Filling NATO's Void
Matthew Yglesias, blogging at his new Think Progress digs, comments on Georgian aspirations for NATO membership:
Whether or not you support NATO membership for Georgia as some kind of long-term measure, this doesn’t make much sense as a short-term strategy for getting Russian troops to leave. For one thing, it’s just not going to happen (a topic to which we’ll return). For another thing, it’s a bit of a Rube Goldberg device — we persuade the Europeans to extend a NATO security guarantee to Georgia and then, with that guarantee in place, Russia has to choose between leaving and war with the United States and we hope they choose leaving. It would be quicker and simpler, albeit insane, for the United States to just straight-up threaten Russia with war unless they withdraw from Georgia. Then Russia needs to choose between leaving and war with the United States, and our plan to use a threat of war to force them out isn’t held hostage to the vagaries of French and German decision-making.
It seems to me that the opposite outcome is more likely were Georgia (and Ukraine) finally granted NATO membership. It's worth pointing out that the most outspoken critics of Russia's recent behavior - aside from the United States - are the former bloc states that are now protected under the NATO umbrella. However, far from pounding the drums of war, most of these states are instead using their treaty membership to lobby for diplomatic action in the Caucasus. Ukraine, on the other hand, has seen the proverbial writing on the wall in Georgia and is rushing into the waiting arms of America's unilateralist community. The former is showing faith in the entailed protections of NATO, while the latter is scrambling to protect their sovereignty.
This, to me, is the point of a 21st Century NATO. Georgia has been on the path to NATO membership for over two years now. Their democratically elected government has worked to increase defense spending and liberalize their public institutions in order to meet membership criteria. This isn't a casus belli for the U.S., nor is it an impetuous reaction to the Russian incursion. Georgia has played by the rules, gone through the process, and now they're simply hoping for a little advanced capital from the West.
Nowhere in the NATO charter - or even the more recent Membership Action Plan (MAP) - does the 'interoperability' of aspirant states depend on whether or not an occupying power disagrees with the overall process. Yglesias' argument, if I'm correct, seems to go as follows: Don't let Georgia join the organization built to deter the Russians, because it might upset the Russians.
So if Georgia is turned away, then what options remain for NATO? Why does it exist? Moreover, what options remain for Georgia? If Europe's definitive military body can't protect them, where then can Georgia turn?
Think John Bolton.
UPDATE: Just to add to my point here, check out Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's rhetoric in his respective WSJ and WaPo columns on the invasion. Rather than framing the conflict as a regional, niche problem for Georgia to deal with, he inflates it (rightly or wrongly) into a test of Western values. This rhetoric is perfectly consistent with the American hawk community.
I think it's safe to say that his rhetoric would be slightly different were Georgia a NATO member today.