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NATO Debates ‘Security Guarantees’ For Ukraine

(L to R) Turkey’s Permanent Representative to NATO Zeki Levant Gumrukcu, Britain’s Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs James Cleverly, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Sweden’s Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom attend an informal meeting of NATO Foreign Affairs Ministers at The Oslo City Hall in Oslo, Norway on June 1, 2023. (Photo by Javad Parsa / POOL / AFP)
(L to R) Turkey’s Permanent Representative to NATO Zeki Levant Gumrukcu, Britain’s Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs James Cleverly, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Sweden’s Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom attend an informal meeting of NATO Foreign Affairs Ministers at The Oslo City Hall in Oslo, Norway on June 1, 2023. (Photo by Javad Parsa / POOL / AFP)

 

As the alliance attempts to heal divides over Kyiv’s bid for membership in the organization, foreign ministers from NATO met in Oslo on Thursday to discuss giving security assurances to Ukraine after its conflict with Russia is resolved.

The Western military alliance formed almost 75 years ago to compete against the Soviet Union has been reenergized by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February of last year.

However, there remain disagreements on important matters with less than five weeks till a meeting of NATO leaders in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius.

The most notable of these is Kyiv’s drive to join NATO, an organization where decisions must be made by agreement.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, backed by NATO countries in eastern Europe, is calling for a “clear message” at the July summit that Kyiv will join once the war with Russia ends.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) and Sweden’s Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom attend an informal meeting of NATO Foreign Affairs Ministers at The Oslo City Hall in Oslo, Norway on June 1, 2023. (Photo by Lise ASERUD / POOL / AFP)

 

However, ambassadors from NATO nations claim that the alliance’s leading military power, the United States, is hesitant to go any further than its 2008 pledge that Ukraine will eventually join.

By joining NATO, Ukraine would come under the protection of the alliance’s Article 5 collective defense provision, which obligates all allies to assist in defending it in the event of an attack.

Major states granting Ukraine bilateral security guarantees in the years before it joins NATO as a full member is one option being considered.

“We need to ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself, that this pattern of Russian aggression against Ukraine really stops,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told the meeting in Oslo.

“Therefore we need to have in place frameworks to provide guarantees for Ukrainian security after the end of the war.”

French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday backed “tangible and credible security guarantees” for Ukraine.

But there are major questions over how any commitments to Kyiv would work.

“We must give strong defence guarantees to Ukraine,” said Estonia’s Foreign Minister Margus Tsahkna.

“This is a clear message to (President Vladimir) Putin and to Russia. They know and understand only the clear language.”

On a practical level, Stoltenberg is pushing for a decade-long programme worth 500 million euros ($530 million) per year to help Ukraine’s military switch to Western standards.

That would be on top of the tens of billions of dollars in arms that allies have already sent.

“The most urgent and important task now is to ensure that Ukraine prevails,” Stoltenberg said.

 New NATO head?

A fresh commitment to increase NATO’s present goal for each member to spend at least 2% of gross domestic product on defense is another contentious issue for the Vilnius summit.

Only seven members achieved that level last year, and the allies concur that the two percent aim should be considered “a floor, not a ceiling”.

However, Eastern European nations, who have already increased defense spending above that, are dissatisfied with some friends’ lack of ambition.

On the other hand, certain members, including Canada and Luxembourg, are reluctant to state any more specific goals.

Finding a replacement for Stoltenberg as NATO secretary general is one matter that ministers are also debating outside of the meeting.

The former Norwegian premier has held the post since 2014. Last year, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, his tenure was extended to September this year.

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has emerged as a possible frontrunner and is heading to Washington next week for a meeting with US President Joe Biden.

She has bolstered her case by promising to triple Denmark’s defence budget over the next decade.

However, more recent NATO members from eastern Europe say that it’s about time one of their leaders holds the position and argue that it shouldn’t be dominated by just one area.

Other names considered include British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, and Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas.

According to diplomats, Stoltenberg, who has said he won’t run, may be requested to remain on even longer, into the following year, if no clear candidate develops.

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