The Georgian parliament’s Committee on Defense and Security met on May 12 to continue lawmakers’ discussions on how best to restructure the Georgian military reserves (Newsday Georgia, May 12). Currently, the reserves are built exclusively on a territorial and mobilization principle: according to legislation passed in 2006, all men ages 27 to 40 are obliged, once every two years, to report for an 18-day training course under the guidance of military instructors. At the same time, the Georgian Army, unlike the armies of neighboring countries, is 90 percent composed of soldiers serving on a contract basis. The lessons of Russia’s military aggression in August 2008, however, pushed Georgian authorities, top brass and military experts to try to develop a new concept for organizing the Armed Forces’ reserves. This past March, Defense Minister Levan Izoria presented to the parliament a new draft that envisages a fundamental reform of the reserve system. The Ministry of Defense, taking into account the experience of many North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries and the specifics of Georgia, has developed an entirely different principle of reserve organization. (Mod.gov.ge, March 24; RFE/RL, April 16).
Levan Izoria is proposing to create a reserve force consisting of three components: an “active reserve of the army,” a “territorial reserve” and a so-called “specialized” or “expert reserve.” The first component will be composed of servicemen demobilized from the army, or those who have fulfilled a five-year military contract and are willing to serve for another five years in a reserve unit. The second—the territorial reserve—is to be created on the basis of the existing Georgian National Guard. The members of this reserve component will be deployed only in the areas of their residence and serve for five years. The third component will consist of civilian experts whose knowledge and experience can be useful to the army in peacetime or wartime. The active army reserve is to number 1,500 people, and the territorial reserve will be 10,000 strong. The specialized reserve units will not be limited in size, and will be dynamically formed based on the developing needs of the Armed Forces. Unlike the current reserve system, the new concept provides for manning a reserve force exclusively on a voluntary basis. Moreover, not only men but also women, up to 55 years of age, will be able to serve. Under this newly proposed system, the members of the reserve who conclude a five-year contract will annually undergo a 45-day retraining course; they will receive compensation for their service, equaling 20 percent of the salary of a military service member of similar rank and grade (Mod.gov.ge, March 24; RFE/RL, April 16).
At the March 2017 hearing before the parliament, Defense Minister Izoria said that if this reserve concept is adopted by the legislature, the first “pilot” program to select participants and conclude service contracts will be launched in 2018. The minister believes the new reserve system is “relevant” under present conditions whereby Georgia has already switched to an almost fully professional army. Although the issue of the complete abolition of conscription in the army is still up for debate (see EDM, February 22).
On the whole, the majority of Georgian defense experts have positively assessed the proposed new reserve concept. But former minister of defense of Georgia (2008–2012) David Sikharulidze declared that Levan Izoria’s “project” fails to address a number of vital issues: “The former reserve system had many shortcomings; however, the new concept also raises questions. In the first instance, with respect to resources, it is unclear whether the government will have enough to create a ‘three-component reserve.’ ” Sikharulidze further recalled that 70 percent of all financial expenses for the maintenance of the Georgian military are spent on personal allowances and the maintenance of military personnel; much less goes to infrastructure, the development of the army and the purchase of weapons. “By ‘shortage of resources,’ I mean not only finance, but also a shortage of qualified officers whose training costs very much, and also a deficiency of experts for the third component of the reserve,” Sikharulidze noted (Author’s interview, May 17).
The former minister of defense argues that in addition to creating a “beautiful concept,” the government should think about how to ensure comprehensive support for the new reserve: “In order for the Armed Forces reserves to work and become really useful to the army as well as to be a solution for the problems of safety of the country, it is necessary to considerably increase the military budget, which is currently about 700 million lari [$291 million]. In addition, it is necessary to develop military [capabilities, including by] strengthening air and anti-tank defense; improve the level of training of command structures; resolve, at last, the issue of completely doing away with conscription; and to determine specific deadlines for the formation of each of the three components of the reserve. Otherwise, if the organization of the reserve is ‘pulled out’ of the general context of building the Armed Forces and increasing the country’s defense capability, even the most attractive project may turn out completely irrelevant and useless.” At the same time, David Sikharulidze, who served in 2006–2008 as Georgia’s ambassador to the US, stressed that the various components of the reserve proposed by the Ministry of Defense “have already been tested in many countries and are found only in democratic states” (Author’s interview, May 17).
Another problem with the implementation of “Izoria’s concept” was noticed by Vakhtang Maisaia, a doctor of military sciences. “The implementation of the ideas offered by the [defense] minister is impossible without radical legislative changes in several different spheres. Otherwise, the approval of the project in the parliament may turn out to be a ‘blank shot,’ as its provisions will come into conflict with other legislative acts,” Masaya argued (Author’s interview, May 17).
But as the chairman of the parliamentary Defense and Security Committee, Irakli Sesiashvili, assured this author, in an interview on May 17, “The deputies are very serious about the proposal of the minister of defense. We are ready to create a complete legislative base for a significant reform of the reserve and the further development of the country’s defense and security system.”