At the NATO summit held in Chicago this May, warm words and promises were extended to the group of aspirant countries that now includes Georgia together with three Balkan States – Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro. Even though the four aspirant nations all knew beforehand that Chicago was not going to be an enlargement summit, their hopes were buoyed when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared the next one would be. If that happens, it will be the first NATO enlargement since 2009, when Albania and Croatia were admitted.
It is difficult to evaluate which of the four aspirant countries stands the best chance of becoming a NATO member before the others. That political decision of the North Atlantic Alliance will depend on myriad complex factors. From the perspective of Alliance members, the degree of aspirant countries’ economic and democratic development is of crucial importance, along with other factors as well.
While the three Balkan States are considered quite close to NATO membership, each of them faces its own challenges and impediments. For Macedonia, the principal stumbling block is Greece. Since Macedonia was awarded the Membership Action Plan (MAP) back in 1999, its accession has been opposed by Greece. The two countries have not been able to achieve agreement on Greece’s demand that Macedonia change its name. According to 2008 data, eighty percent of the population of Macedonia is against changing the country’s name as a condition precedent for NATO membership, although the population widely supports NATO membership.
In Bosnia-Herzegovina, a split in public opinion along ethnic lines remains the main obstacle on its road to NATO membership. Bosnia-Herzegovina received MAP in 2010 after major political forces there reached consensus on NATO membership. The government recently started a mass reform of its military forces to meet requirements of the Alliance. What effect that will have on reconciling attitudes in the two Bosnia-Herzegovina autonomous entities remains to be seen. Ninety percent of the Muslim Croatian population of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina supports NATO membership whereas support among the Serb population in the Republika Srpska federation is only thirty-five percent, according to 2009 data. For a country that endured horrific ethnic conflict in the 1990s, continued divisiveness among ethnic groups over a major foreign policy issue poses a serious challenge to the country’s internal stability.
Divided public opinion is also the main impediment to the process of integration in Montenegro. The ruling Social-Democratic Party there has set integration into the Alliance and the European Union as its priority. Since it was awarded MAP in 2009, the country has been overhauling its military forces and participating in international NATO missions. However, the population is split on the issue of NATO integration: According to recent surveys conducted in Montenegro, forty to fifty percent of the population is for integration into the Alliance whereas forty percent is against integration. Many citizens of Montenegro opposed to integration angrily recall the operation NATO troops undertook in 1999 against Yugoslavia, which included Montenegro then too.
In contrast to other aspirants, Georgia does not face the problem of public opposition to NATO membership. In a 2008 plebiscite, seventy-seven percent of the population voted for NATO integration. A public opinion survey conducted by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) in March 2012 revealed that only seven percent of respondents are against NATO integration whereas fifty-three percent of the population favor integration and seventeen percent “fully supports” Georgia’s accession to NATO.
Economic conditions in the four aspirant countries also differ significantly. Of the four, Montenegro boasts the highest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at USD 13,000 per capita, according to 2011 International Monetary Fund (IMF) data on Purchasing Power Parity (PPP). The corresponding indicator is USD 11,000 in Macedonia; USD 8,500 in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and USD 5,500 in Georgia.
By comparison, Albania’s GDP was USD 7,740 per capita and Croatia’s was USD 18,200 in 2008, the year before both countries were admitted as NATO members.
Bosnia has the highest unemployment rate among the four aspirant countries – 43%, according to the CIA–World Factbook. Unemployment stands at 30% in Macedonia; 18% in Croatia; 16.3% in Georgia; and slightly more than 11.5% in Montenegro. By comparison, the unemployment rate in Albania is now 13%.
More than half (55%) of Georgia’s population is employed in agriculture, 36% in the service sphere, and 9% in industry. In Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia, 50-60% of people employed there work in industry and services, while most people in Montenegro and Croatia are employed in the service sphere and only 20-30% in industry. In Albania, corresponding figures are 47% in agriculture, 23% in industry and 30% in the service sphere.
All four aspirant countries and the newest Alliance members have similar urbanization indicators. Urban residents comprise 53% of the Georgian population. That indicator is a little lower in Bosnia (49%) and a little higher in Montenegro (61%).
Measured by the degree of democratic development, Montenegro is the only one of the aspirant countries rated as “free” according to the 2012 Freedom House report. Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia and Georgia are all classified as “partially free.” Albania to this date is also considered only “partially free.”
Freedom House ranks the media in all four aspirant countries as only “partially free.” By that criterion, the media in newly acceded member countries Croatia and Albania still fall within that same category.
Compared to previous year rankings for media freedom, Georgia improved its standing this year from 118th to 111th place, according to Freedom of the Press 2012: A Global Survey of Media Independence. By this indicator, Georgia surpasses Macedonia (115th) but lags behind Montenegro (75th) and Bosnia-Herzegovina (95th).
When it comes to freedom of the press, all four aspirant countries are far ahead of long-time NATO member-state Turkey, which at 117th is still ranked among “partly free” states.
Georgia is in the lead among the four aspirant countries for achievements in fighting corruption, according to Transparency International rankings. The Corruption Perception Index for the year 2012 puts Georgia in 64th place with a cumulative score of 4.1. That places Georgia slightly ahead of Montenegro (66th place with a score of 4.0) and significantly ahead of Bosnia-Herzegovina (91st place with a score of 3.2) and Macedonia (69th and 3.9, respectively).
According to 2008 data, Croatia had the same Corruption Perception Index ranking when it was admitted to the Alliance that Georgia has now, whereas Albania lagged far behind even then.
Yet another study of Transparency International – the 2011 Global Corruption Barometer based on sociological surveys – found that 77% of respondents in Georgia assessed the government’s fight against corruption as effective. In a similar survey conducted in Bosnia, only 23% of respondents viewed the fight there against corruption as effective. The corresponding indicator in Macedonia stood at 53% and in NATO member state Croatia at only 28%.
All four aspirant countries are deemed high quality-of-life countries. The Human Development Index (HDI) published by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) ranks Montenegro at 54th in the lead among the four, followed by Bosnia-Herzegovina (74th), Georgia (75th) and Macedonia (78th). HDI is an important indicator of a country’s level of development based on such data as economic development, life expectancy, level of education and living standards. On the HDI scale, Croatia (46th) is far ahead of aspirant countries, making it into the group of very high human development countries. Albania (70th), however, continues to rank behind Montenegro.
The level of education in each of the four aspirant countries can be measured by ratings of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) for reading, math and science. The PISA study in 2009 included Croatia, Montenegro and Albania and expanded in 2010 to include Georgia. Based on PISA scores, Croatia rates high (476, 460 and 486, respectively) while Georgia (374, 379 and 373, respectively) lags behind Croatia as well as Montenegro and Albania.
Georgia is also behind when it comes to health care. The World Health Organization, which evaluates the level and availability of health care systems in various countries, ranks Georgia at 114th. By this indicator, Georgia is behind aspirant countries as well as new members Croatia and Albania. Among those countries, Croatia is in the lead (43rd).
Georgia stands out in The World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business ranking. Rated 16th among the world countries, Georgia outstrips aspiring NATO countries as well as newly acceded member states of NATO. Compared to Georgia, Macedonia comes closest at 22nd in this ranking, with Montenegro (56th), Croatia (80th), Albania (82nd) and Bosnia-Herzegovina (125th) trailing.
Georgia is also in the lead among NATO aspirant countries on the Index of Economic Freedom drawn up by the Heritage Foundation. Occupying 34th place, Georgia falls within the category of “Moderately Free” countries, along with Macedonia (43rd) and Montenegro (72nd) as well as NATO member states Albania (57th) and Croatia (83rd). Bosnia-Herzegovina is placed at 104th and categorized as a “Mostly Unfree” country.
According to the latest Global Competitiveness Index for 2011-2012 developed by the World Economic Forum, Montenegro (60th) is ahead of other aspirant countries and also followed by new members Croatia (76th) and Albania (78th). Macedonia (79th) and Georgia (88th) outstrip Bosnia-Herzegovina (100th).
Georgia further stands out in terms of combating crime. The Ministry of Justice of Georgia recently presented a survey conducted by Jan Van Dijk, Professor of Victimology and Human Security at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. In that survey, citizens were asked to identify degrees of criminal victimization experienced in 2011. Survey results confirmed that the crime indicator has been decreasing in recent years in Georgia with 0 to 0.5% of respondents victimized by car theft, burglary or assault/threat.
“Georgia has transformed from a high crime into a low crime country in just a few years,” Professor Van Dijk observed. “Georgia now emerges as one of the safest places in Europe.”
Organized crime has actually been eradicated in Georgia, according to information compiled by the U.S. State Department. Conversely, the most recent statistical data prove that violent crime has increased in Albania since its NATO integration in 2009 and that the level of organized crime is still high there too. Crime has also been on the rise in Bosnia in recent years – mainly armed robbery and car theft. Robbery and organized crime is widespread in Macedonia whereas the level of crime is relatively low in Croatia and Montenegro.
A crucial factor on the path toward NATO integration for every aspirant country is participation in the Afghanistan mission conducted by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Such commitment serves as a demonstration of actual support of NATO objectives and a tangible contribution to the security of its members. Besides its political dimension, the Afghanistan mission has a military dimension for aspirant countries as well. It is during joint military missions that a country’s military forces can show conformity with Alliance military forces and also gain experience.
Georgia’s significant contribution to the ISAF mission has been repeatedly emphasized by official representatives of NATO and its member states. At present, some 800 Georgian military officers are involved in the Afghanistan mission. Most Georgian troops are now performing combat operations in the hottest spot – Helmand Province – with another battalion expected to be sent soon to Afghanistan.
When measured against Georgia’s contribution to the Afghan mission, the contributions of other aspirant countries and new NATO member states look rather modest. Albania has sent 290 military officers there, namely, to Kabul and the Western region. Croatia has deployed 320 military officers in the capital city and in the relatively safer Northern region. Montenegro’s contingent is limited to 39 military servicemen while Bosnia counts 59 officers, also all deployed in the Northern region. Macedonia does not participate in the ISAF operation at all.
This article first appeared in Tabula Georgian Issue # 104, published 11 June 2012.