5 years, 10 months ago
A U.S.-Georgia security pact is said to be in the works.
With Georgia’s hopes of quickly joining the NATO alliance deferred for the moment, Tbilisi is placing its hopes in the next best thing — a bilateral security pact with the United States.
Details of the emerging accord are still unclear, but Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Nino Kalandadze said the two sides are already discussing a “framework agreement” proposed by U.S. officials.
“Intensive negotiations are under way,” Kalandadze told reporters in Tbilisi on December 17. “This treaty is being discussed mainly at the Defense Ministry, but also at the Foreign Ministry…. We will jointly analyze all its provisions in detail and in the end we will come to an agreement.”
Georgian officials say they hope a bilateral arrangement could not only enhance their security, but also jump-start their NATO bid. But analysts say it could also significantly raise the stakes in the South Caucasus by bringing the United States closer to a direct confrontation with Russia, which is solidifying its military and political presence in the pro-Moscow breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
“It’s potentially a very big deal,” says Lincoln Mitchell, a Columbia University professor and the author of the book “Uncertain Democracy: U.S. Foreign Policy and Georgia’s Rose Revolution.” “But the question is, does it formalize something that de facto already exists? What level of commitment does it really make?”
Russian hegemony is likely far from finished regarding what it considers to be its “near abroad.” We knew at the time of the Russian invasion of Georgia that hard decisions would have to be made, and it appears as if the hardest one was postponed (i.e., entry to NATO) in favor a partial alternative. The question is well-framed above. What level of commitment does it really make?
Vladimir Socor of The Jamestown Foundation weighs in with an analysis of the potential agreement and its importance for Georgia.
U.S.-Georgian bilateral security and military arrangements could come not a moment too soon. This strategic partnership should remedy the security vacuum that the United States, NATO, and the European Union had, each in its own way, allowed to develop in the Black Sea-South Caucasus region during the last few years. Russia’s invasion of Georgia in August and the West’s paralysis in the face of that event dramatized the security vacuum in a region critical to Western interests.
From Georgia’s perspective, “cooperation with our strategic partner is almost the only assurance of our security,” according to Batu Kutelia, hitherto First Deputy Defense Minister and now ambassador-designate to the United States (Rustavi-2 TV, December 17). The sentiment in Tbilisi, as columnist Eka Kvesitadze sums it up, is that “after we were left to face Russia one-on-one, a bilateral military agreement with the United States would be the only salvation for the country” (24 Saati, December 15).
Such comments reflect the country’s vulnerability and the psychological pressure on Georgian society after the forward-deployment of Russian forces in the annexed territories. The CFE Treaty, already made useless by Russia in the North and South Caucasus well before this war, has been dead beyond recall since August, leaving no constraint and no transparency regarding Russian deployments. This situation jeopardizes the whole set of Western interests that converge in the South Caucasus.
U.S. military assistance to Georgia must therefore be expected to include those basic capabilities for defensive operations that Georgia had lacked all along: respectable air defense, anti-tank and counter-artillery capabilities, command-control-communications equipment, intelligence systems, operational training for territorial defense, training of staff-level officers, and a system for reservist training and mobilization.
Russia’s invasion exposed all those gaps in Georgia’s defense system. They are traceable to the limited content of U.S. assistance programs in recent years, which focused on distant counterinsurgency missions while underestimating the potential threats of a conventional military nature.
The new U.S. program is expected to address those defense gaps. This would enable Georgia to raise the cost of another Russian attack to the extent of deterring it without necessitating the presence of U.S. forces, which in any case is not on the cards in the form of military bases. The lesson of August in Georgia (as in the Baltic states) underscores the need to rebalance the allocation of resources, which has tended to privilege expeditionary operations while sometimes short-changing homeland defense.
If this analysis is correct, the U.S. can be expected to supply weapons and training to Georgian military forces in the near future in order to make more Russian military action much less attractive than it was several months ago. Yet as The Captain’s Journal has pointed out in The Logistical Battle, a potential supply route to Afghanistan is being pursued (in light of the increased danger in the Khyber pass in Pakistan) that completely bypasses Russia, with supplies being “shipped across the Black Sea to Georgia, driven to neighbouring Azerbaijan, shipped across the Caspian Sea to Turkmenistan and then driven to the Afghan border.”
But while bypassing Russia, this supply line may place the U.S. squarely in position to deal with the Russian threat to the region. The new security pact is in our interest as well. As we observed:
… interestingly, this leaves us vulnerable yet again to Russian dispositions, even with the alternative supply route. Georgia is the center of gravity in this plan, and our willingness to defend her and come to her aid might just be the one thing that a) kills the option of Russia as a logistical supply into Afghanistan, and b) saves Georgia as a supply route. Thus far, we have maneuvered ourselves into the position of reliance on Russian good will. These “thawed relations” might just turn critical should Russia decide again to flex its muscle in the region, making the U.S. decisions concerning Georgia determinative concerning our ability to supply our troops in Afghanistan.
Are we willing to turn over Georgia (and maybe the Ukraine) to Russia in exchange for a line of supply into Afghanistan, or are we willing to defend and support Georgia for the preservation of democracy in the region and – paradoxically – the preservation of a line of supply to Afghanistan? The upcoming administration has some hard choices, and it’s unlikely that negotiations will make much difference. The burden will rest on decisions rather than talks.
It’s likely anyway that whatever pacts created in the current administration will be revisited in the next, so once again Georgian security is in question. But it should be clear to the next administration that protecting Georgia not only means coming to the aid of an ally (Georgia committed troops to Operation Iraqi Freedom), but also potentially protecting the best independent logistical line of supply to troops in Afghanistan.