Saakashvili in Chicago, trying to channel Ferris Bueller?
There was a lot of discussion and speculation before the NATO summit in Chicago about what would be done with Georgia. Membership was off the table, but U.S., NATO and Georgian officials dropped frequent hints that Tbilisi would get some sort of boost.
The official statement of the summit didn't really add anything to previous statements, other than a mention of the "litmus test" of democratization that Western officials have mentioned before: "We stress the importance of conducting free, fair, and inclusive elections in 2012 and 2013."
While that may not be especially encouraging to Tbilisi, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did say that she hoped that "this summit should be the last summit that is not an enlargement summit." But there are three other aspirant states: Bosnia, Macedonia and Montenegro, and those Balkan countries are probably closer to membership than is Georgia. Clinton said she hoped Macedonia "can join the alliance as soon as possible," and didn't use any such language for Georgia (or the other Balkan countries).
President Mikheil Saakashvili, at the summit, said that Georgia's victory was being grouped with the Balkan countries:
"What we are getting now [is] Georgia listed together with three Balkan countries and frankly everybody knows that they will join NATO. So from that point of view it is a progress and it demonstrates movement forward," Saakashvili said while addressing Young Atlanticist meeting in Chicago on May 20.
He said that Georgia would not have been happy if the Chicago summit only reiterated open door policy and only reaffirmed the 2008 Bucharest summit decision, that Georgia will one day join the alliance.
"Nobody could be happy with that, because life is advancing, we are advancing; we've done all these reforms; we've done our homework and we did not like to look like the best student in the class that still could not make it to the next year... It did not happen. When will we graduate? We don't know yet," Saakashvili said.
But expectations before the summit seem to have been a bit higher. Parliamentary chairman Davit Bakradze said that "Georgia would like to see in NATO Chicago Summit’s final declaration a statement saying that Georgia is now 'closer to NATO membership' than ever before." I think it's hard to read the final declaration as making any such declaration.
Deputy secretary of the National Security Council Batu Kutelia said that Georgia's progress should be "visible":
"The Chicago forum will not be an expansion summit but Georgia should 'be registered as part of the structure' as an aspirant country, which would confirm that Russia, a country that is not a member of the alliance, cannot veto NATO's decision to expand.."
Aside from specific results, our main goal is to ensure that there are strong visible signs too. By 'visible signs' I mean the things that even someone without a deep knowledge of the question would understand from a distance."
This standard is a bit harder to measure, but not clear that Georgia's progress at the summit is visible from a distance.
Nevertheless, Georgia can probably read into the statement what it wants, as can the U.S. and other NATO members, which is of course the purpose of such vague summit declarations. Anyway, the most germane issue now for Georgia's NATO aspirations still appears to be the conduct of the upcoming elections.