U.S. Congress Demands Renewal Of Arms Sales To Georgia
The military spending bill passed this week by Congress includes a provision calling on the U.S. to "normalize" military relations with Georgia, including the sale of weapons. The timing of the bill (which still has to be signed by President Obama) is provocative, coming as U.S.-Russia relations have been going through a rough spell and the Kremlin accused Georgia of harboring anti-Russian terrorists on its soil. Meanwhile, things seem to have been going Georgia's way; in addition to this news, the U.S. and NATO have noted "significant progress" in Georgia's NATO accession process, and NATO officially designated Georgia as an "aspirant" country for the first time.
The bill (pdf) includes a section 1242 (full text below) on Georgia, which calls on the Secretaries of Defense and State to develop a plan within 90 days "for the normalization of United States defense cooperation with the Republic of Georgia, including the sale of defensive arms." It also calls on NATO and NATO candidate countries "to restore and enhance their sales of defensive articles and services to the Republic of Georgia as part of a broader NATO effort to deepen its defense relationship and cooperation with the Republic of Georgia."
It also calls on the Defense Department to prepare an assessment of Georgia's defense needs, a cataloging of the requests Tbilisi has made for arms sales over the past two years, and the action taken on those requests and the reason taken for those actions. This provision would seem to get at the notion that there has been an unofficial "embargo" against arms sales to Georgia. A little more than a year ago, an investigation into this question found that the Georgian Embassy and its lobbyists were unable to provide evidence of any arms sales to Georgia that the State Department had rejected, in spite of frequent such claims by Georgia and its supporters. So it'll be interesting to see what this assessment comes up with. (The engagement plan is supposed to be unclassified, but could have a classified annex, so who knows if we'll get to see that part.)
It's not clear how legally binding this language is (anyone who has a sense of this, please do tell), but it's interesting that it calls on the Defense Department to take the lead on this, when it's the State Department which is supposed to approve arms sales.
Senator John McCain, probably Georgia's strongest defender in the Congress (remember "We are all Georgians now"), praised Section 1242:
U.S. defense cooperation with the Republic of Georgia has been stalled ever since Russia invaded that country three years ago. While there has been some slow and minor progress to enable Georgia’s armed forces to deploy to Afghanistan – which they have done in greater numbers than most of our NATO allies – precious little has been done to strengthen Georgia’s ability to defend its government, people, and territory.
“This provision would require the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Secretary of State, to develop a plan for the normalization of our defense cooperation with Georgia, especially the reestablishment of U.S. sales of defensive weapons. It puts the Congress on record as demanding a more normal U.S. defense relationship with Georgia, particularly on defensive arms sales.
Thus far, there doesn't seem to have been any reaction from Moscow, but that is inevitable, given how negatively they reacted to NATO's new, more welcoming rhetoric towards Georgia. When I was in Moscow a couple of months ago, I asked Yevgeny Buzhinsky, a retired general who until last year headed the Russian Ministry of Defense's International Cooperation Directorate, what the Russian reaction would be to a renewal of arms sales to Georgia. His answer:
Of course, that will spoil our relations. Georgia is a very special case, and if I were a U.S. policymaker I would keep a very low profile for the time being with Georgia ... If they want to antagonize Russia, stop talking about transit; it will again be the "Cold Peace."
By "transit," he was referring to Russia's agreement to allow U.S. military cargo to be shipped through Russian territory to Afghanistan. (Recall that recently Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's ambassador to NATO, may or may not have made a similar threat related to U.S. moves on missile defense.)
Will Russia carry through with these threats? We may be about to find out.
SEC. 1242. DEFENSE COOPERATION WITH REPUBLIC OF GEORGIA.
(a) PLAN FOR NORMALIZATION.—Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Defense shall, with the concurrence of the Secretary of State, develop and submit to the congressional defense committees and the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate and the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives a plan for the normalization of United States defense cooperation with the Republic of Georgia, including the sale of defensive arms.
(b) OBJECTIVES.—The plan required under subsection (a) shall address the following objectives:
(1) To establish a normalized defense cooperation relationship between the United States and the Republic of Georgia, taking into consideration the progress of the Government of the Republic of Georgia on democratic and economic reforms and the capacity of the Georgian armed forces.
(2) To support the Government of the Republic of Georgia in providing for the defense of its government, people, and sovereign territory, consistent with the continuing commitment of the Government of the Republic of Georgia to its non-use-of-force pledge and consistent with Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations.
(3) To provide for the sale by the United States of defense articles and services in support of the efforts of the Government of the Republic of Georgia to provide for its own self-defense consistent with paragraphs (1) and (2).
(4) To continue to enhance the ability of the Government of the Republic of Georgia to participate in coalition operations and meet NATO partnership goals.
(5) To encourage NATO member and candidate countries to restore and enhance their sales of defensive articles and services to the Republic of Georgia as part of a broader NATO effort to deepen its defense relationship and cooperation with the Republic of Georgia.
(6) To ensure maximum transparency in the United States-Georgia defense relationship.
(c) INCLUDED INFORMATION.—The plan required under subsection (a) shall include the following information:
(1) A needs-based assessment, or an update to an existing needs-based assessment, of the defense requirements of the Republic of Georgia, which shall be prepared by the Department of Defense.
(2) A description of each of the letters of offer and acceptance by the Government of the Republic of Georgia for purchase of defense articles and services during the two-year period ending on the date of the report.
(3) A summary of the defense needs asserted by the Government of the Republic of Georgia as justification for its requests for defensive arms purchases.
(4) A description of the action taken on any defensive arms sale request by the Government of the Republic of Georgia and an explanation for such action.
(d) FORM.—The plan required under subsection (a) shall be submitted in unclassified form, but may contain a classified annex.
Joshua Kucera, a senior correspondent, is Eurasianet's former Turkey/Caucasus editor and has written for the site since 2007.