The North Atlantic Treaty Organization will hold a summit in Brussels on July 11-12. In an article published in Real Clear World, Ambassador Alexander Vershbow, a former NATO Deputy Secretary General, writes that despite the backdrop of growing Transatlantic tensions, progress can be achieved in a number of areas. He suggests that there is a concrete initiative that can unite members of the Alliance on both sides of the Atlantic and bolster their collective security, namely, strengthening NATO’s partnership with Ukraine through an Enhanced Opportunities Partnership:
“While not a replacement for [NATO] membership, inviting Ukraine to become an Enhanced Opportunities Partner is the natural next step in Kyiv’s relationship with NATO. NATO launched the Enhanced Opportunities Partnership for Dialogue and Cooperation in 2014. Its goal was to strengthen the interoperability developed between allies and key partners in the aftermath of the ISAF mission in Afghanistan. EOP status is awarded to those partners which have most significantly contributed to NATO missions. The list of designated countries remains small, comprising Australia, Finland, Georgia, Jordan, and Sweden. Ukraine does not count among them, but Kyiv has more than met the criteria needed to earn this designation [through its contribution to NATO missions]… [Additionally,] Ukraine currently contributes 5 percent of its gross domestic product to defense, more than any NATO ally. Four years of war against Russian-backed forces in the Donbas have forged the most battle-hardened troops on the European continent and bolstered a significant military-industrial sector. Ukrainian capabilities, knowledge, and technical expertise would be of significant value to the Alliance. No one else has as much knowledge of Russia as Ukraine, nor as much practical expertise in combatting Russian use of cyber-attacks, disinformation, and other forms of “hybrid warfare” aimed at undermining our democracies. Ukraine will also play a major role in Alliance efforts to strengthen its security in the Black Sea in order to protect NATO’s southeastern flank. EOP status would recognize that special relationship and take the partnership to the next level. It would bring Kyiv into more political consultations with NATO at the ambassadorial and working level, would grant it more access to exercises, and would increase information sharing. Far from being a one-way relationship, it would also significantly enhance NATO’s expertise and operational skills. Some allies may be reluctant to support this step, but strong U.S. leadership could make it happen.”
Meanwhile, in an op-ed in the Washington Post, Amb. Vershbow warns against pursuing a “grand bargain” with Russia, when Presidents Trump and Putin meet this month. (That summit will take place in Helsinki on July 16). Alexander Vershbow writes:
“Fundamental differences cannot easily be overcome. A durable improvement cannot be achieved by sweeping those differences under the rug or by throwing sovereign countries such as Ukraine under the bus — as Trump apparently did during the recent Group of Seven summit . It is only possible if we stick to our principles and insist on changes in the Russian behavior that led to the breakdown in relations. By illegally annexing Crimea, waging an undeclared war in eastern Ukraine, and occupyinglarge swaths of Georgia’s and Moldova’s territory, Putin’s Russia has torn up the international rule book and firmly established itself as a revisionist power, undermining the basis for cooperation on European security. In Syria, Putin has not been fighting the Islamic State but propping up Bashar al-Assad’s regime and giving a strategic foothold to Iran, increasing the threat to Israel. On arms control, Putin has withdrawn from some agreements and flagrantly violated others, including the 1987 INF Treaty. He has systematically sought to interfere in Western elections and discredit our democratic institutions, along with NATO and the European Union. In short, Putin defines Russia’s interests in opposition to the West and isn’t interested in compromising on the issues of concern to us… In these circumstances, we should give up on the fantasy of a grand bargain with Putin in favor of strategic patience. The best we may be able to do in the short term is to manage the competition and reduce the risk of direct conflict, both through strong deterrence and by using Cold War tools such as arms control and military transparency. Strategic patience doesn’t mean being passive. We should continue to stand up for our values and support what’s left of civil society in Russia. We should engage in dialogue with the Russian government and try to cooperate on the few subjects where our interests may overlap, such as North Korea. And we should continue to provide off-ramps on issues such as eastern Ukraine. On most issues, however, we should expect Russia to be more interested in playing the spoiler — seeking to diminish U.S. influence rather than pursuing win-win solutions. We may need to wait until Putin leaves the scene before there can be a real change for the better in our relations with Moscow.”
Ambassador Vershbow also covers these issues in an opinion piece in The Hill.
Alexander Vershbow, a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, is a former NATO deputy secretary general and a former ambassador to Russia, South Korea and NATO. He is a member of the Friends of Ukraine Network, an initiative of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation. The photo at at the top of this page is from the NATO website.