Get real about ‘enlarging Europe’

Membership of EU and NATO continues to be a thorny question for the countries of Eastern Europe and for Turkey. Arrangements short of full membership offer economic and security benefits and should be the way forward, contend Denis Corboy, William Courtney and Kenneth Yalowitz
William Courtney Denis Corboy Kenneth Yalowitz
21 October 2010

In recent days NATO Secretary General Anders Rasmussen and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have reaffirmed support for Georgia’s aspiration to join the alliance. Georgia and Ukraine proclaim interest in becoming EU members. Russian President Dmitri Medvedev urges a “pan-European security treaty” that could legitimize the coercion of neighbours.

It’s time to get real. None of this will happen soon, maybe never.

Except for the Baltic states, NATO or EU admission is not in sight for Russia and the remaining states created from the 1991 collapse of the USSR (the “post-Soviet 12”).

EU enlargement since 2004 has added twelve new democracies (the “new EU 12”), but opposition is strong to admitting post-Soviet 12 countries. Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine seek membership. As for NATO, Georgia remains eager to join but lost most of its support after president Mikheil Saakashvili unwisely gave Russia a pretext for its August 2008 invasion. NATO is a divisive issue in Ukraine and it no longer seeks admission.

A comparison of the post-Soviet 12 and the new EU 12 shows a startling gap: 

  • Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index (1 is best, 180 worst) shows an average of 49 for the new EU 12 versus 136 for the post-Soviet 12.
  • In the World Bank index on ease of doing business (1 is best, 183 worst) the new EU 12 countries rank 46 on average, versus 83 for the post-Soviet 12.
  • In the Freedom House survey of worldwide freedom (1 is best, 7 worst) the new EU 12 countries rank 1.2 on average while the post-Soviet 12 average is far lower, 5.25. 

There are two partial positive outliers. Georgia ranks high in ease of doing business (12) and better than others in corruption perceptions (66) but not in freedom (4). Ukraine scores higher in freedom (2.5) but poorly in the other two areas. Next year its freedom ranking will fall as president Viktor Yanukovych rolls back liberties. 

No wonder NATO and the EU are reluctant.

Turkey's saga with EU accession is instructive. Membership negotiations are stalled and Turkey is focusing more on the Islamic world. The EU should change course to offer a strategic partnership which, while maintaining a path toward membership, recognizes that Turkey is a pivotal regional power.

Likewise, NATO and the EU should offer post-Soviet 12 reformers and key partners meaningful arrangements short of membership. 

EU Association Agreements bring extensive trade and investment benefits if countries reform. Visa-free travel is included if border controls meet Schengen standards.  Negotiations on Agreements are well along with Ukraine and Moldova and will begin with Georgia.

New Agreements with post-Soviet 12 reformers should offer liberal access to EU markets and improved support for investment. They should also mandate adherence to the Energy Charter Treaty, to reassure investors. New, more substantive NATO arrangements with the post-Soviet 12 should build on important interests and Partnership for Peace cooperation to encompass assistance in defence planning, intelligence sharing, and maritime awareness.  Georgia, especially, needs stronger defensive arrangements.

Both the EU and NATO are vital for post-Soviet security. In Georgia, for example, the EU stepped forward to monitor the ceasefire with Russia.

Lately I have been asking my Western, NATO colleagues this direct question: 'Can you tell me, is it that Russia can't be a member of NATO because of the way it is now, because something isn't right with its political system or the electoral system or human rights or something else? Or is it that Russia in principle isn't suitable as a NATO member, and even after it resolves all these current problems will you say "no" anyway because that can never be under any circumstances? And it is interesting that this direct question always leaves them speechless."

Konstantin Kosachyov, the Chairman of the State Duma International Affairs Committee

Together NATO and the EU should offer comprehensive security dialogues to the post-Soviet 12. They ought to address such issues as stemming the spread of violence from Afghanistan to Central Asia and from Russia’s North Caucasus to Georgia and Azerbaijan, improving the security of Caspian energy development and transport, and widening political participation to improve internal security.

President Medvedev’s push for “modernization” might foretell possible Russian openness to a security dialogue. It should address Moscow’s claim of “privileged interests” in nearby countries, missile defence and other military cooperation, and how to counter transnational threats such as narcotics trafficking and terrorism.

At their summits next month, the EU and NATO ought to advance concepts for meaningful new arrangements with the post-Soviet 12 and end the suspense about Russia’s flawed treaty idea. The Strategic Concept which NATO will unveil should not just reiterate the bromide of an “open door.”

Denis Corboy is director of the Caucasus Policy Institute at Kings College London and was European Commission ambassador to Georgia and Armenia. William Courtney was U.S. ambassador to Kazakhstan and Georgia. Kenneth Yalowitz is director of the Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth College and was U.S. ambassador to Belarus and Georgia.

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