On April 11, after presenting the newest Georgian catapult-launched unmanned aerial surveillance (UAV) vehicle, President Mikhail Saakashvili visited the first modern Georgian military manufacturing facility Delta. The president congratulated the employees at the facility for their hard work and for building the new niche industry. “A new hi-tech field is taking shape in Georgia,” he exclaimed.
However, what are the consequences of Georgia’s hi-tech military build-up? Will there be a political cost to this new endeavor?
In June, 2009 Wikileaks released classified cables of conversation between Ambassador of the United States to Russia John R. Beyrle and US Ambassador to Ukraine, John Tefft. In a cable dated June 17, 2009, Beyrle pointed out that the US must avoid supplying Georgia with lethal military armaments. The ambassador’s view was that Washington’s assistance should be limited to providing only non-lethal military technology to Georgia, so Georgia could secure its borders, maintain stability and take on counter-terrorism steps: “From our vantage point, a burgeoning military supply relationship with Georgia is more of a liability for Georgia than a benefit… It would do nothing to secure a long-term resolution of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, allowing Russia to ‘justify’ its military buildup in the conflict territories,” he documented.
On the other hand, in a cable dated June 18, 2009, Tefft counter-argued that the US must assist Georgia in restoring its military capabilities by providing it with the lethal military armaments: “Current Georgian operational thinking is that if they can defend Tbilisi from occupation for 72 hours, then international pressure will force the advance to pause. To achieve this extremely limited goal, Georgia needs sufficient anti-armor and air defense capability to stall a ground advance, which it currently lacks,” Tefft noted. “The development of this capacity is not solely equipment-based, but it will require the acquisition of new lethal defensive systems. If Georgia does not procure the equipment from the U.S., it will almost surely seek to procure it elsewhere, as it has done in the past.”
The so called ‘Battle of Johns’ includes two different foreign policy approaches: John R. Beyrle, who in light of Obama’s ‘reset’ policy with Moscow, believes the US should not provoke Russia by supplying Tbilisi with lethal and offensive-minded military technology. The opposite point of view is held by John Tefft, who emphasizes the necessity of restoring and strengthening Georgia’s military capabilities despite the provocative nature of the policy.
In the aftermath of the 2008 US elections and the launching of the ‘reset’ policy with Russian, it was assumed that John R. Beyrle’s ‘reset’ policy-oriented approach would take over. However, Georgia’s recent advances in hi-tech military technology prove the opposite.
Taking into consideration Georgia’s current political, social, and economic troubles and the small window available for developing hi-tech military equipment, it is hard to believe that Georgia could modernize the Delta manufacturing facility, produce the first Georgian light-wheeled armored vehicles (Didgori and Lazika), a multiple rocket launcher (MRL) system and a new UAV, without the intense financial, military and technological assistance from Washington.
On May 26, 2011 the appearance of the ‘Didgori’ gave rise to doubts whether the US assisted in its production or not. Now those doubts have only been strengthened, as Georgia simply couldn’t afford to build a modern, well-equipped remotely-piloted vehicle without the appropriate technology and devices.
“Only a few countries have the same technology and it is significant that possessing such technology is even more important in the further advancement of intellectual knowledge and technology,” noted Mikhail Saakashvili.
So, it can be assumed that the reason Georgia is part of the ‘few countries’ is probably due to the fact that John Tefft’s approach has prevailed in this matter.
In this scenario, even though Washington hadn’t directly supplied Tbilisi with financial, military and technological assistance, Russia will surely blame the US, and become more aggressive towards Georgia. This military assistance may damage Washington-Moscow, Moscow-Tbilisi and even Washington-Tbilisi relations. It may even place the whole notion of a ‘reset’ policy with Russian and the US in jeopardy.
Never one to miss the opportunity to disgrace and offend Russia, Mikhail Saakashvili’s harsh tone and manner of speeches only strengthen the possibility that negative consequences could result from all of this.