At the conclusion of Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili’s recent visit to Washington DC, three senior U.S. diplomats published a story, titled “Where Georgia is Headed.” The article, authored by William Courtney, Daniel Fried and Kenneth Yalowitz, reflects on the three ambassadors’ earlier report, dubbed “Georgia’s Path Westward.”
To discuss the article insights, the visit by the Georgian delegation and other relevant topics in Georgia’s domestic or foreign policy, Voice of America’s Anna Kalandadze spoke to one of the co-authors – William Courtney, a former US Ambassador to Georgia, who presently serves as a Senior Fellow at the Rand Corporation in Washington DC.
What promises or pledges did the Georgian delegation receive this time in Washington, what is your reading?
The United States has long supported Georgia’s independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity, especially because of Georgia’s democratic development. The Trump Administration appears to be carrying forward this bipartisan policy.
While you believe NATO membership is not a near-term prospect for Georgia, what can Tbilisi realistically expect from the upcoming Brussels Summit?
Georgia might seek participation in additional exercises, including those well beyond Georgia. Now that the U.S. is supplying sophisticated defensive lethal weaponry, Georgia might encourage certain other NATO allies to take similar steps. Since NATO attaches priority to democratic development in its member states, Georgia might take further steps in this direction prior to the summit.
On “practical cooperation” that you highlighted in your latest piece – what could it be on a free trade arena? How far are the two countries into this process anyways?
Because trade between Georgia and the U.S. is only a small fraction of total U.S. trade in goods – under two ten-thousandths of the total figure – the U.S. is unlikely to give priority to concluding a free trade agreement with Georgia. Moreover, at present U.S. trade negotiators are preoccupied with a crush of other trade issues, such as those involving China and NAFTA. Rather than pursuing a free trade agreement, Georgia might gain more by further improving the investment climate, such as through advances in the rule-of-law and broadcast media freedom.
What do youth think Georgia can do to further mobilize the international support?
It has to deepen its democracy, especially by strengthening the rule of law. Political parties will be more enduring and have broader support if they are based on interests rather than charismatic individuals or wealthy donors. A specific need is for the Georgian government to commission an independent investigation of the abduction of Azerbaijani journalist Afgan Mukhtarli. Media reports have raised questions whether Georgian special services were involved, which may be a serious concern if true.
Domestically, what economic challenges do you see for Georgia at this point?
In the economic dimension, no step is more important than creating an efficient market for agricultural land, so that people may freely buy and sell land and use it as collateral to borrow money, and banks may foreclose on land in a timely way, if borrowers cannot meet payments. The absence of an efficient, depoliticized land market breeds corruption and limits the amount of investment in land, causing lower crop yields. Remaining state-owned enterprises could also be sold to increase the productivity of Georgia’s economy and lessen corruption.
What kind of Russia policy should Georgia pursue and what are the lessons the U.S. could share with Georgia to that end, especially after Washington’s findings of Russian meddling in its democracy, etc.?
Pragmatic cooperation with Russia, especially in the economic arena, is an important accomplishment. The West has an interest in continued progress. Even as Georgia opposes Russian aggression, pragmatic cooperation can reduce risks of misunderstandings, miscalculations, or other actions that could heighten security risks.
The material was prepared for Civil.ge by the Voice of America. In order to license this and other content free of charge, please contact Adam Gartner.