Speaking at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos last week, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg made it clear that NATO’s future included expansion to the east, and dismissed suggestions that the alliance was weakening.
“NATO is the most successful alliance in history, and we are the most successful alliance in history for one reason: because we have been able to bring North America and Europe together after two devastating world wars,” said Mr Stoltenberg, who shared a panel with the Polish president, Andrzej Duda, Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and Italy’s European affairs minister Vincenzo Amendola.
Mr Stoltenberg stressed that the United States had increased its military presence in Europe with more troops, investment, infrastructure and exercises.
“In just a few months, we’ll hold the largest exercise with US troops for decades, in Poland and many other European countries. (…) So the US is increasing its presence in Europe. As for me, that’s a sign of US commitment to NATO, not the opposite,” he said, reassuring Central and Eastern European NATO allies who remain threatened by Russian aggression.
“I’m very glad, because I can say that NATO is still in good shape,” added Mr Duda, emphasising that joining the military alliance was one of the best decisions Poland had made since the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989.
Mr Çavuşoğlu said that his government was “all in” for the organisation’s enlargement.
“It’s good that North Macedonia is becoming a full member soon. And I hope the EU will follow this good example, that they will give [an accession date] for North Macedonia and Albania,” he said, adding that his government maintains the same approach towards Bosnia and Herzegovina whose government recently renewed its cooperation programme with NATO.
Mr Çavuşoğlu said that while Turkey had been criticised for pursuing closer relations with Russia, it was NATO’s Western powers who had yet to agree to inviting Georgia into the alliance, so as to avoid provoking Russia.
“I don’t understand why we have not invited Georgia, or activated the action plan for Georgia to become a member,” he said.
“Georgia needs us and we need an ally like Georgia. (…) Georgia should become a NATO member,” he told the audience.
Italy’s European affairs minister Vincenzo Amendola agreed – up to a point – noting that provoking Russia remains an issue not just in the case of Georgia, but Ukraine as well. President Duda also endorsed Georgia’s credentials.
“NATO is a crucial element of the free world, so we have to leave the doors open for new countries, for all these potential members who want to be with us, who want to create a protected free world with us,” the Polish president replied, supporting Georgia’s NATO bid.
Georgia’s NATO aspirations became a reality after the alliance’s Bucharest summit in 2008 endorsed the country’s membership. However, NATO accession was put on hold for domestic political reasons, with Georgia now unable to formally join the alliance since it has ongoing territorial disputes with Russia in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali, two Georgian breakaway regions that were occupied by Russia 12 years ago.
Speaking at a different panel in Davos, Georgia’s prime minister, Giorgi Gakharia, underlined that forging closer strategic ties with the EU and the United States was “crucial for Georgia to survive in a region full of challenges.”
“Georgia can play a very important role in Black Sea security,” he said, adding that membership of NATO and the European bloc were the only guarantee for the country’s security.
“We will do our best for Georgia to always be a topic of discussion when you – our friends, talk about the future of Europe,” Mr Gakharia concluded.
Aspiring to join the alliance, Georgia currently contributes to a number of NATO operations and is currently is one of the organisation’s closest external partners. The decision of the Bucharest summit to allow Georgia’s membership once it meets all accession requirements has been confirmed at all successive NATO summits.
Recent data from the US-based National Democratic Institute says that 71 per cent of Georgians support their country’s NATO bid, while 78 per cent of respondents would agree to Georgia joining the EU.