NATO and Georgia – Coming Closer
Speech by NATO Deputy Secretary General Ambassador Alexander Vershbow, Atlantic Council of Georgia, Tbilisi, 30 January 2015
Ladies and Gentlemen. Thank you for that kind introduction. It’s great to be back in Georgia, a country I first visited as a student back in 1969!
The Atlantic Council of Georgia has become a real authority on Euro-Atlantic integration and security here in this country. I am very honored to be the first in your “Distinguished Speaker Series”, and I will do my best to live up to that accolade.
This year was a watershed year for the security of the Euro-Atlantic region. Let me offer some thoughts how NATO has responded, and what that means for the NATO-Georgia partnership. The Wales Summit was a key part of this response, but let me address it in a broader perspective.
Here in Europe, Russia has turned into an aggressive, unpredictable power. Of course, we saw worrying signs of that reckless behavior before, in particular here in Georgia seven years ago. But by annexing part of another country, waging an undeclared war of subversion in Eastern Ukraine, and intimidating its other neighbors, Russia has gone a decisive step further.
Meanwhile, to our south, violent extremism has been spreading across Africa and the Middle East, and coming closer to our own borders. And as we have seen in Paris and elsewhere these past few weeks, it has inspired home-grown terrorists to strike right at the very heart of our own societies.
These challenges come on top of other transnational threats, like missile proliferation, cyber terrorism, and energy cut-offs. They seriously threaten the rules-based European security order that we built with so much effort since the end of the Cold War – an order based on respect for the rule of law, the sanctity of borders, and the right of every sovereign nation to decide its own future.
That values- and rules-based order has given nations across this continent greater security, prosperity and opportunities than ever before. NATO has been both a key driver and a central pillar of that European order. And we are determined now to do all we can to preserve it and to strengthen it.
At our NATO Summit in Wales in September, we charted a clear course.
We are, first of all, strengthening our own collective defence against potential aggression. We are making our NATO forces more agile, more responsive and better able to meet any threat, whether from the East or from the South. We are holding more and larger military exercises. And we are increasing our presence in the Eastern part of our Alliance, both to reassure our Allies there and to deter anyone who might wish to challenge us, either directly or using “hybrid” warfare as we have seen in Ukraine.
All the measures that we are now implementing are defensive. They are also transparent, and fully in line with our international commitments – because, unlike Russia, NATO Allies do stick by the rules.
At the same time, we are not just strengthening our own resilience. We are also making a determined effort to strengthen the resilience of our neighbors: to help them to strengthen their place in the European security order, and to withstand pressure that they may face from Russia due to their foreign policy choices.
Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova have all held democratic elections. They have all voted for Europe and for the democratic values and principles it stands for. We want to help all countries who make such a choice to stay on the path of democratic reform, and to realise their Euro-Atlantic ambition.
NATO Allies see this not only as a moral duty. We also know it is simply smart to help our neighbors to strengthen their defence capacity, and to be better able to meet security challenges in their own region. That’s because, if our neighbors are more stable, we ourselves are more secure.
There’s something else that we know: that it will be much easier to build a stable European security order with Russia, and not against Russia.
NATO does not seek to isolate Russia. Russia is isolating itself. We have suspended our practical cooperation, but we have kept our channels of communication open. And we continue to aspire to a constructive NATO-Russia relationship based on trust, where we hold frank political discussions and work together to meet common challenges.
But Russia must want such a relationship too. And it must take concrete steps to make it happen. It must comply fully with its international commitments, respect the sovereignty of all its neighbors, and contribute to a peaceful solution of the Ukraine crisis in line with international law and previous agreements. Sadly, events of the last few days suggest that Russia is taking the opposite course.
The Summit in Wales in September, we took a number of decisions to help Ukraine in the face of Russia’s pressure. But we also agreed a substantial NATO-Georgia package, with a range of measures that are aimed both at helping Georgia to better look after its own security, and to move Georgia closer to NATO membership.
The decision that NATO leaders took at an earlier Summit, in Bucharest in 2008, still stands: your country will become a member of NATO, provided that it meets all the necessary requirements.
Since we took that decision in Bucharest seven years ago, successive Georgian governments have implemented ambitious reforms and made good use of the NATO-Georgia Commission and our Annual National Programme. NATO Allies welcome the democratic development of your country, and the modernisation of your military forces and your defence institutions.
We are now very keen to give that progress a further push with the package we agreed at Wales, a package that contains all the tools necessary for Georgia to meet its membership aspirations.
Among those tools are strategic-level advice to your Ministry of Defence and General Staff. To this end, we want to further strengthen the NATO Liaison Office that has already operated for a number of years here in Tbilisi. We also aim to have a core team of NATO country advisors embedded in the Ministry, complemented by experts in specific areas on a permanent basis or on frequent rotations.
Another measure is the establishment of a Joint Training and Evaluation Centre. This will be the most visible element of a NATO presence in Georgia. The Centre could host live and simulated training and certification for Allied and partner military units, in particular for units committed to the NATO Response Force. And it could also host exercises and training in support of our Connected Forces initiative.
Indeed, starting this year, we aim to hold periodic military exercises here in your country, with NATO Allies as well as with other interested NATO partners.
These are all substantial measures. They demonstrate NATO’s commitment to deepen our partnership, and ultimately to improve Georgia’s fitness for NATO membership. Implementing the measures will require important political and financial commitments, by NATO Allies on the one hand and by Georgia on the other. But we have already made good progress in finding the necessary resources. And we should be able to advance our work when our Defence Ministers meet in the NATO-Georgia Commission at our NATO Headquarters in Brussels next Thursday.
Of all our partner countries, Georgia has been one of the largest contributors to our NATO operations. This applies, in particular, to our common effort to make Afghanistan more stable and secure. And I want to use this opportunity to honor the brave Georgian soldiers who have been killed or wounded during their deployment alongside NATO soldiers.
Working shoulder-to-shoulder has led to a high degree of interoperability between our military forces. And that interoperability remains another priority for our cooperation – because it is critical if we want to meet other challenges together in the future, and it is critical for Georgia to continue to move from partnership with NATO to membership in NATO.
Along with Sweden, Finland, Australia and Jordan, your country has been invited to pursue “enhanced opportunities” for interoperability with NATO. We are still looking into the specific measures we will take. But these could include: closer political consultations; earlier involvement in exercise planning; and stronger ties to our NATO Command Structure.
In order to continue to move closer to NATO, Georgia itself must stay on the path of democratic reform. We appreciate the legislative work that was undertaken last year, especially the adoption of an anti-discrimination law and a human rights strategy. The signature of the EU Association Agreement was an important step in meeting your European aspiration. That too is linked to your democratic reforms.
Further progress will require continued constructive engagement between the government and the opposition. And it will require dialogue and cooperation between all branches of the executive, as well as with Georgia’s vibrant civil society.
In the coming months, NATO Allies will be keeping an especially close eye on the implementation of adopted legislation and, especially, on the reform of the Prosecutor’s Office and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. And I had good discussions on these issues the past 24 hours.
Even the perception of selective justice and politically motivated prosecutions must be avoided. And the rule of law must be respected in each and every case. That is a fundamental principle within the NATO Alliance that Georgia wants to join, and for the entire European order that we are determined to uphold and to protect.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
NATO and Georgia have a strong partnership. We have an active political dialogue. There is close cooperation between our military forces. And we work together constructively in many other areas.
All the tools are in place to help Georgia to move forward with its NATO aspirations. And all 28 NATO Allies are fully committed to Georgia’s future membership. With the necessary political commitment here in Georgia, and with your continued support, we can make it happen. And I am sure that it will happen.