Georgia is getting prepared for the NATO Summit in Chicago, when the Leaders of NATO member states will gather to discuss the current agenda of the Euro-Atlantic community, including enlargement issues. The outcome of the Summit is determined by exclusively one particular session, which in this case will be held in Chicago in May 2012. It is a comprehensive and enduring political process, resulting in a set of decisions and solutions eventually reflected in the final statement of the summit. This process is going on right now and I want to draw your attention to the important decisions that NATO has already made and adopted in reference to Georgia in the context of the Chicago Summit.
Let me start with the official visit of the North Atlantic Council (NAC) to Georgia led by the Secretary General in November 2011, which is an important part of the preparatory process for the summit in Chicago.
It is important to keep in mind that NATO rarely conducts such official visits to non-member states. I would like to remind you that since the 2008 Russian invasion, this is the second visit of the North Atlantic Council to Georgia in the past 3 years, which reflects NATO’s strong political support of Georgia and its aspiration to NATO membership. Of all, this is the strong support of the public of Georgia, which with overwhelmingly (80 %) supports the NATO membership of our country.
During this visit, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen summarized the NATO – Georgia relations, the results achieved, and underlined that in recent years, Georgia is much closer to the alliance – “After the Bucharest summit, Georgia became closer to NATO.” This statement is of a particular importance against the background when certain forces try to impose nihilism on our society and a wrong perception that Georgia’s NATO membership has been postponed for an indefinite time.
This assessment of the Secretary General clearly indicates that despite the Russia – Georgia conflict and the occupation of our territories, Georgia is firmly moving forward NATO integration. It is a result of the successful reforms and achieved progress, as well as, the effective diplomatic work. During the visit of the North Atlantic Council to Georgia, the alliance has repeatedly stressed that Georgia has made significant achievements in implementing reforms.
The Alliance has expressed its deep appreciation to Georgia as to NATO non-member country, which has made the most significant contribution to the Euro-Atlantic security. Altogether, all the above mentioned issues created a positive background for the the upcoming Chicago Summit in May 2012.
The step forward in terms of preparation for the summit and in some extent the successful outcome of the visit of the North Atlantic Council to Georgia, was the joint communiqué by the Foreign Ministers of NATO Member states, in December, 2011. Although, the issue of NATO enlargement was not even on the agenda of the Ministerial Meeting, several important new aspects were raised regarding to Georgia, namely:
– It was the first occasion when Georgia was mentioned together with the Balkan region countries having Membership Action Plan. Taking into consideration NATO’s political will and interest towards these states, such confluence strengthens NATO integration prospects of Georgia, makes the membership integration instruments more clear and highlights the concrete roadmap.
– This group of countries has been called the “Aspirant Partners” and thus they were distinguished from the bigger group of 37 of NATO “partner” countries. Of course it is a political rather than legal decision underling that these are the states that will become the members of the Alliance.
– The communiqué stressed NATO’s open door policy and its strong commitment to the implementation of the Euro – Atlantic aspirations of these countries.
Some of our opponents are trying to criticize us, that, the “Aspirant Partner “is not a legal term. Such assessment is probably based on the lack of information about the mechanisms and nature of NATO decision-making. NATO does not take only legal decisions, but almost all decisions made by the Alliance are the results of the political process. The decisions about the integration instruments, including the issues on membership, are made by consensus of the 28 member states, which reflect common will and political positions of these member countries and the decisions are reflected in a communiqué. Such is the political will and decision reflected in the communiqué adopted by NATO ministerial in December.
The communiqué also stressed that the fulfillment of the obligations of 2008 between Georgia and Russia remains of strategic importance for NATO. It is very important that the territorial integrity of Georgia and the necessity of fulfilling the ceasefire agreement by Russia are permanently on the NATO- Russia agenda, regardless the level and the strategic importance of the meeting between them.
Unfortunately, every success that Georgia achieves on its way to NATO integration causes Russian aggression that is reflected in the statements of the Russian politicians, which manifest the major goal of Russia – to hinder the process of Georgia’s NATO integration and the eastward enlargement of the Alliance. The statement made by the President of Russia, on 21 November 2011 addressing the officers of the 58 Army dislocated in north Caucasus, that Russia terminated the “eastward expansion of NATO” by going to war with Georgia in August 2008 is the clear example of it: “If we had wavered in 2008, the geopolitical layout would have been different; a range of countries which the North Atlantic [Treaty Organization] tries to artificially “protect” would have been within it”. No matter how aggressive Russia’s policy and rhetoric is, it will not be granted the veto power on the NATO decisions. This is the message that the Alliance continuously sends, especially after the 2008 Russia-Georgia war.
NATO clearly stated at the Bucharest Summit that Georgia will become a member of the Alliance. Today, it is out of question whether Georgia becomes a NATO member or not, the question is when and how it will join the Alliance. In our opinion, clarifying the latter will be a step forward at the Chicago NATO Summit. In this direction, above-mentioned political decisions and the relevant statements are important achievements for Georgia and they shape positive and promising background before the Chicago Summit.
At the same time, despite our optimism regarding the Summit, we should not create excessive and wrong expectations. Obviously Georgia is not expecting to receive an invitation for NATO membership at the Chicago Summit and we do not expect any decisions in this regard. Our realistic objective is to specify the path the Georgia will take to continue the process of integration taking into consideration that Georgia already has very significant instruments to achieve NATO standards, particularly, NATO-Georgia Commission (NGC) established in 2008 and Annual National Program (ANP). According to NATO assessment itself, Georgia successfully and effectively exploits these instruments. The Commission is an effective tool for regular political dialogue with NATO member states on mutually important issues. In this framework approximately 20-30 meetings at different levels are held annually. The NATO-Georgia Commission meeting was conducted in Georgia on 9 November 2011 at the level of Prime-Minister during the visit of North Atlantic Council (NAC). The Annual National Program (which all MAP countries have implemented during integration process) is the similar instrument for reforms. The reforms such as: transforming the defence and security sector; strengthening democratic institutions; holding free and fair parliamentary; presidential and local self-governance elections; changes made in the social and economic field; continuing fight against corruption; judiciary; police; justice and educational reform and others are important first of all not for NATO but for the well-being of the people of Georgia and establishing modern, strong, Georgian and therefore European state. At the same time, Annual National Program (ANP) offers us a possibility to cooperate with NATO in the process of carrying out these reforms. It is our advantage to collaborate with the new NATO members to share their positive and negative experiences of integration and obstacles which they tackled on their way to the membership. We have a lot of good friends, which support us on our way to NATO membership. We clearly understand that considering geopolitical reality the membership requirements for Georgia are much higher than for other countries.
Georgia has undergone a significant path in terms of NATO integration, but much is yet to be done. Currently, we are at the stage when we have to work very hard, do our homework successfully and not give a excuse to anybody inside or outside our country to hinder our NATO membership. As stated in the Bucharest summit Georgia will be a NATO member and it is an inevitable and irreversible process.
Giorgi Baramidze is Vice Prime Minister of Georgia and State Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration.