The government of Ukraine reaffirmed its desire to join NATO. The alliance said the door is open for Kiev. It’s an idea that only grows worse with age.

Earlier this week Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko met NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Kiev, proclaiming that “Ukraine has clearly defined its political future and its future in the sphere of security,” as part of the transatlantic alliance. Discussions are to begin on a Membership Action Plan and, Petroshenko added, his government would pursue reforms in order to “have a clear schedule of what must be done by 2020 to meet the NATO membership criteria.”

Stoltenberg was noncommittal but positive: “NATO will continue to support Ukraine on the path towards a close relationship with NATO, to implementing reforms and to meeting NATO standards.” A membership decision would be up to “the allies and Ukraine to decide, no one else has a right to veto such a process.” Moreover, he added, “NATO will continue to provide Ukraine with practical support.”

It’s easy to understand why a majority of Ukrainians want NATO’s protection. They really want America’s protection. And who wouldn’t like the global superpower to take over one’s defense? Their country established its first contact with the alliance in 1991 when Ukraine joined the North Atlantic Cooperation Council. Since then Kiev has received aid and support while contributing troops to some allied operations.

NATO worked great for the Western Europeans during the Cold War. Since then Central and Eastern European nations have clambered on board. The Baltic States too. Even Montenegro got on the gravy train earlier this year, despite doing nothing to make America more secure. With European countries continuing to lag well behind the U.S. in military outlays as well as spending as a percentage of GDP, Kiev recognized the sweet deal to be had.

Western officials insist that no third party, i.e., Russia, has any say on who joins the alliance. That’s fine as far as it goes. But that isn’t very far. Neither should the nation seeking to enter have a say. NATO should add nations only if they increase the security of the whole.

And given the fact that the U.S. would do most of the heavy lifting in any conflict with nuclear-armed Russia, the critical question for Washington is whether adding a new member would increase Americans’ security. Montenegro, a bit like the Duchy of Grand Fenwick of the novel The Mouse that Roared, is largely a nullity, a microstate with 2000 men under arms threatened by no one. Podgorica’s membership didn’t help America, but it probably didn’t hurt much either.

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