NATO: Back to the Future

23. September, 2008

Foto: soldiersmediacenter

Georgia's moving closer to NATO is not compatible with good relationship between NATO and Russia. If Georgia joins the alliance, the relationship may become reminiscent of the Cold War.

Russian-Georgian conflict compels us to ask some very important questions about the future of NATO, its relationship with Russia and the future of Georgia. Is it going to be within NATO or outside it and what will the consequences of either scenarios be? After the Cold War, NATO has undergone a considerable transformation. It has turned from a joint defence organization into an organization with wider agenda, which is being fulfilled using different means than before. These days, the core element of the organization’ s mission is cooperation. Now the alliance is facing a dilemma, it has to choose between cooperation with Russia and cooperation with Georgia. Most likely, it will choose the latter, which will result in worsening relationship with Russia. It may lead to a conflict reminiscent of the Cold War.

The New Policies of NATO

The collapse of the USSR in 1991 led to enormous changes that affected not only the former Soviet territory, but the world beyond it as well. Less noticeable, but nevertheless intrinsic changes happened in the other part of the bipolar world, whose core element and symbol was NATO. The alliance of collective defence that was established and, for several decades, had been functioning in the bipolar system, had lost the object it was aimed against. At the point of collapse, the legal successor of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation, did not pose the same threat to the West and the new circumstances compelled NATO to ask questions on whether there was a point for the alliance to exist in its previous form, what was its new identity to be and what new tasks it should perform.

During the Cold War era, the primary task of the alliance was to ensure the collective defence of its members. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, each passing year made this task less and less relevant with focus increasingly shifting towards defence cooperation. In case of NATO, it manifested itself as all forms of cooperation with virtually everybody. Mainly, partnership involved working individually with Russia, Ukraine, but there was also multilateral cooperation within the framework of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, the Istanbul Initiative (ICI) and the Mediterranean Dialogue.

Everyday actions of the alliance, too, clearly indicated that a new policy and new tasks have been adopted. The manifestations of that were the military actions (Allied Force in Yugoslaia and ISAF in Afghanistan), the peacekeeping missions (SFR in Bosnia-Herzegovina, KFOR in Kosovo), as well as the anti-terrorism operations (Active Endeavour in the Mediterranean) and even the natural disaster management (forest fires, floods, snow storm, hurricanes and earthquakes).

Russia, our partner

In the new agenda of NATO, Russia, too, found a new role, and an important one at that. Russia became a partner of the alliance. Initially, the partnership was institutionalized through the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council, which later transformed into the NATO-Russia Council. The alliance tried to involve Russia in its activities in order to prevent negative consequences of the collapse of the USSR and, through cooperation, strengthen the security of NATO member countries in the new conditions. Joint military exercises, joint training and Russia’ s participation in NATO-led peacekeeping missions, all of these were manifestations of the aforementioned attempts.

However, mutual cooperation notwithstanding, discrepancies between the both sides have been present throughout the post-Soviet years, particularly with regards to NATO operation Allied Force in Kosovo in 1999. But these disagreements did not lead to major worsening of the bilateral relationship. True, this “ love” was not really mutual. Secretary-General of NATO Jaap de Hoop Scheffer indicated, repeatedly and in various contexts, that Russia is a friend of NATO and the alliance should not be afraid of it, whatever the differences between them may be. Russia accepted NATO’ s kindly feelings in a reserved manner and, whilst taking part in various joint projects, used them to fulfil its own goals, rather than those of true mutual partnership.

In recent years, the relationship between NATO and Russia have started to worsen gradually. Mainly because of the enlargement of the alliance, but also due to the activities of some NATO countries that Russia did not approve. Another factor was Russia’ s growing confidence. Whilst in Russia the alliance was being portrayed as a Cold War relic and an enemy, an perceived as such by a large part of the society, the alliance still tried to continue cooperation and to explain its “ friendly intentions”. As a result, NATO, or at least its Secretary-General, was left with an impression that NATO is trying to cooperate with someone who may not be interested in it at all. Besides, Russia did not really need anything from NATO. It was NATO that needed Russia, so that it could fulfil its new goals. That is why Russia started assuming a more demanding tone in communication with NATO. A particularly striking example of that was the appointment of Dmitry Rogozin as Russia’ s representative to NATO.

The Georgian Factor

Recent disagreements between NATO and Russia did not form a good base for further improvement in the mutual relationship. However, there were no reasonable grounds to suggest that the relationship should worsen dramatically. Russia could not put a stop to the first two post-Soviet enlargements of the alliance. The third one, which includes Albania and Croatia, does not concern Russia’s geopolitical interests. However, the accession of Georgia and Ukraine would be totally unacceptable to Russia, as it would lead to the lessening of Russia’s influence not only in these countries but also in a wider area.

The initial cooperation between Georgia and NATO dates back to 1992, when the country joined the North-Atlantic Cooperation Council and later the Partnership for Peace. But NATO had similar kind of relationship with many countries. Even before the Rose Revolution in 2002 Georgia officially indicated its wish to become a NATO member. Two years later, under the leadership of President Mikheil Saakashvili, both sides agreed on an individual partnership action plan and soon afterwards an intensified mutual dialogue was initiated.

A membership action plan would have been a logical next step in this cooperation. Georgia and Ukraine expected that at the NATO Summit in Bucharest last April. The aspirations of both countries were thwarted by the so-called old Europe. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that countries involved in regional conflicts could not become NATO members. The final declaration of the Summit stated that Georgia and Ukraine may eventually become members, but it was a poor solace.

The unwillingness to avoid further tensions with Russia were also evident in NATO’s reaction to the Russian-Georgian conflict in August. In the first day of the conflict, Scheffer only remarked that both sides should use constraint and expressed his concern. Only four days later the NATO ambassadors met and expressed regret over the “ disproportionate use of force” on the Russian side and asked to show respect to Georgia’ s sovereignty and territorial integrity. A whole week had to pass before all NATO foreign ministers managed to meet and demand an immediate withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgia. They also decided toe stablish the NATO-Georgia Commission. In late August, both Scheffer and the North-Atlantic Council refused to recognize independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

It was clear that now NATO-Russia relationship will have to be reconsidered. Both sides made remarks on the subject. However, it seems that NATO wants the re-evaluation less than Russia does. President Dmitry Medvedev has said that his country is prepared to severe the relationship altogether. Georgian membership in NATO is likely to cause exactly that.

Another Cold War

One of the biggest losers in the Russian-Georgian conflict could be NATO. It seemed it had found its new identity by working in partnership with everyone in almost all areas with an aim to promote stability in wider geographical area. The further reduction of the gap between the two sides would have seemed a natural next step in this new policy. However, without a successful and fruitful cooperation with Russia NATO will not be able to continue the previous policy of universal cooperation, in which partnership with Russia served as a core element, particularly with regards to one of the most important current missions, ISAF in Afghanistan. NATO’s joint desire to have at least a reasonable relationship with Russia manifested itself in the slow and moderate reaction to the events in Georgia. It has to be noted, though, that even this slow reaction was described by Russia as “ unacceptable”.

Further development of NATO-Russia relationship will be largely determined by NATO’ s activities in the coming days and months, particularly regarding the NATO-Georgia Commission, as well as possible granting of a membership action plan to Georgia in December this year. It seems that Georgia’ s advancement towards the membership is irreversible, considering the strong support from some of the members (mainly, the US, Poland and the Baltic States). Also, a change in the position of the previously sceptical countries (namely, Germany and France) will play a role.

However, Georgia’s moving closer to NATO is not compatible with good relationship between NATO and Russia. Most likely, the relationship between Russia and the alliance will continue worsening as Georgia will move closer to NATO membership. An open question remains, how could a country, in whose territory, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, remain Russian troops, become a member of NATO? Such scenario will bring back the policy reminiscent of the Cold War, which will force NATO to adopt a new strategy that will have to replace the existing one, written in 1999. It is very unlikely that the Cold War will ever return in its historic form, but it will adopt a few elements form the past, namely, the strengthening of the zones of influence and attempts to enlarge them, as well as mutual insults and arms race. raksts

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