How Law on NATO changed Ukraine and how to overcome obstacles on path to Alliance?

Author : Serhiy Sydorenko

Source :

Accession to NATO - is not only geopolitical step. Countries applying for participation in the Alliance, must meet many requirements, both in terms of democracy, and regarding the interoperability of the armed forces, and these requirements are not merely declarative. Ukraine currently still far from the minimum required level
18:30, 12 June 2017

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"There will be no comments on Ukraine's accession to NATO, only about cooperation. Even thinking about integration we consider incorrect because we do not know whether Ukraine wants it".

Approximately the same response in different variations, we heard in NATO headquarters at least ten times, from officials at all levels - from clerks of the press service to the Secretary General of the Alliance, both during formal briefings and interviews, as well as private talks.

No arguments were considered sufficient - either public support or the former decision of the Alliance. At the times of Yanukovych presidency Ukraine chose the "non-alignment" and since then, despite the change of government it did not declare the goal of joining NATO.

On June 8 full membership in NATO was included in the list of national priorities of Ukraine.

But the optimism of the Parliament which adopted a decision still should not dazzle us.

The regulations, laws and decrees adopted in Kyiv, of course, are not sufficient in order to make Ukraine's accession to NATO a realistic prospect, not just legislation.

Currently, there are four key obstacles to our membership in the Alliance.

The first - a lack of political will of NATO.

To enter the ranks of the Alliance a new state must receive political consent of all allies. And they, taking this decision will consider all "for" and "against".

The second - the unwillingness of Ukraine to become a member.

Accession to NATO - is not only geopolitical step. Countries applying for participation in the Alliance, must meet many requirements, both in terms of democracy, and regarding the  interoperability of the armed forces, and these requirements are not merely declarative. Ukraine currently still far from the minimum required level.

Third - Alliance is not certain whether Ukraine will turn to the East in 3-5-10 years.

The idea that after the Russian aggression eastward path is closed for us, is quite popular in Ukraine, but NATO remembers well Ukrainian uncertain sentiments in the past, so does not hurry with conclusions.

The fourth reason - open armed conflict between Ukraine and Russia.

The country in a state of war could not enter the ranks of the Alliance, even if the war is not officially announced.

Thus, the obstacles are serious. But none of them are sufficient in order to stop the movement of Ukraine to NATO.

Grounds for optimism

We will briefly look at each of the obstacles on our way to NATO.

Some NATO members are against assessment of Ukraine - this argument is often heard, but it is easy to refute.

Indeed, each step to this entry is a solution that allies adopt by consensus. In practice, it usually refers to the agreement of all the key members of the Alliance and all neighboring countries, i.e. those which will feel a direct impact from this decision.

In 2008, in order to block the granting of Action Plan for NATO membership to Ukraine the, one voice of powerful country – Germany – was enough. But Ukraine is not the first country that has such problem.

Lithuanian diplomats, who were responsible for the assessment to NATO 20 years ago, recognized that Germans in official talks directly told them: "You don’t even dream about this, you will never become a member of NATO." Later this fact was acknowledged in an interview by Foreign Minister of Lithuania Linas Linkyavichyus (though without naming Germany).

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"They said this to me when I was ambassador to NATO. But as you can see, this is not an insurmountable obstacle. You just need to pursue your goal," he explained.

Ukraine does not meet the requirements for NATO membership- this is an indisputable fact. Organization imposed strict criteria to its members – both regarding compliance with democracy, and regarding military interoperability with allies.

And if speaking about "democratic part", we are on the right way (OSCE for many years recognizes our elections as free, we have competition among political forces, and reform, albeit slow, but moving forward), then speaking about military component – we have only good intentions. Only last year we approved Strategic Defense Bulletin, its performance is still ahead.

But let’s face it: it would be foolish to expect that Ukraine is now ready for full membership.

Of course, we have a long way in front of us. And it is good that the official Kyiv recognizes it. So, this obstacle to membership our country is fully capable to overcome.

Alliance is not certain whether Kyiv will not change its decision to join NATO - this point should not be underestimated. It is so important that deserves a separate article. We’ll try to mention key points.

No country has received approval to join the Alliance, with no clear political will and popular support.

Thus, the referendum on accession was held only in some countries (most of them joined NATO without referendum), but this does not mean that no one is interested in public opinion. On the contrary, the entry becomes possible only in the case when Brussels is certain: after some time the party-opponent of membership would not win the elections.

Does the public support Ukraine's membership?

For three consecutive years, sociology demonstrates the superiority of supporters of membership over their opponents, but this advantage can hardly be called "solid." For example, the poll in autumn 2016 showed that in the case of a referendum on joining NATO 44.3% of respondents will vote for, 38.1% - against, other undecided or do not intend to vote.

And even among those who declared the willingness to vote in favor of NATO, this support is sometimes emotional and not conscious. There is a lack of understanding I our society of what the Euro-Atlantic community is and how long is the road of Ukraine’s assessment.

After all, let's face it, many Ukrainians still know about NATO information they heard in Soviet times.

This, of course, is not a "sentence" for our plans to join, but you must recognize this challenge: a successful rapprochement with NATO is hardly possible, if authorities would not tell the country why the state needs this alliance membership.

Even more important is the political support of the membership.

Thus, the vote in Parliament showed almost a consensus on Ukraine's accession to NATO (only one party was against), but history of our relations with NATO gives Brussels grounds for caution.

In 2008, Ukraine has filed a request to join the Membership Action Plan (MAP). Then we were refused. Instead Alliance in 2008 adopted a political statement that our country "one day will become a NATO member" that clearly stated: the doors remain open for Ukraine.

However, in two years Ukraine with Yanukovych hands independently closed the door to NATO, and the Alliance did not forget this.

So the belief that Ukraine really intends to join the bloc could emerge only in 2019, when the newly elected president and parliament will confirm: Ukraine’s course to NATO remains unchanged.

What about war?

If the first three obstacles on the way to NATO is easy to overcome with political will to join, with the last is the most difficult. The Alliance does not want the warring states among its members, and especially - in the case of an undeclared war.

You will not find this rule in the Washington Treaty, NATO but its importance is not less because of that.

NATO's main principle is the principle of collective defense. An attack on one Member State automatically means an attack on all NATO Allies, so Brussels is not interested in situation when a new member of the next day after its accession announces the attack legitimizing its old conflict with the neighbor.

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Moreover - in the case of probable war with Russia, a nuclear power.

But even this does not mean that Ukrainian-Russian conflict puts an end to our membership.

There are at least three scenarios that encourage Ukraine to receive NATO membership, despite the war with Russia.

First, let’s not forget that our accession to NATO – is a question not of a five-year period.

Even purely theoretically our accession will be possible only after we conduct the necessary reforms, developing the new model of army. Will Russia still exist at that moment? The question remains open.

"Ukraine's accession to NATO will coincide with the defeat of Russia in geopolitical confrontation with the West and the end of the" Russian crisis "of international law. Ukraine into NATO will be a key element of a new international system that arises after the defeat of Russia ... Another element will be grinding and disintegration of the Russia ", suggests Volodymyr Gorbach, an analyst at the Institute for Euro-Atlantic cooperation.

Second, there is a theoretical probability of membership of Ukraine and Georgia in the alliance even before the final resolution of the conflict with Russia (of course, if it goes into a frozen state).

To do this, obviously, one has to change the text of the Washington Treaty of NATO, excluding the existing conflict zones with Russia (Crimea and ORDLO) from the list of areas covered by the so-called "five articles", i.e. the principle of collective defense.

One time, NATO has endorsed similar solution. In 1951, during the first enlargement of the Alliance it just had to change a key contract, and now all the publications of the text contain the footnote: "Determination of the territories of Article 5 was revised ... Protocol of Accession of Greece and Turkey."

At that time it was already clear that the situation in the Mediterranean, especially in Cyprus, inhabited by ethnic Greeks and Turks can lead to conflicts. Britain, which at that time ruled Cyprus in the official status of "occupying power", wanted to maintain its influence in the region and Greece made no secret of its ambitions to expand ... These and other factors led to the fact that NATO agreed to the accession of Turkey and Greece only after the restriction of collective defense zone.

And finally, third. Of course, Ukraine declared its aim of joining the Alliance. But it is the case when the process is not less important than the result.

NATO for us means not only plausible security guarantees after a possible accession. NATO can make our army more powerful even today, without waiting to join.

The integration of Ukraine into NATO - is primarily reforms. And above all – the security sector reforms.

So we should go to the Alliance, stating clearly that the ultimate goal is full Ukraine's accession, regardless of whether the block is ready for this today. The NATO standards of military organization and military agencies - is not a staff theory but a real operating structure that has proven effective in dozens of peacekeeping and military operations around the globe.

After all, if we return to the issue of guarantees: it is difficult to argue that even a country applying for accession to the Alliance, which received the Membership Action Plan, but not yet acquired the status of a NATO member - has a much greater level of protection from attack rather than a country that is trying to defend itself alone.

The policy of "non-alignment" of Yanukovych times proved its ineffective: exactly in a "non-aligned" period Russia started its aggression against Ukraine.

Today Ukraine has finally returned to the only true way of security integration. The main thing now is not to stop going this way and in any case not to step back.

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