Ukraine’s dangling NATO membership: Is it out of reach?

Ukraine’s dangling NATO membership: Is it out of reach?

Ukraine’s dangling NATO membership: Is it out of reach? (Source : Shutterstock)

Ukraine stands outside of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) alliance till now despite its effort to join for years. NATO was established in 1949 and has expanded into a 31-member organisation with Finland becoming the latest member. Ukraine has stepped up its efforts to join NATO since the war began but some member leaders see Ukraine not yet ready to join the organisation.

Ukraine and NATO: A Brief Relationship History

Cooperation and dialogue between the two began when the nation joined the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (1991) and the Partnership for Peace programme (1994). The signing of the Charter on a Distinctive Partnership in 1997, helped in taking the cooperation forward. The NUC has overseen Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic integration process since 2009, including the reforms under the Annual National Programme.

The country’s active participation in NATO-led operations and missions have deepened the relationship further over time. The main priority is given to reforms in the defence and security sector, which is important for the county’s democratic development and for powering its ability to defend itself. The NATO Summit in Warsaw, in 2016, saw the organisation’s practical support for the country through Comprehensive Assistance Package (CAP). President Volodymyr Zelenskyy approved the country’s new National Security Strategy, which provides for the development of a distinctive partnership with NATO with the aim of membership in NATO in September 2020. 

The dangling membership 

At the Bucharest summit in 2008, NATO agreed that the country could finally join the alliance. But the organisation leaders did not give Kyiv a so-called Membership Action Plan (MAP), which help in bringing Ukraine closer to NATO. Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary General of NATO stated that Ukraine’s rightful position was in the organisation but made it clear that the country won’t be able to join when a war was going on.

In June, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy stated that his nation understood why it can’t be a part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation but later stated that they expected a political invitation to the organisation at the summit. Under the Membership Action Plan, the countries must prove that they are economically and politically capable to contribute to the organsiation’s operations. But the requirement of MAP is not a mandatory criterion even though many countries since 1999 have participated in a MAP.

Recently joined Finland and Sweden became members by an invitation to join the alliance directly. Many countries like Germany and Britain suggest not following the MAP process, so it is unclear what things are like for Ukraine presently. The ambiguity also heightens as powerful members like the US has mentioned that Ukraine is not ready to be a part of the organisation. The country’s military has however taken important steps to heed the NATO standard since the fallout of the war.  

Vilnius to seal the fate

North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is convening at Vilnius for a two-day summit on 11-12th July 2023. The main focus of the summit will be to discuss the membership of Ukraine and Sweden. Turkish President Erdogan supported Sweden’s membership bid after blocking it for a year. “This is a historic day,” stated Jens Stoltenberg. A joint statement after three-way talks stated that Sweden and Turkey would work closely to improve trade relations and counterterrorism coordination.  

“This week, at the NATO summit, we will strengthen our deterrence and defence, including with more investment. We will step up our support for Ukraine, and move Ukraine closer to NATO,” stated Jens Stoltenberg. Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister in a tweet stated that North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s allies have reached a decision to remove MAP for Ukraine’s road to membership. Stoltenberg expects the alliance to agree to a multi-layer programme of assistance to Ukraine. He also added that no final decision had been taken regarding the matter but added that the summit will have unity and have a strong message on Ukraine.       

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