Are occupied territories an obstacle for Ukraine’s integration in NATO?

03:09 PM 10-7-2015

An article written by Iulian Chifu, Associate Professor at the National School of Political and Administrative Studies, President of the Conflict Prevention and Early Warning Center(Romania) for IWP’s publication “Ukraine-NATO: Diagnosing the Partnership”The full text of publication “Ukraine-NATO: Diagnosing the Partnership” is available here.

There were lots of interpretations how Ukraine – NATO relations will develop taking into account the dramatic changes in the region in the last year and a half. The general perception in Ukraine’s think tank world is that there’s an informal condition for each state on the way of becoming NATO member: the state should not have any open conflicts with neighbours. But the new framework present at the gates of the Western World and the war proposed by Russia creates the perspectives for a new line of defense and de facto border inside Ukraine as a defendable demarcation line that will supposedly also be the new border between East and West for the decades to come.

NATO’s Accession: Terms and Conditions

NATO is an organisation that didn’t modify its founding Treaty since Washington 1949. The text is written so well, in a juridical English so general and broad that the text could be applicable during the fall of the Berlin wall, the end of the Cold War, the explosion of Soviet Union into independent states, the formal disappearance of the Warsaw Pact and the enlargement policy, which included former communist states in order to achieve the vision of Europe as a whole, free and at peace. For comparison purposes, the EU Treaty has been amended each time when a new wave of enlargement took place and at each step of further integration of existing member states or when a new institution was put in place.

Enlargement is stipulated in Article 10 “The Parties may, by unanimous agreement, invite any other European State in a position to further the principles of this Treaty and to contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area to accede to this Treaty”. Here the conditions are clear: unanimous decision by the member states, respecting the principles of the Treaty and to contribute to the security of North Atlantic Area. In real terms, a country can accede to NATO if it respects the principles and contribute to the security of the Alliance. And there are conditions imposed by the Alliance and member states regarding the level of democracy, human rights, minority rights observance, as well as market economy, rule of law, independence of the judiciary and fighting corruption.

In this case, I think that a broad range of effective reforms, civilian control of armed forces, a comprehensive security sector reform, a professional and qualitative army and related security and intelligence services, observing democratic rules and an effective control, not politicization, of Armed forces, security and intelligence agencies is requested. Second, the added value of the new aspirant country should be proved according its geography, military capability and added value to the Alliance. In order for Ukraine to make its case, reforms in all the fields of activity are requested, including those already started under the Association Agreement and the DCFTA with the EU, as well as those undertaken for obtaining visa liberalization.

But there is a very specific one related to the territory of the state that is supposed to enter NATO, because any aspirant member is joining the Alliance as a country, meaning it has a certain people, territory, control of its borders, political will and it is will of the citizens to join NATO. There is no precedent when a country could join NATO without the full control of its borders or its capacity to defend itself and bring an added value to the common defense of the allies. However that does not mean that Ukraine could not join NATO if the Washington Treaty conditions are met. But this would require the member countries to take an open minded approach and accept some conditions. This has to be true for all the member countries.

Coming Back to the Basics: Territorial Defense

Ukraine is a partner of the Alliance, it’s a member in the Partnership for Peace, developed its own individual partnership plan, has an Individual Dialogue and Distinctive Partnership with the Alliance and NATO has emphasized the relation between Ukraine and NATO in the field of defense. For instance, in Art.24 of the Wales Summit Declaration it is already stated that “An independent, sovereign, and stable Ukraine, firmly committed to democracy and the rule of law, is key to Euro-Atlantic security. At a time when Ukraine’s security is being undermined, the Alliance continues its full support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders.” Those are the conditions of a recognised contribution to the Alliance’s security and defense.

Regarding the same path of reforms, Art 26 notes that “We (NATO – our note) encourage Ukraine to further promote an inclusive political process, based on democratic values and respect for human rights, minorities, and the rule of law”. And the relation is further described in Art. 29:“Ukraine is a long-standing and distinctive partner of the Alliance. At our meeting here in Wales, we met with President Poroshenko and issued a joint statement. We highly value Ukraine’s past and present contributions to all current Allied operations as well as to the NATO Response Force. We encourage and will continue to support Ukraine’s implementation of wide-ranging reforms through the Annual National Programme, in the framework of our Distinctive Partnership. We have launched additional efforts to support the reform and transformation of the security and defense sectors and promote greater interoperability between Ukraine’s and NATO forces. These efforts are de- signed to enhance Ukraine’s ability to provide for its own security. We welcome Ukraine’s participation in the Partnership Interoperability Initiative and Ukraine’s interest in the enhanced opportunities within the Initiative, and look forward to its future participation.”

So NATO does not only take into consideration the will of the Ukrainian people and political class to join the Alliance, and does not only repeats the conditions to get closer to the alliance, but also takes concrete steps in order to assist Ukraine meet the conditions needed in order to defend itself and to eventually join the Alliance, if it wants to do so. And the commitments can be found everywhere in the documents of the 2014 NATO Wales Summit and following reunions, at all levels.

This is linked with the Alliance’s return to the original and most important mission, that of defending the citizens and territory of its member states. In this regard, I think that Ukraine can make a case of its contribution to the security and common defense of the Alliance once its reforms are concluded: it could play the role of the defender of Western values and the new border of the Alliance between East and West.

The Border of Europe: 
Enforced, Militarized, Defendable

We are coming back to the very core argument of this evolution: the will of the political class and the citizens of Ukraine to join NATO. We are talking about those citizens living under the rule of the legitimate authorities from Kyiv, because in NATO’s case it’s about sovereignty, not limited sovereignty, about independent decision, not the one of people leaving in occupied territories, expressing their will under the threat of a gun.

In fact, Russia has changed the spiritualized border between East and West, described by the EU Eastern Partnership as an area of passage and influences for all the actors, where citizens of the independent states should choose their path and solutions for security and prosperity (according to the Paris Chart for a New Europe, agreed and signed by Russia). Moscow launched a military attack to fight the free will expressed by the Ukrainian people and the legitimate elected Ukrainian authorities to join the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area of the EU, a step that was supposedly blocking Putin’s aspiration to rebuild the Soviet Union in a different format under its authoritarian control.

This type of action was followed by the consecutive militarization of the annexed territory of Crimea and territories of Eastern Ukraine, subject to the military aggression of Russian troops, with Russian weapons, under Russian command and with Russian proxies all around, in a hybrid war led by Russia against Ukraine. It announced that the next type of border between East and West that Moscow proposes to the World and to Europe is an enforced, militarized, and defendable one. This border is effectively a new Berlin Wall, but with a length of a few thousand kilometers.

In this context, Ukraine has to be offered the possibility to defend itself and to that end a line of defense west of the existing demarcation line in Donbas and North of Crimea should be put in place as soon as possible. I am in favor of a transfer of defensive weapons and training of the National Guard, Defense Forces and Interior Forces of Ukraine in order to allow them to be able to face a new potential continuation of the aggression, involving Russian troops and its proxies, beyond the area currently controlled by Russia.

The weapons delivered to Ukraine for defense could not be used in order to free the territory of Donbas by force. This is not possible since every upgrade of troops and weapons and any attempt to liquidate the separatist region will make Russia introduce more troops and weapons, and to lead a bloodshed in any direct confrontation. On the order hand, it is legitimate to assist Ukraine in order to create the capabilities, both military trained personal and necessary defense weapons, needed to defend itself against any further attack and attempt to take more of its territory. And this could constitute the future ad hoc – de facto border between East and West.

This doesn’t mean that Ukraine should ever give up its rights to the territories defined by international law and internationally recognised borders. All NATO documents mentioned the fact that in Crimea we are witnessing an annexation by Russia of a territory of Ukraine and in Donbas the solution should include Ukraine retaking the full control of its border. Kyiv’s will to improve its capacity to control and defend the part of the territory that is free now, with NATO’s help and assistance, while reforming its government bodies and embracing EU’s and NATO’s principles, if that is the choice of its citizens, is not harming, neither altering, the perspective of regaining, in time, control over all its territory.

Ukraine: Threats and Opportunities

This perspective comes with an important threat. If the conflict is here to stay, which seems to be the case, the population that lives in Eastern Ukraine and in Crimea will be cut from the sovereign space of Ukraine for some decade or so and will be alienated as it is the case in other frozen conflicts such as Transnistria, in the Eastern districts of the Republic of Moldova, for instance. This population will become dependent on the financial allocations from Moscow and will be de facto integrated in Russia.

On the other hand, the territory that could be defended and stays under the control of the legitimate authorities in Kyiv could be reformed, norms could be adopted, institutions created and a real presence of those democratic European and euro-Atlantic institutions could be enacted. It is a major step towards accession to EU and NATO. By sticking to the commitments undertaken in the Association Agreement, DCFTA and those needed for Visa liberalization Ukraine is seizing an opportunity to get closer to EU and NATO and, why not, with a decision adopted sometimes on the mid to long run by the member states, to become full member of both the organisations. This can happen even before Kyiv regains full control over its internationally recognized territory. One cannot offer to an actor external to the Alliance the veto right on the internal decision linked to Ukraine’s accession, at least the decision referring to the part of the territory controlled by the legitimate authorities.

In Crimea the strong disapproval of the territorial annexation by force of weapons and this type of Anschluss with guns pointed at the local population is a good strategy to adopt. The oppression of human and minority rights can also be invoked, especially those of the Crimean Tartars. In Donbas, on the other side of the de facto internal border, the Minsk agreement should be implemented. This means the withdrawal of all military/paramilitary groups, forces and weapons from the area, and the restoration of full control of the Russian – Ukrainian frontier. It also implies the observance of the principles that Moscow recognizes at least in speech, according to its Ministry of Foreign Affairs: the territorial integrity, independence and sovereignty of Ukraine. It rules out any conditions requested for “the Russians beyond the borders”, any pretended rights that support some great power interests and any new type of Brezhnev Doctrine of limited sovereignty that Russia wants to impose on Ukraine and on other post-soviet independent states.

If Russia rejects this perspective, the cease fire, the full observance of the Minsk agreements, or tries to create a new situation in which it trades peace in exchange of limiting the sovereignty of Ukraine regarding its choices and options for security, namely joining NATO, or prosperity, namely joining the EU, there is solid ground and good arguments for Kiev to proceed with asking for EU/ NATO admission. Even if it does not have control over its entire territory at that moment, this does not exclude the perspective of reclaiming its full territory in time. It is a hard choice for Ukraine, it will be an equally hard choice for NATO and the EU, once reforms are done and a formal request is filed to join these organisations, but extraordinary conditions and special times require extraordinary solutions. And this could be one such situation, provided that the Ukrainian sovereign decision making bodies decide so and the population supports the decision.

The study was conducted within the project Strategic Discussion Club in the Regions, implemented by the Institute of World Policy in partnership with the NATO Liaison Office in Ukraine and with the support of the Government of Norway.

Opinions expressed in this publication do not reflect the official positions of NATO and the Government of Norway.