NATO - Georgia

interview with Bruce Jackson

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The new leadership in Tbilisi is not as attractive to Western states as the previous one

B ruce Jackson is a former US military intelligence officer, a political activist, an active supporter of NATO expansion and a big friend of Eastern European countries. Tabula talked to him about current international affairs, the crisis in Ukraine, Putin's Russia and the situation in Georgia.

Interviewed by Tamar Chergoleishvili

You are assisting Central and Eastern European states to integrate into NATO and the European Union. The main adversary in this endeavor is Vladimir Putin, who pursues the opposite goal – the restoration of the Soviet Union. Against the events unfolding in Ukraine, how does this confrontation now look?

Many countries in Europe had great chances after 1945; those same chances should be given to those democracies that appeared after 1989. It is simple fairness. It has never been intended as a confrontation with Russia. Actually, Russia was ultimately supposed to be a part of this whole and free Europe that was being built.

Unfortunately, now, more than 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it is not going so well. It is now a highly confrontational issue between Moscow and Washington. It is not completely clear what this confrontation is strictly speaking about. It does seem to have something to do with Vladimir Putin's rather nativistic worldview of how the world order should be constructed. That is, of course, opposed by Western Europe and the United States. The latest expression of that collision of civilizational ideas happens to be Ukraine.

Germany, one of the key NATO states, is reluctant to see new members in the Alliance. In one of your interviews published in 2008, you said that Berlin sees itself as a business partner of Moscow and fulfils the role of explaining the Kremlin's anxieties to the West. What is the situation now? Have you seen any changes in the behavior of Germany towards Russia?

At the time I said that, there was a very economic view originating from Berlin that economic interdependence would ultimately build a new relationship with Russia. That was associated with [Foreign] Minister Steinmeier and, actually, with Chancellor Schröder.

The United States had a very different view at that time, under George Bush: that this was a rather militant expansion of democracy – we were arguing very much about having Georgia in NATO. Americans saw this more as hard power, in which the use of NATO was appropriate. So there was a real collision between the economic explainers in Berlin and the more security explainers in Washington. I think now both [Berlin and Washington] are dissatisfied with their instruments.

In response to the crisis in Ukraine, the United States deployed 600 troops to the Baltic States and Poland. It was the US that sent them, not NATO, because of opposition from Italy, France and Germany. What does that say about the Alliance?

I think NATO is in a crisis, but not necessarily because of the crisis in Ukraine. Six hundred troops is an appropriate deployment if we wanted to open a MacDonald's restaurant. When General [Colin] Powell was speaking of our requirements in Europe, he said the minimum number of troops in Europe is 100,000. That's the minimal order battle. So, I think, moving a company of soldiers, 600 troops, or four F-16 or whatever it is, are largely symbolic maneuvers to convey to Russia how seriously we take the annexation of Crimea and the rejection of the concept of European borders.

I do not think that they have military meaning as such. I do not really think they are intended to have military meaning. Frankly, the US President has been absolutely clear throughout this thing that we have no intention of getting into a military engagement about Ukraine. We are basically stressing sanctions and visa bans against individuals – very much soft power responses. It continues to be the policy of the United States that we do not want to militarize the post-Soviet world. Our plan, ever since George Kennan wrote 70 or 80 years ago, was to demilitarize the political conflict with Moscow.

What was the main mistake of the United States in relation to Putin?

This leads to a very sophisticated question about when did the breakdown of post-Cold War order begin. Fifteen years ago, Secretary [Condoleezza] Rice – I think when she was still national security adviser – said the challenge for America is to manage the decline of Russian power in the West and the rise of Chinese power in the East. What's happened in those 15 years is that we have done neither. We never actually worked very hard on convincing Putin to adopt himself to European norms and Euro-Atlantic norms, and so far we have been unsuccessful in persuading China to enter into a Pacific order.

Actually, we have seen a deterioration of world order accelerate under President Obama. The pivot to Asia and the reset policy with Russia were all vague indications that there was something wrong with the underlying foundation of world order.

What is the importance of the Black Sea region for Euro-Atlantic security?

The interesting way to think about building a Europe, whole and free, is how successful we have securitized and stabilized the waters which surround it. Clearly, the Mediterranean Sea is an extremely stable sea, politically and militarily speaking. The Baltic and Nordic region is also considered stable.

One of the things we did in the Balkans was talk about an Adriatic charter to basically make sure the Dalmatian coast and eastern Mediterranean remain stable.

The only European sea that does not yet have these characteristics is the Black Sea. There is no joint agreement on policing and security. There is no joint agreement on pipelines and energy. As a matter of fact, all those important areas are contested.

We are seeing this conflict with Russia manifest itself in the Black Sea region precisely because that remains a vacuum in the European space and these roles and relationships are not defined. If you look at the frozen conflicts that exist in the post-Soviet world, they are almost exclusively around the Black Sea. The worst incidents we have had with Russia – Abkhazia, South Ossetia, the Kerch channel, Crimea, Odessa, they are all on the Black Sea.

So, obviously, the failure to bring institutions to the Black Sea and nations such as Georgia has been a great failure of the current period.

In 2005, in your testimony before the Committee on Foreign Relations, you said that if countries could be compared to sports teams, Georgia would be the 1980's US Olympic Hockey team. Like that team, Georgia should not have been winning, except it was. How do you view Georgian democracy today? Nine years have passed since 2005; there was a democratic change of power in Georgia...

Well, that is a very complicated question. If we look at the Rose Revolution and the two terms of Misha Saakashvili, this was a nation of reforms and self-reinvention. It was a sort of metaphorical success story. This was stopped in 2008 at the NATO summit, and then stopped again with war with Russia, essentially by great powers not accepting that romantic vision of Georgia, which we all think was a mistake and we should have looked forward.

If we look at the new period, I think the military situation is probably now in Georgia's favor. We would like to have more allies from the region because it has become so unstable. Unfortunately, right now Georgia does not have a romantic story to tell about itself.

So, we first had a romantic story but no military relevance; now we have military relevance but no romantic story. I think what we are waiting for at the moment is the reform ethics and the national unity that surrounded those first eight years to somehow be blended into the new team. Frankly, the only way I can say this, is that the new leadership in Tbilisi is not as attractive to Western states as the previous one. This has to do with use of prosecutions against the previous administration, harassment and the loss of the young intelligentsia which are leaving the country.

The former government was also criticized for ignoring democratic standards, especially in the later years of its administration...

But the question is – and the same question pertains in Ukraine – if you have flawed governments, do you reform them or do you overthrow them? Usually in the European system it is far better to reform them and keep the best of the best and get rid of the worst each time, rather than do everything over again from scratch.

And one last question regarding the upcoming NATO summit which will be held in Great Britain. What type of decision, in your opinion, can the allies take at that summit that Putin will not regard as a demonstration of weakness?

Putin, basically, dates the conflict in the Black Sea from 1999 in Kosovo. So, Putin has always seen a connection between the 1990s in the Balkans and the 21st century on the Eurasian steppes. It seems to me that the answer to instability in Europe's East, is the consolidation, in NATO and European institutions, of Europe's South. The two countries that are at the door of NATO are Montenegro and Macedonia, the latter is actually already half way through the door and is just being blocked by Greece. I think NATO is well aware that if it wants to send a message to the Kremlin, consolidating and completing its work in the Balkans would be step one.

Whether we can do more with the Eastern Partnership and Association Agreement with Moldova and Georgia, this is something that the European Union is going to have to comment on, but they will not do that until they have a new parliament. So, we not hear from them until about November. The only institution that is available to us over summer is really the NATO summit in Wales in the fall. We are really trying to put pressure on those leaders to recognize that there has to be a response from our institutions to the wholesale instability throughout Europe's East.

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