On August 12, 2020, Levan Mikeladze Foundation for Caucasus Studies in collaboration with the America - Georgia Business Council organized the international annual conference on Georgia and its neighborhood. Victor Kipiani, Chair of Geocase was invited to the annual conference. He delivered a speech on modern challenges, Georgia’s aspirations and the Black Sea security from the Georgian perspective.
Speech of Victor Kipiani, Chair of Geocase
The end of the Cold War, the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia and the ongoing pandemic have all created many extremely challenging ‘new normals’ and brain teasers in regional and international relations and security. Many important questions remain unanswered, and the historically unpredictable behaviour of some of Georgia’s close neighbours increases the country’s vulnerability. Once again, in a very short span of time, we are witnessing a process of ‘creative destruction’ which brings to the fore the need for an in-depth reappraisal of the situation and a consequent rearrangement. That said, some of these emerging and re-emerging threats and risks create new opportunities and introduce new criteria, so please let me sum up those whose impact and priority seem to me to be the most important.
This country is on the front line of the conflict (‘meta-conflict’) between two normative worlds—one of democracy and freedom, and the other of oppression and revisionism. Among other things that would give Georgia the resilience she needs, the country needs to work out and adopt effective policies capable of containing hybrid warfare. The latter poses an existential threat, and both the United State and NATO also need to equip themselves with a modern system for rapid situational assessments and timely reactions to such hybrid attacks. Indeed this challenge becomes, quite understandably, even greater when it comes to the question of how to protect partner nations that are not formal members of NATO but are none the less closely linked to the Alliance in one way or another.
Beyond this large-scale geopolitical picture, Georgia is also on the front line of frictions between regional hegemons. The country’s continued Russian occupation, coupled with Turkey’s growing assertiveness in the region and the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which in many ways resembles a proxy war, are worsening the regional quagmire. New solutions are therefore needed if we are to address these many challenges in a bold and creative manner.
As if this was not enough, a further challenge that needs to be dealt with is the shifting balance of power in the Black Sea. In this regard, Georgia is not simply a stretch of land between the shores of the Black and Caspian Seas, but a critical crossroads where the Eurasian policies of the West, Russia and China are at loggerheads. We must, however, not lose sight of the fact that Georgia’s geographical location is both the reason for the security threats she faces as well as the source of her economic growth. The Black Sea is nowadays an arena for competition over influence, access and information, and if we are to succeed, we and our partners and allies, therefore, require strategic persistence rather than strategic patience. A progressive US shift towards a more extended form of deterrence in the Black Sea region would be seen as a timely response to those countries that are still hostages of the relatively prevalent ‘Senkaku Paradox’ or those that mistakenly follow the reasoning that ‘the enemy of our friends is not necessarily our enemy’. In this regard, Secretary Pompeo’s statement on the inadmissibility of a ‘closed’ South China Sea should also apply to the Black Sea; and the opening of a NATO Excellence Centre in Batumi would send a strong signal that Georgia ranks among the ‘vital interests’ of our strategic partner.
All this is of course also compounded by Georgia’s proximity to the Middle East. The latter will continue to be a focus of US attention in the near future, and certain discussions in the United States concerning possible readjustments to their wider Middle Eastern policy might lead to an additional role for Georgia as a ‘safety locker’ for Western interests in both the Black Sea and Caspian regions and beyond. An even closer alignment of our national interests with those of the United States could help both nations to identify a new ‘signature outlook’ to deepen their strategic partnership.
Personally, I believe that adopting such a new approach to the region as well as forging a qualitatively new relationship with Georgia would be in line with the US National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy, particularly in those areas in which these strategies consider the question of a more effective deterrence in Europe and the Middle East. I also trust that the new security concept paper that the National Security Council is currently working on will include both accurate assessments of national and regional risks as well as some good solutions and forward-looking statements.
Closer to home, another common concern is the need to address the two frozen conflicts on Georgian territory, which are effectively geopolitical conflicts caused by the country’s foreign policy choices and the occupying power’s opposition to them.
I hope that this very brief speech made the point that the challenges that Georgia faces also present opportunities. More than any of our neighbours, we strive to be a democracy and a place of safety for our people and our allies. These goals have the full support of the country’s population, among whom a consensus is readily identifiable both among the country’s political elites as well as at the grassroots level.
To reuse a small part of one of history’s most famous statements, the blood, sweat and tears that Georgia has shed in our monumental toil to maintain our freedom of choice must be recognized at their true value. Georgia punches well above her weight, and the greatest pain is not to suffer but suffering in vain.
Thank you and I would, of course, be delighted to answer any questions you may have.
To watch the conference recording please click here