What is Georgia’s Military For?
01 October, 2015
There are two possible uses for Georgia’s military. The first would be to fight a war with an external threat or by its existence, to deter an external threat from invading Georgia. Of course, the government needs to imagine every possible threat to Georgia, but there allready is one overwhelming potential threat _ Russia. So along with the various unlikely but possible external threats, Georgia’s army could be focused on being able to fight Russia’s. The problem with this is
that Russia would love a military engagement with Georgia. A large part of the Kremlin’s foreign policy is based on the premise that small largely frozen military engagements with neighbors is in their interests, that they can keep several of them going at the same time and that the Russian military is big and strong enough not to lose, which is the same as keeping them going.

Important in this discussion is recognition that the second most powerful person in Russia, and the only one who has an independent power base, meaning Putin can not easily remove him, is Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Chechnya. If there was some type of military engagement between Russia and Georgia, even one that Russia denied was happening, as they are with Ukraine, Chechen troops may participate on Russia’s side. So for this and many other reasons, everybody agrees that avoiding war with Russia is wise, particularly knowing that Russia would be happy to engage in another war with Georgia.

The other possibility is to use the Army and Ministry of Defense as a policy instrument for Georgia to get closer to Euro-Atlantic security structures, or specifically, to NATO. Georgia now has the second largest contingent in Afghanistan after the United States. It spends 2 percent of its national budget on defense, which is the NATO recommendation, not even met by several western European NATO members. It has an active and ongoing dialogue with NATO and 80 U.S. Marines in Georgia now working with the Georgian Army. Georgia is the non-NATO member doing the most to help NATO.

But is it worth it? Certainly Georgia will not be a member of NATO any time soon. Many members of NATO believe it has much more to lose from Georgia being a member than it has to gain. But with such a bully for a neighbor, Georgia’s choices are limited and if Georgia can move closer to NATO over the long term, even a little bit, there is at least a possibility that NATO can gradually provide some security guarantees. But there is always a chance that this may not work. The Kremlin has a policy of - or at least it enjoys - testing NATO by invading and occupying Russia’s neighbors on its European side. This creates instability for these neighbors. And Russia feels that it is in its interest because it has decided it is in competition with the EU or the West, and this instability, conveniently for Russia creates doubts within NATO membership about how real NATO is. On the other hand maybe this testing by the Kremlin will strengthen and revitalize NATO, and in that case Georgia may be well placed to benefit, but again over the long term.

Of course, there is also another possibility. Georgia could simply become neutral and not have a military. If Georgia can’t fight its greatest threat, there is a powerful logic to it simply getting rid of its army. There would be several advantages. It would save the money for other purposes. Some around the world would respect the choice. Nobody could then accuse Georgia of threatening Russia or “poking the bear”. But considering that Russia occupies a large part of Georgia and enjoys pushing its barbed wire fence around South Ossetia further into the rest of Georgia on a whim, it would take a pretty bold pacifist to advocate having no military. There would be no chance in the future of Georgia benefiting from NATO’s formal or informal protection, and perhaps as importantly, it would lose an important conduit of communication with the West.

In Misha’s time they tried to both have a fighting force which was based in the Interior Ministry and the NATO alignment entity which was the Army. But the Interior troops at Shavnabada have since been disbanded. Certainly the mysterious disaster at the Lopota Gorge near Lapankuri did not argue well for their value. Although since their disbanding, it is not clear now which troops could actually fight on behalf of Georgia itself.

The current tone from the Georgian government is strangely impatient and aggressive towards NATO, as if NATO owes Georgia quick membership or a MAP or something. This is dangerous. It isn’t a good idea because it sets themselves up to appear to fail if they can’t deliver something that was never promised anyway. It gives the impression to the Georgian public that NATO is somehow not engaged with Georgia unless this or that happens, which is not true. It risks general public support for NATO. It makes Georgia look petulant in NATO’s eyes and jeopardizes informal support. Misha was often criticized for his unnecessarily aggressive public statements towards Russia. This government should consider if its statements are unnecessarily aggressive towards NATO. Georgia has nothing to gain and a great deal to lose by making them.