In late March, for the sixth consecutive year, Georgia’s national rugby team won the European Nations Cup. The string of wins has re-opened a debate on allowing the tiny Caucasus country, which seems to have outgrown its own tournament, into the Six Nations Championship, Europe’s elite rugby cup, which includes England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland, and Wales. Yet money, not the quality of game, seems to be what Georgia lacks for the competition. Hinting at Tbilisi’s similarly unsuccessful bids to join NATO and the European Union, Georgians like to joke that the Six Nations Championship has been added to the no-go list of yet one more Western institution.
Tbilisi officially declared its intention to join NATO at the Prague Summit in 2002 and since then, it has been steadily advancing its standing with the alliance. In a gesture to recognize Georgia’s progress, NATO leaders agreed at the 2008 Bucharest Summit to eventually admit Georgia into the club. Eight years later, despite the country’s growing contribution to global security and its progress toward military and political reform, NATO member countries have remained reluctant to issue a Membership Action Plan (MAP), a standard mechanism for aspirant countries to prepare for membership.
The explanation is fairly obvious. The country’s relations with Moscow are troubled; with almost a quarter of its territory already occupied by the Russian Federation, Georgia is seen as one of the most militarily exposed countries in the region and hence, an additional worry for Western European leaders, who are generally quite unwilling to poke the Russian bear by extending NATO’s eastern frontiers. U.S. President Barack Obama, likewise, went from affirming “Georgia’s right to pursue NATO membership” in 2008 to explaining that there are “no immediate” plans to bring Georgia into the alliance in 2014. In other words, it is not much of a surprise that Georgia left empty handed from NATO summits in 2009, 2010, 2012, and 2014.
The country’s leadership, however, persists. In fact, at the upcoming Warsaw requests for a MAP and demand the outright removal of any intermediary steps to membership. The country has some standing for such a request. Georgia’s disproportionately high contributions to NATO-led military operations and its relatively successful experimentation with democracy have helped the country fulfill the two fundamental standards of NATO’s Open Door Policy.
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