Why Biden Talks about NATO

So much for the reset, writes Steve LeVine, as Joe Biden visited both Kiev and Tbilisi stating that Washington will continue to support their drive for NATO membership if that is the route they choose to take.  He does a very good job explaining why Biden said what he said, pointing out that the political reality of the situation certainly doesn’t mean that they are going to become NATO members soon (for example, Washington rejected Saakashvili’s requests for arms). 

Almost nothing is guaranteed to raise the hackles of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin more than the suggestion that Georgia should be permitted to join NATO; a close second would be the same formulation for Ukraine. Russia regards both nations as its own. Indeed, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin responded by saying that Georgia is “remilitarizing” after being pummeled by Russia in a five-day war last August, and saying that Moscow might move to stop it.

So why did the Obama administration choose to put irritating language into Biden’s mouth? The answer is realpolitik. Washington truly does want calmer, more constructive relations with Russia. It knows that neither Ukraine nor Georgia are capable of meeting NATO requirements; it also knows that the two aren’t welcome as members by much of Europe, which — there is no delicate way of putting it — allows Russia to call the shots on issues including further NATO enlargement and the direction of new natural gas pipelines.

Yet, putting aside for now the question of whether NATO in fact should expand further, for reasons of politics and appearances, Washington cannot be seen to be acceding to Russia’s wishes. So you have speeches like Biden’s in Ukraine and Georgia.