Defense Minister Comments on Reforms, IPAP, U.S. Military Aid

Q&A with Giorgi Baramidze, the Georgian Defense Minister

Georgian Defense Minister (left) and NATO
Secretary General after talks in Tbilisi.
The U.S. Department of State announced on November 4 that the United States will launch a new military assistance program for Georgia to train its troops in peace support operations. Earlier on the same day, visiting NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer held talks with top Georgian officials, including Defense Minister Giorgi Baramidze.

Civil Georgia interviewed the Georgian Defense Minister, after his talks with the NATO Secretary General on November 4, in order to specify particular issues regarding Georgia’s Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP), which was endorsed by NATO in late October, U.S. military assistance and the ongoing reforms in the Georgian Armed Forces.

Giorgi Baramidze said that from 2007, or after Georgia fulfills its IPAP tasks successfully, the country will have a chance to ascend into NATO. He said the Georgian Armed Forces will be reduced to 17 thousand servicemen. While speaking about the new U.S. military assistance program, Baramidze said that “this is very serious assistance for Georgia to train its troops in peace support operations”.

Q.: What does IPAP approval mean for Georgia?

A.: We offered this plan to NATO in April. This means that Georgia intends to implement specific reforms and this is absolutely acceptable for NATO. The organization has approved the plan. It was emphasized that the plan envisages reforms, which are extremely important for Georgia’s accession into NATO.

These reforms envisage the establishment of a real army in the country, instead of troops without uniforms, salaries, weapons and training, as it was previously. The number of troops should be reduced as well. They should be more mobile and equipped with modern technologies. It should be guided through democratic principles.

The first step has already been taken, after the Internal Troops merged with the Defense Ministry’s Armed Forces on November 1. Two or more military subdivisions should not exist in one country.

Moreover, the powers of the Civilian Defense Minister and the Chief of the General Staff should be distributed. The Defense Ministry’s administration should be involved in political issues, while the Chief of Staff should be responsible for training troops and other military issues. These are NATO standards; there is nothing new about it.

One of the key principles of reforms is transparency and effective use of resources. This is what a normal country needs in order to have normal armed forces.

Q.: What will be the number of the Georgian troops after it is reduced?

A.: Currently the Georgian army, including the Internal Troops, totals up to 23 thousand servicemen. This number is the result of the merger of the Internal Troops with the Defense Ministry–8 thousand Internal troops plus 15 thousand Defense Ministry servicemen. Now we plan to reduce troop numbers to 17 thousand. This is an optimum number. However, this will not be an ideal situation. This simply reflects our current possibilities. I do not exclude that the number could be revised at some point in the future.

We have already reduced the number of the Defense Ministry forces. There were 24 thousand servicemen, but many of them were so called ‘dead souls’ [those who existed only on paper].

Q.: What is the timeframe for implementation of IPAP?

A.: IPAP is a two-year plan, which will last until 2007. We should also conduct a strategic survey of Georgia’s defense system. This latter is a component of the action plan. A strategic survey of the defense system will finally show us what kind of army the country needs. Now it is difficult to say anything in this regard. This is a long process and will be completed, approximately, by the end of next year [2005]. Now we are in the process of outlining what kind of armed forces we should have. This is the first stage.

I want to say that we won’t be able to put an end to reforms, even after joining NATO. We have a plan for reforms which extends to 2010. After IPAP is successfully implemented by 2007, Georgia’s chances to become a NATO member will increase.

We should also adopt a national security and defense doctrine for the country. Currently we are just sketching the contours of Georgia’s military forces, afterwards we will move towards increased specialization [of the forces].

Q.: What issues have you discussed with the NATO Secretary General?

A.: The Secretary General is aware of the ongoing reforms in the military and political spheres in Georgia. We talked about the resolution of the ongoing conflicts, the activities of Russian peacekeeping troops in the conflict areas and the necessity of pulling out the Russian military bases from the territory of Georgia.

I told the NATO Secretary General that the most important thing for us is to restore our territorial integrity. We also consider the pullout of Russian military bases from Georgia to be vital. The Secretary General reiterated NATO’s support for Georgia’s territorial integrity.

The NATO Secretary General has also called on Russia to follow its commitment to pull out its remaining military bases from Georgia, undertaken during an OSCE Istanbul Summit in 1999.

The process of rapprochement of NATO and Georgia is very important. We should travel the way towards NATO quickly. We know that this way will not be short. The Baltic States passed this way in 9 years. We should try to pass this way within 3-4 years. The Baltic States will assist us in this regard with recommendations.

The NATO Secretary General invited me to Brussels to thoroughly discuss all relevant issues. The fact that Georgia matters for NATO was confirmed by the appointment of a NATO Special Representative to the South Caucasus and Central Asia.

The Secretary General also hailed Georgia’s active involvement in the counter-terrorism and peacekeeping operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Q.: President Mikheil Saakashvili announced on November 4 that the U.S. plans to launch a new military assistance program for Georgia. Can you specify the details of this program?

A.: The United States has already committed USD 12 million for military assistance to Georgia for 2005; however, the Congress increased this sum by USD 3 million. As a result, this sum amounts to 15 million.

Moreover, additional assistance is planned for training Georgian soldiers. This will promote the strengthening of our armed forces. But I can not talk about the details yet.

Q.: Georgian media has speculated recently about the possible allocation of USD 40 million by the U.S. government to train 4,000 Georgian troops.

A.: There were speculations about numbers in the media, but I can not say any details, because I have no right to do so until the United States itself announces this [program]. But I can say that it will be a very serious assistance program to help us in the creation of peacekeeping forces.

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