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U.S.-Ukraine Military Relations and the Value of Interoperability

U.S.-Ukraine Military Relations and the Value of Interoperability - Cover

Authored by Mr. Leonid I. Polyakov.

December 2004

115 Pages

Brief Synopsis

Ukraine's destiny is critical to the security of the entire post-Soviet zone. It long has been the stated goal of Ukrainian defense policy to integrate with Euro-Atlantic structures like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and this goal has been one of the chief objectives of the United States, as well. However, to move from rhetoric to implementation is particularly difficult where the defense reform of a post-Soviet state has been concerned, and Ukraine is no exception. Ukraine has begun to make remarkable progress towards its self-professed goal of defense integration with Western structures.

This monograph provides a comprehensive account of Ukrainian-American defense relations and of Ukraine's defense reforms over the period since Ukraine became independent in 1991. It clearly points out both the obstacles and the successes that both partners have encountered in building a cooperation mechanism, in practical peacetime engagement, and in accomplishing missions together, as well as outlining the challenges ahead. Given that Ukraine is a major contributor to the stabilization forces in Iraq and a key player in any European and Eurasian security order, this monograph has real policy relevance, especially as the United States seeks to work with its allies and partners in other post-Soviet states to foster their defense and political integration with the West.


From the earliest times of its post-Soviet independence, Ukraine has been open to security cooperation with the United States. In the beginning, there were significant differences in political, security and even bureaucratic cultures between the two countries, which formed some obstacles to building bridges quickly. Many of these obstacles remain, especially in the political dimension of relations between the two countries. But in the absence of their former ideological differences and united by common interests in preserving international peace and fighting terrorism, Ukraine and the United States have established constructive and mutually beneficial military cooperation.

The United States has been interested in engaging post-Soviet Ukraine in security cooperation and clearly articulated what it wanted to achieve from this cooperation. It was in U.S. interests to have a strong, independent, stable, and democratic Ukraine as a partner in Eastern Europe. Guided by such a vision, the United States consistently has demonstrated initiative in supporting Ukraine in building its national military by engaging it in peacetime military-to-military contacts. The Ukrainian government unhesitatingly accepted U.S. leadership in bilateral military cooperation, which has provided it with an opportunity to learn useful approaches to defense reform, raised Ukraine’s international prestige, and strengthened the country’s position vis-à-vis the pressure for regional influence exerted by its neighbor (and regional dominant power), Russia.

Bilateral programs of military contacts with the United States have become the largest among Ukraine’s many international military cooperation programs. Since 1992 bilateral military cooperation has improved in terms of quality and substance, and set the stage for preparation, execution, and support of actual U.S.-Ukraine combined operations in Bosnia, Kosovo, and now Iraq. These combined deployments have demonstrated that the years of cooperation were not in vain; Ukrainians have proven their ability to be a reliable and capable peacekeeping combat force.

However, as this monograph suggests, despite steady improvement in bilateral cooperation, developing full interoperability between the Ukrainian and U.S. militaries beyond joint peacekeeping is not yet a realistic possibility. At a time when full combat interoperability is beyond reach for even the closest U.S. allies, the experience of previous U.S.-Ukraine partnership shows that the most logical and realistic option is to promote and further improve tactical interoperability for low intensity conflict: peacekeeping, peacebuilding, and humanitarian assistance. More ambitious goals are far beyond Ukraine’s current financial capabilities, and are restrained by the country’s inability to qualify politically and economically for North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) membership soon.

This monograph consists of four parts. Part I presents a strategic context for U.S.-Ukrainian military cooperation and provides general data on the history and current state of security relations between Ukraine and the United States. Part II focuses on the development and improvement of cooperative mechanisms for bilateral military contacts. Part III provides data and analysis of peacetime military engagement and discusses important lessons learned. Part IV examines Ukraine’s practical cooperation with the U.S. military in operations in Kosovo and Iraq―operations where cooperation continues today.

In sum, U.S.-Ukrainian military cooperation has created a reasonable foundation for limited joint and combined action, with the United States helping Ukraine to build a noticeable cooperative capability. This capability currently is being adjusted in Iraq and other places. The potential remains for even greater cooperation, if necessary improvements are made.

The United States should not be expected to carry the burden of the future international peace and security agenda alone. In exercising its leadership, the United States will have to rely on ad hoc coalitions as often as it will rely on its closest allies. Ukrainian troops, though not among the closest U.S. allies, are a likely partner of the U.S. military in future contingencies. Thus the success of U.S. future engagements could depend on how the two countries act today to build their interoperability.

The history and lessons of U.S.-Ukrainian military cooperation may be of interest to scholars in post-Cold War East European security affairs, and to operational planners and practitioners who are creating and/or participating in a coalition force including the United States, Ukraine, and/or other post-Soviet or post-totalitarian states.

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