Bonding with NATO – By Nina Chitaia
Facing security threats from Russia, Georgia and NATO should continue promoting joint educational and military training programs. This would not only improve Georgia’s defense strategy and tactics, but also advance its cause of NATO integration.
At the last year’s Wales Summit, NATO announced it would open a Training and Assessment Center in Georgia. It is planned to start functioning by the end of 2015. According to the NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow, the Center would help Georgia develop new defense tactics, and provide the Georgian Defense Ministry with strategic-level advice. In addition to increasing Georgia’s security capabilities to face Russian expansionism, it would also allow the Georgian government to strengthen ties with NATO and take further steps towards increasing interoperability to prepare better for joining the alliance.
In January 2015, visiting Georgia Veshbow announced that Center would be the “most visible element of a NATO presence in Georgia,” and provide the country with necessary tools for moving towards attaining membership. While the curriculum was still under consideration, Vershbow claimed that the training would focus on command-post and field exercises that would involve troops and military officials from NATO member and partner states.
However, following Vershbow’s announcement, Russia issued threats concerning the establishment of the Training and Assessment Center in Georgia. In February, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov appeared at a press conference in South Ossetia, Georgia’s breakaway province, and threatened that Russia would retaliate if it suspected that Georgia was using the Center to join the alliance. In addition, Russia’s representative at NATO Alexander Grushko claimed that not only was there no need for a new military training center in Georgia, but its set-up was provocative, and would only worsen the regional security environment.
In response to Russia’s threats, Georgian officials issued the statements that played down the importance of the Center. According to Georgian diplomat Zurab Abashidze, main negotiator with Russia, while the new center would allow NATO and Georgia to conduct joint military exercises, their collaboration was not aiming to establish a NATO military infrastructure in the country. Although he claimed that Russia’s threats were unwarranted and that Georgia was free to join any organization, he added that Georgia’s membership in NATO was “not on the agenda” anytime soon.
In addition, during a recent press conference of the head of NATO Liaison Office in Georgia William Lahue and Georgian Deputy Defense Minister Levan Girsiashvili, the former outlined that the establishment of the Center was a sign of “further progress for [Georgia’s] full integration with NATO,” and would contribute to increasing cooperation between Georgian and NATO officials. Rather than elaborating the benefits of the center for Georgia’s military development and capabilities, Girsiashvili stated that “creation of the Center does not generate any threat, because it is not a military base” and was intended for training and evaluation.
As leading Georgian officials have remained passive in defining and commenting on the purpose of the center, they have upset those who have long sought NATO integration to curb Russian expansionism. In addition to recent acts of aggression against Ukraine, Russia has continued to support Georgia’s breakaway regions (Abkhazia and South Ossetia), and has maintained the presence of its troops there. Therefore, it came as no surprise that some Georgian Members of Parliament denounced Abashidze’s claims as sending “a message to Russia” that Georgia was not taking steps to join NATO.
In fact, over the last two decades Georgia has been working to achieve NATO integration given that Russia has continued to pose a security threat. In 1994, Georgia joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace program to increase defense and security cooperation. As the Russo-Georgian war in 2008 increased security challenges, both parties founded the NATO-Georgian Commission to ensure that NATO supported Georgia in pursuing defense, institutional, and democratic reforms. Moreover, in 2011 Georgia took a step further towards NATO integration by gaining the status of an aspirant member.
One of the main features of developing this relationship has been the establishment of joint military education programs. In 2006 NATO allies and partners helped Georgia in setting up Sachkere Mountain Training School, and in 2008 in launching the Professional Development Program for civilian personnel in the Ministry of Defense. In addition, in February 2015 NATO military servicemen arrived in Georgia to take part in the Mountain Training Winter Course, which allowed Georgian troops to practice in winter conditions.
Given the importance of military education in fostering Georgia-NATO relations, Tbilisi should do more to promote joint training and exercise programs. In addition to standing up to Russia by setting up the new training school and extending its military capabilities, the Georgian government should work towards training Georgian students as future policymakers and teachers at the NATO School.
Located in southern Germany, the NATO School prepares students to face future security challenges. In addition to teaching students NATO operations, including how to conduct training and exercises, it also enables them to develop an understanding of cooperating and dealing with international defense mechanisms. Therefore, along with military education, its curriculum includes language classes, history, and political science, which is taught through courses, seminars, roundtables and workshops.
By sending students at the NATO School, the Georgian government would attain policymakers trained in NATO intelligence, planning, and procedures. As the school teaches NATO organization, policy, and operations, Georgian students would learn how to work with the NATO officials in practicing military diplomacy and dealing with ongoing security challenges in Eastern Europe. Furthermore, by learning about legal aspects of NATO operation and activities, they would develop an understanding of the steps necessary to take to accelerate Georgia’s integration into the alliance.
In addition, as the NATO School teaches students how to conduct training and exercises, it would allow the Georgian government to attain staff for local military training centers. For example, the exercise planning program teaches logistics and scheduling for training purposes, and the civilian-military planning course provides knowledge concerning the civil emergency planning while executing NATO military activities. The education received and skills acquired would enable Georgian students to disseminate their knowledge across the nation, which would benefit the country’s defense studies and capability building.
Furthermore, studying at the NATO School would allow students from Georgia to work with those from NATO allied and partner states, and contribute to Georgia’s efforts in achieving integration. As the school hosts over 80 different nationalities and receives contributions from 350 organizations, it promotes cooperation between civilian and military personnel. Learning how to operate a multi-national organization would enable Georgian students to develop skills in teamwork, and work with a wide range of scholars to promote Georgia’s integration into NATO.
Rather than succumbing to Russian threats, Georgia should continue pursuing NATO integration by accelerating the process through building human capacity in relevant fields, including military education. In addition to establishing training centers in Georgia and inviting NATO officials, the Georgian government should also expand ties with the NATO educational institutions. Joint scholastic and military training activities would not only help Georgia attain trained professionals, but also offer Georgian students a chance to work and bond with NATO allies and partners.
By Nina Chitaia – An MA candidate at the University of St. Andrews and a former intern at the Foreign Policy Initiative.
“Opinions expressed by authors in the materials published on this web-portal, does not imply necessarily the official views of NATO or Romania, as NATO Contact Point Embassy in Georgia”.