NATO Standards And Civilian Control: What’s Ukraine’s New Security Strategy About
3 March, 2018

A country is only as strong as its security system. By those standards, Ukraine is not in a very good position: its law on national security has not been updated since 2003. And for a country that’s been at war for over three years that is difficult to justify.

But a change might finally be on the horizon and is outlined in a new bill, which if approved, will further the country’s cooperation with NATO. The changes – long requested by Ukraine’s western partners – will also include the establishment of civilian control over the procurement of armed forces and the creation of a Civilian Minister of Defense.

The President’s changes to the bill “On the National Security of Ukraine” proposes altering the Ukrainian security sector to align with NATO standards. Pictured: Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (left) during a meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Kyiv on July 10, 2017. Photo Credit: Volodymyr Hontar/UNIAN

By the looks of it, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is taking this seriously: the announcement of the new law made the start of his first press conference of 2018.

“The law ‘On the National Security of Ukraine’ was developed over several months, in close cooperation with our NATO partners, envisaging the transition of our security sector to [meet] NATO standards,” the President told reporters during the press conference on February 28. “The key is the introduction of democratic control over the army, law enforcement agencies, and security services.”

Ukraine’s Parliamentary Chairman Andriy Parubiy has now sent the bill to the Committee on National Security and Defense for revision as a priority. They promised to get the document ready for voting on March 13.

In the meantime, Hromadske takes a look at the law and what it will mean for Ukraine.

What will the law change?

While the country’s current law “On the National Security of Ukraine” has been in place since 2003, the proposal will officially alter Ukraine’s strategy for military cooperation making NATO its main strategic partner instead of Russia.

The new bill also finally eliminates the phrase outlining the country’s “obligatory observance of agreements allowing Russia’s Black Sea Fleet to be temporarily located on the territory of Ukraine.”

The main thrust of the document is to further Ukraine’s accession to NATO and the EU.

In addition, the new law provides for the appointment of a civilian – rather than a military – defense minister as of January 1, 2019. According to the document, both deputy defense ministers should be civilians. It also includes civilian control over army procurement – which should make the acquisition of weapons and equipment more transparent.

The Ukrainian army must also be reformed and brought closer to NATO standards.

The law also proposes dividing the powers of the Chief of the General Staff and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Today, these two positions are occupied by one person – Army General Viktor Muzhenko.

U.S. Involvement

However, Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense informed Hromadske that they were not involved in the final drafting of the bill. The document was mostly written by the National Security and Defense Council, with assistance and encouragement from the United States.

In December, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis urged Ukraine’s parliament to adopt the law on national security as quickly as possible.

The new draft law “On the National Security of Ukraine” proposes dividing the powers of the Chief of the General Staff and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Army General Viktor Muzhenko currently occupies both of these positions. Pictured: Muzhenko (center) at the opening of the XIII international special exhibition “Weapons and Security 2016” in Kyiv on October 11, 2016. Photo Credit: Volodymyr Hontar/UNIAN.

On February 9, the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine repeated this request on Twitter.

“As [the Verkhovna Rada] prepares to debate the [National Security] law, [Secretary of Defense] Mattis urges swift action to pass legislation that ensures a solid legal basis for defense reforms in support of a secure and democratic Ukraine.”

However, the problem remains that the United States have a number of questions about how the reforms to the Ukrainian army will actually take place. And while the Americans haven’t made any public statements about the problems the Ukrainian army has, this discussion is ongoing among experts.

According to Keir Giles – a senior consulting fellow in Chatham House’s Russia and Eurasia Program and director of the Conflict Studies Research Center – the Ukrainian army has a number of shortcomings that the changes to the draft law should aim to correct.

READ MORE: This Ain’t 2014 Anymore: The Transformation of Ukraine’s Military

“There are two distinct challenges here. The first is actually taking all of the best from western experience and applying it, and that means in terms of commanding control, flexibility, the jointness of operations between forces,” Giles said in an interview with Hromadske. “But there is also an image problem that has to be addressed and that is the fact that Ukraine is occasionally perceived as having armed forces which are inefficient because they are not under centralised control and served by a defense industry which is rife with corruption.”

According to Giles this poses a number of immediate problems, and “obviously hampers the fighting efficiency of the armed forces.” Moreover, “In terms of the image Russia projects to the West, and [to] the United States in particular, there are distinct disadvantages to this problem. For instance, in a very immediate sense, some U.S. aid is conditional on defense reform and on pushing through some of the changes that have been promised but not yet delivered,” Giles said.

“Overall, there's the enormous problem of convincing the United States, and the West as a whole, that Ukraine is actually worth defending and worth siding with. And corruption allegations in particular, when they are persistent and, apparently, unresolved, poses a significant challenge to that.”

The new law provides for the appointment of a civilian defense minister rather than a military one, as of January 1, 2019. Pictured: Ukrainian Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak (left) during a meeting with U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis (center) in Kyiv on August 14, 2017. Photo Credit: Volodymyr Hontar/UNIAN.

As such, increasing civilian control – for both the parliament and the public – of purchases in the defense sphere that amount to billions of dollars should be a positive change for Ukraine with regards to military reform, according to Western experts.

While Ukrainian MPs are currently demonstrating a desire to adopt the law as quickly as possible, the parliament's Profile Committee on Legislative Support of Law Enforcement Activity has yet to review the draft law.

For People's Front MP and member of the National Security and Defense Committee Andriy Tetruk, this came as a surprise. 

“I’m surprised that the draft law has yet to appear before parliament since it’s such an important document,”  he said.

/Translated & Adapted by Eilish Hart

/By Nastya Stanko, Anna Tokhmakhchi & Ihor Shevchuk