Major Non-NATO Ally Status: Israel’s Experience and Prospects for Long-Term Peace in Ukraine

Written by Anton Khimiak, HWAG/UCMC Analyst

On October 7, Hamas, a religious and political movement based in Gaza, staged a terrorist attack on Israel. The attack was carried out with a high level of brutality, with at least 1,400 Israeli citizens killed and approximately 250 taken prisoner. In response, Israel launched the “Iron Swords” military operation to destroy Hamas infrastructure in Gaza.

As the conflict unfolded, the international community began to split between the warring parties. The United States of America has unambiguously supported its regional ally, Israel. This line of Washington policy is due not only to the countries’ long-standing friendly relations, but also to the country’s status as a Major non-NATO ally (MNNA). This cooperation format between the US and Israel has been in place since 1989 and includes special US security commitments. 

Russian propaganda is actively covering the situation in Gaza and attempting to divert the world’s attention away from its war on Ukraine. To that end, Moscow actively fabricates information about the origins of weapons used by Hamas in its attack on Israel, and casts doubt on the US’s ability to supply weapons to both the Middle East and Ukrainian theaters of operations. 

As a result, reports about the supply of armored vehicles from the United States have been used as a pretext for deceptions about Israel’s priority and willingness to sacrifice Ukraine’s military needs. As a result, it is wise to recall the format of the US Major Non-NATO Ally.

Let us also consider whether this status can provide Ukraine with sustainable peace.

Daniil Bezsonov: “Hamas and Hezbollah use weapons and ammunition from Ukrainian warehouses against Israel. No wonder, money doesn’t smell. Moreover, the suckers from NATO are already providing everything they need at the expense of American and European taxpayers.”

What is the status of a major non-NATO ally (MNNA)?

The MNNA status was established in 1987 by the Reagan administration to recognize countries that maintain close strategic and military ties with the United States but do not seek NATO membership. The format recognizes these countries’ importance in supporting US security objectives and encourages cooperation in various defense initiatives, joint research, counterterrorism activities, arms procurement, and participation in space projects, as well as an expedited arms delivery process.

MNNA status was first granted to Australia, Egypt, Israel, Japan, and South Korea. In this way, the US highlighted its significant contribution to regional security. Later, the list was expanded to include Jordan, New Zealand, Taiwan, and Argentina, among others. Each country’s inclusion was determined by its specific geopolitical context and relevance to US security interests.

Ukraine could join the “MNNA club” as well; the US Senate even supported a bill to grant this status in 2014, and Ukrainian President Poroshenko supported the aspiration. 

Ukrainska Pravda – Poroshenko wants Ukraine to become a non-NATO ally of the United States 

Did this status help shape Israel’s security space?

Israel has leveraged its MNNA status to strengthen defense cooperation and prioritize its strategic partnership with the US. This format enabled Israel to gain access to advanced military technologies as well as participate in joint military exercises, research, and development with the US.

Israel will receive significant supplies of weapons and equipment to prepare for an operation to destroy Hamas as the primary terrorist threat. This is especially important in light of the possibility of an open conflict with Hezbollah (Iranian paramilitary proxy in Lebanon). Israel began receiving armored vehicles two weeks after the war began, which is an impressive factor (especially given that American equipment takes at least a month to reach Ukraine), and the situation will be similar with artillery shells. However, it should be noted that the supply of weapons to Ukraine has significant logistical limitations, as some of the artillery shells supplied to Ukraine were from warehouses located directly in Israel.

It is important to note, however, that the MNNA format does not resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict and is not a panacea for achieving regional stability. MNNA primarily guarantees assistance in the area of security policy.

Does Ukraine need the ‘MNNA’ status?

It is important to bear in mind that, unlike Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, the MNNA does not provide immediate security guarantees. Therefore, Ukraine’s ultimate goal is to become a full-fledged NATO member, which requires Kyiv to meet certain criteria, including political, military, and democratic reforms.

Other factors can also explain Ukraine’s decision to abandon its MNNA status. In particular, the fact that, in the absence of the aforementioned guarantees, a field for manipulation is created. This was noted in 2021 by Mykola Bieleskov, Chief Consultant at the National Institute for Strategic Studies’ Department of Military and Military-Economic Policy:

“Obtaining MNNA status can truly play a cruel joke on our Euro-Atlantic integration. Although this status does not preclude Ukraine from pursuing further NATO membership, some NATO members who are skeptical of Ukraine’s membership may use MNNA as an argument: ‘What else do you Ukrainians want if you have this status?'”

Mykola Bieleskov, Chief Consultant at the National Institute for Strategic Studies’ Department of Military and Military-Economic Policy

Thus, Ukraine’s approach to security and defense cooperation extends beyond MNNA status. The country is actively cooperating with NATO in a variety of areas, and this cooperation is undoubtedly at a very deep level following the invasion. 

Is Israel’s experience relevant to Ukraine?

The Israeli security model extends beyond MNNA status, despite being one of the most important elements of the architecture of relations between Washington and Tel Aviv. For example, the Memorandum of Military Assistance (2016) provides for annual financial assistance from the United States in the amount of $3.8 billion from 2019 to 2028. That is, the planning horizon for supporting Israel is a decade.  For this level of support, Ukraine would have to make so many changes that nearly all of the requirements for joining NATO would be met.

There are also programs for direct commercial supply and the transfer of surplus military equipment, which allow Israel to replenish its stock of equipment and machinery. 

It is also worth noting that Israel is currently fighting regional terrorist organizations rather than a regular army of a 140-million-strong nuclear power. These circumstances result in fundamentally different security requirements for Israel and Ukraine. 

Thus, the transformation of Ukraine into a “Eastern European Israel” is too time-consuming and resource-intensive. However, the experience of joint developments in Israel and the United States’ military-industrial complexes can be useful for Ukraine’s further integration and restructuring of its domestic military-industrial complex. Such collaboration is currently planned with the defense industries of other NATO countries, but it needs to be scaled up.

Is the only alternative MNNA?

The only alternative to MNNA status is not the best approach for Ukraine in the context of a full-fledged war with Russia. Instead, Ukraine’s move toward NATO reflects the complexities of the situation and the need to prioritize long-term planning. As a result, Israel’s experience is useful for Ukraine, but it is necessary to consider the significant contextual differences in order to effectively adopt best practices.

Creating its own architecture of bilateral agreements to strengthen its security may be a temporary compromise for Ukraine, but certain questions remain. Ukraine already has a fairly comprehensive format of interaction with NATO, and thus future development of relations should take into account a broader context than bilateral agreements with the US.

In the event of a full-fledged nuclear war, Ukraine would prefer to join NATO to be protected by the security umbrella guaranteed by Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty.  This decision stems from the fact that if Ukraine joins the Alliance, Russian aggression against Ukraine would result in a much higher level of escalation. At the same time, the MNNA status would make it difficult for us to receive more weapons than those we received as a result of Russian aggression.