NATO Membership Action Plans are, in essence, technical processes. With the Ukrainian and Georgian MAPs delayed, the Alliance must now address a broader issue of strategic policy regarding the position of Ukraine and Georgia in Europe and their relationship with NATO from this point onward.
Debates during the summit showed the potential for a revival of traditional European balance-of-power ideas in Berlin and Paris, involving Russian participation in a “European concert” of equivalent powers. Such alignments at this stage could only function informally and intermittently, outside NATO and only at its expense. It would reduce U.S. influence in Eastern Europe. It would imply deference to Russian interests in areas in that country’s vicinity, as Ukraine and Georgia noticed on this occasion. And it would entail German concentration on Eastern Europe along with French concentration on the southern Mediterranean rim and parallel relations with Russia.
French Prime Minister Francois Fillon’s April 1 statement rejecting the MAPs (see EDM, April 2) simply ignored NATO, the United States and the pro-MAP European allies, speaking instead about Russia’s interests in a European power balance and claiming to reflect President Nicolas Sarkozy’s view. U.S. White House Press Secretary Dana Perino commented, “The last time we checked, Russia did not have a vote in NATO” (Washington Post, April 2).
Even the left-leaning French Minister of Foreign Affairs Bernard Kouchner, whose global humanitarian agenda seems so mismatched with the Quai d’Orsay, spoke of the need to defer to Russia’s great role in Europe as one argument against the Ukrainian and Georgian MAPs (see EDM, March 11). Kouchner’s long-time allies, the influential pundits Bernard-Henri Levy and Andre Glucksmann, strongly criticize the official French and German position. In a lengthy open letter to Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Le Monde, Levy and Glucksmann argued:
“To refuse the MAPs to Ukraine and Georgia would be a dramatic error. The issue at the Bucharest summit is to acknowledge the course and the will of sovereign nations by integrating them into our political and military family. This would not cost a single job or barrel of oil to our economy. We do not have to choose between gas supplies and the freedom of our friends. To oppose [the MAPs] would be a terrible moral failure, compounded by a grave strategic miscalculation. We would seem to view Eastern Europe through the prism of Moscow. Our refusal . . . would signal that Georgia and Ukraine are territories up for conquest and that we sacrifice them to the resurgent imperial ambitions” (Le Monde, April 2).
On the summit’s eve and at its opening, German representatives enriched their already large collection of excuses or straight Russia-first arguments for blocking the Ukrainian and Georgian MAPs. Minister of Foreign Affairs Frank-Walter Steinmeier (Social Democrat) called for holding up the MAPs on the following basis: “By recognizing Kosovo we have reached the limit of what is manageable in the relationship with Russia in our foreign policy. [There is] no compelling reason for adding a strain on relations with Russia” (Leipziger Volkszeitung cited by DDP, April 2; Financial Times Deutschland, April 3). In this view, echoed by other German diplomats, NATO has “already burdened its relations with Russia to an extreme degree because of Kosovo. We must reflect on the consequences of piling up yet another issue on top of that one” (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, April 2).
The Social-Democrat leader in the Bundestag, former Defense Minister Peter Struck, defended Steinmeier’s view for “taking into consideration Moscow’s security interests.” The Christian-Democrat chairman of the Bundestag’s Foreign Affairs Commission, Ruprecht Polenz, termed the MAPs “premature” and called instead for avoiding tension with Russia (Berliner Zeitung, Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung cited by DDP, April 3).
Steinmeier’s suggestion ignores the fact that Russia, not Germany or NATO, systematically “burdened” and “strained” the relations over Kosovo. The minister’s logic would seem to imply that Moscow had some legitimate interest in non-recognition of Kosovo and deserves a concession for that unrequited interest. The concession would, in this case, take the form of holding up the Ukrainian and Georgian MAPs. Such a trade-off, Kosovo-for-deferred-MAPs, would implicitly draw a dividing line between a NATO zone and a grey zone in Russia’s shadow. Beyond the issue at hand, such consolation prizes can only encourage Russia to continue obstructing Western interests on almost any issue and extract gratuitous concessions through its tactics.
Ultimately, the German and French governments could not have been unaware of the devastating implications of blocking the MAPs. Nevertheless, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s reminder of those implications proved timely at the summit: “Refusal of the Georgian and Ukrainian MAPs would signify yielding to Russian blackmail. If NATO bows to Russian threats for the first time in its history, it would be the end of NATO as we know it. And Europe would end up in a more dangerous situation” (Le Figaro, April 3).