Tbilisi: Georgia’s NATO ambitions

Georgia’s NATO ambitions

The Messenger
Nov 9 2004

The General Secretary of NATO Jaap de Hoop Scheffer’s visit to Georgia
last week, just days after NATO accepted Georgia’s proposed Individual
Partnership Action Plan, brought closer the possibility of full NATO
membership, although Scheffer stressed that Georgia has much to do
before this will be possible.

During his visit to Georgia, the General Secretary of NATO stated that
in the future NATO is going to widen its alliance with post Soviet
countries, but that such cooperation should not be seen as against
anyone. The newspaper Khvalindeli Dge quoted Scheffer as saying:
“We are not entering the Caucasus or Central Asia to banish anyone
from these regions; nor is it a competition. We are doing it to open
the door widely for those countries which admire Western values and
want to be integrated into western structures.”

Scheffer’s statement was clearly intended for Russia, which is
concerned about NATO expansion east. The Secretary General’s message
was conciliatory but firm: while NATO expansion is not intended as
a threat to Russia, he said, it will go ahead whatever Moscow’s stance.

Scheffer visited the three South Caucasus countries, suggesting that
NATO is open to all three joining. But in fact NATO’s relationship
with the individual countries is somewhat different, with relations
between it and Armenia having only a formal character, while Azerbaijan
is less determined to join NATO than Georgia. After meeting with the
General Secretary, President Mikheil Saakashvili underlined that only
Georgia had presented a partnership program to NATO.

“I do not know yet when Georgia will become a member of NATO, but I am
interested that it happens very soon. Georgia will enter NATO during
my presidential term,” newspaper Akhali Taoba quoted Saakashvili
as saying.

But even though Saakashvili often says that he will be the president
of Georgia for two terms and that his program is designed for a double
term, his evaluation of the situation seems optimistic. For his part,
Scheffer was more cautious: “I am a realist and I should say that
Georgia has to do a lot to join NATO,” newspaper Rezonansi quotes
Scheffer as saying.

During his visit Scheffer also commented on Georgia’s internal
conflicts, and made it clear that NATO will not directly intervene.
The general secretary said: “Georgia should solve the problems of
Abkhazia and Tskhinvali itself.” “The NATO alliance respects the
territorial integrity of Georgia,” he said. But “NATO has no direct
role in assisting for the solution of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.”

Scheffer did reiterate NATO’s position that Russia must withdraw its
bases from Georgian territory, thus fulfilling the agreement it signed
in 1999 in Istanbul. “The Russian federation has well acknowledged
the position of NATO. There is no doubt… Russia must fulfill the
Istanbul summit decision,” the newspaper 24 Saati quoted him as saying.

However, the NATO General Secretary sought to assuage Russian fears
that their bases, once removed, will be replaced with NATO bases,
saying that there will be no NATO bases in the South Caucasus, and
that “NATO will not play any role in guaranteeing the security of
the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, although it is in its interest
to guarantee the stability and the security of this region,” the
newspaper Rezonansi quoted him as saying.

Saakashvili has repeatedly said that no Western country or organization
will be permitted to deploy troops on Georgian territory, and he
responded to Scheffer’s advice that Georgia work together with Russia
to resolve differences between the sides, saying that Georgia is
still prepared to make certain compromises with Russia.

“But there will be no compromise about Georgia’s territorial integrity
and every Georgian citizen’s freedom of choice,” 24 Saati quotes the
president as saying.