Ukraine in NATO?

From the strategic point of view, would Ukraine in NATO be an asset for NATO and how much it would be a problem? Read few comments.

Igor Merheim-Eyre, PhD Candidate in International Relations, School of Politics and International Relations, University of Kent

The new pro-European coalition in Ukraine had made it the country’s chief aim to join both the European Union and the North Atlantic Alliance. Whilst in the recent years Moscow had made contradictory statements on whether it supports Ukrainian integration into the Euro-Atlantic area or not, the past twelve months have shown a more consistent Nyet, Nyet, Nyet policy. You may ask yourselves, why am I talking about Russia’s view, when Ukraine is a sovereign country? Because to put it simply, in strategic terms, Russia matters.

In 1990s, the creation of an independent Ukraine was seen as one of the most important geo-strategic decisions in modern (post-1989) European history. I think, this holds today, but the key expectation was the development of a strong and sovereign Ukraine, able to hold its own way on the international arena. Up until now, Ukraine has so far failed to do so, and its internal weakness means a stronger Russian say on the country’s development.

Therefore, from a strategic perspective, let us be realistic. A possible NATO membership may (hypothetically) keep Ukraine as a sovereign country. However, it will not help to bring back lost territory, while risking further aggregation of Russia. It is not that Ukraine’s independence simply depends on Russia, but its role cannot be ignored.

Ukraine is still a strategic bridge between the east and west. Nothing can justify Russia’s current actions in the Donbass or Crimea but rather than a point of on-going conflict, we should take this as an opportunity to build a more long-term approach to European security. NATO, especially in partnership with the EU, has proven to be a force for stability. The trouble, however, is that it is not an all-inclusive security institution, and never will be. The key, therefore, is to go back to the drawing board. OSCE is, perhaps, one such possible avenue for new pan-European security cooperation; if NATO wants to assist Ukraine, it will not do it by creating new divisions but by supporting it within the OSCE, and assisting the internal capacity-building within Ukraine.

If the past century should have taught us anything, it is that we should not be creating new divisions. We must not tolerate aggression, but we must create a security system which makes the domination of one country by another a thing of the past. This cannot happen overnight, and trust will take time to rebuild; neither will it return through threats or mutual suspicion, but by making sure we defend our core principles and never close the possibility for a new dialogue.

Therefore, it is not in Ukraine’s nor NATO’s interest for Kyiv to formally seek membership. Including Ukraine means excluding others; thus, if Ukraine is to be the bridge between the east and west, let it be the test-case for a new type of security in Europe. Ukraine itself can and should take that lead, not by balancing NATO against Russia, but by bringing the two sides together. The current situation may seem as an impossible time for such idea; in fact, now is the perfect time for it. If the new Ukrainian government can achieve this, then it will be an asset for not only NATO and Russia, but especially for Ukraine itself; by doing so, not only the creation of Ukrainian state, but its preservation may become the most important strategic decision in modern European history.

Magnus Nordenman, Deputy Director, Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, Atlantic Council

In theory, bringing Ukraine into NATO would send a powerful message to Moscow that it cannot stop Euro-Atlantic integration through the use of force. Effectively NATO would draw a red line for Russia’s behavior.

In practice, however, it is nearly impossible to imagine that it can happen in the near to medium-term. That move under current conditions could trigger a war with Russia, and many of NATO’s current members would not vote for allowing Ukraine in.

Bringing in a new member with so many unresolved conflicts and disputes would also not be a recipe for success for Ukraine’s integration into NATO and the transatlantic community.

This does not mean that NATO membership for Ukraine will never happen, but there is a long road ahead of domestic reforms, military transformation, and the settling of internal and external disputes before membership can be seriously discussed.

Sean KayProfessor, Department of Politics and Government, Ohio Wesleyan University

The question of Ukraine joining NATO is really more a hypothetical than a reality. In fact, the issue is in many ways a structural element contributing to the current crisis – and is not serving anyone’s national interest at this point, including Ukraine. In 2008, the United States pushed through NATO a declaration that Ukraine, and Georgia, would one day be NATO members. But it had no consensus to see that through and it was effectively a dangerous false promise. Even at the time, few Ukrainians even wanted membership in the alliance. Today, given the fighting in eastern Ukraine, there would be even less consensus in NATO for membership, which apparently the Russians well realize and which is part of their own strategic goals, that Ukraine would not join NATO. There are also practical matters, in which Ukraine could be allocated a Membership Action Plan (MAP) as part of a process of eventual membership. However, that would likely only serve to escalate the existing situation. There are technical matters too, i.e. that potential NATO members are expected to negotiate a settlement of cross-border and ethnic disputes as well as a range of other criteria, making even that unlikely unless the allies would look past that. Meanwhile, there is the issue of Article V – which in this case would put the NATO alliance right up into the backyard of a declining nuclear power in Russia. The best outcome strategically is that Ukraine would opt for a permanent commitment of neutrality. Of course, Ukraine has its right to its foreign policy choices, and that commitment should be upheld. But the NATO allies are not obliged to do things that would run counter to their own national interests – and that is something Ukraine would be well advised to understand and thus formulate its own approaches based on those realities. Additionally, we see very little evidence that the NATO or western allies are serious about providing Ukraine the large amounts of money it needs to cushion the blows of deep internal economic reforms. Consequently, the idea of Ukraine in NATO at this point only serves to promulgate a dangerous false promise to the Ukrainians themselves. Since it is not going to happen anyway, and since Ukrainian neutrality is probably an essential aspect of de-escalation of the crisis, to pursue that route instead is far wiser and more honest to the Ukrainians themselves.

Stephen BlankSenior Fellow for Russia, American Foreign Policy Council

Right now NATO will not take Ukraine in since it is already at war and has yet to demonstrate the reforms it needs to make. Much as I personally disagree with this NATO will not provoke Russia until and unless Ukraine gets its act together

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