American Military Presence in Georgia Reality or Wishful Thinking

22-01-2021 18:58:14 Analysis

By Giorgi Goguadze and Sandro Megrelishvili

“We amplify our own strength, extend our presence around the globe, and magnify our impact while sharing global responsibilities with willing partners.”-President Elect Joe Biden, 2020


The very end of the decade was far from the best year that Caucasus region and Georgia have witnessed before. Devastating effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on country’s economic-social welfare, political turbulence, and division, waving and uncertain international climate and great depression are the few that one put in the bucket of 2020. But in the high peak, the second war of Nagorno-Karabakh (NK), ending with the victory of Azerbaijan, empowered Turkey and Russia in the region was the most alarming and warning momentum for Georgian policy thinkers and community.

The war triggered and steered the debate about the future of Georgia’s national security as this conflict unleashed the many things from Pandora Box. Namely, the issue of using force to solve territorial disputes, ignoring the existing diplomatic/negotiations platforms, and promoting the unseen level of militarism and nationalism in the region. The war has shaken the thinking in different groups in Georgia that warmongering is on the horizon and international community will not allow it to happen.

The basic question that this article is attempting to answer is why Georgia seeks to have the American Military Presence and whether this ambition is something of achievable.

Throwback in International Relations theories

To recap, the second NK war triumphed the Realism theory and coffined all competing schools. The essence and significance of the power and strength is still at the core of driving foreign policy at least in this part of the world (Caucasus region). To remind ourselves, what countries that share Georgia’s characteristics in terms of power capabilities and size of terrain; population and resources do in this realm and how it can better plan its foreign and security policy, we should go back and see the options of maneuver of the small states in this strand of international relations. To survive and secure the sustainable safety in the hostile environment, the country might:

Have enough power, strength, and ability to deter and balance the potential hostile party that the latter would abstain from attacking or hindering the security of said country. Decide to stick to the hostile party and become the client state; this option is based on the good will of the encounter, that by fulfilling its policy desires, the small state will be granted a certain degree of independence and freedom. Seek and join the alliances and partnerships to maximize the deterrence power in being in the pack. For Georgia, the first one is the everyday homework, however less achievable in short-medium terms. Balancing the power in the region alone against Russia is inconceivable. The second option is out of the agenda and is in the recycle bin. Georgia fought its freedom from Russia for ages and being the puppet state is not an option at all. The third one seems to be a very rational and natural choice Georgia has today.

Georgian motivation behind the struggle to build up the security dome is to achieve the Deterrence by Denial. In practice, it means to dissuade an enemy by persuading it that the goal of its actions cannot be achieved. According to David Lonsdale, in the immediate aftermath of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, limited numbers of US forces were deployed to Saudi Arabia. The deployment of these forces had the ultimate objective of defending the Saudi kingdom from an Iraqi invasion. They would also act as the first component of a more substantial force, which had the larger goal of ejecting Iraqi forces from Kuwait. However, in the early stages of the deployment the forces would have been insufficient to repel any substantial Iraqi aggression against Saudi.

Using this formula in analysis easily unveils why Tbilisi relentlessly tries to join the military alliance of NATO. It explains, why country fought and fights in every mission under the NATO flag on the globe, as the sign of greater commitment to being an asset to the international security and safety. It is politically clear, that being in the pack should be beneficial for everyone as each member should be a contributor as opposed to merely consuming the security provided by the effort of others.

However, when we talk about NATO, it is important to realistically understand the peculiarity and difficulty of decision-making process within the Alliance (especially under the circumstance of unanimous policymaking). Georgia now faces the reality of dealing with enthusiastic and skeptical allies. It enjoys high support from a particular group of countries but struggles to convince others to include it as part of the Alliance. Georgia is viewed as a strategically important partner by all three Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) and the Visegrad Group (Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia). Since Georgia embarked on an active process of reform in the early 2000s, aiming to consolidate democracy and become a constituent part of Euro-Atlantic institutions, relations with it has become a key priority for each of the other country’s respective foreign policy agendas. As for the US, it remains a key ally of Georgia on its path towards NATO membership. In 2008, it was under the leadership of the US and member states that Georgia got a promise in Bucharest that one day it would join the Alliance. Yet, sceptics, due to the unanimous decision-making procedure, have the upper hand, and consequently, Georgia’s chances for accession in the near future, at best, are quite low. That does not automatically deny Georgia the abovementioned third option, though. It can still seek for reliable partners to deter its key opponent. Indeed, in the uncertain times like this, the country must work hard to diversify its security options, most importantly, by stretching bilateral ties with relevant Western partners. In this quest, the US comes first.

The United States Foreign Policy in Crosscutting Agenda

As the main driver of the post–Cold War international order, American isolationism belongs to history. Even the political thinkers like Donald Trump could not reverse the US global leadership to the isolationism. The new administration of Biden is greatly expected to put the US traditional foreign policy objectives back on track. In his op-ed for Foreign Affairs, Joe Biden discusses in detail why America Must Lead Again. Among others, he pays special attention to countering Russia. As he stated, “The Kremlin fears a strong NATO, the most effective political-military alliance in modern history. To counter Russian aggression, we must keep the alliance’s military capabilities sharp while also expanding its capacity to take on nontraditional threats, such as weaponized corruption, disinformation, and cybertheft. We must impose real costs on Russia for its violations of international norms”.

The relationship between the US and Russia, has seldom been harmonious. But, since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its military involvement in Easter Ukraine, it has reached the lowest point. Reset policies initiated during Obama administration have reached little success, and Donald Trump was also unable to radically change the trend. The blatant violation of international norms and order, the annexation of Crimea and continuation of Georgia’s occupation, meddling in the elections of Western countries, and overt assassination attempts on the European soil have rendered restoration of proper relationship impossible

Whatever the true nature of current rivalry, it is evident that countries like Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova are on the forefront of confrontation, and if Western states are truly keen to check Russia’s military adventurism and its untamable appetite, they should demonstrate their firm resolve by supporting these states.

Indeed, the partnership is already quite strong with Georgia constantly receiving tangible Western support. On its part, Georgia, has demonstrated both commitment and earnest willingness to join the Western security club. Yet, the country is still short of real security guarantees. That could be fixed by stationing a US military base in Georgia.

Overview of US military presence

US has enormous military presence around the globe. According to the Base Structure Report released by US Department of Defense in 2018 (No further report has been released yet), US military is based in 625 foreign sites. That includes 45 countries, among which, vast number of military installations are situated in Germany, Japan and South Korea. Some other sources, though, provide even higher numbers. According to David Vine, a prominent scholar in the field, by early 2020, US controlled around 750 ‘base sites’ outside the 50 US States. By all calculations, US vastly outnumbers both its allies and rivals with its military presence abroad. Russia, for example, has around two dozen foreign military bases, spanning mostly over post-Soviet space and Syria, while China, despite its burgeoning ambitions, has only a single significant foreign military base so far (not counting the artificial islands in South China Sea), in Djibouti.

For our analysis, though, more important is the effect of US military installments rather than its sheer size. Many allies and partner countries see the presence of US military as of tremendous value for their security. American boots on the ground can be decisive in both successfully countering acts of military aggression and in deterring them. The latter is what many have in mind, when seeking such presence on their land.

The US have effectively deterred aggression in many instances. According to the Rand Corporation research conducted in 2020, there is an ample evidence testifying the deterrent effects of American heavy ground forces and air defense capabilities. Further, in few instances, US has also guaranteed the security of its allies/partners and prevented full-scale wars by rapid military deployment during crisis times. ‘The United States can attempt to re-establish deterrence during international crisis by surging forces toward the contested area. The historical record suggests that very few crises escalate when the United States deploys forces to the crisis region’.

Successful deterrence against aggressive adversaries, indeed, requires more than the presence of foreign military. Indeed, deterrence is a very complex process, entailing not only military but also psychological components. Still, as historical evidence suggests, US military can play a decisive role in guarantying security for its allies and partners.

US-Georgia Security Partnership and Dynamic

We can objectively say that the United States is the strategic and key player in building the security and defense capability of Georgia. The US remains steadfast in its support of Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. In 2016, the new milestone was reached when the parties signed the memorandum of partnership in the defense and security field. The importance of this agreement was highlighted by the statement of the US Secretary John Kerry that the cooperation will enhance the partnership in border, maritime and airspace securities. Since 2009, the United States engaged with Georgia at a senior level through the U.S.-Georgia Strategic Partnership Commission, which Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo last hosted in June 2019. Since 2009, U.S. Marines trained and deployed Georgian soldiers in support of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission (RSM) in Afghanistan. Since 2015, Georgia has received over $11 million in International Military Education and Training funding. The United States has $238.6 million in active government-to-government sales cases with Georgia under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) system. The Georgian Coast Guard received four former U.S. Coast Guard vessels, including two 82-foot Point-class and two 110-foot Island-class patrol boats, under the Excess Defense Articles program. February 2017, the United States and Georgia launched the three-year bilateral Georgia Defense Readiness Program (GDRP). GDRP endeavors to improve Georgia’s self-sustainable institutional capacity to generate, train and sustain forces to defend Georgia’s territorial integrity and deter Russia.

These are only the few figures that proves the closeness and high interest of the US-Georgia military and security establishment. One should also mention that Georgia hosts annual significant military exercises including the U.S.-led Noble Partner and Agile Spirit. Approximately 3,300 soldiers from various parts of the world, including 1,500 U.S. service members, participated in exercise Agile Spirit 2019, co-led by Georgian Defense Forces and U.S. Army Europe.

To reach the conclusion, there is no great question or dilemma about the feasibility of having the US military presence in Georgia. It will not be the first and unique case in the post-soviet space. The question is about having political goal and recourse to reach to this objective. What Georgia needs now, is quadruple efforts in Washington, with various bi-partisan stakeholders and political centers. With the clear strategy, patience and determination this can be achieved.


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