In on-the-record interventions and, especially, at off-the-record policy conferences, German officials laid out a whole collection of arguments against Membership Action Plans (MAPs) for Georgia and Ukraine at the upcoming NATO summit. Several West European governments share some of those arguments to one degree or another; but those governments seldom, if ever, speak up on this issue and have been notably cautious, even off the record in the run-up to the April 2-4 summit in Bucharest. Within the alliance, Germany alone seems openly to support Russian opposition to the MAPs ahead of the summit.
Since early March Germany alone has been speaking up, relentlessly and systematically, against the Georgian and Ukrainian MAPs. Berlin officials tend to conflate the proposed MAPs with actual membership in the alliance. German representatives often, in fact, argue that Georgia and Ukraine do not meet criteria for NATO membership.
This stance blurs the distinction between the MAP and actual membership. In so doing, it implicitly questions MAP’s entire rationale, which is to prepare NATO-aspirant countries for future membership. By blocking the Georgian and Ukrainian MAPs, Germany in practice blocks the path that can lead to those countries’ membership.
Berlin contends that Georgia is ineligible because of unresolved conflicts on its territory. This marks a complete reversal of Germany’s position in favor of Russia’s stance. Only one year ago, Minister of Foreign Affairs Frank-Walter Steinmeier had declared while in Georgia:
Of course, it is in the interest of NATO and NATO members that new NATO members do not bring their conflicts into the alliance along with them. On the other hand, it does not mean that we should view the lack of a resolution [to the conflicts] as an obstacle to accession. If we do, then we will enable third parties to drag out the process endlessly.
Furthermore, “Federal Minister Steinmeier stressed that the question of NATO accession would have to be decided by the Alliance and Georgia alone. Third countries must not have any influence on this” (www.auswaertiges-amt.de/diplo/en/AAmt/BM-Reisen/2007/Kaukasus-Feb07; RFE/RL, February 19, 2007).
Thus, the German government or at least the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was saying a year ago that the unresolved conflicts did not disqualify Georgia from membership (let alone a MAP) and that linking conflict resolution to NATO membership would unduly give Russia blocking power on both counts. At present, however, Chancellor Angela Merkel publicly takes the opposite view and sounds more intransigent than the Schroeder-era holdovers in that Ministry.
Ahead of the summit, Berlin officials are using some dialectical formulations to circumvent NATO’s bedrock principle that no outside country may intrude into NATO decision-making. Regarding the Georgian and Ukrainian MAPs, those off-the-record German dialectics include: “Russia has no veto, but Russia’s views must be taken into account,” “Russia is a factor [in decision-making] and this is undeniable,” “Russian concerns cannot be ignored, if we want a real partnership with Russia.”
This logic leads to dismantling the defenses that are built into NATO decision-making processes against Russian blocking power. One first line of defense seemed about to weaken after the creation of the NATO-Russia Council, when some suggested giving Russia a “voice,” but not a “veto,” in the alliance’s debates. NATO, however, succeeded in maintaining the impermeability of its decision-making processes. At present, the anti-MAP arguments risk blurring that line again, by seeking to insert Russia’s “view” as an allegedly objective factor into NATO internal decisions.
For another anti-MAP argument, German and other officials claim that the unresolved conflicts in Georgia might drag NATO into an Article Five situation–that is, Georgia becoming involved in hostilities with Russia and requesting an allied military response. This, too, mixes up a MAP with actual membership, for only full membership, years down the road, would entitle Georgia to Article Five guarantees. During those years ahead, European countries could use the EU’s ample potential for conflict resolution in the European neighborhood and pave the way for integrating that neighborhood, as Georgian Parliament Chair Nino Burjanadze and others have noted (Mze TV, March 21).
Several West European governments have expressed concern about linking NATO and EU membership prospects for neighboring countries such as Ukraine and Georgia. NATO’s two enlargement rounds in Central Europe were closely linked to the entry of those same countries into the EU. At present, enlargement-fatigued West European governments such as the French and Dutch are loath to create the impression that Ukrainian or Georgian membership prospects for NATO could open EU prospects for these countries.
At the same time, several West European countries seek a more symmetrical composition of NATO and the EU–that is, delaying the integration of new members into NATO until those same countries can qualify for EU integration. As the latter process is more complex and lengthier than the former, symmetry would mean keeping Ukraine and Georgia outside NATO for a far longer time than they would need to meet NATO criteria.
Thus, decisions on the MAPs are being made hostage to extraneous considerations that risk trumping NATO’s principle to consider aspirant countries on their own merits.