8 Αυγούστου 2014

I) Be Prepared for an Independent Scotland. II) If Scotland Goes. III) How the Transatlantic Alliance Makes America Less Secure.


Στο αμπάρι του «Μαιηλφλάουερ», στις 11 Νοεμβρίου 1620, είχαν συναχθεί όλοι οι ώριμοι άντρες του καραβιού, κατηφείς, πουριτανοί, μαυροφορεμένοι, κατά τη συνήθεια τους, και ύστερα από μια πολύωρη συζήτηση υπογράψανε το ακόλουθο έγγραφο:
«Εις το όνομα του Θεού. Αμήν. Εμείς οι υπογραφόμενοι πιστοί υπήκοοι του μεγάλου μας Κυρίου Ιακώβου, ελέω Θεού βασιλέως της Μεγάλης Βρετανίας, της Γαλλίας και της Ιρλανδίας και Προμάχου της Πίστεως, έχοντας επιχειρήσει, για τη δόξα του Θεού, την διάδοση της χριστιανικής Πίστεως και το μεγαλείο του Βασιλέως και της πατρίδος μας τούτο το ταξίδι, με τον σκοπό να εγκαταστήσουμε την πρώτη αποικία στα βόρεια μέρη της Βιρτζίνια [Νέα Αγγλία], δυνάμει του παρόντος, ενώπιον του Θεού και ενώπιον αλλήλων, συμφωνούμε να ενωθούμε σε ένα πολιτικό σώμα προς χάρη της ασφάλειας μας και της κοινωνικής τάξεως και για την προαγωγή των σκοπών που πριν αναφέραμε. Δυνάμει αυτής της συμφωνίας θα θεσπίζουμε, από καιρό σε καιρό, νόμους και θα λαμβάνουμε τις γενικές αποφάσεις που θα κρίνονται ωφέλιμες και πρόσφορες για το γενικό καλό της αποικίας. Εις πίστωσιν των ανωτέρω υπογράφουμε με τα ονόματα μας εδώ στο Καιηπ Κοδ την 11 Νοεμβρίου, βασιλεύοντος του κυρίου Ιακώβου του 18ου, Βασιλέως της Μεγάλης Βρετανίας, της Γαλλίας και της Ιρλανδίας και του 54ου της Σκωτίας. Στο έτος του Κυρίου 1620.»
Τούτο είναι το περίφημο «Σύμφωνο του Μαιηφλάουερ» που θεωρείται το ορόσημο από το οποίο αρχίζει η αμερικανική ιστορία. Με το σύμφωνο αυτό δημιουργείται μια νέα κοινωνία ανθρώπων. Είναι ένα τυπικό παράδειγμα γραπτού κοινωνικού συμβολαίου, όπως αργότερα το σκέφθηκε ο Ρουσσώ. Δεν δημιουργούνταν βέβαια ακόμα ούτε ένα καινούργιο κράτος ούτε ένα έθνος, αλλά μια κοινωνία.


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I
Be Prepared for an Independent Scotland

It wouldn't be disastrous, but Washington needs a plan.


Scottish first minister Alex Salmond recently visited the United States to take his case for Scottish independence to Washington, D.C.—and to celebrate Tartan Day in New York.
When Salmond and British prime minister David Cameron agreed to the terms of the plebiscite last May, polls showed that Scots largely opposed independence. Cameron won plaudits from unionists for refusing to concede a third option to Scottish voters—a wishy-washy version of what’s called ‘devolution max,’ which would have given the Scottish government even more powers and greater autonomy. Under the devolution legislation enacted in the first months of former prime minister Tony Blair’s government in 1997, the United Kingdom established a Scottish parliament for the first time in the nation’s history...
U.S. policymakers should be taking the possibility of an independent Scotland more seriously and, accordingly, preparing for the possible repercussions of a successful ‘Yes’ vote for U.S.-Scottish relations.
No third country has a greater stake in the outcome of the Scottish vote than the United States, which would have to reconfigure its ‘special relationship’ with what presumably would be the ‘United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland,’ while formulating a wholly new relationship with an independent Scotland. It’s a relationship that the United States has never had to consider seriously, given that when Scotland and England merged with the Act of Union in 1707, the original American colonies were still sixty-nine years away from declaring independence.
But there are important considerations that U.S. policymakers should start working through now, not in September or later, with regards to at least three key metrics—security, diplomacy and economics.
The bilateral security relationship with Scotland would be trickier than the current relationship with Great Britain, though Scotland would presumably work to quickly rejoin NATO as an independent power, and despite its differences with the United States, would be counted among its most intimate and dependable allies. Unlike the warning of former UK defense minister George Robertson earlier this week, Scotland’s independence would not be ‘cataclysmic’ for global security. The most glaring issue is the future of the Trident nuclear program—four nuclear submarines hold Britain's nuclear missiles, all of which are located in Faslane, within one of three of Her Majesty's naval bases. Though it’s likely that an independent Scotland would opt to remove the nuclear weapons, the nuclear issue would be one of the most delicate topics of negotiation between Edinburgh and London, and it could cause a wholesale reevaluation of the UK’s nuclear deterrent. That, in turn, would implicate U.S. interests in several regards, including its European security strategy, nuclear-nonproliferation efforts and the pecuniary interests of U.S. contractors who currently supply Trident missiles to the United Kingdom. But U.S. security concerns transcend Trident. Salmond has given both the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama fits, first by opposing the U.S. invasion of Iraq eleven years ago, and more recently by his government's decision in 2009 to free Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, on the basis of compassionate grounds, from Scottish prison. Megrahi was convicted in 2001 on murder charges and sentenced to life imprisonment in relation to the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988. Megrahi moved back to Libya, where he lived nearly three more years. The decision earned a stern rebuke from Obama himself, and the incident further strained U.S. relations with Salmond's government.
The United States might also worry that Scottish independence would displace one major ally with two minor allies, but that’s not necessarily the case. The remnants of the United Kingdom would still constitute an incredibly formidable world and European power. Scotland’s population of 5.3 million is larger than Norway’s and only a little smaller than Denmark’s or Finland’s. Nonetheless, it comprises just 8.4 percent of the total UK population today. While there’s some discussion that the United Kingdom without Scotland could lose its permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, it’s already the least populous state of the five permanent members, and none of the other four permanent members have an interest in opening the membership question for debate. Though what remains of the United Kingdom would have a marginally less important voice within the European Union, its scope is already limited because it’s neither a member of the eurozone nor the Schengen border-free zone. From the perspective of U.S. influence in Europe, it would be much more devastating if Cameron held a promised referendum on EU membership in 2017, and the United Kingdom—in whatever form—voted to leave the European Union. In this event, Scotland, as an independent country and presumably a member of the European Union, would become much more strategically important to the United States.
Scottish-U.S. trade would also play an important role in future relations between the two countries. Scotland's economy, which amounts to around $250 billion, is larger in nominal terms than the economies of Greece, Finland, Ireland, Portugal or Peru, once North Sea oil and gas are taken into account. An independent Scotland’s most important trading partner would presumably still be the rest of the United Kingdom. In 2012, the value of Scottish exports to the rest of the United Kingdom amounted to £47.6 billion ($79.1 billion), excluding gas and oil. But the United States was Scotland’s most important international trading partner, with £3.5 billion ($5.8 billion) in Scottish exports—more than any other single country and more than Scottish exports to France and Germany combined. Many Scottish companies and brands, from Walkers Shortbread to Standard Life, are well known in the United States. Promoting greater U.S. trade ties was the main focus of Salmond’s recent trip to the United States, and Scottish membership in the European Union would guarantee that Scotland is a party to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the free trade pact currently under negotiation by the European Union and the United States.
Beyond the immediate policy impact, there’s an important cultural component worth considering. With up to thirty million Scottish Americans in the United States, Scottish pride runs beyond kilts, bagpipes, single-malt whiskies, Sean Connery and Braveheart. The idea of an independent Scotland could nurture a renaissance of Scottish American pride that boosts tourism and other cultural links. The roots of the American revolution lie in Scotland as well—David Hume, Adam Smith, Frances Hutcheson and other great minds of the Scottish Enlightenment laid much of the intellectual groundwork of American independence. Early American leaders, from Andrew Jackson to Alexander Hamilton, trace their ancestry to Scotland, and even the character of ‘Uncle Sam’ is allegedly based on a real-life New York man whose parents arrived from Scotland. In the early years of the American republic, Scottish steamships ferried goods across the Atlantic, giving the United States a vital link to European markets. Scottish immigrants, who continued to arrive throughout the nineteenth century, contributed to American technological and cultural innovation, from the Edinburgh-born Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone to the emergence of bluegrass music among the Scottish-American communities that settled in Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina.
Of course, the future of an independent Scotland in the twenty-first century is a leap into the unknown.
In the best-case scenario, Scotland would comfortably grow into its new role. It might easily negotiate EU accession. Having incorporated the acquis communautaire, the body of EU regulatory law, into Scottish law over the past four decades, it should theoretically take little time for Scotland to become the twenty-ninth EU member. It might also work amicably with London to reach agreement on both short-term and long-term monetary policy issues, either by maintaining the British pound, joining the eurozone or forming a new, purely Scottish, currency. Its economy could prosper with the promise of residual North Sea oil and hidden energy sources that are developed as new technologies emerge. Edinburgh could take its place as an international capital and one of the centers of European finance, no longer in the shadow of the City of London. Salmond and his Scottish National Party might even, in time, transform Scotland into a social-democratic state more akin to its Nordic neighbors than to the Anglo-Saxon model of Washington and London.
In the worst-case scenario, a recalcitrant London or a nervous Madrid, unwilling to encourage its own Catalan and Basque separatists, might delay Scotland’s EU membership for years, stranding the tiny country from the free movement of goods, services and workers that it currently enjoys. An acrimonious split with the rest of the United Kingdom could lead to years of litigation and uncertainty. Lackluster energy production could dampen Scotland’s economic outlook, and further regionalism could haunt an independent Scotland if the Highlands, or the Orkney and Shetland Islands, demand greater local autonomy and control over oil revenues. If Scotland suffers a brain drain, it could end up like many countries currently on the European periphery, with dwindling public funds to service the welfare, health and education of a growing, graying nonworking population.
Neither vision of Scottish sovereignty is preordained. If Scotland’s voters opt for independence, it will be widely in the best interest of the United States that Scotland’s future move down the former, not the latter, path. The United States should start working now, however discreetly, to ensure that it has crafted a robust Scottish policy that will advance mutually beneficial U.S. and Scottish interests in the event of Scotland’s break from the rest of Britain.
Kevin A. Lees
The National Interest

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II
If Scotland Goes

First the empire disappeared. Now Britain itself could crumble.
Scottish independence would have global implications.


LATER THIS year, the United Kingdom could disunite. In September, Scotland is due to vote on whether to become an independent nation. There is a strong chance that the Scots will vote to go it alone, breaking a political union with England that was established over three hundred years ago, through the Act of Union of 1707. The Scots number only 5.3 million of the United Kingdom’s population of 63.7 million. But Scotland accounts for a large amount of Britain’s territory and coastline—and contains several of the nation’s finest universities, castles and golf courses. Moreover, Scotland is also where Britain’s nuclear weapons are based, and the country’s (dwindling) oil supplies are almost all located in Scotland’s coastal waters.
Americans who have not noticed that the United Kingdom might be about to break up can be forgiven. Even in England, many citizens are only just waking up to the idea that the nation they are living in might go poof later this year. When the UK government led by David Cameron agreed in 2012 that a referendum on Scottish independence would be held, it was widely assumed that the result would be a foregone conclusion. And it remains true that in the scores of opinion polls that have been taken since then, not one has yet shown a majority in favor of independence. Yet, earlier this year, the polls began to narrow. Several recent snapshots of public opinion have shown the gap between the “Yes” and “No” camps to be down to three to six percentage points.
There is also a discernible gap in the energy and optimism of the two campaigns. On a brief trip to Edinburgh earlier this year, I decided to try to visit a proindependence event and a prounion meeting. The Yes campaign held three meetings in the area over the course of two days. The No camp, however, seemed to have only two events scheduled—for the entire month. The proindependence camp also has a network of eager enthusiasts, which is expected to mount an effective “get out the vote” campaign. A Scottish journalist told me that if the proindependence camp managed to narrow the gap in the polls to three points by the time of the ballot, he expected they would emerge victorious in the actual vote—simply on the basis of their superior organization. So there is now visible nervousness and squabbling among the pro-UK forces. For one thing, Cameron is starting to realize that he may be seen as the feckless prime minister who presided over the loss of Scotland—giving him a place in the history books alongside Lord North, who lost the American colonies. In that event, he would surely feel compelled to resign as prime minister the day after a referendum defeat.

HOW DID it get to this point? What are the implications for Britain and the wider Western world? Any search for the origins of the current drive for Scottish independence must start by acknowledging the obvious fact that Scotland was independent of England for much of its political history. The monarchies of the two nations were unified in 1603, and a formal political union was agreed upon in 1707 only after a significant financial crisis threatened to bankrupt Scotland. Even after the political union was consummated, Scotland provided the base for two Jacobite invasions of England in 1715 and 1745. As a result, Scottish nationalism has a rich history of battles against England from which to create a national story that might justify independence. Helpfully, the referendum has been scheduled for the year of the seven hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, Scotland’s most famous victory over England. (An American friend of mine who went to a Scotland-England football match was first baffled, then awed, to see Scotland supporters carrying a banner that said “Remember 1314.”)
During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, these historic antagonisms were widely assumed to have been buried, as the English and Scots united around common enterprises—most notably the construction and management of the British Empire. The Scots played a prominent role as explorers, missionaries and imperial administrators. The threat of invasion from the Continent—first by France, then by Germany—and the experience of fighting together in the world wars also served to unite the English and Scots. In retrospect, the end of the empire after decolonization in the 1950s and 1960s probably weakened one of the central pillars of the common British identity. Moreover, the rise of the European Union provided an indirect boost to nationalism. The EU now comprises twenty-eight members. The Scots see smaller nations such as Ireland and Slovenia with an honored place at Europe’s top table, and conclude that the EU has made it viable to be a small and prosperous nation, sheltered under the European umbrella. The EU, along with NATO, is widely assumed to provide an answer to the security concerns of small European nations, although the predicament of the Baltic states may soon put that proposition to the test.
The advent of Thatcherism in Britain in 1979 provided the potent rocket fuel of resentment that is so crucial to the success of any nationalist movement. Margaret Thatcher presided over the closure or shrinkage of many of Britain’s struggling industries. Enterprises like Scotland’s steel mills, mines and shipyards were a central part of the country’s identity. Economic change probably meant that they faced a bleak future under almost any government. But mass unemployment in Scotland at the hands of a Conservative government with its political base in southern England allowed Scottish nationalists to portray their nation’s economic problems as the product of a deliberate act of class warfare by an unsympathetic, upper-class English government.
The rise of the Labour Party government in 1997—led successively by two prime ministers who grew up in Scotland, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown—seemed to hold out the promise for a renewal of the union. New Labour set up a devolved Scottish government, with considerable powers over policy areas like education and health, in a move that was intended to neutralize Scottish grievances. It didn’t. Instead, the Scottish Labour Party was itself increasingly moribund and uninspiring, with its key figures looking for careers in London and its local party notorious for machine politics. In 2011, the Scottish National Party (SNP), whose raison d’être had always been independence, defeated Labour to take control of the Scottish government in Edinburgh. At that point, the UK government felt obliged to meet the demand of the SNP for an independence referendum.
Fatefully, by this time, the government in London was once more led by a Tory prime minister who himself was something of a toff. The leaders of Thatcher’s party, with just one member of Parliament of their own in Scotland, were peculiarly ill placed to argue the case for the union in Scotland. Cameron has deliberately avoided campaigning in Scotland, tacitly acceding to the nationalists’ case that the government in Westminster lacks legitimacy in Scotland. He has also compounded long-standing problems in the relationship between England and Scotland with some serious blunders. Initially, the SNP campaigned for a third choice to be placed on the ballot—neither independence nor the status quo, but a further transfer of powers to the Scottish government in Edinburgh, while retaining Scotland within the union. Opinion polls suggested that this option, which went by the unlovely name of “devo max,” was the most popular. But Cameron balked. He refused to put it on the ballot. He apparently believed that a binary choice would allow the UK government to score a decisive victory over Scottish nationalism. This calculation, however, increasingly looks like a reckless gamble. Cameron’s second error was to fail to insist that the eight hundred thousand or so Scots residing in England should get a vote in the Scottish referendum. This deprived the strongest unionist constituency of a vote in the Scottish referendum.

CAMERON MAY rue these moves, come September. The English are still some way from imagining how their country would feel the morning after Scotland had voted for independence. But the likely reaction would be anger and incredulity. The country would immediately face some important symbolic and substantive questions. Could it still be called the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland if it loses part of the island of Great Britain? Would the United Kingdom have to redesign its flag, the Union Jack—which currently contains the Scottish cross of St. Andrew (the blue bit)?
Other, more substantive issues would quickly come into focus. The Irish question would be reopened, as Northern Ireland’s status within the United Kingdom began to look increasingly anomalous. (This is one reason, incidentally, why the government of Ireland quietly dreads the prospect of Scottish independence.) What would happen to the pound? Paradoxically, the SNP—in a bid to reassure voters—has said that it would like to retain the pound. Downing Street, however, has ruled out a currency union.
This is not all. What would happen to the totems of British power and international status, the permanent membership on the UN Security Council and the nuclear weapons? The UN role would probably pass straight to the continuing government in London, much as the Russian Federation inherited the Soviet Union’s Security Council membership.
Britain’s nuclear arsenal represents a more difficult issue, since the country’s Trident nuclear weapons are kept on submarines, whose home port is the Faslane base in Scotland. It would take many years and up to £20 billion to build similar basing facilities in England. So unless the English government can persuade the Scots to abandon their current plan to go nonnuclear, Britain’s deterrent would immediately come into question. This might not be a major source of regret in Washington, since some American strategists are increasingly dismayed by the proportion of Britain’s dwindling defense budget that is eaten up by maintaining a nuclear deterrent, while more useful capacities are sliced away. Nonetheless, Britain’s defense strategy would be immediately thrown into crisis by Scottish independence. In addition to the nuclear weapons, some 50 percent of the Royal Air Force’s combat aircraft would have to redeploy south of the border.
Some analysts assume that an independent Scotland would swiftly reverse its position on nuclear weapons—particularly since a decision to go nonnuclear might complicate Scotland’s effort to join NATO. One possible deal that has been mooted posits that England might agree to share the pound with Scotland in return for maintenance of the nuclear status quo. Yet such speculation may underestimate the extent to which the SNP is wedded to an antinuclear theology. The party’s campaign documents refer to Trident missiles as “an affront to basic decency.” The SNP’s position on nuclear weapons is part of a broadly left-wing approach to foreign policy that might cause surprise and irritation in the United States. For the Scottish Left, it is axiomatic that one of the malign effects of union is that Scotland has been dragged along as the United Kingdom slavishly joined in “illegal” American wars, particularly in Iraq.
Would all this matter for the broader Western alliance? One well-placed observer who argues that Scottish independence would be a calamitous blow is Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, himself a Scot and a former secretary general of NATO. In a recent speech in Washington, Lord Robertson argued, “For the second military power in the West to shatter this year would be cataclysmic in geopolitical terms.” It would, he said, “rob the West of a serious partner just when solidity and cool nerves are going to be vital.... The forces of darkness would simply love it.”
Lord Robertson’s argument extends well beyond the practical issues of nuclear weapons and air-force bases. The pessimists fear that the breakup of the United Kingdom would be a major blow to the confidence of a hitherto outward-looking and engaged international power. It would inevitably consume an immense amount of political energy for the government in London. If Scotland were to vote for independence this September, that would not be the end of the matter. On the contrary, it would mark the beginning of a tortuous process of divorce negotiations. The administrations in Westminster and Edinburgh have pledged to conduct any such negotiations in good faith. But divorce proceedings have a habit of getting nasty. It is certainly possible to envisage a stalemate emerging on any number of issues, from the currency to the division of the national debt to nuclear weapons. If Parliament in Westminster were unhappy with the result of independence negotiations, it would be within its rights simply to refuse to repeal the Act of Union until a more satisfactory deal were struck. The result would be an unholy constitutional mess, generating bitter feelings on both sides of the Scottish-English border.

THE VISION of Scotland breaking away from the United Kingdom would also have pan-European and even global implications. Other would-be nations—from Catalonia to Quebec and from Tibet to Chechnya—are watching the process with fascination.
The government of Spain, in particular, is deeply uncomfortable with the very process of a Scottish referendum on independence, let alone the prospect that Scotland might indeed become a sovereign nation. That is because the movement for Catalan independence is stronger than it has been for many years, and is also demanding a referendum on independence. But Catalonia accounts for a much more significant share of Spain’s population, GDP and cultural riches than Scotland represents in the United Kingdom. As a result, Scottish independence could provoke a crisis both within Spain and within the broader European Union. The Scottish Nationalists proclaim themselves to be proud pro-Europeans (unlike, they argue, the English, who are held to be narrow-minded, anti-European xenophobes) and have always assumed that an independent Scotland would either remain as a member of the EU or would swiftly gain readmittance. But there is a very real prospect that Spain would attempt to thwart a Scottish application to join the EU, in an effort to show the Catalans that independence would mean isolation within Europe.
A row over Scotland would provoke bitter arguments within an EU that is already in the grip of a profound economic and political crisis. The picture would be further complicated by the hapless Cameron’s promise that Britain will hold a separate referendum on its own membership in the EU by the end of 2017. The effects of Scottish independence on Britain’s attitude toward Europe are unpredictable. It could make the British less confident about going it alone. On the other hand, the polls suggest that the English are slightly more hostile toward the EU than the Scots, meaning that a United Kingdom without Scotland would be a little more likely to leave the European Union as well.
The British like to believe that the way in which they are allowing the Scots to vote on independence will set a global example of the civilized and democratic way in which to handle separatist and independence movements. It is certainly hard to think of many other instances of nations that would allow themselves to be broken up by democratic means. The independence referenda that Canada has allowed for Quebec represent one obvious example. The peaceful division of Czechoslovakia is another. Elsewhere, from Tibet to Chechnya to (so far) Catalonia, separatist movements tend to get short shrift from established national governments. In the modern era—from South Sudan to Eritrea to East Timor to the former Yugoslavia—new states that have broken away and established themselves as independent nations have tended to do so against a background of violence.
In the abstract, it is possible that the Scottish independence referendum could provide an inspiring example of how to handle these issues in a civilized manner. As a practical matter, it is delusional. When Russia organized the breakaway referendum in Crimea, for example, Vladimir Putin and his supporters cited the Scottish precedent as a justification for Crimean self-determination. Of course, the difference between an agreed-upon, meticulous process that takes place over years and one that was rammed through in days using force should be patently obvious. Even so, the idea that boundaries can be redrawn within Europe to accommodate national aspirations is a potentially disruptive one. (Newly assertive Hungarian nationalists might also take note.) The Scots insist that theirs is a “civic” nationalism, not an ethnic nationalism—but the distinction is likely to be lost on the likes of Putin and Viktor Orban.
Still, if it happens, for all the difficulties and irritations involved in negotiating the divorce settlement, there are few countries that are better prepared to handle the process than the United Kingdom. Decades of decolonization have given the British plenty of practice in drawing down the flag and marching away with dignity. It can be done again. For all the understandable anxieties of Lord Robertson and others, England’s self-confidence and ability to play a role in the world would survive the blow of Scotland’s separation. The British managed to absorb the loss of the American colonies, the independence of Ireland and the independence of India—and still retained a strong sense of their own identity and greatness as a nation. If it came to it, they would absorb the independence of Scotland without too much fuss.
Gideon Rachman
The National Interest

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III
How the Transatlantic Alliance Makes America Less Secure

America is willing to risk war with a nuclear-armed power to protect countries that matter little for U.S. security


Leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization met in Wales in the shadow of the Ukraine war. Alliance advocates hoped to use the conflict to revive NATO, but responded, as usual, mostly with promises.
In fact, Ukraine demonstrates how the military pact today makes Americans less secure. Expanding NATO to countries such as Georgia would multiply the risks faced by the United States for little gain.
The transatlantic pact was created at a particular time in response to a particular threat. Washington desired to “contain” the Soviet Union in the aftermath of World War II, which had left Europe devastated. An American shield would allow the continent to revive economically, but U.S. leaders, like President Dwight Eisenhower, worried lest the alliance make the Europeans dependent.
That fear turned out to be well grounded. European governments discovered that it didn’t matter how little they spent on the military or respected America’s priorities. Washington would keep them secure. NATO’s European members broke promises to devote more money to the military, built a natural-gas pipeline to the Soviet Union, aided Washington’s enemies in Latin America and blocked overflight by U.S. planes to bomb Libya. But the United States continued to defend the continent.
At least there was a plausible case that doing so was in America’s interest. While a Soviet attack on Western Europe seemed unlikely, Washington was determined to prevent any hostile power from gaining control of Eurasia. Better safe than sorry.
But that possibility disappeared with the Cold War. Russia lost a third of the USSR’s population. The military shrunk in size and diminished in effectiveness. Even more dramatic was Europe’s economic success and political consolidation. Today, the European Union enjoys an 8-1 economic advantage and 3-1 population edge. The Europeans don’t need America’s protection.
Yet U.S.-dominated NATO expanded through Central and Eastern Europe up to Russia’s borders. The new members added to Washington’s defense responsibilities without providing countervailing military benefits. Most notable were the Baltic States, which have troubled relations with large ethnic-Russian populations. Existing members never seriously considered the possibility that adding new members could lead to war with Russia.
Now the newly fearful Baltics and Poland are demanding “reassurance” that they will be defended by the original members, meaning the United States. These countries want permanent garrisons, which would act as tripwires ensuring that Washington will come to their defense if Moscow attacks.
While the alliance didn’t approve such deployments, member governments took a number of steps, which, explained Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, demonstrated that “NATO protects all allies, at all times. And it sends a clear message to any potential aggressor: should you even think of attacking one ally, you will be facing the whole alliance.” This means America is willing to risk war with a nuclear-armed power to protect countries that matter little for U.S. security.
Yet expansion may not be over. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Georgia all want in. (Ukraine may join the parade, but until recently, both the government and public rejected the idea after a previous government applied for membership.) The first three matter little; they are small states threatened by no one and irrelevant to U.S. security. There’s no reason to induct them, but doing so likely would have little impact, positive or negative, on U.S. security.
Far more problematic is Georgia’s candidacy. Tbilisi has long courted NATO, even providing troops for the allies’ Kosovo mission. After the “Rose Revolution” the Saakashvili government accelerated cooperation with NATO and hired an adviser to Sen. John McCain as a lobbyist. At the April 2008 NATO summit, alliance leaders agreed that Georgia would eventually become a member.
Although the process then was derailed by the latter’s war with Russia, Tbilisi continued to press forward. Before the latest summit, Georgia’s ambassador to the United States, Archil Gegeshidze, argued that “the United States and NATO should …voice their support for Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations and provide a clear path for Georgia’s NATO membership.” Vice President Joe Biden met with Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili and issued a statement supporting “Georgia’s NATO-membership aspirations.”
Although the allies did not approve a “membership action plan” or formal accession path for Georgia, they agreed to a “Defense Capacity Building Initiative” which, said Rasmussen, was “to reinforce our commitment to partner nations.” Citing Tbilisi’s cooperation with NATO, alliance members offered Tbilisi a promise of “Enhanced Partner” status. NATO’s “substantive package,” explained NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, “will help Georgia advance in its preparations towards membership of NATO.” Rasmussen emphasized the desire to “enhance our cooperation.” The alliance intends to hold military exercises and create a training facility in Georgia.
Moreover, the White House announced that it was “working closely with NATO to develop more robust assistance and engagement programs” for Georgia, among other nations. The administration pointed to the U.S. European Reassurance Initiative, which was intended to build Tbilisi’s capacity “to provide for their own defense and increase interoperability with Western forces.” The United States planned “to intensify security assistance over the longer term.”
Nevertheless, NATO membership is not assured and Tbilisi remains frustrated with its slow progress. Before the summit, explained Defense Minister Irakli Alasania: “there’s a sense of disappointment in general that we’ve performed and contributed more than some NATO members.”
Georgia’s allies also are pushing for more. For instance, argued the Heritage Foundation’s Luke Coffey, the alliance should make clear that “As long as it meets the strict criteria, Georgia’s future is in NATO.” He urged continued training exercises as “a visible sign of NATO’s support.”
Yet no one in Washington seems to be asking the most important question: would adding Tbilisi to NATO make America more secure internationally?
Military alliances are not social organizations or gentlemen’s clubs. Rather, military alliances are supposed to enhance the security of their members. Which means the United States should only agree to add new defense dependents if doing so would better protect America or otherwise advance significant American interests. Bringing Georgia into the alliance would not do so.
The country is of no intrinsic strategic interest to the United States. Georgia was part of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. Washington never saw a need to promote Tbilisi’s independence. Georgia’s recent warm embrace of the United States does not increase the country’s geopolitical importance to America. Tbilisi’s relations with Russia raise humanitarian, not strategic, issues. Having another friendly regime on the Black Sea would be convenient for Washington, but would offer few meaningful benefits.
Gegeshidze argued that moving Georgia toward NATO membership would “increase stability and security in the region.” That would be true only if Moscow was thereby deterred from taking military action, including the asymmetrical forms of war employed in Ukraine. However, history is littered with examples of alliances that fail to deter adversaries.
Russia’s interest in Georgia will always be several magnitudes greater than America’s interest, which means Moscow will both risk more than America and doubt Washington’s willingness to go to war. Equally important, a security commitment could embolden Georgia to challenge Moscow. And any resulting conflict would be far more likely to draw in the United States.
Moreover, Georgia celebrates its role as America’s domestique in the latter’s misguided attempts at nation-building in Afghanistan and Iraq. (Tbilisi also has contributed independently to European military missions.) Bush administration aide Damon Wilson argued that it “would be incredibly shortsighted to wash our hands of” nations that backed America. Similarly, Coffey wrote: “The Georgians have earned this support.”
But Tbilisi’s contributions—though obviously welcome—do not warrant a U.S. defense commitment. Georgia’s Afghan contingent is significant for such a small nation, but would remain of limited benefit to the United States, even if that war was worthwhile.
Ironically, these efforts risk Tbilisi’s ability to deter Russian adventurism. Participation in war has given Georgian military personnel combat experience, but the country is configuring its forces for U.S.-oriented missions. For instance, last year, Tbilisi announced its intention to shift toward an antiterrorism workforce as part of the NATO doctrine of “Smart Defense,” leaving more conventional defense to others. Georgia should not give up defending against Russia in hopes that the United States and other members will fill the gap.
There’s also the international pique argument. Retired Adm. James Stavridis, former military commander of NATO, contended that it’s important to “show the Russians that Russia doesn’t get a vote on who gets into NATO.” No doubt, one shouldn’t let a potential adversary dictate with whom one allies. However, the likelihood of conflict between a potential nuclear-armed adversary and a potential ally of no strategic importance should affect Washington’s assessment of the security value of an alliance. In this case, the costs would be far greater than the benefits for America.
Georgia has offered to exclude Abkhazia and South Ossetia, separatist territories backed by Russia, from the alliance’s Article 5 guarantee and made a “non-use of force” pledge toward the two. However, having promised to defend Georgia, the United States could not easily renege based on its assessment of Tbilisi’s behavior in a complex international confrontation. One can imagine the cries of lost credibility from the war lobby if Washington left a treaty ally in the lurch.
Yet politics in Tbilisi inflates the risks of offering Georgia a security guarantee. Some of those most enamored of confrontation with Moscow have accused Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream party, which ousted former president Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement from power two years ago, of being pro-Russian. With the growth of fears of Hungary and nationalist parties in Europe acting as an effective Fifth Column, why add another possible one?
Moreover, the United States has criticized the Georgian government for charging former president Saakashvili and several of his aides for misbehavior while in office. Apparent political motivation does not mean the charges are unjustified, but the prosecution suggests a lack of political maturity and potential for instability that are undesirable in an alliance partner.
Anyway, we have a dramatic example of Georgian recklessness vis-à-vis Russia: the 2008 war. Who was “right” in this dispute is hard to say, since there long has been antagonism between Georgia and the territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia used the dispute for its own ends, but that doesn’t justify Georgia’s actions.
President Saakashvili evidently was determined to win back the territories with force. His own officials indicated that they discounted the likelihood of Russian intervention and expected U.S. support. Georgia’s role was affirmed by a European investigative commission after the conflict. Reported Spiegel online: “a majority of members tend to arrive at the assessment that Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili started the war by attacking South Ossetia on August 7, 2008. The facts assembled . . . refute Saakashvili’s claim that his country became the innocent victim of ‘Russian aggression’ on that day.” Retired British Col. Christopher Langton said: “Georgia’s dream is shattered, but the country can only blame itself for that.”
NATO apparently had its suspicions. Spiegel online reported:
“One thing was already clear to the officers at NATO headquarters in Brussels: They thought that the Georgians had started the conflict and that their actions were more calculated than pure self-defense or a response to Russian provocation. In fact, the NATO officers believed that the Georgian attack was a calculated offensive against South Ossetian positions to create the facts on the ground.”
Nor was the Bush administration ignorant. The panel pointed to a remark by then assistant secretary of state Daniel Fried that President Saakashvili “went out of control.” Imagine the behavior of Tbilisi had it been a member of NATO.
There is much to admire in Georgia’s effort to forge a separate and free national existence. Given its history and location, the task was never going to be easy. But natural sympathy is no argument for bringing Tbilisi into NATO. Washington should reserve the promise to go to war for countries vital for American security. Georgia is not one of those countries.
Why Washington continues to defend populous and prosperous allies such as the European states is not obvious. With a greater collective GDP and population, the Europeans should be defending America. In any case, the United States should not add new defense dependents, such as Georgia, that would bring far more security risks than geopolitical benefits.

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