Georgia 2017: Relative Stability amidst Global Geopolitical Chaos

This year it will be one century since the two revolutions of 1917 that had enormous and, to a great extent, tragic impact upon the peoples of Georgia, the former Russian Empire, and the world as a whole. During this century, Georgia has experienced the rebirth of its independence twice, multiple mass repressions and the loss of its intellectual and moral elite, a period of optimism caused by the disintegration of the Soviet empire that had engulfed the country for 70 years of political slavery, the bloody conflicts of the early 1990s and war with Russia as recently as just eight years ago.

Though the years of the second independence – i.e. since 1991, have been marred by civil war and ethnic conflicts, coups d'état and violent changes of government, before the political landscape became somewhat stabilized in the first democratic change of government in 2012, Georgia is still facing multiple challenges and issues, both internal and external. Still, one thing to be proud of is the essential continuity of Georgia’s foreign policy orientation, as Tbilisi has never really wavered from its pro-Western, pro-European path, notwithstanding changing governments, consistency of policies or rhetoric.

As the latest sign of this, the Georgian parliament met the New Year with yet another confirmation of this continuity, as on December 29th it unanimously adopted the resolution on Georgia’s foreign policy proposed by the ruling party. The resolution lists EU and NATO membership as Georgia’s top foreign policy priorities having “no alternatives”, while pursuing a “rational policy” with Russia for the purpose of “minimizing threats” and “restoring territorial integrity.” The resolution is quite similar to one adopted on March 7, 2013, drafted jointly by the Georgian Dream and the United National Movement, reiterating Georgia’s commitment to its pro-Western course.

Europe has entered a period of confusion and turbulence, with a multitude of systemic and other existential crises, including a surge in terrorism, uncontrollable migration inflow, economic slowdown combined with rising inequality, the looming Brexit, Italy in deep crisis, hybrid military action along its borders, and the dangers from Russia’s aggressive expansionism and information warfare, combined with a dramatic upsurge of dangerous nationalism, isolationism, authoritarianism, Euroskepticism, and radical populism. The pillars of Europe's unity and security are damaged and Europe's increasingly mediocre leaders are in disarray as the problems multiply further with uncertainty brought around by forthcoming elections in the key EU member states, and the risks of an expected US withdrawal from European affairs and weakening of its support of NATO and European security. This may lead to dangerous political turbulence in 2017 and following years as the EU will be absorbed dealing with nasty issues of survival, leaving it with little time and energy to project its soft power.

In the US, Georgia’s most consistent and strongest supporter, one observes the spectacular rise of the anti-establishment movement combined with a revolt against liberal values; democratic pathologies that allowed a presidential candidate who won 3 million less votes to be elected, an inept government, and the paradoxical mixture of indecisive foreign policy crossbred with imperial over-stretch. As a result, the future policies of President-elect Trump remain a puzzle even though there are expectations of vacillating decision-making, isolationism and incompetence that may start with the undoing of many of the achievements of the previous government, such as multilateral trade agreements, a nuclear deal with Iran, liberalization of immigration policies, disrupting relations with China, and softening or abolishing anti-Russian sanctions.

These trajectories demonstrated by Georgia’s Western partners and supporters may leave Georgia even less protected against Russian pressures if not immediate military adventurism, against the background of convergence of positions between Russia, Turkey and Iran on a number of foreign policy issues, Syria in particular. The new isolationism in the West will also cause further frustration among the Georgian public and disappointment in the government’s pro-Western orientation, and leave the country even less secure against any dangerous development, be it external incursion, hybrid warfare, hostile propaganda, or regional instability resulting from the possible revival of the Karabakh conflict or post-IS surge in Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism.

Georgia will need to calculate very carefully and pro-actively every single step of the balancing act ahead so as not to provoke any undesirable development in the short-term, while persisting in its pro-Western orientation and strategic goals of Europeanization, democratization, and Euro-Atlantic integration.

This is even more important as the West may temporarily weaken its support for such processes, so that Georgia will need to act with greater perseverance and resilience in dealing with external threats and internal problems. In the latter case, special focus is needed not just on economic growth and financial stability, but much greater attention should be paid to reducing inequality and the income gap in order to avoid the same dangerous tendency of anti-establishment revolt as observed elsewhere. Georgia may also need to strengthen its partnership with its other pro-western neighbors, and the recent agreement to strengthen Georgian-Ukrainian policy dialogue is a good sign that this point is well understood on both sides.

Still, it is clear that in the years to come, national security will remain the top priority for any Georgian government. While security is not always about building up adequate military hardware against a perceived enemy and more about creating an environment conducive to peace, for a small state like Georgia, strengthening military capacity and commitment to defend its own sovereignty should necessarily go hand in hand with what is dubbed ‘strategic patience’ and diplomatic efforts to reduce potential threats. With due care and the right policies, Georgia will successfully cope with existing and expected challenges and its prospects of stability, peace and hopefully even prosperity will make it an island of stability in a world that is going crazy. However, as the old Latin adage says, si vis pacem, para bellum (if you want peace, prepare for war) and this is true far beyond purely military issues.

Teona Lavrelashvili, Advisor, European Parliament

12 January 2017 20:07