Prime Minister Gakharia Speaks on NATO Membership
Prime Minister of Georgia Giorgi Gakharia informed local media on August 8 that Georgia is ready to be a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member state. The announcement came during a commemoration of the 12th anniversary of the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia. The remembrance ceremony for fallen soldiers took place at the Mukhatgverdi Cemetery. Attendees included officials and family members of the soldiers.
Gakharia stated, “Today Georgia is fully ready for NATO membership and our partners can see and appreciate this.” Adam Kinzinger, a U.S. congressman backed Gakharia during an online conference titled “Peace and Security in Europe,” co-organized by the Georgian Foreign Ministry, saying, “I believe it’s time for Georgia to be fully a member of NATO – I’m sure a lot of my friends on here agree with that. And in fact, the fact that Georgia is occupied shouldn’t be the reason that Georgia does not come into NATO – it should actually be the impetus to get them in there.”
Georgia’s desire to join NATO go back to 2006, when the Georgian Parliament voted for integration with NATO. This vote resulted in the NATO-Georgia Commission in 2008. Georgia, while not a member country, has still been largely involved in NATO operations. For example, Georgia is the top non-NATO contributor of troops to the mission in Afghanistan. Georgia also contributed the third-largest delegation of troops to Iraq (after the United States and the UK). Becoming a member state would mean for Georgia enhanced security measures and stronger relations with the United State and with the European Union (EU). This, to some, could help offset the threat of Russian encroachment.
Such encroachment is most vividly demonstrated by Russia’s borderization of Georgian sovereign territory; perhaps the most pressing reason for Georgia to want to join NATO. Borderization is the Russian practice of moving the border fences separating Russian-occupied Georgian territory (South Ossetia and Abkhazia) from territory held by the Georgian government further into the sovereign territory of Georgia. This would be a threat to any country’s sovereignty, but it is especially dire for Tbilisi because such illegal seizures of territory by Russia are incrementally moving towards Georgia’s vital East-West Highway that, if compromised, would effectively divide the country.
Russia maintains a military presence in the breakaway Georgian Republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (20 percent of Georgia’s territory). These moves by Russia, each one a violation of Georgian sovereignty, are done only a few acres at a time—and one is hard-pressed to justify a war with a nuclear power over a single farm. However, if Georgia becomes a NATO member, a farm could become a casus belli between Russia and NATO. A war such as this would be costly in many ways, and NATO likely wants to avoid such conflict.
Another issue is that NATO might not be able at this time to absorb new members. Even if Georgia meets all the criteria for joining, the financial cost of absorbing countries into NATO can be significant enough to deter further enlargement. In 1997, when Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia became NATO member countries, their absorption cost the organization between $43.5 and $56.5 billion. This money was required to fund various self-defense measures to ensure that the new member countries met NATO standards for their own defense.
While Georgia might be ready to become a NATO member state and its relations with the EU and the United States are at a high, this alone does not override the cost of its succession. Unfortunately, even if Georgia would benefit from the membership and it is ready, NATO might not be able to afford further enlargement in the near future, especially after the absorption of Central and Eastern European member countries in 1999 and 2004. Even if Georgia is not accepted as a NATO member state in the near future, it still should continue strengthening its political and economic relationships with the West. This way Georgia will still have powerful allies to offset its fears of increased Russian involvement.