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America needs reliable allies like Georgia

In a decade that threatens conflict in key regions of the Middle East and Eurasia, America needs reliable allies that make significant contributions to regional security. Georgia is one such important ally with a stellar track record in allied operations and its regional role can be further enhanced. Forthcoming visits to Washington by senior Georgian officials can provide momentum for advancing the U.S.-Georgia strategic partnership. 

Archil Talakvadze, speaker of the Georgian parliament, will attend the National Prayer Breakfast next week and conduct meetings on the Hill with key members of Congress. David Zalkaliani, Georgia’s minister of foreign affairs, plans to attend a high-level discussion on global religious freedom with America’s close allies sponsored by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. And a visit to Washington by Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia this spring will highlight Georgia’s significant contributions to U.S. foreign policy.

America’s allies in crucial locations perform vital tasks in providing security support that reduce the need for large-scale U.S. troop deployments. Georgia can help fulfill this role in the volatile region between South East Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia. It is the key state in the South Caucasus and sits astride the Black Sea, which Moscow uses as a launchpad to project military power toward the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean.

A Russian stranglehold over the Black Sea and Caucasus would challenge the security of NATO members Romania and Bulgaria and NATO aspirants Georgia and Ukraine. It also threatens energy supplies to Europe from the Caspian Basin and transportation and trade routes between Europe and Asia that bypass Russian territory. Some of the major energy pipelines and rail links transit Georgia to European markets.

Georgia is already making an outsized contribution in the global campaign against terrorism. It was the largest non-NATO troop contributor to ISAF in Afghanistan and the follow-on Resolute Support mission that trains and assists Afghan forces. Georgia suffered the most casualties among Allied troops in Afghanistan on a per capita basis. It also offered its territory, infrastructure and logistics capabilities for the transit of NATO forces and cargo and has modernized key airports and port facilities.

In disparate regions, American interests are bolstered by having dependable allies that make major contributions to regional security. Poland, Israel and Georgia are three instructive examples. Under the Trump administration, the U.S. has provided them with significant support, including lethal weaponry, military modernization programs and strong diplomatic backing.

In Georgia’s case, Washington has sold Javelin anti-tank missiles to enhance its territorial defense capabilities. In high-profile visits by Vice President Mike Pence and former National Security Advisor John Bolton, the administration underscored its appreciation for Georgia’s pro-American foreign policy and major contributions to global security, while condemning Russia’s occupation of 20 percent of Georgia’s territory. 

The next important step would be to upgrade the U.S.-Georgia strategic partnership and generate renewed impetus for Georgia’s NATO membership. At its 2008 summit, NATO committed itself to Georgia’s accession but did not specify the timetable. Georgia spends more than 2 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on defense, while NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has stated that the country possesses all the necessary instruments to qualify for membership. Georgia’s relationship with NATO already exceeds any other partner, including contributing troops to the rapid reaction NATO Response Force.

Some NATO capitals are concerned that Georgia’s membership would trigger a war with Russia over its occupation of Georgian territory. They ignore the core principle that no third party possesses a veto over NATO decisions and cannot hold any aspirant hostage. Moreover, Russia will not risk a direct confrontation with a militarily more powerful multi-national organization, and NATO itself acts as a deterrent to renewed conflict, as we have witnessed in the Baltic states. 

NATO accession is a prolonged process. On route to membership, Georgia would benefit from being designated by the U.S. as a Major Non-NATO Ally (MNNA). Sixteen countries currently possess MNNA status, including Egypt, Australia, Japan and South Korea. A 2014 draft bill in the U.S. Congress removed provisions to provide Georgia with MNNA status because the Obama administration underestimated Russia’s ambitions.

The MNNA designation enhances America’s national interests by establishing a long-term framework for defense cooperation and permits the basing of U.S. troops. Although it does not formalize security guarantees, it places any adversary on notice that the U.S. would defend its ally in case of an attack. Such an arrangement would also help America and Georgia to coordinate their campaign against Russia’s subversion, confront negative Chinese influences and forge closer ties with neighboring states in the Caucasus. 

In addition to its pivotal strategic role, its staunch trans-Atlanticism and its resistance to Russian imperialism, Georgia serves as a regional political role model and an alternative to Muscovite authoritarianism. It is a parliamentary democracy that has free elections, a vibrant civil society and an attractive investment climate. With more concrete security assistance, Georgia could better defend itself from Russia’s attacks, strengthen its democracy and bolster America’s regional alliances.

Janusz Bugajski is a senior fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) in Washington DC. His recent book, co-authored with Margarita Assenova, is entitled “Eurasian Disunion: Russia’s Vulnerable Flanks,” Jamestown Foundation, Washington, D.C.

Tags Georgia Georgia Jens Stoltenberg John Bolton Mike Pence Mike Pompeo NATO NATO Occupied territories of Georgia Russo-Georgian War

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