One of the pieces of advice coming out of the first Black Sea Security Conference, held under the Crimean Platform was to acknowledge where we are.

I would, however, add that NATO and the EU need to realize that they are exposed to a Russian Hybrid War. Russia has weaponized nearly everything, from diplomacy, politics, economy, energy, food, and security, to information and religion.

NATO has proven itself less militarily capable than expected, having stepped back from its past obligations, running out of the weapons and ammunition it is able to provide to Ukraine, offering only non-military support to Ukraine. The Alliance is showing signs of discord when unity and collective efforts are urgently needed.

European and US defense industry is unable to meet the present demand for military equipment. The EU has proven itself more important for European security than the Alliance. The USA and Europe are presently not setting up Ukraine for victory on the battlefield, denying it not only the tools it need to operate efficiently against a 3-dimensional threat but also the means in sufficient quantity to maintain the momentum when the counteroffensive starts.

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All of the above are crucial to acknowledge when considering Ukrainian NATO membership.

I have long been in favor of a future Ukrainian NATO membership, but have previously argued against its accession until Ukraine had completed much-needed reforms. I made this argument before NATO proved itself able to act as a political alliance only and before I came to realize that NATO itself urgently needs to reform itself if it is to be able to truly act as a military alliance.

Video Reportedly Shows Ukrainians Destroying Million-Dollar Russian Akatsiya Self-Propelled Gun
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Video Reportedly Shows Ukrainians Destroying Million-Dollar Russian Akatsiya Self-Propelled Gun

The drone footage captures a significant explosion followed by smaller ones after Ukrainian forces struck the self-propelled gun.

At the time, I stressed that Ukrainian accession is probably the only diplomatic tool that might end Russian aggression. Additionally, I argued that Ukraine’s Armed Forces would strengthen the Alliance’s ability to conduct collective defense, crisis management, and cooperative security. That assessment is today more valid than ever.

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The asymmetry between the strategic messaging from the Ukrainian delegation and its international partners was one of my takeaways from the Black Sea Security Conference on 12-13 April in Bucharest. The former was focused on resolving the war and re-establishing peace and stability. It discussed ends, ways and means using simple, clear and to-the-point arguments. Its partners were unable to respond in kind and focused their contributions on broad policy statements offering little substance to resolve the shared security challenges.

When the international community is still unable to support the Ukrainian end state – the liberation of all occupied territories and restoration of its internationally recognized borders to those of 1991 – it supports my assessment that NATO urgently needs to be transformed back to the military alliance it was during the Cold War.

That transformation is impossible until Ukraine becomes a part of the Alliance.

The Membership Action Plan (MAP) is a NATO program of advice, assistance and practical support tailored to the individual needs of countries wishing to join the Alliance. It was launched in April 1999 at the NATO summit in Washington to help countries seeking NATO membership, to prepare themselves. It was based on the experience gained during the accession process for Czechia, Hungary and Poland, which became members in 1999.

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MAP helped prepare Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia to become members in 2004, as well as Albania and Croatia, in April 2009 and Montenegro, which started its MAP in December 2009, securing membership in June 2017. The Republic of North Macedonia, which had been participating in the MAP since 1999, joined NATO in March 2020. Currently, Bosnia & Herzegovina is participating in the MAP.

MAP is, however, a peacetime procedure that is not fit for purpose in war. The accession of Finland is evidence that new procedures are not only needed but also very much possible when European security is challenged.

Russia’s war in Europe changes everything. While NATO states that the Euro-Atlantic area is not at peace, the EU stresses that Europe is exposed to a Russian hybrid war. Russia started a war in 2014 to emerge victorious at the peril of Europe.

The West cannot afford to allow Russia to win and Ukraine to be defeated. The Prime Minister of Poland, Mateusz Morawiecki, framed it as follows:

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"If we lose Ukraine, we will lose peace for decades. Failure in Ukraine could be the beginning of the end of the "golden age" of the West."

Why?

As I have previously argued, this would result in Russian forces being deployed along the Polish borders; Russian military power moving 1,000 km closer to Warsaw, Berlin, Paris, Brussels and London; Russian Air Defense systems covering a greater part of Central Europe; the Black Sea turning into a Russian lake. It would create a belt of constant instability along the border of the EU and NATO.

Equally important, it would give Russia access to an immense wealth of rare minerals, gas, oil and coal resources, as well as the “breadbasket of Europe”. It would gain control over the Ukrainian defense industry helping it to restore its military power. A victory would allow it to solve its fundamental demographic problems through occupation and oppression.

A hypothetical Russian victory in Ukraine would create the preconditions for Russia’s great power status. It would enable it to continue its aggressive foreign policy at Europe’s cost. A Russian victory would be seen as a victory over NATO, undermining the Alliance's ability to safeguard the freedom and security of its member states.

Part of the MAP to join NATO includes the requirement for prospective members to peacefully resolve any outstanding international, ethnic and territorial disputes. 

The latter has been seen as an invitation for Russia to instigate wars and conflicts in Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine. It gives Russia the opportunity to deny those countries that neighbor Russia the protection offered by NATO from its aggressive foreign policy.

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NATO needs to review the precondition for countries to peacefully resolve outstanding international, ethnic and territorial disputes. Russia’s war against its democratic neighbors should be an argument in favor of – not against - membership. It would effectively discourage Russia from instigating conflicts that destabilize Europe.

Countries seeking NATO membership must be able to demonstrate that they have a functioning democratic political system based on a market economy; the fair treatment of minority populations; a commitment to the peaceful resolution of conflicts; the ability and willingness to make a military contribution to NATO operations; and a commitment to democratic civil-military relations and institutional structures.

While being less than perfect in some respects, Ukraine is more than perfect in what really matters: it is a democracy safeguarding the freedom and security of NATO’s member states. Most members of the military alliance are unable to uphold their own security or provide meaningful contributions to NATO’s collective defense. Some are not even functioning democracies. The Alliance desperately needs Ukraine.

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In my humble opinion, it is impossible to imagine a Western military alliance without Ukraine. It is, however, less difficult to imagine one without several other European countries that have failed and continue to fail to invest in security and defense.

It would be a mistake to take NATO for granted. In my opinion, it is not a given that it will survive the war in Europe. The Alliance has played an immensely important role in protecting security and stability in Europe since 1949. This was possible because its members were committed to the task and invested in the costs of security and defense. Many have, however, failed to meet their obligations for decades. It will take decades to remedy their shortcomings as the pledge to invest 2% of GDP in their defense budgets continue to shift further into the future.

NATO needs to reinvent itself as a military alliance or risk becoming irrelevant.  

At this juncture in history, Ukraine’s membership should no longer be in question.

The question should be: Which other European countries deserve to join Ukraine in the future US-led military alliance that replaces NATO?

The UK obviously. Poland and most of the Eastern Europe of course. But who else has met their commitment to defend Trans-Atlantic security and stability?

Appeasement does not stop dictators; it only increases their appetite. It has failed to secure peace. It is time for a new strategy that includes Ukraine.

 The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.

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