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The case for Ukraine’s NATO membership – Taras Kuzio

Taras Kuzio, Non-Resident Fellow, Center for Transatlantic Relations, Johns Hopkins University, speaking at the Kyiv Security Forum in 2018. Photo:
The case for Ukraine’s NATO membership – Taras Kuzio
Speaking at a panel discussion at the 11th Kyiv Security Forum, Taras Kuzio, Non-Resident Fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins University, put forward a case for Ukraine’s membership in NATO. We offer our readers a transcription.

I’m going to put a case forward for Ukraine’s membership in NATO.

It’s difficult to discuss these requirements because it’s a moving target with NATO all the time, there doesn’t seem to be a single set of criteria like the Copenhagen criteria for the EU, and was introduced only recently. I wonder if these criteria were there in the 1950s if Italy could have joined for instance.

The requirements for Ukraine seem to be set in a far more difficult way towards Ukraine than other countries, such as Latvia, Estonia, and Montenegro.

The four areas I look for membership are:

  • divided territory;
  • the added value of Ukraine joining;
  • a referendum;
  • Russian interference.

Divided territory. “Ukraine can’t join because it has a frozen conflict on its territory.” Well, East Germany was a frozen conflict for 50 years; nevertheless, West Germany was allowed to join. So there’s a precedent set from the founding moment of NATO, and that was very important together with the EU in rebuilding a post-Nazi German democracy. In the case of the EU, Cyprus is a divided country and it was allowed to join the EU.

A very important area is added value. In the case of Ukraine, you have 500,000 security forces: border guard, national guard, security service, and military. Compare that to Montenegro, which was the last country that was allowed to join, with 2,000. Look at it in terms of ranking. Ukraine’s military, which is according to a think tank in Warsaw, is the best army Ukraine has ever had, thanks to 2 people: Poroshenko and Putin. Ukraine’s army is now ranked 29th in the world in terms of military strength. Only 10 NATO members out of 29 are ranked higher.

Even the ones ranked above like Greece Canada and Poland are only a little bit above Ukraine. Canada is 25th, Greece is 28th, Poland – 22nd. Ukraine would bring a lot of added value, more than 19 members of NATO.

Ukraine doesn’t just bring powerful and large security forces to the table, which many countries don’t, but a revived and rejuvenated military-industrial complex, which we see now with the coming of new missiles, new weapons and the like. In terms of spending on defense, Ukraine outstrips most members of NATO. Only 6 out of 29 members of NATO spend more than 2%. Ukraine spends 5-6%. 3 of those 6 which do spend more are in Eastern Europe: Poland, Romania, and Estonia [A representative of Lithuania remarked during the Q&A that Lithuania also spends more than 2%, but this hasn’t been added to the NATO website yet – Ed].

Ukraine is also the first country which has experienced the entire range of Russian hybrid warfare. Everything which Russia has been thrown at Ukraine: information war, cyber war, little green men. This is all very good experience that can be used by NATO to prevent something like this happening in the Baltics.

What about a referendum? A question that has been always raised about Ukraine. Surprisingly, it hasn’t been raised about other countries. Most countries in Eastern Europe that joined NATO did not have referendums. If there was one in Latvia or Estonia and everyone was allowed to vote, I wonder if there was a majority.

Opinion polls in Ukraine show that of those who will go to vote, 60-70% will support joining NATO in a referendum. That’s higher than in Eastern Europe. The anti-NATO vote in Ukraine today is very passive. Those against NATO membership have declined in a huge way since 2014: many Ukrainians understand that Ukraine would find it difficult to defend its own security.

The whole question of Russian interference: the attempted Russian coup in Montenegro, the attempted assassination of the prime minister in Montenegro did not prevent from bringing Montenegro into NATO. In Montenegro itself, the political elites are more divided on NATO than they are in Ukraine: only 46 out of 81 MPs voted to join; in Ukraine, you have practically 300 out of 420.

On a final note, Ukraine is unique in Europe because its nationalists support NATO membership, whereas in Europe they are predominantly against. There isn’t a culture of anti-americanism in Ukraine. So there’s no base of anti-Americanism, the nationalists are pro-NATO and even pro-EU. Montenegrin nationalists are like Serbian nationalists: pro-Russian, pro-Slavic brotherhood, anti-western. This does not exist in Ukraine.

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