Author: Mirian Janashvili, Researcher
The Georgian armed forces enjoy even greater popularity than that of the Georgian Orthodox Christian Church and politicians are in a contest to illustrate their solidarity to the army, whilst NATO praises each year the positive developments in the Georgian defense system, naturally, within the confines of political correctness. Despite this, two things remain unchanged: 12 years after the Bucharest Summit, NATO is still refraining from offering the Membership Action Plan (MAP) to Georgia and given the dynamics of the global and regional security environment, Georgia’s defense capabilities, cannot withstand any criticism.
It seems we have a paradox at hand – all of the parties in the political spectrum admit the need to increase the country’s defense capabilities due to growing threats alongside NATO expecting Georgia to have a defense system and increased self-defense capacity, based on stable and effective planning. Despite this, it has been more than a decade that the defense system has not seen any qualitative improvement. Even though the security environment has worsened significantly, Georgia’s persistently showed its inability to achieve the aforementioned strategic goals, caused by the variety of objective and subjective reasons. This paradox was present during the rule of both major opposing parties, the United National Movement as well as that of the Georgian Dream.
After the Rose Revolution, the transformation of the defense sector was led by two major imperatives. On the one hand, a political figure had to manage the country’s defense, i.e. occupy the position of Defence Minister in fact, did not need to have respective experience and qualification in the defense field. The priority, instead, was the unquestioning obedience and service to the political interests of the ruling party. Parallel to this imperative, due to our declared course towards NATO, Georgia took a number of commitments that meant putting the field of defense under democratic control; transform it structurally and adopt the systemic approach, turning it into a system, to be based on clear procedures and transparent planning.
Despite initial optimism, it soon became evident that these two imperatives were completely incompatible as the first one caused either a complete neglection of the second or, at best, allowed its nominal implementation. Comparably competent political figures could not maintain for long the position of Defense Minister while the least competent ones kept their position the longest. This approach had a severe negative influence on both the formation of policies as well as the general effectiveness of the system down to the very level of military and staff personnel. At the same time, frequently reshuffle of Defense Ministers not only caused significant revisions to on-going processes and decisions but immediately resulted in military personnel change, from the top the management of the General Staff itself down to other high- or medium-ranking positions.
As a result, the fulfillment of the commitments towards NATO was constantly under risk as it required the formulation and respective implementation of a number of policies designed to achieve integration and compatibility. Different to 2003, when the major issue NATO had to deal with, was establishing the democratic control over the armed forces (which was made possible by the introduction of the Minister as a political figure and the Ministry’s civilian office), from 2005 on it became especially important for the alliance the ability of the Georgian partner to establish and routinely utilize the mechanisms for the long-term policy and resource planning in order to achieve the consistent growth of the defense and combat capabilities of Georgian units.
The full implementation of the planning tools would reduce the risks for political influence in the field of defense, making the long-term development process of the armed forces stable and transparent (especially the plans for capabilities development, maintenance, and acquisition). Suddenly, over these years Georgia has failed to fulfill these obligations, limiting itself to nominal and superficial actions in both, the formulation of defense policies as well as the force planning (capabilities and resources). Apart from this, the nominal nature of the steps taken was manifested in blindly copying American approaches (which is acceptable at the outset of development while absolutely not during the subsequent stages) and their inept adaptation to the Georgian realities. All of this created even more difficulties in terms of putting various fields of defense into the proper legal framework and their respective real-life implementation.
For example, a number of guiding documents had been issued in the field of defense since 2003 such as the 2005 National Military Strategy (NMS), the 2007 Strategic Review (SDR) and the Minister’s Vision. Also, respective changes were made to the legislation in defense planning, that defined and regulated of the nature and role of defense policy and planning documents.
In 2007, it already became clear that the implementation of long-term planning mechanisms had no future prospects. The DSR document was reviewed three times in 2007 and changed radically, even reducing the period of its validity. The Military Strategy lost relevance due to its significant overlap with the content of SDR. In 2012-2013, the Ministry of Defense website featured the Transformation of the Armed Forces document which had no legal status for the defense system whatsoever; yet, despite this, the document did still reveled strategic defense objectives such as the development of forces and combat capabilities, service type, etc.
In 2017, the Strategic Defence Review (SDR) was drafted in record time, covering an even smaller, 2017-2020 period, excluding that the possibility of long-term planning and formulation of goals serving the only purpose of the technical optimization of the armed forces. Hence, no document based on a strategic vision and analysis that would offer clear long-term development plans for the armed forces, with respective financial and resource requirements, was formulated from 2008 to 2020. As for the Minister’s Vision document itself, which initially was intended as a standard paper that would determine Minister’srational priorities for his period of administration (4 years), it soon degraded to a document covering just two years, finally resulting from 2008 on in a one-year document generally describing activities planned within the budgetary year, without any specification of practical goals to be achieved.
The mentioned problem directly leads to the spontaneous nature of defense budgetary planning. Furthermore, the radical changes in the defense budget from 2008 and then the devaluation of GEL made it nearly impossible to identify the specific goals of the development of the armed forces, which objectively question the very logic of defense spending. A perfect example of this chaotic conduct is the summer 2017 decision by former Minister Tina Khidasheli to cancel the mandatory military conscription which was immediately withdrawn by her successor Levan Izoria in September 2017.
During Izoria’s period as Defense Minister, the major priority was quite correctly identified and emphasis put on “total defense” as the main concept for forming the national defense system. This approach put forward significant demands not only towards the armed forces and the Ministry of Defense but also towards other state agencies, the public, and the private sector, requiring coordination of efforts as well as a significant increase in needed resources (financial and material) to successfully meet defense and security requirements. “Total defense” also required serious changes in legal and administrative proceedings at national and local levels.
The fate of the National Defense Strategy (NDS) formulated by the Ministry of Defense last year remains unclear even though it incorporates three previously existing and quite similar documents (Strategic Defence Review, National Military Strategy and the Total Defense Concept). This document, unlike its predecessors, is focused on specific results of the armed force development, envisaging the development of combat capabilities in a long – mid – and short term perspective. At the same time, it also stipulates the coordinated actions of various state agencies in the framework of “total defense” that should establish a system with a clear distribution of tasks and responsibility areas. Not adopting, postponing or abolishing this document would be a vivid proof of old bad habit existence – nominal planning with no real implementation and outcome
As paradoxical as it may sound, even now the Georgian public does not have a clear idea of what kind of army is objectively needed or we are building for the moment. Most probably, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has a similarly vague picture, which, in fact, can be concluded, via clear and repeated indications in NATO documents, in which the alliance calls on Georgia to focus on building a sustainable (resilient) defense system, enhancing combat readiness and improving defense planning mechanisms.
To conclude, the problem of the uncertainty and foggy picture of the GAF future development provides additional leverage to the so-called camp of skeptics in NATO to doubt the alliance enlargement, Georgia’s progress, and further slow down its membership process, even more so as granting MAP to Georgia is a highly political issue. Therefore, it is long overdue for Georgia to remove this argument from the hands of the “skeptics” and, for its own goals and indispensable necessity, break through this vicious circle of bad practice, leaving by that the Georgian defense paradox firmly in the past.