Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 56

In on-the-record interventions and, especially, at off-the-record policy conferences, German officials lay 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 some degree or another. But those governments seldom – if ever – speak up on this issue and have been notably cautious even in off-the-record comments in the run-up to the April 2-4 Bucharest summit. Within the alliance, Germany alone seems openly to cast a Russian veto to the MAPs ahead of the summit.

Since early March Germany alone is speaking up, relentlessly and systematically, against the Georgian and Ukrainian MAPs. As a debating tactic, Berlin officials tend to conflate the proposed MAPs with actual membership in the alliance. Thus, taking the floor to oppose the MAPs, 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. And by blocking the Georgian and Ukrainian MAPs, Germany in practice blocks the path that can lead to those countries’ membership.

For a key argument against a Georgian MAP, Berlin contends that Georgia is ineligible because of the unresolved conflicts on that country’s territory. This marks a complete reversal of Germany’s position in Russia’s favor.

Only one year ago, Minister of Foreign Affairs Frank-Walter Steinmeier 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 do not disqualify Georgia from accession to 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 heirs in that Ministry.

Ahead of the summit, Berlin officials use 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 blur after the creation of the NATO-Russia Council, whereupon some suggested allowing Russia a “voice,” though 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, could 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 express concern about linkage between NATO membership prospects and EU membership prospects for neighborhood 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.

By the same token, several West European countries wish for a more symmetrical composition of NATO and the EU — that is, delaying the integration of new members into NATO until such time as the same countries can qualify for EU integration. As the latter is more complex and lengthier than the former, symmetry would mean keeping Ukraine and Georgia outside NATO’s door for a far longer period of time than these countries would otherwise 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.