US Pushes Georgia into NATO: MAP is Option Again

Andrei AKULOV | 14.03.2014

As Russian Kommersant daily reports citing its own NATO and US State Department sources, the idea of granting Georgia a Membership Action Plan (MAP) is getting wide support in the Alliance, as the events in Ukraine unfold. On his recent visit to Washington on February 25 Georgian Prime Minister Garibashvili got the assurances that his country will get a MAP at NATO September 2014 session in Cardiff, Wales, in case Crimea votes for joining the Russian Federation at the March 16 referendum. The article notes that only Germany may hesitate a bit while the foreign department is headed by Franc-Walter Steinmeier prone to show restraint towards Russia.

US administration takes stance to support Georgia’s NATO’s bid

The U.S. State Department endorsed granting Georgia its long-coveted status as an aspiring NATO member. This is the first time in recent history that the U.S. has explicitly come out in favor of MAP. Before the visit State Department officials had shied away from making the US stance definite. President Barak Obama and State Secretary John Kerry met the Georgian Prime Minister. After the meeting Kerry mentioned the possibility of his visit to Georgia for the first time (before May). The Secretary also announced «additional assistance» to Georgia: «Today I am announcing additional assistance by the United States to help support Georgia’s European and Euro-Atlantic vision, specifically to help Georgia achieve visa-free travel with the EU and to mitigate the hardships caused by borderization along the occupied territories».

Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Alasania said Russia’s campaign in Ukraine creates a need for more decisive NATO policy in Eastern Europe. «Speeding up the process of Georgia joining NATO should be one of the essential elements of the new policy approach that will better contribute to ensuring [the] stability of the European and Euro-Atlantic area», Alasania wrote in an emailed response to questions posed by EurasiaNet.org. «Speeding up the process of Georgia joining NATO should be one of the essential elements of the new policy approach that will better contribute to ensuring [the] stability of the European and Euro-Atlantic area», he wrote in an emailed response to questions posed by EurasiaNet.org.

«There is now a wave of support building here for the idea of giving Georgia a MAP to protect against Russia», says Caucasus expert Thomas de Waal, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC.

In late 2008 NATO embarked on an intensive cooperation program intended to strengthen the Georgian military. A NATO-Georgia Commission was established and tasked with overseeing implementation of successive Annual National Programs intended as a substitute for a MAP. At the NATO’s Lisbon summit in 2010 participants reaffirmed the commitment enshrined in the Bucharest summit communique that Georgia would eventually join the alliance. Georgia has made an outsized contribution to the NATO effort in Afghanistan.

In March 2013, the Georgian parliament passed a unanimous resolution reconfirming Georgia’s NATO and EU aspirations. Last year NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen for his part lauded Georgia’s progress toward meeting NATO membership requirements. Visiting Tbilisi in June 2013, he said Georgia had «moved a lot closer to NATO» and «is on the right path» to «NATO’s open door». «With consistent and determined efforts, you will reach your destination», Rasmussen assured the hosts.

Georgia is situated in the strategically vital Caucasus region, which links Europe and the West to resource-rich Central Asia and beyond to China and India. A growing network of sea ports, air and land corridors put Georgia at the emerging nexus for Asian and European economies. As NATO and the US scale down their presence in Afghanistan, the West is going to need strong partners in this region. When it comes to the EU, Brussels is working to accelerate the signing of accords that will eventually make the country’s laws, economy and political system EU-compatible. The agreements, expected later this year, are subject to legislative approval by both the EU and Georgia, and require more reforms. But for the first time Brussels has hinted that its overtures to Georgia will not stop there.

Sergi Kapanadze, a deputy foreign minister under former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, believes that showing a strengthened commitment to Georgia on NATO membership would be one of the best ways to show Russia how resolute the West is to oppose it, «Based on other situations, such as Syria, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin now feels that the West is weak and its warnings taper off without translating into something that can actually hurt Russia», said Kapanadze. «If the West does not take real steps, such as expelling Russia from the G8 and making Georgia a NATO member, Putin will think he can get away with Ukraine».

US lawmakers strongly push for granting MAP 

While the events in Ukraine dominate headlines, congressmen in Washington are pressuring the administration to take a more aggressive stand toward allowing NATO membership for Georgia.

In February 2014, 40 lawmakers from both sides of the aisle wrote a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry stressing that the U.S. and its allies «have reached a critical point in which action is necessary to ensure NATO’s future relevance and viability». They encouraged continued efforts to make enlargement a key priority for the United States and urged him to support NATO membership for Macedonia and Montenegro, encourage continued progress in implementing the MAP for Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The Feb. 5 letter, drafted by the office of Rep. Mike Turner Ohio Republican and chairman of the U.S. Delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, specifically called on the Secretary of State to advocate granting Georgia a MAP at NATO’s 2014 summit, which is slated for September.

In response to the letter, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State of Legislative Affairs Julia Frifield wrote, «We believe Georgia deserves credit at the upcoming NATO Summit for the progress it has made and its demonstrated commitment to NATO operations and standards. We stand ready to support Georgia’s own efforts to build a consensus within the Alliance for granting it a Membership Action Plan».

Republicans say President Barack Obama has been too passive in responding to the crisis in Ukraine.

US Senator Mario Rubio (R-FL), who is widely viewed as a 2016 presidential contender, called for a renewed push for NATO membership for Georgia.

South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham told CNN on March 2 that Obama should «stop going on television and trying to threaten thugs and dictators». Graham added that «Every time the President goes on national television and threatens Putin or anyone like Putin, everybody’s eyes roll, including mine. We have a weak and indecisive president that invites aggression». As to him, «Georgia is trying to seek NATO admission through the membership action plan. Let’s accelerate Georgia’s admission into NATO», said Graham. «We abandoned our missile defense agreements with them to protect Europe from a rogue missile attack coming out of the Mid East. Russia backed Obama down. If I were President Obama, I would reengage Poland and the Czech Republic regarding missile defense».

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers told Fox News that «Putin is playing chess and I think we’re playing marbles». The Michigan congressman added that the Russians have been «running circles around us» in negotiations on issues like missile defense and Syria. Rogers said the White House should not attend the G-8 summit and should seek international sanctions.

And Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona – Obama’s 2008 general election opponent and a frequent critic of the President’s foreign policy – said in a statement that he is «deeply concerned» that Russia’s presence in Ukraine could grow if Obama does not go into detail about what exactly he’s going to do. McCain called on the U.S. to give economic aid to Ukraine and to install U.S. missiles in the Czech Republican. «President Obama said that Russia would face ‘costs’ if it intervened militarily in Ukraine», McCain said. «It is now essential for the President to articulate exactly what those costs will be and take steps urgently to impose them».

Imponderables and factors to reckon with

There are imponderables as the issue is considered, for instance, it remains unclear to what extent the Georgian Army as a whole meets NATO standards, as opposed to the battalions that have served since 2009 with the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan. NATO has been enthusiastically engaged in the Alliance extension for the very idea of extension game. Now it has become an alliance of rag tag members with different potentials and different interests complicating to utmost any decision making process. Georgia will add more headache and burden without giving anything on return. Giving a MAP to Georgia is like cutting off the nose to spite the face. After all it was Georgian President Saakashvili who launched an attack in 2008. If Georgia were a NATO member those days, it would have done a real lip service to the Alliance putting it in an awkward position nobody needed, to put it most mildly.

Russia still maintains a military presence within the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and regards NATO advancement as an immediate threat. Giving MAP to Georgia means constant confrontation with Russia adamant to stay firm asserting its foreign policy interests and ready to rebuff any attempts to intimidate or exert pressure on it. 

Speaking at a news conference in Brussels after the NATO-Russia Council on December 8, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, «I noticed that yesterday’s communiqué, which was adopted by the NATO foreign ministers, contains a term ‘aspirant countries’ and among them was named Georgia too. I openly warned our colleagues not to again push, wittingly or unwittingly, the current regime in Georgia towards repeating an adventure similar to the one of August, 2008… it was shortly after the [April, 2008 NATO] Bucharest summit, during which [NATO] imperatively stated, that Georgia will join NATO», Lavrov said.

Riccardo Alvaro, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center on the United States and Europe, noted that as a general rule, NATO is unwilling to accept countries with such unresolved disputes because it «involves the risk of NATO being drawn into a military confrontation». «Common sense has it that NATO’s enlargement should take place wherever it enhances NATO’s security», he added. «If enlarging the Alliance means a spillover of insecurity into it, what’s the point?» 

The very process of NATO expansion is an irritant negatively affecting the security situation in Europe in general and bringing no dividends; NATO has no axe to grind here.

This is the time to come up with well thought over and balanced initiatives to find a common understanding and ways to calm the tensions down, not pouring more fuel to the fire. Granting a MAP to Georgia is an obvious wrong step in the wrong direction at the wrong time.