10 years after Bucharest: Why NATO should double-down on Georgian membership
2018 is a momentous year for Georgia: it marks the 100th anniversary of the first Democratic Republic of Georgia. It is also the 10th anniversary of the war with Russia (August 2008) and of the Bucharest Summit, when Tbilisi was promised a seat at NATO’s table.
A decade on, NATO-Georgia cooperation has substantially deepened. The country now meets NATO standards in many areas: it has modernised its armed forces and interoperability between Georgian troops and the armies of NATO countries has increased. Georgia has contributed more to international NATO missions than many existing members and also meets the Alliance’s defence spending target. Tbilisi has also undertaken reforms to strengthen democracy, eradicate corruption and ensure civilian control of the military.
NATO has repeatedly reiterated its promise, but a long-coveted Membership Action Plan (MAP) remains elusive, despite Georgia being at least as prepared as Montenegro was when it joined the Alliance in 2017. Concerns over Moscow’s possible reaction is the main reason for stalling. Russian military adventurism in Georgia and Ukraine heightened anxieties about further eastern enlargement.
Georgia has become an important ally for NATO. Its relationship with the Alliance far exceeds the MAP framework. While popular support for membership remains high at 65%,1 it could wane, however, if Georgia remains indefinitely in NATO’s waiting room. This risks giving weight to the Russian narrative that the West does not want Georgia and harming the reform momentum spurred by the prospect of Euro-Atlantic integration.
The 11-12 July 2018 NATO Brussels Summit is an opportunity for the Alliance. Given Georgia’s commitment to transatlantic security, it is in NATO’s interest to strengthen ties with Tbilisi. As a reliable partner that shares common interests and values, the country offers the West a strategic foothold in the South Caucasus. The Alliance must reaffirm its membership commitment and reiterate that no third country has a veto on its enlargement. It should further deepen practical cooperation and bolster Georgia’s ability to defend itself. Reaffirming NATO’s support would reassure Georgian society, boost reform efforts and move the country ever closer to the Alliance.