President Bush has endorsed adding the former Soviet province of Georgia to NATO, a measure that seems designed to provoke the Russians without adding any net benefits to the alliance. Georgia would bring more liabilities than assets to NATO because it is inherently indefensible. It is nearly surrounded by Russia; its only border with NATO is a short border with eastern Turkey. Georgia has no significant military forces of its own, and Russian troops already occupy two enclaves there.
Article V of the NATO Charter obligates all NATO governments to respond to an attack on any NATO country, increasing the probability that a minor confrontation between Georgia and Russia would lead to a larger war between NATO and Russia. NATO should not be broadened to include countries on the Russian border unless those countries have substantial military forces and defensible borders. For a similar reason, the earlier addition of the three Baltic countries to NATO was a mistake. Peaceful and productive relations with Russia are more important than any value these new members bring to the United States and NATO.
President Bush was gracious in hosting the president of Georgia this week and was correct to support the major economic reforms that Georgia has initiated. But he was wrong in endorsing NATO membership as a sort of after-dinner mint. There are much larger issues at stake for the U.S., Europe, and Russia. One wonders what Bush now expects to accomplish with Putin at the G-8 meeting in St. Petersburg next week.