Vice President Cheney assured Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili last week that the United States remains committed to his nation eventually joining the North Atlantic Trade Organization. On the surface, Cheney’s promise makes sense. Russia is becoming more powerful, so what better way to contain that potential threat than by bringing a pro-American government on the Russian border into NATO and promising American military support if Russia attacks again? Despite the attractive reasoning behind this argument, Georgia must not be allowed into the NATO alliance.
While Russia’s willingness to use force in Georgia is an unnerving reminder of how dangerous Russia can be, one must remember that it was Saakashvili who provoked Russia by launching a surprise attack on the disputed region of South Ossetia. True, Russia had been harassing Georgia by shooting down their unmanned spy planes over the region and blaming it on separatists, but Saakashvili should have known that a full blown assault would demand a forceful Russian response.
One might thing Saakashvili’s apparent foolishness would give the United States doubts about militarily supporting this man. The United States would never want a military alliance with a country that carelessly starts wars it cannot win, for such a country could draw America into a horrific war with Russia. Yet Cheney went to Georgia to promise just such a military alliance.
Saakashvili is no fool. He knows that the United States has been uneasy about letting Georgia into NATO, and he almost certainly knew what the Russians would do when he attacked South Ossetia, for he is now turning Georgia’s military defeat into a diplomatic victory. Georgia’s loss, Saakashvili argues, only goes to show that the United States no longer has any choice but to support his government unconditionally if America wants to keep an ally in the region.
Right now, we can influence Saakashvili by threatening to withdraw support if he does anything that might cause another conflict. Allowing Georgia to join NATO would remove this important influence.
Once we are committed to supporting Georgia, there is no backing down since doing so would make NATO – the cornerstone of European defense – look weak. After all, Why wouldn’t Russia invade the small Baltic states if it thought we wouldn’t support them? Because we cannot afford to let NATO look weak, there would be no choice but to support Georgia at almost any cost if it joined the alliance. Saakashvili knows this.
By keeping Georgia out of NATO, the United States will be in a much better position to prevent future conflict in that region of the world. We can continue to use diplomatic and economic incentives to pressure Russia to respect the border and we can keep Georgia from provoking a conflict by threatening to withdraw support. Allowing Georgia to join NATO would only tie our hands in future crises.