In the wake of the Georgian conflict in August 2008 a heated debate about the necessity of further NATO enlargement has emerged. The prospects for Georgia and Ukraine of their candidacy being moved to the next stage is fading, although both countries were promised membership at the NATO summit in Bucharest. In this essay I will outline the developments to date, present the arguments against and in favour of enlargement and argue that ultimately, despite its high-blown rhetoric, NATO is unlikely to grant Georgia and Ukraine membership in the near future.
2. Developments to date
Relations between NATO and Ukraine began to develop soon after the end of the Cold War and the break-up of the Soviet Union. Since then they have deepened steadily in a multilateral institutional framework. As early as 1992, only one year upon achieving independence, Ukraine participated in the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NAAC, renamed the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, EAPC, later) for cooperation on political and security issues. Two years later, on 8 February 1994, Ukraine was the first of the former Warsaw Pact members to join the Partnership for Peace. Over the years Ukraine has been an active participant in peacekeeping and counter-terrorism operations within the sphere of PfP (since May 1997 integrated in the EAPC). Two years later, on 9 July 1997 , the former President of Ukraine L. D. Kuchma and NATO heads of state and government signed the NATO-Ukraine Special Partnership Charter in Madrid. While this Charter did not provide for any security guarantees, it allowed Ukraine to call for NATO support if it perceived a threat to its national security. The NATO-Ukraine Commission (NUC) was also established as a forum for periodical consultation on security issues as well as for the implementation of the Charter’s provisions. In Brussels, the ongoing institutionalisation of the relationship between NATO and Ukraine was interpreted as reflecting a general intent to pursue Euro-Atlantic integration, although the Ukrainian leadership seemed to instrumentalise NATO against Russian pressure (White et al., 170). Ukraine also preferred cooperation over integration in order to pursue economic links with Russia. This erratic political course ended only when Viktor Yushchenko was confirmed president in 2005. By this time, the outlook on NATO membership for Ukraine was more promising for three reasons. First, in 1999 the Membership Action Plan (MAP) concept had been created at the Washington Summit of NATO in order to improve candidacies with institutional reforms. Through various steps, such as the adoption of the NATO-Ukraine Action Plan in 2002 and an “Intensified Dialogue” in 2005, NATO tried to help Ukraine achieving the necessary standards for the MAP. Second, NATO granted accession to three other former Eastern Bloc countries, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, in 2004. And third, following the “Orange Revolution” in 2005, democratic leaders in Ukraine became more serious about seeking NATO membership. This led to a formal request for a MAP in January 2008, a national referendum notwithstanding.
The relations between Georgia and Ukraine followed a similar pattern. Georgia joined the NAAC and the PfP programme at the same time as Ukraine, in 1992 and 1994 respectively. In 1999, Georgia started contributing peacekeepers to the NATO force in Kosovo. Three years later, Georgia officially declared its intention to join NATO. After the “Rose Revolution” in 2003, NATO’s focus shifted to the Caucasus and cooperation broadened alongside Georgia’s domestic reform process. In 2004, NATO agreed on an Individual Action Plan for Georgia and also offered an “Intensified Dialogue” on the requirements for membership. Georgia’s aspirations were nurtured by a national referendum in January 2007, when an overwhelming majority of the Georgian population voted in favour of NATO integration.
In April 2008, however, Georgian as well as Ukrainian hopes for a move to MAP stage were blocked by France and Germany at the NATO summit meeting in Bucharest. In spite of the combined efforts of the Bush administration and of some NATO members with experience under Soviet rule, the talks were effectively postponed until the next meeting in December 2008. But in the meantime Europe’s security landscape had changed permanently. Russia, possibly seizing this insecurity by the Alliance, engaged in an armed conflict in Georgia in August 2008. Although a NATO-Georgia Commission (NGC) was established in the wake of the conflict to support Georgia, Georgian and Ukrainian hopes faded. Instead of “beefing up” the NATO-Ukraine and NATO-Georgia Commissions, as Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer had promised in the run-up to the summit on 3 December 2008 (De Hoop Scheffer, 2008), the NATO members denied the two countries an implementation of MAP and only promised long-term assistance. Although the US promptly signed a “Charter on Strategic Partnership and Security“ on 19 December 2008 with Ukraine to confirm their support, the Alliance is unlikely to resume talks on a MAP for Georgia and Ukraine at their next meeting in April 2009. NATO members currently seem too divided on this issue.
3. Arguments for NATO enlargement
Advocates of further NATO enlargement claim that the Alliance needs to send a clear message that it is not intimidated by Russia. Conservative US politicians in particular believe that Moscow’s aggressive foreign policies of the last years must be responded to with a firm hand. As the Georgian conflict has shown, Russia seems more than willing to interfere with the national sovereignty of its neighbours. An upgrade of their institutionalised relations with NATO might offer Georgia and Ukraine some kind of deterrence against Russian military coercion. Condoleezza Rice, former US secretary of state, stated that “a strategic partnership with Ukraine will enhance regional security” (Kellerhals Jr., 2008). This argument is supported by the current Ukraine administration. In a letter to the NATO Secretary General from January 2008 it is argued that Ukraine “stands for strengthening regional security” and is “willing to counteract common threats to security under equal conditions” (Yushchenko, 2008). Clearly, this message is aimed at its menacing Eastern neighbour, although the letter goes on to claim that the Euro-Atlantic integration policy is “not directed against third countries”.
Georgia enjoys a similar strategic importance. Its location between the Black Sea, Russia, Armenia and Turkey makes it a transport corridor and a gateway from the Black Sea to the Caucasus. Admittedly, its membership in the Alliance would not have major military consequences. Georgia is a small country, and its military forces are relatively weak. Politically, however, admitting Georgia would be an important step (Larrabee, 361). NATO would advance unequivocally into the former Soviet space, far more than with the admission of the Baltic states in 2004.