NATO’s summit in Istanbul on June 26-29 failed to outline a vision for eastward enlargement and stopped short of acknowledging the membership aspirations of the alliance’s new neighbors in the Black Sea-South Caucasus region. For the first time since the 1997 Madrid summit, NATO at Istanbul declined to hold out a prospect of eventual membership to the alliance’s eastern neighbors.
In his keynote address, “A New Atlanticism for the 21st Century,” to a summit event organized by the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMFUS), NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer made no mention of the Black Sea-South Caucasus region and the countries therein that aspire to NATO membership: Ukraine, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. The GMFUS report, “A New Euro-Atlantic Strategy for the Black Sea Region,” prepared specially for the summit, had been submitted to NATO leaders ahead of the summit and was also circulated there. Another special report, “Building Stability and Security in the South Caucasus: The Role of NATO,” also had been submitted to NATO leaders by the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, ahead of the NATO summit. The unprecedented level of think-tank attention to this region in a NATO context reflects the exponential rise in Euro-Atlantic strategic interests in the Black Sea-South Caucasus region post-9/11. Yet the Istanbul summit’s documents, decisions, and rhetoric did not seem to reflect that strategic stake.
The summit’s final communique perfunctorily mentioned in its item 41 (out of 46) “the importance of the Black Sea region for Euro-Atlantic security,” without elaboration. The 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 Georgia and Azerbaijan, aspirants to NATO membership, by lumping them with non-aspirant, ineligible Uzbekistan. Moreover, both Georgia and Azerbaijan had not “just decided” to develop, but had actually submitted their Individual Partnership Action Plans (IPAPs) to NATO ahead of the summit. Georgia’s IPAP is, however, snagged in Brussels for unclear reasons that pertain to the document’s political section (the sections on military and security topics did pass muster). This seems confusing, since Georgia is now at the forefront of democratic development in the region. Thus, NATO’s summit missed the chance to promulgate Georgia’s and Azerbaijan’s IPAPs.
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 energy-transit routes 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. Thus, Georgia and Azerbaijan are no longer pure consumers of security. While still net consumers requiring assistance, they 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, $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 the overextension of its resources in Iraq and Afghanistan seems to compel a near-suspension of TEP in Georgia. TEP’s cessation would jeopardize the gains achieved and may even result in a performance decline by TEP-graduate troops in the absence of U.S. instructors.
Presidents Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia and Ilham Aliev of Azerbaijan, speaking on a panel in Istanbul, detailed their countries’ efforts to qualify for consideration eventually 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 NATO summit. As Euro-Atlantic frontline partners, whose Western orientation is a national choice, and whose role in projecting security is indispensable to the alliance, Georgia and Azerbaijan would have deserved proper recognition of their efforts by this NATO summit. The alliance needs to develop and promulgate a coherent strategy for the Black Sea-South Caucasus region.