Who is telling the truth? Alasania or Dmitrov?

At the special briefing on March 20, Irakli Alasania, leader of Our Georgia-Free Democrats, which is part of the Bidzina Ivanishvili-led opposition coalition called the Georgian Dream, announced that the Georgian government is preparing armed paramilitary groups to be used in case of defeat in the parliamentary elections of 2012. Three weeks later the EU ambassador to Tbilisi, Philip Dimitrov, Head of the EU delegation in Georgia was a guest on the TV show ‘Direct Talk’ hosted by journalist Eka Beridze on the opposition-minded Maestro TV. On the same day, the Georgian news agency Interpressnews published a piece emphasizing that the EU ambassador considers the talks regarding paramilitary groups as fiction. The next day, Alasania accused Interpressnews of spreading misinformation and for the misinterpretation of Dmitrov’s words. All these developments confused many, leading them to ask where was the truth?

According to Alasania, the Georgian government is gathering armed paramilitary groups in the Western part of the country, particularly in Samegrelo, to use them in civil clashes. The clashes he believes, are likely to take place if the national movement loses the parliamentary elections in October, 2012. Alasania sent the documentations to the Georgian Security Council and warned foreign diplomats to carefully research the issue.

On TV show ‘Direct talk’ on April 11, Eka Beridze asked the EU ambassador to Georgia Philip Dmitrov: “Irakli Alasania said at a meeting with diplomats that the government is setting up illegal paramilitary groups in the regions and that it might be in preparation for civil war in the case of defeat in the elections… In your opinion, is such a signal a subject to pay attention to in fact?”

Dmitrov answered: “The EU has a respectable presence in Georgia, this is not only the delegation which I lead, and these are also 200 people who are monitoring on a daily basis everything that is happening at the ABL, especially on this side of the ABL. If anybody tried to prove to us that there are processes there that we cannot see, this would mean that we, the EU are not very reliable and I cannot accept this.” The analytical conclusion of the Interpressnews journalist is a perfectly accurate interpretation of the EU ambassador’s statement. Philip Dmitrov shared the position of Georgian officials: they say that the rumors regarding setting up any paramilitary groups are a lie; therefore, Irakli Alasania is just peddling misinformation.

So, who’s lying: Alasania or the EU ambassador?

On the one hand, it is hardly believable that Irakli Alasania, one of the leading political figures of ‘Georgian Dream’ could use the issue of paramilitary groups for political scores. Neither strengthening tensions in society, nor misleading the diplomatic missions would be effective in getting political and economic support at a domestic or international level.

At the same time, it’s clear as day that in elections held in Georgia it is decisively important to have approval from the West. Without external support of the US and the EU and unbiased parliamentary elections, the ‘Georgian Dream’ won’t be able to challenge the government. Consequently, ungrounded speculations irritating the Georgian public and Western partners could lead to diffusing voters and external support. Therefore, spreading information of paramilitary groups without having some serious facts on hands is reckless and irrelevant – a politically grave error.

On the other hand, based upon the fact that Georgian democracy is the last ‘issue’ of the ‘democracy spreading project’ launched by the Bush Doctrine, the fact that the US and the EU were supporting the Georgian government in spite of lots of misdeeds; the general policy approach of the EU ‘neutrality’ and the upcoming elections, it is more likely that Dmitrov may be holding something back, preferring not to talk about it.

The upcoming elections are an exam not only for Georgian democracy, but also for the US and the EU, which wholeheartedly supported it; the prestige of both Georgian strategic partners is open to the question.

The Caucasus expert Thomas De Vaal once noted that the main goal of the West in Georgia is to maintain peace and stability. Therefore, it is logical that proving the information given by Irakli Alasania – of which can raise questions regarding the success of the EU missions, Georgian government and the whole project of Georgian democracy – can lead to regional disturbances and in general, break the fragile peace and stability.

On this note, Philip Dmitrov can be holding something back in order to “fix” the issue in diplomatic ways. Of course, it is hardly possible to know the truth. But the judgment day will come in October 2012.

The original article was published by GeorgiaToday. It is available here. PDF version.

Is there a political cost to building a hi-tech military?

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.

The original article was published by GeorgiaToday. It is available here. PDF version.

Will Washington try to “go it alone” again?

How will the confrontation between The United States and Iran end? Will the Islamic Republic give way under pressure of economic sanctions? If not, how will the US react? These have been key questions for years, as those on both sides have debated whether the U.S. should strike Iran’s nuclear facilities or not. Current developments suggest that there is a real possibility that Washington will decide to attack Iran’s nuclear infrastructure in the near future, which raises some other important questions.

Matthew Kroenig’s “Time to Attack Iran” and Colin H. Kahl’s “Not Time to Attack Iran,” both published in a recent edition of Foreign Affairs Magazine, aim to analyze this issue and shed light on this debate. The two authors represent two different approaches. After analyzing their articles, it becomes clear that the question of “Will USA go to war over Iran?” isn’t the important as the following question: Will the US try to go it alone again?

On March 1 at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Foreign Affairs representative Jonathan Tepperman, moderated a debate on the Iran issue between Matthew Kroenig and Colin H. Kahl.

In “Time to Attack Iran” Matthew Kroenig argues that based on the fact that diplomacy and economic sanctions have proved useless against the Iranian government’s wish to develop nuclear energy, it is time to force the Islamic Republic to cease work on their nuclear program and prevent Iran becoming nuclear power by launching a preventive strike on their nuclear facilities. On the other hand, Colin H. Kahl in his “Not Time to Attack Iran” says that it is too early, arguing that the possibility still exists of deterring Iran from further developing its nuclear program. According to Khal, an attack on Iran represents America’s last bad option.

The articles aren’t just two points of view, but two different policies – on the one hand, the Bush doctrine (a preventive strike) and on the other, the so-called soft policy (containment).

In describing Blair-Bush relations, a research paper entitled “British Foreign Policy since 1997” argues that “The 9/11 attacks swept away any notion that the US could ignore the rest of the world, and the administration responded with the ‘Bush doctrine”… By mid-2002 Tony Blair had concluded that President Bush was determined to invade Iraq and that Britain needed to be a partner in this exercise… Blair adopted some of the language of the War on Terror, differing from Bush in his analysis principally in that he wanted to ensure that the US did not go it alone and would as much as possible, form alliances and mobilize multilateral institutions, above all the UN.” The essence of the Bush doctrine is actually an assumption that the United State still has enough power to deal with the issue alone or to “go it alone” (example, Iraq).

The authors of Bush doctrine view the international system as unipolar, believing that through the projection of American (military) power, issues can be addressed without the support of international bodies or allies. In doing so, they have neglected UN Security Council members like Russia and China. Kroenig’s article advocates such an approach and is based on this neo-conservative ideology.

Conversely, Kahl advocates Barak Obama’s approach, of the so-called ‘reset’ policy with Moscow. This policy embraces the understanding that the international system is multilateral, and that the US needs to work with its allies and engage in international cooperation to deal with the various problems in the world. US Foreign policy issues and its relations with Russia must be settled in the scope of cooperation by utilizing multilateral organizations, alliances and containment.

Based upon the world’s economic crisis, the harsh economic recession in the EU, the positions of Russia and China, and the failure of the NATO missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, is seems that if Washington strikes Iran’s nuclear facilities the US would be forced to “go it alone”. It would be “a unilateral preventive attack” that “would also make postwar containment more difficult and costly,” argues Colin H. Kahl. Additionally, Kahl argues that it is highly unlikely that the US will get a green light from UN Security Council.

Consequently, while Kroenig believes that some Arab states “would privately thank Washington for eliminating the Iranian threat,” Kahl thinks that “many on the Arab street”, and those within international society- particularly some of the US’s powerful Western allies, as well as Russia and China – would consider it “a breach of international law, shattering the consensus required to maintain an effective post-strike containment regime.”

All in all, according to Kahl, if the Bush doctrine prevails over the diplomatic approach and the US launches a preventive strike without evidence that “Iran is dashing for a bomb… Washington would be left to bear the costs of an attack and the resulting containment regime alone.” Kahl believes that Washington “should not choose war when there are still other options, and it should not base its decision to strike on a best-case analysis of how it hopes the conflict will turn out.” He feels that Washington must avoid making the same mistake as it did in Iraq when it followed the Bush doctrine. The voting process at the end of the debate mentioned above reflects a willingness of the public to contain Iran rather than to go with war.

However, very frequently, the willingness of the public doesn’t match the aspirations of decision-makers; therefore, it is time to re-formulate the question and rather then ask “Will the US attack Iran?” you must ask the more intriguing question of “Will the US try and go it alone again?”

The original article was publish by GeorgiaToday. It is available here. PDF version.

Center for Systemic Political Research (CSPR)