By Vano Benidze
In a 2008 referendum on NATO membership, 77% of Georgian citizens voted in favor of joining the organization. In 2013, thousands of Ukrainians gathered on Independence Square in Kiev, demanding closer European integration. They were right! NATO membership is a huge step ahead in the process of European integration, which will contribute to greater progress for Ukraine and Georgia, exposing them to a progressive economic, political and cultural arena. Foremost, for these countries, membership is the only guarantee of long-term security, especially in light of the 2008 Russo-Georgian War and current Ukrainian crisis. The big question however, is if NATO membership seems realistic. Chances of it happening over the next few years are low because of two main factors: America’s weak foreign policy and fractious Europe.
NATO is an instrument for the global influence for the United States, which remains a peerless decision-making power when it comes to the Enlargement of NATO. Thus, America’s support is necessary for Georgia and Ukraine to become alliance members. However, the Obama administration is concerned with further confrontations that integration may cause. Moreover, membership will come at a high cost for the US. Many Americans are dissatisfied with paying taxes for helping people living on another continent, and the Obama administration is hesitant to make unpopular policy decisions. But, I think that Russia’s aggression in Georgia and Ukraine is a part of a broader and more hazardous battle with the West. The US should not ignore this threat and must act immediately, because the cost may be even higher in the future.
In addition, for many people who are in need of help around the world, America represents a guardian of justice and the only hope for a better future. Helping others in need is a part of America’s identity and of what this country stands for – liberty and justice for all around the globe. Consequently, the United States should not have a foreign policy that fails to reflect the political truths that define it. Unfortunately, with only little over a year left in the office, it is highly doubtful that the Obama administration will consider anything beyond diplomatic solutions.
Another barrier to the NATO membership is Europe. During the NATO summit in Bucharest in 2008, the US and Poland supported granting Georgia the Membership Action Plan (MAP). NATO decided not to offer Georgia a MAP due to opposition from several EU countries, especially from Germany and France, who were concerned about a possible increase in Russia’s aggression. Currently, the European Union is having an extremely hard time because of economic stagnation. GDP per capita in the EU has remained unchanged since 2007 and unemployment rates are at a record high. Economic stagnation, paired with the EU debt crisis and increased terror threats after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, make it less possible that Germany and France will agree on Georgia and Ukraine’s memberships. Simply put, Europe has more serious internal problems to take care of.
While the United States is trying to find virtually non-existent diplomatic solutions to end Russia’s aggression and Europe is trying to cope with its own internal problems, both of them are losing their global influence and creating a space for power that will eventually be filled by Russia. Had NATO offered membership to Georgia and Ukraine before Russia’s aggression took place, we could have avoided both the Russo-Georgian War and the current Ukrainian crisis. The fact that Russia has, so far, only invaded two non-NATO member states, means that NATO membership still matters and that it poses serious barriers to Russia.
Things change, so do policies. In 2016 and 2017, major elections will take place around the world. It is, therefore, highly possible that many countries will reassess their foreign policies. For this reason, the United States may realize the importance of granting the membership to Georgia and Ukraine, and today’s fractious Europe may even come together around a more coherent security policy.