The Ukraine-NATO Relationship

KIEV, Ukraine -- The question of whether or not Ukraine should join NATO is tainted by opinions formed under the pressure of Soviet propaganda and without regard for the bloc's role, a weekly has reported.

The author said opinions both for and against membership are not based on rational, sober thought. He said NATO has changed substantially in the past 15 years and the NATO which the countries of Central and Eastern Europe joined and the NATO which Ukraine is planning to join are "two very different things".

Membership could even pose new threats to Ukraine stemming from international terrorism directed against NATO, he said noting such threats were "hypothetical" for Ukraine in its present, unaligned state. He said Ukraine could still join the EU, even if it did not join NATO.

The following is an excerpt of the article by Andriy Fialko, entitled "Ukraine-NATO: You remember how it all began...on something important without emotion", published in Zerkalo Nedeli on 5 August, subheadings have been inserted editorially.


For those citizens of our country who are exhausted by the sun and tired of the interminable and ever more depressing political serial, many questions which just yesterday seemed topical and provoked harsh discussion have been pushed into second place. And the establishment of the anti-crisis coalition could push them back even farther.

Ukraine's prospects for joining NATO undoubtedly belongs to the number of such questions.

Quite unexpectedly for everyone, this issue took one of the central places during negotiations on signing the declaration of national unity and setting up the new coalition. However, nothing became more clear. In place of the clear and unambiguous signal which we intended to send to the world, we again got sounds characteristic of the Ukrainian political establishment "which sometimes sound like 'a' and sometimes like 'e'".

And in light of the extreme positions on the NATO issues which are held by [pro-presidential bloc] Our Ukraine and the Communist Party of Ukraine, it seems the joint efforts of a swan, lobster and pike would be the pinnacle of results-oriented work compared to the work of the new coalition in this direction.

"We have again lost such a big chance", some say with worry. "We won", others will shout no less sincerely. And the majority will remain perfectly indifferent.

We shall point out right away: there is no reason for either despair or any special joy, since the issue of Ukraine's membership in the North Atlantic alliance has still not been presented.

Although it could possibly be seen on the horizon, among all things unsaid (the expediency of joining is another topic). And so the maximum which we could count on is getting a meaningful wink at the next summit. And they'll wink anyway, though maybe not so expressively.

Now there is time to think, in a more calm situation, exactly how justified are the mutually-exclusive feelings our citizens have? On what base do politicians stand when reciting such pathos-imbued speeches on the topic of Ukrainian-NATO relations? Finally where does Ukraine's national interest lie, when cleaned of party intrigues and dirt and of external influences and their own [psychological] complexes?

We shall try to find variants of answers to some of the issues, but do not pretend to have the final word on truth. In order to understand the essence of many complicated moments, one must not judge them based on positions today, but rather recall the conditions under which they formed.


As paradoxical as it may seem, the arguments of those favouring Ukraine's membership in NATO are often essentially no closer to the truth than those of their opponents, though they are presented in a more civilized and less aggressive form. But this does not stop a pretty tale from being a tale, or a fantasy from being a fantasy.

Though at the beginning of the 1990s the majority of our fellow countrymen continued by inertia to look at NATO from foxholes dug during the cold war, the idea of drawing closer (and for the more brave - Ukraine's membership in NATO) appeared in the domestic political elite at practically the same time as independence was gained. It then seemed: just a little bit more and Ukraine would take its rightful place in the family of civilized peoples.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization agreement, which successfully withstood the totalitarian system of the Soviet Union, was one of the faces of the democratic system. NATO-member countries were the edge of dreams - high standards of living, social protection, real responsibility of authorities before society and not just a show of such, as well as freedom of speech, congregation and mass media.

Besides, nearly all new democracies which had broken free of the suffocating communist system and the pettiness of Soviet stewardship, were striving to join NATO. In these conditions, a direct rejection over membership in the alliance was taken as an expression of poor tone or at least insufficient progress (progressiveness, democracy, and so on).

Besides, a feeling of slight offence appeared in the subconscious of the Ukrainian establishment: if they are negotiating with everyone except you, it means you don't deserve it, you have not matured yet, or you are still on the other side of the curtain.

As we see, understandings began to chance even in this early stage: democracy and a level of civilization were seen as the same as the important, but far from key, element in the system of western values, one which was foremost responsible for the defence aspect.


In these 15 years which have sped by so quickly, threats to security have changed at the core, and with them, the essence of NATO. The terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001 which changes the world drew a thick, fat line under an entire historical era. Of course the alliance which had shown itself to be effective as a defence union was impotent in the face of a more treacherous and sudden danger. As a result of adapting to new realities, its nature and principles of action and its strategy changed fundamentally.

While NATO defended the Western world for its first 50 years of existence, mainly due to the strength of its leading state, the United States, on the threshold of the 21st century one can see the opposite picture as the members countries in the alliance are themselves helping America in the fight against the threat of terrorism.

NATO which had not gone beyond the bounds of the Euro-Atlantic region and which acted in strict accordance with the statute of the United Nations, turned into an organization whose strategic goal is preventative actions in case of need - and without the agreement of other members of world society and in practically any place on the globe.

In particular, the alliance's Military Defence Concept against terrorism adopted at the summit in Paris on 21-22 November 2002 unambiguously reads: "NATO must be ready to carry out military operations against terrorist groups and there resources when and where necessary in accordance with the decision of the NATO council".

Today the vulnerability of NATO member countries has significantly increased in regard to new threats, such as a sudden missile attack by terrorists or states which support terrorism or international terrorist organizations (like Al-Qa'idah), and also the use of bacterial, chemical and - not to be ruled out - nuclear weapons on the territory of countries in the alliance.

In this context, it is interesting to note a comparison by American international relations expert Zbigniew Brzezinski on the problem of the security of the United States in the 21st century with the challenges which the criminal world is presenting to modern megalopolises. Meaning the difficult and nearly impossible search in a city with a population of millions for small, but well-organized groups of criminals (terrorists) who are hard to identify before they commit large crimes (terrorist attacks).

Brzezinski draws the logical conclusions: NATO's main efforts should be directed not towards integrating 26 national armies, since defence in terms of the principle of territory has lost its original meaning, but towards creating rapid-response forces which would carry out missions beyond the borders of the alliance's member countries.

Correspondingly, NATO's priority tasks (both for the organization as a whole and for its individual members) are operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and, in the case of regulating the Arab-Israeli conflict, in the Middle East.

A number of influential American politicians have insistently put the issue of activating the NATO agreement on the table in the case of an exacerbation of the situation with Iran's nuclear programme.

It is a big question whether the alliance can act as successfully under conditions of growing geographical scope and such radically changing tasks. But one thing is perfectly clear: the NATO which the countries of Central and Eastern Europe joined and the NATO which Ukraine is planning to join are "two very different things".


It is also perfectly clear that should Ukraine successfully complete the process of Euro-Atlantic integration, the number of risks to its national security could significantly grow. This is no reason to panic, but the issue needs additional, serious analysis and thought. Statements that the mechanism of decisions made in NATO are so democratic that Ukraine can choose for itself which crisis situations it will participate in and which not, are at best too naive.

Especially if one takes into account that the famous Article number five of the Washington agreement of 1949 was used for the first time in the history of NATO in response to the terrorist acts in the United States on 11 September 2001. This article qualifies an armed attack on one or more members of the alliance as an attack on them all.

It is also hard to imagine that in case of a serious crisis in Washington, London or Paris, they will follow a "fate-defining" meeting of our National Security and Defence Council with trepidation, especially if the main decisions have already been made by that time by the Grande dames of the alliance.

Also unclear is the logic according to which we can discuss whether or not we will take part in defending our potential allies should a threat against them arise or whether they would unanimously and unwaveringly come to our aid should such a threat arise against Ukraine itself. And so it is worth asking oneself whether one needs such an unpredictable ally, on which one cannot rely.


I also think attempts to present the process of joining the European Union and NATO as nearly one and the same thing are incorrect. Some saying that without joining the alliance, we will get nothing in terms of the EU, so what is there to talk about.

Under the identical common system of values and the public-political and economic systems of participating countries, there are serious differences between these integrating associations, not to mention contradictions. NATO is foremost a military (and then political) union with the leading participation of a super-power - the United States - which determines its nearly unlimited sphere of responsibility in the face of global threats.

And one need not expect the only super-power in the world to behave itself more loyally than a spouse - thinking only about how to make you happy without thinking of its own interests. It is more likely to be like a mother-in-law, who knows exactly what you should do for your own happiness (and her peace of mind). At the same time, in contrast to NATO, the EU is foremost an economic union with an ever more noticeably strengthening political component which spends a lot of time mulling the topic of "what is good and what is bad" while acting quite slowly. These two organizations have as much in common as a tank and a combine.

Here is one eloquent example. The most successful, unproblematic and fast round of widening the EU took place in 1995 when non-NATO member countries Austria, Finland and Sweden joined. And the citizens of one country participating in the negotiations, NATO member Norway, blocked the process of their country joining the EU in a referendum, believing that [EU] membership would overly regulate their habitual way of life and would not aid in preserving and developing their own culture.

By the way, I personally asked Javier Solana at a conference in Kiev whether it was possible for Ukraine to join the EU without joining NATO. His answer was clear: "Of course it can, why not?" Clearly our Euro-integrators know their way around the system much deeper than their colleagues in Brussels. But Mr Solana's opinion is still of interest since at that time he was appointed "EU minister of foreign affairs" after having worked as NATO secretary-general and knew the system from the inside.

Is their life without NATO?

The question of membership in NATO, taking into account the consequences both for Ukraine and its relations with third countries, certainly occupies an important, and today perhaps key, place. It is good that serious discussion has begun on this issue. It is bad that it is being held mostly on the basis of ideas, convictions and feelings, in a word, emotions, and not on concrete facts and sober analysis.

In the heat of passions and mutual accusations, the answer to the main question is somewhat lost: "What will Ukraine get from joining NATO and what will it lose?" And will it not turn out that once becoming a member of the alliance, Ukraine, besides moral satisfaction from being in a prestigious club, will get first class protection from threats which are already not as topical, while opening itself up to new, more dangerous risks which are now more hypothetical in nature.

This article intentionally not does touch the Russian factor. One can discuss that without end. Having not said the main thing - one of the driving motives for Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic aspirations is the desire for insurance against the case of unforeseeable turns in Russia's foreign policy.

Too much was said by [Moscow Mayor Yuriy] Luzhkov, [Duma MP Konstantin] Zatulin and others in the mid 1990s. One must stress: we are not at all talking about anti-Russian motivations for Ukraine's foreign policy and surely not about taking part in any kind of acts against Russia. One can suppose that on the Russian side, unacceptance of the idea of our membership in NATO includes recognizing the fact that it will once and for all cut Ukraine off from the Russian "umbilical cord".

In deciding the issue of membership, time is important. It is hard to imagine a more unfavourable time for finally realizing the Euro-Atlantic choice. The country is in serious need of taking a breath which would allow it to overcome the noticeable divide in society and renew healthy processes in the economy. I personally do not understand how one can talk seriously about Ukraine's membership in NATO, having held up the country on 230 dollars per 1,000 cubic meters of gas. And that as a base price.

As far as the political aspect, a painless solution to the problem of our joining the alliance today is impossible without the Party of Regions. And unrealistic with it. And one should not forget that society's predominant unacceptance of the idea of Ukraine's joining NATO does not reveal itself in grotesque theatrical processes, but will come in a referendum on the issue and in the presidential election in 2009, a year when the issue could take on practical meaning should a corresponding invitation be made then. And no-one needs that mess.

For now events should not be forced. We have a strong position today like never before. As far as the alliance, Ukraine's input in its missions in the former Yugoslavia and Iraq are qualitatively and quantifiably equal to the efforts of a good half of the members of NATO.

That is, not only are we interested now, but the leading world players are interested in us. This is something that should not only give us joy, but reason for a bit of caution, too. Especially when voices of warning are ever more clearly sounding in warning of a possible renewal of the cold war. You don't have to be a genius to understand exactly where its main battles will be fought.

At the same time, one must clearly imagine that the most commonly proposed alternative to NATO membership, Ukraine's neutrality, has no real guarantees of being realized despite the idea appearing attractive on the outside. Does anyone in fact seriously think that, not being tied by any alliance obligations, states which look very much like the United States and Russia will destroy each other and the entire world in our nuclear age and over Ukraine, too?

And what we have in the 1994 Budapest memorandum are not guarantees, but statements (in a true translation of the original). And of all statements, the most reliable is that of the beloved pop-singer Vera Serdyuchka: "Everything will be OK, everything will be OK, I just know it". But that is a topic for another conversation. Or another song.

Source: BBC Monitoring