The Georgian arms embargo: Myth or reality?
Georgian officials are complaining that they are under an "arms embargo" from the U.S. and are blocked from rearming themselves in the wake of their 2008 war with Russia. According to a piece just published in Jane's Defence Weekly (article not online for non-subscribers), Georgia is looking to improve its air defense, anti-tank weaponry and communications equipment, but is being blocked by doing so by the U.S., they say:
However, none of these systems have been made available for the Georgians to purchase, according to US and NATO personnel based in Tbilisi. This was confirmed by US and Israeli company representatives at Eurosatory.
A Georgian national at the defence exhibition who works for a major US provider of communications equipment told Jane's : "I have worked with this company for years and I know all of their products, all of the technology. And yet, when we opened a new European office, I was not even permitted to attend its opening or see what was inside - all because of the current US administration's policy against allowing any further sales to my country.
"No one can understand what the US government's goal is in blocking these sales. Radios and radars are not offensive weapons," said the Tbilisi-based defence contractor, whose company is involved in training the Georgian military to NATO standards. "The Georgians also lost some of their air-defence radars during the conflict with Russia and now they cannot replace them - nor can they replenish any of the SAMs [surface-to-air missiles] that they fired at Russian air forces."
Other Georgian officials expressed their frustration with the situation by pointing out that "the US even prohibits the sale to us of blank ammunition to be used for training. Obviously pushing the 'reset' button with Russia is more important than our military being allowed to even prepare to defend ourselves".
But is there really an arms embargo against Georgia? Not really. According to a January story in EurasiaNet, Georgia is having trouble buying weapons to rearm itself, but it doesn't have anything to do with U.S. policy:
The problem, [Eurasia defense expert Col Jon] Chicky said, is that US equipment is too expensive and more technologically advanced than Georgia needs. Russian equipment is better suited for the Georgian military, but the countries in a position to provide that equipment, mainly in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, tend to be susceptible to Russian pressure.
"I don't know if the Georgians are under an 'arms embargo' like they claim, but if they try to buy defensive capabilities - air defense, anti-armor, things like that - and countries decide not to provide it to them, then what's the next step? How is Georgia's security going to be ensured if they don't have the means to defend themselves?" Chicky asked.
Georgia has in fact bought some weapons recently: in 2009, according to the arms trade watchdog SIPRI, they bought 70 Ejder armored personnel carriers from Turkey and 32 tanks from Ukraine, 20 T-72s and 12 T-84s.
So the problem is that the U.S. isn't giving Georgia any weapons. Now, you can argue that the U.S. should be more assertive in trying to get Georgia to rearm itself. But there's a big difference between that and an arms embargo.