|An alternative to NATO membership|
|February 05, 2009|
By Karl Kaiser
NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine is not a realistic possibility, no matter what the Atlantic alliance may say about their potential in principle, as it did at the last two summit meetings. That alternative has been closed, not because some NATO members - notably France and Germany - fractiously opposed an unpopular Bush administration in its enlargement drive, but for deeper structural reasons.
First, domestic conditions speak against membership. The reckless engagement with a superior Russian military by Georgia's president, Mikheil Saakashvili, although he had been thoroughly briefed by the United States about the Russian potential, demonstrated to NATO how bad leadership in combination with a very old conflict can drag the Atlantic alliance into a war it does not want.
In Ukraine there is no majority support for membership among the general population; indeed, in the eastern part of the country there is strong opposition. If ever the leadership were to force this issue it would risk a deep split, with potentially disastrous consequences for the integrity of Ukraine.
Second, contrary to the expectations at the end of the Cold War, large-scale conventional warfare in Europe has reappeared as a threatening possibility. The worst possible scenario for NATO would be that the alliance would be unable to defend an ally under Article V because of lack of political will (even now the majority of people in some NATO countries do not support going to war over Central European members), or for military reasons - as would be the case for Georgia and Ukraine under the present circumstances. This would expose NATO as a paper tiger and cause it to loose the essence of its credibility and meaning.
Third, Russia's relations with the West have reached their lowest point since the end of the Cold War. The enlargement of NATO, the breakdown of strategic and conventional arms control, the installment of missile defenses in Central Europe, and the West's failure to consult Russia on issues it considers vital to its interests, have created a concoction of resentment and perceptions of not being treated as a major power.
Georgian and Ukrainian membership in NATO represents a red line that gives them disproportionate significance. The West has to take this into account if it wants to improve the situation in Europe and regain Russia as a partner in global affairs.
Georgia and Ukraine deserve and will get substantial aid from NATO and the European Union. But it makes little sense to address their long-term security problems separately since they are part of the necessary overhaul of the West's Russia policy that the Obama administration has promised and the European Allies eagerly await. Such an overhaul would have to include, among other things, strategic arms control, a nonproliferation policy and missile defense.
As far as Georgia and Ukraine are concerned, two items are central to the alleviation of their problems. First, a general dialogue between the West and Russia is necessary in order to review the problems of European security and develop approaches that could improve the overall situation. Presidents Dmitri Medvedev of Russia and Nicolas Sarkozy of France have supported such an idea with the quiet and explicit approval of many European governments.
Second, the military security of both countries can be addressed by reviving the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe. The treaty was concluded in 1990 and adapted to changed circumstances with an additional agreement in 1999. It has the advantage of providing for upper limits to conventional forces in geographic zones, for the destruction of equipment, for inspections, and rules for stationing foreign troops.
To be sure, the treaty is now blocked by linked conditionality of NATO and Russia and has been suspended by Russia, and is, of course, no panacea. Problems left to themselves for two decades must be dealt with. But reopening conventional arms control in Europe offers a chance to address the concrete security problems of Georgia and Ukraine (as well as of other European countries) and become part of a hopefully constructive redefinition of the West's relationship with Russia.
Karl Kaiser is adjunct professor at Harvard University and director of its program on Trans-Atlantic Relations
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