Faced with a newly aggressive Russia, NATO has been considering how to react, but it is ruling out one option: rapid expansion.
Four would-be members, including the former Soviet republic of Georgia, have been informed that admission to NATO is not in the cards anytime soon. For some, that means dashed hopes. Macedonia’s foreign minister told reporters in a statement that it was a “step backward.”
The bottom line: The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, celebrating important anniversaries this year of a dozen nations joining its ranks, will welcome no new members when US President Barack Obama and other leaders convene for a summit scheduled for early September in Wales.
Analysts say that NATO members are worried about granting, or being perceived as granting, security guarantees that could quickly be tested by Russia. That is particularly true of Georgia, which has been waiting since 2008 for the US-led military alliance to make good on its promise of admission.
Before taking over Crimea from Ukraine, Russia invaded and occupied two regions of Georgia nearly six years ago — and NATO is reluctant to take any action that might provoke Moscow.
“The conflict over Ukraine has made it clear to them at NATO they have to be careful, both about security commitments and credibility,” German Council on Foreign Relations associate fellow Liana Fix said. “If you give Georgia their membership action plan, but don’t defend them if something happens, what does it say about your credibility?”
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen proclaimed recently that “NATO’s door remains open. And no third country has a veto over NATO enlargement.”
Post-Crimea, “the issues are much bigger,” said Jorge Benitez, senior fellow for trans-Atlantic security at the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank. “The question is, how much insecurity would you add to the alliance versus how much security would you bring to the alliance?”
The small Balkan nation of Macedonia was also assured of a membership invitation by NATO leaders six years ago, but will have to wait for the foreseeable future.
“Greece is acting from a position of power because it is a full member state,” Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Poposki said in the written statement.
Another former Yugoslav republic, Montenegro, is widely considered the candidate closest to achieving membership. Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic told his country’s parliament that the decision on enlargement had been postponed because of “geopolitical reasons Montenegro cannot influence.”
The fourth, Bosnia-Herzegovina, has been unable to pass a key condition set by the alliance: transfer of 63 defense facilities from local authorities to the central government, NATO officials said.