Irakli Menagarishvili describes Georgia's relationship with the Alliance and how it is evolving to the benefit of both Georgia and NATO.
Georgia's overriding foreign policy aim is to integrate itself into Euro-Atlantic political, economic and security structures to join the European community of nations and fulfill an historical aspiration of the Georgian people. Ever since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, my country has attempted to build a modern, democratic society and forge closer and deeper relations with countries and institutions throughout the Euro-Atlantic area. At the same time, Georgia and the wider Caucasus have experienced much instability and turbulence. Developing a long-term and mutually beneficial relationship with the Alliance has therefore been a national priority for the past decade, one which is evolving to the benefit of both Georgia and NATO.
As NATO opened its arms to former members of the Warsaw Pact and successor states of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Georgia was quick to join all new security institutions and programmes. It became a member of the North Atlantic Cooperation Council in 1992; signed the Partnership for Peace Framework Document in 1994; and became a founding member of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC) in 1997. Georgia has progressively increased its involvement in the Partnership for Peace, both in quantitative and qualitative terms, and now participates in more than 100 activities every year.
This summer, Georgia achieved a milestone when it hosted the first, full-scale Partnership for Peace exercise in the Southern Caucasus, Cooperative Partner 2001. The exercise, which took place in and around the Black Sea port of Poti and included some 4,000 servicemen from nine NATO and six Partner countries, aimed to develop combined naval and amphibious interoperability between Alliance and Partner participants in peace-support operations and the provision of humanitarian assistance. This was the largest-scale activity in which Georgia has been involved with NATO. It has helped promote military-to-military cooperation between the Georgian armed forces and those of Alliance members. And it reflects an ever-deepening relationship between Georgia and NATO.
Georgia has also consistently supported NATO's efforts to end the violence and build stability in the Balkans. Indeed, we have sent an infantry platoon to the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) to demonstrate our commitment to the peace process in that part of Europe. Moreover, we firmly believe that, since no country can insulate itself from instability elsewhere, threats to security in one part of the Euro-Atlantic area are threats to the entire Euro-Atlantic area. In order to build genuine security in Europe, therefore, every country should contribute, according to its own means, to eradicating all hotbeds of instability. Georgia has therefore consistently been eager to participate in activities designed to improve security throughout the Euro-Atlantic area and aspires eventually to integration in NATO.
Both Georgia and the wider Caucasus have great potential. Georgia is, for example, at the centre of efforts to build the Eurasian Transport Corridor — a key east-west trade artery between Asia and Europe. It is also a natural transport hub for this revitalised "Silk Road" which has three main components: the Transport Corridor Europe-Caucasus-Asia, a Trans-Caucasian Strategic Energy Corridor (to transport Caspian energy resources to Western markets) and a Trans-Caucasian Telecommunications Network. However, for these projects — which are being assisted by the European Union and other interested countries — to see fruition, it will be necessary to stabilise the entire region and create tangible guarantees for peace and sustainable development.
Georgia's position towards the wider Caucasus is based on principles presented by President Eduard Shevardnadze in his Initiative on a Peaceful Caucasus of 1996 and jointly signed by the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan. This initiative, which excludes the use of force in resolving disputes, proposes a political formula that aims at transforming the existing confrontation and crises in the region into cooperation and general welfare. Implementation of these principles will only be possible with the concerted efforts of countries of the region, neighbours and other leading actors on the world stage interested in a peaceful and stable Caucasus. In this context, other initiatives — including the proposed Stability Pact for the Caucasus — deserve serious consideration.
In addition to cultivating closer relations with NATO, Georgia has sought to build bridges with and join other international organisations. It is a member of the Council of Europe, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the World Trade Organisation, and it signed a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with the European Union in 1996. Georgia is also a member of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation organisation, which seeks to promote mutual understanding, an improved political climate, and economic development in the Black Sea area. And it is part of the GUUAM — Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Moldova — a regional organisation aiming to build common approaches to political, economic, humanitarian and ecological problems.
The most pressing security issues within Georgia are the internal disputes with separatists in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali (formerly known as South Ossetia). Satisfactory resolution of these disputes is an essential precondition for the establishment of stable political, social and economic conditions, and for the return of some 300,000 Georgians who were forced to flee ethnic violence in the early 1990s. We aim to consolidate our independence by making it clear to our neighbours that an independent, prosperous, stable and unified Georgia is in their best interests. This applies especially to the Russian Federation, which currently has some 6,000 troops stationed on Georgian soil. Georgia seeks the phased withdrawal of all Russian troops from Georgian territory and the closure of their military bases. At the OSCE's Istanbul Summit in 1999, Russia signed an agreement to this effect, including a withdrawal timetable for two of the four bases, only one of which was fully met.
Georgia views the EAPC as a particularly important institution, capable of reviewing and helping solve numerous security problems in the Euro-Atlantic area. Since Partners are able to propose the topics of discussions and consultations in the EAPC, Georgia has used this forum to table a series of issues of special concern. These include issues related to regional security, conflict resolution and prevention and conventional arms control. Georgia has also made the most of the mechanism within the EAPC of calling meetings between the 19 Allies and individual Partner countries, so-called 19+1 meetings, to consult with NATO on questions of interest for both Georgia and the Alliance. The first political consultations between Georgia and NATO took place at NATO in spring 2001 at the level of assistant secretary general for political affairs and deputy foreign minister. The usefulness of these meetings demonstrates the potential of the relationship between the Alliance and a Partner, given a genuine will to foster cooperation and understanding.
In recent years, Georgia has given special importance to implementation of its Individual Partnership Programme with NATO and participation in the Planning and Review Process, which we joined in 1999. To date, Georgia has accepted and is working towards fulfilling 29 Partnership Goals. We have also hosted a significant number of EAPC activities. This includes a regional course on civil-emergency planning and civil-military cooperation in May 1997; the first ever EAPC seminar on practical regional security cooperation in October 1998; the meeting of Land Armaments Group 9 of NATO and Partner countries in October 1998; another EAPC workshop on Economic Aspects of Defence Budgeting in Transition Economies in June 2000; a NATO Science Programme Advisory Panel on Life Science and Technology in May 2001; and a NATO Science Committee meeting in October 2001.
Regional security cooperation in the Caucasus is an area of EAPC activity which Georgia has consistently sponsored and is eager to take forward so that both Georgia and the wider region realise their potential. Since the EAPC Basic Document sets out the possibility of creating special regional groups, Georgia proposed the formation of a specialised working group on the Caucasus. The initiative was supported by both Armenia and Azerbaijan, as well as other members of the EAPC and led to the creation of the EAPC Ad Hoc Working Group on Prospects for Regional Cooperation in the Caucasus. This Working Group met formally in Autumn 1999 to explore possibilities of practical cooperation in the region, building on work already undertaken in informal discussions in 1997. It recommended a number of activities falling under the following identified priority areas: defence economics, civil-emergency planning, security-related science and environmental cooperation, information and public relations. The Working Group met again in 2000 to take stock of work undertaken in these areas and to consider other possibilities for further cooperation.
In the course of the past ten years, both Georgia and NATO have travelled a long way. Through involvement in the EAPC and by expanding bilateral relations with key NATO members, Georgia has been able to move politically closer to the Alliance and join the process of Euro-Atlantic integration. Clearly, Georgia's relationship with NATO has already borne much fruit. Yet there is potential for an even more fruitful partnership.