Rose-Roth Report from the Tbilisi Seminar

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Rose-Roth Report from the Tbilisi SeminarMembers of the NATO PA, including Vice-President, Wim van Eekelen, participated in a 3-day seminar in Tbilisi, Georgia with a visit to the Pankisi Gorge on Monday, 1 October. This conference report explores a range of stability and security challenges in the South Caucasus, including the fight against terrorism, the region's high stakes in energy development, the role of larger powers-- Russia, the United States and Turkey-- in the region and the many difficulties stemming from “frozen conflicts”, political instability and economic poverty.


1. The Tbilisi Rose-Roth seminar, the first ever held in the South Caucasus, focused both on the great political, strategic and economic challenges the Caucus region confronts and why it matters, or should matter, to the international community. Indeed, the September 11 terrorist attacks demonstrated that the international community holds a compelling interest in the emergence of strong, independent democracies in this part of the world. Of course, this was already evident to many regional experts and Western governments soon after the break up of the Soviet Union. Yet, major oil and gas discoveries in the region, the worrisome escalation of regional tension and the paradigmatic shift in international affairs that followed on the heels of the September 11 attacks have considerably raised strategic stakes in the region.

2. Thomas de Waal, provided an excellent and comprehensive introduction to the seminar. He identified several closely related security challenges in what he characterised as a "non-region" due to the South Caucasus' woeful absence of political comity and shared security perspectives. These challenges include:

a)the lack of state control over armed groups - a shortcoming that has posed enormous problems in Georgia and Armenia in particular. These groups have undermined the capacity of the region's states to control their own territory and made security problem solving enormously difficult.

b)This naturally relates to the issue of unrecognised states, which poses another serious challenge to both the region and the broader international community. That breakaway regions like Abkhazia and Nagorno Karabakh are operating outside the full control of the states to which they legally belong has proven a persistent source of insecurity in the region. Insurgents in these regions have established control by pushing out hundreds of thousands of those not willing to accept the "new order". The international community, in turn, has been most reluctant either to sanction such ethnic cleansing or to endorse the violent change of recognized borders. Yet, those borders are the legacy of Soviet occupation, and this invariably raises questions about the legitimacy even of recognized borders. The region's states have only aggravated the problem by refusing to extend full citizenship to all those living on their territory and, at times, actively stigmatising minority communities. This mistreatment reinforces the bitterness of dispossessed minorities and resolution becomes all the more difficult as a result.

c)The third key challenge involves the interest and concerns of the larger powers - Russia, the United States and Turkey. The region's small and insecure states inevitably look to larger states for both strategic and material support. Giorgi Baramidze admitted as much when he noted in his opening remarks that Georgia sees both the US and NATO as potential guarantors of the country's security. Armenia sees Russia in a similar light, while the Azeris look to Turkey for such guarantees. Yet, engaging the United States, Russia and Turkey in this manner has the potential of reinforcing the region's profound divisions while stoking rather than alleviating the mutual fears that lie at the root of those divisions.

3. Several other related and serious problems were also discussed in some depth:

The frozen conflicts over Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia and Abkhazia all involve core issues of national sovereignty and, on the face of it, appear intractable. As a result, the problems of closed borders, refugee return and shattered economic ties among many others, remain unsolved. The intractable nature of these disputes was made apparent in the seminar's last session when an Armenian historian and an Azeri parliamentarian defended their respective national policies in terms that were, at once, remarkably similar and yet failed to offer even a glimmer of hope for compromise. Their language unfortunately conveyed the notion that political differences between the two countries are simply irreconcilable. It is, by extension, a measure of the depth of the region's security problems and the broad set of challenges the international community faces in building confidence and security in partnership with the region's governments and societies.

4. A decade of economic crisis rooted in the legacy of Soviet central planning has clearly exacerbated the fundamental strategic problem. In contrast to the transition experience of many former Warsaw Pact countries in Central Europe and the Baltic countries, fear, insecurity, physical, isolation, pervasive and deeply rooted corruption, conflict and violence have gravely complicated the transition towards market-oriented structures in the South Caucasus. Clearly there is a circular relationship between internal domestic problems - the weakness of civil society, endemic corruption, political alienation, economic crises and the suffocating influence of 'frozen conflicts'.


5. The conference also presented an opportunity to examine these dilemmas from a Georgian perspective. Tedo Japaridze explored these problems in his remarks. He called Georgia "a young, independent state, which achieved sovereignty under particularly trying circumstances that has made the state building process highly complex and difficult."

6. Georgia has lost sovereign control over break away regions in Abkhazia and Ossetia and so far has failed to establish a productive dialogue with the forces that dominate decision making in those areas. The word "compromise" does not seem to exist in the vocabularies of any of the litigants. Indeed, mutual fear and insecurity have inspired a public discourse burdened with the language of revenge and polarization. The activities of uncontrolled para-military forces like the Abkhazia-based "White Legions" have only exacerbated the serious problem of regaining sovereign control over these territories. Clearly a change in words and actions is essential to unblocking the situation. Several speakers stressed that the international community as well as the states of the region need to help reassure minorities in breakaway regions and dispossessed refugees from those regions that many of their legitimate concerns can be accommodated in political settlements achieved by peaceful means and yet by upholding the principles of international law.

7. Bruno Coppieters discussed the virtues of federal models of state organization as a means to institutionalise and accommodate diversity. He insisted that the problem of breakaway regions and of Abkhazia, in particular, could never be solved by force. He described these challenges as "sovereignty conflicts". Negotiations, Coppieters suggested, ought to focus on the very structure and organisation of the state. There are already legally possible means to do this. The Georgian constitution, for example, leaves open the possibility of creating federal structures. By definition, federalist structures would cede certain critical policies to local and regional authorities. This, in turn, would tend to result in multilateral approaches that are needed to resolve what now seem to be intractable conflicts.

8. Yet, institution building in the midst of conflict is hardly an easy task. Indeed, Georgia confronts daunting barriers to building viable state institutions as long as regional and local instability are the norm. As Giorgi Baramidze, noted, "It is like trying to build a house while putting out a fire in that house at the same time."

9. Coppieters attributed conflict over Abkhazia to the logic of a "unilateralism", which, in turn, is an unhealthy vestige of the Soviet system. Unfortunately, the international community is reinforcing unilateral approaches rather than encouraging genuine bargaining engaging all interested parties. Coppetiers also suggested that Georgian policy is more driven by fear of Russia than by the need to resolve secessionist challenges.

10. Finally, Coppetiers intimated that Georgia's interaction with the international community and NATO in particular has unfortunately reinforced its unilateralist inclinations and thus proven a hindrance rather than a help to solving the secessionist challenges. The Western stance on Pankisi, according to Coppieters, has only stoked Georgian-Russian tensions and hardened Georgian resistance to conducting a dialogue with Russia on the outstanding sources of bilateral tension. He suggested that the West should be more circumspect about lending uncritical support to Georgia's position in order to encourage the Georgians to adopt a more creative approach both to the Abkhazia problem and to relations with Russia. The West should aim for "win-win" solutions rather than "winner takes all" results.

11. In his response, Vahtang Kholbaia, Chairman of the Committee on Abkhazia in the Georgian parliament, challenged the very thrust of Coppieters' argument. He suggested that, if anything, the West has not been sufficiently vocal in supporting Georgia's position, which, he said, is fully consistent with international law. Russia's peacekeeping forces in Abkhazia are only reinforcing an illegal status quo, and in so doing, are seeking to destabilize Georgia. Russian threats to intervene in Pankisi can be seen in the same light. Given Russia's policy and its military weight, Georgia has no choice but to turn to the West for support and the West should, in turn, strongly support the principle of international law.

12. The level of America engagement in Georgia has increased markedly in recent months. September 11 strongly conditioned America's view of the South Caucasus and is perhaps the single most important factor in explaining the American determination to support Georgia's effort to push Chechen fighters out of the Pankisi Gorge and establish firm and indeed uncontested sovereignty over that part of the country. But energy resources have also attracted US attention and this why it has been a most committed proponent of the Baku-Cehan pipeline.


13. Obviously the problematic relationship between Georgia and Russia directly impinges on Georgia's capacity to settle disputes with breakaway regions and its ability to recast the shaky apparatus of the state. This dilemma also emerged as a critical theme of the seminar. According to several Georgian speakers, the problems stem from a number of factors including the apparent reluctance of certain elements within the Russian state to reconcile themselves to the sovereign status of the South Caucasus states. Russia's role in supporting the leaders of break-away regions, its offer of citizenship to those living in the break away region of Abkhazia, and its refusal to shut down all military bases on Georgian territory are manifestations of this particular outlook. At the same time though, Georgian officials recognize that Russia is an important neighbour and a key trade partner. For its part, Georgia remains a member of the CIS, although it is not participating in the security aspects of that organisation.

14. President Putin's recent threat to move Russian forces into the Pankisi Gorge has apparently put an already difficult relationship on an even more tense and dangerous footing. That warning occasioned a sharp retort from US government officials, who are not prepared to countenance even the hint of a quid pro quo involving the exchange of Russian support for any action the Americans might take in Iraq for tacit American acceptance of Russia's right to intervene in Pankisi. Indeed, the American military is now training and equipping Georgian forces to deal with the Chechen incursion into the Pankisi Gorge.

15. The Georgian organizers invited seminar participants to visit the Pankisi Gorge both to see how Georgian forces were deployed in the Gorge and to speak with ethnic Chechens from the Gorge as well as war refugees from Chechnya proper. Not surprisingly, Georgian officials and parliamentarians were anxious to demonstrate that their armed forces have established control over a valley that has recently been the scene of several fire fights between Chechen fighters and Georgian interior troops and, not coincidently took place very near the target of an apparent Russian "demonstration bombing". Georgi Baramidze pointed out that from the Georgian perspective, the main challenge in Pankisi is not the Chechen terrorists, but an apparent Russian decision to use the problem in order to undermine Georgian independence. The theme of the seminar visit to Pankisi, was thus that the Georgian state is prepared to take all necessary measures to assert control over the Gorge. In so doing, Georgian officials intend to underline the state's sovereignty there and, by extension, in other disputed regions as well.

16. The Georgians, however, recognize that without counterweights to their large neighbour Russia, their own capacity to deter Russian interference in what the Georgians see as purely domestic affairs could be doomed. Undoubtedly, Georgia's efforts to build a closer relationship with the United States and NATO can be understood in this light as can its participation in the GUUAM regional security group.


17. The Russian delegation to the NATO PA chose not to participate in the seminar, and so Russian political views on regional matters were not fully aired at the conference. Professor Alla Alexeyevna Yazkova was very helpful in explaining Russian perspectives, which she was careful to point out, are hardly uniform. She suggested that it would be wrong to characterize Russia's interests in the Caucasus as reflecting "imperial ambitions". Georgia has been a close ally to Russia over the past two centuries, and helped to secure Russia's southern flank while providing Russia with an exit to the sea. She also suggested that the Russian people enjoy a close rapport with the Georgian people and are linked by a myriad of cultural and humanitarian contacts. This is true for Russia's relations with the other countries in the region, and significant emigration of people from the Caucasus into Russia have only reinforced these links. More that 2 million Azeris, roughly 1 million Armenians and more than 700,000 Georgians currently live in Russia.

18. Professor Yazkova stated that the current tensions between Russia and Georgia are counter-productive and are serving neither side's interest. She gave several explanations for this problem including: the role some Russian politicians and elements in the military have played in fostering separatist movements in the South Caucasus. Undoubtedly some military and government officials justify the maintenance of Russian military bases on Georgian territory as a means to complicate Georgia's developing relationship with the US and NATO. But here again, the Russians are hardly unified in their approach either to Georgia, or the region as a whole. Some Russian legislators, for example, have suggested, that the parliament would not authorize the use of military force against Georgia without UN approval. It is widely held in Russia that there is no reason for Russian hostility towards Georgia and that Russian military intervention there would have utterly negative consequences for the region and for Russia's relations with the EU and the US. She also noted in the discussion that Russia's security concerns about the Pankisi Gorge are perfectly legitimate. Chechen fighters have crossed into Russian territory from Georgia and killed Russians.

19. Professor Yazkova pointed out that US activism in the region raises legitimate concerns and suspicion in Russia, particularly when some in the US describe the rationale of US engagement as a means to keep the Russians out. A broader and deeper US-Russian dialogue on the challenges in the South Caucasus would help foster a climate of trust, which in turn, could bolster regional stability. Professor Yazkova finally cautioned that both sides need to achieve a common understanding of terms like "terrorism", "separatism", "national identity", and "state sovereignty". These words are used very differently within the region and beyond, and this disparity, in turn, can prompt dangerous misunderstandings.


20. Discussions during the conference about the defence sector perfectly illustrated the challenge of "building a house whilst putting out the fire". Indeed Georgia confronts grave contradictions in both the defence budgeting and force planning processes. It is extremely difficult, for example, to deal with the problem of parallel military forces under the Defence and Interior Ministries when both are actively deployed on missions geared to defend national interests. Rationalization has thus taken a back seat to meeting Georgia's immediate security requirements. The contradiction, however, is that addressing compelling short term concerns only complicates Georgia's long-term security outlook by ensuring that the state simply cannot allocate scarce resources in an optimal fashion. In other words, the imperatives of the moment make it virtually impossible to engage in medium and long-term planning and rationalization. This problem extends to all sectors of state spending. Not surprisingly, one of Georgia's highest priorities in its relationship with NATO is to acquire greater expertise in defence restructuring and it is receiving help in this area not only from the Alliance but also from a number of member states that are providing bilateral support.

21. Military reform is undoubtedly critical to the region's transition, if for no other reason than the fact that inefficient defense spending practices are a burdensome drag on already strained national budgets. Throughout the region, procurement policy is not transparent, while security budgets are very difficult to fathom. Conscripts are frequently unpaid, while various ministries build parallel forces that only squander resources without increasing effectiveness. Moreover, it is particularly challenging for democratic representatives to scrutinize properly this dizzying array of ministerial armies, and this, in turn, thoroughly undermines the principle of democratic control. An unhealthy reliance upon militia groups with their own agenda makes democratic control all the more problematic. Rivalries between Defense and Interior Ministries also have adverse military implications. Mr Japaridze, the Secretary of the Security Council of Georgia, confirmed that the reform of internal military forces is proving to be one of the most sensitive challenges confronting the government, and many seminar participants felt that this is an issue, which the region's authorities do not yet have the will to address comprehensively.

22. Obviously, this set of defence burdens could be eased if the regional security outlook were to improve. But the lack of regional cooperation, and, indeed, the bitter hostility characterizing key aspects of regional relations means that immediate security imperatives will continue to shape state spending patterns. This, in turn, makes it very difficult both to revamp the institutional life of the state and to reinvigorate dormant national economies, for example, by financing improved regional communication, transport and trade links. In other words, security driven spending is effectively crowding out productive investment and focusing political energy on conflicts rather than institution building.


23. The seminar also explored the role of the international community in creating for the countries of the region, Georgia included, the breathing room to set out longer-term strategic objectives needed to reinforce national and regional institutions. Indeed, the foundations of these states cannot be strengthened without the international community's active engagement. Here the role of NATO and the EU were discussed in some depth. Both institutions have focused a great deal of attention on critical aspects of the region's institutional superstructure.

24. David Collins outlined how NATO has helped in defence reform and in developing ideas regarding the appropriate role for the armed forces in Georgian society. He noted that for countries like Georgia, defence reform is the sine qua non for deepening relations with NATO. He outlined a number of NATO programmes in which the Georgians are participating that should help advance defence reform. NATO officials are convinced that the countries of the South Caucasus need to do more to develop democratic institutions geared for the control of military establishments. Institutional streamlining will also make predictable long-range budgeting and planning possible.

25. Georgia has certainly deepened its relationship with NATO over the past decade. In 1992, it joined the North Atlantic Partnership Council, establishing a diplomatic mission at NATO headquarters in 1998. Over the last two years it has hosted two multinational military exercises. The government has also announced its intention to seek full membership of NATO and has accordingly established a special government commission to lay out a political, economic, security military and legal agenda to make NATO accession possible.

26. Philipp Fluri described an engaged civil society as the key to genuine democratic control. The ballot box alone, he said, is a blunt instrument, necessary but not sufficient for the exercise of effective democratic control over the security sector. Broader social and parliamentary engagement is needed to prevent the diversion of resource into obscure security projects that do not serve the general interest. Georgi Baramidze added that the lack of proper control is one reason why the Georgian military has fared so poorly in dealing with the breakaway regions. He said that dealing with uncontrolled para-military organizations and fighting corruption are two of the greatest challenges the government faces. He agreed that no progress is possible without deeper parliamentary engagement in these matters. Accordingly Georgia has looked to NATO models in order to restructure its own planning processes. Yet the Georgians have a long way to go to rationalize defence resource management, and the fact that they are operating in a very unstable region is hardly helping the process. Mr Collins characterized Georgia's defence reform as a "work in process".

27. According to Jacques Vantomme, the European Commission recognizes the importance of the countries of the South Caucasus and is implementing a multi-dimensional strategy to engage the region. The South Caucasus' energy and human resource endowments, the fact that the region has long served as a land bridge between Europe and Asia, and the fact that enlargement will move the Union's borders further eastward, lie at the heart of Europe's interests in the region. The EU signed a partnership and cooperation agreement with Georgia, which entered into force in 1999. It is also underwriting economic, legal and administrative reform initiatives, while providing greater access to EU commercial markets and economic aid of some euros 1 billion over the last decade.

28. The EU is particularly concerned about the security situation in Georgia, not least because of the murder or kidnapping of several EU citizens, notably the kidnapping of Peter Shaw, a British businessman, has been a priority for the Commission in Georgia in recent months. An EU Ministerial Troika visited Georgia last year to take stock of the situation, and the Union is supporting efforts to initiate a dialogue engaging Georgia, Russia and the breakaway regions. The EU is also supporting Georgian efforts to upgrade border and customs management. Border insecurity and corruption are critical problems throughout the region, and the EU enjoys a wealth of experience in this area, thus being well positioned to provide technical and legal support for restructuring border management. It is, not coincidentally, in Europe's interest for these border problems to be sorted out as they are a major hindrance to the region's development, a focal point for the activities of criminal organizations and a potential doorway for terrorists.

29. In the seminar discussions, there were many questions raised about the efficacy of Western aid to the region. Dov Lynch of the EU Institute for Security Studies, for example, suggested that a process of economic liberalization without proper economic and institutional reform will likely spawn further corruption. This view, however, was challenged on the premise that anything to reduce the region's isolation will be helpful over the long term, and that EU aid in particular is targeted to combating that isolation and fostering closer inter- and intra-regional ties.


30. The countries of the South Caucasus recognize that local energy endowments and the need for secure and reliable transport corridors to get that energy to market, provide them with a certain degree of leverage with the West. Indeed, these are important diplomatic cards that all the countries of the region are willing to play to their advantage. This was made clear in the remarks of Georgia's Foreign Minister, Irakli Menagarishvili, who stressed the importance of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan export pipeline to his country's international profile. John Roberts, a senior consultant at Methinks Ltd, UK, however suggested that even in an optimistic scenario, Georgia will only garner about $50 million a year in revenues from that pipeline - a sum which is hardly sufficient to transform its economy. This nevertheless amounts to two times Georgia's current defence budget and five times its current debt to Russian gas companies.

31. By comparison, Azerbaijan stands to earn $3-4 billion a year from the oil and gas it ships through existing and proposed pipelines. Yet, even Azerbaijan would be ill-advised to rely solely on its energy sector. Genuinely successful economic development will require economic diversification and this, in turn, make it incumbent upon the region's energy exporter to make every effort not squander the precious foreign exchange that exports generate. Roberts also suggested that the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan pipeline could have the counterintuitive effect of galvanizing Russia's energy sector into a higher level of competitiveness. By helping to knit together the economies of Georgia and Azerbaijan and by spurring Russia into practices that are more competitive and less predatory, the new pipeline could ultimately foster a higher level of regional economic integration and political cooperation.

32. Along these lines, Mr Menagarishvili pointed out that Georgia is vital to the process of regional cooperation in the South Caucasus as it maintains good working relations with both Azerbaijan and Armenia and harbours a strong interest in reopening the region's border to trade and new transportation links.


33. Although much of the seminar focused on security and political problems in the South Caucasus, the discussions also touched up the region's important accomplishments and positive trends in the face these challenges. These could well be harbingers of better things to come if the outstanding regional conflicts can be solved.

34. First of all, Georgia and its neighbours are very young states, and are still in the early stage of developing frameworks for completing the painful process of state building. Despite the terrible problems Georgia has confronted, speakers frequently referred to its apparent commitment to democratic values as a foundation for hope.

35. Another positive attribute is the high level of human capital throughout the region. Once proper state institutions are in place, once a viable security order is constructed and once the economies are opened up to greater trade and investment, there is every reason to believe that economic take off is possible.

36. The international community is prepared to support reform efforts. This was made clear in the presentations by EU and NATO officials, while spokesmen from the region frequently underlined how important contact with the West was to the transition process. Indeed, the international community and the West in particular are finally paying attention to the region. Yet Western governments need to ensure that their collective approach is more coherent and comprehensive than it has been in the past. Getting the balance right is going to be difficult to achieve in view of the many competing interests and perspectives to be reconciled. It is essential, however, that outside actors working at all levels strive to chip away at the hardened positions of the region's states and the representatives of break-away regions. Several participants felt that this would be an appropriate set of issues for the NATO-Russia Joint Council to address. The Georgian Foreign Minister, Irakliy Menagarishvili, also suggested that the NATO PA focus more of its efforts on the South Caucasus, perhaps also in the context of its relations with the Russian Duma and Federation Council.

37. Finally, while the discovery of oil and gas in the region hardly represents a panacea for the serious economic problems of the Caucasus, this will nonetheless create important economic and political opportunities for the region which all governments must manage with utmost care. It will certainly garner the attention of great powers. Yet this attention must be properly focused so that the dynamics do not fall into the pattern of some "Great Game" in which the region's small states become mere pawns. That seems unlikely today, but it is a danger well worth avoiding in the future.



Moderator: Giorgi BARAMIDZE, Head of the Georgian Delegation to NATO PA

Opening remarks by Nino BURJANADZE, Speaker of the Georgian Parliament

Introduction by Wim VAN EEKELEN, Vice-President and Head of the Dutch Delegation to the NATO PA

Keynote presentation by Thomas DE WAAL, Caucasus Project Manager, Institute for War and Peace Reporting, London, UK


"The South Caucasus in the New Security Environment"

Moderator: John SMITH, Member of the British Delegation to NATO PA

Presentation by Irakliy MENAGARISHVILI, Georgian Minister of Foreign Affairs, followed by discussion

Presentation by Ambassador Richard MILES, United States Mission to Georgia
Presentation by Alla Alexeyevna YAZKOVA, Institute for International Economic and Political Studies (IMEPI), Moscow


"Defence Reform in South Caucasus"

Moderator: Lucio MALAN, Member of the Italian Delegation to NATO PA

Presentation by Tedo JAPARIDZE, Secretary of the Security Council of Georgia

Presentation by David B. COLLINS, Director, Defence Partnership and Cooperation, NATO

"Parliamentary Involvement in Defence"

Presentation on "Civil society involvement in security and defence questions" by Philipp FLURI, Deputy Director, Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF)

Response by Georgi BARAMIDZE, Head of the Georgian Delegation to NATO PA


"Economic Development and Energy Security in South Caucasus"

Moderator: Loic BOUVARD, Member of the French Delegation to NATO PA

Presentation by Jacques VANTOMME, Chargé d'affaires, European Delegation to Georgia on "The role of the European Union in the economic development of the region"

Presentation by John ROBERTS, Senior Consultant, Methinks Ltd, UK

Response by Giorgi CHANTURIA, President of Georgian International Oil Corporation


"Settling regional conflicts in South Caucasus"

Moderator: Wim VAN EEKELEN, Vice-President and Head of Dutch Delegation to NATO PA

Presentation by Bruno COPPIETERS, Associate Professor and Head of the Political Science Department, Vrjie Universiteit Brussels, on Abkhazia followed by discussion

Response by Vahtang KHOLBAIA, Chairman of the Committee on Abkhazia, Georgian Parliament

Panel on Nagorno-Karabakh followed by discussion:

Presentation by Zahid ORUJOV, Member of Parliament of Azerbaijan

Presentation by Nikolay HOVHANNISSIAN, Head of the Conflict Resolution Centre in Armenia, Professor and Co-chairman of the Armenian Atlantic Association


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