The Current State of NATO: Why the U.S. Defense Secretary Went to Visit Georgia
Oct 28, 2021
During U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s visit to Georgia on October 18, he met with Georgian Minister of Defense Juansher Burchuladze and Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili to sign a Memorandum of Understanding on the Georgia Defense and Deterrence Enhancement Initiative (GDDEI). The defense agreement, extending U.S.-led military training for Georgia, replaced the May 2018 Georgia Defense Readiness Program (GDRP), which was set to expire by the end of the year. The visit to Georgia, the first stop of a three-country tour in the Black Sea region, demonstrates U.S. support for allies against Russia's "destabilizing actions.”
The visit occurred amidst high tensions between NATO and Russia due to Moscow announcing its suspension of operations of its mission at NATO headquarters beginning November 1. The decision was made in response to NATO expelling eight members of Russia’s mission on October 6, arguing that the expelled diplomats were working for the Russian special services and had engaged in unfriendly activities. Those at the NATO military mission in Moscow will have their accreditation stripped the same day as Moscow’s NATO mission ends. Tensions between NATO and Russia have steadily increased and official communication has been limited since Moscow seized Crimea in 2014. NATO also recently expressed concern over Russia's nuclear missile development, aerial activity in NATO airspace, and Russian fighter planes intimidating allied ships.
During Austin’s meetings with Burchuladze and Garibashvili, the Secretary discussed the regional security situation and threat posed by Russia to Georgia and Black Sea region, emphasizing support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. He also reaffirmed U.S. commitment to close bilateral security cooperation to help Georgia develop its defense capacity and advance its Euro-Atlantic aspirations. Additionally, Secretary Austin thanked Georgia for its contributions to the U.S. and NATO efforts in Afghanistan. Secretary Austin also met with U.S. Special Operations Forces deployed in Georgia to provide training to Georgian personnel and observed a medical training event they organized. During the event, Austin spoke with U.S and Georgian participants and thanked them for their service.
The United States and Georgia have long engaged in close security cooperation through arms sales, military training and funding, and joint peacekeeping exercises. Furthermore, in addition to other security initiatives, Georgia actively contributes to the NATO-led Operation Sea Guardian - a mission that operates in the Mediterranean and conducts maritime security capacity building and supports maritime situational awareness and counter-terrorism. Moreover, as a country bordering the Black Sea, Georgia is a strategically important NATO partner against Russian aggression.
On October 21, shortly after his visit to Georgia, Austin traveled to Brussels for a two-day NATO defense ministerial to discuss plans to deter potential Russian attacks. While the dispute with Russia was not on the meeting agenda, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg noted that the participants would discuss strengthening collective defense and protecting the territory of member states. The plan, known as the Concept for Deterrence and Defense in the Euro-Atlantic Area, is confidential, but is said to “prepare for any simultaneous attack in the Baltic and Black Sea regions that could include nuclear weapons, hacking of computer networks, and assaults from space,” according to Reuters. Although there is no imminent threat, Russia has recently begun using new technologies as part of their military training, such as robotics and hypersonic cruise missiles, prompting the NATO response to deter aggression through the new plan.
Secretary Austin’s visit to Georgia at this time could mean a lot for Georgian security going forward. With the U.S. condemnation of Russia’s occupation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Georgia’s collaboration with NATO operations, and the new NATO master plan to address threats from Russia, it appears the United States is intensifying Georgia’s integration into the broader security network in the region. Consequently, this is likely to irk Russia as it opposes any effort to increase Georgia’s status within NATO. However, while the details of the new plan are unknown, NATO appears to prepare itself for any possible attacks in the Black Sea region.