Batu Kutelia: Georgia has never been discussed worldwide as a success story of statecraft before
As part of a series of interviews marking Georgia Today’s 12th Anniversary, in this issue we had a chance to speak with Batu Kutelia, the Deputy Secretary of the National Security Council of Georgia and discuss with him some of Georgia’s self-defense capabilities and national security challenges.
Q: Since the Rose Revolution, Georgia has become very active with respect to the European integration process. How would you estimate Georgia’s position in the international arena? What have been the achievements?
A: The country’s success on the global arena is reflected in its functions and role that particular country is playing with regard to the international economy, security and so on. In addition, it counts tremendously how that country is perceived by the other states. If we look back at the history, we can see that Georgia has never been discussed worldwide as a success story of statecraft. At present, people in Rwanda, Central Asia, the Middle East, Russia and Latin America all are talking about Georgia’s progress and reforms. Georgia’s democratic transformation has been labeled as a model for other countries by world leaders, including US President Barak Obama. On a practical note, as a consequence of reforms and investment in key infrastructure, Georgia is assuming the status of a regional multifunctional hub (energy, logistics, tourism, education) Now there are talks to revive the historical Silk Road where Georgia has a major role to play.
Our country is one of the main contributors in terms of security to the European and Euro-Atlantic space, both quantitatively and qualitatively (meaning ISAF operations). Our military was trained along with NATO’s leading countries’ forces and in some situations, they are the best. NATO leaders mention that in various comments. People call into question whether Georgia needs to participate in the Afghan mission. Well, this operation is very important: we are closer to Afghan territory than Europe is and we are one of the main transit countries; if this operation does not end successfully, it means that our defense and security will also be in danger. Also, Georgia sees its future security in NATO membership, so we are interested to be a member of this successful alliance.
Today, one of the globally important issues is nuclear security. Georgia is actively engaged with all partner countries, including the US in fighting terrorism and we support and contribute to the international nonproliferation efforts. Georgia was invited to the nuclear summit in Washington, and in Seoul, South Korea.
Q: What kind of gaps did we have during the last decades and what we are doing to bridge them?
A: For any country, and in particular a small country, a security system is a combination of various efforts in a number of fields. This is not an easy task and there is no country capable of achieving this without other countries’ help. So it is urgent to be united in the collective security system, as collective security is cheaper and more effective than individual security models. So this is why we made a choice to integrate with NATO, an organization based on the same values and principles we aspire to.
The problem in general is that we inherited a ruined defense system with poorly trained military staff and outdated and obsolete equipment. Now, as we are building the new system – institutions, educational systems, civilian and military personal management systems, patience is required to go through this if we want to form a viable state with strong defense capabilities.
Q: The conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and the return of IDPs to their homes remain one of the acute problems. Do you observe any progress in terms of the de-occupation? How effective is the EU monitoring mission?
A: We have developed the security concept, where it is underscored that one of the key tools to avoid the threat of further confrontation with Russia, is to internationalize the Russia-Georgian conflict resolution process. Before 2008, we did little in this regard. The format in the peacekeeping missions which were monitoring at that time– the UN and OSCE missions, were poorly organized. What was worse, is that Russia’s role in that process was also perceived as wrong. However, after 2008, the situation changed; Russia was finally named as an occupying country on the side of the conflict.
In order to avoid future conflicts we need to involve as many international missions in the process as possible. Now we have only one format, EUMM which provides us with genuinely helpful and useful information about the situation in the conflict territories. Still, this is not enough to solve the conflict; we think it is urgent that the EUMM gets access to non-Georgian controlled territories. It is also necessary that in addition, other international bodies are involved in not just monitoring but in my view, one of the important things is to introduce police or peacekeeping missions which will give us a chance to return our people back to their homes under international security guarantee.
Q: Do you believe the return of IDPs is possible under Putin’s regime?
A: I think everything is possible. Rational and strategic thinking combined with committed political and other capital can bring results much earlier than imaginable.
Q: Opposition forces in Russia organize rallies against the current regime. Do you think that Putin’s government can be changed in the future?
A: I’m not a specialist in Russian politics but of course, I have my own opinion. I think if people really want freedom they will find a solution. I think one day it will happen but it is still early to predict anything specific now.
Q: Georgia has started to produce military equipment such as the Didgori, an armored personnel carrier and Lazika, an infantry fighting vehicle. Critics condemned the initiative saying it takes resources as well as adds fuel to the tense situation with Russia…
A: If a country has its own resources to produce military equipment, it means that security and defense systems as well as strategic planning are working well in that country; it means that the economy is strong and the country has good human resources. Many countries don’t have such opportunities.
I do not see why we should not produce military equipment. It is expensive on the international market and to achieve NATO interoperability we have to supply armed forces with modern equipment. For this, we have two choices: acquiring it on the international market or producing it here. Local production means spending 10 times less money, creating more jobs locally, developing advanced technology and saving money for investing elsewhere. Having modern technology is an important component in the integration with NATO.
Q: You were the Ambassador of Georgia to the US, our key strategic partner. How would you evaluate the progress of the relationship? Do you see any change in this regard?
A: Yes, the US is our main strategic partner. We have signed a strategic partnership charter which covers all topics: economics, trade, defense and security and economic institution building. Thus, our partnership develops very dynamically. If we look back to our relationship, we are getting closer and closer every year. The partnership charter was signed by the George Bush administration and it is being developed under the Obama administration. This means that the changes in the US government do not affect the Georgian-US friendship and partnership. The important thing is that the US support to Georgia is based on common values. When I was the ambassador, I was working in a very friendly environment; everyone showed a willingness to help Georgia.
Q: How would you comment on billionaire opposition Bidzina Ivanishvili’s efforts to lobby international lobbying firms? They are very critical of the current Georgian government…
A: When the US government supports the Georgian government, it means that it supports Georgian people who elected this government. Concerning the Georgian opposition, it is sad that they are spending money to damage the country’s image rather than to build their own political profile and present their political platform and views. I do not think this is either an ethical or a winning strategy.
Q: There has been criticism about the media independence in Georgia. How about the government’s view on media? How well do the media in Georgia, including the English language fulfill its role in your opinion?
A: It is true that media plays a huge role in democratic development and it is important for the Georgian audience, as well as for the international audience. A lot has been done to make the media environment adequate with regard to democratic standards. Those who follow can confirm that English-language media is very important, as there is a big interest in Georgia within the international arena. So for all those who monitor the country and its ongoing reforms, they require the English-language media. I would be glad to see it more qualified.
By Nino Edilashvili