Author: David Batashvili, Research Fellow at the Rondeli Foundation
It is clear enough in the middle of this year 2020 that the world will not be an easygoing place for quite a while. Even before the current crisis, it was evident that the geopolitical competition was as much a thing as it had been in all prior eras of human civilization and that history was very much alive and kicking. The pandemic and the accompanying global economic crisis have further underscored this reality. If history is any indicator, the crisis will likely exacerbate existing geopolitical tensions. The world is dangerous and becoming more so.
International partnerships gain additional significance in times like this. Certainly Georgia, embattled both strategically and politically, will need all the support it can get from its foreign friends and partners to weather the difficult months and years ahead. Among these friends and partners, the United States is a critically important one due to its unique combination of the capability to help Georgia and the willingness to do so that stems from America’s own interests and foreign policy outlook.
Russia’s continued aggression and Georgia’s own internal political troubles are a dangerous blend. The informal governance in Georgia and all of the things that come with it cause the danger of political instability and engender other weak spots that can be exploited by malign foreign influence. That would be bad in any case. Combined with Russia’s unabated desire to control Georgia, it is a very serious national security threat. Consequently, the next Georgian general election can become a decisive moment for both Georgia’s democracy and its sovereignty.
Then there is the bigger picture, reaching beyond the concerns of the current moment. Globally, democracy and liberty are being challenged by formidable forces, including major powers such as China and Russia. The years ahead will be defined by the struggle between these forces and the free world. Advances in technology that have so drastically changed our lives, and which are set to keep changing them in the future, have made the stakes in this struggle incredibly high. The Communists and the Nazis of the 20th century would have loved to be able to exercise as full of a control over their subjugated societies as is now made possible by modern technology. They did not have such an opportunity but modern tyrannies do. The logic of regime preservation motivates them to use it as China’s example so vividly shows.
Winston Churchill’s warning about the terrors that can be brought “by the lights of perverted science” has never been as relevant as it is today. Dystopias threaten to step out of the realm of science fiction into our real lives. At this juncture, it is particularly important for Georgia to stay on the right side of the geopolitical divide that is developing between the free and the unfree parts of the world. Georgia tried and failed to achieve this for most of the 20th century. It would be a tragedy if Georgia failed again in our own age.
No major power in the history of civilization has been free from committing wrongs while operating in the international arena. The United States is no exception. Yet America’s overall record in terms of world history has been overwhelmingly positive – especially since its adversaries in the struggle for global primacy have had an intensely detrimental agenda for the peoples they were trying to dominate and for the world in general. America contested the European hegemony of Imperial Germany and the Asian hegemony of Imperial Japan. It played a critical role in the defeat of Nazi Germany and did not allow the worldwide spread of totalitarian horrors, which tragically Georgia was fully subjected to, by the Soviet Union.
This pattern continues in our times as there is little besides the United States that stands between China and world primacy while America is also the main obstacle on the way for other modern imperial contenders – Russia and Iran – to the fulfillment of their own expansionist ambitions. Indeed, the men who sat in the Pennsylvania State House on 4 July 1776 did a favor not just to their compatriots in their own time but to a much greater number of people – in many parts of the world and in subsequent epochs.
The Georgian people need and want help from their foreign friends to preserve and strengthen their democracy in the present politically decisive moment that Georgia is facing. They also need and wish to ensure their country’s long-term geopolitical place in the free world. A close partnership with the United States and the American help and support, are of the utmost importance in this regard.
For its part, America has a pragmatic interest to engage with Georgia and help it retain its freedom. Due to the facts of physical and political geography, Georgia has strategic importance – which is one of the main reasons it gets attacked so viciously by Russia. If Moscow were to dominate Georgia, Azerbaijan would lose its strategic access to its ally Turkey and to the West. It is difficult to see how it would be able to stay out of the Russian sphere of imperial influence if it were to find itself so geopolitically isolated. A fall of Georgia would also mean Russian control over the South Caucasus transportation corridor – one of the routes connecting Asia and Europe, and a competition for the existing or potential routes running through the territories of Russia and Iran. Central Asia would lose its only potential outlet to the West. In addition, Russia would be able to fully consolidate its influence over Armenia.
In sum, Georgia’s subjugation would effectively give Moscow control over the whole South Caucasus with all of the consequent strategic implications. This would be of great benefit to Russia’s revisionist imperialism and detrimental to the objectives of the United States, among others. Nations, including democratic ones, must base most of their international activities on national interest. America’s crucial support for Georgia over many years testifies to the fact that the survival of Georgia’s sovereignty and democracy is understood by many Americans, including foreign policy decision makers, to be in their country’s interests.
There is a synergy between Georgia’s quest to preserve its sovereignty, America’s pragmatic interest and the general cause of freedom and democracy. A continued and increasingly close partnership between the United States and the Georgian people will serve both sound geopolitics and the ideals on which the free world of today has been built.