The decisions of the Bucharest Summit on Membership Action Plans seem to satisfy most parties - although initial positions suggested a possible failure of the summit. NATO took its time and gave priority to its missions over the historic opportunity for expansion, a move that increases doubts regarding the Alliance's global role and readiness to execute leadership.
once again proved it is better at diplomacy than at military action. In
Bucharest both "expansionists" and "cautionists" were able to claim success, partial
though, but very important psychologically - as unity is a rare commodity in
today's NATO dealings. One single political decision seems to have tipped the
balance against the 2expansionists". According to the British press, PM Gordon
Brown decided not to put his weight in favour of the Ukraine-Georgia MAPs,
making it impossible for the US, Canada and smaller Eastern-European allies to
fend off the opposition of members of the "old Europe."
High hopes and grand ideas from across the Atlantic will have to wait. The "Realpolitik" of political uncertainty, financial struggle, and a distant war that NATO claims it cannot afford to lose prevailed for the time being. But be careful with over-estimating the importance of Afghanistan at the expense of further enlargement. Beware of Ukraine or Georgia becoming for NATO's what Turkey is for the EU - a forever candidate. Geopolitics do not accept a vacuum.
As for now both Juschchenko and Saakaschvili clapped hands in rejoice. But where will Bucharest leave the NATO hopefuls remains to be seen, as December comes after the US presidential elections. Even if MAPs are introduced then, the delay may fuel anti-Western and pro-Russia attitudes. Elections in Ukraine and Georgia come sooner than NATO, and Moscow has both the means and will to exert its influence.
Both Ukraine and Georgia constitute crucial geostrategic areas. NATO's expansion into those areas will shift the geostrategic balance dramatically. From that point of view it would be far more important than moving the Alliance's borders eastwards in Europe, what was symbolic to the end of the Yalta system. For NATO it would be as much a historic opportunity as a challange. And NATO seems to have just taken time to think, whether to take that chance and face that challange, judging for the time being that there are more urgent issues to cope with, primarily Afghanistan.
But sooner or later the question will have to be
answered of what is more important and whether both a breakthrough enlargement
and crucial operations are feasible at the same time. So delaying the MAPs for
the both Russia's neighbours should not by any way mean shelving the issue indefinitely.
On the contrary - the sooner a serious discussion is launched the better, and
both sides, NATO and the applicants, should come together in December ready to
Whether the Afghan mission could be accomplished at the price of delaying a major expansion is not clear now. Both military, political and financial obstacles may come in the way because the declarations made before and in Bucharest may not be enough to prevail on the battlefield. At some point additional help - notably from Russia - may become indispensable. And at that time Russia may be already a double winner, gaining foot in Kiev and Tbilisi for another decade or so. The next US president may not be as interested in expanding the Alliance and NATO may end up losing a historic opportunity and that applies equally to both countries.
But a majority of crucial NATO members decided not to add a "political overstretch" to what they see as military and financial one in the current situation. The Alliance has taken time to rebind, and perhaps rethink its posture. Only if these result in a more cohesive, stronger, and more capable Alliance - and one willing still to promote collective security, democracy and rule of law outside its current borders - could the delay on Ukraine and Georgia be accepted. Otherwise NATO may end up claiming victory away from home, but inviting instability and danger on its doorstep.
Marek Swierczynski is a journalist with a special interest in defence and security matters and and a member of the Polish Euro-Atlantic Society.