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  • Perspectives Roadblocks:Georgia's Long Road to NATO Membership
  • Joe Kyle (bio)

Georgian national identity dates back to the fourth and fifth centuries. In the mid-eighteenth century, it became a protectorate of the Russian Empire, and in 1801, Tsar Paul I unilaterally annexed Georgia to the Russian Empire. Georgia experienced a brief period of freedom from 1918 to 1921 before a successful Bolshevik uprising led to the incorporation of Georgia into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.1 Georgia regained its independence in 1991, during the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is on account of these two periods of Russian rule that "the Georgian historical narrative [treats Russia] mainly as a threat to the very existence of the Georgian nation."2 Today, Georgia remains too weak economically and militarily to withstand an attack by its northern neighbor. By turning to Europe and joining Western institutions like the European Union (EU) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Georgian government hopes to maintain Georgia's independence.

The cornerstone of this plan is joining NATO. Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty, NATO's founding document, states, "…an armed attack against one or more of them…shall be considered an attack against them all…if such an attack occurs, each of them…will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking…such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force…"3 If Georgia becomes a full-fledged member of NATO, the protections guaranteed in this article will be extended to it. The strength of NATO would presumably be an effective deterrent to Russian military [End Page 237] aggression.

Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze formally declared the nation's goal of joining NATO in 2002—and action quickly followed. In 2004, Georgia became the first country to sign an Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) with the Alliance, and in 2006, it entered an Intensified Dialogue regarding Georgian membership. During this time, Georgia supported and participated in several NATO actions. It supplied peace-keepers to the Kosovo Force, allowed NATO to route supply shipments through Georgia to Afghanistan, and became the third largest contributor of troops to the Coalition Forces in Iraq.4 These and other efforts culminated in Georgia asking for a Membership Action Plan (MAP) at the 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest.5 A MAP is a tailored plan that identifies necessary reforms across a range of areas: political, economic, defense, resource, security, and legal. After implementing all the required reforms, the country is invited to join the alliance.6 At the conclusion of the Bucharest Summit, NATO chose not to offer Georgia a MAP but promised future membership; however, the alliance did not commit to any timetable for when this would happen7 and this timetable-less promise of future membership has been reiterated at every summit meeting since.8 To date, Georgia has not been offered a MAP, but NATO membership remains the goal of the Georgian government. As recently as March 2018, President Giorgi Margvelashvili stated, "We want [NATO] membership. We say we want to be there, we say we deserve to be there, we say we have done everything to be there."9

Since its founding in 1949, NATO has undergone several rounds of enlargement, increasing its total membership from the original 12 to 29 countries.10 After the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO re-evaluated its membership process and in 1995 published the Study on NATO Enlargement, which laid out the general standards a nation needed to meet before receiving an invitation to join the Alliance.11 For Georgia, [End Page 238] a key impediment to membership is a clause that reads, "States which have ethnic disputes or external territorial disputes, including irredentist claims, or internal jurisdictional disputes must settle those disputes by peaceful means in accordance with OSCE principles. Resolution of such disputes would be a factor in determining whether to invite a state to join the Alliance."12 Georgia has two such disputes with its separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Until the disputes with these territories are resolved, it is unlikely that Georgia will meet the basic membership criteria. While the bulk of discussion surrounding Georgia's...


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