The Bush administration has described Vice President Dick Cheney's trip to Tbilisi today as demonstrating U.S. support for Georgia and its NATO aspirations. Meanwhile, in the United States, some have argued that NATO erred in failing to admit Tbilisi sooner and that the alliance must now put Georgia on a "fast track" to membership. This view is based more on advocacy than analysis, however, and reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of both Russia and Europe. It is also far from clear that under current circumstances Georgia's NATO membership would be a net contribution to American security or broader U.S. national interests.
The suggestion that today's troubles could have been avoided had NATO at its April Bucharest Summit offered Georgia a Membership Action Plan (MAP)-beginning the practical, bureaucratic process leading to membership-is naïve and short-sighted. First, a MAP is not membership. The conflict between Georgia and Russia would not have legally triggered the alliance's Article Five provisions on mutual defense. And the Kremlin knows this.
Worse, having a MAP might have only further emboldened Georgian President Saakashvili and led him to provoke a more serious conflict with Russia in the expectation that he would receive NATO support. In that case, NATO would have faced a disastrous choice between war with Russia and failing to support a government to which it had a moral, if not legal, commitment.