by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the State University of Tbilisi (followed by a Q&A session)
Dear Rector Kvitashvili,
Dear Minister Baramidze,
Good afternoon. Let me start by saying how very pleased I am to be here. Tbilisi State University is the oldest University in the Caucasus region. And it is the Alma Mater of many of your country’s most important and influential personalities.
I am also pleased that other important Georgian academic institutions are represented here today. Because I am certain that sitting in this audience are many of Georgia’s future leaders.
And that is why I am delighted to have this opportunity to address you. And to hear your views. Because you represent the future. And I want to know what type of future you want. For yourselves. And for your country.
But before looking forward, it’s important to look back. To look at where you are today. To see where you’ve come from. And to reflect on what you’ve already achieved. And so in my remarks today, I want to do just that.
First, to look at the past.
Second, to look at the present.
And third, to look at the future.
So let me start with the past. If I could take you back a couple of millennia, you would find yourselves in a part of the Roman Empire. In a prosperous region at the eastern limits of the empire. And that would soon become one of the first in the world to convert to Christianity.
These Roman roots are significant. Because they show that you belong to Europe. We share common values, a common culture, and a common history.
Now let me take you back a couple of decades. This would be the time that many of you were born. Your country had gained independence from the Soviet Union. But it saw the start of a period of internal conflict. Georgia was paralysed by civil war.
That was a significant period. And it underlines the importance of seeking solutions through consultation and cooperation. Not conflict.
Now let’s go back 8 years. To when you were young teenagers. Those are times you can probably recall easily. And they are times that I clearly remember too.
I have just come from your parliament, the parliament which was at the very centre of the Rose Revolution. I am well aware that many students from this University also played an active role in the protests. And that they were instrumental to their success.
The Rose Revolution was a strong affirmation of the right of the Georgian people to choose their own leaders, and to plan their own future. It was a powerful and peaceful call for freedom, democracy, and the rule of law. And for the past 8 years, you, and your country have been building a new nation on the basis of those principles.
Now, that’s enough of the past. So let me move onto my second point. And take a quick look at the present.
Your country has come a long way. And in a very short time. It has made considerable progress in a wide range of areas. In freedom of expression. In democratic development. And in fighting corruption.
Freedom, democracy and the rule of law are precious. And consolidating all the institutional and democratic reforms will take time. I understand that. It’s a long process. It needs patience. It needs perseverance. And it needs you and your political leaders to show determination to undertake further reforms.
The improvements you have made so far have already had an important impact on your economy. Because they have engendered confidence. And encouraged outside investors.
Foreign investments continue to increase, particularly in the fields of energy, communications, transport and trade. And this means that despite the global economy suffering from one of its worst ever crises, Georgia’s economic performance is strong.
Although growth slowed slightly in this last quarter, your annual growth was over 6 percent last year, and you remain on track to reach 5.5%, or even higher, this year. That’s an impressive achievement. And if you want it to continue, then you will need to continue, and build on, all the good work that has been done to date.
Another area where Georgia has made considerable progress is in supporting international peace-keeping. Your country is a significant contributor to NATO operations. Nearly a thousand Georgian troops are serving in Afghanistan, where they are doing an outstanding job.
Your infantry battalion in Helmand, and your infantry company in Kabul, are operating without restrictions. This means commanders have much greater flexibility over how to use these troops. For example, it means they can be deployed quickly whenever, and wherever, extra security is needed. Contributions like this are key to the success of our mission in Afghanistan.
Georgia has also deployed trainers to Afghanistan. To help train the Afghan National Security Forces. As we hand over greater security responsibility to the Afghans themselves over the next few years, these training contributions will be ever more important.
It is highly significant that your country is now the second largest non-NATO troop contributor to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. And next year, when you intend to increase your commitment, you will be the largest non-NATO contributor. For a country of just over four and a half million people, this is a contribution of which all Georgians can be extremely proud. And for which, all of NATO is extremely grateful.
But of course, you also have security concerns at home. The complete restoration of territorial integrity and sovereignty within the internationally recognized borders of Georgia remains a priority. NATO understands this. All NATO Allies have consistently supported you on this. And we will continue to do so.
We do not, and will not, recognise the so-called independence of the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Osetia. And we welcome your President’s pledge of non-use of force. Because the solution lies in outreach and dialogue, not in military force.
Let me now turn to my third point. The future. Your country has made significant progress in a short period of time. But the journey is not yet finished.
I encourage you not to be satisfied with what you’ve got. Never stop and rest on your laurels. Demand more. And do more. Because the process of building a true democracy and safeguarding your freedom can never be complete.
Next year you will vote in parliamentary elections. And the following year you will have the opportunity to vote in the presidential elections.
Free, fair and successful elections demand a good, and strong electoral code. There must also be a level playing field for all candidates in the elections. So that everyone who wants to participate can do so – freely, and fairly. Without intimidation and interference.
But a true democracy is not just about a ballot box. It’s about much more. Such as respect and tolerance for minority views. Freedom of expression. And full independence of the media and of the judiciary.
Democratic institutions need to be strong and robust. They need to depend on the legitimate responsibilities of the appointment. Not on individual personalities.
This requires the full involvement of civil society. From all parts of the country. From all sectors of the population. And from all ages. Everyone needs to be involved. Because politics is far too important to be left to the politicians. Politics is for you - the people. And you must play your part.
There have already been some significant strides forward. You have swept away the old Soviet era legal system with important amendments to the Civil and Criminal Codes. As far as I am informed yesterday you had your first jury trial. And I encourage you to take the opportunity to sit on a jury. This is an excellent way to increase your own confidence in the judicial system. And the credibility of the system as a whole.
You have also had success at tackling corruption. You sacked the entire traffic police force because officers harassed motorists by asking for bribes and had become the most hated people in Georgia. Reforms like this have a lasting and positive impact. Because they improve the lives of everyday people. And in doing so, they help create confidence in the government and in democracy itself.
But a key benchmark of your democratic development will be the conduct of the elections next year, and in 2013. By demonstrating the same interest and engagement as your fellow students did 8 years ago, you can help to ensure that the benchmark is met. Because it’s important for your future. And it’s important for your country’s future.
Ladies and gentlemen,
As you and your fellow Georgians continue the process of building your nation, you can look for inspiration from one of your great national heroes, Ilya Chavchavadze. I noticed that this university is located on an avenue that bears his name. And it is no coincidence that he has become the national symbol of freedom and independence.
His book, “Letters of a Traveler”, was written nearly 150 years ago. And it contained his ideas on how to build a strong, independent and vibrant Georgian nation. Those ideas are as relevant today as they were then.
During the last twenty years, you have worked hard to build a sovereign nation based on freedom, democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights.
Georgia has expressed its desire for membership of NATO. And NATO has reiterated that its door remains open to any European state that can contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area and further the principles upon which we have built our Alliance. At our summit in 2008, in Bucharest, NATO decided that Georgia will become a member of the Alliance
I was Prime Minister of Denmark at that time. I attended the Bucharest summit and I supported wholeheartedly that decision. And let me reassure you that the Bucharest decision remains firm and still stands.
Let me also stress that NATO’s open door policy is not directed against anyone. Our open door policy is based on the fundamental principle that a sovereign state has the right to make its own choices about its alliances.
I look forward to seeing Georgia in NATO - as soon as it is fully able to meet the obligations and responsibilities of membership.
Georgia has already made an impressive start. You are on the right track. And it is now up to you to carry on with that work. And to focus on continued reform. Because that is the only true path to NATO membership.
And it’s the only true ticket to a secure and stable future for all of you. Built on the firmest of foundations - freedom and democracy.
Questions and Answers
Q: Mr. Secretary General, first of all, I want to say thank you for your visiting Georgia and especially for your meeting with Georgian students. I am (inaudible...) from Ilia State University and I have one question.
Today Georgia is on a vital transition and changes, and for this time we need to have full advices for our friends. What kind of advice and remarks and estimations can Anders Fogh Rasmussen give to Georgian government, society and students? Thank you.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN (Secretary General of NATO): Sorry, could you... give what to the students and government?
Q: What kind of advices, estimates and the remarks can you give to Georgian government, society and students.
MODERATOR: Towards what, to join the NATO, to build a prosperous country? In general? What would you (inaudible)...
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Yes, I think it will be very much the same piece of advice because I think the most important piece of advice to give is to continue the reform process, not only because it is necessary to carry through reforms, to quality for a future NATO membership, but first and foremost because it is in the self-interest of Georgia and the Georgian people to modernize and reform your country.
So this is actually the most important piece of advice. You have reformed your economy. Georgia has an open, free market oriented economy, and thanks to that, Georgia has experienced very impressive economic growth rates, as I mentioned in my introduction. Despite the international economic crisis.
So it demonstrates that this is the right way forward, to introduce market oriented economic reforms.
So my piece of advice would be continue on that path.
And the same goes as far as democracy is concerned. A lively democratic political life is also essential to promote fresh ideas and renewal of your society. So basically the advice I would give would be to follow what I said in my introduction.
MODERATOR: Thank you. And in the spirit of keeping the gender balance equal, the gentleman here, please.
Q: (Inaudible...), a student of the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences in Ivane Javakhishvili State University. First, Mr. Secretary General, I would like to thank you for coming here and express our great pleasure of meeting you.
And my question concerns Georgia's contribution in Afghanistan. I am interested in the Georgian military officers. Do our officers participate in planning and management of military operations in Afghanistan? And also, if not, is it possible to let them get involved in this process, to get new kind of experience of fighting with terrorists? Thank you.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Yes, Georgian officers are involved in planning of operations in line with officers from other contributors to our ISAF operation. Obviously the whole operation is under command of Commander ISAF, who is an American, General Allen. But within the ISAF command structure Georgian officers participate in line with officers from other contributors.
And the Georgian military contribution to our operation in Afghanistan is important for the operation in Afghanistan itself. It goes without saying. But furthermore, it helps to improve what we call interoperability between Georgian armed forces and NATO armed forces because they learn how to cooperate and that's a very important part, also, of reforming the Georgian armed forces.
So there are many aspects in this. And of course, also for that reason, Georgian officers are fully involved in planning of our operations in Afghanistan.
MODERATOR: Thank you. There is a lady over there, and then yes, we'll turn to this side too.
Q: Hello, (inaudible...) from Free University of Tbilisi. Mr. Secretary General, at NATO Bucharest Summit of 2008, Denmark, of which you were the Prime Minister at the time, was among those countries which supported the idea to grant MAP, Membership Action Plan to Georgia. Let me first thank you, to your support and this is my question:
Ronald Asmus, the author of the book "A Little War that Shook the World" sharply and objectively points out about the responsibilities of the West for the August War of 2008 and comes to the conclusion. Let me read it:
Alliance leaders must summon the political will and strategic imaginations to rebuild and expand a democratic West. It is crucial that NATO's door remains open and that the prospect of future enlargement into Eurasia and across the wider Black Sea region be kept alive.
Do you agree with his conclusion and recommendation, and if so, could you tell us what is being done to implement these extremely important projects? Thank you.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Yes, I can confirm that I supported granting Membership Action Plan to Georgia. But actually we have ended up with a framework for cooperation between Georgia and NATO which is quite strong, despite the fact that we didn't approve a Membership Action Plan.
The fact is that Georgia presents an annual national plan, which is exactly the same as we do within a Membership Action Plan. We have established a special commission, a NATO-Georgia Commission, which is the framework for cooperation between NATO and Georgia. And on top of that, we decided in Bucharest, that Georgia will become a member of NATO.
So it's quite a strong framework for our cooperation. And so that's, of course, also part of my answer to your question. That's what we have done.
I share the analysis that Georgia plays a very important strategic role, and we... this is also the reason why we support Georgia's aspirations to become a member of our Euro-Atlantic family.
So in concrete terms what we do is to carry forward the cooperation between NATO and Georgia within the NATO-Georgia Commission. And I hope to see further progress in that respect in the coming years.
MODERATOR: Thank you. (Inaudible...).
Q: Good morning. First of all, (inaudible...) representing Grigol Robakidze University. I would like to ask you the following question: Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's Ambassador to NATO, said that his primary success was to prevent Georgia and Ukraine from becoming the member state of NATO. What do you think about this issue? Has anything changed since he made the statement? And in your opinion, what are the chances that Georgia will be able to join the Alliance in future? What is the prospective for Georgia? Thank you in advance.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: I would like, first of all, to stress that no country outside NATO is able to veto any NATO decision on enlargement. And as I said in my introduction, our door remains open.
It is clearly a NATO decision and a NATO decision only if we will give... will grant membership to other European countries. Our treaty is very clear. Article 10 in our treaty states that we may decide to give access to NATO to European countries that are able to contribute to the security in Europe and North America, and in a position to further the principles upon which we have built our Alliance.
So I can clearly dismiss the statement that Ambassador Rogozin or Russia have succeeded in preventing Georgia from becoming a member of NATO. This is, and this will remain, a responsibility for NATO only to make that decision. And it will be made based on a broad political analysis and this is actually the reason why we have initiated a broad reform program in cooperation with the Georgian authorities, with the aim to prepare Georgia for a future membership of NATO. And that will be a NATO decision only.
MODERATOR: Thank you. The gentleman back there, and then...
Q: (Inaudible...), Ilia State University. My question concerning regional security. So, today in Caucasus region we have a situation. Military political alliances between Armenia-Russia, Turkey-Azerbaijan and Georgia's ties to (inaudible). So how do you think this kind of alliance is guaranteeing security or vice versa, tension of the situation in the region(?). Thank you.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, seen from... I think the best way to answer that question would be to take the NATO perspective. We have established partnerships with countries in the region, with the aim to improve the overall security.
We do believe that such partnerships are valuable as a framework for political consultation as well as practical cooperation. We are not going to interfere with individual nations' decisions on partnerships and alliances, as I made clear in my introduction. We consider it a basic principle that it is for each individual country to decide its alliance affiliation and which partnerships they want to engage in.
But seen from a NATO perspective, we do believe that our partnerships with countries in the region contribute to an improvement of the overall security in the Caucasus.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Okay. Please.
Q: Mr. Secretary General, first of all, I want to thank you for your very important meeting in my country and for your comprehensive speech, but I have one question. You have mentioned that Georgia is an active and a valuable troop contributor to the operation led by NATO in Afghanistan. My country has already promised to send additional forces in Afghanistan. Georgian soldiers are fighting in one of the most dangerous, Helmand province, and what's your comment, how do you assess the importance of contribution of Georgia in Afghanistan, and the performance of Georgian soldiers there, and what good impacts it may have on the way of integration of my country in (inaudible...) to the organization?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: We appreciate very much the significant Georgian contribution to our operation in Afghanistan. Your soldiers do an outstanding job and you're right in pointing to the fact that they operate in the Helmand province, one of the very hotspots in Afghanistan.
And I'm also pleased to say that we clearly see that the ISAF troops in the Helmand province make a clear difference. Though we are still witnessing spectacular attacks, the reality is that overall we have seen a decrease in the number of enemy-initiated attacks. And not least in the Helmand province.
Overall, in the Helmand province we have seen a decrease in the number of attacks by around 30 percent, and in some districts even more. Up to 80 percent decrease in the number of attacks.
So we have seen a clear improvement of the overall security situation in Afghanistan, and not least in the Helmand province.
And that's also thanks to all the efforts done by Georgian soldiers.
As far as future membership of NATO is concerned, there is no direct and automatic link between a troop contribution and a future membership of NATO. An application for membership will be assessed on a much broader basis, including domestic reforms, as we have talked about today.
But of course it is important that such contributions to NATO-led operations contribute to an improvement of what I have already called the interoperability between your troops and NATO troops. Their capability to work together. They learn how to act in joint operations, and that is, of course, an essential element in becoming a member in the future.
So it's a necessary condition, but it's not sufficient. You need much more and that's why we are talking about reforms on a broader scale.
MODERATOR: Okay, risking too many questions, but this last one from over there and that'll be it.
Q: (Inaudible...), Tbilisi State University. Georgia's integration in NATO is not just a foreign policy call, but it's the choice of Georgian people and it take about 80 percent of Georgians support NATO membership. Our country has achieved a lot and you've mentioned about it and we implement new reforms and now we feel that we are closer to NATO than several years ago.
So my question is, what's your response to the expectations of Georgian people? Thank you.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: You're right, you have done a lot. You have made significant progress and in that respect Georgia is closer to NATO today than three years ago when we took the decision in Bucharest that Georgia will become a member of NATO.
But we also agree, all of us, that more work needs to be done. But I understand very well the expectations of the Georgian people. Georgia belongs to the Euro-Atlantic family. As I have outlined today we share a history, culture, values. So it's only natural that the Georgian people aspire to also become a future member of our Alliance.
And we have decided that you will become a member of our Alliance, and our concrete response to the expectations of the Georgian people is that we stand ready to support you and support your government in carrying through the necessary reforms to qualify for a future membership of NATO. And I look very much forward to welcoming Georgia as a fully-fledged member of the North Atlantic Alliance.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary General. I know there are a lot more questions left, and I understand that you want to answer, but I've noticed that the Secretary General has a page on the Facebook, so I think you can answer through that.
Thank you very much for coming to the university. It was wonderful.