Georgia is very likely the first ex-Soviet country with fairly certain prospect to become a full member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
2020 is a year marked by COVID-19, but also by major elections taking place around the world – in South Korea, in New Zealand and most famously in the United States.
Georgia is also heading towards parliamentary elections on 31 October 2020. To understand the massive extent of the progress made by Georgia in its democratic journey (and its journey towards NATO and the West), one can look at what is happening in Belarus, another former Soviet state. The two countries are markedly on a different path, and this is primarily due to political leadership.
In Belarus, self-proclaimed President Alexander Lukashenko, typically described as ‘Europe’s last dictator’, was shouting during his supporters’ rally six on 15 August: “look through the window, enemy tanks and fighter jets, engines on, are stationed 15 minutes flight-time from the border, near Warsaw”. According to Lukashenko, they endanger this country and “only a bunch of youngsters” pretend the threat does not exist or fail to see that “NATO troops crowded together at our gates near Warsaw.”
This claim was so unreal that it fell on deaf ears.
Alexander Lukashenko’s blame on NATO is far from innocent and it is not his imaginary reason to keep his grip on power. The addressee of his speech was not in Minsk, Warsaw or Brussels but in Moscow.
Cursing ex-communist (and ex-Soviet) countries that are now members of NATO is an old song nobody actually listens to. What will be the next move? To criticise Ukraine and Georgia? Or to blame NATO for the current was between Armenia and Azerbaijan?
Georgia is a suitable case for rhetorical attacks by authoritarian dictators:
- It is one of the freest countries in the world, in 2020 its global rank in doing business (7th) and especially in economic freedom (8th) is far ahead of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia (and of course, Belarus)
- In June, George amended the constitution to provide for freer and more representative elections, reducing the electoral threshold and abandoning the majority vote
- And Georgia is an unwavering NATO ally, emerging from the roots of the old empire not simply a prey of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact as were the Baltic states
- Georgia is pro-western and Belorussian protesters are pro-western; Lukashenka’s blame on the former will read as a threat to the latter
A staunch ally
Georgia cooperates with NATO as a member of the Partnership for Peace since 1994. The economic reforms and geopolitical reorientation from the last couple of years to the present day have accelerated the pace of Georgia’s integration with NATO.
The NATO Brussels Summit of 2018 declaration mentions Georgia 20 times. Most important is paragraph 65 which states that Georgia will become a member of the alliance – reaffirming a previous decision.
In June this year, the US Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs issued a fact sheet on US security cooperation with Georgia. The document is remarkable in many respects because it highlights Georgia’s commitment and actual involvement in military and peacekeeping operations of the alliance.
Arguably, these facts prove that Georgia is very likely the first ex-Soviet country with fairly certain prospect to become a full member of the treaty organisation.
In Central Europe, we are barely informed about the fact that Georgia is the largest non-NATO contributor to the alliance’s Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan. Since 2010, Georgia has deployed over 20,000 soldiers in support of international security missions in Afghanistan and provided more troops per capita than any other country in the world.
Most often, Georgian troops cooperated with those of the United States, France and Lithuania.
To put this number into perspective, the 20,000 Georgian soldiers deployed in Afghanistan equal to one-sixth of the total active military personnel of Poland, two-thirds of Bulgaria and half of the Netherlands active military personnel. It is a larger number of service persons than the total active military personnel of Croatia, Denmark, Lithuania and Slovakia, according to the latest data on NATO member states military strength:
In the last 15 years, Georgia’s defence budget has always been above or at the level of two per cent of GDP. Those issues were the subject of discussion on 29 September, when NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg met with Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia and Minister of Foreign Affairs David Zalkaliani.
At the meeting, Stoltenberg said: “And I encourage you to continue making full use of all the opportunities for coming closer to NATO. And to prepare for membership”.
Georgia is a good example of Westernisation in the sense of democratic, economic and military reforms. The 2020 constitutional and electoral system amendment (to implement proportional representation), will drive the country away from post-Soviet style authoritarianism. As such, the upcoming parliamentary elections will further secure Georgia’s place in the alliance.
Lukashenka is not ‘Europe’ last dictator’. Rather, his role is to be the last Soviet autocrat. The problem of autocrats is that they never fail at their own cost. The bill is always paid by fellow citizens.
Georgia has avoided such a scenario. The Foundation for the Advancement of Liberty in Madrid constructed and index than measures the morality of politics, World Index of Moral Freedom (WIMF).
The recently published 2020 edition found that “high increases in moral freedom have been revealed for Georgia, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Ireland”. Georgia is in good company.
Dr Krassen Stanchev teaches Macroeconomic Analysis of Politics and Public Choice Theory at Sofia University. Since 2004 he had worked as a consultant of economic reforms in the Caucasus and cooperates with free-market think tanks in Georgia in particular.