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A blog about economics in the South Caucasus.

Modern Quagmire and Georgia's Trump Card?

 

“The fundamental problem for Georgian security is that Russia holds all the major cards and no one is reshuffling the deck in Georgia’s favour”, writes Neil MacFarlane in his 2016 article on Georgia’s security situation. Georgia has a mighty neighbor that is not democratic, does not respect the right of self-determination of nations, and, most importantly, actually brings its military power to bear whenever Russian (legitimate or illegitimate) interests are not sufficiently honored. To add insult to injury, Russia’s military strength is uncontested in the Caucasus, because Russia is the only major power for which this area of the world is important enough to put the lives of soldiers on the line.

Russia is very outspoken about its geopolitical stance: it does not want its neighbors to align with the West, let alone aspire for NATO membership. And Russia actually means it – countries not exercising self-restraint when casting their own destiny may well notice the Russian sabre-rattling soon enough. Rather than some phony solidarity with the South Ossetians, the 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest may have been the true reason for Russia’s military invasion into Georgia in the same year. At that summit, NATO was discussing Georgia and Ukraine’s paths to membership, and “these states’ membership in NATO was unacceptable to Russia” (MacFarlane). Even more obvious, Russia’s intervention in Eastern Ukraine was triggered by the country’s NATO aspirations.


IS NEUTRALITY AN OPTION?

After the Second World War, Austria saw itself in a situation quite similar to Georgia’s situation today. The country was occupied by the Soviet Union, the United States, Great Britain, and France. The Austrians themselves, like the Georgians today, had clear preferences, seeing themselves as a member of the Western family of nations. Yet, they faced a firm demand by Stalin: Austria (where Stalin had lived for some time – another similarity with Georgia) should not become member of the Western military bloc. If that demand was to be honored, however, Moscow was willing to grant Austria self-determination in those areas that really mattered, namely economics and internal politics. Understanding that full sovereignty is only valuable if one has the power to enforce it, the Austrian parliament enacted its famous Declaration of Neutrality on the 26th of October 1955, which until today is constitutional for Austrian (geo)political identity.

Over the years, neutrality yielded many advantages for Austria though. First of all, Austria could reduce its military expenditures to lowermost levels. In 2015, Austria spent only 0.7% of its GDP on its military, which is much less than what NATO countries spend on their defense (2.4% of their total GDP) and also less than Georgia’s expenditures (2.3%, coming down from more than 9% in 2007). If Austria had been attacked, nobody was obliged to come to the rescue, and even with higher defense spending, Austria alone would not have withstood the Red Army. Thus, Austria had no rationale for maintaining an expensive army.

Secondly, Austria was not attacked over all these years. Attacking a neutral country is a breach of international law, and while that did not protect a country like Belgium, whose neutrality was violated by Germany twice in the 20th Century, Switzerland shows that even dictators are reluctant to invade neutral countries. Belgium’s off-putting experiences with neutrality are due to its unfortunate geographical position between Germany and France, yet Switzerland, not situated between warring nations, was left alone even by Hitler.

Thirdly, a neutral country can attract international organizations much more easily, which is a considerable economic factor, more so for Georgia than for Switzerland and Austria. Geneva benefits big time from the presence of various international organizations, and also Vienna got its share. Why not Tbilisi?


GEORGIA MOVING WESTWARD

There is no question that Georgia should do everything to become a truly Western country in terms of economy and society. The Austrian and Swiss examples show that this is possible without being militarily aligned with the West. Moreover, the Swiss and Austrians became exceptionally rich. Those who fear that a neutral Georgia would resemble Armenia, with a society that is strongly dominated by Russian economic and cultural influence, forget that Armenia crucially depends on Russian military support to survive in a hostile environment. Russia can therefore play out its influence in Armenia much more ruthlessly. Russia would not have such leverage vis-à-vis a neutral Georgia.

In the past, countries like Georgia and Ukraine have sought protection from Russian aggression by huddling under the NATO’s umbrella, but through this very act they brought about Russia’s aggression. If Georgia declared once and for all that it does not want to enter NATO anymore and, moreover, that it will also be militarily neutral in reality and not become a de facto member of the Western bloc, this would mitigate Russian fears of “encirclement”. It would take away the very reason why Russia wants to control Georgia. Would this be a smart choice? As Georgia’s Western friends are not willing to provide the arms and military assistance that would be necessary to stand up to the Russian army, let alone deploying their own forces to defend this country, perhaps one should give in to reality. And what is that reality after Donald J. Trump ascending to US presidency?

If judged by statements and staffing of the new administration, what the US may be suggesting is to drive its foreign policy course to a qualitatively new model of realpolitik which we would rather term as transactional diplomacy. This course may deviate from the previously known bi-polar or multi-polar setups but also precludes a deep retrenchment. Contrary to the isolationism or selective intervention, the United States under Trump would more likely pursue a stately molded corporate pattern, dealing with other state actors on direct engagement basis. In other words, the new administration heralds  tactical decision-making and implementation processes without a coherent strategy frame: specific circumstances surrounding a case would be assessed in isolation from their links with the rest of global challenges, trade-offs would be taken into account, and resources (either diplomatic, economic, military or altogether) available to achieve an end would be laid out on an as-needed-basis. There are some clear indications that a plethora of international conventions and rules may well be "trumped" by corporate interests, and US foreign policy may be driven by such interests.

Given that reality, Georgia faces two unprecedented challenges: it has to adopt itself to the mainstream of its NATO aspirations and carve out a very unique approach to the new winds from across the Atlantic, as those apparently run against the spirit we witnessed in the course of the NATO expansion in the 1990’s. Hence is the notion of transacting in foreign policy-making, when an expediency of firmly aligning Georgia's own interest with interests of new US "visionaries" – corporate influential groups –  becomes ever more demanding. Coming years would obtrusively witness non-state actors – big businesses clouted with state insignia – to exercise a powerful say in a new security architecture. And Georgia, as the West civilization's bulwark in the Caucasus, should be ready to face that new setup through chiseling its own geopolitically-driven subsidiarity by reshaping its profile in the national and regional context.

It is high time to bid a farewell to outdated means of diplomacy since they fail to produce plausible credits. They do not fit to the forceful shift from the Wilsonian era of racing for universal liberties to narrowly-focused newly styled pragmatism which discards what is moral and indulges into cherry-picking in pursuing its own interests. With that in mind, has Georgia to cease complaining about morality, since the world of tomorrow will ostensibly applaud to a mere raison d'etat instead of a heart-warming liberty-equality-fraternity tirade?

Times will show and soon enough. It is deplorable to say that our times may repeatedly demonstrate that history will favor power over morality. Moreover, in view of transactionality and tacticality of foreign affairs, the country will most likely be adrift, and maverick capabilities to charter its course for reaching safe shores are critically needed at this historical juncture.


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Guest - Leqso on Tuesday, 14 February 2017 14:19

It might be indication of something interesting that mostly pro-Russian politicians, with good track record of relations with Putin, are pursuing the idea of neutrality...

It might be indication of something interesting that mostly pro-Russian politicians, with good track record of relations with Putin, are pursuing the idea of neutrality...
Eric Livny on Tuesday, 14 February 2017 14:49

And vice versa, dear Leqso :-)

None of this is surprising, however. According to Rufus Miles, “Where you stand depends on where you sit”. We should be able to rise above the partisan, ideological divides and judge for ourselves as objectively as possible. Maybe do a SWOT?

And vice versa, dear Leqso :-) None of this is surprising, however. According to Rufus Miles, “Where you stand depends on where you sit”. We should be able to rise above the partisan, ideological divides and judge for ourselves as objectively as possible. Maybe do a SWOT?
Guest - Leqso on Tuesday, 14 February 2017 15:57

Dear Eric,

Georgias history is basically a story of survival between two strong neighbors and rather than looking at the examples of Switzerland or Austria, which are in a very different position (and were before announcing of neutrality) geographically, economically, mentally we might look in the books of history. Erekle II possibly did comprehensive SWOT analysis before signing Treaty of Georgievsk in 1783 and although this was different than Neutrality, it shows how Russia respects deals signed by itself and international agreements. In addition I doubt that Russias only problem with Georgia is that we want to Join NATO and consequently neutrality of Georgia will not satisfy Russian appetite.
How well the concept of neutrality matches the mentality of Georgian society and the role of Georgia in the region might be another subject to be explored before doing SWOT analysis.

Dear Eric, Georgias history is basically a story of survival between two strong neighbors and rather than looking at the examples of Switzerland or Austria, which are in a very different position (and were before announcing of neutrality) geographically, economically, mentally we might look in the books of history. Erekle II possibly did comprehensive SWOT analysis before signing Treaty of Georgievsk in 1783 and although this was different than Neutrality, it shows how Russia respects deals signed by itself and international agreements. In addition I doubt that Russias only problem with Georgia is that we want to Join NATO and consequently neutrality of Georgia will not satisfy Russian appetite. How well the concept of neutrality matches the mentality of Georgian society and the role of Georgia in the region might be another subject to be explored before doing SWOT analysis.
Howard Seaver on Wednesday, 01 March 2017 12:01

I’m writing to comment on the article you co-authored discussing what might be the best course for Georgia's future; in light of the election of Trump, and what that might mean for the desire of the US and the ability of NATO to counter Russia’s long-standing attitude towards Georgia. I understand the dilemma, and I think the article explains it well. But I want to convey to you my opinion – as a life-long US citizen, and a long-time observer of and participant in its politics - that Trump may turn out to not be so much of an obstacle - to NATO & to Georgia's interests - as may be perceived at the moment.

There's no question that Trump is a narcissistic bully, with a very unattractive and annoying personality, who seems to find it impossible to admit that he has ever made a mistake. However, several events in the US in the past two weeks indicate that the institutions of our democratic system may be strong enough to block him from doing serious damage, and to cause him to change course on various issues - even if he won't admit it, and continues to personally insult his critics.

A good example is the court decisions which have blocked his insane immigration ban, at least for the time being.

Another example is the strength and diligence shown by our major news media (particularly the New York times and the Washington Post), in investigating and exposing the relationships of members of Trump's inner circle with high Russian officials; and the potential that those ties have caused harm to the US, and may do so in the future if not terminated. This has already led to the resignation of one of Trump's closest advisors, and has reinforced the determination of a majority of the members of Congress (from both parties) to investigate and get to bottom of the situation. This is in addition to the ongoing investigations of the FBI, CIA, etc. - which were begun last year - re the allegations of Russia's attempt to influence the presidential election in favor of Trump through hacking and exposing the private emails of Clinton's campaign apparatus, and the Democratic party. (I think the reasons for Trump's victory lie mainly in the long-standing political and social views on certain domestic issues, held by a substantial segment of the US population, and not in Russia's activities, but that's a subject of discussion for another time.)

A third example is the more positive and traditional attitude expressed by Trump’s new Secretaries of State and Defense to their European counterparts - during their current visits to Europe – which is quite different than the approach expressed thus far in some of Trump’s rhetoric.

Even if Trump may not be as powerful or dangerous as earlier thought, the argument for a form of "neutrality" for Georgia as expressed in your article, may still make sense, given the West’s failure to provide full material support to Georgia in the past, and the lack of certainty in this regard in the future. However, I wanted to give you at least one reason for hope that the near-term approach of the US with regard to a unified and strong NATO, and its objective of preventing and blocking aggressive moves by Russia, may not be as different as it might initially appear from Trump’s rhetoric.

I’m writing to comment on the article you co-authored discussing what might be the best course for Georgia's future; in light of the election of Trump, and what that might mean for the desire of the US and the ability of NATO to counter Russia’s long-standing attitude towards Georgia. I understand the dilemma, and I think the article explains it well. But I want to convey to you my opinion – as a life-long US citizen, and a long-time observer of and participant in its politics - that Trump may turn out to not be so much of an obstacle - to NATO & to Georgia's interests - as may be perceived at the moment. There's no question that Trump is a narcissistic bully, with a very unattractive and annoying personality, who seems to find it impossible to admit that he has ever made a mistake. However, several events in the US in the past two weeks indicate that the institutions of our democratic system may be strong enough to block him from doing serious damage, and to cause him to change course on various issues - even if he won't admit it, and continues to personally insult his critics. A good example is the court decisions which have blocked his insane immigration ban, at least for the time being. Another example is the strength and diligence shown by our major news media (particularly the New York times and the Washington Post), in investigating and exposing the relationships of members of Trump's inner circle with high Russian officials; and the potential that those ties have caused harm to the US, and may do so in the future if not terminated. This has already led to the resignation of one of Trump's closest advisors, and has reinforced the determination of a majority of the members of Congress (from both parties) to investigate and get to bottom of the situation. This is in addition to the ongoing investigations of the FBI, CIA, etc. - which were begun last year - re the allegations of Russia's attempt to influence the presidential election in favor of Trump through hacking and exposing the private emails of Clinton's campaign apparatus, and the Democratic party. (I think the reasons for Trump's victory lie mainly in the long-standing political and social views on certain domestic issues, held by a substantial segment of the US population, and not in Russia's activities, but that's a subject of discussion for another time.) A third example is the more positive and traditional attitude expressed by Trump’s new Secretaries of State and Defense to their European counterparts - during their current visits to Europe – which is quite different than the approach expressed thus far in some of Trump’s rhetoric. Even if Trump may not be as powerful or dangerous as earlier thought, the argument for a form of "neutrality" for Georgia as expressed in your article, may still make sense, given the West’s failure to provide full material support to Georgia in the past, and the lack of certainty in this regard in the future. However, I wanted to give you at least one reason for hope that the near-term approach of the US with regard to a unified and strong NATO, and its objective of preventing and blocking aggressive moves by Russia, may not be as different as it might initially appear from Trump’s rhetoric.
Florian Biermann on Tuesday, 01 August 2017 14:36

A topical book by the Brookings Institution:
https://www.brookings.edu/book/beyond-nato

A topical book by the Brookings Institution: https://www.brookings.edu/book/beyond-nato
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