On the eve of a meeting of Nato foreign ministers today in Brussels, the Americans pushed for a new formula that would put Ukraine and Georgia on a slow path to Nato membership. But at least six European Nato members opposed the US move, which is backed by Britain, suggesting that the two-day Nato meeting will result in an ambiguous fudge.
Since 1999 prospective Nato members have had to follow a roadmap known as the Membership Action Plan (MAP) to qualify for membership. At a Nato summit in Bucharest in April President George Bush pressed for Ukraine and Georgia to be awarded the MAP, but he was defeated by Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany who argued that such a step would increase friction with Russia.
The summit agreed a contradictory compromise, denying the two countries the MAP while stating they would eventually become Nato members. The summit instructed today`s meeting to review those decisions. With British and east European support, the Americans argued last night that the deadlock could be broken by pushing ahead on the membership path outside the MAP.
Germany, Spain, Italy and others disagreed, contending that there could be no Nato membership process without it.
"The whole discussion around the MAP has become so politicised that it has lost its sense. It has turned into something of enormous political symbolism," said a senior US official. "We should just try to put it aside."
The British have sought to bridge the divide by proposing that the MAP procedure remains valid, but that Georgia`s and Ukraine`s membership bids be processed through two separate commissions between Nato and the applicants.
The main European countries reject this. On balance they view Georgia as the bigger villain in the August war with Russia, regard Georgia`s president Mikheil Saakashvili as untrustworthy, believe that political instability in Ukraine makes it unsuitable for Nato, and are anxious to avoid further confrontation with Moscow.
"There is no consensus," said a senior Ukrainian official. "The MAP will not be given to Ukraine. The issue has been removed from the agenda."
Rather than enhancing Nato security, both post-Soviet countries represent a security risk for the alliance, argues the west European camp.
Diplomats and analysts say that the transatlantic split is such that today`s session will produce a formula that effectively replicates the conflicting signals sent in Bucharest. They add that the Bucharest decision was a mistake that contributed to the Caucasus crisis in August.
The issue of Nato membership for the two countries is intimately linked with western policy towards Russia, currently incoherent and contradictory.
President Nicolas Sarkozy of France earlier this month backed Russian calls for a major summit next year to try to redefine Europe`s "security architecture." An international foreign ministers` meeting in Helsinki later this week could see Germany, France, Russia, and Finland supporting the summit, which is also opposed by the US and Britain.
"We have good European security institutions," said the senior US official. "The institutions that exist are sound. I am not convinced we need a new architecture."
A senior European diplomat said the Russian proposals could be considered but that the Americans had to be involved in any discussion about European security.
"The first thing the Russians need to do is explain what they have in mind."
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