Photo: NATO's account on Flickr
The new presidential administration in the US is currently shaping its policy towards Ukraine and the Euro-Atlantic region. Recently, the U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asked his colleagues from G7: “Why should U.S. taxpayers be interested in Ukraine?” His straightforward question, handed over to the media by the French minister of foreign affairs, took many by surprise. The Institute of World Policy summarized five main reasons why supporting Ukraine is in the interests of the United States. These arguments were discussed with a number of US experts. We hope that this publication will trigger a wider expert discussion on the topic.
1. A secure Ukraine is the guarantee of productive Transatlantic relations
What Russia is doing against Ukraine is a violation of the European security order. Not only would Ukraine’s failure destabilize Europe more, but it could also prompt Russia to try similar tactics elsewhere in Europe. Under such a scenario, the US would find it even more difficult to stay out. Thus, Europe would become a problem rather than a partner: the US would have to invest resources into stability in Europe rather than profit from the united Transatlantic actions in countering geopolitical issues elsewhere.
Moreover, lifting sanctions on Russia may increase tensions in US-European relations, since leading European countries (Germany, Great Britain and France) firmly stated that any attempt to remove Ukraine-related sanctions imposed on Russia without full implementation by Kremlin of Minsk agreements is unacceptable.
2. The fate of global nuclear non-proliferation regime is at stake
Abandoning Ukraine will deal a major blow to the nuclear nonproliferation regime, the preservation of which Donald Trump defined as one of the top foreign policy priorities in December 2016. In accordance with Budapest Memorandum (signed in 1994) Ukraine surrendered 3rd largest nuclear arsenal in the world in exchange for security assurances of US, UK and Russia to respect its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Russian aggression against Ukraine in violation of the Budapest Memorandum, combined with the restrained response of international community, sets an encouraging precedent for those countries which have or would like to have nuclear weapons. For example, it could complicate significantly the US negotiations with North Korea on the surrender of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons or similar negotiations with other countries.
3. Ukraine’s security directly affects US welfare
As guaranteed security is the prerequisite for sustainable trade and investment in the Trans-Atlantic region, and European security is unimaginable without a secure Ukraine, US welfare depends on Ukraine’s security, too. The total US-EU trade in goods and services in 2015 amounted to $1.15 trillion, and the EU is the USA’s top trading partner. Also, total EU Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) in the US economy amounts to $2.65 trillion (70% of all FDI in the US).
4. Investments in Ukraine will pay off in the long term
Considering the large amount of aid (more than $10 bn), which the US directly or indirectly provided to Ukraine after 1991, and especially after the Revolution of Dignity, Ukraine’s domestic reform course has become a special test case for US credibility as a democracy promoter. Over the last three years, Ukrainians have demonstrated their decisiveness in implementing reforms – there has been more positive change than in all the previous years of independence, and the USA has a major role to play. Ukraine’s success is a matter of time, not a matter of change. Ukraine has sufficient public resources and potential to become the most significant “success story” of Donald Trump’s Administration. Supporting Ukraine is the USA’s asymmetrical response to Russia’s actions which allows not entering into a direct confrontation, but will have a tremendous impact on the security of the region and the world. However, withdrawing support from Ukraine will most likely mean reforms will roll back.
5. Ukraine’s security is the prerequisite for the balance of power in the region
As long as Ukraine is kept independent from Russia, Russia will not be a superpower like the USSR, only a troublesome regional power. However, if Ukraine remains under Russia’s effective control, or aligned with it, the Kremlin would be allowed to further project its influence further in the Central and Eastern Europe, Balkans, and Black Sea region.
In the long run, Ukraine’s reform success will make Ukraine a democracy champion in the post-Soviet space, and will be a strong counter-argument to Russia’s hybrid interventions. As a result, Ukraine will actually need less foreign support of various sorts, with having accumulated enough capacity to withstand Russian pressure on its own.