The 40th round of consultations co-chaired by the UN, the OSCE and the EU was held as part of international discussions on Transcaucasia in Geneva, Switzerland, on June 20−21, with the participation of representatives of the Russian Federation, the United States, Georgia, the Republic of Abkhazia, and the Republic of South Ossetia. The difficult negotiations were conducted in a direct and honest way.
According to the press-release issued by the Russian Foreign Ministry, the Russian, Abkhazian, and South Ossetian delegations expressed major concern about Georgia deepening its interaction with NATO. They believe that the resolution of the Alliance’s Parliamentary Assembly adopted in Tbilisi once again demonstrated NATO members’ rigid and one-sided approach to the situation in Transcaucasia.
The NATO Parliamentary Assembly (PA) session, concluded on May 29 to reaffirm its unwavering support to Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration. It was proclaimed a special aspirant country. The NATO PA called for the «withdrawal of the Russian troops from Georgia’s occupied regions». The four-day meeting in Tbilisi marked the 5th time in the PA history that it held a session outside of NATO, in a country seeking membership. Four out of the five aspirant countries, that previously hosted the NPA sessions, have already joined the alliance. According to Paolo Alli, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly President, it wasn’t a common thing for the Assembly to hold its session in an aspirant country. «It’s an exception for us… but we are happy to do that and we openly reiterate our support for Georgia», he said as once again it was clearly stated that door remains open to Tbilisi to become a NATO member.
Russia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia also emphasized that Georgia’s attacks at various international venues have become increasingly confrontational recently. One of the examples is the fact that Georgia submitted a draft resolution on refugees to the UN General Assembly, and initiated the adoption of politicized documents in the UN Council on Human Rights and the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers. Russia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia believe these moves are made for propaganda purposes to assert Georgia’s alleged jurisdiction over Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Such unilateral steps make discussions of the refugee issue within the framework of the Geneva discussions meaningless.
The participants failed to agree on issues related to non-use of force and setting in motion the mechanisms of international security in the disputed regions.
Georgia already spends 2% of GDP on defense. 870 Georgian servicemen are taking part in international missions. Montenegro is seen as an expiring example to follow. The alliance’s engagement of Georgia, led by the US, paid off in the form of deployments of Georgian troops to NATO missions in Kosovo and Afghanistan, and to the US-led coalition in Iraq. The Georgian forces in Iraq and Afghanistan were the largest non-NATO contingents to dwarf those of most NATO members. Georgia has contributed to the NATO Response Force. The NATO-Georgia Joint Training and Evaluation Center is located just outside of Tbilisi. It started to function in the beginning of this year. Georgia also hosts NATO-Georgia military exercises.
Georgia is a participant in the Annual National Plan and the Substantial NATO-Georgia Package (SNGP), which includes support of 13 different areas of defence and security related sectors. It involves strategic level advice and liaison, defence capacity building and training activities, multi-national exercises and enhanced interoperability opportunities. These programs contain all the necessary measures to prepare the country for eventual membership. A special provision could be introduced to address the problem of territorial integrity with Article 5 of the Washington Treaty applied only to the territory outside of Abkhazia and South Ossetia until the conflict is settled.
Why is NATO extension the coveted goal? If Georgia is really threatened, why cannot it be protected by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe? The country is far from being prosperous. It has unsettled territorial disputes. Its defense potential will hardly make NATO much stronger. The country’s membership will be a headache and a burden for the bloc to shoulder. Georgia’s membership will certainly make Russia take appropriate steps to counter the NATO expansion that can entail the most serious and deepest geopolitical consequences for Europe as a whole. Georgia will always be on the brink of military conflict to never be safe again.
At the same time, Russia is one of the top destinations for Georgian agricultural produce, wine and mineral water. The affiliation with the Moscow-led Eurasian Union could do more to create jobs and put money into the pockets of ordinary people. After all, reopening trade with Russia in 2013 gave Georgian agriculture its greatest boost in years. Today, trade is growing and Russian tourists are flocking to Georgia. NATO membership will certainly spoil the relationship to deprive Georgia of all these benefits.
But on the other hand, NATO has its reasons to support Tbilisi’s aspiration to join the alliance.
Georgia is the only South Caucasian state, which has its foreign and security policy oriented on Euro-Atlantic integration. NATO membership is the natural culmination of this policy. Neither Armenia nor Azerbaijan appear to have interest in NATO membership but given the proximity of the South Caucasus to Europe, its role as an energy corridor and commercial bridge between Europe and Asia, the region is too important for NATO to ignore.
The South Caucasus borders Turkey, still a NATO member, which is on the way to divorce with the alliance. The German parliament has just taken the decision to withdraw its military from Turkey’s İncirlik air base and the Ankara’s relations with many members of the bloc get deteriorated. There are many serious differences between Turkey and the United States. NATO needs a reliable member to compensate for the possible loss.
As divisions between the West and Turkey exacerbate, Georgia’s role is growing. The countries of Central Asia are important to NATO’s mission in Afghanistan, but none of them cooperate with the bloc closely and none are candidates for membership. With its military deployed in the country, Georgia is a participant in the mission.
As the US and NATO announce their plans to increase military presence in Afghanistan, Georgia’s geographic position makes it a potential part of supply routes. In theory, a surface route could move supplies from the Georgian port of Poti on the Black Sea and overland to Baku, where they would cross the Caspian Sea to Aktau, Kazakhstan, and then overland across Uzbekistan into Afghanistan.
The country is an important transportation corridor linking energy fields in Caspian Sea to Turkish and European markets, bypassing Russia. Georgia provides the shortest transport corridor between Europe and Asia through which gas and oil are exported. It is the most pro-Western country in the arc of instability from Ukraine to Yemen. From Georgia, it takes only few hours to fly to any destination in the Middle East.
There is another reason. As Dr Tracey German, a well-known British expert on security issues, put it, «If NATO ultimately rejects any prospect of membership for states in the post-Soviet space, they could be abandoned to Russian influence».
The Pentagon is ready to assist Georgia in implementing its military reform. It was stated in the letter Defense Secretary James Mattis sent to Defense Minister of Georgia Levan Izoria in May. According to the Secretary, «Reforms, of course, are rather complicated, but they are an essential component of the integration with the West. The US Department of Defense is ready to assist Georgia in this ambitious process of military reform».
In a meeting with Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili on May 8, US Vice President Mike Pence reaffirmed US support for Georgia's integration into NATO. The alliance approved the idea of Georgia’s membership at the Bucharest Summit in April 2008. The same year the NATO-Georgia Commission (NGC) was established to serve as a forum for both political consultations and practical cooperation to help Georgia achieve the stated goal.
Without much publicity, NATO is encouraging Georgia to apply further efforts to join the alliance. The United States military is leading the process. Indeed, as said above, there are well-substantiated reasons to explain why NATO needs Georgia. From a certain angle of view, expanding NATO deeper into the former Soviet Union makes sense for the alliance, gearing up for possible war with Russia. The question is: does Georgia need NATO? Will «living in a powder keg and giving off sparks» promote its security? Even if finally invited, won’t it be wiser to think twice before jumping into the membership?