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Washington Should Close NATO Door to Georgia

John Kerry and NATO Sect. Gen. Rasmussen
The Soviet Union no longer exists.  Europe is wealthier than America.  Why is the U.S. still pushing to expand NATO?

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

Actually, the biggest burden of admitting Tbilisi would fall on the United States.  Washington 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.

Embarrassed alliance advocates searched for new missions.  Ideas included battling the drug trade, promoting environmental protection, and aiding student exchanges.  NATO eventually decided to take on “out-of-area” responsibilities.

In short, the alliance would find wars to fight elsewhere.  In between sporadic conflicts in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Libya, NATO acted as a prestigious social club, inviting the newly freed and created Eastern European states to join.

That process continues today.  For instance, Rasmussen declared:  “Georgia’s full Euro-Atlantic integration is a goal we all share.  The decision taken at the 2008 Summit in Bucharest stands as firm as ever.  If and when Georgia meets the necessary requirements, it will find a home in NATO.”

That’s a dumb idea.  Georgia is a security liability.  It doesn’t matter if the current government cleans up the country’s political and legal systems and strengthens its military.  Washington should not promise to defend Tbilisi.

Georgia wants to join NATO because it is stuck in a bad neighborhood.  The alternative of self-defense would be less certain and more expensive.  Said 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.”  It’s cheaper to campaign for a NATO security guarantee.

Cecire explained that Georgia’s policies reflect “Tbilisi’s desire to shed its reputation as a Euro-Atlantic security liability.”  The Ivanishvili government is attempting to improve its relationship with Moscow as well as transform the Georgian army.

Tbilisi 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.”  In effect, Tbilisi plans to abandon any serious effort to defend itself, hoping to shift that burden to NATO.

For the same reason Prime Minister Ivanishvili recently increased Georgian forces in Afghanistan.  The allies maintain that the contribution has nothing to do with NATO membership.  However, Georgian officials are open about their objective.  Prime Minister Ivanishvili explained:  “we should become a NATO member state and those soldiers who now serve in Afghanistan contribute most of all to this deed.”

In fact, those soldiers are committing their lives to their government’s designs:  ten were killed in two bombings since May.  Tbilisi’s soldiers will remain pawns in their government’s larger political game.  President Saakashvili declared:  “Our duty to their memory is to continue our path toward NATO membership.”

That would be a bad deal for the U.S.  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.

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 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.  In 2008 while merely hoping for American support, the Georgian government foolishly provoked war with Moscow.

Reported Spiegel International:  “On the evening of August 7, Saakashvili decided to ignore all the warnings.  The president gave the order to storm the South Ossetian capital.  Georgian rocket launchers bombarded Tskhinvali.  Saakashvili’s artillery even directly fired on the Russian military base and killed soldiers.”  Bringing Georgia into the alliance would make war more likely.

Washington should kill Georgia’s NATO ambitions.  Of course, the Europeans could act independently if they believed the benefits of defending Tbilisi to be worth the costs.  But Washington should say no to the possibility of America going to war in the Caucasus.


Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute.  A former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is the author and editor of several books, including "Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire" (Xulon).

This piece first appeared August 12, 2013, in the Cato at Liberty Blog.

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