In November 2010 a major political event took place in Lisbon. The leaders of the twenty eight NATO member states along with those of the sixteen partner countries gathered in a summit in the capital of Portugal that eventually ended up with the new seventh strategic concept. This should represent the so called guideline for the Alliance in the next decade. Since then, half of the world’s political elite, academics, scholars, politicians, even speculators and lots more have been discussing, analysing results, content and future repercussions of the Lisbon summit on world political affairs. Part of the discussions applies to two post-Soviet transition states, namely Ukraine and Georgia. Since the 2003-2005 colour revolutions, the two countries have seen drastic changes and have been desperately striving for future NATO membership. Indeed, they made huge steps towards NATO integration.
In politically unstable countries like Ukraine and Georgia, changes have ironic characteristics. They might often and suddenly change again. The reason for this might be the fact that both Ukraine and Georgia are substantial interest for much bigger political actors. Unfortunately their foreign policies are influenced by the global powers to a great extent. Nevertheless, at present, one might dare to conclude what NATO’s new strategic concept really means for those two Eastern European countries. It seems that after Lisbon NATO integration supporters in Kiev and Tbilisi have far less reasons for optimism than they did a couple of years ago.
Since the post-Cold War period NATO allies always have been sorting out membership applicant countries in groups. That was the case with the Visegrad Group, the Baltic, Eastern European and Western Balkan states. It is the policy through which NATO guides its enlargement processes. Therefore it is no coincidence that Georgia and Ukraine also have been put together in the same ‘enlargement basket’ since their peaceful revolutions in late 2003 and early 2005 respectively.
A lot of commonalities between Ukraine and Georgia designated this NATO decision. First and foremost, the peaceful nature of both revolutions, followed by quite swift reforms in a great deal of spheres. Importantly their official firm declaration on their NATO bid. This prompt shift in foreign policy of both states was met by a significant deterioration of their relations with Moscow. However, both the Yushchenko and Saakashvili governments firmly kept on their road towards NATO integration claiming that they were then ready more than ever for starting the Membership Action Plan (MAP), which constitutes the membership framework.
Although, before the NATO Bucharest summit in April 2008, Georgia and Ukraine were truly closer than ever for being granted the MAP, their chances were not that high. On the second day of the summit a group of member states led by Germany and France cut off all hopes for Georgian and Ukrainian delegations with regard to MAP. However, the most important and truly tremendous political achievement has been reached. The NATO member states agreed ‘that these countries will become members of NATO’. However, no specific time was voiced.
Later in the same year, instead of MAP, the two NATO aspirant countries were granted a new formal, however less significant, Annual National Programmes framework. The ANPs were meant to help ‘Georgia and Ukraine advance their reforms’. Then, notwithstanding a huge backing from George W. Bush administration, NATO allies did not take the risk of giving Ukraine and Georgia the MAP, which would be a clear message to Kremlin that NATO stands by those post-Soviet states and relations between the West and Russia would have suffered another extreme strain.
Now already having a new NATO strategic concept on the table, the situation is completely different. The Bucharest summit decisions marked a turning point in NATO-Georgia and NATO-Ukraine bilateral relations and paved the way for the Russia-Georgian war in South Ossetia in August 2008. To be more precise, the Bucharest decision stopped and afterwards reversed considerable progress made by Georgia and Ukraine during 2003-2008. The Lisbon summit was the first time when those two countries were treated separately. Moreover, despite the Bucharest summit promise of NATO membership in the unspecified future, after Lisbon, the Alliance is viewing their membership aspirations as a very long-term issue.
Opened Door for Georgia?
The new strategic concept reaffirms the pledge given to Georgia three years ago with all its provisions and ‘subsequent decisions’. This actually means that it will step in the NATO door sometime in the future when it is ready and meets all the requirements set in the article 10 of the North Atlantic Treaty. These criteria are quite indefinite and give NATO decision makers the possibility to politically interpret progress made by the applicant country. The Lisbon declaration actually quotes the meaning of the Washington Treaty’s article 10 and states that ‘NATO’s door will remain open to all European democracies which share the values of our Alliance, which are willing and able to assume the responsibilities and obligations of membership, which are in a position to further the principles of the Treaty, and whose inclusion can contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area’.
Despite a lot of mistakes made by the Georgian young government mainly due to inexperience and fast forward reforms, the country achieved significant progress in terms of combating corruption and instituting economic, political, military and institutional reforms. However, when it comes to democratic values and foremost to the contribution to the security of the North Atlantic area, lots of question marks arise. Although, Georgia is one of the largest contributors (924 men) to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan (that is proportionate to its population), it is considered by the NATO giant members as a potential threat that will definitely emerge for the Europeans due to Russia’s strong opposition. The South Ossetia war in 2008 was an additional proof that Georgia cannot get closer to the Alliance as far as Europe and now even the United States, (which is the strongest supporter of Georgia’s NATO bid) will not sacrifice their cooperation with Russia in a wide spectrum of issues. This include non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, energy security and especially the global missile defence system that brings Russia in stabilising threats coming from Iran, North Korea and Middle East. All these problematic issues are the priorities of the new NATO strategic concept, which again puts the Georgian membership aspect in the second if not third basket of priorities.
The main obstacles for Georgia to become NATO member obviously are Russia’s severe and hysterical opposition, which could be also connected to the second big barrier – Germany’s and France’s categorical ‘no-go’. Since Russia’s military intervention in Georgia in 2008 and naming the NATO eastern enlargement as a national security threat in its new military doctrine adopted in February 2010, made clear that Georgia’s NATO integration will be very painful for all global and local actors in the South Caucasus region.
The third big problematic issue is Georgia’s internal conflicts. They continue to be the main obstacle for Georgia in the very long run. Russia unilaterally recognised independence of the two breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Inversely, the West unanimously supports Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, which also has been reiterated in the new strategic concept. In this respect, it is not likely that on the one hand, the US’s and the EU’s, and on the other hand, Russia’s interests will merge. However, even under these circumstances Kremlin definitely keeps de facto veto power over Georgia’s membership ambitions in NATO.
Will Georgia Continue Down the NATO Path?
Under these circumstances for Georgia’s decision makers the question whether Georgia’s pro-NATO course is pragmatic and reasonable arises. However, the overwhelming majority of Georgia’s population (76%) supports not only becoming a part of the most successful political-military organization in world’s history, but also the country’s pro-European and pro-Western orientation perceptions.
Considering the new strategic concept’s character and goals, the future of NATO-Georgia bilateral relations will further develop, however, mainly confined within partnership frameworks such as the NATO-Georgia Commission and a bunch of annual bureaucratic meetings that are constantly assessing Georgia’s progress. In this regard, one should point out that if nothing significantly changes in the world’s political arena, particularly in the West-Russia’s relations, Georgia’s even most democratic reforms will not break the deadlock in favour of Tbilisi.
The Case of Ukraine
As for Ukraine, the Lisbon summit was much clearer. It was just a repercussion of the Ukraine’s non-block decision made soon after the new government of Victor Yanukovych took office in 2010. The Lisbon declaration states that NATO is ‘recognising the sovereign right of each nation to freely choose its security arrangements, we respect Ukraine’s policy of “non-bloc” status’.
It would not be an exaggeration if we say that first Ukraine itself and then the Lisbon summit cut all ties regarding membership. Only after five years Ukraine’s desperate sprint towards NATO’s ‘opened’ door has been stopped like it never existed at all. Following the Lisbon summit declaration and the new strategic concept it produced, it is not that hard to notice that the indefinite future ‘Bucharest promise’ of NATO membership vanished from the political agendas of NATO, Ukraine and even Russia. Now NATO talks just about further cooperation, deepening partnership and how important for NATO is to have ‘a stable, democratic and economically prosperous Ukraine’.
Such a U-turn in Ukraine’s foreign policy could be explained by a number of reasons. First of all, this is a country which has a big 45 million population and Russia cannot afford watching her going into NATO’s sphere of influence. It is too crucial for Russia. Kremlin’s growing ambitions will not let another loss of post-Soviet state happen. Under these circumstances, NATO does not have sufficient capacity and is not yet ready to fight for bringing Ukraine under its influence.
Secondly, the majority of Ukraine’s population, especially the Eastern part which is densely populated by ethnic Russians opposes country’s NATO integration.
Thirdly, Ukraine’s geo-strategic location affords Kiev (like Moldova) to counterbalance between Russia and the West without NATO membership, which is less applicable in Georgia’s case. However, with a sudden government change in Ukraine the Bucharest decision could be brought back.
The Lisbon summit and NATO’s new strategic concept separated the issues of Ukraine and Georgia in the Alliance’s political agenda. They are now treated much more individually than before. It is agreed by all stakeholders that Ukraine will not pursue the NATO integration process in this decade, which also makes the Bucharest pledge for Georgia look like a political dream. Nevertheless, the latter still continues its solid political course towards ‘NATO’s opened door’. The question is where and how can it be found.
written by Nikoloz, July 10, 2011
Thank you for sharing this. It was an interesting reading providing eloquent sum up of the most important past events and scathing realistic image of issue’s future development. Predictions for the both country’s cases were logical, loud and clear, too bad not very comforting to the people and government of Georgia.
Unreliable partner – Georgia
written by funtravelerss, July 11, 2011
It is a very nice post, but too soft on Georgia. In my opinion, as long as the current Georgian President, who was truly responsible for starting the conflict with Russia by shelling his own citizens, in charge, Georgia shouldn’t be given any chance/consideration to join NATO. The Council of the European Union Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia (IIFFMCG) report stated that the Commander of the Georgian contingent to the Joint Peacekeeping Forces
(JPKF), Brigadier General Mamuka Kurashvili, stated that the operation was aimed at restoring the constitutional order in the territory of South Ossetia. Somewhat later the Georgian side refuted Mamuka Kurashvili’s statement as unauthorised and invoked the countering of an alleged Russian invasion as justification of the operation. The Georgian President not only attacked his own citizens and the Russian Peacekeepers, he also lied to entire world. He cannot be trusted as a reliable partner in any deal. He is a high risk for the world peace.