by Tim Ogden
Monday, 29
March 2021
Idea
07:00

It’s time for NATO to admit Georgia

The West owes the country more than is commonly appreciated
by Tim Ogden
There are enough flags in this picture to give a Guardian reader a brain haemorrhage. (Photo: VANO SHLAMOV/AFP via Getty Images)

For over fifteen years, Georgia has contributed to troops to NATO operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, this country of just 3.7 million people sent more of its own soldiers than many NATO members, losing 32 troops with another 280 wounded.

Yet membership of NATO is consistently denied, and Georgia is instead granted rewards such as ‘the NATO-Georgia Substantial Package’, a deal which gave the country boxes of used American M4 rifles, the honour of hosting NATO exercises twice per year of 3,000 personnel (of whom only 120 are Georgians), and the opportunity to send limited numbers of Georgian troops to train on Western military bases.

In short, Georgia has paid the levy of blood and received very little from the West in return.

Although Georgia is small in size, it is of immense strategic importance. The South Caucasus are a major gateway between Europe and Asia. Georgia is also home to the only regional oil and gas pipelines not under Iranian or Russian control.

Other nations in the area have picked drastically different foreign: Armenia remains a Russian client state and Azerbaijan is increasingly tied to Turkey. This ought to concern Brussels, London and Washington — despite being a NATO member, Turkey’s days of even ostensible friendship with the West appear to be over.

If Georgia were to granted membership in NATO, however, Turkey’s strategic importance would wane – to begin with, the RAF and US Air Force assets stationed at Incirlik Air Force base could be moved within Georgian borders.

Senior officials agree that Georgia has more than proved itself. Both Anders Fogh Rasmussen (former NATO Secretary General) Philip Breedlove (former commander of US military forces in Europe) have stated that Georgia should be admitted — but their statements only came after their respective retirements.

Admittedly, Georgian politicians hardly help matters. Recent accusations of democratic backsliding have some merit, but they are hardly going to be encouraged to adhere to Western standards when they have seen little reward for their efforts (and have seen these same standards broken in both Europe and America time and again).

Naturally, the issue of including Georgia has always brought speculation that this would only provoke Russia into invading the country (again). The fact is, however, that at this time the Kremlin simply has no need to: it already maintains a sizeable military presence in Georgia’s separatist territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as well as a base in northern Armenia and troops in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh on the Azerbaijani border.

Turkey and Russia have firmly established their strategic presence in the South Caucasus. It is time for the West to do the same — and Georgia is the key.

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conall boyle
conall boyle
1 year ago

Time for NATO to “Shut up and go away” as one UK Tory Minister once said (of Russia). Never has there been a more defunct, irrelevant bunch of time-servers.

Simon Davies
Simon Davies
1 year ago

Russia occupies South Ossetia, a sovereign part of Georgia. Georgia could be emboldened by its NATO membership to try and regain South Ossetia and draw NATO into a wider conflict with Russia. Admitting Georgia into NATO would be a needless provocation to Russia.

Ian nclfuzzy
Ian nclfuzzy
1 year ago
Reply to  Simon Davies

Sadly, I agree. Simple geography drives geopolitical realities.
Admitting Georgia would be foolhardy, and I say this as someone who has been there a number of times and who has Georgian friends in Tbilisi.

Armand L
Armand L
1 year ago

Tim, genius you are, will you join the military and take a forward position in the upcoming war with Russia?

If so I commend your bravery and your steadfast faith that the dead Georgians and Russians in the wake of the confrontation will have been worth it.

If not, kindly and respectfully stick something in your maw and stop this nonsense. Georgia participated in an illegal war of aggression (Iraq) in exchange for the promise for economic liberation and wealth but it was always a mirage: they are in Russia’s sphere of influence and in their shadow. That’s a fact. It’ll never change. NATO will never guarantee it’s security.

So suit up or pipe down.

James Slade
James Slade
1 year ago

Georgia is unlikely to admitted to Nato for the simple reason it’s indefensible. The major road link to Turkey is controlled by Russian backed rebels and no major port is in government hands. Supplying a major deployment is impractical and a small force cannot stand Russia.

pingguo1969
pingguo1969
1 year ago
Reply to  James Slade

I drive on the Akhaltsikhe- Posof highway from Georgia to the Turkish frontier often, there are no Russian troops within 100 km of the highway, and it is a busy highway for cargo. The Batumi-Trabzon Highway has no Russian troops within 75 km. Likewise, Georgia’s Batumi and Poti ports, and the Supsa and Kulevi oil terminals, are well and truly in Georgian hands. Georgia is no less defensible than Estonia or Latvia, and being mountainous it is much more defensible than West Berlin or Munich during the Cold War.

Jürg Gassmann
Jürg Gassmann
1 year ago

Georgia joining NATO is a very bad idea. Bearbaiting is all fun and games when you’re sitting in Washington, but Georgia has already paid a very high price for being pawns in the US’ Great Gamesmanship – as have Afghanistan and Ukraine. Armed neutrality – and both to a credible level – is a much safer policy for Georgia.

Richard E
Richard E
1 year ago

Alliances like NATO, rely on a few key members for most of their capability. USA, UK, France and then declining from there. All but five members meet their obligations to spend 2% of GDP on defence (US, UK, Greece, Estonia, Poland) – although this is improving after pressure from Trump – and Germany is one of the biggest free loaders in this regard, with the most to lose from a war with Russia but spending just 1.3% of GDP.
As you add on members – Georgia, maybe Ukraine, and other more recent members – you gain hardly any military capability, and you gain a much greater chance of being dragged into a war.
Georgia doesn’t have a good track record on this. A few years ago they fired the opening shots in a confrontation with Russia, with the the hope that the US would come in on their side.
What does the UK and NATO members gain by adding more and more members, becoming less and less focussed and more and more confused and complicated to co-ordinate. When there were a dozen good solid members there was no doubt what NATO stood for and what would happen if one of them was attacked.
Now I am not so sure.
We should also remove Turkey from the alliance and use the Cyprus airbase and naval bases instead.
Maybe a good idea would be to let Georgia join, and the UK withdraw and work to form a security coalition around the Five Eyes.

Last edited 1 year ago by Richard E
Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard E

‘A few years ago they fired the opening shots in a confrontation with Russia, with the the hope that the US would come in on their side.’
Yes, that was in 2008. Georgia is another of those places that is governed by one lunatic after another. Still, it would have been nice if they’d held on to draw with Spain yesterday. And some of the wines can be OK, albeit overpriced.

Andrew Baldwin
Andrew Baldwin
1 year ago

I would recommend that anyone interested in this issue read Swedish politician Per Gahrton’s 2010 book “Georgia: Pawn in the New Great Game.” Gahrton echoes some of what Tim has to say: Georgia is of strategic importance, not so much because of its own resources, but as a pipeline corridor. Tim completely ignores the sleazy removal of the democratically elected president of Georgia from office in the so-called Rose Revolution, the great Eduard Schevardnadze. He would shortly be replaced by the erratic, unstable and far more autocratic Mikheil Saakashvili who would start the Russo-Georgian War in an insane effort to retake South Ossetia. Although South Ossetia and Abkhazia had been separate from Georgia on a de facto basis since shortly after the end of the Soviet Union, it was only after the Russo-Georgian War, and the declaration of Kosovo independence, quickly endorsed by NATO countries, that Russia reluctantly agreed to recognize these breakaway Georgian provinces as independent countries.
The former Soviet Union has been such a difficult region to correctly judge and forecast people of goodwill should have a degree of humility in making recommendations. Many Georgians will always see Abkhazia and South Ossetia as part of their country and not accept their independence. Russians, on the contrary may see these as future Russian oblasts. It was in March 1921, by the way, that the Soviet Socialist Republic of Abkhazia was created, and it only became part of Georgia 10 years later. Do the NATO countries now believe that what Joseph Stalin has joined together, let no man put asunder?
There is also the problem that with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, now the Ossetian people are divided in an artificial way between Russia and Georgia. Ideally, should there be a greater Georgia including Russian North Ossetia? A greater Russia including South Ossetia? An independent Ossetia? Something else? Whatever the future of the region may be, admitting Georgia to NATO is a step backward, not forward. NATO should never have been allowed to expand to its current size and it would be dysfunctional to expand it further to include former Soviet republics like Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.
Orthodox Christians in particular must be saddened by the strained relations between two traditionally Orthodox countries, Georgia and Russia, and pray that they have much better relations in the future than they have in the recent past. Nothing could be more detrimental to achieving this than Georgian membership in NATO.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago

‘In short, Georgia’s has paid the levy of blood and received very little from the West in return.’
Well, yes, that’s the West and its leadership for you. If you can stomach it, you’re probably better off getting closer to Russia. Its leaders are probably more honest than the West’s, and they are far more competent.

Mavka Rusalka
Mavka Rusalka
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

HOLY MOTHER OF GOD, this comment explains everything I have read from this person since I began reading unHerd. Not only comparing apples and Oranges (“the West” is many, many countries, and “Russia” is only one) but praising Putin. Is there a way to block certain commenters?

George Bruce
George Bruce
1 year ago

It s not as easy a choice as the author makes out. If at the end of the Cold War with Russia, a buffer zone which was neither NATO nor Russia had been set up, the whole thing might have gone a bit better. Another NATO country right up against them? The Russians will love that.

Mavka Rusalka
Mavka Rusalka
1 year ago
Reply to  George Bruce

Russia is one-sixth of the worlds land mass, There is a NATO country on nearly every border. If their country was a normal size, they’d have fewer enemies.

Jürg Gassmann
Jürg Gassmann
1 year ago
Reply to  Mavka Rusalka

Russia really has no excuse for moving its country up to NATO borders, does it?

Armand L
Armand L
1 year ago
Reply to  Mavka Rusalka

Why does NATO need to have bases and missiles in Georgia and Ukraine?

Tom Dooley
Tom Dooley
1 year ago

Well said . Simon Davies . Again another expert cant resist in stirring things up . …There are Megalomaniacs at every level . Trade yes . Guns No . Thats they only way peace . Go to the back of the class Tim ,
..nice but dim .

Dave Smith
Dave Smith
1 year ago

Absolutely crazy What is Nato for? Providing jobs for unemployable bureaucrats and a market for complicated and useless high tech. It should have been dumped after the fall of the USSR. Given the current PC state of the West’s military -truly beyond satire is the latest US drive for equality and the rest- how long would an average Nato division hold against a motivated attack by proper soldiers ? Till it was time to wash their hair?

J Alex
J Alex
1 year ago

So essentially we owe the Georgians admission into NATO and thus risking a confrontation with Russia…because they lost 32 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan?!

Last edited 1 year ago by J Alex
David Foot
David Foot
1 year ago

Very sad, Georgia is a much better ally than Turkey!
I hope for this to be rectified, my heart goes out to this real European people!

Last edited 1 year ago by David Foot
Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
1 year ago

Until European NATO members meet their military funding obligations to NATO, (2% GDP) no more European nations should be admitted. While it seems unfair to hold Georgia hostage to the free loading Europeans, the simple fact is that it would be the US and UK that would have to take action to defend Georgia.

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
1 year ago

Somebody should have proofread this one a bit better (says a professional proofreader).