Image: DarSzach/ - Photo: 2024

Boots on the Ground?

By Herbert Wulf*

This article was issued by the Toda Peace Institute and is being republished with their permission.

BONN, Germany | 5 March 2024 (IDN) — During the last week of February, an international conference in support of Ukraine was held in Paris at the invitation of French President Emmanuel Macron. The reason for this meeting was growing concern about the possible success of Russia’s aggression. War-weariness in Western countries, lack of supplies for Ukraine, blockades of military aid in the US Congress, Russian territorial gains, albeit minimal, etc. – Macron wanted to send a signal by showing unity about continued aid for Ukraine. He insisted that “nothing should be excluded”. With this strategic ambiguity, Macron used a deliberate approach that creates uncertainty for Russia about NATO’s possible reactions.

The Paris conference ended with a bang when, at a press conference after its conclusion, Macron did not rule out the possibility that soldiers from NATO countries could also be deployed in Ukraine. This announcement has caused considerable irritation in the EU and NATO, for various reasons. The French President’s statement can be viewed from different perspectives: alliance policy, security policy and legal consequences.

In terms of alliance policies, both in the EU and in NATO, this statement means that just when Ukraine’s supporters wanted to show consensus, a fierce dispute has broken out. Over the past two years Western countries have been scaling up their support. Possibly, Macron made his remarks to float a trial balloon about how far NATO is willing to go. But with this proposal, Macron is questioning a principle of NATO. At any time, NATO and its members have tried to avoid direct involvement. This is contradicted by Macron’s recent statement. Most heads of state including NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, US President Joe Biden, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz were surprised by Macron.

At the other end of the spectrum is Germany. On the day before the Paris conference, Chancellor Scholz, who is accused of hesitation and a lack of willingness to support Ukraine by supplying Taurus cruise missiles, told his critics in Germany and Ukraine that Germany will continue to do a lot for Ukraine, but will not supply the Taurus cruise missiles. The reason: the use of this long-range weapon system, which Ukraine has urgently requested for its defence, would require the deployment of German technicians and soldiers in Ukraine. According to Scholz, Germany will not take this risk of direct involvement. Apparently, Macron and Scholz are moving in opposite directions.

The German–French relationship

The consequence is that the German–French relationship, often described as the motor in the EU, is frustrated at the moment when solidarity with Ukraine and the cooperation of supporters is necessary. The Paris conference was intended to demonstrate cohesion and the determination of the alliance. The Kremlin will have taken note of the exact opposite signal with pleasure.

The underlying reason for the differing ideas within the European part of NATO is primarily to be seen in the fact that Macron has long called for more strategic autonomy for the EU. He first articulated this clearly in 2017 during a speech at the Sorbonne. With his far-reaching ideas of a common European defence, European armed forces, a European arms industry, and including a discussion on European nuclear weapons, he has not met with approval everywhere in the EU. Some consider the security guarantees of the United States to be decisive, with or without Trump.

In terms of security policy, Macron’s intervention that nothing should be ruled out for the future stresses the concept of strategic ambiguity. Russia is to be left in the dark about how NATO will react. Putin should be unable to predict whether, depending on the course of the war, NATO countries will send troops or not. This is the opposite of what Joe Biden, and with him NATO, has ruled out. The red line was: no boots on the ground!

But Macron’s position is logical and consistent from a security policy point of view. If it is true, as has been repeatedly emphasized for a long time, that Europe’s security and Europe’s values are defended in Ukraine, then Russia must never win this war. This is in the interest of both Ukraine and Europe. Because with a Russian victory in Ukraine, the European NATO countries are also at risk. Macron’s view has consequences. The German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung interprets Macron’s suggestion the following way: We should “not only have to support Kiev for as long as it takes, as Scholz promises. Rather, it is necessary to support Kiev with everything that is available – with long-range weapons, for example, which the chancellor does not want to supply. And in the worst case, also with ground troops.”

The concept of strategic ambiguity

The concept of strategic ambiguity derives from deterrence scenarios with nuclear weapons. But deterrence only works, according to promoters of deterrence, if the threat is credibly assured. This also applies to the deployment of ground troops. Is the French president serious about his proposal and does he hope to be able to convince the other NATO members as well? The answer at this moment: No chance.

What would be the legal consequences of implementing Macron’s proposal? When does a state legally become a party to a war? The states that are fighting with their own armed troops are considered to be parties to a conflict. If NATO sends soldiers to Ukraine, it is clearly a party to the war. Cooperation of Western countries has been gradually expanded and intensified. For a long time, there were fierce discussions about whether heavy weapons should be supplied to Ukraine or not. This question has long since been answered in the affirmative.

How far can the support go before one can speak of participation in the war, for example in reconnaissance of Russian defence and supply lines? Is training of Ukrainian soldiers on heavy battle tanks in Western Europe participation in war? Why are large-scale arms deliveries now seen as necessary, while the establishment of no-fly zones―as demanded by Ukraine since the beginning of the war―remains a “no go”, a red line? From a legal point of view, according to the jus ad bellum (the laws of war), even if NATO states become a party to the conflict in self-defence of Ukraine, Russia would not have the right to use force against them. Alexander Wentker, a research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law in Heidelberg, Germany, convincingly argued: “Other states can lawfully assist Ukraine in collective self-defence against Russia’s armed attack…”

The reluctance to get involved, however, is not primarily a question of the legal consequences of involvement with weapon supplies, military aid, no-fly zones or ground troops. Since Russia’s invasion two years ago, NATO and EU member states have expressed their concern about Russia’s perception of Western involvement and the risk of escalation. They wanted to avoid being perceived by Russia as direct participants. Nevertheless, one can expect that Russia would derive justification from the deployment of NATO troops for further escalation. Russia has warned about the declaration of no-fly zones or allowing Ukraine to use airbases in NATO countries. We know from the past two years, that Russia does not even shy away from threatening to use nuclear weapons.

The present discussion is actually about controversial concepts of the right way to defend Ukraine. It focuses primarily on military means and possible escalation in this war. At the same time, efforts to de-escalate, to find possibilities of starting talks for a solution to the conflict, are pushed into the background, if they are not completely out of the equation.

Related articles by this author:

In search of an exit strategy (3-minute read)

Skyfall: Cluster munitions for Ukraine (3-minute read)

Herbert Wulf is a Professor of International Relations and former Director of the Bonn International Center for Conflict Studies (BICC). He is presently a Senior Fellow at BICC, an Adjunct Senior Researcher at the Institute for Development and Peace, University of Duisburg/Essen, Germany, and a Research Affiliate at the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Otago, New Zealand. He serves on the Scientific Council of SIPRI. [IDN-InDepthNews]

Image: DarSzach/

Original Link:

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

Related Posts

Begin typing your search term above and press enter to search. Press ESC to cancel.

Back To Top