Looking at Georgia’s National Security After Paris
19 November, 2015
Looking at Georgia’s National Security After Paris
Hint – It will not be found under a rock in a Syrian desert

Now that the blood is cleaned from the streets of Paris and the bullet casings have been picked up, the Western world, Georgia included, must ask themselves: What must we do about the threat posed by the so-called Islamic State (IS) and other extremists? This week’s events are causing many countries to look closely at their own security and evolve policies to match th
is threat. This is appropriate, given the ease with which a small number of militants inflicted panic, confusion and mass casualties on the streets of Paris. Georgia, too, must look long and hard at its own security, but it must tread these waters very carefully because all too often we see policy responses to events like this one only sowing the seeds of the next attack. I have only seen bellicose reactions, calling for, as the French President stated, “merciless” responses, but there is a third way to national security – one that requires far more nuanced approaches to public policy, and for Georgia, security solutions lie with its treatment of its own people, not in international parliaments or military alliances.

What will follow the events in Paris? Unfortunately, I do not have a crystal ball, but it is highly likely that Western countries will: 1. Restrict immigration and movement of people, despite the ongoing humanitarian dynamic of the refugee crisis; 2. Use NATO’s or the EU’s collective defense laws to significantly increase the Western presence on the battlefield in Iraq, Syria and potentially in other places where IS has presence such as Sinai and Libya. What do these policy options have to do with Georgian concerns? Georgia announced this week that it will consider taking in Syrian refugees. Furthermore, we know from Iraq and Afghanistan that Georgia is willing to follow NATO and the United States into its largest foreign entanglements, and if there is a coalition of ground troops deployed to Syria and Iraq under NATO’s Article V clause of collective defense, it is safe to bet that Georgia will ask to play a role in the operation.

With this considered, my question to the Ministry of Defense is: Where in Afghanistan or Syria will you find the solution to Georgian security problems? With Georgian passport holders fighting in Syria, more in Ukraine, and Russia’s continued creeping annexation of Georgia proper, it is safe to say that the solution to Georgia’s national security is not lying under a rock in the Syrian desert. The solution is right in front of us, in the halls of ministries and the Parliament, but unfortunately, the responses to the Paris massacre in Europe and in Tbilisi leave much to be desired.

It has pained me to read the responses from the political fringe across the world to the events in Paris, calling the events a derivative of Islam, the consequences of open borders, and the product of the French government’s unwillingness to conduct mass surveillance on its population as Germany and the United States have done (and are likely still doing). While the massacre in Paris is an indisputable tragedy of the worst kind, it has been disturbing to read the vitriol towards Islam that I have witnessed in these last few days, both in Georgia and abroad. It should be stated bluntly and clearly for all to read: IS is not Islamic, and its actions are more those of a group filling a power vacuum, than one with a worldwide religious agenda. The Quran states, “If anyone killed an innocent, it would be as if he killed the whole of mankind. And one who saved a life would be as if he had saved the lives of all mankind.” I am typically not one to praise the Georgian Orthodox Church, but Patriarch Ilia II said it best when he said, “Terrorism has nothing to do with religion” and connected the acts with ‘evil’ and not the tenants of religion. The Patriarch’s reactions to Paris should be praised.

Therefore, as we continue to pick up the pieces of shattered glass in Paris and shards of shattered calm all around the world, I think it is the perfect opportunity to develop more responsible policies for national security. Georgia can be a free, open, and secure country without joining NATO and the United States on another misadventure in a region it does not understand. Georgian security truly lies with better integrating its ethnic and religious minorities, taking a diplomatic leadership role in resolving frozen conflicts in the South Caucasus, and responsible socio-economic investment in regions like Pankisi – where 90 percent unemployment and simmering spite towards Tbilisi has resulted in a steady supply of IS recruits. Conflict specialist, Victoria Heckenlaible of the Center for Peace and Human Security of the American University of Kurdistan (who works near the front lines in Iraq), said the following about preventing radicalization:

“You have to remember that people seek better lives. A better life can mean increased economic security, a more cohesive community, stronger education, better opportunities, and deeper spiritual fulfillment. Chasing any of these can cause someone to radicalize. We try to pick one because it’s easier for drafting policy and programs. But no person or community is the same. The best option is to first listen and second to address community grievances and underlying causes.”

As an analyst and a writer, I do my best to give well-researched and pointed policy recommendations, but in response to something like Paris, I think it is fine to draw a conclusion with something a little more existential this time. We must not give in to wrath, anger and hatred when facing the same from our enemies. In Georgia and the West, we are distinguished by our capacity to live freely and to say and do what we want. The second we curtail our freedoms, and the way we treat others in the name of security or peace of mind, we lose that which we use to distinguish ourselves from the systems we aim to criticize. Now is not the time for Georgia to further entrench its foreign entanglements or for the marginalization of religious minorities, rather, it is a prime opportunity to do better by them.

By Charles Johnson

Photo from http://jesper-48.blogspot.com/

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