On April 29, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze told a news conference that “we still have a long path to travel before being able to join NATO, [but] it may happen sooner than we imagine.” Shevardnadze called for an expansion of Georgia’s involvement in NATO’s Partnership for Peace program which, he implied, represents a stage along that path. This is the first-ever public statement by a Georgian leader that accession to NATO represents an operational goal of the country’s foreign policy. Georgia thus becomes the second post-Soviet country, after neighboring Azerbaijan, to announce that choice.
Shevardnadze revealed some of the considerations behind that decision during yesterday’ press conference and also in his speech at Tbilisi airport on April 28, returning from NATO’s anniversary summit in Washington and from the Strasbourg ceremony of Georgia’s official admission to the Council of Europe. Shevardnadze mentioned five of these considerations. First, U.S. recognition of his role (as Soviet foreign minister) in “ending the Cold War.” Second, the change in the world balance of power in favor of the West. Third, Georgia’s “return to Europe from which it had been torn away by force.” Fourth, the certainty that affiliation with the West will enable Georgia to “develop democracy, protect human rights, build a civilized country, guarantee our national identity and our independence.” And, fifth, the country’s goal of serving as a direct link between Western Europe and Asia.
The Georgian president endorsed both the goals and the means of NATO’s actions in the Balkans. He expressed full agreement with the thesis that NATO needs the authority to conduct peace-enforcement operations–including operations within sovereign states–irrespective of possible vetoes in the UN Security Council. Further, he cited U.S. President Bill Clinton as telling him during the NATO summit that the ethnic cleansing in Abkhazia is as objectionable as that in Kosovo. Shevardnadze has more than once pointed to the Russian military’s direct involvement in the ethnic cleansing of Georgians from Abkhazia (Radio Tbilisi, April 28; AP, Itar-Tass, April 29).
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