Ukrainians should agree to NATO; if they do, the alliance must let ‘em in

Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic Future: International Forum II

Ukrainians should agree to NATO; if they do, the alliance must let ‘em in

Borys Wrzesnewskyj

Featured remarks by Borys Wrzesnewskyj, Member of Canada’s Parliament from Etobicoke, Ontario, delivered at Ukraine’s Euro¬Atlantic Future Forum II in Kyiv Ukraine-edited & reprinted in Kyiv Post.

Over 60 years ago in the post-WWII wasteland that was Europe, a new threat emerged to the continent’s weakened democracies. It took the form of a superpower with more arms and battle-hardened divisions than Western Europe had in totality. This threat from the East was all the more dangerous as it was accompanied by an expansionist communist ideology and a Soviet political leadership willing to test Western resolve.

It was a time when British Prime Minister Winston Churchill warned of potential war, and strategists realized that Soviet army divisions could reach the English channel within 60 days.

It was in this atmosphere and to counter this threat that Canadian officials spoke of a defensive regional security organization under Article 51 of the UN Charter that would pool the economic and political resources of North Atlantic democracies.

Canada encouraged our American allies to abandon the resurgent tendency towards isolationism, pointing out the common creed that bound together the lives of those on both sides of the Atlantic.

With the fall of Czechoslovakia and the Berlin blockade, the resolve on the part of the Americans to join the Brits and Canadians in creating an alliance encircling the North Atlantic finally emerged.

However “old fashioned” military alliances were not enough for Canada. Lester B. Pearson, Canada’s Foreign Minister and future PM envisioned much more: a treaty which offered the opportunity to “promote the economic well-being of peoples to achieve social justice… on the side of peace and progress.”

Two different and competing versions for a NATO were debated. Canada attached great importance to a vision of an alliance which would embrace economic, social and cultural fields; a NATO which, in Pearson’s words, would “not be solely an instrument of unimaginative militarism.”

It would be a NATO that would build a sense of community and provide the confidence to build institutions to create an enduring political commonwealth. Most British and especially American negotiators saw Pearson’s vision of a broader Atlantic community as a distraction from the “real politik” of the situation. These negotiators believed a military alliance was needed only to counter the Soviet threat. In April 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty was signed.

The alliance’s mandate was defensive and military and the all-important Article 5 stated “an attack on one or more shall be considered an attack against all…” In a consolation to Canadian sensitivities Article 2 was included. Virtually ignored over the decades it is known as “the Canadian Article.” It states that “the parties will bring about a better understanding of the principles upon which their institutions are founded and will seek to eliminate conflict in their economic policies and encourage economic collaboration.”

In ignoring Article 2, NATO created a political and economic void in the alliance.

However, Pearson’s vision proved to be prescient. During the decades that followed this void was to be filled by an economic and political European Union.

Through the second half of the twentieth century, NATO became the shield behind which an economic and political EU, although outside of formal NATO structures, could patiently develop.

Its evolution began with the 1950 European Coal and Steel community, the 1957 Treaty of Rome, the establishment of the European Parliament in 1979 and finally the Treaty on European Union signed in Maastricht in December 1991.

December 1991 was perhaps the most important month in modern European history, not only because it witnessed the signing of the Maastricht Treaty, but because the battle between two competing visions for Europe was finally decided.

It was the month that gave birth to the modern EU. It was also the month that Ukrainians overwhelmingly voted for independence, ensuring the demise of the Soviet Union.

Since the Soviet collapse, today it is NATO which sometimes faces public questioning. There are those who say that NATO’s raison d’etre has disappeared; that NATO stood against an imperialistic Soviet threat, which no longer exists.

These debates illustrate an inability to value the other critical historic roles NATO has played and can continue to play. NATO’s expanding alliance acted as a suppressor of intra-Alliance differences.

For instance, notwithstanding serious French objections, the entry of West Germany into NATO in 1955 led to a Europe which, for the first time in centuries, has not only a demilitarized, but a non-existent Franco-German border.

It’s important to acknowledge NATO’s role as an expanding shield behind which nascent democracies and free-market societies can flourish, no longer subject to regional threats. These countries will also have the knowledge that the economic and political benefits of European Union membership will surely follow. It is for these reasons that former Warsaw Pact countries and several former Soviet republics have joined or wish to join NATO.

Thus NATO does in fact have a continuing raison d’etre.

In the 1940s, Canada, although separated by the Atlantic and facing no direct threat, was nonetheless a prime initiator of an alliance that would act as a shield for post WWII Europe.

Today no one would question the wisdom of this decision and the resultant peace and prosperity. From the 1950s through to the 1980s, Canada was a country upon whose shores waves of hundreds of thousands of political refugees from Central and East Europe landed, searching for the opportunity to live in peace, with dignity, respect and prosperity.

It is due to our belief in these creeds and our understanding of the aspirations of the ancestral homelands of these Canadians, that we stood steadfast in supporting the former communist Warsaw Pact countries’ ascensions to NATO. Today these countries are stable democratic and free market states whose future as a part of the EU is unquestionable. It is for these reasons that Canada will be steadfast in supporting a Ukraine which wishes to embrace our transatlantic community.

On Dec. 2, 1991, Canada was the first among our NATO allies to formally acknowledge Ukraine’s independence. During the 2004 Orange Revolution Canada became the first Western country to announce an unprecedented electoral mission of 500 volunteers in support of Ukraine’s threatened democratic processes and institutions. Today, Canada’s government calls upon our NATO partners to endorse a fragile democratic and free-market Ukraine’s ascension into NATO, a decision that will be Ukraine’s to make and not to be vetoed by others.

I personally do not understand those among our allies who question Ukraine’s NATO ascension due to energy worries or threats. These are the same countries which not that many decades ago faced exponentially greater threats; notwithstanding which Canada and the Alliance embraced them. Due to the Alliance’s embrace, these countries’ populations are now among the most free and prosperous on the globe.

Others find excuses in Ukraine’s politics. They say “What a mess!” These particular naysayers should realize that this is in fact a healthy sign of a nascent democratic state. How refreshing the messiness of Ukraine’s political processes when compared to the rule by decree in neighboring Belarus!

The 20th century was tragic for humanity, in particular for Ukraine. It was a century that saw the bloodiest battles of two World Wars fought on Ukraine’s territory, the Holodomor, generations of intelligentsia and spiritual leaders destroyed. Ukraine is a country that lost its independence five times in the last century and paid for that loss with the lives of millions.

Ukraine is confronted with a historical choice: to join the North Atlantic union, or not. To join a NATO that has historically justified itself as a guarantor of independence, democracy and prosperity of its member states. It’s up to Ukraine to decide whether or not it wants to join the family of democratic and free market NATO countries. In the 1940s, Canada said “yes” to the union with France and England, in the 1950s, Canada said “yes” to Germany, and in the 1990s, Canada said “yes” to the countries of Central Europe and the Baltic States. And in 2008, Canada is ready to say “yes” to Ukraine.