On September 4-5 a summit meeting of NATO heads of state will take place in Wales. “This summit will be an important landmark in the development of the alliance. There will be discussion of the withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan as well as the new phase in our presence in that country. We will be taking further steps toward modernizing our organization, in order to keep it strong, flexible, and capable of reacting to any security challenge,” declared NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in a press release.
Many experts note that in recent years NATO has paid particularly close attention to Afghanistan. Now, in light of the withdrawal of coalition forces from the country, members of the alliance will develop and formulate a new aim for the organization at the summit in Wales. In fact its new purpose is already clear to a great extent. Numerous Western leaders make no secret of it—in light of recent events in Ukraine, the alliance’s task henceforth consists in strengthening the security of Eastern Europe, opposing Russia, and limiting her opportunities.
The de facto declaration of NATO strategy has newly awakened Georgia’s hopes for quick entry into the alliance. Before the events in Ukraine, official Tbilisi was counting on receiving a NATO MAP, or Membership Action Plan, in Wales. The MAP is the final phase, which paves the way for the actual entry of any country into the North Atlantic alliance. Georgia’s hopes were not unfounded.
The country successfully completed the previous required programs and conducted considerable reforms in both the army itself and the entire administration of its military, as well as in its economic and lawmaking sectors, and continues to strictly follow all recommendations from Brussels. In addition, Georgia is an avid participant in various NATO coalitions which already exist in practice. The Georgian contingent is second only to the American in terms of the makeup of the coalition forces in Afghanistan, as Washington has repeatedly noted. Georgian soldiers took part in the missions in Kosovo and Iraq. A few days ago, others were sent into the Central African Republic. Incidentally, this has distinctly upset some elements of Georgian society, who believe that their soldiers have no business fighting abroad.
The idea of Georgia’s accession to NATO has been actively lobbied for by the USA. It is supported by the Baltic states and Poland. But some are also seriously opposed to it. First of all, Germany and France. German chancellor Angela Merkel just gave the Georgian government the cold shoulder—Georgia will not be given its MAP in Wales. “There are other forms of cooperation. We are going to deepen and expand our partnership, but for the time being not within the framework of the alliance,” she announced.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on a recent visit to Tbilisi assured his hosts that the day of Georgia’s accession to the ranks of the alliance is closer than ever. But he, too, suddenly changed his rhetoric, declaring that the country has observed NATO’s recommendations, and is approaching the required standards, but for NATO membership… still more needs to be done!
But what exactly? How many more coffins does the small, unfortunate, far from densely populated country need to bring back from Afghanistan and now (God forbid) from the Central African Republic, in order to meet the demands of Brussels?! The Georgian leaders are correct to state that this NATO policy is disappointing to their population. It is true: where five years ago the idea of Georgian entry into NATO had support from around 80% of the population, the figure has now fallen to 60%. The disappointment is a response not only to the Brussels line, but to the simultaneous announcement from the Georgian government that the question of joining NATO has already been resolved in the affirmative—this increasingly draws smiles of skepticism. Georgian Foreign Minister Maia Panjikidze was forced to improvise when responding to the cold shower from Rasmussen and Merkel: there is a precedent, she claimed, for countries joining NATO without being given a MAP. Is there such a precedent? There appears not to be in recent memory.
“Being granted the MAP in itself does not guarantee that the country will become a NATO member. That last stage, preceding entry into the alliance, can be extended for many years. The MAP implies the continuation of many reforms of both the military and civil society. It is also bringing the country’s legal framework into agreement with the standards of NATO member states. The local economy must meet certain criteria, and so on,” Vakhtang Maisaia, Georgian expert on military affairs, told the author.
Another Georgian military expert told me the following, on condition his name be withheld: “The West is still stuck in the August war of 2008. That war cost Georgia a lot, the war itself and the consequent dismemberment of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as well as the delay it caused in Georgia’s integration into the North Atlantic alliance. NATO does not wish to get tied up in partner obligations to countries with unresolved conflicts that are highly liable to break out anew. Even less so when a conflict involving Russia is involved. And here declarations of efforts toward peaceful resolution of the situation, which the Georgian leaders are making, do not solve the problem. The conflict has to be settled once and for all, and in the given situation it does not matter in whose favor, before NATO will go ahead with expanding to include Georgia.”
This means, to speak in plain terms, without excessive diplomacy: either Georgia officially renounces its ambitions to recover its territorial cohesion, which no Georgian politician will agree to do, or the situation develops in such a way that the autonomous regions that have left the fold decide to come back under Tbilisi’s jurisdiction, which is also appears not to be a realistic possibility, at least in the foreseeable future. This is why the question of Georgia’s entry into NATO is becoming so very drawn-out. Tbilisi also suffers from the obvious reluctance of “Old Europe” to create yet another area of tension with Russia, even if Georgia did not have the territorial issues mentioned above. Russia is categorically opposed to the emergence of another NATO member state along its underbelly, and Old Europe for the moment is taking this consideration into account.
Nonetheless, the mere fact that the resolution of Georgia’s accession to NATO keeps facing delays is not going to assuage all of Russia’s anxiety. If its fears are linked with the emergence of NATO powers on southern borders, they have long since materialized there. In mid-June long-term joint Georgian-American military exercises, called Agile Spirit-2014, began in Georgia. 550 Georgian soldiers took part, together with 350 US Marines. The military cooperation between Tbilisi and Washington, interrupted for some time due to the earlier-mentioned war of 2008, have once again got going on quite a high level, and American financial aid has once again soared into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Military and naval forces from other NATO countries are frequent guests in Georgia. Turkey, which until very recently was renting a military aerodrome in the vicinity of Tbilisi for its own purposes, provides active aid to the Georgian armed forces. All of this means that NATO forces have already been in Georgia for quite a while. Not in the form of a formal military alliance but on the basis of bilateral agreements.
Yuri Simonyan, a columnist for the Nezavizimaya Gazeta, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.