It is common knowledge that the August 2008 conflict erupted in response to the ongoing dispute between Russian Federation and Republic of Georgia. Still without being aware of the fundamental elements of Georgia’s unresolved embroilment with South Ossetia and Abkhazia, it would be impossible to understand the recent conflict, its implications and future developments in the South Caucasus. One might ask whether “the South Ossetian war of 2008 [was] inevitable?” With Mikhail Saakashvili’s rise to power in 2004, peoples and states in the Caucasus region began to utter a more hopeful tone for the possible resolution of long-standing conflicts in the region, which was also reflected in Saakashvili government’s promises and policy choices. However, from the beginning of his rule, Saakashvili government’s policies concerning Georgia’s most detrimental problems proved to be failure to ensure security, stability or development. On the contrary, Georgia’s security policies evolved, in contradiction with the official and declared principles laid out by the Saakashvili government itself, in a way that the stability not only of Georgia but of the whole region was threatened by armed conflicts. There are several reasons for the failure of this new approach, but this paper specifically aims to highlight Georgian security discourse and its evolution, as well as assess its weaknesses in relation to the dispute with Abkhazia and its implications for Georgian security policy.
The central point in our analysis is that the security discourse put forward by Saakashvili government since its coming to power in 2004 failed to prove sustainable. The main argument is that the security perceptions of the two sides became incompatible with each other since these policies were shaped by the mutual clashes as well as the application of a security discourse which does not fit into the peculiar security situation inherent in the Caucasus. On the contrary, Georgian government’s policy towards Abkhazia and South Ossetia were continuously strained, and consequently, burst into armed conflict in August 2008. Russian Federation’s decision to recognize the independence of the two regions caused an irreversible rupture in the establishment of a normalization process. The security perception of the two sides evolved since the dissolution of the Soviet Union and since then both sides attempted to push forward unilateral policies upon each other. This study will try to understand the evolution of security perceptions and major issues that shape the security policies of Georgia and Abkhazia. Thus, it is also argued that a security discourse which takes the international institutional and political perspective dominant in the West or one that is imposed by foreign powers bears the threat of incongruity between the sides and therefore marginalization of the ongoing security problems.
Georgian National Security Discourse
Dissolution of the Soviet Union left the post-Soviet space with uncertain domestic transformations, potential civil strife and regional violence. Caucasus region was shaken with two major ethnic conflicts, which still continue to threaten security, stability and therefore create uncertainty for the countries and peoples of the region. Georgian state declared its independence in such circumstances as a weak state in a fragmented region. No country in any of the sub-regions of the post-Soviet region is more central than Georgia in determining whether settled threats in the region would affect other countries and security in the region. Attempting to define the major parameters of Georgian security is therefore detrimental to understand the source of conflicts.
For the sake of a more solid analysis, examination of the Georgian security will be limited to the period following the Saakashvili government’s coming to power, which we argue has thawed the frozen conflicts by attempting to adopt a clearly defined security policy, but failed to erect a case-specific solution to its security issues. Still an overall analysis of pre-Saakashvili period on the evolution of Georgian national security concept will be made. Then, what determines Georgia’s security? It can be argued that three main points are worth mentioning:
1. Violent separatist conflicts, seen as threat to the territorial integrity of the state
2. Georgia’s first government’s heritage, which left country weakened and poorly positioned
3. Instability that prevails beyond borders, such as Nagorno-Karabakh to the south and Chechnya to the north
Saakashvili government’s efforts towards defining Georgia’s security focused on overcoming these three problems in order to be able to break with the past state practices, reinvigorate the state, strengthen executive power, disrupt criminal networks, restore central authority, create a trustworthy police force and collect taxes etc. The Rose Revolution is assumed to bring about a more focused and decisive policy concerning the above said problems. However, as we will see Saakashvili government’s security policy and its implementation contravened each other.
Georgia’s experience with the introduction of a national security discourse reflects the confusion that the security studies experiences in the post-Cold War period. The inability to define and locate national interests, as well as threats, orientation and policy overlaps with the ambiguity surrounding the traditionalist views of security inherent in the international security structures. Despite the prevailing anti-Russian sentiment in the Georgian politics, 1990s obliged all ex-Soviet republics to search ways to integrate themselves with the Western world. The emergence and evolution of the Georgian security concept security has been a process that clearly predicated the concerns uttered in the debates that emerged after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. While traditional security studies prioritized a state-centered military-strategic security perception, in all of the post-Soviet republics and in Georgia, state differed from that which was taken for granted by the traditional security studies. Therefore, state-building, economic development and securitization processes in these countries had been a more difficult experience compared to the Western nation-state model. Especially, for Georgia which adopted a policy of emancipation from the Russian influence, 1990s had proved the identification of security and national interests a fragile process. Thus security discourse that was attempted to be built in the 1990s was inapplicable and became incongruent due to lack of legitimacy, the uncertainty of the state-building process and dissonance within the decision-making levels of the state. After the 1990s, country delved into a colored revolution with a renewed and more decisive attitude towards the establishment of a sound security discourse, but again problems emerged in the implementation of these new policies.
Evolution of the Georgian National Security Discourse
The evolution of Georgian national security began in mid 1990s with the Shevardnadze government’s undertaking. Shevardnadze had ordered the creation of a state commission to develop a national security concept in 1996. In 1997, Parliament adopted a resolution on military doctrine, based on a document written largely by the Minister of Defense and modified by the Parliamentary Committee on Defense and Security. The document followed Russian military doctrine’s discourse and it emphasized the need to cooperate with all states, while the document did not define Georgia’s national interests or the threats the country faced. The document did not find ground in the Georgian parliament.
The first attempt to erect a sound national security concept emerged from the recommendations provided by the London-based International Security Advisory Board (ISAB) that was formed in 1996 to provide high-level independent advice to the Baltic countries on the reform and modernization of their national security sectors. In 1998, Georgian government asked ISAB to prepare a recommendation report on the modernization of Georgia’s security policies. The group’s first report on Georgia was prepared in 1999. In 1999, the National Security Council acknowledged these recommendations to formulate a national security concept. Major issues emphasized in several reports produced during that period were state-building, the challenge of separatism, the interference of external players in domestic affairs, corruption, social inequality, the risk of regional conflict, Georgia’s military inferiority, and possible ecological catastrophes. Darchiashvili summarizes the content of these reports:
Some of these draft documents invoked the prevalence of ethnic identity over citizenship in the broader public’s attitudes, the low prestige of law enforcement agencies, and the violation of human rights by representatives of those agencies. Many of them emphasized the need to protect human rights, to achieve civilian control over the military, to foster political pluralism, and to strengthen local self-government. They also urged the peaceful solution of Georgia’s frozen ethnic conflicts.
In summer 1999, a new draft document was prepared by the state commission. The new report outlined a clearer vision of Georgia’s strategic vision by indicating the intention to join the key institutions of Euro-Atlantic community. It recommended a break with the past strategic vision and prioritized Westernization in all spheres of socio-political life. Still this new document also failed to provide concrete determination of the threats and risks, and obviously national interests. The adoption of a Western conception of security presumed NATO membership and deepened cooperation with the EU, while expressing skepticism over Russian-led Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the existence of Russian military bases on the Georgian territory. A report which was published by the initiative of ISAB following this report entitled “Georgia and the World: Vision and Strategy for the Future” advanced further the proposed vision by including new attention to military reform so as to integrate Georgian military and defense policy with the Western world. Yet again both documents received no particular attention in the inner circles of the Georgian politics, nor was it taken into official consideration by the authorities.
In 2002, a White paper was published by the Ministry of Defense which simply summarized the organization of the armed forces, emphasized civilian control of the military while minimizing the importance of integration with NATO. The document again failed to provide a concrete examination of the security challenges facing the country or a definition of a national security strategy. In 2003, the National Security Council had prepared a new and more inclusive draft. This new draft also underscored the possible integration into NATO, but it provided more comprehensive evaluation of foreign relations, Georgia’s regional role and enmity in relations with Russia. Darchiashvili argued that in this draft the core principles such as “democratization and human rights issues were ignored. Instead, the document noted the chance the Georgian nation had to build a state corresponding to its spiritual preferences and cultural distinctiveness.”
In 2005, a new National Security Document was ratified by the Georgian Parliament. This new official strategy adopted a multi-tiered understanding of security, while national interests, threats, risks and challenges to national security and main directions of Georgia’s National Security Policy are outlined. The document is of advisory value, but since together with Constitution of Georgia and National Military Strategy paper, it is one of the defining elements and blueprints of Georgian security.
Fundamental National Values and National Interests of Georgia
In the National Security Concept document, Georgia’s fundamental national values are defined as of “ultimate importance to the very existence and security of Georgia, and to the security and prosperity of its citizens”. These values, namely independence, freedom, democracy and the rule of law, prosperity, peace and security, are mentioned as the values that will be protected by all available lawful means.
The National Security Concept document defines Georgia’s national interests as
1. Ensuring territorial integrity
2. Ensuring national unity and civil accord
3. Regional stability
4. Strengthening freedom and democracy in neighboring states and regions
5. Strengthening the state’s transit function and energy security
6. Environmental security of the country and region
7. Preserving national and cultural uniqueness
As the enumeration suggests, ensuring territorial integrity is assumed to be the primary national interest, by declaring that the state is “is dedicated to restoring and maintaining its territorial integrity and ensuring the non-violability of its internationally recognized borders. Georgia will employ all available lawful means to resolve peacefully and justly all issues that might arise in the process of restoring the constitutional order on the territory of Georgia.” The following elements are therefore linked directly to the territorial integrity, since Georgia defines the problem as one of a statehood issue, the attainment of which defines the achievability of the other elements.
Threats, Risks and Challenges to National Security
Possible threats and risks to the maintenance of these values and interests are directly linked with the schema provided in these documents. The definition of a security identity for Georgian state is limited and drawn according to the main elements hereby declared, but still the threats and adequate policies to overcome these threats do not reflect a reformed understanding of Georgian security. Firstly, the document does not make a distinction between internal and external dimensions and interprets factors of Georgian security as interrelated issues. For Georgia the primary threat to Georgian statehood is defined as “infringement of Georgia’s territorial integrity” which is argued to be at stake due to the threat of “de facto separation of Abkhazia and the former Autonomous District of South Ossetia from Georgia, and loss of control over these territories by the Georgian authorities.” The problem is seen as the root of political, economic and social instabilities in Georgia.
Secondly, the possibility of a spillover of conflicts from neighboring state is defined as a threat. Namely, acting as a destabilizing factor, spillover of conflicts might cause provocations from state and non-state actors in and outside Georgian territory, dragging Georgia into conflicts in the region due to “uncontrolled borders”. The document also refers to Russian military presence in Georgia as a threat factor, which is no longer the case.
Thirdly, the document emphasizes the possibility of a military intervention in Georgia, as Russian Federation continues to grant citizenship rights to the population in the de facto republics. The document highlights the possibility that there is a possibility that Russian Federation could use it as an excuse to intervene in Georgian sovereignty, which already proved true in the case of South Ossetia in August 2008.
The document also outlines international terrorism, contraband and transnational organized crime as threats to Georgia’s security. Moreover, Russian military bases are mentioned as a security risk and the withdrawal of Russian military from the Georgian territory as the basis for “normalization of bilateral relations and strengthening of mutual confidence.”
Corruption and inefficient public administration system, together with social and economic challenges, energy related challenges, information related challenges and environmental challenges are also defined as risks to Georgian national security. Among these risks, corruption and inefficient public administration are seen as threats to the development of the democratic regime, institutionalization, economic development, and therefore social cohesion and balance. Saakashvili government’s rise to power is interpreted as a result of mistrust in the government, which the Georgian society saw corrupted and inefficient. State’s inability and incapacity to find a permanent solution to the threats posed by the two regions to the territorial integrity of Georgia, worsening economic conditions and corruption were seen as important factors in the period before the Rose Revolution.
Main Directions of Georgia’s National Security Policy as Outlined in the National Security Concept
The principles laid out in this chapter outlines major political goals in line with the national interests defined in the document. Strengthening of Public Administration and Consolidation of Democratic Institutions call for institutional reform so as to develop a democratic political system of governance via decentralization and legitimacy of the government. Thus, it emphasizes efforts to combat corruption, increasing transparency and accountability as well as administrative and legal measures necessary to implement adequate mechanisms to secure democratization. Secondly, the document highlights the need to strengthen state defense, military reform and modernization of the Georgian army. Cooperation with NATO through the implementation of the Individual Partnership Action Plan is a major concern.
The critical element of this section is evaluated under the heading “Restoration of the Territorial Integrity of Georgia”, which evaluates the influence of unresolved dispute with Abkhazia and the former Autonomous District of Georgia. Accordingly, the inability to control these two regions “hampers Georgia’s transformation into a full democracy” and the document offers that with the participation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, constitutional order of Georgia could be developed. There is emphasis on the peaceful settlement of the conflicts “based on international law” while implying Georgian government’s readiness to “ensure protection provide civil, economic social, religious and cultural rights of all ethnic groups” in Georgia. The document prioritizes the principle of Georgian territorial integrity and broad regional autonomy and mentions the proposal put forward by Saakashvili government in 2005 concerning the settlement of disputes and renunciation of forces by highlighting “the principles of self-determination of nations, cultural identity, minority rights, human rights and freedom and equality of citizens as stipulated by the Constitution of Georgia.” The vagueness of the proposal as to the implementation of a plan in line with the principle of self-determination seems to contradict with the emphasis on the territorial integrity. Moreover, the document repeatedly highlights international law and Constitution of Georgia.
Concerning the external dimension of Georgian national security, integration with NATO, EU and relations with United States, Ukraine, Turkey and Azerbaijan are examined. On relations with Georgia, document suggests,
Georgia aspires to build cooperation with Russia upon the principles of good neighborly relations, equality and mutual respect. Georgia would welcome transition of Russia into a stable democratic state with a functioning market economy and respect for European values. Democratization and foreign policy predictability of the Russian Federation would positively influence Georgia’s and the regional security environment.
Georgia expresses its readiness to intensify political dialogue, deepen trade, economic and socio-cultural relations, cooperate in solving regional conflicts, and to fight against terrorism and transnational crime with the Russian Federation. Georgia believes that conclusion of the framework agreement on friendship and cooperation will create favorable conditions for the improvement of relations between the two states. Georgia reiterates its commitment to sign the framework agreement without delay.
The Russian Federation must fulfill the obligations undertaken at the 1999 OSCE Istanbul Summit regarding the withdrawal of its military bases from Georgian.
At its core, Georgian security is about statehood. Beyond this case, it reflects the obtrusive reality that an insecure Georgia exists within a region of insecure states. The problematic vision outlined in the national security documents, although bringing no official or formal liabilities for the state policy, reflects the fact that confusion surrounding Georgian security-makers since independence. Beginning from the first attempt at formulating a national security strategy, significant uncertainties surrounding Georgian statehood are placed at the center of the security formulations. Georgian “insecurity” has become the main problem, as a result of the inability to provide a sound and adaptive security strategy. Moreover, Georgian security is thrown between the two peaks, namely a Russian-oriented and a Western-oriented security scheme. Therefore modern Georgian insecurity “does not derive from a dearth of protection, but from the ‘lack of clarity or its scope’.
Another critical problem that defines the Georgian security is the dilemma between the state-building process (which is the source of insecurity) and security which is defined as the source of the problems with the statehood. Thus “particular centralizing characteristics of Georgia’s state-building program, some of them necessary reforms … contributed to the increasing tensions” , namely insecurity. Saakashvili government’s state-building efforts were focused on an aggressive agenda of democratization, fight against corruption and institutional reform. Still the state-building efforts were aimed at the integration of the uncontrolled territories. Saakashvili’s aim was that a strengthened, wealthy and democratic Georgian state would reassure the populations of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and attract their attention to the possibility of a reintegration solution to the ongoing dispute.
The lack of clarity in defining Georgian security, i.e. process itself began not with a focus on the security, but on threats – that is, by defining threats themselves. Thus, security was defined with less reference on Georgia’s ability to fashion a security strategy than to create a development strategy. On the contrary success of a possible Georgia’s development strategy was directly attached to the statehood problem. This however is dependent upon the ensuring sovereignty and independence of Georgia. Statehood precedes security. The two processes continuously forced each other and lead to a two-tiered security understanding, namely one of a statehood vs. security situation. The dilemma between statehood and security had been a major roadblock to ensuring security.
Ghia Nodia argues that there are four major roadblocks to statehood in Georgia. First, ethnic exclusivity among the Georgian people is assumed to prevent loyalty and social cohesion among the citizens of Georgia. Second, Nodia argues that a Soviet legacy aiding fragmentation is still influential. Third, powerful alternative national projects gained ground in Georgia since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Fourth, Nodia argues that there is an array of potential sources of tension, namely an internal dimension of national security challenge. With reference to the first point, Darchiashvili argues that the future of Georgia’s Rose Revolution depends on its ability to mobilize around a national idea. Accordingly, Georgia’s democratic forces must promote Georgian nationalism to strengthen national project, but ethnicity-based nationalism must be abandoned.
Soviet legacy is one of the major causes behind the failure of institutional mechanisms. The institutional structures as well as the political system in Georgia were neatly based on the Soviet legacy and this legacy still continues to have detrimental effects for the country. Therefore, when Georgian government made the strategic decision to break up with the Soviet past and orient the country towards the Western model, the decision and the intention to be a part of the West in fact refers to the modernization of the country, i.e. the process of securitization. Thus adoption of the Western model is for security’s sake, not because of a strong attachment to the model’s intrinsic world. Thus another major critical problem for Georgian state-building, in connection to the institutional failures, is the criminalized state, which Saakashvili government targeted by the enervation of institutional organization. Darchiashvili argues that as a security problem, criminalization of the state structures caused the erosion of national security. National security concept pays particular attention to the problem of institutional reform and fight with corruption and other criminal activities inherent in the post-Soviet state system in Georgia.
In a similar fashion Pavel Baev argues that “Georgia’s troubles derive principally from the anomalies and distortions of its own society, political institutions, or communist legacies than from the all-penetrating shadow economy and corruption” . The goal of the state is defined as creating a liberal democratic system, but one that protects Georgia’s unique cultural and historical identity. Darchiashvili & Nodia, stress the contradiction between the liberal and democratic inclinations of the new elite and the widely popular traditional nationalist sentiment and practices with which they must contend. Georgia fell into a duality between democratization by democratic state or a strong state that is powerful and efficient enough to succeed transition process. Even the democratization for the sake of security is compromised due to internal political problems between the government and the opposition, now apparent more than ever.
Georgian security project is stuck between the attempts to transcend the legacy of Soviet ethno-federalist practices, which are dealt with a Western-based model of territorial integrity, with democratic forms and efforts aimed at constructing statehood. Consequently, the security discourse put forward by Saakashvili government since its coming to power in 2004 failed to prove sustainable. The security perceptions of the two sides became incompatible with each other since these policies were shaped by the mutual clashes as well as the application of a security discourse which does not fit into the peculiar security situation inherent in the country. On the contrary, Georgian government’s new security discourse based on state-building measures could not provide a ground for an effective definition of security policy towards Abkhazia and South Ossetia, continuously straining the security situation and consequently, bursting into armed conflict in August 2008. Russian Federation’s decision to recognize the independence of the two regions caused an irreversible rupture in the establishment of a normalization process.
The security perception of the sides evolved since the dissolution of the Soviet Union and since then both sides attempted to push forward unilateral policies upon each other. While traditional security studies prioritized a state-centered military-strategic security perception, in all of the post-Soviet republics and in Georgia, state differed from that which was taken for granted by the traditional security studies. Therefore, state-building, economic development and securitization processes in these countries had been a more difficult experience compared to the Western nation-state model. Especially, for Georgia which adopted a policy of emancipation from the Russian influence, 1990s had proved the identification of security and national interests a fragile process. Thus security discourse that was attempted to be built in the 1990s was inapplicable and became incongruent due to lack of legitimacy, the uncertainty of the state-building process and dissonance within the decision-making levels of the state. After the 1990s, country delved into a colored revolution with a renewed and more decisive attitude towards the establishment of a sound security discourse, but again problems emerged in the implementation of these new policies.
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Ghia Nodia (2005) “Georgia: Dimensions of Insecurity” in Statehood and security: Georgia after the Rose Revolution, Cambridge: MIT Press
Goerge, Julie A. (2009) “The Dangers of Reform: State-building and national minorities in Georgia” Central Asian Survey , Vol. 28, No.2 June
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