A Misleading Argument About Georgia and NATO
Jackson Diehl tries to blame Trump for waning Georgian interest in NATO membership:
The rhetoric from Trump has given a boost to pro-Russian parties in Georgia’s campaign. Their argument, said [President] Margvelashvili, has been consistent: “You might want NATO. You might want Europe. But it is not going to happen.” Until now, it hasn’t been a persuasive argument. Georgia’s president, and leaders like him across Eurasia, can only hope this U.S. political season does not make it so.
Diehl’s argument is very misleading. The consensus in favor of NATO membership in Georgia has been weakening for years before Trump ever took his famous escalator ride. That has happened as more Georgians have started to recognize that the alliance is not going to take them in under any circumstances. That reality has been underscored by the conflict in Ukraine, as the alliance has been forced to acknowledge that it isn’t willing or able to defend more countries from the former Soviet Union. It has been eight years since the Bucharest summit, when the alliance foolishly pledged to make Georgia a member at some point in the future, and Georgia is not much closer to being admitted than it was then. Several leading European allies have never wanted them to join, Germany and France prevented Georgia from receiving a Membership Action Plan (MAP) in 2008, and those governments will presumably oppose any expansion that includes Georgia in the future. Given the less hostile views of Russia on the French right, it seems very likely that France would be a strong opponent of further expansion.
The boat for Georgian membership in NATO sailed when Saakashvili escalated the conflict in South Ossetia and lost the August 2008 war. It does Georgia no favors to maintain the illusion that NATO membership is available to them when it isn’t. In fact, it has been a huge disservice to Georgia to keep pretending that membership is still possible, because that has led it to make commitments, including deployments to Afghanistan, that it didn’t need to make. Whatever Trump or any of the other candidates think or say about NATO isn’t going to change any of this, because the case for Georgia becoming part of NATO never made sense and has much less support throughout the alliance than it did eight years ago. The alliance doesn’t need any more commitments when it is having difficulty taking care of the ones it has already made, and it certainly doesn’t need another liability and flashpoint in dealing with Russia.