Why do we care about Ukraine?

Several days ago Poland requested that the North Atlantic Council hold consultations within the framework of Article 4 of the Washington Treaty. We did so because the developments beyond our eastern border require a united response. The meeting proved that we are determined to act and presented the quality of our transatlantic bond. Today, it is very much in demand. As President Obama noted: “In 2014, we are well beyond the days when borders can be redrawn over the heads of democratic leaders.”

The facts leave no doubts: Russia has violated fundamental norms of international law, its international commitments and Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. As NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen put it: “What Russia is doing now in Ukraine violates the principles of the United Nations Charter. It threatens peace and security in Europe.” 

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Sadly, this is not an unprecedented situation in recent decades. This aggression, if not stopped immediately, will have long-term consequences for security in Europe and beyond. 

Once again, Europe and America must act together to defend our values and the principles on which our democracies are based.

There is no room for appeasement. We should be prepared for any scenario, using every instrument our Euro-Atlantic community has at its disposal, with the aim to create conditions for the de-escalation of tensions in Ukraine and for a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

It is true that our relations with Russia have a special dimension because of the role played by the country in our security environment. Today, this role is obviously a negative one. This is why I agree with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) that we need “to rally our European and NATO allies to make clear what costs Russia will face for its aggression and to impose those consequences without further delay.” Our Russian colleagues should know better that there are other ways to communicate their security concerns than invasion, occupation and intimidation. 

Considering the above, we also need to bear in mind the long-term perspective. The current crisis has made it clear again that, even in the 21st century, defense and security matters — and that it cannot  be taken for granted. 

First, the U.S. has to show that European security still matters to Washington and is worth a decent effort. It should be reflected in the American stance in the coming months, including in the preparations for the NATO summit that will take place in Newport this September. The U.S. decision to reinforce the Aviation Detachment in Poland and to augment the Baltic Air Policing is a step in the right direction. We need to continue to further strengthen our military cooperation.

Second, we cannot afford to further limit defense expenditures, which would limit our options due to a lack of adequate capabilities. Conventional threats to allied security are real and so is the need to pool our resources. The European defense spending of all of NATO put together amounts to 34 percent of the U.S. military budget. Only a handful of each nation’s spending achieve the 2 percent GDP benchmark agreed upon by the alliance. We have to do more, also, to redress burden sharing. 

Poland is already doing its homework. Our serious approach is confirmed by our credible defence budget. A fixed 1.95 percent GDP devoted to defense gives us the ability to implement realistic yet ambitious projects worth $45 billion, as part of the new Polish Armed Forces modernization program for 2013-2022. It also opens new venues for industrial partnerships in the development and production of modern capabilities. 

Finally, today’s situation in Ukraine underscores the growing importance of energy security. Energy dependence can easily be used as leverage to influence political decisions. There are instruments that can be used to transform the landscape. Some of them are in U.S. hands. If barriers on liquefied natural gas exports were lifted, it would influence the global energy market, leading to greater diversification of energy sources in Europe. The idea is not new and has already been discussed both in the House of Representatives and the Senate. This move would do both sides of the Atlantic a favor. 

The crisis in Ukraine has put our security at risk and it will take time to restore confidence in our relations with Russia. It will also impact our discussions during the upcoming summit in Newport. NATO has once again proved that it is valid, even if some have declared it a relic of the past. Our unity is our strength and I hope that we will come out of the current crisis with the same trust in the alliance with which Poland entered it 15 years ago.

 

Winid is Poland’s deputy minister of foreign affairs.