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Analysis & Opinion
05.12.08 Russia Profile Weekly Experts Panel: No MAP For Georgia And Ukraine?
Introduced by Vladimir Frolov

Last week the U.S. State Department announced that the United States would not insist on granting Membership Action Plans (MAPs) to Ukraine and Georgia at the NATO ministerial. This decision reflects the fact that an increasing number of European NATO allies – Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Norway and Luxemburg—have recently made it clear to Washington that they would not support MAPs for Ukraine and Georgia. Does this mean a full stop on their path to NATO membership, or just a temporary halt till going gets easier? And what does this decision mean for NATO’s relations with Russia?

Contributors: Stephen Blank, Ethan Burger, James Jatras, Edward Lozansky

At the last NATO summit in Bucharest in April, it was only France and Germany who blocked MAPs for the two former Soviet states, while the decision has essentially been postponed until December. It is now clear that after Georgia’s insane invasion of South Ossetia last August, the opposition within NATO to rushing the membership decision has only intensified.

Under the circumstances, Britain came to Washington’s rescue and offered to save its face by proposing to drop the discussion about MAPs altogether, while underscoring the end objective – NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine if and when they make the grade.

The Brits should be commended for creativity. It is true that MAPs has been in existence only since 1999, as a subterfuge to issuing an immediate invitation to join the alliance when NATO is not really prepared to do so. MAPs applied only to the second wave of NATO enlargement in 2002, while Spain, Portugal, Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary joined NATO without the formality of a MAP.

Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev welcomed the U.S. decision to abandon the discussion on MAPs, saying that this reflected a more rational approach to the issue. Moscow’s media is portraying this decision as Russia’s major victory and a vindication of the policy course that made the costs of ignoring Russia’s redlines on Ukraine and Georgia clear to NATO.

But is it really so? The question now is whether the decision to abandon the MAP path for Georgia and Ukraine indicates the alliance’s willingness to put NATO membership for these two states on the back burner or maybe kill the idea altogether, or a more intricate plan to expedite their membership by lowering the entrance bar envisaged by a MAP? Does this mean a full stop on their path to NATO membership, or just a temporary halt till the going gets easier? How will this decision affect the political situation in both Georgia and Ukraine? Surely this will be spun by the opposition forces in Kiev and Tbilisi, and a NATO and U.S. vote of no-confidence in Presidents Viktor Yushchenko and Mikheil Saakshvili? Could it be read any differently? And what does this decision mean for NATO’s relations with Russia? Medvedev clearly signaled his willingness to reengage by his warm welcome of the No-MAP decision. Will he be reciprocated?

James George Jatras, Director, American Council for Kosovo, Washington:

One step forward, two steps back. Vladimir Lenin's famous expression comes to mind when hearing Washington officials’ latest statements on NATO integration of Ukraine and Georgia.

First, the two steps back: in stepping down from earlier American insistence on extending Membership Action Plans to Georgia and Ukraine, the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the Assistant Secretary Daniel Fried seek to make a virtue of a weakness, faced with increased resistance to inviting the two republics on behalf of the European allies. Neither this month’s NATO ministerial nor the April 2009 Strasbourg/Kehl summit will result in MAPs anyway, so continuing to push forward would be both pointless and humiliating.

Now the step forward: even while backing off from MAPs, the same officials made a point of categorically restating the 2008 Bucharest summit’s assertion that Ukraine and Georgia will eventually become NATO members. “When” and “how” may be in question, “if” is not. A MAP and eventual NATO accession are two different things, as the first non-MAP wave of expansion in 1998 showed.

At this point it’s hard to know who is outwitting whom: the United States or the European allies. On the one hand, the allies can reasonably welcome Washington’s retreat from an imminent confrontation with Moscow on the heels of the Russia-Georgia war. France, Germany, and even Britain have made a point of insisting that their business ties with Russia, especially in the area of energy, must not suffer due to political-strategic concerns. Their relief that Washington apparently will not force the NATO expansion issue in 2009 is palpable.

At the same time, repeated American references to the non-MAP entry of the first NATO expansion wave need to be correlated to the observation, even by Georgia’s and Ukraine’s strongest supporters, that they’re “not ready” – yet – for NATO membership. With a MAP or without, this means that Tbilisi and Kiev will be presented a list of criteria they must fulfill. If the allies concur with that list, they may find themselves confronted with a couple of “ready” countries sooner than they think.

NATO members on both sides of the question of inviting Georgia and Ukraine emphasize one point of agreement: Russia should hold no “veto” over the republics’ entry into the alliance. Once NATO says they’re ready, in they go. Moscow will be consulted, but that’s all. Once the non-MAP criteria are deemed to have been met – which will be a subjective judgment – issuance of accession invitations essentially will be just ratification of the decision taken at Bucharest. Thus, dispensing with MAPs should be seen as a sleight-of-hand, designed to facilitate the anticipated outcome, not hinder it.

Moscow’s positive response to the Rice and Fried statements was right, but caution is still in order. There has been a tactical retreat, nothing more. It would be a mistake to think that the incoming Barack Obama Administration will renounce the George Bush pledges to Georgia and Ukraine. Soon-to-be Vice President Joseph Biden, a committed NATO partisan and anything but a Russophile, will strongly support continuation of the Bush policy. So will Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton, for whom the “central role NATO plays in promoting peace and stability in Europe” – as characterized by her husband in February 1999, on the eve of his administration’s illegal “humanitarian” aggression against Serbia over Kosovo – is an article of faith. General Jim Jones, who will serve as National Security Adviser, headed the NATO military command as Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, during the 2004 “Big Bang” accession of seven countries, including the Baltic States. In short, it’s too soon for Moscow to claim victory.

The political and military criteria NATO will adopt to gauge Georgia’s and Ukraine’s qualifications for NATO membership will approximate a MAP in substance, if not in name. The real trick for the reluctant allies will be to try to ensure the standards are formidable enough to parry any claims by Washington in the finite future that they have been achieved. Given Georgia’s continuing political volatility under the leadership of the unstable Mikheil Saakashvili, as well as Ukraine’s perpetual divisions, that should not be too tough.

Meanwhile, Russia needs to play a discrete, multifaceted delaying game: cultivating commercial ties with the NATO allies while implicitly suggesting that it would be unwise to make any moves that would force Moscow to put its security above business, which likely would be especially effective in light of the Europeans’ economic anxieties at a time of nearly-unprecedented financial difficulty; keeping political and economic pressure on Georgia while opposition to the Saakashvili regime’s corruption and repression escalates, including stepping up efforts both domestically and internationally to consolidate the fledgling statehood of South Ossetia and Abkhazia; and building bridges to Ukraine, where not only Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko has abandoned her fire-breathing anti-Russian line of only a few months ago, but where just this week even President Viktor Yushchenko ordered a policy review aimed at smoothing tensions with Russia.

Giving everyone concerned reason to slow down any claim that Ukraine and Georgia are even close to meeting whatever the non-MAP criteria turn out to be, while isolating the Obama Administration’s Russophobes and “liberal hawks,” can help transform the final decision on accession from “not right now” to “never.” As we say in Washington, delay is the surest form of denial.

Finally, the people of Georgia and Ukraine should be given the benefit of dissenting views, notably from the wide and growing spectrum of American opinion that differs from that of the bipartisan foreign policy establishment that mismanaged the Clinton and Bush administrations and will seek to continue their malfeasance under Obama.

Grudging concessions by Western, including U.S., media that Saakashvili’s reckless adventurism, not Russian aggressiveness, launched the August war, have started to appear along with commentaries that extending a NATO security guarantee to Georgia would be an empty and foolhardy gesture. Organized efforts to bring to the Ukrainian and Georgian publics alternative American analysis and commentary on the relative costs and benefits of NATO – not only for Ukraine and Georgia, but for the United States as well – can help them make an informed choice on their future options.

Edward Lozansky, President, American University in Moscow:

On December 2 and 3, Brussels hosted yet another conference of NATO foreign ministers. Among the more important items on the agenda was the discussion of and voting on the Membership Action Plan for Ukraine and Georgia. The plan is a road map spelling out the necessary reforms to be undertaken by aspiring countries and the moves they will have to make to secure conclusive membership in the North Atlantic alliance.

The matter was already discussed in April this year, yet despite the powerful lobbying by the United States, certain European states, above all Germany and France, blocked the idea. This new attempt to overcome their recalcitrance was the Bush administration’s last chance to save face, as within weeks it will have to start packing to vacate the White House.

The United States will be glad to see the back of Bush and his team. The country is being rocked by the financial crisis. The situation in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and nuclear Pakistan could hardly be worse. Every opinion poll suggests unequivocally that the incumbent U.S. president is easily the least successful on record. Some fifty years from now this age may be seen differently, but this must be cold comfort for George Bush Jr.

What he sorely needs now is a victory, however token, so that he could exit with his head held high, or at least medium high. Many people expected Bush to actually venture a bombing of Iran’s nuclear installations, but it is already clear that this is not going to happen. So the only thing he might yet try to accomplish is to drag Ukraine and Georgia into NATO, by fair means or foul. A more inauspicious moment for the job would be hard to find. Ukraine is being ripped apart by domestic political strife, and anyway the polls point to an absolute majority of its citizens being dead against accession to NATO.

As for Georgia, Saakashvili’s foolhardy act in South Ossetia in August ought to induce any sane politician to shun him like the plague. Few people now doubt that it was he who ordered the assault on South Ossetia, which left Russian peacekeepers and hundreds of civilians dead, and numerous residential blocks, schools and hospitals gutted. Even the Western media, that until recently persisted in blaming the aggression on Russia, have now had a change of heart and are citing almost daily irrefutable proof of the fact that it was Georgia that had started the war.

Admitting the culprit to NATO now would be sheer madness, and most European countries are fully aware of that.
Some dozen European ambassadors to NATO, including those of France, Germany, Italy, Iceland, Norway and Luxemburg, hinted that they would vote against MAP for Ukraine and Georgia. Once it had received this signal, Washington started feverishly working out alternative strategies. What sort of strategies exactly, State Secretary Condoleezza Rice clearly made us understand, as she expended superhuman efforts to get MAPs scrapped altogether!

The idea is that since a MAP does not seem to work, it is best forgotten, and Ukraine and Georgia should be admitted to NATO immediately, skipping all preliminary preparatory steps. That vividly reminded me of a chapter in a Soviet school textbook insisting that Mongolia would go from feudalism straight to socialism, bypassing capitalism.

It looks like Moscow greeted dropping MAP positively, but I think it is a little bit premature on their part. Bush and Rice will fight to the end to get Georgia and Ukraine into NATO, although their chances are not too high. No one takes the Bush administration seriously anymore, and therefore it is unclear why Europeans should give them a farewell present. On the contrary, we already hear some voices from European diplomats who complain that Washington’s pushing may result in an even deeper split within NATO.

“This is a complete reversal of the U.S. position,” complained a high-ranking NATO official who wished to remain anonymous in this highly delicate situation. “We only just managed to reach compromise on MAPs in Bucharest in April, and now we are asked to forget it and practically throw MAPs away. This is bound to provoke a crisis of confidence in the decision-making process in our organization.”

Some diplomats assume that this is America’s way of taking revenge on Russia for the humiliation the United States suffered in Georgia. And in doing so, it completely ignores the fact that scrapping MAPs will create a dangerous precedent; for now the road to NATO will be increasingly slippery and devoid of well-considered rules.

Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy will probably do well to hear out Obama about his position on the matter, because it will be the new U.S. president who will have to sort out the mess left behind by Bush.

Ethan S. Burger, Adjunct Professor, Georgetown University Law Center, & Scholar-in-Residence, School of International Service, American University, Washington, D.C.:

At present, NATO membership has greater symbolic than substantive significance. Granted, the various meetings of political and military leaders are beneficial to its members, their utility is limited. NATO is largely an anachronism from a time when Europe was divided into two “camps.” Its principal function was deterrence.

NATO membership was largely intended to be a statement of solidarity in the event of a large-scale, conventional war, or to avoid a repeat of situations similar to the 1938 dismemberment of Czechoslovakia by Nazi aggression – when Britain and France did not honor their treaty (or moral) commitments.

In the 1960s, French President Charles de Gaulle decided to develop “le force de frappe” for a variety of reasons, one of which was the belief that the United States would not risk the destruction of New York and Washington in order to defend French territory. For a long-time, France remained “politically” part of NATO, but outside its command structure.

Today, the primary “threats” that Russia poses to NATO members and other countries are those arising from energy or other forms of economic dependency, low-intensity conflicts, and political interference, where Russia justifies its actions by the need to defend the rights of nationalities abroad. Thus the real value of integrating Ukraine or Georgia into NATO is dubious.

Frankly, given the limited willingness of most NATO member states to commit forces in Afghanistan, where they might be in “harm’s way” (Britain and Canada being notable exceptions), as part of the response to the 9/11 attack by Al-Qaeda whom the Taliban gave haven to, what sort of assistance could the governments of Georgia and Ukraine realistically expect from the NATO countries under various scenarios?

Carl von Clausewitz understood that war was a continuation of politics by other means. The problems of Europe (and of the post-Soviet space), cannot be resolved by war. Economic sanctions are of limited effectiveness where there is a lack of political unity/will or the economic incentives to cheat are great.

Under the present circumstances, the NATO states should look for domestic allies in Russia who have a stake in good relations, and revitalize the OSCE (without excluding states that should be at the table) to resolve problems like Nagorno-Karabakh, the exacerbation of which is unlikely to be in anyone’s interests. There must be Russian officials with an economic background or who are aware of Russia’s needs for foreign markets, products, or services with the will and acumen to appreciate that the world need not be viewed through a narrow national security prism. Such individuals should be lobbying any Russian with political or economic power that will listen.

Professor Stephen Blank, the U.S. Army War College, Carlyle Barracks, PA:

It is very possible that in both Ukraine and Georgia, the opposition to the ruling presidents will avail itself of the opportunity to use this debacle to attack those regimes. In Ukraine, in particular, we see a campaign orchestrated by Moscow to discredit the Yushchenko presidency even further, and to exploit opportunities for paralyzing Ukrainian governmental activity in all spheres, such as phony attacks on Ukraine for selling weapons to Georgia and for supposedly attacking the Russian language and culture. So the failure to gain NATO membership will add grist to the mill.

In Georgia the opposition will also exploit this failure because it goes to the heart of Saakashvili's policies, which relied on allied support for Georgia (even as he berated European leaders for being appeasers) and for its membership in NATO. If anything, this affair shows that the war in August persuaded more states to join the opposition to Georgian membership.

As for Russia, it has won a great victory by solidifying the division in NATO's ranks and talk of reengagement is beside the point, for it never ceased engagement with NATO and dare not, for its own interests, terminate cooperation regarding Afghanistan.

There may well be such a "reengagement," but it will be in Moscow's eyes an attempt to further consolidate and legitimize the idea of Russia having a privileged sphere of influence east of Germany, where it can do as it pleases and thus hollow out NATO.

This is not and cannot be a satisfactory basis for engagement, for as long as Moscow claims both a droit de regard and more bluntly a droit de seigneur over East European security, the potential for returning to strategic bipolarity in Europe--Moscow's real aim--remains the same.

Besides Afghanistan there is in fact little for Russia to discuss with NATO on this basis, except for Moscow's attempts to push further Medvedev's European security plan, whose purpose is to neuter both NATO and the OSCE along the lines suggested above, and prepare for the withdrawal of U.S. forces form Europe. If Europe really takes seriously what it achieved in 1989-91, engagement on that basis cannot and should not take place, nor can it succeed in advancing European security.
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