GEORGIA NEEDS AN EUROPEAN STRATEGY
FOR THE BLACK SEA1
Ambassador Tedo JAPARIDZE
The Black Sea in general and Georgia, in particular, is at the epicenter of two coextensive geopolitical shifts, military and economic. As a nation, we face the challenge of adjusting to an increasingly fluid economic and security environment without the political and institutional known-knowns of the not-so-distant past. And because of this political and institutional fluidity, the concepts that encapsulated the foreign policy wisdom of the ”past,” like EU’s ”Resilience” have prematurely lost their analytical thrust and much of their policy relevance. But, that does not mean Georgia will not realistically try to make the best of what is on offer. In the absence of a strategy, we will take the aspiration of a strategy.
Georgia’s fortunes are not in Georgia’s hands alone, much like any European state must rely on its partners for its future.
On the one hand, our region is at the crossroads of the Middle East and Eastern Europe and, therefore, at the epicenter of NATO’s security agenda. The Caucasus has always made part of the Middle East equation. Our location in the broader Middle East partially explains why we are the most ancient Christian kingdoms in Europe. Today, our challenge is to become the bottleneck for Jihadi fighters, weapons, nuclear-biological-chemical agents of mass destruction; and we are also expected to facilitate if not catalyze peace. And the Caucasus has always been of pivotal significance to Russia, which has just exhibited in Syria that its technological apparatus is at par with the West and may, in fact, have an edge. Against this strategic backdrop, Georgia is expected to build a national deterrent while providing a regional strategic anchor to the Alliance. And we will.
On the other hand, we find our region that could potentially be crushed in the polarized debate on world trade, separating those advocating for global multilateralism and those seeking a national retrenchment with bespoke bilateral deals. The foes of this battle are not neatly regimented. Emerging and mature economies are taking a variety of positions on this subject, while other strategic considerations weigh in the debate: the Turkish retrenchment of democracy following the July 15 coup attempt, Brexit, the Iranian nuclear deal, sanctions on Russia, as well as a volatile relationship between Washington and Beijing. All these polarities meet in Georgia. And Georgia looks at Brussels for leadership.
NOWHERE TO STAND
”Give me a lever and a place to stand, and I will move the Earth,” said Archimedes. The problem in Tbilisi is that in our geopolitical context the policy instruments we have at our disposal are outdated. We have no place to stand, and thus our leverage is worryingly limited.
Georgia has built a partnership with NATO that could be described as ”membership minus” Article V guarantees, with common training, deepening interoperability and joint operations. Georgia has built a partnership with the EU that could be described a membership minus decision making. Tbilisi is one of three Associated states and the forefront of DCFTA reforms. In sum, we have built Georgia in the certainty that the transatlantic bond, economic and military, is unshakable and the consensus on multilateral trade has no opposition. For both the EU and NATO, Georgia is a success story. But, the known-knowns of the Euro-Atlantic community are now revisited. In the meantime, we must have an operating foreign policy concept.
EUROPEAN STRATEGIC CULTURE: RELIABLE DEFICIENCIES
In comes the strategic concept of Resilience, reflecting timid and less than ambitious aspirations.
The European Union has the ambition of being surrounded by resilient, as opposed to failed states. Such states should be able to withstand change: economic, climatic, diplomatic, military, social, or technological. The term focuses attention on preventing state implosion. The EU wants free trade in goods, services, capital, energy, but wants to avoid social, environmental, and industrial dumping, or migrants and refugees, or the social meltdown that tends to produce potential new recruits for organized crime and terrorism. To call a spade a bloody shovel, ”Resilience” is a concept that mainly expresses the will to avoid substantial engagement in the Eastern Partnership region.
That is a concept that does not reflect Georgian achievements, ambition, or the potential of our relationship. Georgia is not a country that could implode, but we could very much find ourselves attacked or in the middle of a confrontation, economic or military. And to avoid that situation we must work closer with Brussels.
So, we would like more than ”Resilience,” but that is what it is on the table. Luckily, Europe will be Europe because diplomatic tradition has the inert dynamism of tradition. Since the Treaty of Rome, the EU is an emerging space of interdependence, political, economic, and normative. Europe is in the habit of creating a transnational normative space, with the highest standards of human rights guarantees in the world. In this sense, the EU is the ”teeth” of the Council of Europe, enlarging the human rights agenda by offering trade and aid incentives. At the same time, Europe regulates the Single Market of half a billion people, with globally unmatched standards of quality and consumer protection. At every level, from infrastructure to trade and from human rights to security policy, the EU harnesses functional interdependence. Instead of gaining power over each other – as our Russian neighbour continuously aspires to – we seek to gain power with each other. The bottom line is that even if Europe tries to be more of a ”transactional” rather than ”transformative” actor, it can’t.
We rely on this deficiency.
GEORGIAN GOES BEYOND RESILIENCE
Tbilisi today is more ambitious than Brussels. In the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius in 2013, we set out to deliver on a transformative agenda, which one could call ”enlargement minus.” That what Georgia signed up for.
On justice, transparency, freedom of expression, social partners’ consultation, political pluralism, Georgia goes beyond benchmark expectations. In some respects, we have advanced beyond EU member states. We have significantly reduced the perception of corruption; halved the prison population; reinstated collective bargaining rights; made strands on judicial and prosecutorial independence; and created an electoral system in which the government can lose elections. Even on human security, when it comes to our relations with the occupied territories, we extend social goods and services to those citizens who seek them because we are not using OUR citizens as bargaining chips. There is no tit-for-tat when it comes to the rule of law.
The question is no longer whether we are perfect or not. The question is how we balance representation with effective governance. Georgia is not in danger of an implosion. True, we must do better on qualitative factors, from gender equality to social protection. But, don’t we all? Such dilemmas are in every respect European. We are no longer a Post-Soviet state. We are defining for ourselves a new role that is not determined by our geographic position alone.
Georgia has a vision, which is European but owned by Georgians. We maintain an unfailing record of alignment to EU norms and standards, but we are also a global leader in the ease of doing a business index. We are a transit hub for oil and gas, but 93% of our electricity comes from renewables, which we export.
We are a Launch Pad for European trade in Central Asian markets. But, we are also China’s door to Europe. The Port of Anaklia under construction will be the only deep sea port on the eastern shores of the Black Sea. Across we look at Romania as a corridor that will link Europe to an uncharted and ever emerging 180-million strong market. Meanwhile, Georgia is a hub for two of the three westbound routes from China to Europe realized by the OBOR vision. We are a window to regions, markets, cultures. That is our role, our identity, our strategy, and our foreign policy.
And we are Europe’s Security partners. Georgian troops have been present from the Mediterranean and Kosovo to the Central African Republic in EU-led operations, as well as offering more troops per capita than any European partner in ISAF operations in Afghanistan. For over a generation, Georgia is part of the solution in Europe’s challenges, not the problem.
But, the bottom line is that our future is not in our hands and we rely on our partners just as much as any European state. EU engagement is of paramount significance. It makes Russian aggression in the region a less straightforward and more multi-variable equation. It keeps the project of European integration alive until times that are more favourable comes along. And it anchors Georgia on a partnership founded on values and interests.
Georgia has made a series of commitments that anchor us to Europe: whether we speak about free and multilateral trade, a commitment to trade partners such as Iran or China, or our understanding of sovereignty and security, it is clear the Georgia’s interests lie in Europe, even despite Europe. And at this point in time, we are the EU’s most politically, economically, and institutionally reliable partner in our part of the Black Sea. We intend to continue building on that relationship, even the paradox of Resilience is that we hold our stability together, or none of us holds it. Nevertheless, in the absence of a strategy, we will take the aspiration of a strategy.
1 The opinions articulated above represent the views of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Georgian Government
Diplomatic counselor of the Prime Minister of Georgia