Saturday, May 17, 2014

PF 2014 NFL Nationals - NATO in Ukraine - Overview

Resolved: NATO should strengthen its relationship with Ukraine in order to deter further Russian aggression


If you are reading this, I assume you are a Public Forum debater or coach planning to attend the National Forensic League National Speech and Debate Tournament for 2014.  Best of luck to you. The National Tournament is an incredible achievement and experience. You will be asked to debate a topic which is currently a high-profile news item nationally and around the world.  I am rather surprised at the wording of this topic because the Pro side concedes there has been recent Russian aggression in the Ukraine. In my opinion, that is a decidedly western-centric and political position in light of the fact Russia has denied aggression and even the UN non-binding resolution condemning the annexation of Crimea fell short of accusing Russia of "aggression".  So, the definition of aggression can be important in this debate as well as the definitions of other words. Nevertheless, for the purposes of this analysis, I do not feel it is necessary to review each and every word in the resolution as I usually do.  First, the teams debating in this tournament are going to be advanced and have already spent time gleaning what they can from defining the words, and second, I feel it is important to look at the broader meanings and interpretations of the this resolution with respect to potential positions for Pro and Con.

UN-Ukraine Relationship

The resolution states NATO should strengthen its relationship with Ukraine.  There is a relationship which has been in place since Ukrainian Foreign Minster Anatolly Zlenko signed the NATO Partnership for Peace Framework Document in 1994. The relationship, however, was not without controversy and consequences.  While cooperation with NATO may have been deemed a worthwhile pursuit of the Ukrainian government, the idea of joining NATO did not have popular support for more than 10 years after the signing of the framework document. The election of Viktor Yushchenko as Ukraine's President in 2004 helped to boost support for joining NATO among Ukrainian citizens and in 2008 the nation signed documents officially expressing their desire to join the alliance despite some very persistent opposition actions.  However, due to resistance from certain European member nations, NATO voted not to admit Ukraine at that time. During the 2010 Ukrainian election, another Viktor, this time Yanukovych, was elected president.  Yanukovych was aligned with powerful groups of Russian speaking nationalists who were opposed to NATO membership so after election he declared his intentions to defer the decision to join NATO until some future date while maintaining the current cooperative relationship. The degree to which Yanukovych's decision to not join NATO was pressured by the Russian government is a question history will need to answer but the decision to sign an agreement to pay less for Russian gas in exchange for allowing the Russian Black Sea Fleet to remain in Crimea until 2042 signaled a tightening of the relationship with Moscow in deference to Europe and NATO in particular.

Yanukovych's turn toward Moscow may have sent an unintended signal to not only the west but pro-western Ukrainians that the government in Kiev was becoming a "vassal" of the Russian state. The subsequent decline of the Yanukovych government and the eventual rise of the opposition with culminated in the coup d'etat of 2014 was the unexpected result.  These events were played out on the world stage as Russia was preparing to host the Olympics. It was shortly after the end of the Olympics, the events which led to the so-called Russian aggression occurred as Russian increased its presence along the border of eastern Ukraine with the stated purpose of protecting Russian Nationals living in Ukraine.

Strengthening Relations

Given the history of tenuous relations between NATO and Ukraine it is unreasonable to claim NATO should strengthen its relationship unless Ukraine wants to have a better relationship with NATO. In other words, the action must begin with Ukraine, not NATO.  In reality, the word relationship in the resolution is unqualified so it is not clear what kind of relationship should be strengthened. For this, we must consider what NATO believes its role in international relations to be by looking to their own webpage.
"NATO’s essential purpose is to safeguard the freedom and security of its members through political and military means. POLITICAL - NATO promotes democratic values and encourages consultation and cooperation on defence and security issues to build trust and, in the long run, prevent conflict.  MILITARY - NATO is committed to the peaceful resolution of disputes. If diplomatic efforts fail, it has the military capacity needed to undertake crisis-management operations. These are carried out under Article 5 of the Washington Treaty - NATO’s founding treaty - or under a UN mandate, alone or in cooperation with other countries and international organizations." 
History being a guide, there has never been overwhelming support across Ukraine to join NATO. Even more importantly, there is zero support in Moscow for having NATO once again encroaching upon its borders in violation of international agreements made between U.S. and former Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev during the reunification of Germany.  This is why Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov very recently said, any attempt by NATO to draw-in Ukraine would be viewed as a national security threat to Russia.


The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines aggression as "a forceful action or procedure (as an unprovoked attack) especially when intended to dominate or master or the practice of making attacks or encroachments; especially; unprovoked violation by one country of the territorial integrity of another".  In this resolution, we can look to a definition provided by the United Nations pursuant to international law:
"Article 1: Aggression is the use of armed force by a State against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Charter of the United Nations, as set out in this Definition...Article 2: The First use of armed force by a State in contravention of the Charter shall constitute prima facie evidence of an act of aggression although the Security Council may, in conformity with the Charter, conclude that a determination that an act of aggression has been committed would not be justified in the light of other relevant circumstances, including the fact that the acts concerned or their consequences are not of sufficient gravity. ... Article 3:
(a) The invasion or attack by the armed forces of a State of the territory of another State, or any military occupation, however temporary, resulting from such invasion or attack, or any annexation by the use of force of the territory of another State or part thereof,
(b) Bombardment by the armed forces of a State against the territory of another State or the use of any weapons by a State against the territory of another State;
(c) The blockade of the ports or coasts of a State by the armed forces of another State;
(d) An attack by the armed forces of a State on the land, sea or air forces, or marine and air fleets of another State;
(e) The use of armed forces of one State which are within the territory of another State with the agreement of the receiving State, in contravention of the conditions provided for in the agreement or any extension of their presence in such territory beyond the termination of the agreement;
(f) The action of a State in allowing its territory, which it has placed at the disposal of another State, to be used by that other State for perpetrating an act of aggression against a third State;
(g) The sending by or on behalf of a State of armed bands, groups, irregulars or mercenaries, which carry out acts of armed force against another State of such gravity as to amount to the acts listed above, or its substantial involvement therein."

Why NATO? Why Ukraine?

I think the real crux of this debate will be the answer to these all important questions.  Is it just an unfortunate choice of words in the resolution to single-out the quasi-political, military arm of the Western-power bloc, NATO, as opposed to simply the US or UN? Perhaps in the context of this debate it does not matter since most often, in the minds of debaters and Public Forum judges, NATO is often viewed as an extension of the U.S. military with, perhaps some kind of international legitimacy arising from its multi-national command and control structure. After all, it was certain European members which opposed Ukraine's membership in NATO in 2008 reportedly out of concern over the effect it would have on relations with Russia.

So why Ukraine? Let's break it down.  Ukraine is a border state between Europe and Russia and as such serves as a buffer from potential European aggression or expansion. In addition, the Crimea region is of extreme military importance to Russia. It is the site of the Russian Black Sea Fleet which is key to Russia's defense as well as vital to its economic support through the import and export of goods with the rest of the world.  Most Russian sea-ports are cold-water ports which freeze-over and operate with reduced capacity in the winter. The Black Sea is home to Russia's warm-water ports. For the west and in particular Europe, Ukraine serves as an important source of energy since 80 percent of the gas, Europe buys from Russia is transported through Ukraine. We could also look at the emergence of Ukraine as an economic resource for the EU as a market of consumers. Also, many consider Ukraine the "breadbasket" of the region so an important source crops and food. But EU is reluctant to expand its relations with the embattled nation because its present instability poses a regional threat. No matter, this debate is not about the EU strengthening its relations with Ukraine so perhaps it brings us back to the question, why the UN?


Having looked at the history, glimpsed the issues and evaluated the intent of the resolution we can see a position for the Pro in establishing the critical importance of Ukraine as a vital and strategic source of energy and economic benefits for Europe.  This alone presents a compelling motivation for the European member states of NATO to move closer to strengthening military ties with Ukraine to prevent Russian violation of Ukrainian sovereignty. No doubt, the U.S. itself would be a willing supporter in the interests of promoting democratic ideals throughout the world and democratic ideals can win debates with many Public Forum judges. On the other-hand, the Con must take a serious look the big-picture and question the political ramifications of an expanding NATO and the seemingly obvious containment strategy aimed at limiting Russia's influence in the world.  While the west and by extension, the Pro may paint Putin as an imperialist, he may also be seen as a staunch defender of Russian interests and security in the face of western expansion.  Admittedly, it may be a hard sell to some judges, but I think Con will have more than enough to win many rounds.


  1. When will the Sept-Oct PF posts be up?

    1. Thanks for asking...I will be posting articles over the next 24 hours.


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