NATO has risen from the dead, but when does the alliance intervene?

NATO is โ€œbrain dead,โ€ said French President Emmanuel Macron a few years ago. Former US President Donald Trump even threatened to withdraw his country from the military alliance. America has no use to NATO, he thought.

But the war in Ukraine makes NATOs importance again abundantly clear. On Thursday, Member States leaders will gather at a summit in Brussels to see what they can do more than send troops to countries in Eastern Europe. Is there any chance that they still decide to intervene militarily in Ukraine?

Red line

Former top diplomat Henne Schuwer, who worked for then Secretary General of NATO Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, is clear: โ€œThat is possible.โ€

Yet NATO says to the rest of the world: we are not going into Ukraine and we will never go into Ukraine. Schuwer gets that message. โ€œThere are certain countries in NATO that will never want to intervene. They needed that insurance, you want to keep NATO together.โ€

Military intervention would make the chance of a greater war or even a nuclear war between the West and Russia too great, those countries think. Nevertheless, there may be a point that NATO still finds it necessary to send soldiers into Ukraine, says Schuwer.

What could that point be? Chemical and biological weapons are often mentioned as red line. Schuwer: โ€œSuppose there is a chemical weapon attack with tens of thousands of deaths. What is the response of the European population then? I dont know that.โ€

โ€œSuch a use of chemical weapons cannot go unpunished,โ€ says David van Weel. As Assistant Secretary General, he is the right-hand man of NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg.

Stoltenberg itself warned Russia on Wednesday evening of โ€œfar-reaching consequencesโ€ if the country grabs for this type of weapons. Still, says Van Weel, that step would โ€œnot yet be an automatic trigger to a complete conflict of NATO with Russiaโ€.

Setting up a no-fly zone can be a step before sending ground troops. It would entail NATO army units shooting Russian aircraft entering Ukrainian airspace from the sky. In this way, bomb attacks can be prevented and the Ukrainian army can more safely fight Russian ground forces from the air.

But NATO has also rejected that option. Unwise, thinks out-of-service General Ben Hodges. Until five years ago, he was commander in chief of all American troops in Europe. โ€œWhy tell the enemy you dont want to set up a no-fly zone? Even if you never plan to, you should keep the option on the table.โ€

โ€œA no-fly zone is high gameโ€

Earlier, former NATO commander in chief Philip Breedlove argued for a slightly milder variant: a humanitarian no-fly zone. โ€œWere not shooting at you unless you shoot at the people were protecting.โ€

But NATO chief Van Weel also has big reservations about that. โ€œA no-fly zone simply means offensive action in Ukraine. Take out Russian anti-aircraft and Russian aircraft with airplanes and missiles. Thats high game, and were very careful about that.โ€

Too careful, Hodges thinks. โ€œThe desire to prevent escalation has taken over the desire to win. I dont want us to think later: we should have done something when we saw schools, hospitals and a theater with people being blown up in the basement.โ€