Missing in Istanbul: NATO Almost Bypassed the Black Sea-South Caucasus Region

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 90

July 2-4, 2004


NATO’s summit, just held in Istanbul, seemed consumed with the ongoing crises in Iraq and Afghanistan, and preoccupied to heal internal disagreements over those crises. Allied leaders did little more than glance at their strategically pivotal neighborhood in the Black Sea-South Caucasus region. For the first time since the 1997 Madrid summit, NATO at Istanbul shied away from a vision for eastward enlargement, and declined to offer the prospect of eventual membership to the alliance’s eastern neighbors.

The summit’s final communique fleetingly “welcome[d] the decisions by Georgia, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan to develop Individual Partnership Action Plans with NATO.” Perhaps inadvertently, this formulation sends a discouraging signal to aspirant countries Georgia and Azerbaijan, by lumping them with Uzbekistan. In truth, Georgia and Azerbaijan had actually submitted their Individual Partnership Action Plans (IPAPs) to NATO ahead of the summit, hoping for official promulgation there. The chance was missed, however.

The two countries are active members of the U.S.-led antiterrorist coalition, as well as troop contributors to NATO- or American-led peacekeeping operations in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq. They provide crucial overflight support to U.S. and allied operations, are responsible for the security of vital routes for energy transit to the West, and have successfully suppressed terrorist or Islamist fundamentalist infiltration of their territories. Azerbaijan has accomplished this mainly through its own resources, with some Turkish assistance; Georgia, with ample U.S.

assistance. Georgia and Azerbaijan, meanwhile — although they are still net security consumers requiring assistance — have become also providers of security for themselves, the region and the alliance. They are security providers even to Russia by sealing the latter’s southern border (an American-assisted accomplishment in Georgia’s case).

The U.S. Train-and-Equip Program (TEP) for Georgian security forces — one of the most successful U.S. security assistance programs anywhere in recent years — is being wound down prematurely. Some 2,700 Georgian troops graduated from this two-year, US$ 64 million program. This numerically small force is already making a palpable difference as a regional stabilizer, deterring terrorist infiltration or rogue moves on Georgia by the secessionist statelets. The Pentagon would prefer continuing the program to train additional Georgian troops; but overextension of its resources in Iraq and Afghanistan seems to compel a near-suspension of TEP in Georgia, even though this would jeopardize the gains achieved. Clearly, TEP should continue.

Presidents Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia and Ilham Aliev of Azerbaijan, speaking on a panel in Istanbul, detailed their countries’ efforts to qualify for consideration as candidates for NATO membership. Georgia and Azerbaijan hope that fulfillment of their IPAP goals during several annual cycles would lead from IPAPs to Membership Action Plans by the next summit of the alliance. As frontline NATO partners, whose Western orientation exposes them to security risks, Georgia and Azerbaijan would have deserved proper recognition of their efforts by this NATO summit.

Another aspirant to NATO membership, Ukraine, is actually an exporter of security for NATO and in American-led antiterror operations. Ukraine deploys 1,650 troops in Iraq, hundreds of soldiers in Kosovo with the Polish-Ukrainian battalion under NATO command, and a fleet of Ukrainian long-range military transport planes supporting allied operations in accordance with the Ukraine-NATO Memorandum on strategic airlift. The country regularly hosts joint military exercises with NATO forces and provides indispensable transit for allied forces from Europe to operations theaters in Afghanistan and Central Asia. The Ukraine-NATO Memorandum on host nation support, signed recently, provides even greater scope for joint exercises and transit. Ukraine’s military reform, while slowed by daunting financial problems, is a centerpiece of the NATO-Ukraine Action Plan, and advances in close cooperation with NATO allies All this did find proper recognition in the NATO summit communique.

President Leonid Kuchma, attending the meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission at the level of heads of state, reaffirmed Ukraine’s goal to attain NATO membership. The meeting, however, decided to withhold any political signal in that regard until after the October presidential election in Ukraine. The allies urged Ukrainian authorities to ensure the holding of a free and fair election, and generally to demonstrate commitment to democratic values, rule of law, and freedom of speech and media. On those conditions, the alliance should definitely upgrade its political relationship with Ukraine following a year-end review of Ukraine’s performance.

Moldova at long last registered on NATO’s radar screen at this summit. U.S.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, en route to Istanbul, stopped in Moldova and called for the withdrawal of Russian forces from the country. Mr.

Rumsfeld also urged a fuller Moldovan participation in NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) program “as a stabilizing influence throughout the region.”

Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin, attending the Istanbul summit as head of a PfP country, called for “complete and unconditional” withdrawal of Russian troops; an unprecedented gesture by this Communist president. The summit’s final communique, urging Russia to withdraw the troops from Moldova, underscores that “it is essential that efforts be intensified to complete the withdrawal as soon as possible.”

NATO now shares a 400 kilometer border with Moldova. The next necessary step for NATO and the U.S. is to include the twin issues of Russian troop withdrawal and Trans-Dniester conflict settlement on the NATO-Russia and U.S.-Russia agendas, instead of consigning those issues as heretofore to a helpless OSCE and thereby to Russian stonewalling.

The Istanbul summit marked the entry of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania into NATO as full members, and in one of the keynote addresses during the summit, Latvia’s President Vaira Vike-Freiberga spoke extemporaneously for all the 10 countries that joined NATO in 2002-2004. She looked back on these countries’ recent history as captive nations, from the 1945 Yalta agreements — “one of the 20th century’s gravest mistakes” — to, finally, self-liberation and, now, these nations’ return to the West under NATO security guarantees. At the summit, the Baltic states along with Romania, underscored the importance of assisting Ukraine, Georgia and Azerbaijan to meet NATO membership criteria.

On the eve of the summit and during the event, Lithuania narrowly averted a takeover of its presidency by Russian-connected political forces in the June

27 runoff election. Amid public apathy and widespread fatigue with long-serving mainstream politicians, candidate Kazimira Prunskiene and her main supporter, the deposed ex-president Rolandas Paksas, mounted a dangerous challenge to the pro-Western frontrunner Valdas Adamkus. Some of Prunskiene’s campaign statements hinted at decoupling Lithuania from the U.S. and NATO if she won. Five days before the runoff, a rogue domestic intelligence service suddenly launched a public campaign of accusations and intimidation against pro-Adamkus parties, clearly seeking to affect the election outcome. In the event, Mr. Adamkus won narrowly with 52.5 percent of the votes cast. Mr. Adamkus, a Lithuanian-American, stated in the wake of the election that it involved an East-West contest for the country.

The West has won that contest in Europe from the Baltic to the western Black Sea — a momentous shift in the history of Europe, as Ms. Vike-Freiberga described it — and can win eastward of the Black Sea as well. But the close call in the Lithuanian election shows that some of NATO’s new members need assistance in immunizing their institutions and political processes against stealthy attempts at denying these countries the fruits of that momentous shift.

Mr. Socor is a senior fellow of the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation, publishers of the Eurasia Daily Monitor.