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Staying optimistic about NATO

By Messenger Staff
Wednesday, February 8
We Georgians are noted optimists, something especially apparent in the wake of the January meeting between President Mikheil Saakashvili and his American counterpart, Barack Obama. Georgian commentators have begun to speculate that the warm welcome received in the United States is an indication that Georgia will be upgraded to Membership Action Plan status at the upcoming NATO summit in Chicago.

Georgia has overcome such enthusiasm before, though, as there were similar expectations before the spring 2008 meeting in Bucharest. In January of that year, a nonbinding referendum was held and Georgian citizens voted 77% in favour of joining NATO. Unfortunately, even with American support, Georgia’s hopes were dashed. MAP status seemed even further away after the August war with Russia that same year (an outcome that was partially Russia's intention all along). While enthusiasm may have been high in 2008, events conspired to hold Georgia back.

Georgia sees NATO membership as a bulwark against Russian aggression, and as a means of reclaiming the 20% of its territory on which Russian troops are currently stationed. Yet this is one reason why the country's NATO aspirations have dashed time and again; other NATO members are no so keen on direct conflict with Russia. So Georgia remains an "aspirant" country, with promises of membership but no timeline. It stands humbly at NATO's open doors but no one will invite it inside.

Both the Georgian government and most opposition parties affirm that joining NATO is their goal. To prove its commitment, Georgia has sent nearly 1000 troops to Afghanistan, making it the largest contributor to that operation on a per capital basis. Meanwhile, our nation has ignored its own security interests in order to co-operate with international missions, and faced losses in military support from its Western allies after the August War. With a looming confrontation with Iran, Georgian interests in the region may be put on hold again.

Yet optimistic Georgians still hope for the best.