• Just like the European Union, it seems that Nato is also suffering from enlargement fatigue (Photo: Nato)

Opinion

Nato puts brakes on enlargement

16.07.14 @ 08:32

  1. By Matthew Turner

BRATISLAVA - Nato announced earlier this July that it is shelving plans to welcome any new members during its forthcoming Wales summit.

The hopes of four countries - Bosnia, Macedonia, Georgia and Montenegro – which were expecting to deepen their co-operation with Nato, are now all but dashed, as senior Nato officials have hit the pause button on future enlargement.

Just like the European Union, it seems that Nato is also suffering from enlargement fatigue.

Unlike the Union though, Nato is shying away from even awarding the equivalent of the EU’s association agreement, namely the Membership Action Plan (MAP), to Georgia, over fears of provoking Moscow’s ire.

For all the aggressive rhetoric deployed during the Ukraine crisis, Nato seems to refuse to walk the walk.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, its outgoing secretary general, said recently that Russia is no longer a reliable partner for the West. But, apparently, nor is the West for its allies most exposed to Russia’s whims.

On top of that, France shows no signs of backing down on plans to deliver two Mistral-class frigates to Russia and (potentially) its Black Sea Fleet.

The €1.2 billion contract will endow Moscow with substantial firepower, as one Mistral can single-handedly overpower the navies of Romania or Georgia.

Admiral Vysotsky, the commander in chief of the Russian navy, even boasted that if Russia had had one such frigate at the time, the Georgian war would have ended in 40 minutes instead of 26 hours.

After Nato’s Bucharest summit of 2008, when Georgia was promised full membership within an unspecified timeframe, Georgia has been a faithful ally of the West, committing, for example, the largest non-Nato contingent to the ISAF mission in Afghanistan.

Instead of the long-sought MAP, it will in Wales receive a “substantial package”, including training programmes and advice along with a “detailed checklist” of what the country should do to gain membership.

In Bosnia’s case, the alliance said that it is waiting for the country “to make progress in the process of becoming an Alliance member”, even though Ole-Asbjorn Fauske, a deputy commander at Nato’s Sarajevo headquarters has said that “almost all conditions for activating the MAP” have been fulfilled.

The official invoked the country’s lack of “registration of military property in state institutions” as the main obstacle.

In Macedonia’s case, its foreign minister told the Associated Press that the Nato decision “was a step backward”, although prospects for full membership are unclear, given Greece’s long-standing name dispute with its neighbour.

The situation is different in the Baltic states. On top of a tripling of the number of Nato fighters deployed there, a new airbase just opened in Estonia, which will be used for Nato exercises and training.

In a festive 4 July atmosphere, the US ambassador to Estonia declared that “in the last four months, we have had boots on the ground, planes in the air and ships at sea”.

His comments almost overshadowed statements by Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite that Russia has offered to reduce oil and gas prices for the Baltic countries if they terminated their Nato membership.

In this ambivalent context, it should come as no surprise to the West to witness a decline in pro-Nato sentiment in the four aspirant countries in the Balkans and South Caucasus, who sided with the West only to receive empty words in exchange.

Ever since the end of the Cold War, Nato has looked to find a new strategic imperative.

As Europeans turned their focus inwards, defence spending and defence capabilities decreased dramatically.

Germany’s experience in Afghanistan, where it couldn’t deploy its much-needed helicopters because they were lacking sand filters, has become one ancedote among many of European underperformance. Calls to disband Nato, unthinkable in the past, have multiplied.

When Russia annexed Crimea, Nato failed to make itself heard, as heads of state chose either the European Union or their national platforms to express their views.

Despite all this, Nato is still a symbol of the West.

Unlike the Warsaw Pact, it has weathered the 1989 moment and has deployed an increasing number of missions, albeit with modest results.

But looking at events cynically, perhaps the four aspirant countries would be better off without membership.

With the West’s failure to stop Russian action in Crimea, or for that matter in Georgia in 2008, what makes us believe that Nato would jump to the rescue in the event of a new Russia-Georgia war?

In the end, Nato membership could very well be more of a cost than a benefit in 2014.

The writer is a freelance political consultant and blogger based in Slovakia