New NATO nations coming in 2009
Posted by sanityinjection on December 3, 2008
NATO foreign ministers meeting this week gave the unofficial green light for NATO membership to Albania and Croatia. Having completed the organization’s requirements for membership, the two countries are expected to formally join the organization at NATO’s spring summit meeting, becoming the 27th and 28th members of the alliance.
One might well ask: If NATO is meant to be a mutual defense alliance, what benefit accrues to NATO from accepting such tiny countries with miniscule defense capabilities?
In military terms, the answer is that these countries face little in the way of direct threats of aggression. The only plausible enemy for either is Serbia, and Serbia is obviously no match for the combined might of NATO, as it learned in the 1990s. Having these countries included in NATO actually simplifies European air and missile defense, rather than having these little areas where overflight rights and rules of engagement have to be negotiated ad hoc. There is also the diplomatic advantage of having the weight of two more voting UN members behind NATO actions.
However, the accession of Albania and Croatia, which even Russia is unlikely to oppose, is sure to raise anew the question of NATO expansion into other countries such as Ukraine and Georgia, which Russia opposes strenuously. Both countries have received vague but repeated promises that they will be welcome to begin the process of applying for membership if they choose to do so, despite Russian concerns.
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.
For these reasons, I think it would be very unwise to admit Georgia to NATO. But there are few voices in the American foreign policy establishment willing to admit this, because no one wants to appear to be going back on promises made to Georgia in the past. Instead, what will probably happen is that the conditions for NATO membership will be made to include the peaceful resolution of the Abkhazia/South Ossetia issue; since that seems unlikely to occur any time soon, it will serve to put off Georgian NATO membership indefinitely without definitively ruling it out in the future. Thus at today’s NATO ministers meeting:
“Faced with opposition from Russia, the NATO ministers backed away from establishing a plan for Ukraine and George [sic] to move toward entry into the Western military alliance for the former-Soviet nations. However, the ministers offered to step up military and political cooperation to help them achieve their goal of eventual membership. ” (AP, 3 Dec 08)
[New Georgian Foreign Minister (and major hottie) Eka Tkeshelashvili, left, during a meeting of the NATO Georgia Commission at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Wednesday Dec. 3, 2008. If my opposition to Georgian membership made “Eur-Eka” all sad and pouty, I might have a hard time not being swayed!] (Virginia Mayo/AP Photo)
While I am all for keeping our promises to other nations, I am against taking on defense responsibilities that are out of proportion to their value in terms of US national interest and our ability to fulfill them. We made that mistake in Vietnam in the 1950s (blame the French for that one), and we should learn from it.