NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer arrives in Tblisi on Monday to discuss Georgia’s post-conflict requirements, ahead of an ‘informal’ gathering of NATO defence ministers in London at the end of the week.
He was slated to discuss post-conflict requirements while in Georgia, including humanitarian assistance; meanwhile he and the ministers were supposed to be thinking about the ‘transformation’ of the alliance. However, both meetings will now be dominated by strategy towards Russia.
The defence ministers are now expected to consider a US proposal, by which NATO would send a strong signal of military support for the Baltic states, aimed at Russia. Member states would make clear that an Article 5 guarantee (a legally-vague instrument that makes an attack on one member state an attack on all, possibly triggering military action) applies in full to the Baltic states. The actual deployment of more NATO forces looks unlikely, beyond the four ageing fighters currently ‘policing’ the Baltic States’ airspace -- NATO reckons it already has the military capacity to defend them. However, in a symbolic move, it is likely to undertake more military planning and carry out more exercises in the region.
The East Europeans have always been uncomfortable with NATO’s new ‘out-of-area’ role in areas such as Afghanistan, believing that Russia wants a neighbouring sphere of influence and that NATO was becoming distracted from its core responsibility of defending its members’ territory. The Georgian episode has confirmed such perceptions. Moscow says it fears encirclement; its own actions are likely to bring this fear about, in the form of a more robust NATO presence on its borders.