By Former Prime Minister of Georgia, Amb Grigol Mgaloblishvili
Francois Hollande’s statement on March 4 about halting NATO enlargement process and “temporarily” closing the Alliance’s door carries a very dangerous message, both for the Alliance and for its partners. But more importantly, it displays a lack of vision about how to handle the crisis of revisionist Russia.
The fundamental blunder of Hollande’s appeasing stance lies in a misreading of Russia’s strategy—what Russia opposes is not NATO enlargement per se but a state building process in its neighborhood. NATO and EU membership are just simple tools allowing the aspirant counties to free themselves from their Soviet legacy. NATO’s enlargement process has played a key role in transforming once totalitarian and corrupt European states into modern, open and democratic societies. It has significantly expanded the boundaries of stability and democracy in Europe. Closing this door carries a message that millions of Europeans will be deprived of the chance to pursue democratic reforms and are doomed instead to be part of Russia’s sphere of influence. Moreover, it jeopardizes the universal rights of the free nations to make their sovereign choices and devalues the idea of the “Europe whole, free and at peace.”
President Hollande’s veiled attempt to accommodate Russia’s demands by halting the NATO enlargement process won’t diffuse the tension. Quite the contrary, it will further embolden Moscow to carry on its aggression against its neighbors, dismembering those states as pay-back for “disloyalty” to Moscow. The Russian formula is pretty simple – instigate a conflict, create a permanent source of instability, take the Euro-Atlantic integration process as hostage of this engineered “frozen conflict” and consequently, impede the transformation of the post-Soviet area into a free and democratic space. As the Russian president admitted in the aftermath of the Georgian-Russian conflict – had he not acted (in 2008) the geopolitical realities would be different and a number of countries would have become members of NATO by now.
President Hollande’s statement must have sounded like music to Moscow’s ear and served as a further attestation that the well versed strategy of subjugating “disloyal” neighbors is up and running. Invading Ukraine has started bearing its first fruits, as NATO’s open door policy has not just been put on hold, but also openly questioned and challenged by one of the alliance’s founding members. Thus, it should not come to any one’s surprise to see a continuation of Russia’s military adventurism in other parts of its neighborhood. It certainly ensures a hampering of the Euro-Atlantic perspective in the post-Soviet space.
Perhaps most regrettably, President Hollande has undermined the fundamental principle of the North Atlantic Alliance that no third party holds veto power over its decisions. The idea that any European democracy, able and willing to contribute to the Euro-Atlantic security, can become a member of the Alliance has been openly challenged. This pitiful attempt to halt NATO’s open door policy is the implicit recognition of Moscow’s ability to dominate the Alliance’s consensus based decision-making process. But more importantly, it brings up memories of the early twentieth century when smaller European nations were carved up by power politics and not principles per se. The adherence to a policy of convenience rather than one of principles risks undermining the most precious asset of the Alliance – its credibility.
President Hollande’s statement invites more trouble rather than diffusing the tension. It undermines the founding principles of the North Atlantic Alliance, puts at risk its credibility and turns Europe into more perilous place. A very impressive achievement for a single press conference.
The views presented in this OpEd are those of the author and do not reflect the NDU or the Department of Defense