U.S. Announces New, Meager Military Cooperation With Georgia
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton brought some goodies with her on her recent trip through Georgia: some "new areas of defense cooperation," which were possibly promised but not specified when Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvilii visited Washington earlier this year. While visiting with Saakashvili in Batumi (and before partaking of some of the local vintage) she outlined in a bit more detail what this new cooperation would entail:
We have also agreed this year on several new areas of defense cooperation. The United States will provide training and support for Georgian defense forces to better monitor your coasts and your skies. We will help upgrade Georgia’s utility helicopter fleet so it can more easily transport supplies and people throughout your country. We are also going to help Georgia give its officers the 21st century training they need for today’s changing missions. With these efforts, Georgia will be a stronger international partner with an improved capacity for self-defense.
She also commissioned a new Georgian coast guard vessel, one of three that the U.S. has helped Georgia modernize:
I’m delighted to help formally commission this Pazisi patrol boat, which will soon help guard Georgia’s coastline. This ship, with its advanced technology and capabilities, is a testament to the partnership between our two countries. Georgians and Americans worked together to modernize it. And I am proud that since 2009, the United States has contributed $10 million to help the Georgian Coast Guard become a sustainable, self-sufficient service capable of patrolling and protecting its territorial waters.
In addition to the three patrol boats, we have supported the construction of a ship repair facility, installation of new communications and observation equipment, and a high-tech maritime information center. All this is part of our broader effort to help Georgia secure your borders and defend your sovereignty. New border police stations in remote areas, radiation monitors at all ports of entry, more equipment and training for border guards and military officers, expanding ties with NATO both here and through our shared mission in Afghanistan, the United States is committed to this partnership and will keep it growing.
All of this, while possibly useful for Georgia, falls quite a bit short of the "defensive weapons" that Saakashvili has been seeking, particularly anti-tank and air defense equipment. It's also not clear, without knowing more details, how new this is: the "21st century training" has been going on for quite a while, as U.S. troops train Georgians deploying to Afghanistan. And the "monitoring of coasts and skies" seems to be covered by the coast guard assistance that Clinton mentioned.
Nevertheless, Saakashvili, listing the most important messages from Clinton's visit, first mentioned "key components of [U.S. assistance] for strengthening Georgia’s self-defense capabilities and that is very important."
The question, though, is if this is just a step on the way to the "new level" of military cooperation that Georgian officials said was in the works with the U.S., or if this is itself the new level. Even in the rosier (for Georgia) former scenario, they have to be getting frustrated with what appears to be a desire by the Obama administration to just keep kicking this can down the road.