Georgia Shouldn’t (and Won’t) Be a NATO Member
Will Ruger noticed that Pence repeated the pledge to bring Georgia into NATO during his visit there last week:
Pence stated, “President Trump and the United States stand firmly behind the 2008 NATO Bucharest statement which made it clear that Georgia will, someday, become a member.”
Since this week marks the ninth anniversary of the August 2008 war, it is worth remembering that the commitment made at the Bucharest summit earlier that year significantly added to the tensions between Russia and Georgia. If it had been up to George W. Bush, Georgia and Ukraine would have both received Membership Action Plans, but even the promise of future membership was dangerously provocative. Promising that Georgia would one day become a member of the alliance alarmed Moscow and gave false encouragement to the Georgian government.
Combined with other expressions of U.S. support for Georgia during the Bush years, this commitment by the alliance led then-President Saakashvili to believe that the U.S. and other Western powers would come to Georgia’s aid in the event of a conflict. He recklessly escalated the low-level conflict in South Ossetia and triggered a war with Russia by shelling Tskhinvali, where Russian troops were stationed in a supposed “peacekeeping” role. That attack provided Russia with the pretext to invade. The rhetorical support for Georgia proved to be meaningless, and the war drove home how big of a liability Georgia would be as an ally.
As a result of the war, Russia recognized the independence of both South Ossetia and Abkhazia, thus making their reintegration into Georgia much less likely than it was before the war. If Georgia’s NATO aspirations were fanciful before the 2008 war, they became preposterous after it. Reviving talk of Georgia’s future NATO membership today is irresponsible and dangerous. It is also cruel to keep giving Georgia more false encouragement that it will be able to join the alliance at some point. It isn’t going to happen, and it does no one any good to keep pretending otherwise.