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  The issue of Georgia’s membership in NATO after the Atlantic Alliance meeting in Brussels

Aivaras Bagdonas, VU TSPMI doktorantas
2009 01 19

The meeting of foreign ministers of the Atlantic Alliance, held on 2-3 December 2008, did not make any significant decisions concerning advancement of Georgia‘s integration in NATO. The decision was made to develop the Georgian National Program instead of the Membership Action Plan (MAP). Although the meeting of NATO-Georgia Commission discussed the issues of political, economic and defense reforms related to integration, it was highlighted that Georgia will have to implement a set of serious reforms.

The above decisions could be evaluated as a long-term perspective of Georgia‘s membership in NATO, however, its implementation could take quite more time than expected. Therefore, a question arises: what would be the perspectives of Georgia’s membership even after it has implemented all the requirements?

Back in April, during the Bucharest Summit, the leaders of NATO, pushed by Germany, France and Italy, refused to approve MAP for Georgia and, consequently, confirmed that NATO states have no uniform opinion concerning Georgia. In August 2008, Georgia, having unilaterally decided to take back South Ossetia, reduced the already small number of NATO states supporting its membership. Notably, before the beginning of the meeting of 2-3 December 2008, the NATO states did not have a uniform opinion concerning the approval of a Georgian MAP.

A vague vision of Georgia‘s membership in the Alliance is a perfect opportunity for the opponents of the enlargement of NATO towards the East (first of all Russia) to seek the suspension of Georgia’s membership. Referring to the Russian policy, this could be considered as a significant obstacle on Georgia‘s road towards NATO.

Russia‘s position has undoubtedly influenced the decisions in Brussels.  One of the high NATO officials highlighted that „during the meeting in December nobody wanted to displease Russia”.  The efforts to resolve the issue of Georgia‘s membership could undoubtedly arise the economic Russia’s response related to energy resources. Taking into consideration the world credit crisis, this would certainly be undesirable. Besides, the Alliance cannot do without Russia‘s support in solving the issues of Iran‘s nuclear program, transit to Afghanistan, international terrorism etc.

Such a set up of the international economic and political power in favor to Russia might become a significant obstacle for NATO‘s enlargement towards Caucasus. Obviously, NATO keeps its ears open and this is predetermined by long-term reasons. Thus, most probably Russia might further effectively hamper the process of Georgia‘s membership in NATO.

However, the processes initiated by the United States before and during the meeting of 2-3 December concerning integration of Georgia, could be evaluated as a flexible alternative for Russia‘s policy. By suggesting Europe to approve an easier procedure for Georgia‘s membership in NATO by at the same time increasing the support to Georgia for implementation of relevant reforms, the United States demonstrated the ability to seek dialogue between the Member States on the expansion of the Alliance by bypassing the Russian arguments.

On the other hand, the statement of a U.S. representative that Georgia shouldn‘t expect membership in NATO in the near future, implied nothing but a perspective of a long-term dialogue between Russia and the United States. Therefore, the intention of the United States to enhance the process of Georgia‘s integration in NATO is evaluated as comparatively effective, yet, a temporal step forward in this respect.

Referring to the above arguments, the conclusion could be made that the perspective of Georgia‘s membership in NATO remained vague after the meeting of ministers of foreign affairs. One is clear: even if Georgia manages (in the long-term perspective) to implement all the requirements specified in the National Action Program, it would not necessarily become a guarantee for its membership in NATO.  The key international actors (first of all Russia and the United States) should play the main role in the process of Georgia‘s integration by seeking compromise. However, one should not expect a fast movement forward in the above direction.

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