The Finnish Model

BERLIN/KIEV (Own report) - In the West's hegemonic struggle against Russia, German government advisers are calling for close military ties between Ukraine and the Western war alliance. According to a recent paper published by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), Ukraine's direct accession to NATO would be counterproductive and should not be sought. This, however, should not impede an intensification of cooperation, joint military maneuvers and, in the long run, the country's arms build-up in favor of the West. In its paper, the SWP is proposing a "Finnish model" for Ukraine's future: Finland is not an official member of a military alliance, but has close ties with NATO and is practically allied with the West. Similarly, Kiev could combine a formal "non-alignment" with close partnership with NATO. The US foreign policy mainstream is sharing this view: Ukraine's NATO membership is seen as too risky because it could push the country into the ultimate abyss and - In the long run - heavily incriminate the Eastern members of this war alliance. The plans for closer cooperation between NATO and Ukraine are accompanied by intensified military activities in East European NATO member countries.

Accession Discussion

The German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) has joined the current discussion about the military - and military policy - activities within the framework of the hegemonic struggle against Russia. The discussion is focused on the question of NATO's future relationship to Ukraine. Calls for Ukraine rapidly becoming a member of NATO, are being voiced not only in Kiev, but from ultra-right circles in the US establishment and from German transatlantists, as well.

"Not at Present"

The SWP is warning against this step. According to a recent SWP statement, the "idea of reviving the option of Ukraine's full NATO membership" seems "a seductive reaction to Russia's activities in the Crimea and Eastern Ukraine." Moscow, on the other hand, would take this to be a "conscious escalation" and could possibly cease all cooperation efforts to pacify Ukraine. On the other hand, there is a danger that Ukraine's membership in NATO could "reinforce the political polarization within Ukrainian society." The SWP advises "not to actively pursue the option of Ukraine's full NATO membership, at present," [sic) in view of the risk that a lengthy conflict - possibly a civil war - could develop in the EU's and NATO's direct vicinity, which could even tangibly bind down German forces.[1] A similar view is expressed by the US foreign policy mainstream. The Congressional Research Service in Washington explicitly points out that, according to a March 2014 opinion poll, only 34% of the Ukrainians were in favor of NATO membership, while 44% were opposed. Proponents can be mainly found in the West, opponents in the East.[2] A discussion of membership - in any case, at present - would in fact run the risk of deepening the division of the country and pushing it toward the abyss and binding down German/European forces.

"Cannot See a Way"

The German government has therefore been opposing all NATO expansion plans. Following NATO General Secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen's remark that the war alliance could take in more members in the future, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier declared in early April that he "cannot see a way" for Ukraine "joining NATO."[3] A similar view was recently expressed in relationship to Georgia. Whereas Rasmussen remarked that "the door" remains "open" for the South Caucasian country, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, at the beginning of this week, explained that, in her opinion, the country's NATO membership "is not on the agenda of the next NATO summit" in September. The summit should rather discuss "how we can demonstrate that Georgia is a good partner" even without the process of joining.[4]

Partnership Plus

In its recent statement, the SWP is also signaling that the - at least temporary - renunciation of Ukraine's and Georgia's formal accession does not mean a renunciation of close NATO ties. The immediate danger of "Ukraine losing other areas of its territory, of the erosion of the state's monopoly of force and of the country sinking into a civil war" must be dealt with first. "Such a scenario" would have fatal consequences for "Ukraine's four neighboring countries, which are North Atlantic Alliance members: Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania." NATO as a whole would be "indirectly" affected, writes the SWP. In "the long run," however, "Ukraine must be offered embedding in a stable security policy." Because of the risk entailed by NATO membership, the focus could be on "a partnership plus" format. The war alliance, for example, could support the "reforms" of Ukraine's "defense sector" and "push for a political and financial change of course, which would be necessary to build effective armed forces." "Joint maneuvers, assistance in training the Ukrainian armed forces and access to modern defensive weapons systems ... should supplement the aid package."[5]

Only Formally Neutral

SWP describes Ukraine's overall perspective as a "Finnish model," referring to Finland's traditional neutrality. "Even though Finland never became a member of any military alliance, politically, it is not neutral," SWP writes regarding the country's development since the end of the Cold War. "There was never a question about the orientation of its security policy or its 'ties to the West' over the past two decades." It is "very actively" participating in NATO's "Partnership for Peace" program as well as in the EU's foreign and military policy and cooperates - particularly militarily - with NATO's Nordic member countries, Denmark, Norway and Iceland. Officially neutral, but, in fact, on the side of the West - this is also an appropriate model for Ukraine. "The continuation of non-alignment, intensified cooperation with NATO members and a clearly western political orientation, could be the decisive three pillars also for Ukraine's future security policy."[6]

A Smokescreen

In expanding their military activities in East European member countries such as the Baltic states and Poland, the major NATO powers have had the policy of avoiding provocative steps, so as to prudently pursue and not jeopardize their eastward expansion of military activities. To satisfy Polish public opinion, US President Barack Obama posed in front of a martial backdrop of American F-16 fighter jets, during his visit to Warsaw, and promised the impressive sum of US $1 billion to bolster US military presence in eastern and south eastern Europe. But observers noted that Obama avoided mentioning an aspect, Warsaw has been vigorously pursuing, to which Moscow most likely would react similarly to Ukraine joining NATO: the commitment to permanently stationing NATO troops in Poland. During the upheavals of the 1990s, the West had agreed - first orally, and in 1997 contractually - not to permanently station substantial NATO forces in Eastern Europe, so as not to pose an existential threat to Russia. For example officially, those US military personnel, the Obama administration wants to now move to Poland, are not stationed, but are being "rotated." A Polish hardliner, calling for the US to move permanent NATO bases to Poland, has characterized the US president's martial pose a "smokescreen."[7]

Flexible, Not Permanent

Washington is taking a similar position to Berlin's. German Defense Minister, Ursula von der Leyen has been quoted saying "it is important that we provide our eastern partners the reassurance of our presence - not static and not permanent, but rotating and flexible."[8] It seems that - similar to the method of binding Ukraine to the western war alliance, without official membership - NATO countries, in this case as well, are expanding their ostentatious eastward expansion, while avoiding provoking defensive Russian reactions.

[1] Markus Kaim: Partnerschaft Plus: Zur Zukunft der NATO-Ukraine-Beziehungen. SWP-Aktuell 38, Mai 2014.
[2] Congressional Research Service: NATO: Response to the Crisis in Ukraine and Security Concerns in Central and Eastern Europe. April 16, 2014.
[3] Steinmeier sieht keinen Weg der Ukraine in die Nato. 01.04.2014.
[4] Pressekonferenz von Bundeskanzlerin Merkel und dem Ministerpräsidenten Garibaschwili am 2. Juni 2014 in Berlin.
[5], [6] Markus Kaim: Partnerschaft Plus: Zur Zukunft der NATO-Ukraine-Beziehungen. SWP-Aktuell 38, Mai 2014.
[7] Peter Baker, Rick Lyman: Obama, in Poland, Renews Commitment to Security. 03.06.2014.
[8] Von der Leyen lehnt ständige Nato-Truppen in Osteuropa ab. 03.06.2014.