The Impossibility of Georgia’s Neutrality

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The EU flag is being projected on the Government Administration's building and Tbilisi TV Tower is illuminated in the EU flag colours.

The aim of Georgia’s Euroatlantic integration is the bolstering of security and the protection of the country’s sovereignty, which should provide for the welfare and security of its citizens. For Georgia, integration with NATO an the EU means an economy based on traditional and cutting edge knowledge, the rule of law, high military standards, better education and healthcare, in short, everything that ensures the welfare of citizens and their desire to remain in the country.  The alternative is a criminal, backward, corrupt socio-economic sphere, which is a remnant of the Russo-Soviet legacy, the lawlessness that comes with it, and incresed levels of immigration out of the country. And yet, despite the widespread support among the Georgian population, Euroatlantic integration, and formost NATO membership, remains a topic of serious discussion, both within and without the boarders of Georgia.

Perceived Concessions on the Path to Euro-integration

In Georgia, a certain segment of politicians views the question of integration into NATO in the context of possible future developments for the Russian occupied territories of Georgia. For this segment, NATO membership equates with a final renounciation of Georgian claims on those territories. However, historical experience shows that the integration of one part of an artificially divided nation-state into NATO does not exclude the possibility of restoring the terrirorrial unity of such a state. Germany is a clear example of this. While the differnces between the German and the Georgian cases are ample, nevertheless, the existance of such a precedent is significant for Georgia.

In the contemporary context, it is of greater imortance to spread and strenghten the soveregnty of the Georgian state in those territories, which it controls, thereby creating far reaching opportunities for economic development. The continuation of the policy of non-recognition of the occupied territories will insure that from the point of view of both public opinion and international law they will remain wihtin the legally recognized boundaries of Georgia.  Accordingly, under improved conditions of international and regional politics, the possibility of restoring Georgia’s territorieal integrity will always remain.

The second issue, which is often touched upon within Georgian political debates, has to do with certain concessions, which Georgia will have to make in economic and other spheres, in the process of Euroatlantic integration. Naturally, membership in any political, military, or economic alliance, assumes a degree of the delegation of sovereignty. What is key is whether the decision to delegate a portion of it’s sovereignty is made by the state itself, under condirtions, which are found to be accaptable, or whether such a decision is imposed by an outside actor.

For example, Armenia, as a member of the EU’s Eastern Partnership Program, was preparing for years to sign the association agreement with the EU, and it was a decision of the sovereign Armenian state. However, in September of 2013, to the suprise of the majorty of Armenian people and even the government, the Armenian president, Serzh Sargsyan, announced that he was rejecting the EU association agreement in favor of membership in the Eurasian Union, which is controlled by Russia. It was clear that the president made such a decision under preassure from Russia. Armenia gave up a sinificant portion of it’s sovereignty, at a great cost to it’s interests, and chose to remain a part of a corrupt and backward economic sphere, instead of joining with a richer, more technologically advanced and larger partner.

European Security and Small States

An important question remains: how ready is Europe and NATO for the integration of Georgia and to what degree does Europe bow to Russian input on this matter? This question, along with the example of Armenia, leads to another important question: do smaller states have the sovereign right to chose their military, political, and economic partners?   

With the Helsinki Process and the creation of the OSCE, followed by the end of the Cold War, a new order seemed to have coalesced in Europe, one, which provided for the protection of the sovereign rights of small and weaker states. However, the dismantling of this order began in 2008, when Russia, by means of its influence on the Germans and other EU member states, effectively blocked NATO’s expansion process at the Bucharest Summit, a move, which was followed by the occupation of Georgian territories. In 2013, Russia went further and pressured Armenia and Ukraine to refuse the EU association agreements, which was followed by the Euromaidan protests and the annexation of Crimea. Russia has already broken the bounds of several international agreements and, through the creation of new realities and borders, is attempting to force the West to assent to a new architecture of European and global security. The main component of this ‘new’ system will be Russia’s right to maintain spheres of influence and constrain the rights of its neighbors to Euro-integration.     

However, Russia’s Ukrainian gambit has led to NATO’s sobering. Starting with the 90s, Russia was not considered to be a strategic threat by the American and European security agencies. In 2014, Russia ‘restored’ its status as Europe’s chief strategic threat. This does not mean, of course, that every European politician shares this view, or that Russia has lost it influence over Europe, as it continues working toward the goal of being able to unilaterally decide the fate of its geopolitical neighborhood.

A key component of the Russian strategy is the circulation of the idea of Georgian neutrality. From the restoration of Georgia’s independence in 1991, the country was led by governments with differing ‘temperaments’ and approaches towards domestic and international affairs; although, no government has been able to avoid various forms of Russian aggression. Russia chafes at Georgia’s sovereign decision making. The existence of a sovereign Georgian state, which will independently peruse its domestic and foreign agendas, is unacceptable for Russia. This presents a threat, which Georgia cannot face alone.

A country facing such geopolitical conditions, which also include the threat of an unstable North Caucasus and the proximity of terrorist groupings, cannot be neutral. Georgia is not in a politically or militarily balanced neighborhood. Therefore, it must be a part of a stable, collective, security system.  In light of such realities, neutrality is unacceptable for Georgia. Neutrality means delegating Georgian sovereignty to Russia. We can cite the example of Finland here, in the period of the Cold War, when neutrality supposed a strict constraint of Finnish sovereignty by the Soviet Union.

Under such conditions, it is of utmost importance for Georgia to constantly demonstrate its strategic commitment towards European integration, not only through declarations, but also in action.  The continuation of military, economic, and political reforms by legitimately elected governments, on the road to Euro-integration, will serve as the basis for Georgia’s success, which will also convince European skeptics of Georgia’s unwavering choice. The success of Georgia’s Euroatlantic integration would greatly contribute to the protection of the sovereign rights of small states and to the restoration of European security.