NATO On Russia's Moves In Georgia.NATO foreign ministers on Aug. 19 strengthened their ties to Georgia and called for Russia to observe a ceasefire and to immediately withdraw its troops from that republic, vowing that until it did the alliance "won't continue with business as usual" in its relations with Moscow. But the NATO ministers, at a rare emergency meeting, failed to agree on any punitive measures, despite US pressure to at least threaten Russia with unspecified "consequences" and pleas from the Czech Republic, Poland and NATO's Baltic members to take a tough stand. Instead, NATO issued a tepid response, promising to establish a "NATO-Georgia council" to strengthen ties; a far cry from Georgia's goal of full NATO membership. And it ignored pleas from nervous East European states for a strong, "don't-even-think-about-it" warning against a military intervention there.
All of which raised a critical question: What is membership in the alliance worth today? When a reporter posed this question during a news conference, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer snapped: "It is worth what it has been worth since 1949. That's my short answer". He called it "pathetic" that Russian officials had threatened to target a NATO member, Poland, with ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads in response to the Bush administration's plan to locate an anti-missile base there. An agreement on this was signed in Warsaw on Aug. 20.
Back in 1949, NATO was formed with a central tenet of collective defence. The famous Article 5 of the NATO charter stipulates that an attack on one NATO member is an attack on all, a principle which assured Western Europe during the Cold War that America would come to its defence if Moscow encroached. But the notion of collective defence is a more complicated matter now that NATO has expanded to embrace 27 states, including former Soviet satellites like Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, not to mention the Czech Republic and Poland.
Although some said NATO might at least try to rustle up a defence for those states if they were attacked, the concept of collective defence falls completely apart in the case of Georgia and Ukraine - both smack in Russia's backyard and sphere of influence - even if they were NATO members. Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations, was on Aug. 20 quoted as saying: "If Georgia was in NATO now, would we be defending them? I don't know. The alliance needs to make sure that when it takes on pledges of collective defence, it is prepared to stand by them".
European officials said they were not about to get into a military confrontation with Russia over Georgia. That was why European states had blocked the Bush administration's efforts to bring Georgia and Ukraine into the alliance.
The NATO statement did promise to consider the idea of beginning Georgia's accession to NATO in December. A diplomat said that, in reality, its prospects were nil, adding: "It's impossible". NATO's charter stipulates that potential alliance members have to resolve outstanding border issues before joining. That alone would bloc Georgia's entry. In addition, European states are not interested in granting Georgia accession just to spite Russia. Similarly it is doubtful the US, its military stretched in Iraq and Afghanistan, would go to war with Russia to defend Georgia even if it were a full NATO member.
George Friedman, CEO of Stratfor, a geo-political risk analysis company, was on Aug. 20 quoted as saying: "The assumption that everybody made was that a mere guarantee by NATO would preclude any threat because the Russians would never dare displease NATO or the United States". Except now, he said, Russia had called the West's bluff.
The Aug. 19 emergency session brought NATO's fractures into sharp relief. Even before the meeting started, the French, Germans and even the British were saying they had no intention of seeking to isolate Russia. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice gave a long and eloquent discourse about not letting Russia off the hook, saying: "If we do, it will come back to haunt us". But that was as far as she went. It also became clear that she did not want to start a cold war either.
The US knew that, with the exception of Poland, the Czech Republic and the Baltics, Europe was resisting even a slight increase in the pressure on Russia. That was in sharp contrast to the nations of the "new" Europe. Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg spoke for them when he responded that Europe was already in a new cold war, and that NATO had to act. But in the end, all NATO could muster was the establishment of a NATO-Georgia council (which American officials billed as a slap in the face of Russia because it contained the words "NATO" and "Georgia" simultaneously). It also warned that until Russian troops pulled out of Georgia, it would not convene another meeting of the NATO-Russia council, which was already a pretty vague JV.
Hoop de Scheffer said: "We're not abandoning the NATO-Russia council, but as long as Russian forces are occupying a vast part of Georgia, I cannot see the NATO-Russia council reconvening", adding quickly: "But we certainly don't mean to close all doors with Russia".
The reality is that until NATO beefs up the militaries of all of its member-states, including untangling the US military from Iraq, the alliance will be unable to respond in any significant way to Russia. Derek Chollet, a senior fellow at the Centre for a New American Security, said: "The only tools they have is not meeting". One Russian official openly scoffed at the alliance's response on Aug. 19. Said Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's representative to NATO: "The mountain has given birth to a mouse".