Will the next Annual National Programme bring Ukraine closer to NATO membership?

Written by Anton Khimiak, Analyst HWAG/UCMC

The Vilnius NATO Summit 2023 was buzzing with expectations regarding Ukraine’s future in the Alliance. Despite the failure of overly optimistic expectations, the main NATO forum turned out to be quite a success for Ukraine.

One of the main achievements is the official rejection of the Membership Action Plan phase, which will be replaced by the updated Ukraine-NATO Annual National Program (NAPO).

Nonetheless, despite assurances from Western partners of their unwavering support for Ukraine’s progress toward the Alliance, many questions remain about the Ukrainian authorities’ ability to implement the necessary reforms and bring the political decision on Ukraine’s acceptance closer. Therefore, we will consider the issue of the effectiveness of the implementation of the ANP and the significance of the document for the sustainable movement of Ukraine on the way to NATO.

What is the Annual National Program?

ANP is the main desk book of the Ukrainian government in the field of Atlantic integration and security reform.

The Ukraine-NATO Annual National Program (ANP) is a key tool introduced in 2009 to support Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic course. The document is a road map of national reforms in the security sphere, taking into account NATO standards. The foreign ministers of the Alliance countries regularly assess the ANP to monitor Ukraine’s progress.

The document allows you to track progress using fairly clear indicators. Its main “components” have 5 sections:

  • Political and economic issues.
  • Defense and military issues.
  • Questions are related to resources.
  • Security issues.
  • Legal component.

Within each of these sections, the components of reforms are prescribed annually, the implementation of which is a marker of Ukraine’s approach to the standards of the North Atlantic Alliance.

However, the full-scale invasion forced it to make corrections. It was decided that the 2023 program must be adapted to modern realities.

It will be a “very short program”: Stefanishyna commented on the format of the Ukraine-NATO ANP , – Suspil’ne

The words of the Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Olga Stefanishyna sound quite convincing in the context of communications of the Ukrainian authorities. According to a government representative, the program has taken on the characteristics of a road map for reforming the document’s defined areas.

It is also important to note that part of the reforms, according to the ANP, intersect with the integration processes foreseen for the acquisition of membership in the European Union and other requirements of partners, the implementation of which will mean the continuation of military and financial support.

Hurry up slowly

The conditions for the unification of material standards between NATO member countries are regulated by the “Standardization Agreement” (STANAG), which is commonly referred to as the “NATO standard”.

Deputy Head of the Office of the President Ihor Zhovkva noted that as of 2021, Ukraine has implemented 151 NATO standards. During the full-scale invasion from February 2022 – there are 131 more standards. Accelerating the pace of implementation of NATO standards was aimed at strengthening operational interoperability with Western partners supporting the defense of Ukraine.

However, there is a certain fear in expert circles that several innovations were hastily applied only on paper, and the actual implementation is lagging.

Here we can also draw an analogy with the European integration of Ukraine, for which the Verkhovna Rada switched to the mode of “legislative printer”. Such work rates caused apprehension among Ukrainian experts, but in war conditions, they were often necessary, albeit with many “buts”.

Challenges of the turbo regime of the Verkhovna Rada in wartime , – Center for Joint Actions

This format of work on the introduction of new standards in one way or another moves Ukraine’s progress in the necessary direction, but without further systematic work, decisions turn into “dead norms” following the example of the qwerty effect . This effect is called certain standards that have become established despite their inefficiency, such as the keyboard layout, which slows down typing. Implementing norms without prior adaptation can play a bad joke, and, as a result, it will be necessary to revise or introduce changes in hastily adopted norms.

This is a constant process. Even in NATO, standardization continues. There is a special department under the Ministry of Defense that must work constantly. NATO standards are more about the mentality and attitude of civil society and the military.

Archil Tsintsadze, security policy expert

The mentality mentioned by Mr Tsintsadze does not involve norms and standards but rather decision-making processes, how the bureaucracy works and the interaction of NATO with the states within the Alliance.

Accepting Ukraine into NATO involves primarily a political decision. Rapprochement with allies through the mediation of standards will not be a more productive option. Western partners must understand exactly how the Ukrainian government works and what it is governed by.

Are there enough resources to implement the reforms?

One way or another, Ukraine faces the problem of comprehensively implementing all NATO standards in wartime conditions. For example, transfering the logistic services (we wrote about that here) cyber security and intelligence in the NATO model requires serious organizational changes, which are difficult to implement with a limited budget since state and partner funds are directed to the primary needs of the Armed Forces.

For example, in the allocation of expenditures of the budget of Ukraine for 2023, more than 7.5 billion hryvnias were allocated to the programs of reform and development of the defense-industrial complex, as well as the development, development and implementation of new technologies. But even with such volumes, it does not compare with the costs of the Ministry of Defense to cover the current needs of the Ukrainian army (the total budget of the Ministry of Defense is almost 800 billion hryvnias), which is due to the intensity and scale of the war.

However, Mr. Tsintsadze notes that: “Resources in our case are mentality” , and therefore, the implementation of NATO standards in all spheres, provided for by the ANP, is possible with the necessary political will and motivation. Judging by the latest KMIS polls, the consolidation of society regarding the movement in NATO exists, and with such a position, implementing reforms related to this topic should not be a problem for the authorities.

89% of Ukrainians support joining NATO , according to a survey by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology.

Non-standard war

Another unfavorable factor is that some NATO standards may not meet Ukraine’s immediate wartime needs. The purpose of NATO standards is to create a unified operational space for the collective defense of the Alliance members in peacetime.

For example, if the individual standards of tactical medicine or document management of the Ukrainian army still have to be brought up to the necessary standards, then the use of civil aviation drones for operational reconnaissance or FPV drones for fire damage to the enemy is already at a higher level than in the Alliance.

A British instructor who trained Ukrainian gunners said that:

I like how the Ukrainian military uses and adapts drones to fix targets. We also use them, but I can say that Ukrainians are at a different, higher level. And this is exactly what the whole world should learn from the Ukrainian army.

UK Army Instructor, name unknown

At the same time, back in 2019, Dmytro Kuleba claimed in an interview with Radio Liberty that one of the biggest problems of the Ukrainian army is the state of learning English. This need is the most basic in the context of Euro-Atlantic integration, but as of now, it is still a problem. In particular, due to the fact that the army has significantly increased in size.

Moreover, the tactics of conducting hostilities outlined in the “Uniform Doctrine for the Conduct of NATO Operations” ( Allied joint doctrine for the conduct of operations ) can often be ineffective in the context of waging war with a numerically superior enemy.

This document only talks about the stages of planning and carrying out operations – an abstract algorithm of actions.

Mykola Beleskov, senior analyst of the “Return Alive” fund
Why only the implementation of NATO standards in the Armed Forces is not enough for an effective war with Russia , – Mykola Beleskov

As a result, the cooperation of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine with the NATO Standardization Office and the Conference of National Armaments Directors (CNAD) is very important in the context of the integration of the Ukrainian army into NATO. Such cooperation can not only help Ukraine implement NATO standards with less effort and resources but also contribute to the defense capability of the Alliance.


The NATO-Ukraine annual national program reflects the strategic vision of Ukraine in the Alliance. Ukraine has identified key priority areas where the implementation of NATO standards can have the greatest impact in wartime. Reforming law enforcement agencies, strengthening civilian control over the security and defense sector, anti-corruption policy, achieving interoperability with NATO, and developing the security and defense sector of Ukraine.

It is a balanced approach to the implementation of the ANP that will be the most effective for improving Ukraine’s defense capabilities and will provide long-term benefits of its implementation, including NATO membership. The members of the Alliance agreed that Ukraine would become a member of NATO, and the efforts made to support the development and increase of Ukraine’s defense potential did bring its material support to the army closer.

Achieving interoperability with NATO is critical. Ukraine needs to ensure continuous integration with NATO command structures and military procedures. At the same time, Ukraine needs to continue working on a large number of basic things, such as knowledge of the English language, logistical problems and the state’s ability to systematically and fully implement the necessary standards.