A couple of days ago POLITICO published an article by General Ben Hodges, former Commander of the United States Army Europe, where he discussed the pros and cons of the idea of placing permanent US military bases in Poland. This article is important as much as it does not only discuss the Poland-NATO-US relations with regard to Russia, but also directly mentions Georgia, putting forward an innovative model for Georgia’s membership of NATO, as well as for strengthening our country’s security.
It is no secret that the issue admitting Georgia to NATO membership is, despite the promises made in Bucharest back in 2008, not that simple for the Alliance and has in fact become a sort of a headache. This can be explained by the fact that as time passes, Georgia achieves more and more success in terms of its compatibility with the alliance as well as other criteria, which leaves NATO without mechanisms which would, on the one hand, politically encourage Georgia, and on the other effectively approximate it with the alliance or initiate the membership process. The situation went sofar that the practical dimension of the membership of the alliance is disconnected from the political decision, with major difficulties to find the ties between the two at this stage. If before 2008 the candidate countries, that successfully completed PARP and IPAP programs, had been waiting for the enactment of the Membership Action Plan (MAP) on the agenda, in Georgia’s case the successful completion of PART, IPAP and a new additional mechanism of the Substantial NATO-Georgia Package (SNGP) fails to give the guarantee (See the graphic) of such an automatic transition.
Hence, NATO is unable to give a clear and quick promise of membership, as it would be the case for MAP and at the same time, it cannot offer a new, practical and indeed needed mechanism in order to justify the acceleration of membership process. The alliance also understands the absurdity of the situation, as well as the necessity of connecting the practical and political dimensions with one another, thereby illustrating its increased responsibility towards Georgia. The July Summit of the alliance this year is hence especially important, as it will turn into a test of trust due to the existing responsibilities towards Georgia.
In his article, Ben Hodges admits that Russia was constantly accusing NATO of planning to encircle it militarily and therefore always considered the permanent placement of NATO or US forces close to its borders as provocation. Same rule applies in the case of Georgia as well. Hence, the general deems it counterproductive to foster Russian paranoia, further inflaming the already existing discord between the alliance members at the same time. So, if the permanent placement of US forces on the soil of the alliance member (Poland) is a serious political problem, fulfilling this idea with regard to Georgia is even more unreal. At the same time, the General offers an innovative solution, which is realistic both politically as well as practically, and has many positive effects.
This means boosting the scale of the rotations of NATO forces not only on the territory of Poland, but those of Georgia and Ukraine as well. The revolutionary nature of this idea stems from the following elements:
- Making a political decision becomes much simpler for the allies as this does not mean a permanent placement of forces and gives fewer arguments to skeptical member states.
- The placement of rotational forces in Georgia would be a strong political signal to Russia, as well as an admission of responsibilities towards Georgia by the alliance.
- The principle of rotational forces fosters high combat readiness of the units due to permanent movement regime and much more intensive training schedule.
- In addition, by expanding the quantitative and geographic zones of such forces, the alliance improves, especially in terms of logistics, the mechanisms of fast movement and maintenance of the forces, which is vitally important for the Eastern members of the alliance due to increased threats from Russia.
It is logical that in the context of rotational forces, Ben Hodges pays special attention to the importance of the components such as logistics, intelligence, communications and air defense, the necessity of their placement, including on the territory of Georgia. Upon implementing his idea, the NATO rotational forces stationed in Georgia might not be the US forces at all and instead come from other key members such as Germany, UK, Canada and France. Also, it is possible to combine these forces with the ones from countries especially well-disposed towards Georgia (Poland, Romania and so on). By making such a decision, meaning not focusing on the US military units solely, it is possible to markedly reduce the gravity of Russian reactions.
What do we get ultimately (See the graphic)? Ben Hodges’s idea about rotational forces offers an effective and practical solution to the NATO-Georgia dilemma. First of all, the divide between the success achieved by Georgia in the practical dimension and the decision to be made by NATO about political and more importantly effective encouragement off Georgia, disappears. The alliance manages to directly and convincingly express its ambitions, as well as increased support to Georgia and responsibilities to it. At the same time, the balance of powers actually changes in the region and the increased NATO presence on the Georgian soil is practically guaranteed, which will boost the element of not only political, but also military containment, serving as a sort of a security umbrella.
Of course, increasing the geography of rotational forces as well as their scale by involving Georgia in the process is not a full alternative to the Membership Action Plan (MAP); however, it has much stronger practical (military) component as compared to MAP, and by its importance, also achieves the political goal, which will be an acceptable formula for both parties – the alliance and Georgia. Hence, General Hodges’s plan is objectively one of the more realistic platforms, which deserves further discussion and joint actions by the alliance and Georgia.