Georgia proclaims its will to integrate within the Euro-Atlantic security architecture, however the commitment to pursue military reforms is lacking.
Summarizing the last year’s activities, on a press conference of January 29, 2001, Deputy Defense Minister Gela Bezhuashvili uttered thinly veiled disappointment staggeringly low level of attention to country’s armed forces.
“The Defense Ministry has been repeatedly requesting support of the government and the society. It seems at first sight, that everybody fully acknowledges that the defense field should be the highest priority for the country, however at present we lack proper support,” Bezhuashvili said.
Georgia suffers from a dormant conflict and latent small-scale warfare in Abkhazia; problems remain with violation of its borders by both irregular armed persons (for instance Chechen guerrillas) and by the unidentified aircraft – more than 40 cases of airspace violation were reported last year. At the same time country has professed its will to reform the armed forces according to the NATO standards.
With all the security threats and long-term policy plans as they are, support towards the military infrastructure and development has been amazingly low. Problems of financing are said to be the main obstacle for the reforms. Experts also believe that uncoordinated and unplanned activity of the governmental structures in this direction is the root of the problem.
The military budget has been decreasing steadily. Even with those cut budgets, the Defense Ministry never fully received budgetary transfers since 1996. Budget 2002 is no exception. It allocates 38.5 million Laris for the defense budget, while the Defense Minister has stated that 71 millions are necessary to ensure “the minimum level of combat readiness.”
Regionally, Georgian defense budget is way behind its neighbors of comparable size of military machinery. In 2002, 132 million USD has been allocated for the Defense Ministry of Azerbaijan. 72 million USD went to the Defense Ministry of Armenia.
Continuous lack of funds has put the Georgian armed forces to a deepest crisis, thwarted structural reforms and undermined esprit de corps. So called “Mukhrovani insurrection” of May, 2001 when the servicemen of the National Guard mutinied with social demands, was a clear warning to the Georgian government that urgent action needs to be taken.
The crisis in Mukhrovani was luckily defused with no bloodshed, but the painful awareness of the army’s problems did not seem have last long.
“The government is playing with fire, when it forgets the Mukhrovani events and does not include repayment of the salary arrears to the military into 2002 budget,” said Giorgi Baramidze, Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee for Defense and Security on January 31, when the Parliament approved the budget.
Salary arrears to the military reached 20 million Laris in 2001.Giorgi Baramidze says that when the government allocates only miserable funds for the Defense Ministry, it actually pushes the servicemen to mutiny or desert.
But low budgets also hit hard on reforms. Commenting on the new budget, Defense Minister David Tevzadze made very short statement: “Naturally, certain programs will be reduced, i.e. not implemented.” Experts argue these “reduced” programs would primarily include structural and infrastructure reforms advocated by Georgia’s international military advisors. Independent military expert David Darchiashvili believes that the “budget clearly shows – reform of the defense system is not a priority for the government”.
The experts say most activities are conducted with direct financial assistance of the donor countries, especially Turkey and the US. The priorities outlined for upcoming years include continued participation in peacekeeping operations, reforms in General Staff and enhancement of the communication, command and control systems.
Until now, Georgian military can only claim isolated successes, such as the Southern Caucasus multinational military exercises “Cooperative partner – 2001” that were held in Georgia under NATO “Partnership for Peace” program.
Most of the reforms require capital investment and qualified personnel, as well as existence of the well-drafted and coordinated policy. Georgian experts say that the vestiges of the Soviet military system and corruption are a chief deterrent of the defense system reform.
The experts also believe that the overlap and the lack of coordination between Georgia’s military and security agencies (Internal Troops and Interior Ministry, Border Defense Department, Ministry of State Security) is also problematic. Defense Minister David Tevzadze agrees and says that the whole system needs conceptual modification, but this would require closer attention of the government and society.
By Mamuka Komakhia, Jaba Devdariani, Civil Georgia