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Cold War Traps: NATO considers giving Georgia a MAP

The Prime Minister of Georgia visits NATO

Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garbashvili visited NATO headquarters on Wednesday for the first meeting of the NATO-Georgia Commission this year where Georgia was wholeheartedly thanked for its contributions to NATO and its democratic reforms. But the question still remains; will Georgia be given a membership action plan (MAP) this September at the NATO Summit in Wales?

Positive, yet vague statements were made by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen:

Georgia is a strong and committed NATO partner. You play an outstanding role in our operations. You are implementing important reforms. And today we see a more mature democracy in your country, after free and fair presidential elections last year.

Prime Minister, we stand by our commitments. At the Bucharest Summit in 2008 we decided that Georgia will become a NATO member, provided you meet the necessary requirements. That decision still stands.

Georgia has been vying for NATO membership since 1994 when it signed up for NATO’s Partnership for Peace plan like most post-communist states and became the first to gain an Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) in 2002, furthermore, Georgia was offered intensified dialogue in 2006. Georgia sees its eventual membership in NATO as the first step toward European Integration, a direction that is highly popular within the Georgian electorate. In a 2008 plebiscite, 61% of Georgians voted to pursue NATO membership, a goal which has been consistent across Georgian governments in the past several decades.

Sochi to Tbilisi map

The problem is that Georgia’s NATO membership bid depends on its relationship with Russia and the status of its two break away provinces; Abhkazia and South Ossetia. In August 2008, Georgia invaded the territories starting a war with Russia, who, along with Nicaragua and Venezuela have recognized both Abhkazia and South Ossetia as independent states while NATO along with the rest of the world, does not. Georgia continues to deny their sovereignty despite facts on the ground. NATO should continue to support popular demands for national independence in order to prevent ethnic conflict rather than allying with Georgia to empower it in a future confrontation with Russia.

The status of the territories continues to be a contentious issue. Davit Usupashvili of Georgia’s parliament warned on January 13 that failure to provide Georgia with a MAP would undermine domestic stability and lead to a unilateral move to take back the breakaway republics. Prime Minister Garibashvili disagrees and has reiterated Georgia’s desire to move closer to Europe and continue to cooperate with NATO irrespective of the outcome of the NATO Summit this year. Nevertheless, the question of regaining control of territories lost is still on Georgia’s political agenda and needs to be factored into NATO’s decision.

In addition to recognizing Georgia’s democratic reforms and contributions to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan on Wednesday, to which Georgia is the largest non-NATO contributor, NATO criticized Russia for expanding into Georgia’s Abkhazia region without Georgian consent. On January 20, Russian authorities expanded a security zone from 2km to 11km into Abkhazia to create a buffer zone to protect the nearby Sochi Olympics. Russia has assured Abkhazian authorities this is a temporary measure. Russia does not seek to expand into Abkhazia and recognizes its sovereignty in spite of Georgia’s and NATO’s position.

Denying sovereignty to a territory which is de facto separate from the state which claims it, stalls progress and runs contrary to the position NATO has taken on Kosovo. Cooperation with Russia in the 21st century has been positive with respect to combined efforts on counter terrorism, counter piracy and search and rescue missions. It is time for NATO to move beyond cold war thinking and to look at Russia as a potential partner with whom to mediate international disputes cooperatively rather than as an adversary.

It is one thing to take sides with Georgia, but entering into a military alliance under these circumstances could be dangerous. If Georgia cannot resolve its border issues with Russia, in consultation with the regions in dispute, then incorporating Georgia into NATO by providing a MAP will risk bringing NATO into a serious conflict with Russia.

Justine Reisler
Justine Reisler holds an Honors Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Toronto. She completed a Double Major in International Relations and Political Science with a Minor in European Union Studies. She has worked as a Media Analyst for the Canadian Centre for the Responsibility to Protect and has traveled to Kosovo for an investigative research report on Kosovo’s progress toward independent border management. Her current research interests include security and political developments in Russia, Southeastern Europe, the Caucuses and the Middle East.