Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

Georgia, Part II: The NATO expansion issue

Posted by sanityinjection on August 12, 2008

This deserves its own separate discussion. The question is whether or not Georgia should become a NATO member. Up until now, the US has been generally supportive of the idea, although taking a go-slow approach given the obvious potential for pissing off the Russians. Both John McCain and Barack Obama have recently called for putting Georgia on the path to NATO membership. Opposition has largely come from our European allies.

Up until 1999, NATO membership had remained relatively static for four decades (Spain abandoned its neutrality in 1982 and joined the alliance.) A major enlargement then took place as NATO added Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary. All three were relatively prosperous democracies, adjacent to NATO through Germany, and all three could contribute a reasonable military expenditure toward the common defense. None bordered directly on Russia. Despite Russian objections, there was a general consensus in the West that this expansion made sense.

The next expansion came in 2004 with the addition of Slovenia, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. Romania and Bulgaria, like the earlier additions, were strong enough to make a military contribution. Tiny Slovenia is a peaceful country with no enemies that could be defended easily. Likewise, Slovakia is nestled between three other members and its inclusion drastically simplifies a military border. The Baltic states, however, were a different story. They border directly on Russia and have had troubled relations. It was felt that NATO membership might be necessary to preserve the independence of these states. While Russia could cut them off by land, NATO’s naval strength in the Baltic made it feasible to defend these states. Their accession, however, was a major provocation to Russia.

Since then, invitations have been offered to Albania and Croatia – again, easily defended states bordering on NATO territory and not considered controversial. The controversy has been over discussions with Ukraine and Georgia. Ukraine, with its large territory and economy, would be a major addition to the alliance and would improve the security of its neighbors Romania and Slovakia. It is not clear whether public opinion there fully supports NATO membership as there is a strong pro-Russian faction, but it seems clear that NATO will take Ukraine if Ukraine wants in.

Georgia, on the other hand, is far-flung from NATO territory, bordering only Turkey. It needs NATO much more than NATO needs it, and its troop contributions to Iraq were an effort to demonstrate the contrary. Georgian membership in NATO in no way benefits US or European security, as our allies have recognized, and carries the potential to embroil the alliance in local conflicts such as the Armenian-Azerbaijani mess as well as the ominous spectre of a direct war with Russia in an area where NATO’s ability to project its ower is minimal.

I am going to have to disagree with the prevailing wisdom and suggest that Georgia should not be put on the track to NATO membership. The current war illustrates the reasons fairly well. However, I think we should do our best to support our ally to the extent that is feasible.

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3 Responses to “Georgia, Part II: The NATO expansion issue”

  1. ritvars said

    Accession of the Baltics to NATO is no provocation to Russia as the NATO isn’t threat to it. But it surely means major frustration for Russian imperialism. Trying to appease the Kremlin by refusing/postponing Ukrainian and Georgian membership only emboldened it to cook Georgian goose.

  2. sanityinjection said

    I’ve considered the argument that if Georgia had been brought into NATO sooner (although that would have been impossible for reasons that have nothing to do with Russia), this war would never have happened. I’m not sure I buy it. On the contrary, Russia might well have calculated that the NATO countries, especially the Europeans, would not be willing to die for Tbilisi. The stakes would have been higher for both Russia and the West, but the choices for the West would have been grim: open war with Russia or the destruction of the NATO alliance.

  3. […] As I argued in a post a few months ago, there would seem to be significant upside to the addition of Ukraine to NATO, although I do not think public opinion there has come to any consensus in favor of accession, or is likely to do so in the immediate future (Although, anything that looks or sounds like a Russian attempt to retake the Crimea could unify the country in favor of NATO.) However, Georgia presents a thornier problem. Although Georgia’s economy is stronger and its population definitively pro-Western, the ongoing Russian involvement in the issue of its breakaway regions is a mess NATO does not need or want. The accession of Georgia to NATO would mean a major new defense responsibility for the alliance in the face of a powerful threat, with difficult lines of supply – support for Georgia would have to come by way of Turkey and the Black Sea, home to a Russian naval fleet. […]

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