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NATO credibility crisis and Post Crimea enlargement: Cases of Georgia and Montenegro

The next NATO Summit is scheduled for July 8-9, 2016 in Warsaw, Poland. The theme of the upcoming summit is expected to be that of security within the alliance (collective defense, article V of the founding treaty) as an answer to the security challenges facing NATO today (Ukraine crisis, ISIS, Russia’s military intervention in Syria). ”In Warsaw, we will chart the course for the Alliance’s adaptation to the new security environment, so that NATO remains ready to defend all allies against any threat from any direction”, – NATO’s secretary general Jens Stoltenberg announced in May 2015.[1] This prospect has been termed in news as “back to basics” principle[2], with mostly negative connotations of NATO going backwards, renouncing its responsibility of crisis management”[3]. In other words, Stoltenberg’s claim means NATO is choosing inwards-oriented security over outwards-oriented one, in contrast to what he had claimed two months before (March 2015) -“Today we do not have the luxury to choose between collective defence and crisis management. For the first time in NATO’s history we have to do both”.[4] It goes without saying here, enlargement is not on the NATO agenda for Warsaw summit.

A case of Georgia

“Back to basics” projection is alarming for Georgia. “If Warsaw turns into a fifth-article summit, situation in NATO’s neighboring countries may sharply worsen,”- Georgian Defense Minister Tina Khidasheli said in her interview with Süddeutsche Zeitung[5]. Indeed, the Euro-Atlantic skepticism is growing with the continuous disappointments and pro-Russian forces are gaining their momentum in Georgia. For now, there might be no reasons for serious concern over Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations (the current government stayed firmly on the Western track against UNM speculations about Georgian Dream being pro-Russian), but as NATO (and EU) fails to deliver over and over, “fewer Georgians now view the West through rose-tinted glasses”,- as reasoned in Joseph Larsen’s well-written commentary about “Georgia’s anti-western voices growing louder”[6]. Georgian government is especially worried as the Summit outcome will definitely affect the 2016 parliamentary election results in Georgia. “If decisions beneficial for Georgia are not made at Warsaw summit, we might get pro-Russian forces in the parliament,” – Khidasheli stated[7]. Against this background, Georgia is  determined to raise the issue of NATO membership in Warsaw and request granting of Membership Action Plan (MAP) that they were previously denied on 2008 Bucharest summit.[8]

There is an overall agreement that Georgia, in substance, meets all the pre-requisites for being offered a MAP, – i.e. continues to effectively accomplish all the rapprochement plans offered to it {NATO has an Open-Door policy (article 10), and thus no explicit accession criteria. In theory, NATO is ready to accept every European country adhering to the principles of Washington Treaty, willing and capable to contribute to the Euro-Atlantic security. Alliance membership happens on the invitation from North Atlantic Council}[9]. Georgia successfully completed Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) and went through the “Intensified dialogue on Membership issues”. Right now Georgia is developing the 7th cycle of Annual National Programme (ANP) that replaced IPAP, implements NATO-Georgia package offered at Wales summit and participates in NATO-Georgia commission (3 present tools)[10]. Georgia also cooperates with NATO through Partnership for Peace (PfP) and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC). [11] Towards rapprochement with NATO, Georgia has modernized its armed forces and has been making substantial contribution to NATO missions, for which NATO has repeatedly referred to Georgia as a “valuable partner”[12]. Georgia was the biggest troop contributor to the ISAF mission in Afghanistan (2004-2014) among the non-member states and still continues to be involved in the Afghanistan Resolute Support Mission, now as a second largest contributor after the US (with approximately 885 soldiers). [13] Georgia also provided valued support to NATO operation in Kosovo and now participates in anti-terrorist maritime surveillance operation Active Endeavour in the Mediterranean.[14] At this point, Georgia clearly merits Membership Action Plan to continue further work towards meeting NATO standards.

Bilateral meeting between NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen the Prime Minister of Georgia, Nika Gilauri, at the NATO-Georgia Commission meeting (NGC) in Tbilisi, Georgia in 2011. Photo Credit: NATO
Bilateral meeting between NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen the Prime Minister of Georgia, Nika Gilauri, at the NATO-Georgia Commission meeting (NGC) in Tbilisi, Georgia in 2011. Photo Credit: NATO

However, the Russian factor proves decisive here and not merits. US president George Bush Jr was pushing for MAP-granting to Georgia (along with Ukraine) during the Bucharest Summit in 2008, but France’s and Germany’s unease about Russian reaction brought MAP case to a standstill[15]. Since then, this unease has grown into fear that Georgia will drag NATO into the war invoking article V of the founding treaty: an attack on one Ally shall be considered an attack on all Allies[16]. This concern is especially relevant after the Russia-Georgian war of 2008 (August War). “If Georgia joined Nato tomorrow, in two days they would attack Abkhazia. We would respond, as we are obliged to by our agreements with Abkhazia. Then Nato would have to decide what to do,” – former Russian general envisaged a NATO-Russia war in his interview with Telegraph[17]. Seems like some alliance members agree it is a likely scenario, though Georgians would argue against it. In any case, it is true that Georgia sees NATO as a security umbrella. In the name of self-defense or attack to regain territorial integrity counting on NATO support, whoever provokes the war (Russia, Georgia or separatist regions), if it occurs, it would create undesirable conditions for NATO. NATO does not want to “decide what to do” post-factum (to invoke article V or not), but rather prefers preventing it from happening, by avoiding irritating Russia (thus depriving Georgia of MAP).

The alliance is not ready nor willing to take on the responsibility to defend Georgia against Russia in case of such need. This need may well occur even more as an answer to Georgia’s further integration into NATO structures. As minimum, in response to Georgia’s step further into NATO, Russia would boost military presence in the separatist regions, leading to some provocations at the ABLs (rerun of the 2008 scenario). In actual fact, the August war which further deteriorated Georgia’s chances of NATO membership, was the one NATO indirectly caused. Paradoxically, NATO that Georgia aspires for security considerations at the same time undermines Georgian security (Georgia’s every step forward into NATO provokes Russian aggression). Russia’s ex-president Dmitry Medvedev admitted that the 2008 war was there to halt NATO expansion[18]. Russia is against Georgia’s membership of NATO and considers it as a direct threat to its national security. Russia showed the world how far it can go by annexing Crimea and destabilizing Ukraine and now Moscow is further demonstrating its powers in Syria. Against this background, it is understandable that NATO is hesitant about MAP-granting. The most comfortable policy choice for NATO is to feed Georgia with carrots from time to time, keeping it on the Euro-Atlantic track while not welcoming it inside the Euro-Atlantic camp. Yet, Georgian appetite is growing and carrots offered by Euro-Atlantic community are not enough, especially as each Western carrot comes with a Russian stick. There will come a point when Georgia will no more be able to afford futile enthusiasm.

At the end of the day, either Georgia integrates into Euro-Atlantic Structures or it integrates into Eurasian one (Armenian case is noteworthy here). Obviously, Georgia cannot go neutral (Russia would not even ‘’allow’’ it), and has nothing like Azerbaijan (self-sustained economy/ energy resources) to balance between Russia and the West. This prospect goes against NATO interests in the region. The South Caucasus region is of a high geostrategic importance for NATO as a passageway to Central Asia, Afghanistan, Iran. Georgia is the West’s only strong point in the region (Armenia does not seek membership, Azerbaijan is seeking neutrality). Hence, losing Georgia to Russia lessens NATO’s effectiveness, power and ability to provide for overall (international) and energy security (Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey route) as well as to halt terrorism. Only Russian Federation wins from this scenario.

That is why, NATO cannot allow Georgia’s depart from the Euro-Atlantic way. NATO may not be directed against Russia as the latter usually blames the former for, but for a small country like Georgia, sandwiched between competing interests, it is either West or Russia, turning it into a zero-sum game (potentially, U.S/EU and Russian security interests do overlap, but at least for present day these interests are perceived as competing). NATO, in fact, borders Georgia, and Russia’s grip over Georgia, threatens the alliance as much as NATO’s expansion into Georgia threatens Russia (As unpleasant as Russian stance is to the parties involved, -EU, NATO, Georgia or other aspiring countries hindered by Kremlin politics, – Russian security concerns are reasonable. Logically enough, Russia cannot calmly observe how the foreign military forces are holding exercises or are actually placed at its borders. The same would be true for NATO). NATO only now has started realizing that it should also begin considering Russian threat in the same manner Russia considers NATO threat. Crimea shows that we now have a very creative predator in the Eastern European ecosystem.“,- Wess Mitchel, President of the Center for European Policy Analysis stated[19].

As the Ukrainian crises raised questions about NATO collective defense capabilities, British Defence Committee report analyzed the NATO readiness to counter Russian threat in case of attack on Baltics (NATO member state). The report found the alliance ill-prepared for such a move from Russia: „the challenges, which NATO faces in deterring, or mounting an adequate response to, such an attack poses a fundamental risk to NATO’s credibility.“,- it concludes. Hence, the credibility of Articles 4 and 5 of the founding treaty[20] is under question by the members themselves. Add here the credibility problem of Article 10 (Open-door principle) by those aspiring membership. Speaking about Georgia in this case, If the alliance chooses to betray Georgian hopes for as minimum as MAP next year, the cost NATO will have to pay is its own image. Unrealized promises hurt NATO’s credibility (not only of its open-door policy, but also out-of-area or power-projection capabilities that it has developed). Moreover, NATO failures to deliver erode Euro-Atlantic authority as a whole, i.e. have a spill-over effect to the European Union (which is also suffering from credibility problem of its own), and create the environment of insecurity and uncertainty in countries looking westwards for their security. It seems that NATO (and Euro-Atlantic integration in general) is undergoing overall credibility crisis in the post-Crimea world.

On the other hand, if the alliance decides to grant Georgia MAP next year, it would save its face (credibility question), definitely keep Georgia on the Euro-Atlantic track and send an important message that Russia does not have a veto over NATO decisions. What would Russia’s next move be is hard to predict, – here NATO could only try diplomacy to prevent it, assuring Russia that MAP-granting is far from being an invitation to join NATO. There would be no time frame set, and thus NATO could take its time to solve internal problems and negotiate with Russia during the time that Georgia strives for MAP implementation.

A case of Montenegro

Ironically, Montenegro case could prepare a positive ground for such a move at the Warsaw summit (argument explained afterwards). Montenegro is already awaiting NATO decision on the second and last step towards its membership by the end of the year (Montenegro was offered MAP in 2009)[21]. Montenegro PM is even “full of optimism that Montenegro will be invited to join NATO as early as in December”[22]. Poland is the most ardent proponent of Montenegro’s NATO bid persuading other members to support it too[23], but there is a “central” ally out there that is outspokenly against further expansion of NATO. On March 2, 2015, French president Francois Hollande declared that “France’s position for the moment is to refuse any new membership[24]. France, along with Germany, has once already blocked NATO expansion (Bucharest Summit 2008, Georgia and Ukraine MAP case)[25], though this time France’s soft opposition might well be prevented. Two other “central” players are in the game for Montenegro – Germany and USA support its accession to NATO.[26]

Unlike Georgia, Montenegro does not share borders with Russia and has no conflicting regions in Russian interest. Balkan country of Montenegro is not in direct Russian national interests (geopolitically speaking), though there are important economic bonds. Moscow will definitely voice discontent as it has already been doing (See RFE/RL account on Russian reaction to Montenegro’s upcoming NATO membership)[27], but the expectation is that Russian reaction to Montenegro accession will be limited. Montenegro’s membership to NATO is almost certain and Russia seems to have accepted that, even if it does not admit it.

Reffering back to the „positive ground“ argument, Montenegro accession to NATO would create a precedent of NATO post-Crimea enlargement, demonstrating that notwithstanding credibility crisis discussed above, NATO’s Open Door policy is still in force and that a non-member state Russia does not hold a veto on NATO decisions. It would show to other aspiring members that alliance door will one day open for them too. What is ironic in this argument is that Russia by accepting Montenegro case, indirectly accepts this prospect too. Hence, Montenegro’s NATO membership could serve as a psychological appeasement for aspiring countries, nothing more, but it is an important appeasement.

References and further information

[1] „NATO Secretary General announces dates for 2016 Warsaw Summit“, Press Release 2015(81), NATO official web-page, 22 May 2015, http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news_120085.htm

[2] See (e.g.) Brian Whitmore, „News Analysis: NATO upgrades by going back to basics“, RFE/RL http://www.rferl.org/content/nato-goes-back-to-basics-russia-ukraine-analysis/26568937.html ; Paul Taylor, „Ukraine crisis sends NATO back to basics“ or Reuters, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/08/14/us-nato-summit-russia-idUSKBN0GE0Q620140814#E3OCYJTJVfXMjbBw.97

[3] “An agenda for NATO’s 2016 Warsaw Summit: Back to basics or just backwards?”, DIIS Policy Brief, August 2015, http://pure.diis.dk/ws/files/246614/PB_NATO_FINAL_WEB.pdf

[4] „Keynote speech by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the opening of NATO Transformation Seminar“, 25 March 2015, NATO official web-page, http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/opinions_118435.htm

[5] „Süddeutsche Zeitung publishes article about Georgia’s Defense Minister referring to NATO integration prospects“, Interpressnews, http://www.interpressnews.ge/en/politicss/71771-sueddeutsche-zeitung-publishes-article-about-georgias-defense-minister-referring-to-nato-integration-prospects.html?ar=A

[6] Joseph Larsen, “Georgia’s anti-western voices growing louder”, Georgia Today, March 26, 2015, http://old.georgiatoday.ge/article_details.php?id=13403

[7] “Warsaw summit is of greatest significance- Tina Khidasheli”, Georgia Online, 22 September 2015, http://georgiaonline.ge/news/a1/defence/1442959231.php

[8] “Georgia has to receive MAP at Warsaw summit- Tina Khidasheli”, Rustavi2, 22 June 2015, http://rustavi2.com/en/news/19495

[9] The North Atlantic Treaty, Washington D.C. , 4 April 1949, NATO official web-page, http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/official_texts_17120.htm

[10] Georgia and NATO, Office of the State Minister of Georgia on European & Euro-Atlantic Integration, http://www.eu-nato.gov.ge/en/nato

[11] For more information on NATO-Georgia relations see “NATO’s relations with Georgia”, NATO official web-page, http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/topics_38988.htm

[12] Statements by the Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Chairman of the NATO military committee General Knud Bartels, etc.

[13] “Georgia to prolong its stay in Afghanistan after 2017”, The Messenger Online, http://www.messenger.com.ge/issues/3481_october_19_2015/3481_edit.html

[14] NATO-Georgia relations, Media Backgrounder, October 2015, http://www.nato.int/nato_static_fl2014/assets/pdf/pdf_2015_10/20151007_1510-backgrounder_georgia_en.pdf

[15] „NATO Expansion Defeat: France and Germany Thwart Bush’s Plans“, Spiegel Online International, http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/nato-expansion-defeat-france-and-germany-thwart-bush-s-plans-a-545078.html

[16] Judy Dempsey, „Who’s afraid of NATO expansion?“, Newsweek, http://www.newsweek.com/whos-afraid-nato-expansion-360854

[17] Roland Oliphant, „Russia would boost military presence in response to Georgia NATO membership”, The Telegraph, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/georgia/11831356/Russia-would-boost-military-presence-in-response-to-Georgia-Nato-membership.html

[18] “Russia says Georgian war stopped NATO expansion”, Reuters, http://in.reuters.com/article/2011/11/21/idINIndia-60645720111121

[19] “Post-Crimea Europe: NATO in the age of limited wars”, Atlantic Council, http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/natosource/post-crimea-europe-nato-in-the-age-of-limited-wars

[20]Article 4-The Parties will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened.

Article 5- The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.

[21] “NATO’s relations with Montenegro”, NATO official web-page, 26 Oct. 2015, http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/topics_49736.htm

[22] “Montenegro PM optimistic over bid to join NATO this year”, AFP, October 15, 2015, http://news.yahoo.com/montenegro-pm-optimistic-over-bid-join-nato-175112360.html

[23] „Schetyna: Poland supports Montenegro’s NATO aspirations, PAP dispatch from 22 July 2015“, Ministry of Foreign Affairs – Republic of Poland, http://www.msz.gov.pl/en/news/they_wrote_about_us/schetyna__poland_supports_montenegro_s_nato_aspirations__pap_dispatch_from_22_july_2015;jsessionid=A2D903CA936A396D9918751843461DE6.cmsap2p

[24] Hollande Statement On Halting NATO Enlargement Under Scrutiny“, RFE/RL, November 14, 2015, http://www.rferl.org/content/nato-hollande-statement-enlargement-georgia-montenegro/26882183.html

[25] „NATO Expansion Defeat: France and Germany Thwart Bush’s Plans“, Spiegel Online International, http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/nato-expansion-defeat-france-and-germany-thwart-bush-s-plans-a-545078.html

[26] See FM Steinmeier: Germany expects issue of extending NATO invitation to Montenegro to be positively resolved in early December“, Government of Montenegro, http://www.gov.me/en/News/154354/hgj.html and „U.S. set to back NATO invitation to Montenegro: White House“, Reuters, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/09/14/us-usa-montenegro-idUSKCN0RE23O20150914#CHHZVoAzU02BOWar.97

[27] “As NATO membership gets closer, Montenegro feels the heat from Russia”, RFE/RL, November 15, 2015, http://www.rferl.org/content/montenegro-nato-russia-pressure/25419459.html

Cover Photo Credit: Radio Poland

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