Georgia: How Much Is Too Much NATO?
Invariably, NATO is seen as either the cause or cure of all security ills in the South Caucasus. So, it was only predictable that Russia described as provocative the August 27 opening of a North Atlantic Treaty Organization training center in Georgia. And Tbilisi, in response, emphasized it as an expansion of “the frontier of freedom.”
For his part, NATO Secretary General Jen Stoltenberg, on his first trip to Georgia, appeared to try to play things in the center.
The center, he said at its opening, was all about making the Georgian army “more capable and more modern.”
“There is more Georgia in NATO and more NATO in Georgia,” he added, in case anyone hadn’t noticed.
Georgia, NATO’s only eager ally in the South Caucasus, has heard this line before, albeit in the future tense. In December 2014, NATO promised that “there will be a lot more Georgia in NATO and lot of NATO in Georgia.”
The catchphrase refers to the so-called Substantial Package, a military-reform collaboration program that NATO adopted at its summit in Wales last September. The program also includes sending “embedded” NATO trainers to Georgia and holding joint exercises.
As far as Moscow is concerned, though, there is too much NATO in Georgia.
“Those, who in such a situation continue to actively drag Tbilisi into NATO, must be aware of their responsibility, especially given the regrettable experience in the region in 2008,” observed Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Interfax reported.
Mindful of the Russian reaction, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili made sure to emphasize that the new training facility means no harm to any country.
Georgian Defense Minister Tina Khidasheli, though, was more direct. She emphasized at the opening that the center testifies to the “irreversibility of Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations,” and expressed the hope that Georgia’s efforts to become NATO compatible will be reflected in any decisions about membership that the Alliance may make at its next summit, in 2016 in Warsaw.
Hedging, Stoltenberg said that he cannot “pre-judge” summit decisions, but added that “Georgia already has the necessary tools to make progress toward membership.” As NATO so frequently does, though, he added that work remains to be done.
Earlier summits have fallen short of Georgian expectations to receive a Membership Action Plan and resulted in new homework assignments.
Nonetheless, NATO caution or Russian threats aside, Khidasheli isn’t giving up. “We optimistically view the future . . . “ she declared.