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Euroatlantic Integration and Military Reform in Ukraine

Ukraine has the most dynamic relationship with NATO and the largest army on the continent of Europe next to Russia, stated Stacy Closson, former Ukraine Country Director, Office of the Secretary, U.S. Department of Defense at a 7 January 2002 lecture at the Kennan Institute. According to Closson, there are four main areas to focus on in reforming Ukraine's military. First and foremost, control weapons of mass destruction. Next, promote civilian control of the military. Finally, "rationally" develop the military, meaning the right size military for current economic means to meet the threat.

Closson described the current status of Ukraine's defense reform. Ukraine is trying to move away from a large division structure that costs more money to a less expensive brigade structure. These smaller self-contained units, Closson noted, can maintain a higher state of readiness and be deployable faster. In addition, Ukraine is discussing the creation of a rapid reaction force. Closson remarked that this is a sign that Ukraine is looking towards a more mobile, lighter force. In December 2001, Closson noted, the Ukrainian President signed a decree promoting three goals. First, a roles and missions study of military and paramilitary units to determine threats and force needs. Second, an improvement in the system of command and control to combat terrorism. This goal is in response to requests from the U.S. for assistance by tightening borders and seeks to combine commands for intelligence information among border troops, general staff, and the interior ministry. Third is an analysis of the size and structure of the military, which Closson characterized as a sign that Ukraine is questioning the current size of the military.

Ukraine faces several constraints to reform, Closson stated. There are redundant and overlapping responsibilities of the defense ministry. There is also competition between the defense ministry and the paramilitary units for scarce resources. According to Closson, top-down staff processes and an absense of objective data further hamper communication and decision-making. Finally, resources do not match the requirements. This is a problem which every military faces, Closson added. Closson continued that ground forces, naval forces, air defense, and the air forces all report to the Ministry of Defense, with no sense of "jointness." Closson discussed the relationship between NATO and Ukraine as well as the prospects for Euroatlantic integration. Of all the members in the the Partnership for Peace program, Ukraine is the most advanced in its activities, Closson argued. Ukraine is allowing NATO to review its legislation and is conducting an intensive review of the armed forces. According to Closson, Ukraine has attached special importance to a joint working group on defense reform. This group operates according to two overarching principles, Closson elaborated. One is that the group is allowed to evaluate security reform as a whole, which enables NATO to help Ukraine consider its security structure as a single entity. Ukraine is also participating in a planning process whereby NATO reviews forces, examines strategy, and develops national defense reform objectives.

Integration into NATO is a slow, painful process. Ukraine is moving forward some of the aspects, militarily, Closson stated. There is some sense, Closson pointed out, that Ukraine is still open to NATO integration. In Kyiv, Closson argued, the political, legislative, and financial aspects of Euroatlantic integration are lagging behind the military. Closson noted that the result for Ukraine might be a renegade military--something which Ukraine, and certainly the U.S., wants to avoid.

What are the prospects for Euroatlantic integration? According to Closson, the NATO-Ukraine relationship is working, but with the upcoming Prague summit, Ukraine feels it needs a commitment beyond the distinctive partnership. As Ukraine looks for some advancement politically, Closson feared that it will move away from implementing the needed reforms. Closson emphasized that the most important objective for the United States is to have an independent Ukraine that is closely integrated with the western community and contributes to regional security. Ukraine's prestige in the region has been hindered by the Ukrainian government's inability to determine its future direction. However, Closson stated, Ukraine has been a key member in the war on terrorism and in all aspects of that coalition--military, intelligence, legal, and security. It is gaining credence for this role. Although Ukraine has to define its role in the region and its future direction, Closson concluded, the U.S. has to be careful that it does not lose sight of Ukraine's development.


About the Author

Jodi Koehn

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Kennan Institute

The Kennan Institute is the premier US center for advanced research on Eurasia and the oldest and largest regional program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The Kennan Institute is committed to improving American understanding of Russia, Ukraine, Central Asia, the South Caucasus, and the surrounding region though research and exchange.  Read more