Georgia and the ever expanding North Atlantic alliance


“The Americans promised that Nato wouldn’t move beyond the boundaries of Germany after the Cold War but now half of central and eastern Europe are members, so what happened to their promises? It shows they cannot be trusted.” [1]


Those are the words of the last President of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, in an interview with The Daily Telegraph on 7 May 2008.  Foolishly, Gorbachev gave the orders for the withdrawal of the Red Army from Eastern Europe without getting the West to sign up to this commitment not to expand the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – and it has advanced eastwards since, and continues to advance ever farther away from the North Atlantic.  Russia can be forgiven for thinking that it is being encircled.  This critical fact is missing from the media coverage of the proposals to admit Georgia and Ukraine – and Russia’s unhappiness about it.


(It was not just the Americans who broke their promise.  The Europeans – the UK, France and Germany – did likewise.  See account by Pat Buchanan in Appendix I.)


NATO grows

NATO had 16 members at the end of the Cold War, 14 in Europe (Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Turkey & UK) and 2 in North America (US & Canada).  Since then it has taken 10 states in Eastern Europe into full membership (Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia & Slovenia) making 26 members in total.


But that isn’t the whole story.  A further 24 states (including Russia) are associated with NATO through the so-called Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council.  These are: Albania, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia-Herzegovena, Croatia, Finland, Georgia, Ireland, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Malta, Moldova, Montenegro, Russia, Serbia, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Turkmenistan, Ukraine & Uzbekistan.


50 states in all are now represented on the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, including Finland, Ireland, Sweden and Switzerland, which stayed out of NATO during the Cold War, plus every former Soviet bloc state, plus every former Soviet republic, plus every former Yugoslav republic.


Today, the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council almost circles the Northern Hemisphere from Alaska in the West to the borders of China in the East, encompassing such unlikely Euro-Atlantic states as Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and the Kyrgyz Republic.  Small wonder then that NATO is rarely referred to these days by its full name – the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.


(NATO has extended its tentacles southwards as well through its so-called Mediterranean Dialogue which was launched in December 1994 [2].  This currently involves seven non-NATO nations in the Mediterranean area: Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia.)


Defensive alliance

NATO was established in 1949 as a defensive alliance against the Soviet bloc.  Under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, signed in Washington on 4 April 1949, parties to the Treaty are supposed to render collective assistance to any party that is subject to an armed attack.  Article 5 states:


“The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.”  [3]


Article 6 limits the location of an armed attack, against which a collective response is required under the Treaty – the armed attack must be “on the territory of any of the Parties in Europe or North America, … on the territory of or on the Islands under the jurisdiction of any of the Parties in the North Atlantic area north of the Tropic of Cancer” or “on the forces, vessels, or aircraft of any of the Parties, when in or over these territories … or the Mediterranean Sea or the North Atlantic area north of the Tropic of Cancer”.  So, for example, the capture of the Falkland Islands by Argentina didn’t qualify for a collective NATO response in support of Britain.


Article 5 has been invoked only once in NATO’s history – when New York and Washington were attacked by al-Qaeda on 9/11.  The NATO Council met the next day and agreed that “if it is determined that this attack was directed from abroad against the United States, it shall be regarded as an action covered by Article 5 of the Washington Treaty” [4].  It was so determined a few weeks later and, on 2 October 2001, NATO invoked Article 5 for the one and only time in its history [5].


However, the US had already determined that NATO was not going to be involved as an organisation in its invasion of Afghanistan.  That was going to be carried out by a “coalition of the willing” under the unfettered leadership of the US – there wasn’t going to be a repeat of the US experience in bombing Yugoslavia in 1999, when it was prevented from bombing the targets it wished by other NATO members.


(NATO as an organisation did contribute one military asset to the war effort: five NATO Airborne Warning & Control Systems (AWACS) aircraft were deployed to the US for “homeland” defence.)


No limit to area of operation

Logically, NATO should have disbanded itself, when the Soviet Union collapsed and any threat from the Soviet bloc had disappeared.  Instead, NATO has expanded relentlessly eastwards and seems intent on continuing to do so.  But it continues to operate under the North Atlantic Treaty drawn up in 1949, in a very different geopolitical environment.


Furthermore, since 1990, NATO has taken military action without any of its members being attacked for example, in bombing Yugoslavia in 1999.  (The latter was manifestly contrary to the UN Charter since it constituted the use of armed force, which wasn’t in self-defence and wasn’t authorised by the UN Security Council).


Also, NATO increasingly operates “out of area”, that is, outside the Euro/North American territory of its members specified in Article 6 of the Treaty.  The Treaty doesn’t forbid such action, but it wasn’t envisaged in 1949 when the Treaty was drawn up.  Today, there is no limit on NATO’s area of operation in the world, justified by the need to “fight terrorism”.  As the NATO website page entitled NATO and the fight against terrorism puts it:


“NATO’s immediate response to September 11 was further strengthened by a decision, at the Reykjavik meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers in May 2002, that the Alliance will operate when and where necessary to fight terrorism.  This landmark declaration effectively ended the debate on what is and what is not NATO’s area of operations and paved the way for the Alliance’s future engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq.”  [6]


In not much more than a decade, a defensive North Atlantic alliance whose raison d’etre disappeared at the end of the Cold War has evolved into an aggressive alliance, ready to engage in military action to “fight terrorism” abroad in the name of security at home.


Gordon Brown told British soldiers in Afghanistan recently:


“… you know that you are on the front line of the fight against the Taliban, and you know that what you are doing here prevents terrorism coming to the streets of Britain … .” [7]


The truth is the other way up – the best way of preventing “terrorism coming to the streets of Britain” is for Britain to stop interfering in the Muslim world.  And the same is true for other NATO states that have volunteered to “fight terrorism” in Afghanistan and Iraq.  By being led by the nose into Afghanistan and Iraq by Britain and America, NATO members are not only sacrificing blood and treasure, they are making their homelands less secure.


Yes to Georgia (and Ukraine)

On 3 April 2008, at a meeting of heads of state in Bucharest, NATO decided in principle to allow Ukraine and Georgia to become full members.  The declaration issued from the meeting stated:


“NATO welcomes Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO.  We agreed today that these countries will become members of NATO.  Both nations have made valuable contributions to Alliance operations.” [8]


But NATO didn’t specify a timetable.  Indeed, neither state was allowed to embark on the next step towards membership, which is the drawing up of a Membership Action Plan (MAP).  On this, the declaration from the Bucharest summit said:


“MAP is the next step for Ukraine and Georgia on their direct way to membership.  Today we make clear that we support these countries’ applications for MAP.  Therefore we will now begin a period of intensive engagement with both at a high political level to address the questions still outstanding pertaining to their MAP applications.”


Germany, France and other states successfully resisted intense pressure from the US (with the support of the UK) to draw up MAPs for Ukraine and Georgia right away.  A decision may be taken at NATO foreign ministers meeting in December 2008.  As the Bucharest declaration states:


“We have asked Foreign Ministers to make a first assessment of progress [re outstanding questions about their MAP applications] at their December 2008 meeting.  Foreign Ministers have the authority to decide on the MAP applications of Ukraine and Georgia.”


This doesn’t guarantee that MAP applications will be granted in December.  Even if they were, it could take a few years before either became full members of NATO.


(Albania and Croatia were invited to begin accession talks for full membership at the Bucharest summit.  Albania has been at the MAP stage since 1999 and Croatia since 2002.  A third state, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which has also been at the MAP stage since 1999, was not invited to begin accession talks – because of the ongoing dispute with Greece about its name.  It was agreed at Bucharest that an invitation would be extended “as soon as a mutually acceptable solution to the name issue has been reached”.)


After Georgia’s attack on South Ossetia on 7 August 2008, and Russia’s response, NATO foreign ministers met in Brussels on 19 August 2008 to consider the situation in Georgia.  The statement issued afterwards “reaffirmed” the decision taken in Bucharest in relation to Georgia’s membership, leaving it up to the foreign ministers meeting in December to progress the matter [9].  As of this meeting then, the conflict between Russia and Georgia had neither accelerated, nor decelerated, Georgia’s progress towards NATO membership. 


Yes to US missile defence

To add to Russia’s annoyance, the Bucharest meeting also gave NATO approval to US plans to deploy a missile defence system in Europe (with radars based in the Czech Republic and interceptor missiles in Poland) ostensibly to counter threats from Iran.  The Bucharest declaration states:


“We recognise the substantial contribution to the protection of Allies from long-range ballistic missiles to be provided by the planned deployment of European-based United States missile defence assets.” [8]


There are grave doubts about whether this system will be effective if it is deployed (as there are about the systems already deployed on the West coast of the US, ostensibly to counter threats from North Korea).  The new, two-stage interceptor for the European system has not yet been built, let alone tested.  Russia’s worries about the system are, not so much about the effectiveness of the initial very limited system, but about future versions which might be used, and be effective, against Russian missiles, thereby reducing Russia’s first strike capability and disturbing the nuclear balance between Russia and the US. 


Reputable defence analysts are of the opinion that Russian fears in this regard cannot be dismissed out of hand (see, for example, European Missile Defense: The Technological Basis of Russian Concerns by George N Lewis and Theodore A Postol in Arms Control Today, October 2007 [10]).


The deployment of these missile defence systems would have been in breach of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty the US signed with the Soviet Union in 1972.  So in June 2002 the US unilaterally withdrew from the Treaty.


The Treaty barred the US and the Soviet Union from deploying nationwide defences against strategic ballistic missiles.  The reasoning behind this, as stated in the preamble to the Treaty, was the belief on both sides that “effective measures to limit anti-ballistic missile systems would be a substantial factor in curbing the race in strategic offensive arms and would lead to a decrease in the risk of outbreak of war involving nuclear weapons” [11]


Russia recognises South Ossetia and Abkhazia

On 26 August 2008, Russia recognised South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.  Under Soviet rule, both were autonomous areas within the Soviet Socialist Republic of Georgia.  The Georgian state, established when the Soviet Union broke up in 1990, tried but failed to establish control over them by military means.  Georgia’s military action on 7 August 2008 was a further attempt to take control of South Ossetia.


Up to now, South Ossetia and Abkhazia have been universally recognised, including by Russia, as part of the territory of the Georgian state, even though they have remained outside its control.  As the US/UK have been quick to point out, as late as 15 April 2008, Russia voted for Security Council resolution 1808, which reaffirmed “the commitment of all [UN] Member States to the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Georgia within its internationally recognized borders” [12].


However, there is little doubt that the people who live in these areas now do not want to be part of Georgia and that they are delighted that Russia has recognised the areas as independent from Georgia.  It is also true that considerable numbers of Georgians who used to live in these areas in Soviet times have either left because of the conflict or been expelled.


It is, of course, highly unlikely that South Ossetia and Abkhazia will be recognised by any state other than Russia.  They have no chance of being accepted into membership of the UN – if necessary, Western vetoes on the Security Council will see to that, just as the Russian veto will, if necessary, ensure that Kosovo won’t become a member.


However, it can be guaranteed that, from now on, Russian military power will ensure that the Georgian state has no control on the ground in South Ossetia and Abkhazia and any attempt to exert control will be countered with the same overwhelming military force as the Georgian attack of 7 August 2008.


Kosovo parallel

The parallel with Kosovo is obvious (though Russia is insisting that it isn’t, otherwise it would have difficulty mounting an argument against recognising Kosovo as an independent state).  The agreement which brought the NATO attack on Yugoslavia to an end was enshrined in Security Council resolution 1244 [13] passed with one abstention (China) on 10 June 1999.  This resolution, and the agreement itself, was founded on the principle that the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia would be preserved, in other words, that the final settlement would not include an independent Kosovo.


(Yugoslavia then consisted of two republics, Serbia – which included Kosovo – and Montenegro.  The latter has since opted for independence and Yugoslavia is now Serbia.)


Resolution 1244 reaffirmed “the commitment of all Member States to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia” and set down (in Annex 1 of the resolution) as one of the principles of the agreement:


“A political process towards the establishment of an interim political framework agreement providing for a substantial self-government for Kosovo, taking full account of the Rambouillet accords and the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the other countries of the region, and the demilitarization of the KLA;”


By recognising Kosovo as an independent state earlier this year, the US/UK and others have abrogated the principle on which the agreement was founded.  And Russia has good grounds for feeling aggrieved since it played a major role in persuading Yugoslavia to accept the agreement based on that principle, without which there wouldn’t have been an agreement.


When the US/UK criticise Russia recognising South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states thereby infringing the territorial integrity of Georgia, it’s a matter of the pot calling the kettle black.


Western reaction

The US reaction to Russia’s recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states has been remarkably muted.  The President didn’t even interrupt his holiday to make a statement to camera, let alone rush back to Washington for crisis meetings.  He merely issued a written statement, which criticised the decision, saying it was inconsistent with Security Council resolutions that Russia had voted for and with the 6-point ceasefire agreement brokered by Sarkozy – and saying that the territorial integrity and borders of Georgia must be respected [14].


But there was no talk of sanctions of any kind against Russia.  There seems to be a general acceptance in Washington that there is nothing much the US can do about Russia’s actions.  Early on in the conflict, vice-President Cheney insisted that there would be “serious consequences” for Russia because of its actions, but they have yet to be specified.

As for the would-be presidents, John McCain initially got carried away and proclaimed that “we’re all Georgians now” but realism has since asserted itself.  Barack Obama has been realistic throughout.

There has been no official criticism of President Saakashvili’s actions on 7 August that led to US impotence in the region being made manifest.  And the official US position remains that Georgia (and the Ukraine) should be allowed to join NATO.  The same is true of the would-be presidents.

Nobody could accuse the British foreign secretary, David Miliband, of being realistic.  As this is written, he is in Ukraine building an alliance against Russian aggression.  One can but hope that Germany and France will keep him under control.


He would do well to listen to Nick Brown, his colleague in Government, on Georgia joining NATO.  Here’s what he wrote in the The Guardian on 19 August 2008, in response to Conservative leader, David Cameron, who initially demanded that Georgia be admitted to NATO right away, and rushed to Tbilisi in solidarity:


“Cameron urges Nato to admit Georgia. Nato is a mutual defence pact. This position will have gone down very well in Tbilisi, but do we really mean to commit ourselves to all-out war against the Russian Federation if something like this happens again? I don’t favour that approach, and I don’t know anyone who does [Does he not know David Miliband?]. There is a bigger point here. If western hawks really are advocating Nato membership for every small country that borders the Russian Federation, even a government far more charitably disposed towards Nato than the present Russian one is going to see the move as a direct challenge. Constantly reprimanding the Russians isn’t the right way to deal with this problem. It makes us look pompous and ineffective.” [15]



Appendix I  Breaking faith with Russia


This is the title of a section in Chapter 2 of a book by Pat Buchanan entitled A Republic, Not an Empire, published in 1999, the text of which is given below [16].  About future US relations with Russia, it is very perceptive.


(Buchanan sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1992 and 1996, having worked for Presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan, but left the Republican Party in 1999.)


By pushing a U.S. alliance up to Russia’s borders, we are violating solemn pledges given when Moscow agreed to German reunification. U.S. leaders say we never gave any written reassurances, but Gorbachev could never have brought the Red Army home had Russia's military believed its bases would be occupied by NATO troops. Regarding a high-level meeting in Moscow in which German Foreign Minister Hans Dietrich Genscher and Secretary of State James Baker participated, Susan Eisenhower, a scholar on Russia, writes:


[Genscher] promoted a “no expansion of NATO” concept, an idea that Baker, too, had advanced. It was at the February meeting that the key words were spoken, words that are still a source of debate. If a unified Germany was anchored in NATO, Secretary Baker said to Gorbachev, “NATO's jurisdiction or forces would not move eastward.”


Apparently, Gorbachev was receptive to that assurance and emphasized that “any extension of the zone of NATO is unacceptable.”


“I agree,” Baker said.


Heartened by Baker's comments, several months later, in May, Gorbachev gave up his idea that Germany must remain neutral, or at least, a member of both blocs. He conceded (without consulting his advisers) that the German people should be able to choose the alliance they wished to join.


“Against that background,” writes Eisenhower, “it is not surprising that NATO expansion has been viewed with great hostility across the entire Russian political spectrum.” Adds scholar Stanley Kober, “Russians are now experiencing ... [a] sense of betrayal because they apparently were promised when Germany was reunited that there would be no further expansion of NATO.” In the words of former Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov:


“In conversations with Mikhail Gorbachev, Eduard Shevardnadze and Dmitri Yazov, held in 1990-1991, i.e., when the West was vitally interested in the Soviet troop withdrawal from the German Democratic Republic and wanted us to ‘swallow the bitter pill’—the disintegration of the Warsaw Treaty Organization ...  Francois Mitterrand, John Major, and [James] Baker, all of them said one and the same thing: NATO will not move to the east by a single inch and not a single Warsaw Pact country will be admitted to NATO. This was exactly what they said. These conversations were not codified in the form of official documents at that time.”


Former Soviet Ambassador to Britain Anatoli Adamishin contends that when Moscow let the Berlin Wall come down and began to withdraw its troops from Eastern Europe, “we were given repeatedly assurances that NATO would not expand an inch eastwards.” Jack Matlock, the U.S. ambassador to Russia in 1990, “confirms that Gorbachev had reason to believe that he had been given a ‘blanket promise that NATO would not expand.’”


In the early 1990s the romance of the age was between America and a Russia liberated from Leninism. Reagan was being toasted in Moscow for having been right about the evil empire. Boris Yeltsin was being toasted in America for having stood atop a tank and defied communists attempting to reestablish the ancien regime. How far away that all seems. An agitated Russia—believing America is taking advantage of Russia's present weakness to humiliate the nation—has sacked its pro-U.S. foreign minister, named an ex-KGB chief to be prime minister [Putin], refused to ratify the START II arms treaty, moved closer to Beijing, funneled weapons into the Caucasus to destabilize pro-U.S, regimes, sold weapons and nuclear technology to Iran, and sided with Saddam Hussein. “[T]he most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-cold war era,” says George F. Kennan of the expansion of NATO.


Russia is today a bankrupt, demoralized nation whose presidency is lusted after by democrats, demagogues, ex-generals, and communists with a single conviction in common: All believe NATO expansion to be a provocation, an example of American bad faith in exploiting Russian weakness. Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer warns that “public opinion is changing. NATO expansion will turn a whole generation of Russians anti-American.”


We soothingly reassure Moscow that NATO’s expansion is benign. But if the Russians gave war guarantees to Mexico and began arming and training Mexican troops, would any Russian assurance diminish our determination to run them out of our hemisphere? If rising resentment in Russia leads to Yeltsin’s replacement with an anti-American nationalist, full blame must rest squarely with a haughty U.S. elite that has done its best to humiliate Russia.


Why are we doing this? This is not 1948. Stalin is dead; the Soviet empire is dead; the Soviet Union is dead. European Russia is smaller than the Russia of Peter the Great. Between the vital interests of our two nations, there is no conflict. But these proud people retain thousands of nuclear weapons. A friendly Russia is far more critical to U.S. security than any alliance with Warsaw or Prague. If the United States has one overriding national security interest in the new century, it is to avoid collisions with great nuclear powers like Russia. By moving NATO onto Russia’s front porch, we have scheduled a twenty-first-century confrontation. Europe’s sick man of today is going to get well. When Russia does, it will proclaim its own Monroe Doctrine. And when that day comes, America will face a hellish dilemma: risk confrontation with a nuclear-armed Russia determined to recreate its old sphere of influence, or renege on solemn commitments and see NATO collapse.


Are we really willing to use nuclear weapons to defend Eastern Europe—for that is what NATO membership means? And if we make good on the commitment of Clinton and Madeleine Albright to bring in the Baltic republics, it is impossible to see how these tiny nations can be defended, short of an escalation to a nuclear crisis similar to Cuba, 1962.



David Morrison

26 August 2008