Lack of unity started this conflict; only more unity can end it.

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Photo by Chuko Cribb on Unsplash.

When President Joe Biden took office, America’s relationship with NATO wasn’t exactly at its strongest. Quibbles about dues, fair shares and old debts may have seemed important when Donald Trump was President.

The conflict in the Ukraine this week puts those disagreements in perspective. There was a good reason NATO nations were cooperating with each other, whatever their differences and disagreements.

That reason is world peace. President Joe Biden is right to remind world leaders of that sacred trust.

A new feeling of unity has been the result; NATO nations, the EU, the US and its allies are all recommitted to international cooperation, diplomacy and, most of all, peace.

Bringing the conflict in the Ukraine to a swift end is the order of the day for everyone save Vladimir Putin. How to accomplish that short of a full scale military intervention is still a mystery.

From enforcing a no-fly zone over Ukraine, to an emergency approval of Ukraine for membership in NATO, there are no shortage of options, each seeming more likely than the last to plunge the region, and the world, deeper into conflict.

World leaders must also be wondering if this invasion of the Ukraine by Russian forces could have been avoided. Looking forward, with a mind to containing this conflict before it spreads like wildfire to Taiwan, South Korea, and beyond, how can future military aggression like this be deterred?

After an emergency approval of membership for the Ukraine, there are other vulnerable countries to consider.

No one can say what might have happened had NATO accepted Ukraine into the global fold two years ago, or five. It would have certainly angered Russian President Vladimir Putin, no matter when it happened.

In a twist of fate, Russia might have imposed sanctions on NATO nations in retaliation. The nation of Russia could have also been driven further from the European fold into the waiting arms of the Chinese Communist Party.

The CCP- under its leader and supreme ruler Xi Jinping, and his successor Xi Jinping- has been growing closer to Russian leadership in recent years. Perhaps it is the shared communist heritage of the two nations; perhaps it’s a marriage of convenience. China and Russia have found themselves increasingly aligned on the same side against the agenda of Western nations in the past decade.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative may soon do in Afghanistan what the last 20 years of U.S. leadership and 20 years of Russian leadership before that failed to accomplish. That is to say, the CCP is making huge investments in Afghanistan, a nation torn by war and governed by the Taliban into starvation.

Some of these Belt and Road infrastructure and aid agreements have clauses that are causing much concern among human rights groups. Should an impoverished or emerging nation like Afghanistan fail to repay their loan, the CCP could seize collateral in the form of land, resources and mineral rights.

The legality of enforcing these agreements is still in dispute. But by the time the international court system litigates the matter- which could take decades- the damage will have already been done.

Some foreign policy experts are calling the CCP’s strategy “creditor imperialism” or “debt-trap diplomacy.”

It may be less martial than intervening with military action as “liberators” and “rebuilders”, but it might end up being just as messy.

Chinese leadership needs as much international support as it can muster to support these questionable initiatives- and others.

For years China has been using Interpol to find and arrest Chinese dissidents and political opponents living aboard. It’s very simple: The dissenter is charged with some nebulous financial crime and a warrant is issued. Chinese authorities send out a notice to international law enforcement agencies with the location of the person. Local law enforcement authorities do the rest.

Human rights watchdogs have been grousing about the CCP’s abuse of the international law enforcement cooperative to crack down on political targets and silence critics, but no one has been able to do much about it.

The more support the CCP can get for its activities, however objectionable, the longer it will be able to get away with such things without provoking serious consequences.

A strong China/Russia partnership gives the West much less leverage; the threat of sanctions is diluted and nothing can be done to curb human rights abuses, should they occur- short of military force.

A strongly united China and Russia might prove impervious even to threats of military force.

Xi Jinping isn’t a fool; China has been walking a very fine line for a long time, as has Vladimir Putin. It’s a kind of game to see how far they can push Western leaders before incurring pushback.

Putin, a former KGB strongman, has been stretching the boundaries of international decency and standards for decades. Besides the last time Russian forces “annexed” a country by force in 2014, Putin’s government is well known for its shocking intolerance of political dissent.

One of Putin’s most outspoken critics was recently a victim of poisoning and still bears the scars. Other victims of this special, very specific type of execution using rare, sometimes radioactive poisons- and other types of executions meant to “send a message”- weren’t as lucky.

Given Putin’s actions this week, there has never been a better time for a strongly united front. NATO, the U.S. and its allies, Republicans and Democrats leaving partisanship at the water’s edge: Together the world can contain this conflict.

We are all staring down the prospect of nuclear war for the first time in decades, just when we dared hope never to face such again. United, the threat of global nuclear warfare, of World War III, might not dare materialize.

It may be too late for acceptance into NATO to save the Ukraine- adopting Ukraine into NATO right now would adopt the current conflict as well- but other nations at risk would benefit greatly from inclusion. There is no unity without unity.

Ukraine was in danger because Russia considered it a territory, not a sovereign nation. Taiwan is currently in danger for the same reason; China considers Taiwan its property.

Israel is another nation seen by some of its neighbors as illegitimate.

Taiwan may not be a candidate for NATO because of its location, but now might be an excellent time for a show of strong support.

Whatever NATO hoped to accomplish by keeping the Ukraine out, the strategy has obviously failed. Holding Ukraine at arms length did not keep the peace; it did not stop Russia from military action and threatening nuclear war in the end.

“When bombs fall in Kyiv, this happens in Europe, not only in Ukraine,” said the Ukrainian President one day after Russian bombs started falling. “When missiles kill our people, it’s the death of all Europeans. Require more protection for Europe, more protection for Ukraine — as part of a democratic world.”

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)