Had it been granted a MAP bid, though, Georgia still would not have fallen under the NATO treaty's Article 5—that an attack against one member is an attack against all—since it wouldn't have full membership yet (a process that could as long as eight or nine years). But even MAP status might have increased the possibility of a direct confrontation between the United States and Russia, Logan adds. "The Russians could easily have said, with the MAP in place, 'We'll call the U.S.'s bluff. They don't live here, and we don't think they'll do anything,' " he says.
What's more, if Georgia were under a MAP, that might have made an agitated Russia more likely to act aggressively. At minimum, it increases the chances of reckless brinksmanship among both countries, says Logan. "When your credibility is on the line, it's a very dangerous situation, having these bluffs called."
But that, some argue, is what is happening now. Russia is currently testing the West, they argue—and western response could set a dangerous precedent. "Russians think, 'If we attack, then that country is automatically excluded from western institutions like NATO,'" says Bugajski. "A country that's under occupation, with its territory severed and its capital on fire, is not a NATO country. It's is not an EU country," he adds. "And Russia is counting on this."
And that could also spell trouble for Ukraine, which has threatened to bar Russian warships from returning to their centuries-old port in there. "Through its actions, Russia is sending a message not just to Georgia but to Ukraine," says David Phillips, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. "It's 'Russia is back,' " he says. "And upstarts will be treated very harshly."