No Way to Expand an Alliance
Reports from Brussels are suggesting that a number of Western European countries are planning to use the latest crackdown in Georgia as the fig leaf for "delaying" a membership action plan (MAP) for NATO. Reuters reports that diplomats at NATO headquarters are concluding that the events of the last two weeks "may have given hesitant Western European allies the grounds they need to block a step they fear would exacerbate rising tensions between NATO and Russia."
This is yet another example of the inability of the Euro-Atlantic community to have an honest dialogue on expansion-and what the limits will be. We saw this with Ukraine where that country was "on course" for a MAP-despite real concerns-until Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych took over. In essence, what put Ukraine's NATO membership on hold was not a serious discussion about the needs of the alliance but "[o]nly the collapse of the pro-Western "Orange" coalition that took power in Ukraine in 2004, and the return to the premiership of the pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych, led to this project being suspended", as Anatol Lieven has noted.
I have always advocated an expansion of NATO that is based on a rational assessment of the security needs (back in 2002 I wrote: "If, on the other hand, NATO intends to remain primarily a military alliance whose members share common security interests, then - as Thomas S. Szayna of the RAND Corporation noted - the final decision to admit a new member must be based instead on a "strategic rationale - the impact on NATO's core mission and abilities… no matter how successful that country has been in meeting NATO's guidelines.")
If Georgia is essential to the future of the alliance, then stop playing games and work to bring the country into NATO.
But what we have instead is a series of muddled messages. We don't want to say "no" to Georgia because that would appear as if we were giving Moscow a veto over future members of the alliance; and we don't want to say "no" because that would jeopardize the use of NATO as a poor man's EU; and we don't want to say "no" because if we can expand the alliance yet again with little cost, why not? But we don't want to say "yes" because of the possible negative reaction from Russia and we don't want to say "yes" if it increases our liabilities.
So we hope that the ex-Soviet states will somehow take themselves out of the running voluntarily, so that we don't have to say no. Yanukovych's premiership bought the West two more years of being able to hedge on Ukraine-and calculations that the new Orange Coalition won't last and that Ukraine will still be "on hold" for membership indefinitely are being made. Now, if Mikheil Saakashvili can be "blamed" for the lack of an invitation to NATO, it is not a case of the alliance refusing Georgia but Georgia's own fault.
While the alliance founders in Afghanistan, the games continue.
Nikolas K. Gvosdev is editor of The National Interest.
For more commentary on international relations, check out The Washington Realist, Nick Gvosdev's blog.