International experts: Georgia NATO membership issue has no simple and quick solution
3 May 2018. PenzaNews. The NATO-Georgia Public Diplomacy Forum, which was held as part of the NATO Days organized by NATO and EU Information Centre, ended in Tbilisi on May 1.
The main topics of the event were challenges of international security, role of people's diplomacy, traditional and social media in the modern world, as well as issues of countries’ cooperation in the field of strategic communications.
The honorary guests of the forum were Georgian President Georgi Margvelashvili, Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili, Parliamentary Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze, NATO Assistant Secretary General for Public Diplomacy Tacan Ildem and US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell.
“You are actively moving forward the path of institutional reforms. This is a very strong and hard way. This strengthens democracy, investment and faith in the soul of every citizen of Georgia. Georgia has gained the name of a democratic country in this region. We call on the Government of Georgia and Parliament to strengthen the judiciary system and enhance judiciary independence. It should be done not only for implementing reforms but also in real practice,” Wess Mitchell said at the opening of the NATO-Georgia Public Diplomacy Forum.
In addition, he assured that the United States would support Georgia's steps to build a security system.
“The Government of Georgia works to strengthen the military system and works closely with the US Armed Forces. We support the commitment of Georgia to create a strong military base and system. This is important not only for Georgia's defense capabilities, but also for global security. I spoke with American military officers, and they highly value Georgia as a partner. Taking into account its total population, Georgia makes the biggest contribution from a military point of view. We thank the country, every soldier and family of soldiers whose blood has spilled. We are ready to work harder to strengthen security in the region. The stronger you are, the stronger the West is,” Assistant Secretary of State said.
Commenting on the progress made by the country on the road to North Atlantic integration, James Nixey, Head of Russia and Eurasia Program at Chatham House drew attention to the successes of Georgia in the military sphere.
“Relative to the other countries [striving for NATO membership] Georgia has done spectacularly well. It has reformed its military and it has become more interoperable with NATO systems. There is still a large popular support for NATO membership. On the other hand, it is by no means certain in the current climate that there is any kind of positive vibe towards NATO membership from NATO member-countries. This is because of two things: one is the unwillingness to – as they see it – unnecessarily irritate the Kremlin and, perhaps more important, it is seen as something that would not necessarily improve NATO's security, which is prerequisite for membership,” he said.
Moreover, according to the expert, the problem of “amputated” territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia makes the situation quite difficult.
“Georgia is obviously closer [to joining the alliance] than it has ever been before but actually a very-very long way away,” James Nixey stressed.
Analyzing the consequences of Georgia's potential acceptance into NATO, he noted that Tbilisi will receive much more from this than the West.
“The benefits from NATO membership would clearly be more for Georgia in the sense that it would mean – again we're talking very theoretically and hypothetically here – but it would obviously mean that Georgia is fully integrated into Euro-Atlantic structures.
So, on the one hand, Georgia is far further advanced than anybody else. But It is harder to see what the benefits to the West are, other than the fact that NATO has an open door policy and clearly needs to act on principles rather than on the basis of what Russia says. So I think the benefits should be seen that anybody can join if they meet the requirements of the club. But I think the benefits to Georgia ultimately are greater,” James Nixey explained.
According to Arno Khidirbegishvili, the editor-in-chief of Gruzinform agency, Tbilisi is an indisputable executor of all the instructions provided for by the substantial NATO-Georgia package (SNGP) adopted at the Welsh summit in 2014.
“The Agile Spirit and Noble Partner exercises, the joint NATO–Georgia military training center at the Krtsanisi Military Facility, the Javelin ATGM purchased for 100 million dollars and the expenses for defense and arms exceeding NATO requirements, and most importantly – participation in the NATO Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan with the largest contingent of up to 900 military personnel and participation in the peacekeeping mission in the European Rapid Reaction Force in the Central African Republic and Mali, as well as the leading role in the NATO Black Sea regional security doctrine is an incomplete list, which clearly shows that the Georgian authorities try to fulfill and even exceed the acceptance criteria of the alliance,” the expert said.
According to him, NATO has no reason not to accept Georgia in its ranks, except for the fear about Russia’s response.
“If the leader and main sponsor of NATO – Washington, inspired by an unpunished Syria strike and the success of anti-Russia sanctions will give its go-ahead for Georgia's admission to the alliance, then it will happen according to the plan of Luke Coffey, Director of the Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation. It implies accepting Georgia into NATO without Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which will not be covered by Article 5 of the Charter on Collective Security,” Arno Khidirbegishvili explained, stressing that in this case both republics immediately will become part of the Russian Federation.
Meanwhile, the rhetoric of the Georgian authorities, in his opinion, “is completely devoid of logic,” which makes any forecasts unreliable.
As an example, the journalist reminded of a situation when the authorities constantly declare the need for exclusively peaceful solution of the Georgian-Abkhaz-Ossetian problem and discuss the new initiative of Prime Minister Georgy Kvirikashvili Step to a Better Future, which describes the benefits for the inhabitants of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but at the same time they state that Russia is the main danger for Georgia, which conducts a hybrid war against it in all possible ways.
“On the one hand, Georgia's non-alignment with US and EU economic sanctions against Russia, the profitable trade with Russia and the hospitable reception of millions of Russian tourists, and on the other hand, the constant defamation of Russia on all international venues and the expulsion of the Russian diplomat in solidarity with Britain,” Arno Khidirbegishvili continued.
In turn, Vadim Kozulin, Deputy Chairman of the Eurasian Commission for Foreign Affairs and Economic Policy, (EECO), Director of the Asian Security Project at PIR Center think tank, said that NATO encourages the leadership of Georgia to fulfill the requirements necessary for the admission to the alliance.
“At the same time, it is stressed that this is Georgia's own decision, not imposed from the outside. I think that this is indeed so. Georgia participates in some NATO missions abroad, that is, it makes a small contribution militarily, but politically it means readiness to follow NATO lead, which is more important,” the expert said.
According to him, the formal accession to NATO is currently difficult for Georgia even theoretically, which is due to the existing territorial dispute, but the authorities are seeking the support of a powerful ally who will solve security problems.
“NATO looks like such a partner for Georgia. In reality, the desire to become NATO member has become for Georgia one of the main causes of the conflict with Russia. This conflict of interest will not disappear. Therefore, probably, it is not necessary to hurry if the authorities want to develop relations with Moscow,” the analyst explained, adding that “the situation may look different from Tbilisi.”
At the same time, in his opinion, there is obvious warming in the relations between the peoples of Russia and Georgia.
“Georgia has become a place of attraction for Russian tourists, Georgian wines are popular in our country. It seems that a new model of consumer good-neighborliness arises with relatively cool political relations. Russians enjoy Georgian hospitality, and Georgian entrepreneurs have the opportunity to make profit from tourism and food market in Russia. This is a good trend,” Vadim Kozulin said.
Meanwhile, Uwe Halbach, Senior Associate at Eastern Europe and Eurasia research division of the German Foundation for Science and Politics, said that in Georgia NATO-membership is regarded as a priority of foreign policy and security.
“68 percent of respondents in opinion polls in 2017 approved Georgia’s joining the NATO, 21 percent disapproved. Most of those who approved expected that NATO-membership will provide greater security for the country; a smaller number expected that it will improve the chance to restore territorial integrity and protect Georgia from Russia. Most of those who disapproved expected that it will cause conflict with Russia. The latter expectation is also strong in the Euro-Atlantic world,” the analyst noted.
Insofar it is not clear how far an imminent NATO-membership of Georgia would be beneficial for United States or other NATO-members like Germany and France which voted against a Membership Action Plan for Georgia ten years ago at the Bucharest summit, he said.
“Apart from the question of imminent membership, however, there is a broad consensus [in the West] about deepened and enhanced cooperation between NATO and Georgia with different tools for strengthening the partnership. NATO-representatives remain committed to the 2008 Bucharest Summit Declaration that ‘Georgia will become member of NATO.’ The doors are open. But there is no clear schedule for Georgia’s final entrance into the Alliance. There are new approaches like the recent Heritage Foundation’s article which discussed an alternative scenario: Georgia joins NATO, but collective defence – Article 5 – will not be applied to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. They are, however, highly disputed in Georgia itself,” Uwe Halbach said.
At the same time, George Hewitt, professor of Caucasian languages at the School of Oriental and African Studies, a fellow of the British Academy and the honorary consul for Abkhazia to the UK, shared the opinion that “in theory NATO’s raison d’être should have disappeared with the disintegration of the USSR and the disbandment of the Warsaw Pact.”
“However, it remained in place and allowed itself to be drawn into such areas outside its basic remit as certain countries’ unwise determination to get involved in Afghanistan. But, as it still exists, it is not surprising that membership of the organisation and indeed of the EU should have seemed attractive to the former Warsaw Pact states. But was it advisable for NATO to disregard the promise given to Gorbachev that it would not move closer to Russia’s frontiers and to allow them membership?” the analyst wondered.
“Russia quite rightly recognised both South Ossetia and Abkhazia after the short war with Georgia and since then Georgia has constantly presented itself as the victim and taken every opportunity to gain international support for its ‘territorial integrity’, non-existent in terms of its Soviet borders for a quarter of a century, and acceptance of its claim that a significant portion of ‘Georgian’ soil is under Russian ‘occupation.’ If maintaining that international support and acceptance of this absurd claim are to count as ‘achievements’, then Georgia has been highly successful,” George Hewitt said and added that these might prove to be mere Pyrrhic victories as long as tensions remain in the region.
In his opinion, NATO membership is not in the long-term interests of either Georgia or the Ukraine.
“It is a pity that reckless counsels in the organisation are still encouraging the two states to think otherwise. As soon as – particularly in the wake of US interference in the politics of the Ukraine – Kiev turned exclusively towards the West and there seemed a real risk that the home of the Russian Black Sea fleet at Sevastopol might come within the Western or NATO’s orbit, it should have been obvious that this could not be tolerated in Moscow,” the honorary consul for Abkhazia to the UK said.
From his point of view, Tbilisi should learn the lessons of recent events in the Ukraine and abandon forever the bear-baiting.
“If decision-makers in Washington allow themselves to forget the very existential threat posed by Tbilisi to the Abkhazian and South Ossetian populations and think in terms of Georgia being a regional ‘beacon of democracy’, they are likely to continue offering support, including military, to Tbilisi, which will be wholeheartedly welcomed. Georgia, of course, presents Washington with a convenient base for any future operations in and against Iran, but, given the proximity to Russia’s southern flank and the Kremlin’s current close relations with Tehran, one again has to ask: is this really sensible politicking?” George Hewitt wondered again.
He suggested that Georgian leaders no doubt intend to continue as before to rage against Russian ‘aggression’ and its so-called ‘occupation’ of ‘Georgian’ territory.
“In the climate of the anti-Russian hysteria which has developed over recent years, greatly intensifying following the Skripal case, they might very well continue to garner ‘achievements’ in this regard. As an example I might mention that in the UK the Chairman of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs’ Committee, Tom Tugendhat, has been a frequent interviewee across our media-outlets, and he almost invariably refers in passing to Russia’s ‘occupation of Georgia’ as one of his criticisms of the Kremlin’s behaviour. In doing so, he – along with others who do the same, and there are plenty of them – betrays ignorance of the history of Georgian-Abkhazian relations in the 20th century. Those who do know that history need to do more to educate the likes of Tugendhat in order to help Georgia’s Western friends come to a better understanding of what is really in the best interests of Georgia in the long term,” the expert said.
“Speaking about the relations between Georgians and non-Georgians in the region, I see little prospect of change, unless and until Georgians can bring themselves to abandon the delusional and self-defeating approach of the last quarter century, recognise the independent states of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and establish good-neighbourly relations with both republics and with Russia, too,” George Hewitt concluded.