On February 11, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated that “Georgia is moving closer to NATO thanks to its reforms, and to its significant contributions to our shared security.” Further he said that prior to joining NATO, Georgia must gain a Membership Action Plan (MAP). The MAP is a NATO program of advice, assistance and practical support that is developed to assist aspirant countries to become a member of the Alliance. Initially, it was created to tailor the individual needs of the former Yougoslav Republic of Macedonia and Montenegro to join the Alliance. While NATO requires Georgia to pass through the accession process such as the MAP, Georgia’s Defense Minister Tinatin Khidasheli speaks about the MAP as “an intermediate step”. That is to say, Georgia does not need to obtain the MAP since the country went through different reforms which can potentially be ahead of the MAP requirements. In fact, at the 2008 Bucharest Summit all leaders confirmed Georgia’s potential to become a NATO member as long as it met all necessary requirements. Since that period NATO has been constantly asserting about Georgia’s moving closer to the Alliance, however NATO has not spoken about whether aspiring Georgia will be provided the membership status in the near future.
The relationship between Georgia and NATO was established when Georgia joined the North Atlantic Cooperation Council in 1992. Then the country engaged in the Partnership for Peace program (PfP) by increasing security and defense cooperation with NATO. An immediate change in Georgia’s foreign policy towards the West right after it received an independence in 1991, can be explained by historical factor. In other words, historically Georgia was very assertive about its Euro-Atlantic identity. Therefore, when Georgia received its independence the country received a chance to fulfill its own destiny. The emergence of the Western approach in its foreign policy was significantly visible. Specifically, when Georgia contributed peacekeepers to the Kosovo Force (KFOR) in 1999 showed its support for the Western role in the international arena. However, high aspiration towards joining the Western Alliance realized as a result of the Rose Revolution of 2003. Moreover, 2008 Georgia War changed the national security policy of Georgia by representing neighbor Russia as a threat. Therefore, the necessity to be allied with NATO was of crucial importance in ensuring Georgia’s national security.
Since the establishment of the organization in 1949, NATO members were increased from 12 to 28 states. In recent days, aside from Georgia there are three aspirant countries such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. In December 2015, NATO welcomed Montenegro to begin talks regarding membership to the Alliance.  It can be argued that accession of Montenegro which does not hold strong democratic institutions, undermined NATO’s commitment to upholding democratic values, and raised the questions such as – When NATO will grant a membership for Georgia? While Montenegro succeeded in receiving the MAP, why not Georgia? Alike questions were raised by some leaders, for example, on February 25, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said that NATO should open its door for aspirant countries, otherwise the credibility of the organization can be undermined. Specifically, he called upon the organization to consider about Georgia’s accession right after Montenegro. Similarly, on February 17, Turkey supported immediate acceptance of Georgia to the Alliance, and Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu promised to raise this topic during upcoming Warsaw Summit which is planned to take place in July of 2016.
In fact, Georgia’s contribution to NATO and its progress in proceeding reforms are remarkable. It can be argued that Georgia has all practical tools for NATO membership, including an Annual National Program (ANP), the NATO-Georgia Commission and a Substantial Package, which was agreed on at a high level at the NATO Wales Summit in 2014.  Moreover, Georgia is contributing to Euro-Atlantic security since it is involved in NATO-led activities. Namely, Georgia deployed its troops as a part of KFOR (Kosovo forces), and was one of the largest non-NATO troop contributors to the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) operation in Afghanistan. In recent times, Georgia has been taking part in the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan since 2015. 
Taking everything into consideration, Georgia’s opportunity to integrate into Euro-Atlantic alliance is reasonable. Georgia has not achieved strong democratic institutions yet, however, the country is strengthening through the NATO’s coordinated programs. Considering Georgia’s efforts and contribution to the operations of NATO, and also given Montenegro’s acceptance to the Alliance, create a vision of Georgia’s moving closer to NATO. Moreover, the decision to open NATO’s training center in the territory of Georgia in 2015 has significantly strengthened the relationship between both sides.
Nevertheless, there are some geopolitical reasons that build barriers to Georgia’s accession into the Alliance. First, the problematic regions such as South Ossetia and Abkhazia are still unresolved issues, and they stall the process of accession to some extent. For example, if NATO accepts Georgia without two regions, it will mean that the West confirms the independence of the regions, which does not represent the position of the West. On the other hand, NATO is not able to accept Georgia with those problematic regions as far as Russia’s military bases locate in the regions. Second, while Georgia’s conflict with Russia over South Ossetia and Abkhazia pushes the country to be more aspiring to NATO, some members of the Alliance do not feel to be rush for giving a membership. In other words, as long as NATO’s main aim is to guarantee security for its member-countries, having Russia as a threat to Georgia’s national security would further worsen the relationship between the West and Russia. Moreover, Russia is openly stating about being against of NATO’s enlargement towards the East, specifically towards Russia’s neighbor countries. Therefore, France and Germany stand out to be the main actors who show reluctance to Georgia’s acceptance to the organization. Especially, in the globalized world where economic interdependence has a dominant significance in the relationship between countries, the prudence of Germany and France regarding the membership can be clearly justified.
To conclude, following the increasing relationship between NATO and Georgia, it can be said that Georgia is moving closer to NATO. However, we still have blurred vision of whether NATO’s requirements to Georgia will be ended. While Montenegro was given a membership status by the Alliance than Georgia, it can be said that the meeting of NATO’s standards and requirements is seen as a marginal criteria for NATO to decide whether a country is suitable for being a member. Most importantly, geopolitical factor plays a huge role in the decision-making process. Therefore, it can be argued that Georgia’s accession into NATO is not going to happen very soon. Firstly, South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions are still controversial issues. The Western recall to respect territorial integrity of Georgia has not received any prospect yet, and Russia has not given up its position on these issues. Second, current conflicting interests between the West and Russia are increasing, particularly over the Ukraine crisis and Syria War. Therefore, NATO’s enlargement towards the East is viewed with a certain negativity by Russia. Until the relationship between the West and Russia overcomes the difficulties, Georgia’s accession into the Alliance might further escalate damaged relationship between the West and Russia. Thus, some members of the Alliance might not agree on Georgia’s accession into the organization due to the ongoing strained relationship with Russia. Following this argument, Georgia’s realization of long-standing Euro-Atlantic dream is not likely to happen in the nearest future.
Note: The views expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the Institute’s editorial policy.
Aidana Arynbek was a research fellow at the Eurasian Research Institute. She holds a Masters in International Relations from the University of Warwick (UK). Aidana specializes in theories of International Relations, the Politics of International Trade, International Political Economy. Her research fields are the region of the Caspian Sea, the Caucasus and Central Asia. In 2014 she completed English for Academic Studies at INTO City University in London (UK). In 2013, she was awarded the Bolashak Scholarship of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan. The same year, she received her bachelo