From Karl-Heinz Kamp, NATO Defense College: [T]he four aspirant countries (Bosnia-Herzegovina, FYROM, Georgia and Montenegro) cannot be treated as a homogenous group, but require individual approaches regarding the accession to NATO. FYROM already has the support of all NATO members except Greece, which is still blocking its admission. In December 2011 the International Court of Justice ruled 15:1 (the Greek judge being the sole dissenter) that Greece was wrong in blocking FYROM’s accession to NATO at the Bucharest summit in 2008. It remains to be seen whether key allies like the United States will increase pressure on Athens to lift its blockade so that FYROM can join the Alliance, as it was initially scheduled to do in 2009.
With regard to Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro, the application process is far advanced as the two countries are part of the MAP. Subject to sufficient steps being taken in terms of reform and preparation for membership, the ball will be in NATO’s court to offer membership to both countries. Whether this could happen as early as the next NATO summit, which is likely to take place in 2014, will depend on consensus-building among the 28 Alliance members.
Georgia is a different case. After the membership guarantee given by NATO in Bucharest, the question is no longer whether Georgia will be admitted, but when. At the same time, Georgia is not yet part of the MAP, which is regarded (albeit with no formal statement to this effect) as a precondition for membership. The US in particular has been arguing that membership preparation could also be done within the NATO-Georgia Commission, omitting the time-consuming MAP process. Such a proposal, though, has precarious implications. The MAP not only prepares applicants for membership; by virtue of its unlimited time frame, it provides NATO with the necessary flexibility in decision-making on enlargement. Albania, for instance, joined the MAP in 1999 and maintained this status for ten years until it joined the Alliance in 2009. In other cases, the MAP phase was significantly shorter – according to the condition of the applicant state and the requirements of the overall political situation. Bypassing the MAP in the Georgian case would (again) create a precedent vis-à-vis other applicants, with potential negative implications in the long term. It would also deprive NATO of the possibility to assess continuing development of the Georgia-Russia relationship and to bridge the different positions within the Alliance on Georgia’s membership.
To move the enlargement issue significantly forward, but at the same time to take note of the special implications of a Georgian membership, the next summit should include Georgia in the MAP process. This would be a visible step ahead for Georgia, and it would be in line with NATO’s previous procedures for admission. Moreover, such a step would provide NATO with breathing space for consensus-building. . . .
An open door policy remains a core element of NATO’s overall strategy for a Europe whole and free. However, enlargement does not need to follow what some in the European Union call the “bicycle theory”, according to which it has to constantly move forward so as not to fall over. Instead, enlargement is an individual process which must certainly be pursued without external vetoes. At the same time, this does not imply that each and every membership application will progress to an automatic, foregone conclusion. (graphic: Center for European Reform)