- - Monday, July 9, 2018

On July 11, leaders of NATO countries will meet in Belgium at a pivotal moment for the alliance. They will be faced with a range of new challenges that require coherent and effective strategy. They will attempt to align requirements with resources in ways that build NATO’s strength and credibility, while dissuading those who might wish to challenge NATO’s resolve.

Georgia, my nation, is a case study of how small nations can fortify trans-Atlantic security by making outsized, meaningful contributions to NATO security cooperation while simultaneously strengthening their democratic institutions. It also vividly illustrates the need to persistently contain Russia’s expansionism. The U.S. always appreciates when partners contribute their share, and, in turn, we rely on the Trump administration’s continued strong support for Georgia in Brussels and Helsinki.

Ten years ago, at the Bucharest Summit, NATO leaders determined that Georgia would become integrated into the alliance over time. Since then, we have both carried out extensive democratic reforms and ramped up defense spending to levels beyond those agreed upon for full NATO membership. As Vice President Mike Pence noted during his visit to Tbilisi last year: “Georgia has made extraordinary progress — not just in the past 25 years, but over the last five years, there has been significant progress in Georgia that we believe will strengthen the application for NATO membership.”

After the United States, Georgia is the largest per capita contributor to the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan. It already spends more than 2 percent of GDP on defense, and 20 percent of that on major equipment. In proportion to population size, Georgia’s commitment in personnel to the International Missions, and the casualties they have suffered, exceed all other NATO partners except the United States.

Simultaneously, Georgia has transformed its economy and democracy. A Heritage Foundation report recently chronicled the “impressive democratization” and “rapid rise of economic freedom” in Georgia. The study concludes that Georgia’s inclusion in NATO is “in the U.S. and European interest.”

American friends occasionally ask me why Georgia wants to join NATO at all. Some contend that since the end of the Cold War and the demise of Soviet communism, the threat to Georgia has evaporated. In these conversations, I am compelled to advance a broader perspective.

Transatlantic resolve to unite for collective defense is the idea that has solidified the North Atlantic Alliance since 1949 and powered NATO’s enlargement for almost 70 years. It has extended the area of stability across the Euro-Atlantic space by allowing its members to achieve security and prosperity. In doing so, NATO has threatened no one.

Georgia lies at the geostrategic crossroads of East and West. It is at the epicenter of the corridor for important energy and trade supplies vital to Europe and the United States. This importance is growing, not lessening, as new routes open and expand along Eurasia’s burgeoning New Silk Road and the Black Sea region, the latter bordered on all sides by NATO. Georgia’s stability and security in the region benefits all NATO partners.

A decade ago, well before the occupation of Ukraine’s Crimea region, Russia invaded our country. Russian soldiers continue to occupy 20 percent of Georgian territory today (the regions of Abkhazia and Tskinvali). Russia flagrantly violates their neighbors’ territorial integrity and, hence, international law.

This reality is the backdrop to the NATO summit in Brussels and it serves to underline that their work is as important as ever. Allies should stand behind the 2008 Bucharest Summit decision that Georgia will become a member of NATO. Since then, Georgia has achieved progress on reforms and advanced on its membership path through the effective implementation of all practical instruments necessary for membership. At the summit, recognition that Georgia’s use of these tools is a direct way to its NATO membership is critical.

My country is proud of the contribution we have made to Europe and America’s common defense. Our economic and democratic progress is substantial and sustainable. We hope the U.S. and other NATO partners will remember and honor our sacrifices when they convene this month. Their mission is, after all, our mission too.

• David Bakradze is Georgia’s ambassador to the United States.

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