NATO summit in Warsaw, planned for July 8-9, will be a success for Georgia if the country receives additional instruments providing for “more self-defense capabilities” and deterrence in the face of existing threats, Georgia’s Defense Minister, Tina Khidasheli, said on Friday.
She said in an interview with Imedi TV that “we should be very realistic”, adding that currently “there is no consensus” among 28 members of the Alliance to extend membership to Georgia right now.
“Of course the main goal is a NATO membership,” she said. “It has been the main goal of Georgia’s every government – and I hope it will be the case after the 2016 elections as well – to shorten this path between NATO aspiration and eventual membership.”
“Indicator of success will be having more self-defense capabilities, which means being more secure and having more instruments for deterrence,” she said.
She said that at NATO-Georgia defense ministerial meeting in Brussels in February Tbilisi tabled a “detailed” plan listing those instruments, which, if they become part of the NATO Warsaw summit declaration and if implemented, will make Georgia more secure.
“It entails response precisely to those threats and challenges Georgia is now facing, but then again nothing replaces the membership itself,” Khidasheli said.
She declined to speak publicly about details of the plan, but said that “one of the directions we are actively working with our partners is Black Sea security.”
She said that it entails “Georgia’s full-fledged participation” in it along with NATO-member Black Sea states – Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria. Earlier this month Khidasheli visited Romania whose Defense Minister Mihnea Motoc has spoken about the need for permanent NATO presence on the Black Sea that would also be open to partners such as Georgia and Ukraine.
Speaking at a conference on Black Sea security in Sofia on April 22, NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow said that the Alliance should consider “a more persistent NATO military presence in the region – with a particular focus on our maritime capabilities – a presence which is robust, certainly, but also defensive in posture, non-permanent, and in compliance with the Montreux Convention,” which limits the presence of non-Black Sea states’ warships in the Black Sea to 21 straight days.
Although NATO foreign ministers said in December that Georgia has “all the practical tools to prepare for eventual membership”, they also reaffirmed that before joining the Alliance the country should go through a Membership Action Plan (MAP) phase, which Georgia has been denied since 2008. NATO and Georgian officials say that the alliance is not likely to grant MAP to Georgia at the Warsaw summit this year. Georgian officials say that decision on MAP, when there is a consensus on it within the Alliance, will actually be a political one, which might be equivalent to invitation to join NATO.
In a Facebook post also on April 22, Defense Minister Khidasheli wrote: “MAP is past for Georgia in the sense that although formally it might still remain something that we have to get, but actually it is de facto already obtained.”
“Today Georgia has much more formats, instruments and possibilities to plan and develop its armed forces and self-defense capabilities through cooperation with NATO,” she wrote.
Khidasheli also warned against creating false expectations, but also stressed that progress made by Georgia on the path of NATO integration should be taken for granted, noting among successes the launch of the joint NATO-Georgia joint training and evaluation center (JTEC) outside Tbilisi.
“JTEC really is an instrument that creates limitless possibilities for increasing and strengthening our defense capabilities. It was inaugurated last August; last week we have completed the first training courses; first company will enter into NATO evaluation process on May 15. But these developments are no longer covered by media as they turned into routine – nothing new and that’s good because that’s precisely what more NATO in Georgia implies; these events should become business as usual, a daily routine in the life of our armed forces and the country,” Khidasheli said.
She also said that the Georgian government’s declared policy is “building democratic state, which moves towards the Euro-Atlantic space, with strategic patience.”
“Strategic patience is the very instrument we need the most today and which will help us to be a better European country,” Khidasheli added.