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.