Presentation during the videoconference "Supporting the Euro-Atlantic Integration and NATO Enlargement of Ukraine NATO Experiences in the Member Countries of the Carpathian Euroregion", 18 April 2007, Uzhgorod (Ukraine) - Nyiregyaza (Hungary) - Nagybanya (Romania)

Olexiy Yizhak

Ukraine's hesitation towards NATO membership: breaking a vicious circle

Democratic changes in Ukraine opened for it NATO's door, but paradoxically blocked Ukraine's internal decision to enter. This unexpected result of the "Orange revolution" causes confusion. Possibly, Ukraine is the only country in Eastern Europe which democratic transition resulted in diminishing public support for joining the Alliance At present, only about 15 % of Ukrainians are firmly in favour of this idea comparing up to 30 % five years ago when an official decision was proclaimed to start Ukraine's way to NATO membership.

Before the "Orange revolution" Ukraine's leaders used rhetoric about Euroatlantic integration as a means to avoid external pressure for democratic reforms. In fact, they did not want NATO membership and believed that it would never happen due to reasons in NATO itself. Side effect was that proponents of NATO in Ukraine obtained considerable freedom to move forward their own Euroatlantic agenda. People from Foreign and Defence Ministries were sincere when they knocked at NATO's door and asked for "signals" from the Alliance. A good share of the work on practical preparations for NATO membership had been done before the "Orange revolution", and none of political parties dared challenge an official course. Possibly, if before 2004 the Alliance somehow had invited Ukraine and Leonid Kuchma somehow had given an appropriate order the country would have marched to NATO without internal opposition.

The "Orange revolution" endowed political parties with freedom to follow their own policies. This is the great democratic change. Now Ukraine has functioning democratic institutions, which are possibly imperfect, but stable and able to survive severe political crises. The side effect is that Ukrainian policy towards NATO is no longer produced by bureaucracies in central ministries and local administrations. It is political groups with their own nascent apparatus who are responsible for internal situation in Ukraine and major moves in foreign policy. Regrettably, political freedom has not cultivated among them a sense of responsibility for national security. For political parties relations with NATO are first of all issue of internal political struggle and not of national security and strategy.

Under new constitutional system the President keeps control of security sector and bears the primary responsibility for foreign policy. But he cannot command Ukraine to join the Alliance. Neither can the Prime Minister, Head of the Parliament or the leader of opposition. But as leaders of their respective political forces these politicians can bring Ukraine to NATO if they decide to do so. There is no single centre in Ukraine where decisions about NATO are made. Euroatlantic integration of Ukraine is a distributed and complicated process, but there are two focal points for concentration of efforts. These are public opinion and attitudes of elite.

This month it will be two years as Ukraine entered Intensified Dialogue with NATO on membership issues. In technical terms Ukraine is well prepared to start Membership Action Plan and be successful in preparations for actual membership. In recent years Ukraine has launched deep reform of defence and security sector along the guidelines developed together with NATO. For last five years Ukraine runs its own formal mechanism of Euroatlantic integration called NATO-Ukraine Action Plan which is fulfilled through annual Target Plans. This is very similar to MAP and Annual National Programs. In fact, Target Plan 2007 is the First Annual National Program of Ukraine, which was prepared in 2006 and preliminary agreed with NATO in expectation of prompt joining of MAP.

Today, the main obstacle on Ukraine's way to the Alliance is the political deadlock inside the country. This deadlock is twofold. On the one hand, political parties in their permanent struggle exploit anti-NATO sentiments formed in previous years and thus foster them. On the other hand, they are forced to follow this self-made anti-NATO mainstream, even if they do not want to do so. Paradoxically, only one of the five political parties in the Parliament and the smallest one of them is unconditionally inimical to the Alliance. But all the parties have to run inside this vicious circle producing anti-NATO sentiments during elections and consuming them when they are in office.

In Ukraine, support for EU is several times higher then support for NATO. It suggests that anti-NATO mood in Ukrainian society is artificial and may be surmounted. Sociologists say that Ukrainians form their attitudes towards NATO under influence of political leaders. For example, there are estimates that if acting Prime Minister declare that he is in favour of NATO membership public support for NATO will rise drastically. Similar would be effect of sayings and doing of any influential politician in Ukraine.

So, to break the vicious circle mentioned above it is necessary, first, to eliminate artificial prejudice towards NATO in public opinion, and second, to convince major politicians not to exploit this prejudice. On a large scale, surmounting obstacles in Ukraine's relations with NATO is an issue of maturity and responsibility of Ukrainian political and economic elite.

Copyright 2007 by DB NISS