NATO has pushed aside the Membership Action Plans (MAPs) as mechanisms for Ukraine’s and Georgia’s eventual accession to the alliance. On December 3 in Brussels, the North Atlantic Council (NAC) meeting at the level of ministers of foreign affairs decided to develop Annual National Programs (ANPs) for Ukraine and Georgia, instead of MAPs. The Allies have yet to announce how long it will take to develop the first ANP and when it will go into effect.
The alliance split over the Ukrainian and Georgian MAP applications earlier this year. The United States, Canada, Britain (however unfocused on the issue), and almost all the countries that joined NATO in recent years were supportive. Germany led a group of West European countries in opposition. The alliance’s Bucharest Summit on April 2 reached a hard-fought compromise: It declared unambiguously that Ukraine and Georgia will become members of NATO (a political commitment unprecedented in NATO’s history) but did not identify a mechanism or other path toward membership (a failure unprecedented in NATO’s enlargement process from the 1990s to date) (see EDM, March 11, 13, 30, 21, and April 4, 7, 10, 11).
The NAC meeting in Brussels on December 3 reaffirmed the political decision made in Bucharest on Ukraine and Georgia, now adding an implementation mechanism: the ANPs, presented as a “performance-based process,” that is, presumably free from political distortion. The ANPs will provide further assistance to Ukraine and Georgia in implementing necessary reforms “as they progress toward NATO membership.”
NATO and the two countries will use the NATO-Ukraine Commission (in existence since 1997) and the NATO-Georgia Commission (created immediately after the Russian invasion last August), respectively, as “central” instruments in drafting and implementing those reforms. “NATO will maximize its advice, assistance, and support” to that end and will review progress on an annual basis (Meeting of the North Atlantic Council communiqué, December 3).
The NATO-Ukraine Commission held a meeting at the foreign ministers level on the same day in Brussels. In that meeting the Allies reaffirmed their “conviction that Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity were key factors for ensuring stability in Europe” (the only strategic consideration that entered into NATO’s discourse during this entire event). The meeting welcomed “progress achieved” through the current NATO-Ukraine mechanism, known as Annual Target Plans within a multi-year Action Plan (no “M”) for security sector reforms, as well as the NATO-Ukraine Intensified Dialogue at the political level. Ukraine, moreover, has enjoyed a special status since 1997 under the NATO-Ukraine Charter for Distinctive Partnership. The commission did not clarify how the new Annual National Programs would upgrade the existing framework. Pending such decisions, the Allies decided at this meeting to reinforce the NATO Information and Documentation Center and the NATO Liaison Office in Kyiv.
This immediate decision reflects continuing concern over NATO’s low popularity rating in Ukraine and the Orange authorities’ failure to educate the public about the alliance, despite multiple promises to do so. The meeting also urged the “political leaders of Ukraine to settle their differences in a way that ensures domestic stability.” Attending the meeting, Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Volodymyr Ohryzko spoke of the need for more adequate funding of reforms in the military and security sector and for raising public awareness of NATO issues.
On the level of cooperation in the field, however, NATO-Ukraine relations remain strong. Ukraine participates in NATO missions and operations in Kosovo, the ISAF (International Assistance Force) in Afghanistan, the NATO Training Mission-Iraq, and the naval Operation Active Endeavor in the Mediterranean. It recently acceded to NATO’s Air Situation Data Exchange Program, decided to contribute to the British-French Helicopter Initiative within NATO, offered to participate in the NATO Response Force (NRF) currently being developed, and has recently offered to provide overland transit for equipment and supplies for NATO forces in Afghanistan (Meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission communiqué, December 3).
Also on December 3 in Brussels, the NATO-Georgia Commission held its first meeting at the level of ministers of foreign affairs. The commission had already met in September at the defense-minister level to review the military situation in the immediate aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Georgia. During the Brussels meeting the NAC cited its June 2008 positive assessment of Georgia’s IPAP (Individual Partnership Action Plan) performance and the NAC’s successful visit to Georgia in September. It expressed appreciation for Georgia’s contributions to NATO-led operations and decided to reinforce the NATO Liaison Office in Tbilisi.
Publicly at least, the meeting abounded in advice to Georgia to continue upgrading its electoral processes, the professionalism and independence of judges, media freedom, transparency in government, and the rule of law. “Georgia’s continuing implementation of reform initiatives will be watched closely by the alliance.” While partly warranted and often useful, such admonitions also reflect two distorting political factors. The first is a sense of unfulfilled expectations after the U.S. rhetoric about “Georgia the beacon of democracy” had raised the bar for Georgia unrealistically high. The second distorting factor is West European political correctness in invoking democracy issues to block Georgia’s path to NATO, despite Georgia’s major strides on those issues from 2003 to date.
The Brussels meeting focused more effectively on Georgia’s military and security issues. It recommended a lessons-learned process after the recent armed conflict, incorporating those lessons into Georgia’s planned comprehensive review of security documents, as well as improving personnel management within the military, transparency of the defense budget, and interoperability of Georgian forces with those of the NATO allies. Attending the meeting, Georgian Minister of Foreign Affairs Eka Tkeshelashvili expressed gratitude for NATO’s commitment to assist Georgian efforts to achieve NATO standards (Meeting of the NATO-Georgia Commission communiqué, December 3).