Georgia’s NATO Membership: Dreams and Reality

An important event has taken place on February 11-12. The NATO Military Committee, made up of senior NATO military officers, paid an official visit to Georgia. During the two days trip Chairman of Military Committee General Knud Bartels held meetings with President of Georgia Giorgi Margvelashvil, Prime-Minister Irakli Gharibashvili and Minister of Defence Irakli Alasania. The issues related to the Georgia`s contribution to the Euro-Atlantic security dominated the agenda. Georgian leaders wanted to believe the process of Georgia’s gradual movement to NATO membership was irreversible. They are looking for support of their plans in Washington rather than in Brussels. It is the United States who is going to provide funds for the implementation of the only decision taken at the meeting – the participation of Georgia in the NATO Response Force (NRF) starting from 2015…

Irakli Sessiashvili, the head of Defense and Security committee of the Parliament, said the details are to be discussed with Americans at the level of working groups. The fact US-Georgian working groups are to be created to discuss an issue of minor importance strikes an eye. It’s only a 150-strong company prepared for the mission, nothing more. It’s not a matter to tackle at the inter-government level. Tbilisi sets much store by the decision trying to make it look like a great achievement on the way of boosting the process of cooperation with the alliance. Chairman of the Committee on Defense and National Security of the Georgian Parliament Irakli Sessiashvili said the fact of Georgian armed forces becoming part of the NRF illustrates the irreversibility of the country joining NATO.

The assessments of experts differ greatly from what the Georgian politicians say. If needed the Unites States spends billions of dollars to support the allies, the expenditure for just one company is a drop in a bucket. The company’s contribution into NATO’s special operations efforts is not something to strike imagination. The importance of 150 Georgian personnel adding to the global security efforts evokes smile.

In reality it is something else the United States strives for. By getting Georgia involved into the NATO’s sphere of influence the US gains more leverage over Russia. Georgian Minister of Defence Irakli Alasania notes that the US-Georgia military cooperation has moved up to a new level but the decision on NATO membership is hanging fire and it’s hard to imagine it will ever take place. The so-called «intensified dialogue» with Georgia on its joining the alliance has been dragging on for eight years since 2006. At the Bucharest summit in April 2008 it was agreed that Georgia would become a member but it has not joined NATO as yet and there are no forecasts made on this account. Brussels keeps on harping on about «open doors» but there is a string attached here – it’s open for those who are ready and worthy of it.

NATO is closely watching the way the required reforms are implemented in Georgia. It’s not only reshaping the military but rather changes in different spheres of life – political, judiciary and electoral system. In a way Georgia must stop being Georgia to become a NATO member. The process is under the oversight of NATO-Georgia commission. NATO liaison bureau in Tbilisi is monitoring the situation on spot.

Trying to reach the NATO standards, Georgia has to large extent lost its sovereignty getting no security guarantees in return. It has received no whatsoever support in exchange for its anti-Russian policy. No surprise: NATO has never considered Georgia as its full-fledged partner: the other thing is that it can be used for achieving its goals. 

For instance, Americans highly value the Georgia’s contribution in Afghanistan. They give special attention to the fact that Georgia’s 170 strong contingent is the largest ISAF force among non-member states. It suits Americans perfectly that Georgia attaches no strings while its soldiers fight in one of the most volatile regions in Afghanistan – the province of Helmand. The 31 light battalion of III Infantry brigade suffers the death toll exceeding that of many other ISAF NATO participants, but Tbilisi has already said it is ready to stay after the ISAF missions is over by the end of 2014. 

The United States needs Georgia not as a military ally but rather as a country providing important routes, including pipelines. For America Georgia is not a country with its own culture and established traditions but rather a transit zone and a rear bridgehead for a military action against Iran. And it is not accidental that the US provides much money for military airports in Vaziani, Marneuli and near the port of Batumi… That’s what US congressmen had in mind sending a letter to State Secretary John Kerry asking him to grant Georgia with a Membership Action Plan (MAP) at the NATO 2014 Summit. The US Congressmen believed the USA and its allies had already reached a critical point where it was «necessary to unveil the mechanisms that provide high viable future of NATO» and said the USA «look forward to work with you to ensure the region’s other countries gain closer relations with Euro-Atlantic structures and the future membership of the alliance».

Meanwhile Georgians themselves have started to pay less attention to the issue of NATO membership. The last polls conducted by NDI (the National Democratic Institute) in Georgia show that 26% think that Georgia might be a member of NATO. The majority of respondents are against. Aside from the interests of narrow group represented by higher-ups, Georgian people believe the restoration of good neighborly relations with Russia is by far more important than the issue of relations with NATO. The very same NDI polls show 72% are not satisfied with the state of relations with Russia (1) But the Georgia upper strata turns a blind eye on what the majority thinks and pushes for NATO membership.

The reason is an illusion that in case a 2008 style military venture is repeated, NATO will defend Georgia from Russia’s response. Let’s leave aside the issue of the West’s readiness to risk the relations with Moscow in favor of bolstering Georgian elite’s ambitions, but it’s worth to note that it’s the United States and «new» European NATO members who are interested in Georgia’s Alliance membership, but not the «old Europe». That’s the correlation of forces and sooner or later the Georgian powers that be will have to admit that. As Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Georgian leaders need to realize and accept the current reality that has been created after the War unleashed by Saakashvili.

(1) Swedish international development cooperation agency (SIDA) provides funds for NDI activities in Georgia. The Caucasus Research Resource Centers (CRRC) also conducts polls.