Getting a Path to US Security Agreement With Ukraine

When on July 7, 2023, President Biden first publicly declared the United States’ intention to provide Ukraine with security guarantees, defining their basic purpose as creating a strong foundation for further deterring Russia with a focus on the long-term, post-war perspective, Western partners had the idea that the United States would be the first country to provide security guarantees to Ukraine. In other words, the United States should become a guiding light for Ukraine’s other Western partners, leading them by example. 

Indeed, the United States was the first among Ukraine’s partners to move in this direction, starting negotiations on security guarantees in early August 2023. Western partners expected the United States to take the second and most important step – signing a security agreement with Ukraine. As it turned out, the expectations were in vain, so the role of a pioneer in signing a security agreement with Ukraine was played by the United Kingdom, a longtime geopolitical partner of the United States, which signed a security agreement with Ukraine on January 12, 2024.

Subsequently, France, Germany, Denmark, Italy, Canada and the Netherlands followed suit, supporting the UK’s initiative by the end of February. 

Other European countries will soon join this initiative, including Norway, Spain, Estonia and Greece. That is, Europe is ready to lend a security shoulder to Ukraine. But what about the United States? 

A recent statement by Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba suggests that a US security agreement with Ukraine can only become a reality after the US Congress successfully resolves the standoff over the allocation of aid to Ukraine, an issue that has been stuck in Congress since October 2023. In other words, the US security agreement with Ukraine is hostage to the US domestic political crisis. 

In his recent article, Eric Ciaramella outlined the problems and prospects of providing Ukraine with US security guarantees in a very informative way, examining the previous experience of the US in providing such guarantees, the role of the US Congress and the US administration. 

Can the US administration sign a security treaty with Ukraine without the further ratification by Congress? Yes, it can. Ciaramella cites the interesting experience of the US security treaty with Bahrain:

“The White House asserts that the president has the authority, without requiring affirmative approval by Congress, to conclude binding agreements with significant long-term security assistance provisions. In September 2023, the United States and Bahrain signed the Comprehensive Security Integration and Prosperity Agreement, a wide-ranging text that commits the United States to a variety of security-related measures aimed at deterring threats to Bahrain. According to White House officials, the agreement is “internationally binding” but will not be put to Congress for ratification”.

At the same time, the participation of Congress would indeed be desirable, both in terms of providing stronger legal and, of course, political preconditions for such a treaty. This would be a way to build a domestic political consensus in the United States to address geopolitical challenges and simultaneously compromise on national challenges. There is no such domestic political consensus in the United States now, so the issue of a security agreement with Ukraine is a hostage to the situation. That is, the question now is whether President Biden is ready to take on this responsibility alone or not, and to what extent his decision depends on the ordering of other important issues, both domestic and foreign.

The last time US officials mentioned the progress of the US-Ukraine Security Assurances negotiations was in early 2024. January 12, 2024 Bridget Brink, US Ambassador to Ukraine, has said that the United States seeks to sign a security agreement with Ukraine, commenting on the news that such an agreement has been signed with the UK. 

Ambassador Brink stressed that reaching such an agreement is an objective that the US president has set. “As President Biden has said, we are committed to helping Ukraine defend itself and deter future aggression. We have already started bilateral consultations with your government, with the office of the president, with government agencies, and we are discussing with them what the security commitments on our part could be. So far, there have been two rounds, and the talks will continue: the Biden administration seeks this agreement.”

In his recent address to the nation in Congress, President Biden once again emphasized the importance of helping Ukraine. However, the Security Assurances were not mentioned. This may be due to the fact that the Security Assurances, their duration and content depend on other domestic and foreign policy factors. That is, this creates a different picture of the future of the US Security Assurances for Ukraine than the one presented by Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba – it is not only, and perhaps not so much, a matter of political debate in Congress. Probably, this is a much wider issue – the issue of geopolitics and related public and nonpublic dialogue held by US administration with various geopolitical actors worldwide.

[Photo by the White House, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

Dr. Alexander Kostyuk serves as the Editor-in-Chief of the Corporate Ownership and Control journal. He is also the Director of Virtus Interpress, based in Ukraine. In addition to his editorial roles, Dr. Kostyuk has held professorial positions at several esteemed institutions, including the Ukrainian Academy of Banking from 2009 to 2018, the Hanken School of Economics in 2011-2012, and the University of Nuremberg in 2013. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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