Georgians were deeply disappointed last week when their country's request for a membership action plan (MAP) to join NATO was denied. This was a mistake.
A small country with a population of five million, Georgia is strategically located in Eurasia, close by key states like Russia, Armenia, Turkey and Iran. Russia is against the former-Soviet country joining NATO, as well as Ukraine. At the Bucharest summit earlier this month, European countries said that it was too early to grant membership.
Why is NATO so vital for Georgia?
First of all, it would once and for all secure the country's independence from outside threats. Georgia has for centuries been a target for invaders, from Greeks, Turks, Arabs and Russians. Understandably, the country needs to accomplish more in the way of modern democracy but banning Georgia from joining such a prestigious and strong institution is not the answer. On the contrary, the more doors that close only serve to postpone acceptance of Georgia in the free world and send a direct message to the Georgian people that they are not up to the task.
The current administration of Georgia has made many mistakes on its path to democracy (chief among them human-rights violations), but punishing the people of Georgia-who overwhelmingly voted in favor of joining NATO, as well as the European Union-is patently unfair.
When I spoke with a German political scientist in Berlin last month, the argument against Georgia was based on the fact that the country is still embroiled in a divisive debate over the fate of two breakaway regions, Ossetia and Abkhazia, which Russia now supports. If Georgia-a former Soviet bloc country-is to become a member of NATO and the European Union, its territorial integrity upon acceptance must be intact. Neither NATO nor the EU wants to become involved in an economic or political skirmish with Moscow.
NATO's failure to accept Georgia only strengthened the pro-Russia factions in both Ukraine and Georgia. These are people who will never accept freedom and democracy, preferring to live in the past. The road to modern government must be open for both countries. Membership in NATO would send a strong signal to Moscow that both countries are no longer satellites, but free and independent.
Georgians are devoted to America for its values. The United States has strongly supported Georgia from the start, and no doubt will continue to do so after this administration leaves office. Georgians appreciate Washington's strong support. President Bush did everything he could to push the Georgian cause in Bucharest, expressing America's desire to stand with the Georgian people. The next administration will certainly step up efforts on Georgia's behalf.
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer left the door open after the MAP bids of Georgia and Ukraine came up short, saying they would one day be accepted. That day must come soon.
Tsotne Bakuria is a former member of the Georgian parliament.