A report released by the staff of Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) has sparked controversy from Russia and Georgia. Titled “Striking the Balance: U.S. Policy and Stability in Georgia,” (PDF) the report argues NATO Allies need a coordinated policy toward Georgia, and suggests it should include a resumption of arms sales that halted following the 2008 Georgia-Russia war:
The United States and NATO allies must reconcile a policy that leaves a dedicated NATO partner unable to provide for its basic defense requirements. These efforts will be most effective if they are undertaken on a multilateral basis. The Alliance must come to grips with the reality that Georgia will require coordinated security support from America and European nations for some years to come.
Particularly in the realm of security assistance, such coordination is critical. While Georgia finds itself under a de facto arms embargo, other NATO allies are pursuing record military deals with the Russian Federation. Georgia has become an exceptional contributor to international security through its contributions to missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. A strategy to enable Georgia to similarly provide for its own territorial defense will require close cooperation with NATO allies to preserve stability in the region.
Following the war between Georgia and Russia, both Europe and the United States have largely stopped selling lethal military equipment to Georgia. The United States has nonetheless continued training Georgian forces for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq under a program titled the “International Military Education and Training Program” (IMET), and funding appears to have increased for this training. Relatively speaking, military equipment sales to Georgia were much higher than training funding up to 2008, but have dropped to zero in 2009 (see charts based on data from the Lugar report).
Georgia has embraced the report while Russia and the breakaway territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia argue arms sales to Georgia could lead to another outbreak of violence in the region.
Since the 2008 war, Russia’s actions regarding the breakaway territories of S. Ossetia and Abkhazia have chafed many NATO governments. First, Russia recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent following the war; only three countries globally followed suit. Furthermore, the EU monitoring mission chief Hansjoerg Haber has complained that Russia has neither reduced its troop presence in South Ossetia/Abkhazia to pre-2008 levels as stipulated in the French-brokered peace agreement, and Russia continues to refuse access to the enclaves by EU monitors, reports the Associated Press. The Lugar report cites the same concerns.
There are some signs of rapprochement between Georgia and Russia, argues Christian Science Monitor:
The signs include last week's deal to reopen a single border post on the major Caucasus highway and a possible agreement to resume direct air links.
"The prevailing mood in Georgia is that relations with Russia should be improved, and the government should work more actively toward that end," says Georgi Khutsishvili, director of the independent Center on Conflict and Negotiation in Tbilisi.
"The fact that leaders of both countries have a terrible personal relationship, and keep saying bad things, is not a suitable basis for state policy. We need to move beyond that," he adds.
Should we expect any major change in policy toward Georgia in the near future? Probably not.
Many in Europe have demonstrated an unwillingness to embrace Georgia if it comes at the chagrin of Russia. Several European countries have slowed Georgia’s progress toward NATO membership, such as in 2008 when Germany led the charge to block Georgia from getting a NATO Membership Action Plan, causing tension with those in the Alliance who supported advancing Georgia's NATO bid (see AR article). Having pressed the “reset button” with Russia, President Obama is likely weary to make any moves that would upset Russia.
Georgia has always been a tough issue for the NATO Allies: on one hand it is a small and unstable country that would probably be a bigger liability than asset to the Alliance on strictly military terms (the Russia-Georgia war being a case-in-point); on the other hand, what message is sent if NATO is unwilling to help a country that wants to join it’s ranks and to embrace western reforms? Given this tough situation, most politicians will be happy to keep away from making any big moves on the matter until it is forced upon them. While the Lugar report offers bold proposals, it is unlikely to be followed by any bold changes in policy.