantities. That’s the main problem the democratic West is facing.

Julian Lindley-FrenchChairman of The Alphen Group

NATO is doing something for Ukraine. NATO’s support for Ukraine since Russia’s 2014 seizure of Crimea has been extensive and was reinforced at the Madrid Summit by the Comprehensive Assistance Package for Ukraine. This will include fuel, protective equipment for portable anti-drone systems, and secure communications.

The alliance will also help modernize the Ukrainian armed forces over the medium-term by bringing them up to NATO interoperability standards and help to strengthen Ukraine’s security and defense institutions. The alliance also reaffirmed the open-door policy for eventual membership of NATO for both Georgia and Ukraine.

Could NATO do more? That begs a further question: what is NATO? Individual NATO allies are undertaking a very significant effort, with even Germany apparently now willing to reinforce Ukrainian artillery. NATO as an institution does not have many capabilities and unless a no-fly zone or other more direct forms of allied military engagement are agreed, the alliance’s added value will be limited to the Comprehensive Assistance Package agreed at Madrid.

What NATO will be doing is planning for such contingencies, even if they are unlikely, and responding to the explicit threat Russia poses to the alliance.

Oana LungescuNATO Spokesperson

NATO’s task is to defend all allies against Russia’s threats, while continuing to support Ukraine—which the organization has done for many years. After Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, NATO stepped up with trust funds on command, control and communications, cyber, logistics, and the rehabilitation of wounded soldiers. NATO allies trained tens of thousands of troops, including special forces. This helped make Ukrainian armed forces bigger, better led, and better prepared to face Russia’s renewed invasion in February 2022.

Allies have since provided unprecedented aid, and NATO is part of the U.S.-led Ukraine Defense Contact Group. In June, NATO leaders agreed a strengthened package of assistance, including fuel, food, medical supplies, military gear, secure communications, and equipment to counter mines and drones. We will also help Ukraine transition from Soviet-era to NATO-standard equipment, and continue to assist defense and security sector reform. NATO is preparing over a dozen new projects for the winter.

At the same time, we have strengthened our presence in the East of the alliance. NATO’s security guarantees leave no room for miscalculation or misunderstanding in Moscow, and ultimately enable allies to support Ukraine uphold its right to self-defense for as long as it takes.

Markus KaimSenior fellow at German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP)

I would like to broaden the question to encompass what NATO should do for Ukraine now.

With the Russian attack on Ukraine, NATO’s policy of denying Ukraine membership in the alliance is obsolete. Rather, the goal now must be to secure Ukraine’s political sovereignty and territorial integrity. Only immediate full membership of the country in NATO will be able to achieve this. Aggressive Russian nationalism will continue to challenge the pillars of the Euro-Atlantic security order and will continue to aim to destabilize Ukraine. It would be naïve to believe that a ceasefire or a Russian-Ukrainian peace treaty will change this aspirations of the Kremlin. Notions of peaceful coexistence between Russia and the West fail to recognize the revisionist nature of the Russian regime.

The NATO states are still doing everything in their power to prevent a Russian victory. However, the fact that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has already acknowledged the need for security guarantees for Ukraine illustrates that neither a ceasefire nor a military victory for Ukraine—whatever that might look like—is seen as sufficient to ensure the country’s continued existence. In this new geopolitical environment, there is no way around Ukraine’s NATO membership.

Kateryna PishchikovaAssociate research fellow at the Istituto per gli Studi di Politica Internazionale (ISPI)

The collective West has gone to great lengths to assist Ukraine in its war against Russia, in military and other terms. At the same time, NATO—initially called out by President Putin as the sole cause for his invasion of Ukraine—has been relatively cautious, mindful of the risk of provoking a Russian attack on a NATO ally that would draw the whole alliance into the war.

As individual member states have been willing and capable of providing an array of military aid to Ukraine, it is important to ask what exactly NATO’s added value is. The organization is uniquely positioned to offer coordination, expertise, and capacity-building that no single member can deliver over the long term. NATO could significantly step up coordination efforts on arms supply and restocking, on military training, and on military-industry cooperation. It could do more to boost regional security initiatives for allied and non-allied states, for example in the Black Sea.

As the alliance is committing more resources to addressing complex new threats, including emerging and disruptive technologies and cyber warfare. It could make greater efforts in sharing such expertise with Ukraine and boosting its defensive capacity in this realm.

Kristi RaikDirector of the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute

Ukraine is certainly disappointed with NATO’s response to Russia’s invasion—while being positively surprised about the EU’s. Understandably, NATO as a defense alliance has been focused on its core purpose of defending its members. It is also understandable that NATO has wished to avoid turning the war in Ukraine into a Russia-NATO war. After all, preventing a war with Russia is a key task of NATO which it has performed successfully throughout its existence.

NATO will not attack Russia, and the Russians know that. They also know that Russia cannot win a war against NATO, which makes it rather unlikely that it would attack the alliance. Where NATO has made a mistake is its strong public stance that excluded the possibility of engaging directly in Ukraine. It could have kept such a possibility open and used it as a deterrent with regard to Russia.

NATO has a strong interest—an existential one for some of its members—to help Ukraine push back Russian forces from its territory. It cannot be excluded that the alliance will have to intervene at some point, and it should better prepare for such scenarios. In the meantime, further strengthening military aid from NATO countries to Ukraine is of utmost importance.

Sten RynningProfessor at the Faculty of Business and Social Sciences at the University of Southern Denmark

NATO as a collective alliance is doing something but not a lot for Ukraine, and this ought to change. NATO is mostly building Ukrainian institutional capacity, meaning training and funding personnel in democratic governance, command and control, personnel management, or logistics. This is not new. What is new is the deep commitment of some NATO allies to supplying Ukraine’s armed forces with weapons and training in response to Russia’s invasion of February 2022. But this is largely a coalition effort taking place with the support of NATO’s institutions.

NATO’s indirect role is reflective of limited consensus among the allies. Still, NATO as a whole could and should do better. Considering the gravity of Russian revisionism for the full continent, NATO should be more active in defining the wider objective behind the assistance to Ukraine. Is it containment, punishment, or rollback? Or something else?

As part hereof, NATO should as a minimum define its own role in deterring certain Russian actions that the alliance deems particularly undesirable, such as attacks on civilians, or the blockade of food exports. And NATO should define its escalatory role, that is, its role in augmenting the assistance to Ukraine in response to Russia’s enduring campaign of aggression.

Stanley R. SloanAuthor and visiting scholar at Middlebury College

It is obvious that whatever NATO—the institution—has done or will do for Ukraine is much less important than what individual members do. The most important role played by NATO is to provide a framework for coordination of allied perspectives and assistance to Ukraine, as illustrated by the Comprehensive Assistance Package.

The allies have the power and potential to help Ukraine respond to Russia’s aggression. They own and produce the weapons Ukraine needs. Some allies are doing much more than others, and NATO’s overall approach is to try to keep Russia from “winning” while not provoking a wider war. It is a delicate balance that Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg works hard to maintain.

A less obvious but vital role played by NATO is providing the rationale and motivation for member states to help Ukraine. The alliance and the principles that help unify the members link support for Ukraine to the national security interests of the members. It is a stronger link for some, particularly the northern allies and the United States, but it is politically and strategically important for the allies individually and collectively.

Paul TaylorContributing editor at Politico Europe

It all depends what you mean by NATO.

Western leaders took a deliberate decision to keep the alliance out of the limelight when Russia invaded Ukraine to avoid giving Moscow any pretext for saying it was at war with NATO. Allied naval forces withdrew from the Black Sea before Christmas and have not reappeared. And NATO rejected pleas from Kyiv early in the war to enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine that could have drawn it into direct conflict with Russia.

NATO doesn’t own weapons. So the provision of military equipment and intelligence to Ukraine, and the training of Ukrainian forces to use Western kit is being conducted by member nations. However, behind the scenes, NATO helps coordinate supplies and supply routes. NATO capacity-building via a trust fund as well as regular joint exercises before the war helped Ukraine to defend itself far more effectively that Russia had anticipated.

For now, NATO’s collective help for Ukraine is primarily political. Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has given staunch rhetorical support, most recently at the Crimea Platform summit in August 2022. Reinforcing NATO’s entire Eastern flank helps Ukraine indirectly by protecting its supply lines.

Should NATO do more? Probably not, to avoid risking World War Three.