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The two sides to Georgia’s NATO aspirations

By Messenger Staff
Tuesday, July 17
With the upcoming elections quickly approaching, various topics become important to the campaigns of the major political parties in Georgia. One of the essential issues being discussed and speculated on ever since Georgia regained its independence is the question of how should Georgia’s foreign policy be developed?

When the Soviet Union was collapsing at the end of the 1980s, nobody doubted that Georgia would follow a Western path. From the early days of independence, Georgian leaders were determined to commit the country to Western values. Georgia began to prove this through its actions.

One may ask: Why does Georgia need Western allies? Through an alliance with Western powers, Georgia hoped to protect itself from possible Russian aggression. So immediately after the country’s independence was declared, Georgia actively began seeking out states that would assist in protecting its sovereignty and independence.

The first natural choice was the United States and the countries of the European Union. However, from the outset, Georgia’s political figures were quite inexperienced, and most of them were not even politicians at all, but rather representatives of culture, science, education and the like. Most of them naively thought that by announcing the country’s Western orientation, they would immediately receive the full-range of protections granted by the West. They also erroneously believed that with this support, there would be no further Russian annexation of Georgian territory.

However, the West treaded very cautiously with Georgia. In retrospect, it was precisely Georgia’s insistence to set out on a Western track that triggered Russian aggression against Georgia. Georgia’s West-looking foreign policy materialized into conflicts which ensued almost simultaneously in Abkhazia and in South Ossetia. Not a single state moved a finger to protect Georgia’s territorial integrity. The Western reaction was limited mostly to the use of soft power and public expressions of concern and condemnation, as well as some humanitarian assistance.

Later, the international community would send UN military observers to monitor the situation inside the conflict zones. This did not provide adequate comfort to Georgia, whose hopes were now frustrated. So the second phase of Georgia’s Western aspirations began. This time it wasn’t arbitrary Western support for which Georgia sought– Georgia wanted to join NATO.

By the end of the 20th century and under the watch of former president Eduard Shevardnadze, Georgia made its bid for NATO membership… again with the implicit goal of protecting itself from future Russian aggression. At this time, Russia already had a military presence in both breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

NATO accepted Georgia’s application and gave promises to Georgia, including discussions of various NATO programs. However, NATO refused to make any decisive political decisions to accept Georgia into NATO and thus doomed the country to endure another tragedy.

NATO made the decision to accept the Baltic States (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia). Later, Bulgaria and Romania gained accession into the ‘club’– though analysts are quick to point out that neither state completely fulfilled NATO-member criteria. But again, this was a political decision. In Georgia’s case, there were multiple obstacles to navigate… The first was the fact that Georgia was saddled with two frozen conflicts on its territory. Needless to say, in April of 2008, NATO rejected Georgia’s bid for membership and did not offer the Membership Action Plan (MAP) which was a tragedy in light of what would occur just months later.

In August of that same year, Georgia was attacked by the Russian military and eventually lost 20% of its territory through Russian occupational forces. In the end, Georgia faced the unenviable reality of having two “independent” states sprout up on its territory. Many feel that this situation was precipitated by Georgia’s NATO aspirations; instead of protecting Georgia the opposite result was realized: Georgia’s NATO aspirations became a factor in Georgia’s defeat and subsequent lost territories. All of this creates a negative impulse among the Georgian population. The popularity of the idea of Georgia having a Western orientation is now under threat. Many people here in Georgia feel that the West betrayed Georgia. Most of the current political leaders–whether it’s the opposition or the ruling administration– still enthusiastically promote Georgia’s Western orientation. However, until some positive steps are taken in this direction, this idea will continue to be under threat.