U.S. and Georgia Sign Strategic Partnership Charter

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 6

On January 9 in Washington, barely a week before the change of administrations there, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Minister of Foreign Affairs Grigol Vashadze signed the U.S.-Georgia Charter on Strategic Partnership. The document and the overall guiding concept primarily involve issues of hard security and defense.

Russia’s August 2008 invasion of Georgia helped catalyze Washington’s work on this document, while inspiring the opposite response in several West European NATO member countries. NATO’s indecision on this issue at its November 2008 ministerial (see EDM, December 5, 9) underscored the urgency of proceeding with U.S.-Georgia bilateral security arrangements. Whether this bilateral relationship becomes an avenue to Georgian membership in NATO or, on the contrary, an alternative to it, will depend largely on the alliance’s choice of retaining or forfeiting relevance in its own neighborhood.

The outgoing Bush administration’s top echelon had allowed a strategic vacuum to develop around Georgia well before the Russian invasion. The administration, however, authorized the accelerated drafting of the charter in the State Department and Pentagon for signing ahead of the change of administrations in Washington (see EDM, December 18, 2008). The desire to redeem a once-promising “legacy issue” for this administration in the last hour may have played some part in accelerating the signing. Nevertheless, development of a strategic partnership with Georgia rests on bipartisan consensus in the United States. Public statements and visits to Georgia by key Democrats in Congress and in the Barack Obama presidential campaign since the Russian invasion have underscored that consensus behind U.S. policy; as did the bipartisan Congressional approval for massive civil and military reconstruction assistance to Georgia. These facts seem to be ignored by Moscow spokesmen, who complain that the outgoing administration saddled the incoming one with a fait accompli to restrict its leeway for trade-offs with Russia.

The Charter (www.mfa.gov.ge/files) defines U.S.-Georgia relations as a “strategic partnership” for the first time and enshrines a U.S. “vital interest in a strong, independent, sovereign, unified, and democratic Georgia, capable of responsible self-defense.”

It describes this partnership as “based on shared values and common interests,” thereby elevating it above any expediency-dictated arrangements with unfriendly third parties such as Russia. (For example, those who urge leaving Georgia to its fate for the sake of Russian-approved paper resolutions in the U.N. Security Council will henceforth be usefully reminded of the U.S.-Georgia “shared values and common interests” of a “vital” character).

The document’s definition of common interests focuses on: “protecting [Georgia’s] security and territorial integrity,” “bolstering Eurasian energy security” through a Southern Corridor to Europe, and “enhanc[ing] the physical security of energy transit through Georgia to European markets…to help Europe diversify supplies by securing imports from Azerbaijan and Central Asia.”

Within that context, the Charter enshrines U.S. intentions to “undertake a program of enhanced security cooperation to increase Georgian capabilities…including via enhanced training and equipment for Georgian forces.” Moreover, “recognizing the persistence of threats [since] the August ceasefire agreement to non-use of force, the United States and Georgia intend to expand the scope of their ongoing defense and security and cooperation programs to defeat these threats.” The overall practical goal is to “enable Georgia to provide for its legitimate security and defense needs, including development of appropriate, NATO-interoperable military forces.”

The Charter casts this bilateral agenda as part of the wider, shared objective to guide Georgia toward NATO membership by “meet[ing] the necessary standards.” The document suggests that the United States intends to use the NATO-Georgia Commission for channeling at least a part of U.S. military assistance to Georgia. At least some of those U.S. programs will be designed to “increase interoperability and coordination of capabilities between NATO and Georgia.” The document recognizes that Georgia is “demonstrating its potential as a net provider of security” in the region and beyond.

NATO’s November 2008 ministerial meeting had created the NATO-Georgia Commission as the implementing authority for the NATO-Georgia Annual National Plan (ANP), which the Alliance introduced at that same meeting as a poor substitute for a Membership Action Plan. The commission’s effectiveness and the ANP’s practical value will depend on what the Allies actually do with those instruments. If this new process becomes another arena for wrangling between the German-led West European group and the rest of NATO over the scope and pace of assistance to Georgia, then the emphasis can shift further toward bilateral U.S.-Georgia military assistance programs.

A deadlock in that commission and in the ANP could also prompt the more willing countries to join the United States in providing military assistance to Georgia on a coalition-of-the-willing basis. The idea of “coalitions of the willing” is disliked by many in NATO for a number of valid reasons. Policy paralysis, however, can lead to a coalition-of-the-willing formation—and, ultimately, to alliance fragmentation—if the alliance as a whole recuses itself from providing security to key partners on its own doorstep.