U.S. Senators Recommend Stationing Troops In Georgia
A Washington task force headed by two U.S. senators has released a report on Georgia and its relations with the U.S. and Europe, "Georgia in the West: A Policy Road Map to Georgia's Euro-Atlantic Future." It makes a variety of recommendations for U.S., European and Georgian policymakers, including some provocative ones in the security realm:
-- Propose an international security presence in the occupied territories: As part of an effort to go on the offense diplomatically, the United States should work with its allies to lay out a clear vision of what security arrangements should be in the context of a fully implemented cease-fire agreement: an Abkhazia and South Ossetia in which additional Russian forces and border guards have withdrawn and security is provided by a neutral international security presence working closely with local authorities...
-- Advance Georgia’s NATO aspirations. US officials should use the NATO summit in Chicago to advance NATO’s commitment to Georgia’s membership aspirations in practical ways, including by adopting a package of intensified cooperation, reiterating that Georgia will become an ally, and making clear that the NATO-Georgia Commission and Georgia’s Annual National Programme are mechanisms through which Georgia can eventually achieve membership...
-- Bolster the US footprint in Georgia. Georgia’s security strategy is premised on deterrence. Any US presence in Georgia helps to augment that deterrence, and just as importantly, reinforces a psychological sense of security among the population. In the absence of formal security guarantees, the United States should augment a small military footprint associated with its: 1) program to train Georgian forces for coalition operations; 2) support to NATO’s Partnership for Peace Training Center; and 3) facilities and logistics to handle transit of forces and equipment from Afghanistan now and, in smaller numbers, in the future, and to serve as a logistics hub for access to Central Asia.
-- Normalize military-to-military relations. US officials should normalize military-to-military relations with Georgia, including restarting defensive arms sales and Special Forces training. Any procurement agreements should help Georgia to better defend itself, participate in coalitions operations, and meet NATO Partnership Goals. These efforts should proceed in a manner that makes clear that the US decision is linked to the Georgian government’s continuing commitment to its nonuseof-force pledge; is in coordination with NATO allies to avoid surprises among potentially skeptical allies, and to ensure similar moves by allies who have had traditional defense relationships with Georgia; and ensures transparency in all US defense cooperation with Georgia.
-- Join the EU Monitoring Mission. The EUMM has won the respect of all actors, including Russia, and is in a position to expand its role to ensure greater transparency along the occupation lines. Working off the precedent of the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX), the United States should consider participating in the EUMM, along with other third parties.
Particularly striking is the proposal to station U.S. troops in Georgia as a method of deterrence. On the surface, it seems like an aggressive move, and a reckless one: does the U.S. really want to be the tripwire in Georgia in case Russia does something? And what if Georgia starts something with Russia, and then U.S. troops are in the middle of a war: what do they do? On the other hand, if you accept that those two possibilities are unlikely, then it could be a savvy compromise: Georgians will feel reassured and Russia (possibly) would be deterred and wouldn't consider the U.S. troops there, assuming it's just a token presence, to be a threat. But I really don't know how Russia would react to that. (I'll try to find out.)
Because in general, the list could be titled "Ways For The U.S. To Antagonize Russia." When I was in Moscow, I met with Yevgeny Buzhinsky, until last year the Russian MoD's top international cooperation official, and asked him what would happen if the U.S. started selling weapons to Georgia:
"Of course, it would spoil our relations. Georgia is a very special case, and if I were an American decisionmaker, I would give a very low profile to Georgia for the time being... if you want to antagonize Russia, you can forget about transit [i.e. Russia's cooperation on shipping military cargo to Afghanistan]. It will again be a 'Cold Peace.'"
Buzhinsky was the lead negotiator for Russia when they agreed to let U.S. military supplies transit through Russia or Russian airspace, so his words have some weight. Depending on how you look at his words, they either sound like extortion or like good ol' fashioned Kissingerian hardball politics. I don't know why Russia is so concerned about Georgian weapons, but they are, and Washington has to deal with that.
Yesterday, the Obama administration's nominee to be ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, testified at his confirmation hearing, and when he discussed the "reset," the top dividend he mentioned was Moscow's cooperation on Afghanistan:
First, through greater engagement with the Russian government, we have expanded our northern supply routes into Afghanistan. This complex network of railways, flight routes, and roads known as the Northern Distribution Network, now accounts for more than half of all the supplies that we send to our soldiers in Afghanistan. Since signing a military transit accord with Russia in 2009, we have flown more than 1,500 flights transporting more than 235,000 personnel through Russia. These transit arrangements are a matter of vital importance to our troops as the transit route through Pakistan becomes more problematic.
At this report's launch, I asked the authors if losing that cooperation would be worth the gain from the implementation of their recommendations. One of the chairs of the task force, Jeanne Shaheen, a Democratic senator from New Hampshire, answered:
"I don't think you should look at this as a zero-sum game. We have a reset policy with Russia, we are moving forward there on a variety of issues that are of concern to the United States, where we think we can cooperate. We also have a variety of interests in Georgia, and we need to look at ways in which we can support Georgia's emergence as a strong democracy in that part of the world. We are already helping them in terms of providing training and assistance with respect to their military services, and I think we need to look at our interests in Georgia as a separate issue."
One the report's lead authors, Frances Burwell of the Atlantic Council, added:
Burwell could be right, and Moscow could be bluffing on this. I guess there's no way to know. But the protestations that this isn't a zero-sum game ring false. The great majority of Georgia's alleged friends in Washington care about the country only to the extent they can use it as a cudgel to wield against Russia. As the other senatorial chair of the task force, Lindsey Graham said at the launch: "I think they have a view of reconstructing the old Soviet Union in a big way, that we need to challenge." And so, we get into the eternal, unwinnable argument about whether Moscow or Washington is to blame for their poor relations.
And it's a shame Georgia has put itself in the middle of this, because as a couple of the other task force members eloquently explained, despite Georgia's faults (which the report amply addresses), it is still an inspiring story. For example, Kurt Volker, recently U.S. ambassador to NATO:
"There are a lot of ways to look at European history. You can look at it as the rise, and decline, and clash of empires. You can look at it as the integration of France and Germany in overcoming centuries of conflict in Europe. But I think the most meaningful way to look at European history is to look at the progress of the idea of governance, the relationship of people to the governments that rule over them. From the initial imposition of governance by might, to the assertion of the divine right of monarchies to rule over others, finally to the proposition that the people have the right to choose the government that rule over them. There has been tremendous progress... from the Magna Carta to the French revolution, the U.S. revolution, French philosophers, the aftermath of World War II and the establishment of democratic institutions in Italy and Germany, to the fall of the Berlin Wall. And what Georgia reminds us... is that as much progress as we've made in this sweep of history, we've never finished the job. There are parts of Europe that have not fully become part of that development, that human progression. Those of us who take pride and satisfaction in how far we've come must not forget that we have this much that lies before us."
Cynics can roll their eyes at sentiment like that, especially when said by someone in power trying to justify a policy. But it's also true, and it's too bad that Georgia's position as a geopolitical pawn -- a state of affairs in which Washington, Tbilisi and Moscow are all complicit -- has come to overshadow that.
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