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Georgian Defense Minister Unveils Priorities For 2009

Georgia's new defense minister, Vasil Sikharulidze, has much work yet to do, according to the report.
Georgia's new defense minister, Vasil Sikharulidze, has much work yet to do, according to the report.
The Georgian Defense Ministry has posted on its website the "Minister's Outlook" or "Vision" for 2009. The 12-page document comprises an introduction, a four-part section on policy priorities for the year, and a conclusion.

The introduction stresses the importance of the blueprint in the light of the ongoing "fundamental review" of the existing strategic doctrine (adopted in 2007), which is to be completed by the fall of this year. The blueprint not only reaffirms Georgia's long-term strategic interests and "those fundamental priorities that derive from the current rapidly changing security environment, from the need for defense against possible military aggression" (from what quarter is not spelled out); it also enumerates "urgent measures dictated" by the aftermath of last August's brief but disastrous military conflict with Russia.

The first part of the main section of the document focuses on the need for more "effective and rational" use of existing resources, both financial and manpower; and to improve decision-making and command mechanisms, coordination within the ministry, and interaction between the ministry and the General Staff. Gross failures in decision-making and unclear lines of command were among the failings noted in a classified Pentagon assessment of the Georgian military summarized by "The New York Times" on December 18. At the same time, the first part calls for greater cooperation between the Defense Ministry and representatives of civil society, including NGOs.

The second part, on "personnel, education, and combat-training," singles out as priorities the more effective use of manpower and the implementation of "modern management." It advocates reorganization of the National Military Academy; the introduction of special training course for noncommissioned officers; sending both military and civilian personnel to raise their professional qualifications abroad; and creating the possibility to engage in simulated combat situations.

The third part focuses on developing the potential and effectiveness of the armed forces, singling out as priorities developing the air-defense system; strengthening management and control functions; drafting and implementing a new military doctrine; analyzing the "lessons learned" from the August war and implementing the changes necessary to eliminate weak points (including developing antitank defense); drafting a program for increasing the effectiveness of military intelligence; developing and strengthening auxiliary services (communications, logistics, engineering, medical); gradually building up defense potential against possible attack using nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons; and drafting and implementing a new program for training and mobilizing reservists.

"The New York Times" article cited above quoted a U.S. military officer who has worked closely with the Georgian military as saying that "one of the reasons they got into the war is that their command and control is a mess. They have no ability to process and analyze strategic information and provide it to decision makers in a systematic way." The same officer made the damning observation that the criteria for selecting senior defense officials "is based on personal relationships and not tied to education, training, or any system of performance evaluation."

The fourth part assesses the prospects for integration and cooperation with NATO, which is described as a key foreign and security policy priority, while at the same time developing bilateral military cooperation with individual (unnamed) NATO member states. This entails, among other things, implementing commitments already made within the framework of the Individual Partnership Action Plan and continuing Georgia's participation in international peacekeeping and/or antiterror operations. It notes new modalities, including the creation last fall of the NATO-Georgia Commission and the introduction of annual assessments of progress made toward meeting the requirements for NATO membership.

The conclusion stresses that the implementation of the measures outlined in the "Vision" are essential to ensure, first, that the ministry, the Joint Staff, and the armed forces as a whole are optimally prepared to react to "existing and anticipated threats," and second, to improve cooperation with NATO and expedite Euro-Atlantic integration.

Vasil Sikharulidze, who was named Georgian defense minister in December 2008, was born on May 30, 1968, and graduated in 1993 from the medical faculty of Tbilisi State University. From 2002-06 he attended advance courses at the U.S. Navy's Justice School, the Geneva Center for Security Policy, the NATO SHAPE School at Oberammergau, and the NATO Defense College. He served from July 2004-October 2005 as a deputy defense minister, and from October 2005-February 2006 as first deputy defense minister responsible for policy, planning, and international affairs. He then transferred to the diplomatic service as Georgia's ambassador to the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.


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