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31 May, 2013  ▪  Hanna Trehub

Dirk Brengelmann: “The key thing is to maintain the level of interoperability which we have reached between NATO and Ukraine”

NATO’s Dirk Brengelmann on cooperation with Ukraine as a non-aligned state, Smart Defence and the impact of financial crises on defence policies

The fact that Ukrainian peacekeepers participate in virtually all NATO missions and operations in global hot spots has contributed to Ukraine’s positive image in the world. Yet, Ukrainian top pro-government politicians and diplomats view the declaration of Ukraine’s non-aligned status as one of the key foreign policy events in the two decades of independence. The Ukrainian Week talks to Dirk Brengelmann, NATO's Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs and Security Policy, about present and future NATO-Ukraine relations after the recent working group meeting in Kyiv.

UW: What was the goal of your visit to Ukraine and how do you assess the results?

There are three main reasons for my visit to Ukraine. I have been engaged in NATO-Ukraine cooperation for 13 years. I worked in the office of Lord George Robertson, who was the Secretary General from 1999 to 2003, and even then I was already working on NATO-Ukraine relations. Now in my present function, I visit yearly for political consultations with the government. And there is one more particular reason – we are currently engaged in a defence reform programme with the Ukrainians. We had a meeting of defence ministers in February, and the Joint Working Group on Defence Reform recently where we have discussed how we can support Ukrainian efforts in this area.

READ ALSO: Ukraine-NATO: Summarizing 15 Years of Distinctive Partnership

UW: Ukraine was not engaged in the last three NATO summits. Does this mean that NATO-Ukraine relations are becoming, as James Sherr said, “more technical and formal” and “lack spirit, warmth and persuasion”? How would you assess the present state of NATO-Ukraine relations?

There was no meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission at the last summit in Chicago, but your president was there like many other heads of state and governments, and he attended the meeting of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) because Ukraine is a long-standing and important contributor to that operation.

And, as I said, in February we had a meeting of defence ministers in the NATO-Ukraine Commission. A little while ago, in April 2011, we had a meeting of foreign ministers in Berlin. So, as you see, there is a constant level of engagement.

Maybe there have been more meetings in the past, but let me also say that we have established Annual National Programme, a regular work programme with Ukraine. It lays out a wide range of activities. I should stress that our cooperation with Ukraine in areas like defence reform, military cooperation, and political dialogue on regional security issues and the progress of democratic reforms in Ukraine are more intensive than with practically any other partner nation. Ukraine participates in almost all NATO led missions and operations, so there is a lot of activity going on. I do not think it would be fair to describe these relations as cool.

READ ALSO: If Not NATO, Then Russia?

UW: How can Ukraine use the Alliance’s new Smart Defence strategy, which envisions the future development of international cooperation in the security sphere and the USA as a regional security systems’ multiplier, rather than a “global policeman”?

We have been working on two major initiatives in NATO since the Chicago Summit. One of them is smart defence. It envisions multinational cooperation of allies and partners to rebalance the financial burden of security spending between the USA and Europe. We also have what we call the Connected Forces Initiative. This is about training and conducting exercises together, so that we stay in close contact with each other. The key word here is to maintain the level of interoperability which we have reached between NATO and Ukraine, but not just Ukraine.

UW: Some Ukrainian experts call the reforms within the Ukrainian defence sector “the self destruction of the National Armed Forces”. How, in your opinion, does reducing the Ukrainian army — which is being done without ensuring any appropriate conditions for its transfer to a contract army service — correspond to modern concepts of armed forces reforms?

Nations approach that in different ways. Some still keep large armies with conscripts, and that is a national decision. But it is also true to say that most countries moved to a professional army. I’m German by background, from a country which has just done this itself, and I can tell you, it also means that in the beginning you need to spend some money, some time, and energy to pull through the defence reform. But it’s a long term investment, and again, as I said, most countries have chosen this path.

When we discuss our support for defence reform with our Ukrainian colleagues, it also has to do with the difficult consequences of things like retraining military personnel. We have extended an existing trust fund that helps to retrain retired servicemen, providing them with professional skills they can use in the civilian job market and to help them look for a job.

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UW: Most post-Soviet states joined NATO first, and the EU later. Ukraine has chosen a different way. Is the concept of the Euro-Atlantic integration still in line with the realities of the post-Soviet bloc states? What is NATO’s role in promoting Ukraine’s European development vector today?

There is no one rule. In the past, the experience was indeed that most countries in Eastern Europe first joined NATO and later on became members of the EU. That has been the common way. But we also have seen other examples like Sweden, Finland and Austria. They have become members of the EU, but not yet joined NATO. The bottom line is that we have 28 member states, and 21 out of those member states in NATO are also member states of the EU. I think that gives you a picture of the closeness of these two processes.

Let me give you one example. There are many aspects in the Annual National Programme we have with Ukraine that are not just on defence reform, but on political reforms as well. At first glance, you might ask why would a military organization be concerned with such things? But you know that we are not just military organization, we are also a political organization - and there are issues of importance to us like the rule of law, democracy, freedom of the media, and so on. So, we have all of that in our work programme, and we consider those issues to be very important and the political dialogue we are having with Ukraine is also about these issues. Take a look at the NATO Chicago statement and you’ll see all of that in it. The EU also helps our work in these areas and vice versa.

UW: Regulation of the frozen conflict in Transnistria is one of Ukraine's priorities as chair of the OSCE. Can this area see a clash of Ukrainian and NATO interests?

We have been engaged in some political dialogue on that with our Ukrainian friends. It’s true that it is an ongoing situation, we call it a protracted conflict. And so far we haven’t seen any light at the end of the tunnel, so in this sense, actually, I think we would like to see more progress. Ukraine, now in particular as chair of the OSCE, but even before, has always taken a strong interest in this issue. We have had meetings in Brussels, where the 28 member-states had a chance to discuss the issue with Ukrainian representatives. We have the feeling Ukraine is engaged in this process. But the truth is that at the end of the day it needs the Moldovans, the Transnistrians, the Russians and everybody to agree. Ukraine cannot single-handedly solve this process. This is a 5+2 dialogue, as we see. We have dialogue on that with Ukraine, as I mentioned, but also with Moldova, and also with Russia. And, again, I would have preferred to see more progress on that front by now.

READ ALSO: NATO and the EU: Centrifugal Forces and Fragmentation?

UW: How are the economic crisis and cutbacks in NATO members’ defence expenditures influencing the architecture of Western security?

There have been two or three things coming in at the same time. One is the budget crisis you just referred to, which has hit most countries in Europe. So, we now have the smart defence programme envisioning working together on an aircraft, a ship, etc. It is not everybody for himself. That may be one way.

The other thing which happened, and I also mentioned this, is that the Americans took the Libya situation and told the Europeans: “Hey guys, you can’t always rely on us to take the first front line role, you need to be in a position to do more things from the European side.”

All of that is happening at the same time. The Europeans need to increase their role within all security and defence policies of Europeans within NATO, while having to deal with budget problems. I don’t expect there to be negative consequences in the end, because we have smart defence.


Dirk Brengelmann has served as NATO's Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs and Security Policy since 2010. He is responsible for advising the Secretary General on political issues affecting the security of the Alliance, including NATO’s partnership relations and its interaction with other international organisations; chairing the meetings of Senior Political Advisers of the Allied Delegations at NATO Headquarters; and directing the Political Affairs and Security Policy Division of the NATO International Staff.

Ambassador Brengelmann entered the German Foreign Service in 1984. From 2000 to 2003, he served as Deputy Director in the Private Office of NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson. After serving as Director and Head of the Defence and Security Policy Division at the Federal Foreign Office, he returned to Brussels in 2008 as Minister Plenipotentiary in the German Delegation to NATO.

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