NATO membership: Bush's goodbye gift to Ukraine?
On December 1, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Ukraine and Georgia will eventually join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, but they have a “long road” ahead to meet the entry criteria.
The Bush administration has begun the final push to accomplish one of its most important goals in Europe, that of encircling Russia with NATO countries. According to the New York Times, “the United States has started an unexpected diplomatic initiative in Europe, urging NATO allies to offer … Ukraine membership in the alliance without going through a lengthy process and fulfilling a long list of requirements.” Now, the question is whether it would make sense for NATO to take such an action, and would this produce a split in NATO.
Any measure to bypass the requirements through which all NATO countries had to go may cause an outrage in the ranks of the organisation as well as set a dangerous precedent.
The purpose of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is not to create a coalition and to wage war, but rather to avoid it. Condoleezza Rice's proposal to accept Ukraine in NATO's ranks seems to be putting the organization's unity and the security of its members at risk. Article 10 of the North Atlantic Treat Organization signed in Washington D.C. in 1949 states the following on enlargement of the organisation: “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. (…)”
Ukraine's involvement in the war in Georgia in August of 2008 has not helped Ukraine's chances of getting the approval of top ranking European members of NATO. European nations, although condemning Russia's actions, have stayed away from committing their forces to the conflict, and would like to avoid doing so if possible. In addition, Kiev's outcry about a possible Russian attack on Crimea has made some members scratch their heads and ask themselves whether they really want to put themselves at risk of an open conflict with Russia.
Unlike the Western European nations, the Baltic States, along with Poland and the Czech Republic have expressed support for Washington's proposal to speed up the process by bypassing the necessary requirements. However, Western European members of NATO are not looking to expand the organisation and to create a circle around Russia, but to create a secure alliance which will make potential enemies think twice before attacking member countries. This difference in opinions within the organisation could create a split that would affect its unity further down the road.
It is interesting to see what the mentioned requirements are. From the long list on the official NATO website, the membership action plan known as MAP states the following:
Aspirant countries are expected to achieve certain goals in the political and economic fields. These include settling any international, ethnic or external territorial disputes by peaceful means; demonstrating a commitment to the rule of law and human rights; establishing democratic control of their armed forces; and promoting stability and well-being through economic liberty, social justice and environmental responsibility.
In recent months the Ukrainian government has collapsed. Also, according to some polls, 60% of Ukrainians oppose NATO membership. This in itself is evidence enough for most NATO members that Ukraine is not yet ready to join the organisation and that the country does not yet have laws and leadership which the people and the government are committed to.
Final push for Bush
It is not a surprise that the Bush administration has put Ukraine's NATO membership as one of its last top priorities in the region. In the past eight years Washington has put a lot of effort and capital into turning Ukraine into a pro-western country. The country's economy has grown and Ukraine developed a strong bond with Washington. Nevertheless, the US needs Ukraine's vote in NATO because Kiev will side with Washington on almost everything to keep the investments coming and White House's interest in Ukraine. America's aspiration to get NATO members to accept Ukraine into the organisation may be seen as egotistical, for European countries already feel secure enough with the members already in the alliance.
However, the US will gain another base close to Russia, which will allow Washington to put more pressure on Moscow regarding the issues most important to the White House in the region. NATO is a formidable force that will not be attacked by a rationally thinking nation, which will secure the American presence close to Russian borders. Ukrainian acceptance into NATO does nothing for European members of the alliance. Washington's proposal to allow Ukraine to bypass the official requirements for a country to join NATO may set a dangerous precedent for the alliance as well as endanger the unity of the organisation.