Author: Jeyhun Najafov
The admission of Montenegro to NATO and an immediate access of Macedonia inspire the supporters of the Alliance in neighboring Georgia. The poorest country of Europe, Macedonia, can join the ranks of the Euro-Atlantic alliance already in 2018. NATO slowly but surely absorbs all those who wish to acquire the protection and patronage of the most powerful military-political bloc in the modern world. We have interviewed a political and military analyst, former adviser to the president of Georgia on regional security in the Caucasus Vakhtang MAISAYA on the prospect of Georgia’s membership in NATO and the related geopolitical changes in the South Caucasus.
What is your long-term conclusion about the expansion of NATO following the results of the NATO forum in Georgia?
The plenary session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly held in Tbilisi in late May was the first meeting in the history of the Alliance that took place on the territory of a non-member state. The participants adopted a declaration on the full support of Georgia's desire to become a member of NATO and it was recorded that the country must follow this path by implementing the Membership Action Plan (MAP). At the same time, no specific deadlines, when this process will enter the final stage, were provided.
Figuratively speaking, Georgia was told the following: NATO member countries agree in principle on the accession, here is the Action Plan, which contains the tools for preparing to join the Alliance.
As for the most important strategic issue on the further expansion of the Alliance, without which neither Georgia’s nor Ukraine’s access to NATO is possible, the document fails to specify anything. Although previous NATO documents expressed support for Georgia's desire to become a member of the Alliance. Unfortunately, the Brussels summit of NATO held on May 25-26, 2017, did not confirm and consider the question of further expansion of the Alliance. Nevertheless, even after Montenegro becomes the 29th member-state, this issue will not be relevant for the time being in terms of strengthening the transatlantic security. Similarly, there was a discussion on the perspectives of the initiative on security in the Black Sea basin, which the leaders of NATO countries had discussed very vigorously earlier at the Warsaw summit. At this summit, the parties did not decide on the further expansion of NATO and the adoption of new members similar to Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. They also could not reach a consensus on Georgia and Ukraine, although there were attempts to include these issues in the agenda. In general, two important NATO events in Tbilisi and Brussels went different and left very contradictory impressions and conclusions in the context of the further fate of strategic Euro-Atlantic cooperation.
What is the position of the current Georgian authorities on joining NATO? Is there any difference from the position of the Saakashvili government?
The position of the current authorities in principle does not differ from the foreign policy of Saakashvili's authoritarian leadership with regard to pro-Western orientation and further integration of Georgia into the structures of NATO and the European Union. Even under the Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, the government has publicly announced its plans to correct the course of actions to ensure full integration of the country into NATO and the EU. In November 2013, Georgia became an associate member of the EU and in 2017, it was granted a visa-free regime with the EU countries of the Schengen zone. With regard to NATO, Georgia has also advanced, although not as much as integration with the EU. Currently, Georgia enjoys a national consensus expressed during the referendum on Georgia's accession to NATO held on January 5, 2008, where 72.5% of the respondents supported the membership in this organization. This is due to the fact that further confrontation with Russia is a very real circumstance.
What is the main problem on the way of Georgia and Ukraine joining NATO? Former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that for Ukraine to join the Alliance, it would be necessary to fulfill a number of criteria, which would take a lot of time. What are these criteria?
Many geopolitical and institutional factors affect full integration of Georgia in the Euro-Atlantic structures. An important aspect of NATO is associated with the Russian factor, its aspirations at the global and regional level. There are "skeptical countries" in NATO that urge not to tease Russia and postpone the issue of accession of Georgia and Ukraine. Another problem is the territorial integrity of Georgia in the context of the occupied Abkhazia and South Ossetia and the possibility of annexing them similar to the Crimea. There is also an informal requirement for a candidate country to settle political conflicts and any disputed territorial issues with neighboring countries.
Other factors hindering accession to NATO are the deterioration of the socio-economic situation in the country, imperfection of political institutions, and political crises. Insufficient reforms in the defense sphere and instability in solving acute political problems also negatively affect the full integration with NATO.
NATO put forward additional criteria for Georgia as a candidate state. This is the management of resources and improving the economic situation in the country, allocation of 2-3% of the state's revenues for defense, reforming the security services in accordance with NATO standards and solving the problem of securing confidential documents received through NATO, harmonizing the legislative framework with the organization's standards.
How will the geopolitical situation in the region of the South Caucasus change if Georgia joins NATO and how will Georgia's relations develop in the case of joining NATO with CSTO member-states, Armenia and Iran?
If such a day comes and the long-standing dream of the Georgian people to become a part of the European security system comes true, then, naturally, the balance of powers at the regional level in the Caucasus will change instantaneously and the region can become another hot-spot on the planet. After all, any deployment of NATO military infrastructure directly along Russia's borders is perceived by Moscow as a direct military threat and danger. For example, clause 12 of the new military doctrine of the Russian Federation adopted in 2015 and approved by President Vladimir Putin explicitly states: " The main external military risks are the build-up of the power potential of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and vesting NATO with global functions carried out in violation of the rules of international law, bringing the military infrastructure of NATO member countries near the borders of the Russian Federation, including by further expansion of the Alliance". In turn, NATO also recognizes Russia as its military rival along with ISIS, and this was once again confirmed at the recent summit in Brussels. In addition, the factor of Iran and Armenia, which are military allies of Russia, will play an even more depressing role in the geostrategic confrontation at the level of NATO and CSTO military blocs. All these events are taking place amidst the new "cold war" that began in 2014 and continues to this day. Given the ethnopolitical conflicts in the Caucasus, in Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh, this turn of events can further detonate the situation in the region as a whole. On the other hand, recognition of Georgia as a new member-state in the Caucasus along with Turkey, will essentially mean that this region will be recognized as a zone of special interests of the Alliance. This can help improve the political situation in line with even greater democratic transformations in the region. But so far, the geopolitical reality remains completely different.