Obama Administration Should Close NATO Door to Georgia

Although many members of the defense establishment haven’t seemed to notice, the Evil Empire collapsed. The Soviet Union is gone, along with the Warsaw Pact. Europe is wealthier than America. Why is Washington still pushing to expand NATO?

In May, Secretary of State John Kerry announced that “We are very supportive of Georgia’s aspirations with respect to NATO.” In June NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen visited Tbilisi, where he said that once Tbilisi made needed reforms “the burden will be on us to live up to our pledge that Georgia will be a member of NATO.”

Alas, the biggest burden of adding Tbilisi would fall on the United States. The administration should halt the process before it proceeds any further.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was created to contain Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union. The U.S.S.R.’s demise left NATO without an enemy. The alliance desperately looked for new duties, finally settling on “out-of-area” responsibilities. 

In essence, the alliance would find wars to fight elsewhere, such as in Afghanistan and Libya, while expanding eastward toward Moscow. That process continues today. For instance, Rasmussen declared: “Georgia’s full Euro-Atlantic integration is a goal we all share” 

That’s a dumb idea. Georgia would be a security liability to the United States and Europe.

The desire to join NATO is identified with outgoing Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. However, in June Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili declared that his nation will continue on its course of “joining NATO as soon as possible.”

The alternative of self-defense would be less certain and more expensive. Argued Michael Cecire of the Foreign Policy Research Institute: “Georgia’s military would require significant expansion, training and upgrading, all at a prohibitive cost, to field a heavy force with sufficient deterrence value to be militarily worthwhile.” Tbilisi prefers to campaign for a NATO security guarantee.

The government recently announced plans to reorient the Georgian army into a specialized anti-terrorism force, consistent with the NATO doctrine of “Smart Defense.” Cecire quoted Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Alasania: “This is a niche we are offering to our partners to be more useful.” 

For the same reason Prime Minister Ivanishvili recently decided to go double or nothing in Afghanistan, increasing Georgian forces even though ten Georgian soldiers have been killed in bombings since May. President Saakashvili offered his condolences, declaring: “Our duty to their memory is to continue our path toward NATO membership.”

As I observed in my new article on National Interest online:

While NATO membership makes sense for Tbilisi, it would be a bad deal for America.  For Washington the alliance’s purpose should be to advance American security.  During the Cold War that meant preventing Soviet domination of Eurasia.  Today that possibility no longer exists.  Russian threats against Georgia affect no serious U.S. interest.

Of course, alliance advocates contend that America’s threat to intervene would deter Russia.  But history is filled with instances in which deterrence failed, especially when the commitment seemed inherently implausible.  U.S. planners rightly have never thought much about the Caucasus.  In contrast, Moscow remains as concerned as ever about border security and international respect.

Moreover, a formal NATO security guarantee would encourage Georgia to act even less responsibly.  Tbilisi already is sacrificing territorial defense in its Quixotic quest for NATO membership.  Worse, in 2008 while merely hoping for American support, the Georgian government foolishly provoked war with Moscow. 

Washington should politely but firmly kill Georgia’s NATO ambitions. Of course, the Europeans could act independently if they believe the benefits of defending Tbilisi to be worth the costs. Indeed, Georgia’s aspirations to join the West are best answered by membership in the European Union. But Washington should say no to any possibility of American involvement in a war in the Caucasus.