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Why Ukraine deserves major non-NATO ally status

If Ukraine’s authorities continue to ask for further assistance and military aid, including various technology, it would be necessary that this co-operation become institutionalised and backed by agreements. Adding Ukraine to the list of US major non-NATO allies would be one way to carry this out.

May 10, 2022 - Vladyslav Faraponov - UkraineAtWar

Bumble Dee / Shutterstock

“As the leader of Ukraine, I am addressing President [Joe] Biden. You are the leader of your great nation. I wish you to be the leader of the world. Being the leader of the world means being the leader of peace” – this is how Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, finished his address on the 21st day of Russia’s attempt to invade Ukraine. Ukraine has been desperately asking for more assistance (especially military) amid Russia continuing to commit war crimes in Ukraine.

Vladimir Putin’s idea to conquer Ukraine with a blitzkrieg has undoubtedly collapsed during the first week after February 24th. Russia has proven that the Kremlin is capable of doing anything to survive and will not question any of Putin’s orders or intentions, no matter the cost. At the same time, it is not only them to blame. Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy kept asking since mid-December 2021 that western leaders impose preventive sanctions and demanded a more explicit response regarding the timeline of Ukraine’s accession to NATO. He did not receive any response at that time, neither regarding sanctions nor NATO membership. In this way, it could appear that the West had lost in this game to Russia, but this is not entirely the case.

However bureaucratic and sometimes clumsy, the western democracies were eager and able to unite their efforts in sanctioning Russia close to the maximum level they could. Of course, the real economic and political impact of the sanctions policy should be evaluated from a long-term perspective and amended if needed. At the same time, Ukraine’s armed forces are doing their best to defend Ukrainian lands from Russia’s occupation. In the first four weeks, Russians were able to take Kherson, a southern town, with a population of 300,000 and turn Mariupol, (population 400,000) into a humanitarian disaster. Nevertheless, Ukraine’s success on the ground, particularly in the north, has allowed Ukrainian officials to speak with its foreign partners about increasing the amount of financial and humanitarian aid and imposing new sanctions.

Yet, during the very first days and weeks, western leaders did not rush in providing Ukraine with much needed heavy weapons, fighter jets, medical equipment, and other necessary stuff, which ran out immediately. The reason for this may be seen in two dimensions. The first is a desire not to waste the military equipment and other means of aid as a whole (since many countries thought it would be a short war with a Russian victory), while the second might be to prevent Russia from confiscating it. Nevertheless, time was of the essence and Ukraine finally started getting what it needed, even if it was late. 

Putin has claimed that Ukraine’s efforts regarding its NATO integration was a reason of concern for Russia and its security. At the same time, there was no major shift in Ukraine-NATO relations except the fact that in June 2020, the Alliance recognised Ukraine as an Enhanced Opportunities Partner – an official NATO programme which allows for more official co-operation. At the same time, Ukraine-NATO co-operation has arguably been only intensified in an institutional way, not in a military one. What’s more, President Biden and NATO Secretary Jens Stoltenberg have never admitted that Ukraine would join NATO in the short-term perspective nor have they specified any timeline for Kyiv. This puts Putin’s claims into question and can be simply seen as an excuse to justify the unprovoked full-blown war against its neighbour.

At the same time, Ukraine’s success on the ground has encouraged western officials to talk about awarding Ukraine for its fight, which has led to significant losses in civilians, infrastructure and economy. One of these rewards could be the designation of Ukraine as a non-NATO major ally by the US government. This designation, which does not guarantee mutual defence, provides for strategic and military co-operation between a non-NATO US ally and the United States. Around 20 countries have this status, including Israel, Japan, South Korea and Kuwait.

If Ukraine’s authorities continue to ask for further assistance and military aid, including various technology, it would be necessary that this co-operation become institutionalised and backed by agreements. Adding Ukraine to US major non-NATO ally would be one way to carry this out; and at the same time would be seen as another win for Kyiv’s government in gaining support from the West – critically important for the morale of Ukraine’s troops in battle.

There is no doubt that the US policy towards Europe, and Eastern Europe in particular, will fundamentally change. Ukraine, which has more than eight years of experience of war and has proven its capabilities with its decisive defence against the “second army in the world”, has the absolute right to gain this status. And one should not forget that Ukraine’s experience in defending against the Russian army is very unique and can be shared with US allies as well.

Such a decision would be in line with possible negotiations as Ukraine’s conditions include security guarantees. It would also demonstrate the existing level of partnership and enhance the current institution-institution co-operation which will have positive effects in other sectors beyond the military.

There have been many examples of effective co-operation between the US and its major non-NATO allies. Ukraine has proven that it is committed to global security and the defence of democratic Europe. Adding Ukraine as a major non-NATO ally will be a success story for the collective West. It can demonstrate solidarity not just in words, but commit a real change to strengthening European security. Even if NATO cannot currently accept Ukraine, this step could be a key one on the road to finally getting a MAP in the future once Ukraine succeeds in defending against the Russian aggressor.

Vladyslav Faraponov is an analyst and journalist at the Kyiv-based Internews-Ukraine and UkraineWorld.

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