Yet politics in Tbilisi inflates the risks of offering Georgia a security guarantee. Some of those most enamored of confrontation with Moscow have accused Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream party, which ousted former president Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement from power two years ago, of being pro-Russian. With the growth of fears of Hungary and nationalist parties in Europe acting as an effective Fifth Column, why add another possible one?
Moreover, the United States has criticized the Georgian government for charging former president Saakashvili and several of his aides for misbehavior while in office. Apparent political motivation does not mean the charges are unjustified, but the prosecution suggests a lack of political maturity and potential for instability that are undesirable in an alliance partner.
Anyway, we have a dramatic example of Georgian recklessness vis-à-vis Russia: the 2008 war. Who was “right” in this dispute is hard to say, since there long has been antagonism between Georgia and the territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia used the dispute for its own ends, but that doesn’t justify Georgia’s actions.
President Saakashvili evidently was determined to win back the territories with force. His own officials indicated that they discounted the likelihood of Russian intervention and expected U.S. support. Georgia’s role was affirmed by a European investigative commission after the conflict. Reported Spiegel online: “a majority of members tend to arrive at the assessment that Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili started the war by attacking South Ossetia on August 7, 2008. The facts assembled . . . refute Saakashvili’s claim that his country became the innocent victim of ‘Russian aggression’ on that day.” Retired British Col. Christopher Langton said: “Georgia’s dream is shattered, but the country can only blame itself for that.”
“One thing was already clear to the officers at NATO headquarters in Brussels: They thought that the Georgians had started the conflict and that their actions were more calculated than pure self-defense or a response to Russian provocation. In fact, the NATO officers believed that the Georgian attack was a calculated offensive against South Ossetian positions to create the facts on the ground.”
Nor was the Bush administration ignorant. The panel pointed to a remark by then assistant secretary of state Daniel Fried that President Saakashvili “went out of control.” Imagine the behavior of Tbilisi had it been a member of NATO.
There is much to admire in Georgia’s effort to forge a separate and free national existence. Given its history and location, the task was never going to be easy. But natural sympathy is no argument for bringing Tbilisi into NATO. Washington should reserve the promise to go to war for countries vital for American security. Georgia is not one of those countries.
Why Washington continues to defend populous and prosperous allies such as the European states is not obvious. With a greater collective GDP and population, the Europeans should be defending America. In any case, the United States should not add new defense dependents, such as Georgia, that would bring far more security risks than geopolitical benefits.
Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and a former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan. He is the author of several books, including Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire (Xulon).