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Why Ukraine Should Be Offered a Roadmap to NATO Accession?

At the moment, there are good reasons to give consideration not only to the Alliance’s open-door policy but the proposed roadmap for Ukraine’s future membership — sort of Ukraine’s Compatibility plan with NATO — as NATO develops its Strategic Concept for 2030. Such a roadmap would confirm the destination point set within the Bucharest Summit as to Ukraine and Georgia’s future membership in the Alliance and allow the sides to determine Ukraine’s best route towards this point through the implementation of a certain array of reforms. These issues were explored in research conducted by the New Europe Centre.

The approval of such a “route” is important for several reasons. First of all, it will provide a powerful boost to Ukraine’s pro-reform forces, just as the Visa Liberalisation Action Plan with the European Union did years before, launching Ukraine’s most important anti-corruption reforms. Ukraine’s recent experience in conducting reforms demonstrates that even due to the current level of partnership with NATO, Ukraine managed to launch an array of important transformations: from having a civilian defence minister, to the start of the first, in the years of independence, in-depth reform of special services.

Second, such a Compatibility plan would send a serious signal to Russia that its policy of instigating conflicts in order to block the integration of neighbouring countries to NATO will no longer be effective. Therefore, Russia will lose an important argument for provoking and maintaining conflicts in the post-Soviet space. It is also important to remember that Russia’s attack on Ukraine — and occupation of 7% of its territory — happened when Kyiv was officially nonaligned. Such a roadmap might include a Membership Action Plan, but given the excessive toxicity of this instrument, and the overall uniqueness of the cases of Ukraine and Georgia, it might be the self-sufficient document, created by analogy with MAP or reliance on another, already existing instrument. This instrument could be a reinforcement of existing Annual National Programmes, which were conceived as the basis for the Membership Action Plan at the moment of its creation in 1999, and have similar structures to the MAP.

NATO could make a first step in this direction by recognising that Ukraine has all the practical tools for potential membership in the Alliance, as was done in the communiqué on Georgia following the 2016 Warsaw Summit. Such a roadmap would not contain clear time parameters, but it should prepare Ukraine to join the Alliance once the relevant political preconditions for this step arise both on the part of Ukraine and, no less, on the part of NATO. It is high time the Alliance consider the risks not only of future NATO expansion, including Ukraine (and Georgia), but especially the risks of future non-inviting of these states to join the Alliance, which in the long-run may be no less serious.


  1. It is time to determine Ukraine’s path to membership. In 2008 at the Bucharest summit, Ukraine received a firm promise of its future NATO membership. Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, begun in 2014, exposed the futility of the “do not provoke Moscow” approach due to the lack of a pathway forward to membership for Ukraine. As NATO develops its strategic concept for the next decade, Ukraine deserves to see the Alliance’s open-door policy put into practice by receiving a roadmap — sort of Ukraine’s Compatibility plan with NATO. Such a roadmap could be based on a clear reform plan, whose implementation would allow Ukraine to accede to the Alliance — through the Membership Action Plan or without it — as soon as the appropriate preconditions arise on the part of both Ukraine and NATO.
  2. Ukraine in NATO adds value to transatlantic security. Today, neither Ukraine, nor NATO itself question the important role Ukraine plays in strengthening global security. Among Ukraine’s most important contributions to global and EuroAtlantic security are the renunciation of nuclear weapons, pandemic assistance (air transportation), participation in all major NATO missions, experience in combating hybrid threats, real and active combat experience, defence spending more than 2% of GDP, and a widespread Ukrainian commitment to NATO’s democratic values.
  3. NATO as a driver of reforms. Providing Ukraine a clear roadmap to Alliance membership (Ukraine’s Compatibility plan with NATO) will increase the speed of adoption of the country’s reform agenda. NATO integration will allow Ukraine to complete reforms launched as a condition of its visa-free regime with the EU. Ukraine’s roadmap to NATO could be at the heart of a new conditionality approach: with more successfully implemented reforms come increased chances of membership.
  4. Rapid pace of military interoperability with the Alliance. Ukraine is showing real momentum strengthening its military interoperability with NATO, evidenced, in particular by the overall level of implementation of NATO standardisation agreements. Today, about 19% of all existing Alliance agreements have been implemented in Ukraine, close to or even more than in some new NATO member states (for example, North Macedonia).
  5. Ukrainians support NATO membership. In the last seven years, the number of Ukrainians who support NATO has remained high (roughly half of Ukrainians support NATO integration). This indicates a conscious, irreversible choice by Ukrainians, rather than a temporary reaction in the face of Russia’s external threat. In 2008, Ukraine was denied a MAP, in part because of the low level of NATO support among its population.
  6. Enhanced Opportunities Partnership does not stand in conflict with receiving a roadmap for membership. Today, Ukraine sits on two parallel tracks with NATO — as a partner country and as an aspirant country. Enhanced Opportunities Partnership (EOP) is a format of cooperation on the partner track, which cannot stand in the way of other formats that will bring Ukraine closer to membership in the Alliance. Furthermore, the EOP envisages countries achieving military interoperability first, for Ukraine future membership in NATO political interoperability is similarly important.
  7. To NATO, not necessarily through MAP. The topic of the Membership Action Plan has become too mythologised and toxic. The Annual National Programmes which Ukraine carries out are nearly identical to Membership Action Plan. New circumstances could prompt NATO to make a unique political decision allowing a country to join the Alliance on the basis of the roadmap of reforms offered by us (Ukraine’s Compatibility plan with NATO) or assessments of Annual National Programmes, having previously significantly improved both the ANPs themselves as a reform plan with clear priorities and indicators, and a mechanism for monitoring their implementation by NATO.
  8. Russia will de-facto lose the NATO veto power in the event of Ukraine (and Georgia) joining the Alliance. Indecision on the part of NATO as to Kyiv and Tbilisi’s membership prospects only gives Russia the belief that it has a veto power over NATO’s borders now and in the future. The existence of occupied territories should not be an obstacle on the path to membership, as it will only encourage third parties to create artificial conflicts in other countries pursuing cooperation with the Alliance. Ukraine’s pursuing sufficient diplomatic efforts to resolve Russian-inspired conflicts should also be considered positively.
  9. NATO’s non-enlargement is no guarantee of a peaceful Russia. It is critical to remember that Russia began its war against Ukraine when — as a matter of national policy — Ukraine was a non-aligned state. Today, Moscow in no way contributes to the settlement of conflict in the Transnistrian region of the Republic of Moldova, even though Moldova declared its neutrality in its Constitution. Not inviting Ukraine and Georgia to the Alliance increases the likelihood of Russian aggression against both states, as Moscow will realise that Kyiv and Tbilisi lack guarantees of security support.
  10. Membership with amendments. Opponents of Ukraine and Georgia’s NATO integration often bring up the 1995 Study on NATO Enlargement, which allegedly closes the doors to the Alliance for countries with ongoing “territorial disputes.” At the same time, the seventh paragraph of this study emphasises that there is no fixed set of criteria for inviting new member states — the decision is made strictly on a case-by-case basis. Also, historically, NATO has invited new member states while clarifying or amending NATO’s protocol of adoption. This was the case with Turkey in 1951. Appropriate interim solutions could be reached with respect to the occupied territories of Ukraine and Georgia under Article 5 of the Washington Treaty.

Source: New Europe Centre

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