The revision of modern security systems is causing immediate fundamental changes to international relations. This close relationship is very natural, because any kind of global or regional order is inconceivable between the main participants in these relations, the states, without the formation and regulation of physical security in one way or another. It is also noteworthy that our own security models are evolving and often transforming, which in turn is the result of the changing circumstances in world politics.
One such powerful conjunctural change is related to the geopolitical self-determination of the countries on the dividing line of the Russian Federation and Euro-Atlantic unity and the ensuing cataclysms of this process as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. It must be said that in this broad picture, it is not only these “buffer countries” that are facing the challenges of self-determination. Georgia’s main strategic partner, as well as our other partners, have faced a number of unresolved challenges and unanswered questions. In recent years, the main issue has emerged: How to resolve conflicts between the two major geopolitical camps. What will be the fate of the “buffer zone” and what kind of security configuration will it consider, including our country?
An interest or a value?
Finding the answer to this question alone cannot be the subject of a theoretical exercise. Finding the right answer is possible only through continuous communication between the Georgian side and its Western allies, and, at the same time, requires continuous monitoring and evaluation of the accents and priorities of international relations. One of the priorities for us is to promote interest in the equation of “interest and values” in contrast to values.
It must be said that the balancing of states around these two categories in the global or regional context is not new and, in fact, begins with the emergence of the state on a national basis. However, the starting point of the recent history of the “struggle” of interest and value with exceptional force and clarity is the beginning of the formation of the modern state after the Second World War. At the same time, the uncertainty and unresolved situation caused by the end of the Cold War further deepened the imbalance in the two-part equation: The dominance of interest in relation to value became apparent, and in some cases virtually irreversible.
We’ve discussed the reasons and nature of such imbalances many times before. However, in summary, we would like to say that all these reasons are centralized around the main issue – the declining ability of the modern formation of the state to cope with accumulated socio-economic and socio-political challenges. As a result of this almost chronic incapability, we’ve experienced a breakdown of internal and external unity, which soon manifested itself in the form of radicalization of thoughts, incompatibility of positions, and extremist tendencies. Moreover, instead of resolving these acute crises in the domestic processes, one country or another shifted its focus to the external arena and in this way attempted to stop the further disintegration of the state and society. In any case, the shift of attention has not gone unnoticed: Modern international relations have undergone a considerable devolution, because, instead of consolidating around values, the driving factor in these relations has only been the satisfaction of one’s own national interest at the expense of others. Hence, the principle of “zero sum” – which means that a particular entity receives the maximum benefit at the expense of neglecting others – has undergone a new renaissance.
As a result, more or less successfully disguised selfishness in world politics has finally emerged and has become a declared line of international conduct of the state. In this rather peculiar process, we have come to a reality in which the category of values has become a small and ritual appendage of egoism, and the geopolitical teaching of “realism” has become much more realistic. All this, in turn, necessitated the search for new models of coexistence in the field of security, and the alliances or unions formed according to the specifics of a particular region acquired a much narrower thematic relationship in order to bring more interests together. In a nutshell, time has created the inevitability of experiments with the existing useless approaches to finally say farewell and find a new solution.
More flexibility, more essence, more focus…
Western global security during the Cold War was largely based on the axis of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). This system continues to operate today; however, with two essential questions that remain unanswered in the current context. First, what is the Alliance’s updated functional burden, and second, what is the Alliance’s principled approach to possible new geographical expansion. Discussions on both issues are in an active phase, and their urgency is evidenced by the recent NATO summit and the 2030 Strategic Vision document adopted there, which, it must be said, still does not adequately cover current issues for Georgia.
Together with the NATO Multilateral Collective Alliance and in parallel to it, our main strategic ally – the United States – years ago established a second, no less interesting system, which provided thematic-geographical military and security cooperation. A visible example of this approach is the hub-and-spoke model set by the bilateral agreements established with South Korea, Australia, the Philippines, Japan, and Thailand. It must be said that this type of system found its practical purpose in the implementation of George Kennan’s “line of containment” against the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
However, as already mentioned, over time the nature of the relationship changes and the rules and constructions of security behavior change with it. One such major change is the compact multilateral party alliances that have emerged among narrow-format bilateral agreements and the large alliances (in modern terms – clusters) that offer participating countries along with more explicit functional tasks, improved mobility and optimal utilization of resources to achieve a goal. Not so rarely, such alliances are referred to as a “Small NATO”, although, to some extent, this comparison is still incorrect.
In any case, the above-mentioned process is of practical interest for the Georgian government and specialized and analytical circles. At the same time, studying it and modeling it in our region may help us to overcome the shortcomings of long-established security models or approaches – in some cases, anachronisms – in maximizing the actual support needed for Georgian statehood, not with words but by actions.
In fact, the essence of the mentioned “cluster” (so-called “Small NATO”) system is the matching and overlap of the actual and non-declarative mutual interests of the participating countries. The amplitude of such coherent aspirations can range from selectively highlighted collaborative areas to a variety of tasks. Hence, it is considered (without idealization here as well) that actually effective security is provided by the “clusters” in which the participating countries naturally unite; and in the post-unification period, the set goals are followed with a rationale understandable to them individually and collectively.
However, to better illustrate the brief description here, we will move on to one more specific precedent.
Already an example, already existing experience
One such interesting thematic association has been formed in the Pacific Ocean: the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD), in which the United States, Japan, Australia, and India participate. This project is significant to us as it offers very practical material to discuss the topic covered in this article.
The cooperation of the abovementioned countries can be explained for several reasons, however, the most important of which is to maintain a kind of “status quo” in the Pacific (and partly in the Indian Ocean) by maximum containment and restraining Chinese expansion. Clearly, this is easier said than done, and among the difficulties is not only the growing Chinese factor in the region, but also the conceptual or tactical differences on a number of issues and approaches between the countries participating in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. In general, the process of forming the Dialogue and its further development, as well as the study of related problems, is obviously equally valuable for a better understanding of the model. But, though we do realize that discussion around this topic in detail will take us far, we want to take a step back and highlight the main point again and emphasize it.
The importance of the Dialogue’s format has increased especially recently, which has been led by China’s systematic efforts to rearrange the regional order based on its own goals, to impede free naval movement in the region, and to violate the sovereign rights of a number of countries. It is noteworthy that according to the Dialogue, Beijing’s efforts to “rewrite” a number of international norms to realize their geopolitical views and ambitions have acquired an alarming character. It is quite understandable that development of the process in this way threatens regional stability and the balance of power, and the prevention of this threat and the further radicalization of events is the main challenge for the countries participating; the steps taken to deepen cooperation within the framework of the Dialogue serve the same purpose.
To cut to the chase, a “Small NATO” operating in the Pacific as a “quadrilateral security format” is a response to its revivalist democracies to the policy of containment in the region based on a number of principles enshrined in the Cold War-era policy. At the same time, it should be noted that the format is not a formal alliance and is not accompanied by a NATO Article 5 analogy – there is no formal commitment to mutual military assistance.
It should be noted that in addition to cooperation in the field of security and defense, the area of interests provided by the Dialogue includes coordination of many other topics, be it migration, energy, terrorism, etc. Although, there is no doubt that the coincidence of geopolitical interests in the geographical area, which is recognized as a “core area of interest” by the United States, is a major motivator for the participants of the Dialogue. The importance of the region for the United States has not only been reflected in a number of US policy documents, but has also been set as a special coordinator for the Indo-Pacific region under US national security during President Biden’s administration. It is noteworthy that the growing attention to the region by leading EU states has also been expressed through very specific actions. For example, France first unveiled a new strategy on the issue, and then appointed an Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary for the Indo-Pacific, and Germany began developing an emergency strategy for the region in 2020.
This brief excursion was necessary to move on to the main point and discuss Georgia’s security variations in terms of modeling the unified security of the Black Sea. It is also worthy of special reservation that our country continues and develops a course of integration with NATO, which was and still is a national priority. At the same time, it is precisely the already familiar problem of the Alliance’s eastward expansion that makes it necessary to consider additional or alternative ways towards Western political and security integration: Again, given that the modern trend requires the Georgian state to make more decisions, as well as have more flexibility and adaptability in terms of actions. It is necessary not only for Georgia, but also for our Western partners to get rid of stereotypes and clichés in the process of thinking, to have courage and adequacy and to measure achievements with concrete, tangible results.
“Small NATO” of the Black Sea?
Today, the issue of the regional security of the Black Sea is increasingly discussed and reviewed at meetings of various formats and levels. However, despite such a tendency, the gap between word and deed is still noticeable. Yes, relations with NATO are developing. Yes, it is filled with new elements. Yes, new security line projects and initiatives are being added with the participation of our key strategic partners. All this is true, however, the rapidly changing situation in the region requires much more – a more in-depth and fully tailored solution to the issues.
In order to create more guarantees for our country, membership in the Alliance should envisage clear deadlines and quick procedures. In this respect, however, the picture is still unsatisfactory. We would also consider the transition to a strategic contractual alliance with our key strategic partner in the field of defense and security as a kind of “alternate” option. The likelihood of this option, as well as its “experimentality” given the Black Sea regional context, have been discussed in previous publications as far as possible. This time we will try to discuss the “Small NATO” of the Black Sea – the cluster of the regional security of the Black Sea – and we shall mark its regional specification for further discussion. We believe that the Black Sea precedent of the abovementioned Quadrilateral Security Dialogue deserves a detailed study by the buffer states located between the two geopolitical camps on the Black Sea, especially for those countries that have made their own foreign policy choices.
Firstly, further structuring relations between geopolitically related countries on the Black Sea would be one very concrete and practical step. In the case of Georgia in particular (and, obviously, not only) to reduce harmful and destructive external influences. As a result, a format similar to the Dialogue for the Black Sea would mitigate the pressure on the buffer states under which they get exposed because of the realization of the foreign vector that is directed against the sovereignty and territorial integrity of these countries.
At the same time, no less important is the establishment of a similar structure of relations, which would significantly highlight Western interests in the region and completely nullify the urgency of a well-known question: “Where is the West in the region?” As opposed to the Baltic countries, in the context of NATO’s fragmented representation in the Black Sea, this reorganization of relations would establish the groundwork for the conceptualization of American Eurasian policy and make Western statements on real strategic interests in the region much more credible.
It is noteworthy that in this way, Georgia’s main strategic partner would create a higher quality security system in the Greater Black Sea Region (macro-region of the Black and Caspian Seas). Through this system, the interests of politically different players would be brought together on a more logical basis: The stability of the countries participating in the format equates to the stability of the region. In the wake of this great regional task, the proposed format of cooperation, under the guidance of a policy of collective restraint in the Black Sea area, will serve as a relatively more effective deterrent to Russian revisionism, as well as counteracting the harmful effects of other state or non-state actors on the region.
We are well aware of the fact that the harmonized coordination of the countries participating in the “Small NATO” format of the Black Sea is not always easy: There are internal political complications, as well as social and economic differences, between countries or heterogeneity in the perception of human rights and freedoms. However, a strong factor for overcoming and amalgamating all this is the substantial concomitancy of the participants’ foreign policy vectors. Virtually, participating countries will partner where they have their common interests mostly concentrated, in particular, such as common security risks and challenges. Establishing a reliable communications system for the exchange of classified information is one of the essential components towards the way of minimizing these risks.
We note that such a cooperation proposed in the Black Sea format, such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, would be devoid of bureaucratic formalities and strict treaty provisions. Moreover, any country participating in the format would continue its path of security integration with NATO or the United States, as well as the implementation of commitments or programs already made in these two areas. Consequently, the “Small NATO” of the Black Sea is equally permissible as a unity of such interdependent treaties, the main binding and unifying factor of which will be the intention to strengthen and enforce certain rules of conduct in the region.
Cooperation in our region is not only about security and there is a reason for that. The Black Sea itself and the Greater Black Sea region as a whole are important to maintain a stable balance of power in the Eurasian space, though participants in the above format should focus not just on security issues.
To this end, we have repeatedly mentioned the Black Sea Declaration in the recent past, the signing and enactment of which would qualitatively contribute to the common Western political, economic, or security space in the region. Moreover, such a document would be additional proof that the interest of Georgia’s main strategic partner in the region has not slowed down at all; that by enacting the Declaration, the West expresses its firm readiness not to recognize the exclusive influence of others on the buffer countries of the Black Sea; not to mention that the Declaration would give practical means to building a strong democratic and economic order in such countries.
The Black Sea Declaration would also receive the significance of a “soft impact” and would neutralize the possible “militarization” of the collaborative format discussed in this article. In particular, it would also involve attracting additional investment resources for the implementation of regional projects, as well as infrastructure, environmental, and energy projects. The declaration would also specifically signify the unrestricted traffic necessary for trade unions and the expediency of free trade agreements or blocks. In order to intensify regional cooperation and Western participation in it, the declarant countries would discuss current geopolitical (pseudo-ethnic) conflicts in the region, cyber security, illegal migration and joint measures to combat international terrorism.
As a result, along with the Black Sea analogue of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue discussed in the introductory part of this article, determining the fate of the Eurasian space in our most important region would lay the groundwork for the Association of Black Sea Countries. This would be another powerful mechanism for resilience and regional sustainability within countries.
Additionally – about unconventionality
In the present world’s foreign or domestic policy, turning to excessive “classicism” can be a reason to miss a real result. In contrast, non-standard decisions, as well as the uncommon actions resulting from them – a kind of unconventionality – can serve as a solid statement for achievement. Getting rid of fruitless stereotypical approaches in the field of security and trying new ones should be considered as a call for this.
It is desirable that the discussion of a specific model in this article to be considered as another demonstration that the talks of the present and the future of the Georgian state should be focused on interests with a realistic content. We would like also to point out that by no means do we want anyone to get the impression that we are undermining the significance of values (in the light of interest) and want to write them off. Of course not. But it should also be noted that in this highly unpredictable world it is inadmissible to overshadow practical results with pointless theorizing, while political realism is swallowed up by a dizzying and meaningless cacophony. On the steep ascent of the historical development of a complex region, a small nation facing both internal and external challenges has neither sufficient resources nor luxury. Maturity and vigilance dictated by a healthy Georgian egocentric standard should make Georgia’s state realism the norm of our actions.
The fact is that thinking about development is inconceivable without a reliable mechanism of national security. In the medium-term, the regional format of the Black Sea mentioned in this letter (for example, in the absence of a further delay in NATO expansion to the east or in the absence of real bilateral defense ties) may be considered as one such mechanism. Its practical embodiment becomes a clear message that our region is in the sphere of interest of Western civilization and is a natural part of its main “geopolitical geography”. It is also noteworthy that for the West and the United States one of the most essential components of their Eurasian policy emerges through the “Small NATO” of the Black Sea. In addition, this is done by experimenting with a model that serves realistic tasks with relatively low cost and low risk (for example, no formal alliance and no additional infrastructure or physical representation in the region). At the same time, despite the formalized structure, the proposed association maintains the very minimum required for its effectiveness, as it is based on the natural concurrence of interests, the voluntary participation of the subjects, and a recognition of balance. At the same time, the relative compactness gives it an additional value just as the development of modern regional diplomacy within this elastic geopolitical geometry.
In a nutshell, there is a lot of thought and work to be done to structure regional security. We’ve said and would like to repeat once again a simple truth: This time the whirlpool needs a bold rogue and sound political effort both regionally and nationally. I think we have the most difficulty with the latter one, because due to the trifles of the Georgian political culture and way of life, we do not spend enough time on big and urgent tasks. Or at least, in fact, we have already lost a significant part of the ability and sense to feel and understand national issues…
Analysis by Victor Kipiani, Geocase Chairmain