NATO Hesitates over Rapid NATO Membership for Ukraine Due to US and Germany's Positions

Tuesday, 28 November 2023

Disagreements remain among the NATO allies concerning Ukraine’s rapid accession to the Alliance due to the stance taken by the US and Germany, which are insisting that the process should be determined by the conditions rather than political considerations.

As reported by Euractiv, NATO members have still not reached agreement on whether the reforms set out in the updated Annual National Programme are the conditions under which Ukraine may join NATO, or whether they are a tool to bring Kyiv closer to the Alliance, several NATO diplomats have stated.

According to one of the diplomats, this means that when the conditions are met with regard to implementation of the reforms that NATO is to agree on with Ukraine, it will be possible to discuss Ukraine’s membership.

Other sources stated that the reform programme does not contain a list of conditions, but is a "pointer" or "tool" for tracking progress and keeping NATO leaders informed.

Meanwhile, the description of the reform sectors generally leaves room for manoeuvre by NATO member states, since they are not bound to a strict assessment of progress but are more likely to express their political opinions.

Euractiv remarks that with fewer details to check, there is also a risk that the reforms will never be enough, and that will make it harder to give the green light for accession.

"At the end of the day, it remains a political decision," a third NATO diplomat said, citing, for example, delays with Turkey and Hungary ratifying Sweden’s membership bid due to national interests.

Another NATO diplomat said that even if the war with Russia ended tomorrow and Ukraine met all the conditions listed in the reform plan, NATO members would still have to give their consent to invite Ukraine, which may be a difficult process.

On Wednesday, 29 November, NATO and Ukraine are expected to sign a list of the reforms that Kyiv has to implement for its future NATO accession.

Euractiv says this step should push Kyiv to reform its armed forces and other security sectors, and to provide a checklist that NATO members will be able to track. The document will not be made public.

The four NATO diplomats said the process of implementing the annual programme of conditions is less stringent than the NATO Membership Action Plan that candidates had to adhere to in the past.

Compared to previous reform plans, Ukraine’s annual plan is a lot shorter and less detailed – 10 pages rather than 300, listing areas of priorities rather than a checklist, which made it very difficult for Ukraine to demonstrate its successes, one person familiar with the discussions said.

So it will be easier for Ukraine to demonstrate its achievements before NATO’s Washington summit next summer.

The many reforms include guaranteeing civil control of the armed forces, drafting a national defence and security strategy, working on the interoperability of the armed forces with those of NATO members, and anti-corruption reforms (changes to the judiciary, asset declaration for politically exposed persons).

According to Euractiv, the protection of national minorities is also included in the reform plan alongside human rights and democracy considerations. Budapest regularly raises this as a prerequisite for building any closer link between NATO, the European Union and Kyiv.

Earlier, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg reported that Ukraine's allies in the North Atlantic Alliance are to agree on recommendations for the reforms that Ukraine needs to implement to become ready for NATO membership.

Prior to that, an updated reform plan for Ukraine’s future accession to NATO was discussed at the Ukraine-NATO Council in October.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin stated after October’s Ukraine Defence Contact Group meeting that several "capability coalitions" for Kyiv would be created, particularly for training the Ukrainian Air Force.

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