Yes, NATO Should Let Georgia In

It's in American interests to support the Caucasian republic.

Of all the arguments on the question of NATO expansion, it is particularly interesting to see anti-NATO campaigners attempts to articulate why growing the Atlantic Alliance is at odds with the purpose of an organization whose utility they are apparently unable to fathom. Unsurprisingly, the rhetorical gymnastics tend to quickly give way to misrepresentation as the contradictions become too difficult to manage. Such was the case with CATO Institute scholar Doug Bandow’s cri de coeur in the National Interest against the prospect of Georgian NATO membership.

Citing my April briefing in World Politics Review, Bandow somehow counts Georgia’s planned force modernizations as evidence that Tbilisi finds it “cheaper to campaign for a NATO security guarantee.” In reality, the Georgian defense ministry’s reforms should make the country better able to defend its borders, not less. The conscript-staffed, heavier force structure being phased out is an actual post-Soviet relic, as Bandow so often labels NATO. Scrapping this shambolic structure in favor of a professional, mobile, and Western-trained force, battle-hardened in Iraq and in Afghanistan’s unforgiving Helmand Province, provides far greater capability for Georgia’s territorial security and as a potential NATO asset.

It’s true that Georgia’s heavy losses in Afghanistan are leading some to call to question the utility of the mission (so far, however, only a narrow minority). However, this is more a function of Georgians’ frustrations with NATO’s perceived slowness to recognize their country’s outsized contributions and sacrifices. In a July poll, 73 percent supported their country’s NATO aspirations and 79 percent supported joining the EU. This is a country that seriously wants to be a part of the Euro-Atlantic community.

Contrary to Bandow’s characterizations, there are some strong U.S.-interests-oriented arguments for bringing Georgia into the Atlantic Alliance. For one, the eastward expansion of a liberal, rules-based system can only be a good thing for the United States, which is fundamentally safer and more prosperous when its core values are embraced throughout the world. And for all their imperfections and stumbles, Euro-Atlantic institutions like NATO and the EU remain the surest and most successful vehicles of this agenda in Eurasia.

Categorical critics of NATO like Bandow accuse the organization of being without a mission since the Soviet Union’s disintegration, but somehow fail to recognize that the Cold War success of NATO was as much sociopolitical as it was military. While the Atlantic Alliance was surely a hard-nosed defensive bulwark against the specter of Soviet imperialism, it was as much a political operation that embraced and advocated for Euro-Atlantic’s common liberal-democratic values (albeit not always perfectly). The Soviet Union may be no more, but the forces of authoritarianism remain active and, in some ways, are gaining ground.

As the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute’s Mamuka Tsereteli rightly points out, the fate of Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic bid will have a radiating effect on its neighbors in the Caucasus, Black Sea, and Caspian regions. Regional modernizers that aspire to a liberal democratic future are closely watching Georgia’s impressive push for integration. If Georgia—which is returning to a positive trajectory of political development and making great pains to stabilize its regional relations—is frozen out of the defensive club indefinitely, this would actively disincentivize democratization as well as future economic or security cooperation.