Rati, Lasha and Irakli are first year engineering students at the Georgian Technical University (GTU). Rather unusual students, one should add. At 22-23, all three are very much alive. Yet, they never attend classes and are not taking exams. BSc in engineering would be their third educational degree, yet neither one of them has any intention of completing his studies at GTU. And one more interesting detail: their ‘studies’ at GTU are paid for by the Georgian taxpayers because engineering (as well as mathematics and natural sciences) is considered to be a priority subject by the Georgian government. 

To avoid any misunderstanding, Rati, Lasha and Irakli are not enrolled in a distance learning program offered by Georgia Tech. The trio simply found a hassle-free way to avoid the sacred duty of serving in the Georgian military.


Georgia prides itself on the simplicity of its tax system. Simplicity and fairness, however, are not the most prominent features of Georgia’s “Military Duty and Military Service Law”. Nominally, all Georgian men aged 18 to 27 are “subject to performing compulsory military service” of 18 months. As straightforward as it gets. Yet, Article 30 (Deferment of Conscription) contains no less than 21 legal excuses to defer military service:

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by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel

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Of particular interest is clause 30(n) which allows one to buy his freedom for a fee, currently set at 2,000 GEL per 18 months (payable until one reaches the age of 27). This option practically guarantees that no kid from Vake is ever forced to wear military uniform. 

Finally, if, for some reason, none of the above legal excuses are applicable, one can be set free by decree (of the Georgian Prime Minister). 

With so many holes in the law it is clear that the only people unfortunate enough to serve in the Georgian military are under-educated village boys who are not quick enough to reproduce. It is also quite obvious what kind of morale these boys have when they come to perform their duties. 


It is increasingly common across the OECD countries (and not only) to use the so-called Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) technique to critically assess laws and regulations. What one would normally do as part of a RIA exercise is analyze the costs and the distortionary effects of a regulation (say, licensing procedures for new medications) to its benefits (improved health outcomes). 


Article 9 - Age of persons subject to compulsory military service 

“Citizens of Georgia aged from 18 to 27, who are registered or are obliged to be registered for conscription and who have no grounds to be released from conscription into compulsory military service, or to enjoy deferment from conscription, shall be subject to performing compulsory military service.” 

Law of Georgia No 2554 of 29 July 2014.

A back-of-the-envelope RIA of the Georgian Law on Military Duty and Military Service would inevitably conclude that this law is extremely ineffective. 

Generally, the main advantage of compulsory military service is that it enables countries to easily muster a large force (including reservists who went through military training as part of their compulsory service) in the event of a crisis. Additionally, one may argue that military service provides individuals with useful skills such as teamwork, discipline, stress management, etc. 

The irony of it all is that Georgia’s Law On Military Duty and Military Service does NOT serve the very purposes for which it had been ostensibly drafted. The Georgian Armed Forces do not have much use for the vast majority of the poorly motivated village boys who end up being recruited. According to Defense Minister Tina Khidasheli, very few conscripts go through proper military training, comprising no more than 10% of total military personnel. Rather than readying for future combats or jobs, the remaining 90% are employed as free (unqualified) labor to guard Georgian prisons, military bases and government buildings. 

Now, while failing to meet Georgia’s military needs, this law comes at a tremendous cost for Georgia’s national security, its human and social capital, and, ultimately, its economic development.

Fundamentally, Georgia faces the choice of going for a compulsory Israeli-style national military (or civic) service or opting for a small American-style professional army of volunteers. Both options have their pros and cons. One thing is clear, however: Georgia cannot afford staying with the current law, which fails to achieve its stated objectives while undermining Georgia’s great nation-building and modernization project. 


As Georgia is thinking through its future strategy, it may just as well look to the experience of other countries in using their military to jump start economic and social development. 

A key point is that education and military service can go hand-in-hand. Some of the best professional armies in the world – America being a strong example in this case – require their officer corps to have an education. In the US, colonels have to have a master's degree and the highest-ranking generals have PhDs. By funding the education of its officers, not only would the Georgian military become on the whole smarter and more capable, it would also be seen as an employment destination for some of the brightest young men and women. 

Moreover, this model doesn't have to apply only to aspiring battlefield commanders. A good military has excellent engineering, healthcare, diplomatic, and legal structures as well. For example, Israeli military’s IT and elite intelligence units have long become recognized as hotbeds of technological talent, as reflected in headlines like ”From Israeli Army Unit 8200 To Silicon Valley”. On the one hand, these units recruit the best young minds through a very competitive process (people, both men and women, compete to get in, not to get out!). On the other, they supply Israel’s Start Up Nation with whole teams of experienced developers, professional networks, and ideas. 

Georgia certainly has the raw individual talent, but to make good on its promise as a nation it has to urgently fix ineffective laws and institutions, such as its military and universities.

The author is President at Tbilisi’s International School of Economics (ISET) and Advisor to Georgian Minister of Economic and Sustainable Development.