Ukraine: Not Ready For NATO

BERLIN, Germany -- Two years ago, seven countries entered NATO in one fell swoop - Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. Three others - Albania, Croatia and Macedonia - were put off until the next round.

The exact date was left open - with good reason.

The integration of so many new members proved to be quite difficult. So the majority of NATO partners reached a tacit consensus stipulating a continued adherence to the "Open Door" policy, but without setting a definite time when the next applicants could step through this door.

This silent accord has started to crumble of late as an increasing number of American politicians have begun publicly calling for another quick NATO enlargement round. Washington is not campaigning for one of the prevailing candidates; rather President George W. Bush, like Senator John McCain and others, argue specifically for the entry of Ukraine and Georgia.

Prominent voices in Washington refer to the geostrategic weight Ukraine would lend NATO. Poland, a NATO member only since 1999, has also aligned itself on the side of expansion in an effort to stabilize the region to its east.

Such support cannot conceal the problems a rash decision on the enlargement of NATO would create. What causes concern is not only the possible protests in Russia against expanding NATO to Ukraine, a country that has always held a special historical and cultural meaning in the eyes of Moscow. Three other factors speak against a hasty admission of Ukraine or Georgia.

First, both countries are far from fit for entry. In Ukraine, public protests against joint maneuvers of international armed forces in the Crimea illustrate the skepticism that some citizens feel toward Western institutions in general. At the end of last year, only 16 percent of the Ukrainian population voted for membership in NATO.

The lack of public sympathy for the Atlantic alliance is not the only problem.

In politically divided Ukraine, many representatives of the old political leadership are still in power, preserving Cold War thinking at the various levels of the bureaucracy.

With NATO membership, they would gain influence in the flow of information and the decision- making process. The resulting security problems are obvious.

Second, a quick addition of Ukraine and Georgia would put the cart before the membership horse. It is hard to imagine accepting these two countries without admitting the three longstanding candidates - Albania, Croatia and Macedonia. Consequently, an enlargement round would have to include five countries, few of which comply with current NATO standards.

Thirdly - and herein lies the main problem - an excessive, hasty American push on the question of enlargement threatens to disrupt the delicate process of trans-Atlantic reconciliation after the crises over Iraq of the past few years.

The present constructive behavior of NATO members on both sides of the Atlantic rests on an implied deal - Washington ceases speaking of NATO as its "tool box," to be used at will, and instead actively works with Europe on the formation of joint NATO policies.

In return, Europe accepts the American concept of a "Global Partnership" for NATO, building new ties with Western-oriented countries in Asia, Australia, South Africa and Latin America.

If Washington burdens one side of the scale with an additional debate about controversial candidates, the delicate balance could tip.

NATO should abide by its "Open Door" policy, offering more countries an opportunity to join. The choice of new members, however, cannot be solely oriented to the strategic preferences of a single NATO state. It must also preserve the trans-Atlantic deal and be directed toward boosting the alliance's capacity to act.

Considering the capabilities of the applicant states and what they could bring to the alliance leads to the conclusion that the Ukraine and Georgia must wait a while longer.

Source: International Herald Tribune