January 13, 2004 - Though Georgia’s “revolution of roses” is the most positive event in this post-Soviet space in over a decade, Georgia is entering an unstable period of transition as the new government tries to promote national coherence among the country’s ethnic groups and takes steps to dismantle the corrupt power structure that thrived under former President Eduard Shevardnadze. To pull Georgia back from the brink, international donors led by the United States must provide emergency assistance so that the new government of President Mikhail Saakashvili can pay salaries and sustain basic operations. At the same time, Russia should be pressed to internationalize its troop presence in Georgia, and close its military headquarters and military bases, which are undermining Georgia’s sovereignty.
These are among the central findings of the Rapid Response Conflict Assessment, an initiative of the Council’s Center for Preventive Action (CPA).
The change of power alone will not resolve Georgia’s serious systemic problems, concludes the report, Stability, Security and Sovereignty in the Republic of Georgia. The country is riddled by corruption. Its economy is stagnant and unemployment is widespread with acute energy shortages. The central government does not control the country’s borders and has relinquished territory to separatist movements in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Nothing less than a total transformation in how the country is governed is required.
The stakes are great. Situated on the strategic transportation corridor linking Europe and Asia, Georgia’s location is indispensable for future delivery of Caspian and Asian energy supplies, critical to diversifying oil sources to the United States and the West. The pipeline— set to start delivering oil in 2005 and reach peak capacity by 2007— will cost $3.2 billion and deliver one million barrels of crude oil each day to western markets.
Georgia is also vital to the U.S.-led war on terrorism. The United States is spending $64 million to strengthen Georgia’s anti-terrorism capability and seal its borders from Chechen fighters and some al-Qaeda members who have fled conflict in Chechnya and sought refuge in Georgia’s notorious Pankisi Valley.
The United States should collaborate with Russia whenever possible, especially considering the broad intersection of United States-Russian interests worldwide, as well as Russia’s pivotal role as Georgia’s most influential neighbor. "The willingness of Georgia’s new leaders to introduce the rule of law will, more than anything else, determine Georgia’s future," said Council President Richard N. Haass. “But both Russia and the United States can and should take steps to strengthen the new government. Neither country wants chaos, which could turn Georgia into a failed state and a haven for terrorists.”
During the first 100 days since Georgia’s January 4th presidential election, the CPA recommends that the new government:
- Show it’s serious about fighting endemic corruption by arresting criminals linked to bureaucratic networks.
- Avoid a confrontation with the province of Ajara— a major transit point for smuggled goods— which could tip it toward secession.
- Fulfill the promise of democracy by organizing free and fair parliamentary elections, which are now scheduled for March 28th.
Once President Saakashvili stabilizes the situation, he should move to:
- Bolster the treasury by improving tax collection rates and enforcing customs duties.
- Downsize and streamline the bloated bureaucracy to increase confidence in government.
- Improve the business climate by clarifying licensing procedures and easing burdensome regulations.
- Advance energy independence by increasing collection rates and developing the country’s hydropower resources.
- Negotiate with Moscow arrangements to internationalize the peacekeeping operation in Abkhazia and accelerate the closure of Russian bases.
These are the major recommendations of the report authored by David L. Phillips, senior fellow and deputy director of the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations. Phillips is a former senior adviser to the State Department and the United Nations Secretariat. He also directs American University’s Program on Conflict Prevention in Turkey and the Caucasus.
The report was developed in consultation with experts on the Caucuses, U.S. and Russian officials, the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. (See acknowledgements in the report, page 29.)
The Center for Preventive Action brings together representatives of governments, international organizations, nongovernmental organizations, corporations and civil society to develop and implement practical and timely strategies for promoting peace. The CPA focuses on conflicts that affect U.S. interests. The CPA has developed a new process to respond quickly to emerging crises. The Rapid Response Conflict Prevention Assessment brings together Council members, other experts, and officials from concerned countries to develop and recommend immediate actions designed to deal with emerging situations and prevent violence from starting, or to contain initial hostilities from escalating. Recommendations are disseminated to local and external actors with a stake in the conflict.
Founded in 1921, the Council on Foreign Relations is an independent, national membership organization and a nonpartisan center for scholars dedicated to producing and disseminating ideas so that individual and corporate members, as well as policymakers, journalists, students, and interested citizens in the United States and other countries, can better understand the world and the foreign policy choices facing the United States and other governments.
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