We Need a Marshall Plan: We All Really Need One

Georgia's path towards Euro-Atlantic integration has become ever more articulated and irreversible over the last decade or so. Relatively speaking, this path is not a particularly painful or restrictive one—unlike those of several of Georgia’s neighbors, some of whose agendas, although similar, remain declaratory in nature only, whereas others are badly singled out by their contradictory statements and actions. Much has been written and said about various instruments or initiatives which have enabled Georgia’s truly remarkable progress, but few of these, in our view, deserve special recognition: whilst some individual examples have doubtless made a meaningful contribution to the country's defensive capabilities, it is a combination of bilateral and international programs which has done much to strengthen Georgia’s institutions and contribute to its economic reforms.

Since the beginnings of its newly restored independence, Georgia has benefited from the immense political, military and financial assistance of the United States. This support and co-operation eventually resulted in the US-Georgia Charter on Strategic Partnership, signed on 9 January, 2009. The Charter lays down a general framework whereby the United States express their unequivocal will to act as the key guarantor of Georgia's sovereignty, supporting its independence, political stability and territorial integrity. The Charter deals not only with security, economic, trade or energy issues, but also with key humanitarian aspects by recognizing the importance of the need to increase people-to-people contacts and cultural exchanges. It clearly aims to build a democratic Georgia and thus to vividly demonstrate the real meaning of genuine partnership and a true "two-way " relationship.

The next chapter of this rather brief account of Georgia's gradual return under the Euro-Atlantic security umbrella began with NATO's 2014 summit in Wales, during which Georgia was promised, in lieu of the long-awaited Membership Action Plan, a "substantial package", thereby bringing the country even closer to its trajectory of joining the alliance. The "Substantial NATO-Georgia Package" (SNGP) outlines a set of measures to strengthen the country's security through a “Defense and Related Security Capacity Building Initiative” comprising strategic level advice and liaison, defense capacity-building and training, multinational maneuvers and enhanced interoperability opportunities. One of the most concrete of these measures was the establishment of a NATO-Georgia Joint Training and Evaluation Center for training Georgian troops and improving the command and leadership capabilities of its officer corps. All in all, the Wales Summit was a cornerstone, recognizing as it did Georgia’s aspirations by granting the country an "elevated status".

When speaking about the irreversibility of Georgia's pro-Western-agenda-driven policies, the entry into force of the EU-Georgia Association Agreement on the 1st of July of 2016 was a momentous event. This agreement is not merely a unilateral expression of the willingness of Georgians to “return to the European fold” but an expression of the will of all the EU’s 28 member states to welcome us there. 80 percent of the agreement is taken up by a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area section, which envisages removing customs tariffs and quotas and approximating Georgia’s trade-related laws and regulations with EU standards. Therefore, on top of its historic and crucial political bearing, the Association Agreement represents a very practicable means to diversify Georgia’s foreign trade, help its economic growth, and, eventually, facilitate its political and economic integration with the EU.

Strongly related to and indeed often inseparable from Georgia's pro-EU stance is the recent decision to promote the country to the list of those whose nationals are exempt from EU entry visa requirements. This decision to ease business, cultural and private exchanges between Georgian nationals and their European counterparts undoubtedly strengthens Georgia’s pro-Western government, helping it to fend off Russia’s ongoing and uninterrupted attempts to dominate the region and to continue to push domestically for often challenging and painful pro-EU reforms.

As we have already mentioned, this article is merely a snapshot of some of the measures this country and its partners have undertaken to maintain the unbroken tempo of change seeking to eradicate all remnants of Homo sovieticus subsp. georgicus (a subspecies which, to some extent, continues to linger nevertheless) and to present Georgia as an example of real achievement (as opposed to window-dressing) for others to follow for the benefit of their societies. However, a question remains: are the actions and initiatives which have been undertaken to date really enough to make a clean break with the past and ensure Georgia’s safety, or is something still missing? Georgia should indeed be grateful for all the support it is receiving—but is this support qualitatively and quantitatively enough considering the many swords of Damocles which hang over the country? Is it commensurate with the sacrifices the country has made and the burdens it is shouldering in order to reach the destination it has long dreamed of and deserves to reach, or are statements of "concern and encouragement" in support of Georgian independence merely intended to keep the country on the Western periphery but without, however, taking the much-needed and decisive step of embracing it? These questions linger like nagging thoughts, and remain without the clear-cut, definitive and long-awaited answers they require.

The Way Ahead: a Marshall Plan?

The best solution to address these questions and relieve all concerns, cutting the Gordian knot, would be to design and carry out a Georgian version of the Marshall Plan which restored Europe after the Second World War. The original Marshall Plan was named after the US Secretary of State George Marshall, whose speech at Harvard University some 70 years ago would have profound consequences for Western Europe, then politically and economically ruined. More specifically, that Marshall Plan, which resulted in the US Foreign Assistance Act of 1948, provided meaningful funds for reconstructing post-war Europe. Importantly, and besides its financial significance, the Marshall Plan helped shape the modern contours of European liberal and representative democracy, and stopped further Soviet penetration of Western Europe.

But why a new Marshall Plan? Why now? And why for Georgia?

Georgia continues to be the flagship of pro-Western and Euro-Atlantic sentiments in the region and beyond. Moreover, the country's unflinching dedication to pursuing its historically predetermined choice and the commitment of the majority of its citizens to the set of values they share with the shrinking family of modern democracies is both exemplary and exceptional. Such dedication, and even self-sacrifice, entails a hardening of various sorts of challenges which, in turn, require a great complexity of efforts to address. In pursuit of its choice, Georgia finds it ever more difficult keep walking as "the man in the street".

There is no need to mention that when they speak about the security of their only ally in the region, our partners in the West are fully aware that the health of Georgia’s economy and the well-being of its citizens are preconditions of paramount importance to the country’s political stability and peace. A failure to achieve such peace and stability through economic growth may ultimately result in Georgia, the sole pro-Western democracy in the region, simply falling to pieces. It is also clear that Western support is not fully effective when it is provided "piecemeal" (as has mostly been the case so far), and that it needs to be backed by the complete determination of all the countries which together have built the current levels of European and Atlantic unity.

If one considers the impact such a Georgian Marshall Plan could have upon investment, it is clear that the Plan would also send a strong signal to American and European businesses, and would thereby have a cumulative effect.

But why do we ALL (and not only Georgians) need such a Plan?

Again, a Georgian Marshall Plan would be incontrovertible proof that real reforms “pay”, that the decay of a democratic and representative system is in fact a falsehood, and not "a chronicle of a death foretold". Such a bold and decisive move would once again emphasize the fact that the heyday of liberal internationalism lies ahead of us, and that the promotion and sustainability of correspondent values is not solely embodied in the United Nations, NATO and the European Union, but instead an earthly and tangible phenomenon in real action.

It is worth remembering that when the Marshall Plan was being discussed in the immediate period which followed the end of the Second World War, George Marshall pointed out that the initiative was fundamental to Western interests because it promoted political stability and peace on the European continent. The Plan was not an act of charity: it was one of strategy.

For all these reasons, it is high time a similar strategy was set in motion in Georgia.

Victor Kipiani

19 June 2017 17:24