“The contemporary security threats facing Georgia”

Georgia is located in the heart of Caucasus region of Eurasia with its major neighbour Russia on the north. Since the existence of the Russian Empire, Georgian states were absorbed under Russian controls with a short period of independence. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Georgia stood at the forefront of breaking-away from Soviet rule and proclaiming its independence, facing a number of obstacles. In this essay, I will assess the contemporary security threats facing Georgian state as an international actor of my choice. I have identified two most relevant threats to Georgia to the present time: territorial dispute which was fuelled after the Russo-Georgian war in 2008 with the occupation of territories of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali regions and existing constraints which prevent Georgia from becoming a full member of the Euro-Atlantic organisation. In order to better understand why I have chosen to relate territorial disputes and restricted access to the membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), I will bring the theories of constructivism and realism. Realism approach with its rational focus will enable to access the matter of anarchy, self-help, power maximisation, and security dilemma and how these concepts are used to look at the situation in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions as well as the significance of NATO membership. On the other hand, constructivism will allow understanding of the importance of identity reformation and geopolitical past in defining that is a threat to Georgia. I believe that by using these two approaches I will assess the full picture of the security situation in Georgia.

The events of the 2003 Rose Revolution articulated the Georgian national consensus to regain full independence from Russian state which in result presented a threat to Russian dominance. The counteraction for Russia, which became the main security threat to Georgia as the military aggression in 2008 symbolised a Russian non-acceptance of Georgian sovereignty and the risk of renewed attack from existing military bases on the occupied territory of Georgia. In the morning of 8 August 2008, the GRU brigades and the Georgian military units engaged in aggressive action against each other. The outcome of this ruthless attack resulted in the occupation of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions (D. Batashvili 2014). The presence of Russian military forces in the regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions and a large number of military bases instalment there creates the atmosphere of instability and possibility for renewed military aggression (Georgian Military Security Interests 2018, p.8). The atmosphere of anarchy and absence of watchdog in the international system gives a rise to aggressive decisions of more powerful states to strive for its interests. The desire to increase own power capacity causes the conflict outbreak. Taking Waltz (1992) ideas that the primary concern of states is to maintain their position in the system and a tendency of great powers to strife for their state’s interests in an expense of other states, we can notice the link between Kremlin’s desire to prevent loss of its influence in the Caucuses. The atmosphere of anarchical international system pushed the great powers (as Russia is one them) to ‘gain a position of dominant power over others’ (Mearshiemer 2001, p.20). The territorial occupation, commented by the officials of Georgian state, ‘scientifically worsened Georgia’s security environment’ (Georgian Military Security Interests 2018, p.20). The occupation of Northern Caucuses posed is slowly heating threat to Georgia as the presence of Russian military forces creates the risk of a renewed military aggression which undermines Georgian attempt to establish itself as a potential player in the global political sphere. Offensive realism would state that the control over occupied territories of Tskhinvali and Abkhazia regions is a way to reduce the chance for Tbilisi to increase its power capacity and escape from the Russian sphere of influence (Mearsheimer 2001, chap. 7). Therefore, territorial occupation and militarization of such territories endangers the security within the region.

However, the realist approach alone is not sufficient to fully assess the issue of occupied territories to Georgian state. Realist obscures the factors of history and overestimates the role of anarchy in determining state foreign policy as well as abstract from social contexts which form the state’s definition of security threat. It is insufficient to entirely looking at power maximisation. Alternatively, Georgian struggle for its territorial integrity is considered by constructivist as an outcome of social, cultural and historical factors such as its location and Soviet Union history and intersubjective interactions with other actors in the international system. The anarchy, for constructivists, is a product of the actor’s practices that define itself and others (Wendt 1992, p.15). This means that the valid definition of security differs from situation to situation. Taking the events of August-September 2008 when Russia turned to recognise Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions, it can be said that the change in the outline of security priorities for Georgia had occurred. The focus from survival and bandwagoning with the interests of more powerful neighbours like Russia has moved to ensure self-determination and foreign policy formation. In addition, this event impacted on the reformation of Georgian identity as frozen territorial conflict constructs its state identity. History of the Russian occupation of Georgia since Russia Empire and current issues with Abkhazia and Tskhinvali zones is regarded by Georgian statesmen as a continuation of Soviet policies. Drawing from the past, Georgia as a minor state was largely preoccupied with policies of own survival and protection of its territory, thus focusing its foreign policy on the preservation of its borders. Stephen Jones (2014) made a point that foreign policy of former Soviet Republics is compressed of tools of how to wash away Soviet ideology from state’s structures and re-defining its identity

From the close 5 of National Interest of Georgia, the government of Georgian states its aspiration to ‘become part of European and Euro-Atlantic structure… to strengthen its national security… as all nations have the right to choose their own strategic path…” (Georgian Military Security Interests 2018, p. 5) Following this statement, I state that the prevention of a country from fully incorporating into the Euro-Atlantic structure, more specifically into the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), is a second security threat.

The constructivist approach will bring the idea of European identity to understand why Georgia is seeking to become a member of the NATO alliance. State’s identity determines the foundation ‘of a state’s interest and therefore the way it will ‘act’ in the global politics’ (Matt McDonald 2008, p.62). NATO alliance is a representation of Western values. As Georgian state is trying to transform its identity from post-Soviet Union to European like Georgia’s foreign policy and how it defines security threat have also changed. Long roots into ancient Christian history generates a connection between Georgian and other European powers, but the circumstances separated the parallel development of the two. Today, Georgia is striving to enhance the Western-style democratic model within its territories and actively tries to erase its history with the Soviet Union. Constructivist theory points to the external factors have activated the formation of Georgian-European identity. For example, the 2003 Rose Revolution was a call for the process of Europeanisation and setting NATO membership when young generation with Western-orientated minds gathered on the streets of Tbilisi and called for President Shevardnadze resignation (K. Kakachia and M. Cecire 2013, p. 68). Similarly, the development of more close relations with the US President George W. Bush and President Saakashvili as well as deploying troops to Iraq and to the NATO mission in Afghanistan in 2004 (Civil Georgia 2004). These events were attempts to escape from Russian elites who were seen ‘as the direct successor of the Soviet empire’ and do not share the same norms as the West. (K. Kakachia and M. Cecire 2013, p. 49) In 2008 NATO summit ‘was expected to be a major turning point in these relationships’, but the Russian-Georgian war sparked out and directly impacted on the full membership of the country as NATO members were not ready to stand against Russia (p.67). Georgian government under the pressure of external factors of paradigm change defines Russian ‘as an existential threat given its political, security, and economic realities…’ (K. Kakachia and M. Cecire 2013, p. 6) Constructivist theory would approach the interruption of full Georgian integration into NATO alliance as a threat to its national identity which has to be protected as ‘one’s security of largely depends on the definitional foundation of their identity’ (A. Evaristus, p. 2). Therefore, due to Georgian attempts to see itself as a European state, prevention from Euro-Atlantic membership is a security threat.

Nevertheless, constructivist approach does look on how a state’s identity and its relation to security definition, but it is important to look at NATO membership as a strategic move to ensure its state survival. Therefore, realist ideas of security dilemma and the state’s natural desire for survival within an anarchical system are useful to consider. Firstly, taking Waltz (1979) that in the self-help system, survival is the main goal for all states, meaning that Georgia facing great power like Russia is looking for ways to balance it. NATO membership is a tool to redefine its identity as being more Western-orientated, but more importantly, its membership is a guarantee to ensure state protection and survival. Article 5 of the Washington Treaty clearly states that the key principle of NATO is ‘that an attack against one or several of its members is considered as an attack against all’ (NATO 2009). For Georgia, this collective unity would be an opportunity to increase its power to ensure its survival against the attempts of the Russian government to maintain its influence within the Transcaucasian region. The erupted conflict between Russia and Georgia in 2008 damaged the process of unification with NATO institution as the initial fears of its primary members were reflected into reality. For Kremlin, having control over so-called ‘frozen conflict’ in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali is a tool to prevent NATO’s plans to expand to the East, thus preserving its control over Georgia. Being left with no strategic alliance, Georgia is exposed to the direct influence of its greater neighbour Russia, meaning that the restriction from NATO membership is one of the security threats facing Georgian state.

Following the realist approach to the issue with NATO integration, I would like to use the idea of power and fear raised by Mearsheimer (2001). Fear determines the level of tension between the two opposing blocks. Sharp outlook towards more close relations with the EU and the NATO created the atmosphere of distrust and fear among Russia and Georgia. Offensive realist thinkers would state that Russia is fearful of expansionist experience of the Western block. The fear that the NATO alliance would expand on post-Soviet space like Georgia, therefore, provoked the deployment of hard power in a form of military action in Abkhazia. For Georgia, on the other hand, prevention from becoming a member of the Euro-Atlantic alliance which would enhance the more smooth and fast transition from the post-Soviet state into European looking is a security threat. This is because with gaining more territory and enlarging its military capacity, Russia increased its power capacity, thus creating more fear than before and preventing Georgian state from NATO membership, causing more prospects for renewal of aggressive action. For Russia, Georgia’s interconnection with NATO become one more reason for the escalation, while Georgia regards Russia’s attempts to prevent the establishment of the alliance as a matter of undermining Georgian sovereignty.

In conclusion, in this essay, I have presented the two security threats which, in my opinion, are facing the Georgian state. The first threat being the current occupation of territories in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions by Russian Federation. I used the idea of an anarchical system which forces the states like Russia to seek the ways for its power maximisation at an expense of others, in my case, at an expense of Georgia. I supported this realist claim with security dilemma concept by drawing the links between Russia’s historical interest in the Caucasus and how pro-European outlook of Georgian foreign policy threatened the Kremlin in retaining its power over Georgia. However, I also introduced the constructivist approach to look at the issue of territorial integrity. This is because I found it useful to draw the links between history and reformation of Georgian identity and how the sum of these two components sees the presence of frozen conflict on the Georgian border.

Second security threat I identified in my essay is the prevention of full incorporation into NATO alliance. Again, I use both theories of realism and constructivism to understand why NATO membership is significant for Georgian security. Realist ideas of self-help system and power maximisation in order to ensure own survival were raised. Meanwhile, constructivism looked at the desire of Georgian state to deconstruct its post-Soviet identity and commit to the Western values as more supportive the reformation of Georgian state, thus pointing at the importance of NATO membership.


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  12. Wendt, Alexandr (1992) narchy is What States Make of It: Social Construction of Power Politics

IP Student from City, University of London. Natively Russian, but prefer being “citizen of the world”.🌏 Mixed personality, but you’ll have a lot fun with me😺

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