In this installment in a series of interviews with Georgian experts to evaluate the developments after the Rose Revolution, Civil Georgia focuses on the issue of armed forces in a Q&A with the military expert Kakha Katsitadze.
The development and reformation of the Georgian armed forces became one of the top priorities for the new Georgian authorities. The 2005 defense budget will be the highest in Georgia’s recent history –119 million Lari (around USD 65 million). To help support this notion, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said during a recent speech that the Georgian army’s capabilities will increase 2-3 times by next year.
Military expert Kakha Katsitadze says that society’s attitude towards the army has changed for the better over the past year but he also says that in many cases the authorities lack a well-planned strategy when dealing with particular problems.
Q.: Could you share your point of view regarding the developments in Georgia after the Rose Revolution in general before focusing particularly on the military sphere?
A.: The most positive trend is that Georgia started getting out of “a swamp” after the revolution. Secondly, many politicians, notorious for a large part of the society, have disappeared from the political arena. The third positive tendency is that the President always shows a readiness for frank dialogue with society. And what is most important, the authorities do have a desire for drastic changes. This will of the authorities determines that the country has started to move out from this “swamp.”
Unfortunately, we have to deal with some negative tendencies as well. I have an impression that the new authorities, sometimes, have no planned strategy to settle particular problems. Another aspect of the problem is staff policy. A young, “teenager” mindset is very nice, but I doubt that this will bring anything good to the country. By this I mean state officials and not political leadership. Age and experience should be the key criteria for staff policies.
The expectations towards the new authorities were extremely high and, naturally, non-fulfillment of these expectations aggravates the social situation that lies on the background of the unsettled South Ossetia and Abkhazia problems.
Q.: What about the armed forces?
A.: The above-mentioned general tendencies reflect all spheres, including the defense field. However, there are several specific characteristics that define the military as well.
Recent measures and PR campaigns implemented in the military field, including the May 26 military parade [marking Georgia’s Independence Day], triggered a positive change in the attitude of society towards the Army.
The previous authorities, who were basically represented by the communist elite, failed to understand the true meaning of an independent state. The army is one of the most important attributes of a sovereign state. The previous authorities had particular fears regarding the army and were mostly focused on police forces. Hence, the army was like “a stepchild” for the government – I observed this numerous times while working in the General Staff. Today this attitude has radically changed.
It is a very positive aspect that the defense funding is gradually increasing. It is also very important that the United States has launched a new military assistance program for Georgia.
One more positive trend is the increase of Georgia’s peacekeeping presence abroad. Besides gaining political dividends for Georgia, our servicemen, who are currently participating in peace support operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo, will gain significant experience serving under difficult conditions.
Western standards are being introduced in the defense system through the implementation of reforms. The Ministry already has a civilian Minister and recently the Internal Troops merged with the Defense Ministry. Now the main thing is to conduct a painless integration of the Internal Troops, since the system of training of Internal Troops differs from that of the Armed Forces. This progress is really obvious in terms of the implementation of reforms.
However, there are negative sides as well. Particularly, the country has not developed any military strategy so far. The country needs to have a national security concept and strategy, which lays the foundation for a military doctrine in the country which will include the state’s vision regarding the construction of the Armed Forces. Then documents defining a national military strategy should be adopted in order to decide various issues. Without these comprehensive documents, the construction of a Georgian army will not be effective. Generally speaking, until you define the kinds of conflicts you should participate in, you do not know what kinds of weapons you should buy.
By the way, one of the key recommendations of Georgia’s Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) envisages the adoption of documents regarding military strategy. However, I am afraid that our authorities do not completely understand how important it is to adopt these documents.
The absence of a concept on military industry is one more flaw. This does not mean that military industry should be subordinate to the Defense Ministry. It can develop as a private sector. There is no particular approach towards this issue. As a result, the existing technical potential is being gradually lost.
Q.: How would you evaluate the operations carried out by the Georgian troops in August, when clashes erupted with the South Ossetian militias?
A.: The so-called ‘South Ossetian military campaign’ which ended in failure in August can be considered as a flaw. This campaign was not planned effectively in either the political or the military point of view.
The Commandos battalion, which is supposed to operate in small groups, was used like the usual infantry. Then they [authorities] were surprised why there was a casualty in the U.S.-trained battalion. Use of these units in combat missions has very specific rules, which were not observed. However, several positive trends were observed in this regard when Georgian troops captured the strategic heights overlooking the separatist region’s capital of Tskhinvali.
Q.: You say there is a lack of strategic planning. How is this reflected in drafting the defense budget, which is gradually increasing?
A.: This is a very important issue. However, along with increasing defense funding, the method for drafting the budget is very important as well. In a normal country the budget is drafted in accordance with the requirements. This means that it should be based on the requirements submitted to the high-level defense leadership by the lower level defense structures and then the top-level leadership should distributed funds after outlining priorities.
In our case everything occurs on the contrary. The budget is drafted from above and I have no idea what the criteria for allocating funds are. For example, 119 million Lari will be allocated in 2005, however, nobody could explain to me why exactly 119 million and not more or less.
Q.: The new authorities have recently launched a campaign to boost reserve forces. A group of MPs and officials were also enrolled in the training of these reserve forces in an attempt to popularize this initiative. What can be the role of these forces in the Georgian army?
A.: I am rather skeptical regarding this issue. The authorities have not defined any strategy in this regard. They [authorities] say that they will use reservists in emergency situations to fight natural disasters. Two battalions of reservists in western and eastern Georgia would be quite enough to assist fire fighters in cases of necessity. However, I think it is better to increase the number of firemen instead of training reservists to extinguish fires.
The problem is that we have not thoroughly defined the purposes for which we should use reservists–would they strengthen the personnel of the regular army or they would have other functions? In my opinion, training reservists is just a PR campaign, which is conducted spontaneously.