January 24, 2014

Georgia and NATO: Focus on Reforms not Ultimatums

During his January 13 presentation at the Estonian Center for Eastern Partnership, Georgian Speaker of Parliament David Usupashvili made some amazing pronouncements regarding Georgia’s NATO aspirations.

During his January 13 presentation at the Estonian Center for Eastern Partnership, Georgian Speaker of Parliament David Usupashvili made some amazing pronouncements regarding Georgia’s NATO aspirations.

According to the apolitical Georgian news portal civil.ge , Speaker Usupashvili warned that if NATO fails to grant Georgia a Membership Action Plan at its summit in Wales this September, NATO will “ruin and undermine” political stability in Georgia, potentially creating “momentum” for anti-NATO political forces to steer Georgia away from the West.

The readout of the meeting by the Georgian Parliament’s Press Office goes a bit further, stating, “The [Georgian] parliament speaker has also discussed the issue of [2014] NATO summit and noted that Georgia remembers pledge [made by the NATO leaders] at the Bucharest summit [in 2008] and although the country is following steadfastly its commitments, no concrete result is yet visible. He [Usupashvili] said that Georgia has an expectation for a concrete result – that is MAP and certain threat to EU integration may also emerge if this result is not tabled.”

Hopefully, Mr. Usupashvili was misquoted in this instance, as he is an experienced politician in the Georgian context and certainly must realize the dangers of setting excessively high expectations that cannot be realized. Alas, there is no chance Georgia will receive MAP at the NATO Summit later this year. Germany and France are simply unwilling to take any measures that might increase tension with Russia, whose troops continue to occupy a quarter of Georgia’s sovereign territory (including just a few kilometers from the Sochi Olympics; alpine skiing venue at Krasnaya Polyana), while the United States has lost its focus on the South Caucasus.

The Speaker is correct in his assertion that Georgia’s military continues to do a good job in advancing its military reforms (under the leadership of Defense Minister Alasania). No one can question the commitment of Minister Alasania, or of Speaker Usupashvili himself, or of Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Japaridze, or of a vast majority of Georgian citizens to Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration. And, as Speaker Usupashvili correctly notes, NATO concluded at its Bucharest Summit that “Georgia and Ukraine will be members of NATO,” but only after they have further advanced their military as well as democratic reforms.

Judging from the comments of my friends in Washington, the U.S. Government remains committed in principle to NATO’s pledge at Bucharest, and again in Chicago in 2012, that Georgia will (eventually) be a member of NATO. But my friends also express concerns about the health of democracy in Georgia, as well as the depth of the Georgian Government’s commitment to Euro-Atlantaic integration. It is on this last point that Speaker Usupashvili’s comments create problems, as he suggests that there may indeed be strong political forces in Georgia preparing for the country to reorient more toward the North than toward the West.

During his first meeting with President Bush at the very beginning of 2004, President Saakashvili pressed hard for Georgia to receive MAP at the next NATO Summit. President Saakasvhili then began a military buildup and vigorous political effort to prepare Georgia to meet NATO’s accession criteria, all the while raising the country’s expectations that Georgia would indeed receive MAP. Many members of Georgia’s current government criticized President Saakasvhili’s raising of expectations at that time; yet, they now risk doing the very same thing.

While Speaker Usupashvili’s current raising of expectations may be tactically unwise, it does underscore how committed the vast majority of Georgia’s political leaders remain to Georgia’s eventual NATO membership. This is a very good thing. But Georgia must now focus more on its reforms than on setting an ultimatum that NATO simply will not meet.

Meanwhile, it is important for Estonia’s military experts and political and civil society leaders to continue sharing their experience on reform and NATO accession with our eager counterparts. By doing so, we remind our NATO Allies that Estonia is a net contributor of security to the Alliance. This, in turn, helps restore our big NATO Allies’ strategic focus on the unfinished security challenges in our own region.

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