NATO’s Russia Options

When word leaked of the Bush administration’s efforts to get NATO to scrap Membership Action Plans for Georgia and Ukraine (which the alliance had already postponed in April) and instead immediately begin the process of raising the two countries’ militaries to alliance interoperability standards with an eye towards eventual membership without the MAP’s formal process to guide it, my initial reaction was to wonder what Whiskey and Tango’s favorite dance is.

But Jeffrey Mankoff, writing at the New Atlanticist, offers a pretty compelling argument for the idea:

The problem is that a decision on NATO membership is fundamentally political, and the West needs the flexibility to respond to changing political circumstances. . .

Were the alliance to focus instead on the nuts-and-bolts of bringing the two countries’ military and political systems up to NATO standards, it would signal to Russia that the two countries are not being given a timetable for membership. It would acknowledge that the question of membership is fundamentally political, and dependent, among other things, on the state of relations with Moscow. . .

The idea of scrapping the whole MAP process while keeping Ukraine and Georgia on the path for eventual membership offers several advantages. An open-ended pledge to bring Georgia and Ukraine up to NATO standards would deepen their practical cooperation with the Alliance, avoid a politically-driven timetable for membership, and allow NATO to await developments with Moscow.

Truth be told, a lot of this “nuts-and-bolts” is already taking place on the ground bilaterally between the U.S. and Georgia, both in Georgia and Iraq. In the immediate aftermath of the Russia-Georgia War, there were reports that Georgia was repatriating its battle-hardened Iraq contingent, and I think when the dust of the Iraq War settles, it will become clear the degree to which, more generally, interoperability and in-theater training incentivized some of the less formidable members of the Coalition of the Willing to participate.

But on paper, normalizing the cooperation with NATO outside of a formal membership process makes sense. A lot depends, of course, on whether Russia considers it a de-escalation or a aggravation of what it considers a provocative encroachment on its immediate neighborhood.

Of course, as usual, Tom Barnett cuts to the chase as only he can about the ultimate game-changer:

We are at the limit of taking in old Soviet puppets. Now we eithertake Russia into NATO or something new, or there won’t be any neweastern members.

Simple as that.

Russia has already floated its proposal for a new European security architecture, with predictable reaction on the Continent (some positive echoes here in France, outright rejection in Britain, with Germany somewhat silent). The Obama administration has a lot of room to maneuver on this, though, especially given the “no red lines” approach of the past six months by Defense Sec. Bob Gates. Formulating its own vision of what a stable Euro-Atlantic strategic partnership with Russia might look like would take back the initiative in NATO-Russia relations that Russia largely swiped with its military intervention in Georgia, and keep the EU from leapfrogging the alliance by adopting its own.

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