Mariam Macharashvili, Master of International Relations; International Black Sea University.
In October 2022, the White House released President Biden’s National Security Strategy (NSS), one which demonstrates the dual approach of liberal internationalism and realpolitik. The U.S. administration has declared the post-Cold war era over, and claims that the international system is now dominated by two types of competition. The first of these is a geopolitical competition among great powers. With the ability and desire to alter the existing international order, China is viewed as a long-term threat, while revanchist Russia “poses an immediate threat… recklessly flouting the basic laws of international order today, as its brutal war of aggression against Ukraine has shown.” Secondly, the strategy places a strong emphasis on the competition between democracy and autocracy. The South Caucasus is not vital on the U.S. security agenda. However, the U.S’ commitment to preventing conflicts in the region is still mentioned in the NSS. The document includes significant aspects which leave space for analysis of its potential implications for Georgia.
The security document reaffirms that Russia utilizes different tools to destabilize its neighbors and interfere in their domestic politics. However, from the U.S. perspective, Russia’s “soft power and diplomatic influence have waned, while its efforts to weaponize energy have backfired.” This is an important point for those desiring EU-NATO membership, as it is clear the U.S. sees Russia as a short-term threat and a diminishing power. Georgia is referenced once, in the context of supporting European aspirations, along with Ukraine and Moldova. The war in Ukraine has conditioned the U.S’ active engagement in Eastern Europe. The Biden administration seeks to secure the region by extending NATO, strengthening existing partnerships, and advancing the deterrence policy. Moreover, in the document, the U.S. notes its support of bringing back diplomatic efforts to resolve the regional conflict, referring to the Nagorno-Karabakh War. Due to the accumulation of Russian power in Ukraine, its gradual failures and the severity of the international sanctions, the declining of Russian influence in the South Caucasus is evidenced by the involvement of the EU in the negotiation process between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the absence of Russia, the visit of Nancy Pelosi to Armenia, demonstrations of the use of strategic arrangements to preserve democracy, and Turkey and Armenia’s attempts to normalize ties. The power vacuum created by the decreasing Russian involvement (which is likely to continue) will be filled by the Western powers and Turkey. To balance Moscow, the U.S. claims, it “will continue to engage with Turkey to reinforce its strategic, political… ties to the West.” Accordingly, it provides a chance for Georgia, as a U.S. ally, to strengthen its Euro-Atlantic aspirations, actively bring forward the issues related to the Russian occupation, and to advance its role as a platform for mutually beneficial cooperation in the region and with partners.
Another important geopolitical aspect is related to the U.S’ competition with China and Iran, which also has implications for Georgia. The NSS states China is the main long-term threat, entering as it does every region with its economic and diplomatic power, and it “should be contained” by aligning with partner states. Georgia’s important role in this kind of networking is less expected, as the U.S. prioritizes strengthening ties with partners in the Asia-Pacific, where rising Chinese influence is more critical than in the Caucasus. However, Georgia-China relations have been increasing in the economic sector, as well as in investments and trade. Given that Georgia has become a potential candidate for EU membership, pressure from China to have Georgia come under its influence is not likely. Besides China, the NSS discusses Iran as a smaller but dangerous actor posing a threat to U.S. interests. The NSS underlines: “We will continue to work with allies and partners to enhance their capabilities to deter and counter Iran’s destabilizing activities.” This implies that Georgia, a U.S. ally and located close to Iran, will therefore play some role in the American strategy of deterrence against the latter.
Russia’s manipulation, using gas and oil supplies, and its frequent attacks on critical energy infrastructure in Ukraine, has again damaged European energy security. The U.S. sees a possible solution in the acceleration of the global transition, and working with partners to build their connectivity to global markets. Those efforts will decrease Europe’s dependence on Russian resources and promote energy diversification. The last has been strengthened by the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Azerbaijan and the EU to increase energy imports and the capacity of the Southern Gas Corridor. The NSS outlines reviving the diplomatic platform with Central Asian states (the C5+1 format), which are connected to Europe through the Caucasus. The above-mentioned efforts are important for Georgia so as to halt its recent “geopolitical downsizing” and promote its becoming a more proactive and a necessary transit state for the West. This means that U.S. interest in regional energy projects since the 1990s is still valid.
Biden’s administration remains loyal to the democratization imperative of Georgia, and continues to support the implementation of institutional reforms. Several critical letters and resolutions made by U.S. Congressmen confirm that the U.S. is still closely monitoring Georgia’s domestic politics. Criticism and concerns related to democratic backsliding resulted in the Senate’s failing to pass the Georgian Support Act of the House. To some extent, this may indicate the emergence of certain conditionality with regards the provision of U.S. assistance in the democratization process in Georgia, something often referred to as “tough love”. The security document outlines that democracy is central to a more peaceful and prosperous world. Accordingly, it is a clear message that resilient and democratic Georgia can halt the region’s descent into conflict; be a model (a success story due to the U.S. long-term developmental assistance), despite being surrounded by non-democratic regimes; and play a significant role in energy security and trade between Europe and the East. For the U.S., democratic Georgia will be a reliable ally to work with on a variety of wider security issues which are related to other regions and that serve American interests.
In conclusion, the U.S. foreign policy will be characterized by active engagement in Eastern Europe and the continuation of the sanctions imposed against Russia. The significance of Georgia in U.S. foreign relations will primarily be determined by Biden’s stance toward Russia. However, it is clear the majority of the time and attention of U.S. policymakers will be on Ukraine rather than on Georgia. The U.S. will continue supporting Georgia’s territorial integrity, Euro-Atlantic aspirations and will monitor the democratization process in the country.