Military Modernization in Post Rose Revolution Georgia (Part Two)

Below is part two of a three-part series examining military modernization in Georgia during the years following the Rose Revolution. In part one, I introduced the issues that inspired the revolution and outlined the problems that faced the new government of former President Mikheil Saakashvili that came to power in the months following the deposing of former President Eduard Shevardnadze.

In part two (below), I outline the factors that inspired the efforts of the Saakashvili government to modernize the Georgian military and highlight Georgia’s pursuit of NATO membership and its security umbrella. Further, I explain how the path to membership in the Atlantic Alliance, known unofficially as the Membership Action Plan (MAP) drove the defense and national security priorities of the Saakashvili government.

You can find part one of this series here. Thank you for reading.

Eric Jones
Foreign Intrigue


Failure: NATO, MAP, and Integration Efforts

NATO was founded on April 4, 1949 with the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty. The foundation for the so-called Atlantic Alliance is Article V, which is invoked with an attack upon a member state:

“…the basis of a fundamental principle of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. It provides that if a NATO Ally is the victim of an armed attack, each and every other member of the Alliance will consider this act of violence as an armed attack against all members and will take the actions it deems necessary to assist the Ally attacked. This is the principle of collective defence.” (NATO and the Scourge of Terrorism)

Codified and implemented into the original treaty, the article provides for the collective defense of the member states, guaranteeing the military and political support of all states in the event of an attack against one or more:

The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area. Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall immediately be reported to the Security Council. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security. (“NATO and the Scourge of Terrorism”)

Map of the Caucasus and its proximity to NATO member Turkey and the Middle East.

Map of the Caucasus. Note Georgia’s geographic location with regard to NATO member Turkey and the country’s proximity to the wider Middle East.

The so-called “Membership Action Plan” (MAP), laid out by NATO leaders in 1999, lists five areas of progress by which a prospective member state would be measured while undergoing evaluation for admission to the Atlantic Alliance. The plan is a roadmap for admission of new member states to NATO. Through meeting each of the standards, a member state theoretically sustains the MAP standard in key areas of political stability, military capability, and economic expenditure that ensures the state will meet requirements if Article V is implemented. Each of the five steps is benchmark standard that prospective member states are encouraged to achieve in order to thoroughly present a case for membership to the alliance. NATO officially states that MAP is the Atlantic Alliance’s program designed to integrate prospective member states:

The Membership Action Plan (MAP) is a NATO programme of advice, assistance and practical support tailored to the individual needs of countries wishing to join the Alliance. Participation in the MAP does not prejudge any decision by the Alliance on future membership. (“NATO and the Scourge of Terrorism”)

The MAP is an important factor in any analysis of the catalysts for the Russo-Georgian war of 2008. In the years following the breakup of the Soviet Union and the creation of the Russian Federation, the geopolitical interests of the regime in Moscow largely revolved around preserving the historical influence of Russia over its so-called “near abroad”. In the years immediately after the independence of the former Soviet republics and former member states in the defunct Warsaw Pact, Russian policy makers and strategists worked to ensure that Western enlargement of both the EU and NATO did not encroach upon the near abroad.

The latent fear among strategists in Moscow was a permanent loss of political and military influence over the former Soviet republics, specifically. In negotiating from a position of weakness as the so-called “shock therapy” economic reforms of the nascent Russian state catalyzed hyper-inflation and dramatically escalating unemployment, Russian President Boris Yeltsin ceded to NATO insistence that the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary be placed on a path to member state status. In 1995, Yeltsin and United States President Bill Clinton signed an agreement that would essentially pave the way toward reduced Russian influence over its near abroad and pave the way for other states to be integrated to the Atlantic Alliance. At the conclusion of a summit in Moscow between the Russian and American presidents, the way forward for NATO expansion was cemented, establishing in no small way the basis for how the geopolitical interests of western European nations and those of a Russian state under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin was eventually conflate to catalyze the 2008 war in Georgia:

In Budapest in December, Mr. Yeltsin stiffly warned Mr. Clinton of the dangers of a “cold peace,” condemned new divisions in Europe and blocked Russia’s path toward a partnership with NATO. The partnership is intended to bring former members of the Warsaw Pact into a closer relationship with NATO that could lead to full membership.

Russia remains opposed to rapid NATO expansion to Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Washington says talks on NATO expansion will take place, gradually and openly, regardless of Moscow’s views.

Mr. Yeltsin was always unlikely to bless NATO expansion now, as Russia, with much military display, celebrates the 50th anniversary of the victory over Nazism, which put the eastern half of Europe under Moscow’s sway in the first place. (Steven Erlanger, “Summit in Moscow: The Overview; Clinton and Yeltsin Find Way to Ease Strains at Least a Bit”, The New York Times, May 11, 1995)

Moscow’s primary concern was the slow encroachment of NATO to its western and southern flanks. The newly independent states occupying the land in this region were former Soviet republics. These states included the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, countries that would become members of the Atlantic Alliance in its sixth iteration of enlargement, signing on in March 2004 (RG Gidadhubli, “Expansion of NATO: Russia’s Dilemma”, Economic & Political Weekly, Vol. 39, No. 19, May 8-14, 2004 {p. 1885-1887}). The strategic location of these three states specifically inspired growing concern among Russian nationalists that NATO would enlarge to the very doorstep of the Russian Federation. As RG Gidadhubli noted at the time of enlargement of the Baltic nations:

Russian leaders were extremely concerned about the security of Russia on the issue of the ‘current military doctrine of expansion of NATO’ and in particular that of the Baltic states joining this alliance. They faced a serious dilemma as to how to respond to the new situation. It was possibly felt that the policy of confrontation with NATO under new scenario in Europe would have led to the isolation of Russia, which was not in Russia’s interest. Similarly, some Russian leaders and political analysts realized the fact that a strong view prevailed among the western powers that the expansion of EU and NATO should help build a secure, stable, and prosperous Europe. Hence it was a pragmatic consideration of the fact that Russia had much to gain from this scenario.[6]

This iteration of NATO enlargement, specifically, calcified the fears of Russian officials that eventual integration of Ukraine and Georgia (both former Soviet republics) was a top priority of NATO strategists.

In 2008, NATO held its 20th summit in Bucharest, Romania. The summit codified Georgia’s pursuit of membership in the Atlantic Alliance. Strongly supported by the administration of President George W. Bush of the United States, Georgia found strong opposition to its membership ambitions in Russia. Inside the alliance, the governments of Germany (led by Chancellor Angela Merkel), Great Britain (led by Prime Minister Gordon Brown), and France (President Nicolas Sarkozy) noted support for Georgia (as well as Ukraine) in joining NATO but reserved judgment on the proper time for implementation of MAP specifically in integrating Georgia. The New York Times reported:

The debate is ostensibly over the mechanisms through which Georgia and Ukraine will, at some point, become members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. But the real debate is over relations with Russia, especially in the aftermath of its conflict last summer with Georgia. And those ties with Moscow are wrapped up in domestic politics, both in Germany and the United States. (Steven Erlanger, The New York Times, “Georgia and Ukraine Split NATO Members”, October 30, 2008.)

In my conclusion, part three, I will explain how the efforts of the Saakashvili regime to modernize the military failed to adequately prepare Georgia to defend itself against a large threat that was facing the country: an attack by an external power. In the case of the war that would materialize in August 2008, that external power would turn out to be Russia.


(Featured photo courtesy of ArsAgraphy and Wikimedia Commons)


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Eric Jones

Eric Jones

Director, Co-founder, and Editor in Chief at Foreign Intrigue. Eric researches and writes about international affairs and US foreign policy, particularly Europe, Russia, the Balkans, the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. You can email Eric at Follow Eric on Twitter via @Intrigue_Jones. Follow Foreign Intrigue on Facebook here: