Ukraine & Georgia Should be Welcomed into NATO
On the anniversary of VE Day, Mark Temnycky argues that Europe is more united than it has been since World War Two, but still needs to secure two more nations against Russian aggression
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This summer, Lithuania will host the next NATO Summit. During these meetings, NATO members “evaluate and provide strategic direction for Alliance activities.”
Previous sessions have seen NATO reaffirm the purposes of the Alliance, discuss arms control, explore methods to enhance East-West cooperation, and address global challenges. Other examples include membership accession talks, strengthening partnerships between NATO and the European Union, NATO’s Mission in Afghanistan, and the NATO 2030 reform agenda.
Recent summits, understandably, have focused on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Over the past year, NATO dignitaries have frequently met with Ukrainian officials to discuss the war. They have stressed their support for Ukraine, and they have stated that they will continue to aid Ukraine during its time of need. To date, NATO’s 31 members have provided over $70 billion in defense aid to Ukraine. They have also provided tens of billions in financial, humanitarian, and medical assistance.
Most recently, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg visited Kyiv, where he met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. During their meeting, Stoltenberg said, “Ukraine’s rightful place is in NATO” and stressed that “NATO stands with Ukraine.”
Tens of thousands of Ukrainians have died during the war. One-fourth of Ukraine’s population is displaced, and the Russians control one-fifth of Ukraine’s territory. Despite this devastation, the Russian military incursion continues without an apparent end.
Outside of Ukraine, the Russian Federation continues to occupy the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Like Ukraine, Georgia was invaded by Russia. Hundreds were killed during the Russo-Georgian War, and thousands were displaced.
The Russian invasions of Ukraine and Georgia have forced NATO to evaluate foreign policy and national security across the European continent. It has also led to greater collaboration between NATO and these two countries.
For example, Ukraine and Georgia have participated in numerous training exercises, modernized and reformed their militaries, and they both hold the status of “NATO Enhanced Opportunities Partner.” This has helped them become more interoperable with Western militaries. In addition, Ukraine and Georgia regularly cooperate with NATO’s Cooperative Cyber Defense Centre of Excellence. Finally, Ukraine and Georgia spend a “considerable amount of their annual GDP on national defense.” In other words, both countries have made significant efforts to try and join the Alliance.
Given their history and background, NATO members must examine their relationship with Ukraine and Georgia at the upcoming NATO Summit. Both countries have shown that they can be valuable partners on the European continent, that they can be significant contributors to the Alliance and its mission, and that they are reliable partners.
Aside from their defense and cyber capabilities, Ukraine and Georgia are working to reform their governments. Progress has been slow, and domestic politics have delayed anti-corruption work in these countries. However, there are still parliamentarians, policymakers, organizations, and citizens working tirelessly to eliminate corruption in these countries. Just recently, Ukraine and Georgia met with members of the European Commission, where they discussed how they could reform their governments. While there is still work to be done, they have made progress, and these efforts suggest they are serious in their democratization efforts.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the previous Russian invasion of Georgia, have redefined international relations and foreign policy on the European continent. NATO must use the upcoming summit to discuss and “leverage the opportunity to drive forward a NATO defense and deterrence posture that substantially and materially reinforces European security and peace.” This will lead to greater cooperation across Europe, and with it, a safer continent.
In addition, NATO should examine its role in Eastern Europe. Enhancing NATO’s presence in the east would lead to greater security guarantees, particularly those subjected to Russian aggression and hybrid warfare. Newly admitted Finland, and forthcoming member Sweden, could assist in these efforts. Inviting Ukraine and Georgia to participate would benefit the Alliance. Ukrainians and Georgians could provide their expertise in cybersecurity and information technology.
Finally, presenting deterrence and defense partnership opportunities to Ukraine and Georgia would further their aspirations toward NATO membership. It would help these two countries develop methods to defend themselves against foreign actors. The Ukrainians and Georgians would create strategies that would help them maintain their sovereignty and territorial integrity through additional training and equipment. This would lead to the establishment of two prominent partners on NATO’s eastern flank.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has forced Europe to rethink its security apparatus. Some European countries are beginning to further invest in their defense capabilities, and others are exploring methods to enhance security guarantees. Seven of NATO’s 29 European members are at or above the 2% defense expenditure threshold. Others have stated that they have now prioritized the 2% target. This is a significant shift in European defense policy.
NATO’s Summit in Lithuania will be an opportunity to further explore defense capabilities across the European continent, and the globe. The Alliance would be wise to include Ukraine and Georgia in these discussions.