Interpressnews discussed strategic co-operation between Georgia and the United States with Dr. Prof. Khatuna Burkadze, a fellow researcher at Geocase, an alumna of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and the Harvard Program on Negotiations.
- As it is known the US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and the Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia had a telephone conversation. Considering the pre-electoral political confrontation and competition we are witnessing in our country, this telephone call was very important in many aspects.
What might be the results of this telephone call between Pompeo and Gakharia?
- It is in the United States’ strategic interest to support Georgia’s development, as the telephone conversation between the US Secretary of State and Prime Minister has illustrated. The main aim of their telephone call was to discuss key issues of co-operation.
They discussed the difficult situation in the occupied territories. The United States once again called upon the Russian Federation to respect fundamental principles of international law. The United States is the strongest ally of Georgia in terms of defending its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The parties also spoke about possible solutions to the numerous challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic poses, and notably the global economic crisis.
The US Secretary of State also commended the passage of constitutional amendments establishing a partially proportional electoral system and stressed the importance of implementation of the electoral reform.
This bilateral conversation on a range of key topics has indicated that the United States continues to support Georgia with the goal of strengthening the country’s security and defense as well as its democratic and economic development.
- The US House of Representatives voted to pass a package of the spending bill for the fiscal year 2021. This bill also includes financial aid for Georgia, but the disbursement of 15% of this aid will be conditional upon the conclusions of the State Department report on the state of Georgia’s democracy, its fight against corruption and its protection of the rights of foreign investors and companies.
What impact will this decision have on strategic co-operation between America and Georgia?
- The bill envisages no less than $132, 025, 000 assistance for Georgia.
As for the conditions in terms of availability of 15% of this aid, I think the aim of these conditions is to encourage Georgia to improve its democratic and business environment and strengthen the fight against corruption. Overall, pursuing these and other reforms will, of course, benefit the formation of Georgia’s modern political, economic and judicial system, and this process will, in turn, reinforce the country’s strategic co-operation with the United States.
At the same time, this bill has not yet reached its final version due to the legislative procedures.
The bill also includes important provisions that require our particular attention. These provisions guarantee the continuation of effective implementation of non-recognition policy, and the bill is therefore further proof of steady US support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
More precisely, according to the bill ‘None of the funds appropriated by this Act may be made available for assistance for the central government of a country that the Secretary of State determines and reports to the Committees on Appropriations has recognized the independence of, or has established diplomatic relations with the Russian Federation occupied Georgian territories of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia.’
Furthermore, the Secretary of the Treasury shall instruct the US executive directors of international financial institutions to oppose the financing of any programme that violates Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
It is also noteworthy that the bill, as part of US efforts to counter ‘Russian influence and aggression’, provides for a dedicated fund of no less than $290 million for the countries of Europe and Eurasia, including Georgia.
The allocation of this sum aims to develop the law-enforcement and security capacities of these states, to help the countries of the Eastern Partnership to effectively implement their Association Agreements with the European Union, and to decrease Russian political and economic pressure.
As a strategic partner, the United States therefore steadily supports Georgia.
- On July 23, 2020 the US Senate adopted its own version of the National Defense Authorization Act.
What measures does the National Defense Authorization Act involve with regard to Georgia?
- The National Defense Authorization Act underlines the strategic partnership between the US and Georgia. The Act expresses the United States’ firm support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
According to the bill, the US will continue to provide multi-domain assistance for Georgia to build resiliency, bolster deterrence against Russian aggression and promote stability in the region by strengthening defensive capabilities, promoting readiness, improving interoperability with NATO forces; and further enhance security cooperation and engagement with Georgia and the other Black Sea regional partners.
The Act also highlights that the US Department of Defense should increase the frequency, scale and scope of NATO and other multinational exercises in the Black Sea region with the participation of Georgia. Reaffirming the US support for the open-door policy of the North Atlantic Alliance, the bill maintains that the Department of Defense should increase its focus and resources to address the changing military balance in the Black Sea region.
Therefore, the US National Defense Authorization Act contains key aspects of strategic co-operation between the US and Georgia—notably by supporting Georgia’s territorial integrity and Euro-Atlantic integration as well as by strengthening the country’s defensive capabilities.
Georgia is a valuable friend for the United States at the bilateral level as well within efforts to ensure international security. Georgia makes a significant contribution to global security through participation in peace operations.
- Overall, how would you evaluate the dynamics of strategic co-operation between the US and Georgia, especially against the background of the COVID-19 pandemic?
- In terms of the dynamics of US-Georgia relations, on June 11, 2019, both countries celebrated the tenth anniversary of their strategic partnership charter and adopted a joint declaration that reiterated their commitments to the core principles.
Besides being a document of historic importance, the joint declaration defined the main aspects of the two countries’ strategic partnership for the coming years. It reviewed all the main areas of partnership, including defense, security, economic co-operation, strengthening democratic institutions and people-to-people relations. Equally important in this regard was a bipartisan bill – ‘Georgia Support Act’ that was passed by the House of Representatives on October 22, 2019.
Co-operation in the defense sphere between Georgia and the United States is especially important, as it aims to strengthen the capacity and sustainability of Georgia’s defensive capabilities. On July 6, 2016 the signature of a memorandum on deepening the US-Georgia partnership in the areas of defense and security was a notable event. Shortly after this memorandum, on December 6, 2016, Georgia and the United States signed a framework agreement on co-operation in the security sphere for the period of 2016-19, which was renewed on November 21, 2019.
The main areas of this bilateral military co-operation are Georgia Defense Readiness Program (GDRP), Combat Training Center (CTC) and Resolute Support Mission (RSM). These programmes and activities support the development of Georgia’s defensive capabilities, the implementation of institutional reforms and the improvement of level of readiness. All this substantially improves Georgia’s overall military readiness.
The US and Georgia strategic agenda also includes cyber security issues. The US notably condemned the Russian cyberattack against Georgia that took place on October 28, 2019. In this regard, the US Embassy in Georgia made the statement: ‘The United States calls on Russia to cease this behaviour in Georgia and elsewhere. The stability of cyberspace depends on the responsible behaviour of nations. We, together with the international community, will continue our efforts to uphold an international framework of responsible state behaviour in cyberspace.’ The US has also expressed its readiness to support Georgia’s efforts to enhance its cybersecurity and counter malicious cyber actors, to help strengthen Georgia’s public institutions and improve its ability to protect itself from these kinds of actions.
In the time of coronavirus, despite the numerous challenges, the United States has repeatedly expressed its support for Georgia. More specifically, the Parliament of Georgia ratified amendments to the United States’ Development Assistance Agreement with the Government of Georgia. This allows USAID/Georgia to move forward with more than $64 million in funding to strengthen Georgia’s self-reliance and Euro-Atlantic aspirations.
The US continues to provide assistance to help Georgia, respond to the COVID-19 emergency by working with the Georgian private companies to deliver medical supplies and partnering with local civil society organizations to support at-risk communities.
Members of the American Chamber of Commerce in Georgia have donated millions of GEL to the Stop Cov-19 Fund. The US contributes to the economic recovery with a particular focus on small and medium businesses, and the agriculture and tourism sectors.
In the global crisis, the US support for Georgia makes it clear that the US is standing by Georgia in the difficult time and making a significant contribution to assist Georgia to overcome health, economic, social and other challenges.
Over the two decades, USAID programmes aim to help Georgia to build democracy, to create economic possibilities, to improve healthcare and education. All this indicates that the US support for Georgia is irreversible both in times of peace as well as in times of crisis.
- The pandemic has made it particularly clear that our international system is facing many different challenges.
In the emerging post-pandemic world, how should Georgia develop its strategic co-operation with the United States? What kinds of issues should be brought to the fore?
- Given the current global crisis, some researchers are speaking of the tendency towards a ‘New Cold War’—but we should not forget that, in our globalized world, countries are extremely interdependent, meaning that any transformation of the international system should maintain a balance of power.
New forms of co-operation in a new international system could create new bilateral or multilateral alliances, or at the very least renew old ones. Historically, global challenges have always stimulated far-reaching change. It is, therefore, time for extraordinary decisions and actions, ones capable of helping the world to deal more effectively with common threats which could affect all of us equally, regardless of borders.
As for the question of a deeper future strategic co-operation between Georgia and America, the United States has always played an important role in terms of supporting Georgia’s territorial integrity and will continue to do so in the post-pandemic world.
July 23, 2020 marked the 80th anniversary of the Welles Declaration. In reminder, on July 23, 1940, the United States’ acting Secretary of State at the time, Sumner Welles made a statement which condemned the Soviet occupation of the Baltic States. This declaration later served as the basis upon which the US founded its non-recognition policy of the Soviet occupation of these three states. In its statement marking the 80th anniversary of the Declaration, the US State Department recently spoke about the unacceptability of the occupation of Georgian territories.
Therefore, as in the 20th, the US in the 21st century will not tolerate any breach of fundamental principles of international law by the Russian Federation, including violation of sovereignty and territorial integrity of the states.
Also, in the emerging post-pandemic international system, Georgia with the US support should succeed in achieving greater integration with the global economy, strengthening energy security and establishing itself as a transit and logistic hub by carrying out large-scale economic projects.
Also, it is vital to launch the negotiations on a free-trade agreement between Georgia and America. In this regard, it is essential to highlight Georgia’s strategic location, located at the critical crossroads.
A free-trade agreement would encourage greater American investment in Georgia as well as increase the number of American tourists, further strengthening co-operation between Georgia and America in the security sphere.
In the post-pandemic international system, multi-dimensional co-operation with the United States will assist Georgia to achieve its greater goals on its Euro-Atlantic path.