Ukraine and the Challenge of NATO Membership

Ukraine’s Quest for Mature Nation Statehood Roundtable VI:
“Ukraine’s Transition to an Established National Identity”

Ukraine and the Challenge of NATO Membership

James Sherr

Presentation by James Sherr, Fellow of the Conflict Studies Research Centre Defence Academy of the United Kingdom (1) delivered during the panel “Assessing Ukraine’s Prospects for Joining NATO” from Ukraine’s Quest for Mature Nation Statehood: Roundtable VI: Ukraine’s Transition to an Established National Identity, Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, Washington, D.C., Wednesday, 28 September, 2005

Ukraine’s membership of NATO will have a profound geopolitical significance. But Ukraine’s accession to NATO will not be based primarily on geopolitics.

It will be based on the view that each ally has about Ukraine: about the relationship between its state and society, about the capacity of its institutions, the strength of its democracy, the health of its economy and, of course, the character and quality of its armed forces, security sector and bodies of law enforcement.

The emphasis that NATO places on democracy, economy and society-an emphasis that is immediate and clear in the NATO-Ukraine Action Plan and Annual Target Plans-is not platitudinous.

Without public trust and economic resources, Ukraine will not have armed forces, security services, border services, customs, law enforcement and police that provide security.

Instead, these forces will be a source of insecurity for citizens, for the country as a whole and for neighbours. Remember the Soviet curse: ‘may you live on your salary’.

Most of those who work inside Ukraine’s force structures do not live on their salaries, and today they cannot. If the militsioner is paid a wage inconsistent with life, he will cheat rather than die.

If the state cannot fund the defence and security sector, somebody else will fund it, and the forces themselves will become entrepreneurial with the skills they have at their disposal.

If these forces are to be funded properly by the state, there must be a proper state budget. If there is to be a proper state budget, there must be real growth in the legal economy and there must be a taxation system that makes the legal economy more attractive than the illegal one. But if the issue were simply money, the issue would be relatively simple.

Unfortunately, it is very difficult, because 14 years after Ukraine declared its independence from the USSR, there is still a disjunction between existing capabilities and pressing needs, between habits of mind and aspirations, between the culture of power and the culture of democracy.

If the armed forces, security services or police are focused on the wrong goals, if they are commanded by the wrong people, if they work in the wrong way, then more money will simply produce more problems.

So NATO is concerned about, indeed preoccupied with, systemic change. And systemic change will be impossible without national coordination.

In the defence and security sector, the institution established by the Constitution to provide national coordination is the National Security and Defence Council (RNBO).

But it is no secret that in the past eight months, coordination has suffered (indeed, were it not for Serhiy Pyrozhkov, some of his colleagues and their hard working staffs, it might have been paralysed). And it is no accident that this decline in the RBNO’s effectiveness coincided with an increase in its powers.

It is evident that many people still do not understand the difference between coordination and control. The RNBO is designed to be the rudder of a defence and security system, the stabiliser that ensure that the country’s force structures pull in the same direction. This is very different from intrusion into departmental minutiae and interference in the business of ministers.

In this trying and complex endeavour, it is essential to work out a division of labour, and the RNBO must respect this division of labour as much as any other institution. Ukraine, moreover, needs depoliticised force structures. The RNBO’s job is to insulate the force structures from political pressure. It should not create it.

At ministerial level, the imperative is to develop-and indeed implement-programmes designed to increase professionalism and capacity. The institution most advanced in this enterprise is the core institution, the Ministry of Defence.

The Minister, Anatoliy Grytsenko, is both a radical reformer and a thorough professional. He has an acute intellect, an open mind, a strategic focus and a systematic approach. He has also had the good sense to amend many of the programmes he inherited rather than tear them up.

This makes extremely good sense in the Ukrainian context, where one of the greatest ills is the tendency of each new minister to dismantle everything that his predecessor has done. But even Grytsenko is finding it difficult to manage and encourage experienced professionals who are already in place. He needs them.

Yet many are products of a sovietised working culture that punishes initiative. Why should trained professionals struggle do constructive and creative work when, by doing so, they only risk exposing themselves to antagonism or dismissal by the next group that comes to power?

So long as that expectation survives, they will do what Soviet bureaucrats do best: temporise, circumvent or even sabotage attempts to change the status quo. Changing this working culture and its internal incentives will not be easy. It will be more difficult if, after March 2006, this minister is replaced by another.

I believe that NATO is impressed by the quality and direction of change in the Ministry of Defence. But it has not lost interest in three key questions.

FIRST, will this minister and others receive active and public high level support, or will the country’s highest authorities keep the door open to intriguers lobbying behind the backs of their superiors?

SECOND, will the defence budget finally match the reform effort? At the moment, there is no compelling need to increase the budget. But once the process is truly underway-certainly in two years time-steady, staged increases in budget allocations-allocations, not just authorisations-will be essential. The time for planning tomorrow’s allocations is today.

THIRD, will oversight mechanisms be created-executive and parliamentary, opens and effective ones-to ensure that allocations (for housing, training, equipment and maintenance) are spent as they should be?

When it comes to the rest of the security sector, the climate of scepticism that prevails in NATO countries has not yet been overcome. Up to now, Ukraine’s Minister of Internal Affairs, Yuriy Lutsenko, has earned a reputation as a committed democrat.

He has also demonstrated a determination to end the reign of corruption in the Ministry of Interior (MVS). But three questions need to be posed:

FIRST, are his goals realistic? It has not proved possible to eliminate corruption in American, British or Belgian police forces, and there is no reason to believe it will be possible to eliminate corruption in Ukrainian police forces either.

The realistic and fundamental goal must be to create a state of affairs where corruption is a matter of choice rather than a necessity of life, where it is possible both to live and live decently. So long as conditions make corruption unavoidable, the corruption eliminated today will return tomorrow.

SECOND, does the Minister know how to escape from this cycle? He has secured 5,000 resignations, he has dismissed 2,000 others, and 400 officials and officers of the MVS are under judicial investigation.

But does the Minister have a programme in place to bring roles, structures, capabilities, training and resources of the MVS and its numerous armed formations into balance? Until he does, the MVS will remain an incubator of corruption.

THIRD, if he has devised such a programme, does anybody know about it? Until a programme exists, until it is put before the Verkhovna Rada and the public, until it is scrutinised by experts and openly discussed, systematic change will remain an aspiration-and Euro-Atlantic standards of civil-democratic control will remain unfulfilled.

Equally complex difficulties beset the Security Services of Ukraine, the SBU. The difficulties can be summed up in one word: KGB. The over- whelming majority of younger professionals in the service have no experience of the KGB.

But given the fact that the KGB USSR and KGB UkrSSR ceased to exist in 1991, how could it be otherwise? The question is who recruits these new professionals, who trains them and who establishes the internal norms that guide their work?

The issue, then, is the culture of the KGB. Should it be the case in summer 2005 that the SBU should bar an individual from a government research post because he, as a private citizen, criticised Prime Minister Yanukovych at an international conference in 2004?

Should the security service of a democracy be concerned about such things, and can a country with Ukraine’s pressing security problems afford to be concerned about them?

Should people who use ‘kompromat,’ pressure and blackmail against ‘problematic persons’, or as a primary means of ‘agenturnaya rabota,’ continue to play a role in that service?

Should Ukraine continue to be a blackmail state, and should the SBU continue to be the instrument of those who wish it to remain one?

Neither you nor I need to know how many in the SBU are interested in changing the culture of the KGB and how many are interested in preserving it, but mechanisms need to be put in place that can answer these questions.

Neither you nor I need to know how many officials in the SBU or the Foreign Intelligence Service view NATO’s intelligence services and defence ministries as future allies or as entities seeking to weaken and damage Ukraine. But NATO needs to know.

The Alliance, after all, is an alliance. It asked these questions in Poland, Hungary and Romania, and it will ask them if Ukraine decides to join NATO.

And if the answer to these questions is ‘these are our internal affairs’, NATO will say, ‘very well, we look forward to good relations between Ukraine and NATO, but Ukraine will stay outside NATO’.

The essence of the post-Cold War NATO is simple. It is not a geopolitical instrument designed by someone to be used against someone else. It is a community dedicated to the collective security of its members and to the development of a culture of common security.

When, by its actions, Ukraine demonstrates the same dedication, it will have met the criteria of membership.

(1) The views expressed are the author’s and not necessarily those of NATO or the UK Ministry of Defence.