NATO foreign ministers reaffirmed on December 2 that Georgia should go through a Membership Action Plan (MAP) phase, which the country has been denied since 2008, before it can join the Alliance.
At a foreign ministerial meeting of the Alliance member states in Brussels, NATO invited Montenegro to start accession talks to become the 29th member of the Alliance.
Speaking at a news conference on December 2, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that this decision shows to the three other aspirant countries – Bosnia and Herzegovina; Georgia and Macedonia – that “hard work of reform pays off.”
“What we have seen today is that NATO’s door is open; it remains open and we proved it by inviting Montenegro,” he said. “Georgia has made a lot of progress.”
In respect of Georgia, NATO foreign ministers said in a statement on “Open Door Policy”, which lays out Alliance’s stance towards the aspirant countries: “At the 2008 Bucharest Summit we agreed that Georgia will become a member of NATO with MAP as an integral part of the process; today we reaffirm all elements of that decision, as well as subsequent decisions.”
Georgian authorities’ publicly declared goal for next year’s NATO Warsaw summit has been to either gain a MAP or for NATO to announce that a MAP would no longer a precursor to eventual membership.
As Georgia’s Defense Minister Tina Khidasheli put it in October, after the Warsaw Summit “there should be no intermediary steps left between Georgia and NATO” – and a MAP is viewed as such “intermediary step”.
The same December 2 statement of NATO foreign ministers also says: “Georgia’s relationship with the Alliance contains all the practical tools to prepare for eventual membership.”
2014 NATO Wales summit declaration stated in this regard: “We note that Georgia’s relationship with the Alliance contains the tools necessary to continue moving Georgia forward towards eventual membership.”
Welcoming Georgia’s “significant progress,” the Alliance’s foreign ministers called on Georgia to continue making full use of all the existing instruments, involving the NATO-Georgia Commission, the Annual National Programme, Georgia’s role as an Enhanced Opportunities Partner, its participation in NATO’s Defence Capacity Building Initiative and the Substantial NATO-Georgia Package.
The foreign ministers also welcomed “the important progress” made in implementing the Substantial NATO-Georgia Package, which was offered to Georgia at the last year’s Wales summit, including the start of joint exercises and the inauguration of the Joint Training and Evaluation Centre outside Tbilisi.
“As we prepare for the Warsaw summit [on July 8-9, 2016], we will explore new, practical ways to intensify efforts including through high-level political dialogue and increased co-operation, including in defence and strategic communications,” NATO foreign ministers said.
It also says: “NATO recognizes Georgia’s efforts to strengthen its democracy, including to reform the judiciary and security services, and to modernise its military forces and defence institutions.”
In what appears to be a reference to recent developments over Tbilisi-based Rustavi 2 TV, the statement reads: “Bearing in mind recent developments on media freedom and rule of law, we encourage Georgia to sustain momentum in its overall reform efforts, which we will continue to support.”
The NATO foreign ministers also said that the Alliance “highly appreciates” Georgia’s contributions to the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan, where Georgia is the second largest troop contributor.
Reiterating NATO’s support to Georgia’s territorial integrity, the foreign ministers again called on Russia “to reverse its recognition of the South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions of Georgia as independent states and to withdraw its forces from Georgia.”
The NATO foreign ministers said that “orientations”, outlined in their statement, “provide guidance” for the aspirant countries with a view to the Warsaw summit.
“We look to them to take the steps necessary to advance their aspirations. Our decisions will remain based on these considerations,” the NATO foreign ministers said.