The Debate on Security Guarantees

German think tanks call for Ukraine’s NATO membership and security guarantees provided by a European coalition of the willing. Ukraine may want to seek nuclear weapons.

BERLIN/KIEV (Own report) – In the run-up to the NATO summit in Vilnius, Germany’s two major foreign policy think tanks are calling for Ukraine’s accession to the Western military alliance. In recently published position papers, the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) and the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) note that US President Joe Biden has rejected this move, at least for the time being. However, alternative security guarantees for Kiev are neither sufficient, desirable nor realistic. The latter pertains to a “demilitarization of Russia.” The option of Ukraine’s nuclear armament is undesirable. Current plans to comprehensively provide Kiev with conventional weapons, for example with the proposed construction of a tank factory and other armaments factories by the Rheinmetall Group, are insufficient. The DPAG suggests the establishment of a coalition of willing European countries committing themselves to actively participating in Ukraine’s defense. But this can only be considered an interim solution until the moment Ukraine is a formal member of NATO.

“Demilitarize Russia”

According to a recent position paper by the Berlin-based German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) on the current debate over possible security guarantees for Ukraine, there are only two options that would provide Kiev real security – beyond its formal NATO membership. “The first” would be “the demilitarization of Russia.”[1] This would require “the reduction of the armed forces and armament industry to a level” that would be sufficient for the country’s defense but would not allow “offensive operations.” It would also require “a demilitarization of the strategic culture.” However, since this can be changed “only through long-term socialization processes or external shocks,” a “decisive defeat” of the Russian army and a renouncement by the Russian “leadership and population” of “their neo-imperial perception of their role” would be necessary. To achieve this, “a regime-change and a social debate on their hegemonic past are inevitable,” SWP notes. Even in this case, Ukraine could “feel absolutely secure” only if Russia simultaneously denuclearizes its military potential.” This option, SWP admits, is “currently unrealistic.”

“Nuclearize Ukraine”

The second option offering Kiev reliable security, according to SWP, is “that Ukraine reinforces its deterrent potential with unilateral nuclearization,” which means, “either building up a nuclear arsenal” or at least “creating pressure“ by “announcing” it will do so. “The path to nuclear weapons is very complicated and a long-term project,” that would “only bring heightened security in the long run and damage Ukraine’s reputation.” However, “the South Korea example” confirms that “simply by threatening it, can help acquire US security guarantees.” At the beginning of the year, South Korea’s President Yoon Suk-yeol launched a debate around his country’s acquiring nuclear arms. US President Joe Biden then responded that if North Korea uses nuclear weapons, it would mean the end of the North Korean government. The USA additionally announced, it would send a nuclear-armed submarine off the Korean coast.[2] The SWP continues, saying that if Kiev should choose “this path,” it would be approaching the Israeli model ..., based on powerful armed forces, nuclear weapons and bilateral agreements.” However, in the eyes of Berlin, a nuclearized Ukraine is “undesirable,” because it “would weigh heavy on the European security order.”

The Porcupine Model

The paper, published last week by the German Council on Foreign Relations’ (DGAP) deals with options below the level of the demilitarization of Russia, the nuclearization of Ukraine or its NATO membership.[3] It also analyzes an option, being discussed under the buzzword “porcupine.” That word symbolizes the massive arming of Ukraine – so comprehensively that it would deter any future attack. This option has been in preparation since some time, also with German support. The German Rheinmetall Corp. has announced its intention to build a modern tank factory and other weapons factories, to provide that country with a formidable armament industrial base. ( reported.[4]) A group of other NATO countries have offered Kiev the prospect of the delivery of F-16 fighter planes and announced the training of Ukrainian pilots. According to the DGAP, all this is insufficient, because it offers Ukraine no guaranteed security. It is conceivable to provide Kiev with not only hardware to defend against future attacks but also to make the production of offensive weaponry possible. However, the Western countries usually do not provide the required know-how.

A Coalition of the Willing

The DGAP therefore suggests another option that had recently been advanced by Tobias Ellwood, Chair of the British Parliament’s Defense Committee. According to Ellwood’s option, a Western coalition of the willing should guarantee Ukraine military assistance. This should be buttressed by all sorts of practical measures, ranging from training Ukrainian soldiers, joint major large-scale maneuvers on Ukrainian territory, all the way to the creation of a powerful rapid deployment force. The Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) could serve as the core element of the coalition of the willing, writes DGAP, referring to Ellwood. The creation of JEF had been decided during the NATO summit in Newport, Great Britain in September 2014, and alongside Great Britain, it also includes five North European countries (Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Iceland), the Baltic countries and the Netherlands. According to the DGAP paper, to support Ukraine, the JEF could be expanded – specifically, to include France, which, recently had advocated Ukrainian NATO membership.[5] Germany should also consider participating. The DGAP proposes that the formation be named the Joint European Defense Initiative (JEDI).

NATO Membership

According to the DGAP this is insufficient in the long run. The formation of JEDI can only provide an interim solution. NATO membership is the only viable long-term option. The latter is also demanded by SWP. Even though Ukraine’s accession to the Western military alliance is “risky and difficult,” “practical steps toward accession” should already be considered at the NATO summit in Vilnius. To emphasize this demand, DGAP suggests that Kiev would certainly draw consequences from the failure of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum. In that Memorandum the United States, Great Britain and Russia had committed themselves to provide Ukraine security guarantees, in return for Kiev’s renunciation of nuclear weapons. DGAP predicts that Kiev will no longer accept any such unreliable guarantees. In the absence of effective security guarantees, Ukraine’s nuclearization can no longer be ruled out.


[1] Zitate hier und im Folgenden aus: Margarete Klein, Claudia Major: Dauerhafte Sicherheit für die Ukraine. SWP-Aktuell 2023/A 44. Berlin, 29.06.2023.

[2] See also Bloc Formation in East Asia.

[3] Benjamin Tallis: Security Guarantees for Ukraine. 30.06.2023.

[4] See also Eine rüstungsindustrielle Basis für die Ukraine.

[5] See also Deutsch-französische Konflikte.