A forthcoming book presents a fresh take on the civil strife that beset Georgia and Tajikistan in the 1990s.
Traditionally, political scientists have assumed that civil conflict only ends with a dominant victory by one side over another. And since the end of the Cold War, researchers have tended to focus on the concept of “peace enforcement,” i.e. how the international community uses a variety of institutions, including the United Nations, International Criminal Court and nongovernmental organizations, to bring conflicts to a quick, and hopefully more gentle end.
But these assumptions and concepts do not fit well with the cases of Tajikistan and Georgia, argues Jesse Driscoll, a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego. In neither case did one side gain an overwhelming victory. And the conditions that the international community usually tries to bring about in peace enforcement – disarmament and demobilization of militias, protecting the government from violent overthrow, and helping the government provide services to its people – did not take place in the way that the international community usually imagines.
Driscoll's research, soon to be published in a book, titled Exiting Anarchy, was conducted via detailed interviews with former combatants in the Georgian and Tajik conflicts. He presented his findings at the Kennan Institute of the Wilson Center in Washington, DC, on March 21. It should be stressed that Driscoll’s research covering Georgia focused on the early 1990s tumult in Tbilisi involving forces loyal to former president Zviad Gamsakhurdia and “reformists” led by another former (and later ousted) leader, Eduard Shevardnadze. Driscoll did not cover the separatist conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Driscoll pointed out that, for the most part, militias in Georgia and Tajikistan that played major roles in the civil conflicts did not demobilize, but were gradually incorporated into the state security structures. The governments gained and maintained power not through the strengthening of the rule of law, but via informal agreements among warlords. And authorities largely failed to provide services, but instead used international donors to fill that role.
In both cases, too, the importance of the international community's role in stopping the violence was mostly as a money source, not as an implementer of particular projects or negotiations, Driscoll said. “The amount of overall wealth that comes into the country – from international aid, from investment, from indirect taxes on people who are working at the United Nations, or working in these embassies – that is the liquidity that, over time, makes the peace self-enforcing,” he said. “That's what keeps everything kind of together.”
People in Russia and Georgia tend to resist comparisons between Georgia – a relatively favored, economically advanced Soviet republic – and Tajikistan, the poorest part of the former empire. But examination from the outside “shows just how similar the trajectory of Shevardnadze and [Imomali] Rahmon end up being 15 years later, from 30,000 feet,” he said, referring to the presidents of the respective republics when the strife ended.
Both wars came to an end not due to international intervention, but through “micro-level” negotiations, Driscoll said. “Within Tbilisi, and within Dushanbe, a lot of what people were fighting over by the end was who exactly was going to own what really awesome flat in the downtown, who was going to have the really good job in the Ministry of Interior where you got to go door to door and collect taxes, and who was going to have to be in the army in a really rural area and have to do counterinsurgency. Those kinds of micro-politics simply are not accessible to the great powers.”
Driscoll also noted that while Shevardnadze is widely seen as a savvy politician, he followed more or less the same strategy as did the more lightly regarded Rahmon. Both worked to co-opt warlords one by one into the security structures of the state, gained reputations among warlords as men of their word, played Moscow against other parts of the international community, and were experts at “backroom politics with people who like to live off the grid,” Driscoll said. The scope of Driscoll’s research encompassed only the civil conflicts and their immediate aftermath, so he did not examine the divergent paths taken by Shevardnadze and Rahmon in the 21st century.
Joshua Kucera is a Washington, DC-based writer who specializes in security issues in Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Middle East. He is the editor of EurasiaNet's Bug Pit blog.