Monday, September 15, 2008

What is NATO Thinking?

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer is in Georgia today, trying to patch together a coherent European (and NATO) response to Russia's recent aggression. De Hoop Scheffer told announced that "Despite the crisis, despite the very difficult political situation Georgia is facing today, NATO ambassadors and I have come to support Georgia, to show Georgia that we are interested in its ambition for Euro-Atlantic integration." Furthermore, "the European Commission announced 500 million euros ($700 million) over two years in aid to help Georgia rebuild after its brief war with Russia last month, and EU foreign ministers rubber-stamped the deployment of at least 200 EU ceasefire monitors to Georgia." However, the NATO head offered no promises of Georgia's accession to NATO or even whether Georgia would be given a Membership Action Plan at the December NATO summit.

I fail to understand what NATO and the Europeans are doing here. This kind of half-hearted overture to Georgia is exactly what produced the situation that resulted in the Russian invasion. Cozying up to Georgia and vaguely promising eventual NATO membership emboldened the former Soviet republic to the point where it felt comfortable antagonizing Russia over the separatist republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia, accurately not believing that NATO would go to war over Georga, chose to punish that behavior in an effort to maintain some degree of influence over its immediate neighbors and hoping to prevent NATO from reaching Russia's borders.

So what has changed? Why is NATO making more vague and unclear commitments to Georgia? Either concretely declare that Georgia will, eventually, enter NATO, or leave it under Russia's sphere of influence. The middle road only creates more ambiguities, which could prompt Georgia to try again to retake its lost provinces, or could cause Russia to, once againt doubting NATO's commitment to Georgia, act so as to end western influence all together. Deterrence requires communication to firmly and establish the rules and limits, while vagueness only leads to mistakes and unnecessary conflict. The US has made clear its intentions to push for Georgian membership in NATO. Now it is time for the Europeans to either do the same, or to leave Georgia to its fate.

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