What to do with Georgia? This is one of the most pressing questions for NATO ministers this week. President Bush had hoped that part of his legacy would be to incorporate Georgia into the Atlantic Alliance. German and French insistence had kept them out of NATO this year, while with this meeting of the North Atlantic Council the promise to review their application for a Membership Action Plan (MAP) -- the last stage before joining the Alliance -- comes good.
It has become apparent over the past few weeks, as Ambassadors and others discussed the preparations for the NAC, that many European nations have stronger doubts now about admitting Georgia to NATO than they did last Spring. NATO insiders have said that these doubts have grown exponentially as reviews of the Russia-Georgia conflict this Summer was started by Georgia, and that Georgian President Saakashvili had ignored warnings from US advisers (amongst others) not take take military action or do anything to risk provoking the kind of military intervention Russia embarked on in August.
The Bush administration has been trying to circumvent the MAP process, and working to have the new NATO-Georgia Commission be the vehicle through which Georgia joins the Alliance. As Secretary of State Condi Rice said last week "There are other ways to prepare countries for membership", adding that there was no MAP process when the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary joined the Alliance.
European NATO nations, still led by Germany and France, have insisted on their position that Georgia is not ready for NATO membership. It seems that Georgia will receive encouragement for future NATO membership, and assistance with security sector reform. But that is all. No MAP. No invitation to membership. And then the question will come back again at the Strasbourg Summit. After all, Barack Obama is on the record in favour of Georgia and the Ukraine joining NATO.