By Irakly Areshidze from Washington DC
Georgia’s Defense Minister addressed the Georgia Forum of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington on May 7, 2002. Lt. General Tevzadze is visiting Washington for consultations with leading U.S. officials on the Georgia Train-and-Equip program [GTEP] and other issues.
Tevzadze’s remarks at CSIS were off the record, but questions from the audience covered a variety of topics, including the GTEP, future of Georgia-NATO military cooperation, the issues of reform of the Georgian army, the budgetary constraints faced by the armed forces, means of preventing corruption within the armed forces, future of conscription (verses professional army), and the preparedness of separatist armed forces.
A number of questions, coming from the media, were on the record. Associated Press asked Tevzadze about the Russian reaction to the GTEP, to which the Minister responded by saying that “unfortunately our Russian friends have overreacted.” Itar-Tass, the Russian news agency, asked the Minister about his comments earlier in the day during a news briefing at the Pentagon with U.S. Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld about the potential use of the force in Abkhazia.
At the news briefing in the Pentagon, Tevzadze reiterated that “we don’t have any reason to deploy [military forces in Abkhazia] because the [peace] process is going on with the Abkhazian part of Georgia, we are committed until all the resources will not be used for peaceful settlement of the conflict, at least in the nearest future we will not try to come to a military resolution of the problem.”
A number of independent analysts in Washington DC have emphasized in recent weeks and months the need for stringent oversight of the train-and-equip-mission, particularly from the Georgian Parliament. Growing sentiment in the U.S. analytical circles is that Georgia cannot afford to fail at this program. The confidence of the Western donors has been undermined by poor performance in utilizing Western assistance in other areas, and everything must be done to ensure that the country is able to meet responsibilities it has undertaken as part of train-and-equip.
It has also been argued that the legislature is critical to the process and its expertise and oversight in the military and security field has not been used sufficiently. Specifically, the criticisms of some US analysts regarded the use of the Parliament only as rubber-stamp for the legislation dealing with the military, drafted by the executive branch, as is the case with the recent proposals on conscription.
There is the room for the parliament to assume equal responsibilities with the executive, to implement supreme control over the military affairs and exercise oversight over the Defense Ministry’s activities. While not discussed directly during Minister Tevzadze’s presentation, our sources indicate that the issue of Parliament’s role in military affairs and the need for Parliamentary oversight and transparency in train-and-equip was raised during his meetings with the U.S. officials.
Tevzadeze’s visit marks yet another visit by leading Georgian officials to Washington in the last several months. Leaders of the New Rights Party of Georgia, Dr. David Gamkrelidze and Ms. Pikria Chikhradze, were in Washington only a week ago when they held extensive meetings with officials from the executive branch, Members of Congress, and a wide-spectrum of representatives from non-governmental organizations. Former Parliamentary Speaker Zurab Zhvania was in Washington in February.