International support for defence reform in Ukraine


Attempts at defence reform in Ukraine in the early 1990s were hampered by a lack of experience in state-building, a poor legislative basis, vague political objectives, the lack of qualified experts, the non-existent role of civil society, and continued Soviet-style thinking. Sustainable international engagement coupled with conditionality and a step-by-step approach towards political and institutional rapprochement started with the signing of the Partnership for Peace Framework Document (1994) and the NATO-Ukraine Charter (1997). Defence reform got off to a slow start but quickened after 2002. Ukraine’s decision to seek NATO membership led to a more intensive reform process, with NATO playing a major role in supporting defence reform.

Entry point

The strong move towards democratisation of the political elite and civil society, the resulting desire to join western regional organisations, and the continued interaction with international actors, especially NATO, were all important entry points. From an initial focus on defence reform, SSR efforts have just begun to broaden; new entry points include major deficits in law enforcement in Ukraine.

Lessons learned

Central role of political will — The speed of reforms picked up with growing political support from both the majority of Ukraine’s elite and the public for engaging with NATO and the EU. This led to a demand to extend general moves towards democracy to defence reform.

Establishment of structures for reform — Reform has been institutionalised through a framework of political co-operation that includes a Joint Working Group on Defence Reform. The group focuses on a growing range of issues such as civil-military relations, resource planning and management, and professional development. The adoption of an action plan in 2002 containing jointly agreed principles and objectives and supported by a detailed annual target plan provided concrete steps on the path to
defence reform. After the “Orange Revolution”, an intensified dialogue on Ukraine’s NATO membership aspirations was launched. This resulted in a State Programme of Development of the Armed Forces 2006-2011 that was more realistic than previous programmes.

Balancing costs and the speed of reforms — The economic constraints of the Soviet legacy continue to restrain the pace of reform. Confronted with a weak economy, limited resources and a broad reform agenda, SSR-related costs in terms of financial investment and human adaptability must be bearable for all stakeholders. The initial concentration on defence reform is justifiable, but as a result other security sectors are lagging far behind. Increased pressure for change has to be generated primarily via civil society and parliament.


The defence reforms have had an impact but, as the head of the NATO-Ukraine Joint Working Group on Defence Reform, John Colston, says, “the major challenge faced by Ukraine is the need for a comprehensive transformation of its security sector to align it more closely with Euro-Atlantic and the European standards. In other words, for the Ukraine’s security sector efforts to be successful, they should cover not only the Ministry of Defence and the Ukrainian armed forces, but also all other
security forces or law-enforcement institutions including internal security forces”.


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