POLITICS
"Georgia existed way before NATO, will be around when NATO disappears'' - The Definitive Luke Coffey Interview
02 March, 2018
NATO, and Georgia’s (eventual) membership of it, has been a traditionally compelling topic in Georgia for the last two decades. So, when the Heritage Foundation’s Luke Coffey wrote that Georgia might enter NATO with Article 5 on Collective Defense covering the occupied territories, pretty much the whole country took notice. The government tried to reassure people that such a scenario was never on cards, while the omniscient Georgian experts wasted little time and wrote a multitude of articles about their
vision of Coffey’s suggestion, one going as far as to call it a storm in a teacup. To clarify the issue, GEORGIA TODAY sat down with Coffey, who was at the Economic Policy Research Center’s event in Tbilisi.

When the Heritage Foundation report came out, the biggest talking point was the idea suggested by you that Georgia might enter NATO with amendments to Art. 6, as happened in the cases of Turkey and Greece

I want to make very clear that in my proposal, all of Georgia, as seen by the international community, the whole territory of Georgia, including the occupied Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region, would join NATO. But Tskhinvali region and Abkhazia would not get the Article 5 security guarantee until the conflict is resolved peacefully. This is actually in accordance with the government’s non-use of force pledge. If you have the non-use of force pledge about using military force to take back the territories, then why do you need a military commitment from NATO for the two occupied territories? This would be a very temporary measure. Until the two occupied regions are rightfully returned to Georgia. It’s not an unheard-of scenario: officials, spanning different governments, have discussed it.

Foreign Minister Janelidze said in response to the paper that there are no alternative scenarios for joining NATO

My job, coming from the think-tank, is to propose ideas and to get debates going. It being 10 years since the Bucharest Summit, we need to find creative ways to help get Georgia across the finish line into NATO. This is not about questioning Georgia’s territorial integrity. In what I wrote, my proposal makes very clear that this measure of amending Article 6 does not in any way question NATO’s commitment to Georgia’s territorial integrity. We have to face the reality that 20% of Georgia is under illegal occupation by Russia. Many officials in Western Europe and Washington are concerned that Georgia joining NATO will mean automatic war with Russia, because Russia is already occupying part of the country. And what I propose is only possible in Georgia because the non-use of force pledge. This proposal would not work for Ukraine, for example, because they are fighting. They don’t have the non-use of force pledge. Georgia does. So, in no way does this question Georgia’s territorial integrity. All I’m suggesting is that Georgia joins the alliance, but only part of Georgia, the 80% that is not occupied, gets the Article 5 guarantees. In the USA for example, Guam, does not get Article 5. The Falkland Islands don’t get Article 5. Article 6, which defines what region gets Article 5 protection, has been amended in the past.

What do you think the cost in public sentiment would be? Some think it might be a step in the wrong direction as they view NATO as a means to achieve real territorial integrity, for the whole of Georgia, not just 80%

The government did the right thing announcing the non-use of force pledge. You cannot have the pledge to not use the military and expect NATO to give a military guarantee. So, people who are concerned about Georgia’s territorial integrity, perhaps don’t understand my proposal. I also think certain groups are using my proposal for propaganda. The thing that attracted me in Georgia was the optimism, the energy, the drive in this country, the pride, the culture, the history, the language. These things were here way before NATO was created and Georgia will be around way after NATO disappears. If the cost of Georgia joining NATO is giving up on Abkhazia, giving up on Tskhinvali region, then it is not worth the cost. That’s not what I’m proposing. That’s not what NATO should be asking. What we need is to find creative, new thinking as to how to get Georgia in the Alliance.

How would Russia react to that?

Russia believes it has a veto on countries joining NATO and the EU. In a way, they have a de facto veto right now because what they do is invade and partially occupy a country, whether it’s Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, and they say, OK, this will prevent them from ever joining NATO/the EU. My proposal is what removes them from the equation. The Alliance reaffirmed its commitment to recognizing Georgia’s full territorial integrity and it can do it within my proposal.

But what good is the Alliance’s commitment to Georgia’s territorial integrity if Russia, for example, claims Tskhinvali as a part of the Ossetia region?

Look at the situation in Tskhinvali. It’s a puppet government fully controlled by Moscow. There will be no difference whether the Duma signs a decree annexing Tskhinvali region formally or informally as it is now: there will be no practical difference. The fact is, Abkhazia and Tskhinvali are occupied. In a practical sense, there’s not much more they can do. They can sign papers, annexing it to the Russian Federation, but there will be consequences in terms of the economic sanctions in the West. The whole thing is tragic, really, because Georgia and Russia, as neighbors with a historical connection, should be partners. Russia should respect Georgia’s territorial integrity.

Not much of that historical connection consists of happy memories

Of course, but I’m talking about local trade, intermarried families. Georgia and Russia will always be neighbors. It’s a shame that Russia cannot be a good neighbor to Georgia. It’s unfortunate. But this is a reality, and as long as the current government is in place in Moscow, we’ll not see a change. But someday we will. You know, in the 90s, we had similar discussions about the Baltic States joining NATO. The idea of Estonia joining NATO was unheard of, but look at Estonia today. So, I think we need to take a very long-term view.

How do you think economic sanctions will deter Russia when they failed to do so in Ukraine?

Economic sanctions do have the limitations. Russia is paying for its economic sanctions over Crimea and Ukraine. Sanctions can be one part of the tool box. In Georgia’s case, I proposed the US Congress draft sanctions that can be triggered by Russia formally annexing Tskhinvali region for example, or formally annexing Abkhazia. So, the sanctions are there, and they will be triggered if Russia tries to annex these territories. The important thing for the US government is to work with our allies in Europe to coordinate this.

There are doubts about NATO defending Georgia under Article 5 if Russian aggression continues

If you look at polling asking the citizens of different countries if they would be willing to fight for their own countries, the polling numbers are astonishingly low. Ask Germans if they would die for Germany, ask the Frenchmen the same: the numbers are low. Article 5 is actually not a trigger, it’s a political decision. There’s nothing in the NATO Treaty that says if exactly this and this happens, then Article 5 will be invoked. It’s decided on a unanimous level by all members of NATO.

Some Euro-Atlantic skeptics accuse the West of double standards and pointing to the Balkan countries. A common question is ‘how is Montenegro contributing more to the Alliance than Georgia and in which ratings is democracy, rule of law, corruption and so on is Montenegro or Albania higher than in Georgia?’

I’m sympathetic to that view and I’m an advocate for Georgia some day joining NATO and I understand this frustration, especially considering the sacrifice the Georgian people made. I’m an Afghan vet myself. I know how important the contribution is of the Georgian military in Afghanistan; I’ve seen Georgian soldiers there. We have to look at the membership in the open- door policy as the bigger picture. Montenegro joining NATO brought another piece of south-east Europe Westwards and another piece of stability.

There are skeptics among US policy-makers. Senator Rand Paul criticized the sale of Javelin missiles to Georgia. Your colleague, Micael O’Hanlon, from the Brookings Institute, proposed a neutrality status for Georgia guaranteed by both the West and Russia

If the Georgian people choose this route, that’s fine. If they choose to be a part of the Euro-Atlantic community, that’s fine. If they choose a route to be a part of the Euro-Asian economic union, that’s fine too. It’s up to the Georgian people to decide.

I would say the different points of view of US policymakers are a sign of a healthy environment and democracy. You have a wide range of opinions and views and everyone has the right to be heard. I’m a huge supporter of Rand Paul on a lot of issues. I share his libertarian approach on domestic issues, not so much on foreign policy. He offers a different point of view, but let’s not focus much on his views on NATO enlargement because, at the end of the day, Montenegro was voted to join NATO; two senators voted against it. I will reiterate that the views of people like Rand Paul are an important part of a vibrant society and vibrant democracy. They should not be silenced. They should be heard.

Another subject discussed in the paper is that the US and Euro-Atlantic community should push Russia to implement the remaining points of the 6-Point Agreement. How do you propose that should be done?

Ten years after the fact, we’re still seeing violations of at least two of the six points. And we should remind them of this. We should ask how come they implemented a ceasefire in Syria, when they are not living up to their obligations from 10 years ago?

You also maintain that Georgia can enter NATO without MAP. How do you envisage this being accomplished without further Russian interference?

Arguably, Russia is interfering now. I don’t speak on behalf of NATO. I don’t speak on behalf of the US government. I’m an independent analyst. It’s my view from reading the NATO Treaty. It’s a fact. Countries have joined NATO without MAP. The problem with MAP in Georgia is that it was used as a propaganda tool. Georgia goes to a summit, doesn’t get MAP, and Russia says look, your expectations are void. I’d say let’s manage the expectations, let’s continue down the path, get Georgia into the Alliance. Let’s find new practical ways that the relationship between Georgia and NATO get closer. That’s what I’m hoping we see in July at the 2018 Brussels Summit.

Author: Vazha Tavberidze

Source: Georgia Today

Related stories:

Brian Whitmore on Saakashvili, Russia & Putin
Print