The NATO expansion that was bound to fail

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images President Bush’s bid to win NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia turned out to be a non-starter. Member states opposed admitting the countries to a “Membership Action Plan,” choosing instead to merely issue a non-binding pledge to admit them some day and review their application again in December. (Albania and Croatia did ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
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595666_080403_nato2.jpg

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

President Bush's bid to win NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia turned out to be a non-starter. Member states opposed admitting the countries to a "Membership Action Plan," choosing instead to merely issue a non-binding pledge to admit them some day and review their application again in December. (Albania and Croatia did get the green light, continuing the alliance's expansion into the Balkans.) Russia's ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rozogin, was quick to declare that the review would alter nothing:

I doubt very much that in less than a year Georgia can solve its territorial problems and Ukraine can change the current proportion of NATO sympathizers," he said.

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

President Bush’s bid to win NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia turned out to be a non-starter. Member states opposed admitting the countries to a “Membership Action Plan,” choosing instead to merely issue a non-binding pledge to admit them some day and review their application again in December. (Albania and Croatia did get the green light, continuing the alliance’s expansion into the Balkans.) Russia’s ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rozogin, was quick to declare that the review would alter nothing:

I doubt very much that in less than a year Georgia can solve its territorial problems and Ukraine can change the current proportion of NATO sympathizers,” he said.

While it’s easy to attack the Russians’ motives, he’s actually quite right. Half of Ukrainians oppose joining NATO and Georgia is still grappling with decades-old territorial conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Both countries believe that NATO membership can help them resolve their internal divisions. European governments were skeptical of this approach from the beginning. Estonian President Toomas Ilves had this advice, based on his own country’s experience with NATO membership:

Don’t be a Marxist” he said, “and by that I mean Groucho Marx-ist”. He reminded the audience of the scene where Groucho Marx walks into a bank with a gun to his head claiming that he’ll take his life unless they give him all their money.

But if Georgia and Ukraine’s leaders’ understandable desire to join NATO makes them Marx brothers, Bush comes out looking like a stooge. It’s fairly clear that the primary U.S. goals in Bucharest were gaining support for a missile defense system in Eastern Europe and cajoling the Europeans into a greater commitment in Afghanistan. Why Bush would want to distract from these goals with an initiative that was bound to fail from the start is beyond me.

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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