Friday, November 14, 2008

NATO Defense Ministers Discuss Ukraine

NATO Defense Ministers Discuss Ukraine
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 13, 2008 - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and his fellow NATO defense ministers are getting down to business today in consultations on Ukraine's course toward membership in the alliance.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said the ministers will focus on questions of defense and security policy, strategy and reform. The discussions will yield information that NATO foreign ministers will use in December, when they will seek to sculpt a membership action plan to chart Ukraine's course to full NATO membership, he said.

Ukraine has strong support for membership in the Euro-Atlantic alliance, a senior administration official, speaking on background, said after the first set of meetings. However, the official added, ministers also are expressing concerns about developments in Ukraine.

The country has not done as good a job on reforms as ministers would like, as political crises have created instability in reform efforts, the official explained.

"They need to do a better job themselves," the official said. "They need to do their part of the work. NATO is ready to help them; they need to hold up their end of it as well."

Membership in the alliance isn't just about defense matters, the U.S. official said, as NATO expects its prospective members to have stable institutions, pursue economic reforms and have strong anti-corruption laws in place.

De Hoop Scheffer said the overall theme of the NATO-Ukraine consultations is how the relationship works in an evolving security environment.

"The meeting presents an excellent opportunity to exchange views at a high level about the current security environment in the Euro-Atlantic area, as well as to address Ukraine's capabilities to meet modern security challenges and to contribute to NATO's security efforts," the secretary general said his remarks opening the conference.

"There can be no denying ... that the Russia-Georgia conflict last August has changed the European security environment," he said, adding that Russia's unilateral recognition of the Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states violates basic principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity. The secretary general said the Russian moves will not lead to the viable European security structure that all nations seek.

The meeting sends two messages, the senior administration official told reporters. "We need to be clear that Russia has not succeeded in drawing a line across Europe with its invasion of Georgia," he said. "We also need to convey that NATO remains very much on track working with countries in the East on this process of building a Europe, whole and free."

Also in play is the concept that a country has the right to freely choose its security alignments. De Hoop Scheffer called this "a test for a Europe we all seek to build."

"It is a principle we will not seek to compromise," he said.

The defense ministers also will take stock of Ukrainian progress in transforming its national security structures and practices. Defense budgeting and investment, an all-volunteer military and interoperability with NATO are key stones in that effort. "The road to Euro-Atlantic integration, after all, is a performance-based process," de Hoop Scheffer said.

Though Ukraine has not done a good job in prioritizing its defense expenditures or in forming interoperable and deployable forces, officials said, the country is involved in some way in every NATO operation from Afghanistan to Kosovo.