With the crisis in Ukraine, Georgia's efforts to join NATO have gained new energy. And while Tbilisi hasn't changed its ultimate aim -- gaining the elusive Membership Action Plan for the alliance -- it is coming up with some new proposals to gain closer cooperation with its western military partners.
Defense Minister Irakli Alasania is on a visit to Washington, and in addition to meeting with various U.S. government officials he also made a public appearance at a conference, where he advocated placing NATO "defensive assets" in Georgia, reports Civil.ge: "Air defense and anti-armor capabilities – 'this is something we need to put in Georgia and Russians will understand that you are serious,'” Alasania said."
It's noteworthy that this formulation -- "defensive" anti-aircraft and anti-armor weapons -- is exactly that used by former President Mikhail Saakashvili. But where Saakashvili wanted the U.S. to give him those weapons, Alasania here is asking that NATO allies put them in Georgia.
We'll see what comes of that proposal. Meanwhile, the alliance is getting ready for its summit this fall in Wales, and all eyes are on what the alliance may do to signal support for Georgia. Tbilisi is still pushing for MAP, although Alasania acknowledged in his remarks in Washington that it was an uphill battle:
“It is also important for the United States to show leadership… to make sure that next steps that NATO will make, for example at the summit in September, will be adequate response to what’s happening in Ukraine,” the Georgian Defense Minister said.
“We are talking about the Membership Action Plan, but we don’t really know how these discussions will end up, while, honestly, in fact after [developments in] Ukraine we should be talking about accession talks of Georgia and other aspirants to NATO,” he said.
It's not clear if anything has changed with respect to the alliance's interest in giving Georgia a MAP, and while the U.S. may be in favor, Western European companies like Germany and France have long been opposed. “Georgians are well aware that they do not have consensus in the Alliance and that they have work to do to convince, particularly some of our western European allies, of their worthiness for the Membership Action Plan,” said Victoria Nuland, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, at a Congressional hearing in April. “We are supportive of the Membership Action Plan,” added Derek Chollet, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs. “But as you know very well this is an Alliance’s decision, that’s not a decision the United States will make alone. We work closely with our Georgian partners through this process and it’s something that clearly will be a subject of conversation in months ahead as we lead up to the Wales summit.”
One key stumbling block has been that Georgia does not have control over all of its territory, complicating the potential collective security obligations of NATO. But Georgian diplomats have reportedly been working out a proposal. This is according to Petre Mamradze, a former senior government official, who explained the proposal to Giorgi Menabde of the Jamestown Foundation's Eurasia Daily Monitor:
According to information he gathered from his conversations with several unnamed Western diplomats, Mamradze revealed that the essence of the proposal is to not extend NATO Article 5 protection to the occupied territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, should Georgia be admitted as a full member. According to this proposal, NATO would grant Georgia a MAP during the September 2014 summit and underscore Georgia’s membership process as a legitimate objective, thereby confirming the decision of the Bucharest summit of 2008, which declared that Georgia would be a member of NATO. But the Alliance would openly state that in the case of Georgia, Article 5 of the Washington Treaty would not apply to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Simultaneously, however, these regions will still be considered as “occupied by Russia,” and neither Georgia nor the member states of NATO will recognize them (Author’s interview, April 25).
“Those representatives of the Georgian authorities that voiced this idea in [their] talks with Western partners referred to the German precedent. They pointed out that [during the Cold War] part of Germany was occupied by Soviet forces—a powerful grouping of Soviet military forces was stationed there—but Germany was still allowed to become a NATO member,” Mamradze said
Mamradze is not impressed with the proposal calling it “another stupid thing, as none of the NATO countries would agree to reconsider" Article 5. But it's nevertheless interesting that the government is (apparently) trying creative solutions to get into NATO.
As it happens, NATO's special representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia, James Appathurai, visited Tbilisi on Thursday. But he didn't appear to comment on either that proposal or Alasania's request.
UPDATE: It seems Appathurai did talk about Alasania's proposal:
"I would like to focus that NATO does not have its own defensive assets, in particular the Alliance allies have such assets. NATO can always support organising this as it was in the case of Turkey during the crisis in Syria,” Appathurai said at the joint conference with Georgia’s Foreign Minister Maia Panjikidze.
"Defence Minister Alasania’s message was clear and I believe the issue will be discussed at NATO,” he added.