Nato needs to stop expanding, according to a leading British strategic think tank. The International Institute for Strategic Studies challenged the Nato secretary-general today by warning against embracing Georgia and Ukraine in the light of last month's Caucasus war.
"The policy of Nato enlargement now, we believe, would be a strategic error," the head of the IISS , John Chipman, told journalists yesterday. Speaking at the launch of the organisation's annual review of world affairs, he criticised the 26-nation military alliance for viewing enlargement as an "institutional priority" - "as if riding a bicycle eastwards is necessary to keep the bicycle upwards."
Russia's implacable opposition to Nato expansion on its borders, by absorbing former Warsaw Pact states, was a critical factor in last month's war with Georgia, which was prompted by the Georgian government's decision to attempt to gain control militarily of the breakaway region of South Ossetia.
The IISS view conflicts with that of Britain and the US, which remain committed to future Nato membership for both Georgia and Ukraine and are adamant that Russia should not have a veto over alliance members. The issue will be hotly debated again at Nato's next summit in December.
The IISS noted that the West was divided on Nato integration and argued that "Europeans have a strong case to argue that it is in Nato's strategic interest to pause its enlargement policy." It accused the "irresponsible" Georgian government of having "weakened its case" for membership by ordering the 7 August assault on the South Ossetia capital which led to the "vindictive" Russian military retaliation. "It openly defied its main strategic patron, the US, by seeking to recover its lost territories" before calling on the West "to sort out the mess it created."
Regarding Ukraine, whose government has collapsed over the president's support for Georgia and Nato membership, the IISS said that a pause was appropriate because of the lack of unity in the Ukrainian population as a whole on the Nato issue.
The Nato chief, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who addressed a separate London think tank yesterday, took the opposite view however and defended Georgia's membership of Nato which he described as a "logical consequence of Georgia's democratic choice."
Speaking at the Royal United Services Institute, the Nato chief - who visited Georgia earlier this week - said: "Nato must support Georgia in realising its Euro-Atlantic aspirations."
He also blamed Russia for fomenting the crisis with Georgia which led to the six-day war. Asked about Nato's handling of the crisis with Russia, he said: "There will be no U-turn by Nato vis a vis Russia. We have not gone wrong. The policy of constructive engagement is sound. There may be adjustments in the way of our approach, but there's no need for a new policy."