NATO currently lacks communal ownership because there is no interest or threat which transcends national borders. Since the end of the Cold War, NATO has not faced a singular enemy. Its most unifying actions were the peaceful expansions into former communist states. To rediscover a strong shared identity, it is necessary for NATO to cast aside timidity and current division in promotion of valued norms like liberty, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. The best way to do this is to give the Republic of Georgia an exact timeline for admittance into NATO, regardless of Russian concerns.
Georgia offers both unique challenges and the greatest potential reward for uniting the NATO community. True, NATO is already seeking expansion in different global and regional partnerships. However, no other country revives the sense of purpose NATO assimilation generated in the 1990s as it constructively reformed governmental institutions. Moreover, with Georgia, NATO can demonstrate it still possesses both credible military power and the cohesion to not be influenced by possible Russian truculence. Three specific issues bolster the argument for Georgian accession into NATO.
The first is the 2008 promise NATO made to Georgia and Ukraine of eventual membership. To maintain credibility as an upstanding organization, NATO ought to provide a public timeline offering this admittance within the next five years. Unlike Ukraine, Georgia's government and its populace have continually supported membership. In fact, Georgia has unquestionably been one of the most significant contributors to the NATO mission in Afghanistan. This makes ambiguous promises from NATO insulting and undermines Georgian public confidence in achieving membership. If the Alliance cannot maintain support among prospective members, it will also fail to create a communal identification among its current disparate publics.
Second, NATO can once more positively reform a country's institutions if Georgian accession hinges on free and fair elections. If legitimate, these elections would see President Saakashvili step down from power. This, consequently, would remove much of the existing personal animosity in the Georgian-Russian relationship. Additionally, a new democratically elected leader facing a legitimate opposition would highlight Georgia as a vibrant democracy deserving acceptance.
Reforms focusing on the judiciary should also be mandatory. These will further reduce concerns over current government opaqueness. Moreover, as Georgia progresses in its evolution towards the values NATO upholds, one must believe that will unify the Alliance's diverse publics in support of the small democratic country in Russia's shadow.
Finally, Russian feelings on Georgia currently divide the NATO community. Yet, by overcoming this division and announcing a timeline, NATO could signal to the Kremlin that Georgian entry is not intended to cause any undue Russia concern. It could argue how the Russian-Georgian war in 2008 resulted in international opprobrium and financial calamity for Russia. As a supranational actor, NATO would provide a valued additional conduit for which the countries could mediate disputes and avoid conflict.
Moreover, NATO could ease Russian fears in a collective voice that this is neither political brinksmanship nor martial encirclement. Rather, it is the Alliance uniting to voice approval for reform in a region that has generally struggled to progress. To not reward that would discourage future progress, diminish NATO's stature as a values-based union, and give credence to attacks of Western hypocrisy in promoting ideals.
Even if a diplomatic approach failed to sway Russian bellicosity, Georgian admittance would prove the Alliance represents a bond between members. That is because if NATO perpetually postponed intensely desired membership to a major contributing country willing to undergo reforms, only out of fears of antagonizing Russia, the cornerstone of shared defense is already absent. Though some might retort Tbilisi is too distant to incorporate, that both reneges on earlier promises and deepens an existing divide citizens in NATO cites like Tallinn or Warsaw already believe in.
Providing Georgia with an exact timeline for admittance will reestablish NATO as a unified military union and institution that helps positively reform countries. Georgian acceptance would reinvigorate the entire NATO community by asserting the organization's willingness to commit to universal beliefs such as the rule of law and democracy. Just as these ideals and history of military agreement has solidified a common identity in the past, betraying both now out of the fear of provoking Russia would debilitate any hope for a sense of communal ownership.
Ian Hansen is an International Affairs graduate student at George Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University.