Several days ago, you took up the task of the Minister of Defense. For now, what do you see as the largest problems in the Ministry and the armed forces?
This sphere is not strange for me and, therefore, I have not felt like a stranger here during these [past few] days. I had very pleasant meetings with the civilian personnel of the Defense Ministry, as well as with the staff of the Joint Forces. Human resources are available and we must use them all. We cannot afford losing even one person.
The first thing that is conspicuous, however, is the actual absence of financial discipline. There has been no civil control over the armed forces. Financial transactions and the intention of procurements need to be studied cautiously – and that is how we must plan the fiscal policy in the entity in the future.
The degrading treatment of employees on the part of officials was frequent. Such instances took place in various units of the armed forces as well. We will study those facts thoroughly. Unfortunately, this was a closed system for media and society – and that must change. Therefore, civil control and parliamentary supervision will be main levers in the hands of the society to prevent the system from becoming closed and to avoid politicization of the Ministry.
Very many people were dismissed from the Ministry of Defense and the armed forces – those who failed to prove proper allegiance to the National Movement, the previous government. Not only dismissals, but crimes have also been committed. You must remember that, about a year ago, I voiced protests against the torture of one person, Sandro Tetradze, whose death was allegedly with the complicity of high officials of this Ministry. That happened because the previous government allowed arbitrariness and wantonness of public servants and officials. All that will change after effective parliamentary and societal mechanisms of control are up and running. I supported the idea of establishing the institute of a military ombudsman. The ombudsman will be directly responsible to study and eradicate any practice of degrading treatment which has existed in the Ministry of Defense. There will also be a mediator-negotiator between military servants and their leadership if problems emerge within the armed forces in human rights or any other area.
The election manifesto of the Georgian Dream, as well as the program of the new government, says that a new security strategy must be developed. Does that mean that the new national security concept adopted last year, which identifies the occupied territories of Georgia and the danger of Russia’s aggression as main threats of the country, will be revised?
I do not think that any fundamental changes will take place in the national security strategy. However, revision is, naturally, necessary. We are the new political force with our own experience and ambitions to ensure the security of the country better than it was under the previous government.
Therefore, the document will be revised. But fundamental changes of principled issues are not planned, for example, how to ensure foreign political directions of the country, security, where Georgia’s supports in the region and the world lie.
From my standpoint, as one of the creators of the defense policy, it is necessary to change the military doctrine. It must be built upon an analysis of successes and failures seen in Georgia’s military life during the past twenty years. One must analyze what was the cause of those failures, including [failures] in making strategic, political decisions. Based on that experience, I want to create a new vision of Georgia’s defense. Thank God, those people who participated in our success-failure are alive. That is a golden fund of experience which we must use.Punishing someone is not my objective. My objective is to analyze everything correctly in order to avoid such strategic and tactical mistakes in the future.
As regards the defense doctrine, I think that Georgia’s defense will be naturally tailored to those threats which Georgia faces. I can say nothing new in this regard, but I believe that we must realize from the very beginning that we must have a professional army which will be a very mobile rapid response force. Combat-military equipment must, accordingly, be suitable for that objective. And I want to broaden the capabilities of special operations forces. We must also create a very effective, modern air defense system, which will be one of the top priorities. As regards values, the highest value for me is a soldier, a fighter and the creation of every possibility to enable him to defend his own country and to know that the security of his family is guaranteed on the part of the state.
In your recent interview with the Russian news agency, RIA Novosti, you said that the Georgian army must be small and mobile. You emphasized the number of armed forces, standing today at thirty thousand, and said that that might change. Does that mean that the new government is firm in its decision to decrease the number of armed forces?
“Small” does not mean that a special downsizing or decrease is planned. That is relative. Compared to China, we will, of course, have a small army…
Compared to Armenia and Azerbaijan too….
Our army is small anyway. However, we will, first of all, take into account the advice of our military servicemen and officers – what they need, what number of servicemen will be needed to fulfill defense objectives. That does not imply a decrease. That means that we will have a mobile, flexible army and that one of our priorities will be modern military technologies.
In the same interview with RIA Novosty, you emphasized the threats of terrorism and extremism. Does that imply any qualitative structural renewal of armed forces?
First, those are primary threats for us. Those are threats to the region and the world. We are participants in an anti-terrorist security operation. That’s why we think that that is important for our security. But the key threat for us, naturally, is that our territories are occupied by the army of a foreign country and illegal armed formations. Consequently, the maintenance of peace and prevention of military conflict are key objectives for our country. Maintaining peace requires a constant readiness for the renewal of military actions and war. Consequently, the combat readiness of Georgia’s military forces must be at the highest level.
One of my objectives will be upgrading combat readiness to enable our armed forces to deter the enemy if it decides to intrude into our territory.
Second, we must have such armed forces which will cause maximum damage to an enemy entering our territory in order to make it clear to the enemy that the occupation of our country will – for any intruding force and its national security – be a very heavy burden and will cost it huge losses.
Third, international monitoring is very important. We are grateful to the European monitoring mission for conducting the monitoring and we will assist them in ensuring that their mandate is performed fully and extended to the occupied territories. These are the threats we face and, consequently, our defense doctrine will be adjusted to them.
How do you see the continuation of the mission in Afghanistan? You said that the Georgian military will continue its participation in the ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] operation. But, will it continue in the same or in some different form? Will that involve two battalions again, in the Helmand province again, or might the format change?
First of all, the obligation assumed by the state must be fulfilled and that must not be affected by the change in power. Naturally, we will continue participation until the mission is completed. In military-tactical terms, where and how the Georgian military units will continue their activity, in which theatre and area, is up to the military to decide. In that case, we will make a political decision. But, as far as I know, that is not planned in the foreseeable future.
We do not speak about increasing the military contingent. We want to perform the mission as soon as possible and bring our officersback to their homeland. However, I also want to say here that the previous political leadership offered the USA and NATO the continuation of Georgian participation in the Afghanistan mission in a certain format after 2014 too. That was a political decision which had yet to be taken by the previous government. We still have time for that. Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, together with his defense and national security team, will form a position on that issue.
During the latest visit of Hillary Clinton to Georgia, it became known that the United States will provide military assistance to Georgia. It was said, in particular, that the Pentagon will at this stage assist us in defending our airspace and renewing our fleet of transportation helicopters. In your opinion, were those priorities identified correctly or will they need revision and some changes in directions of U.S.-Georgia military cooperation?
Those are correct directions. That is exactly what Georgia’s defense capability needs. But I assume that the scope of our military cooperation will be further enhanced in the future. You know that that issue was blocked after the August 2008 war. [Georgian President Mikheil] Saakashvili’s impulsiveness and recklessness impeded the military-technical cooperation, not only with the USA but with other partners too. Today, they have seen that we Georgians have managed to conduct a peaceful transfer of power and that a politically stable team has taken over the leadership of the country.
In the run-up to the parliamentary elections, Bidzina Ivanishvili referred critically and even ironically to the previous government’s attempts to establish the production of military technique and equipment. What do you think about that sphere? Will you continue work in that direction?
One of the main objectives of Bidzina Ivanishvili and our government is to create jobs in Georgia. The former government tried to do that by establishing the employment ministry, which, of course, did not solve the unemployment problem. Our objective is to stimulate and to support local production, including the local military industry. So far, I know that, at the level of ideas, such a potential exists. The military vehicle you mean – referring to Ivanishvili’s statement about the tank Lazika – was presented as a ready-made product, although it is still in its trial period and its strength is not fully evaluated yet. Therefore, we will wait for the assessment of professionals. But our political decision will be to support local production, job creation, and that potential must also be used.
What do you intend to do with the draft and military reserve system? Will you reduce the duration of compulsory military service?
We have talked about a gradual reduction of the term of compulsory military service. In the end, we must shift fully to a system of a professional contract army. But, for now, it will be a mixed system. The term of draft will be reduced to twelve months at the first stage. Today, the maximum length of service is eighteen months. Thereafter, it will probably decrease further. That will naturally be calculated by military specialists.
As regards the reserve army, it must be well organized and capable of quick response, which we may need during natural disasters or for military purpose. Moreover, reservists must know exactly their objective, which has not been the case in Georgia so far and which is why the two attempts that were undertaken by the previous government to establish a reserve army ended in total fiasco. The former government did not have any concept of a reserve army. The system existing today will naturally be reviewed and changed.
This article first appeared on the Tabula Georgian website on 31 October 2012