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Sir Gary Johnson on Reforms in Georgian Defense System

Sir Gary Johnson, Chairman of the International Security Advisory Board for Georgia, spoke to the audience at the Georgian Institute for Public Affairs in a meeting organized by the Tbilisi Center for Strategic and Security Studies. Founder of the Center Revaz Adamia (former chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Defense and Security) introduced Sir Gary Johnson, who spoke about the background and details of the reforms in Georgian defense and security system. Notes of the meeting follow.


  • The biggest thing that has changed since 1998 in Georgia is that there is a much great awareness of real security needs and future.
  • In 1998, when I first came here, I understood that you were just beginning to think how you develop in the future and make your first contacts with the west.
    I remember there was a great debate in the public as to where your security should be oriented.
  • There were many people who said we are so close to Russia historically and geographically that we have no choice but to remain in that position. And we should not therefore begin the process of reforms and modernization.
  • There may still be people who believe that to be true. But there is now general acceptance of understanding that future security of Georgia cannot be separated from the future security of Europe and the United States, Euro-Atlantic community.

Problems Related to Reforms:

  • At the same time the process of modernization and reform has begun in all parts of Georgian society. We all know that it is not going fast enough; we all know that it is not good enough yet.
  • There is still no public document or public consensus about your security policy. The only document we have seen is published by the Foreign Ministry in 2000 presented at the meeting in Sheraton Hotel.
  • That document says quite plainly that future security and prosperity of Georgia lies in its approach and its connection with the Euro-Atlantic community.
    In my country that would be sufficient. That would be taken as the statement of the government policy, it would be debated in Parliament, but because government has majority in the Parliament, it would be passed.
  • The security policy of Georgia has not been ratified by the Parliament, there is no security concept document known, which would be the policy of your country and therefore drive political leadership to changes.
  • The process of transition was much easier in Baltic states, because they could say quite clearly that our political goal is to join NATO, European Union tomorrow. That is not realistic for Georgia in the short term.
  • So Georgia has to find its way towards integration in Euro-Atlantic community more carefully, than other parts of former Soviet Union.


  • There are two trends that I see.
  • The first is reform in the security sector. This is happening and I hope everyone has seen new Defense White Paper. This is defense ministry’s plan for the development of your armed forces, which you pay for by your taxes.
  • Therefore, you, people should have consistent interest in that. 
    It is role of NGOs to promote, stimulate public interest, it is the role of Parliament to stimulate public debate, intelligent, informed public debate, because this is the way to bring public support behind governments.
  • In six months or so there would be the similar document for the Interior Ministry and for the Border Guards. And I hope that government will issue and set out its plan for the overall reform in security sector based on these documents.
  • Another trend that have been developing in these years is that security in Georgia starts with having your internal disputes resolved, that you need political resolution of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and also Adjaria.
  • We know that regionally the most sensitive and difficult conflict to resolve is Karabakh. I think that regional cooperation has to develop next five to ten years, not just to resolve these questions, but also so that security in the Caucasus region becomes more integrated.
  • I think Georgia is well placed to take lead in regional security.
  • One reason is that all three countries meet in Georgia and nowhere else. But also Georgia is more advanced in modernization than other two countries.
  • Democracy is better developed in Georgia. You started to tackle your internal problems.
  • The regional cooperation should start in Georgia and people like me could support it.


What is the major obstacle to military reform? According to our sources, you have prepared the new package of recommendations. What is the difference between these and the previous ones?

There are number of reasons for this. Reform in anything is a difficult business. It is difficult for people psychologically to accept change. It is more difficult for organizations and institutions to accept change. It is always easy to see what should be done and make plan; difficult thing is making it happen. If you take defense, I talked with general Tevzadze two years, three years ago what should be done and there was a general agreement between him and me how defense plan would develop. But it would take a long in any country to realize it, and in the country like Georgia there should be people who are trained to understand how it should be done and what should be done, because you have come from different system. So it takes time to make changes, particularly in the security sector.  You have to grow your own people in defense.

The second reason is that there is no money. You have to pay money for reform, there is no money to build barracks, and there is no money for new equipment. This is not fault of the army; this is not the fault of the Parliament. It all comes back to internal resistance to change, lack of skill and bad economy, which can provide resources for change.

And second part of your question. I am going to discuss them [the new package of recommendations] with Mr. [Tedo] Japaridze [Secretary of the National Security Council]. It is not prepared yet. It will be done in Autumn.
Do you think there is enough political will for reforms in Georgia?

Yes, I do think there is political will. There is an understanding by all high officials; all understand that there has to be reform. But, I think that difficulty here in Georgia is how you express your political will. Does president make great speech? Does government come to collective decision about it? What is the government? Is it collection of ministers headed by state minister? Is it National Security Council? What part does Parliament play in it? Where is the government of Georgia to express that political will? President consistently says we are going to join Euro-Atlantic community. There must be reform. I do not believe it is up to president to do details of this reform. I think the central problem of Georgia is not a failure but lack of development in your governmental institutions, which prevents you from gripping the problem.

What kind of policy should Georgia conduct towards Russia against the background of Russia’s policy in Abkhazia?

I do not think I am qualified enough to speak in details. But still I would touch upon relations with Russia. Russia is there; it is not going away from there. There have to be working relations between Russia and Georgia. To my mind Russia has legitimate interests in security situation in the South Caucasus, because they have common border. Similarly, my country has interests in security situation, say, in France. But Russia should be more mature in its approach with South Caucasus. I think Russia is going through post-imperial pains. On the other hand, Georgia is going through newly independence growing pains. And on occasions, Georgia does not make [things] any better, in the way it responds to Russia’s bad handlings. I think if you live next to a bear and your size is of small dog, you should not bite his ankle too often. There has to be basis for bilateral understanding between Georgia and Russia that will allow them to conduct a mature relationship.

Tbilisi Center for Strategic and Security Studies is a think-tank that aims at increasing transparency of the strategic and security agendas for the general public. The first activities of the Center would include roundtable meetings with experts and officials working in these fields. The Center is established by the Atlantic Council of Georgia, Georgian Foundation of Strategic and International Studies, UN Association of Georgia, Georgian Institute of Public Affairs, Center for Civil-Military Relations and private persons, including Dr. Revaz Adamia who also serves as the Board Chairman.

Civil Georgia ( is proud to provide information support to the Center’s activities.


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