By Eka Janashia (09/17/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On September 5, during NATO’s two-day summit in Wales, Georgia obtained a “substantial package” instead of the long-expected Membership Action Plan (MAP), entailing a step toward closer integration with the alliance.
In the Wales declaration, NATO leaders acknowledged the visible progress that Georgia has made since the 2008 Bucharest summit and stated the provision of a “substantial package” as a tool that should further boost Georgia’s integration with NATO. The package includes the launch of a Defense and Related Security Capacity Building Initiative aiming to buttress partner nations’ ability by sharing NATO expertise in projecting international stability and conflict prevention without deploying large combat forces. Aside from Georgia, the initiative will be extended to Jordan and Moldova.
Consequently, the package aims to enhance Georgia’s defense capabilities, particularly by supporting the Ministry of Defense and promoting reforms intending to modernize the defense and security sectors. It also aspires to increase the interoperability of Georgia’s armed forces by involving them in more NATO trainings and exercises.
To this end, a military training center, which may in the future even gain a regional dimension, will be established in Georgia. According to Georgia’s Defense Minister Irakli Alasania, one suggestion is to deploy the center to the Krtsanisi training base. U.S. marines have been instructing nearly 12,000 Georgian troops in the Krtsanisi training facility before deployment to Afghanistan and other missions, the minister said. Finally, the package foresees the expansion of the NATO liaison office in Tbilisi.
Another accomplishment at the Wales summit is that Georgia has been placed among a group of nations – Australia, Finland, Jordan and Sweden – who attained an “elevated status” and “enhanced opportunities” of cooperation with NATO.
Whereas this, together with the “substantial package,” is a real achievement for Georgia, it is not a direct step toward NATO membership. The 2008 Bucharest declaration included the decision that MAP should be the next step for Georgia on its “direct way to membership,” meaning that MAP remains a necessary phase for accession to NATO. Notably, NATO’s Wales declaration reaffirms all “elements” of the 2008 Bucharest summit decisions on Georgia.
In fact, Georgia’s expectations regarding MAP faded months earlier during Georgian PM Irakli Garibashvili’s visit in Berlin. In a meeting with Garibashvili on June 2, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that MAP for Georgia will not be on the agenda of the NATO summit in Wales but that there are opportunities other than MAP that can reflect Georgia’s progress. The German Chancellor certainly had in mind the “substantial package” that truly is an option for Georgia but not an alternative to MAP.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel visited Georgia instantly after the Wales summit, in the first visit by a U.S. Defense Secretary since 2003, and conveyed several important messages.
Firstly, it was a logical reflection of U.S. President Barack Obama’s speech in Tallinn on September 3, when the president underscored the need for providing more assistance for NATO partners including Georgia and Moldova. Hagel informed Tbilisi that Washington intends to make an extensive contribution to the “substantial package” and pledged to continue its bilateral capacity building efforts with Georgia. He said the Pentagon is familiarizing itself with Tbilisi’s request to purchase Sikorsky Blackhawk helicopters.
Secondly, in light of Russia’s “aggression” and “brazen assault” on the territorial integrity of Ukraine, Hagel sought to neutralize the inconvenience caused by NATO’s denial of MAP for Georgia and focused on the country’s newly attained “special partnership” status with NATO which gives it “new options, new expandability, new possibilities.” Finally, Hagel envisioned a potential role for Georgia in the U.S.-led coalition to destroy the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Evaluating the implications of NATO’s recent summit for Georgia, the critics say that there are some undesirable aspects of the declaration that could be avoided if proper diplomatic efforts were pursued by the government. Namely, the 31st article of the declaration expresses concerns that “protracted conflicts” undermine “the opportunities for citizens in the region to reach their full potential as members of the Euro-Atlantic community.” Skeptics argue that it is an ambiguous article that could well mean that conflict zones on Georgia’s territory might prevent the country’s membership in NATO.
Another sensitive question is that the Wales declaration does not mention Georgia as an aspirant country while the declaration of the 2012 Chicago summit did. The Wales declaration pledges to assess Montenegro’s progress towards NATO membership and decide the Alliance’s final position on the matter no later than by the end of 2015. No such notifications were made regarding Georgia. Further, the declaration does not mention the conflicts over Crimea, Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the same context, which hinders Georgia’s de-occupation policy.
Finally, opposition politicians and some analysts believe that although Georgia has gained new and enhanced opportunities in its partnership with NATO, given its sizeable contribution to international missions the country should have been granted more than a “substantial package” at the Wales summit.