GEORGIA: NEUTRALITY OR ORIENTATION TO THE WEST?
Zurab Davitashvili, Ph.D. (Geogr.), head, International Relations Department, Tbilisi State University (Tbilisi, Georgia)
All newly independent post-Soviet states had to find its role and place in the international system, and Georgia was no exception. This is one of the most complicated tasks, since not only the country’s future but also its continued independent existence depends on the choice.
So far the republic has failed to locate its niche in the international system—the problem of its foreign policy orientation remains unresolved for various, not only subjective reasons. A new post-Cold War world system has not yet taken shape and the poles of power are still shifting, therefore a considerable part of the states (newly independent states in the first place) continue looking for their places on the international arena. The situation has been caused by the specific feature of the present period that differs from all previous international systems and transitory stages.
International System and Its Types
The balance of forces created by the Peace of Westphalia of 1648 was the first clearly identified international system of the recent history. It survived for nearly 150 years. The Napoleonic wars were a geopolitical transition while the Vienna Congress marked the beginning of a new international system that lasted till World War I. The period between the wars is known as the Versailles system. The Yalta and Potsdam conferences divided the world into two poles and set up a new “soft” bipolar system. The end of the Cold War spelt the system’s death. Today we are living through another period of geopolitical transition.
As distinct from the previous international systems and geopolitical orders, it was not a war that put an end to the Yalta-Potsdam system. The new world order was not a product of a peace treaty. This explains why the new world system has not yet taken a final shape, why geopolitical transition drags on and why some of the countries (Georgia among them) have failed to find a place of their own in the world community.
The future world system is a question open for discussion. Globalization allows one to suppose that the future will belong to a universal system dominated by one country, viz. the United States. What is more, one can expect a unipolar and hierarchical system to take shape. The majority of experts disagree with this—they are convinced that the future world will have many poles. It is open for discussion which countries and regions will become such poles.
Ideas of American academic Samuel Huntington about the “clash of civilizations”1 are of special interest in this respect. He says that while in the past international relations boiled down to opposition between dynasties, empires, and ideologies—and this was Europe’s “domestic affair”—the 21st century will become an age of opposition and fight among world civilizations. The author has identified the Western, Orthodox (Russian), Islamic, Hindu, Sinic, Japanese, Latin American and (probably) African civilizations. The balance of forces among them (which ones will unite against others) will determine the geopolitical order and the future of mankind.
Huntington believes that the regions that serve as boundaries between civilizations will become destabilization seats. The Balkan Mountains and the Caucasus are two most apt European examples: they are the meeting place of the Western, Orthodox (Russian) and Islamic civilizations. Obviously, the countries and nations that populate these regions are living in the “risk zone.” The “divided” peoples may find themselves in even worse quandary. By the “divided” I mean the nations that belong to one of the civilizations being politically orientated toward another. According to Huntington, they are Mexicans, Turks and Greeks who want integration into the West while being parts of other civilizations (Latin American, Islamic, and Christian Orthodox).
If we agree with the above, then we should admit that Georgia (geographically located at the meeting point of civilizations) is another “divided” nation: it is a Christian Orthodox country that looks at the West. This situation creates a major problem where the republic’s foreign policy and its place on the world scene are concerned.
Today analysts normally speak about three major choices of Georgia’s foreign policy orientation: western, northern, and neutral. Let’s briefly discuss each of them.
By this we mean orientation toward Russia, which will turn Georgia into a Russian satellite. Those who support this variant argue that the country is found in the region that has been part of the sphere of Russia’s influence and a zone of its vitally important geopolitical interests for centuries. Moscow will never retreat, therefore Georgia’s dream of any other orientation is a senseless and dangerous game. Second, for nearly 200 years Georgia has been living within the Russian state and has already become its part. Severed traditional (economic and cultural, in the first place) ties will spell a catastrophe for the Georgian nation itself. Third, the republic depends nearly 100 percent on Russia’s fuel, energy and mineral resources. In addition, Russia is the main, if not the only, market for Georgian goods. We cannot win Western markets, therefore we should orientate to Russia and reject the West. This alone will prevent an economic catastrophe. Fourth, Russia alone can resolve the Abkhazian and South Ossetian problem and restore Georgia’s territorial integrity. In exchange Russia demands that Georgia should closely cooperate with it and abandon its plans of integration into the West. Fifth, as a Christian Orthodox country Georgia, together with Russia, belongs to the same civilization that will remain alien to the West and will hardly be given a place there. The logical conclusion is: the republic should stay in the kindred world, that is, together with Russia.
Those who object to the northern orientation argue that the country may lose a considerable part of its sovereignty and will be turned into a Russian puppet with no foreign policy of its own and a lot of dependence on Moscow in its domestic affairs, too. Moreover, it will get next to nothing in return: its economic situation will not improve while its restored territorial integrity will remain formal. This makes Russian orientation not only unacceptable but also contradictory to the natural development course.
It is most popular in Georgia and rests on three arguments. First, the West is not a geographic concept—it is a synonym of progress and modernization. Any state that wants progress, democracy, economic prosperity, political stability and human rights should integrate into the West. A rejection of this is equal to swimming upstream. The country will be pushed back to the past. Second, integration into the West will guarantee defense and security. None of the small Western countries is threatened from outside because it is protected by NATO and other international organizations. If Georgia becomes part of the Western structures, the threat of losing part of its territory will disappear all by itself. The third, and final, argument: sooner or later all countries will turn to the West, since Western civilization and lifestyle are universal and are winning over non-Western regions.
Those who object to Western orientation offer their main argument (except that this orientation irritates Russia to a great extent and will cost Georgia dearly): spread of Western culture and lifestyle will deal the national culture of Georgia and ethnic originality a deadly blow. Few people think like that, since none of the Western nations has lost its originality. The West itself is not a standardized world with uniform culture and common traditions. On the contrary, the West is characterized by a very rich and varied culture based on Western civilization. The civilization itself rests on individualism and personal freedom—two keys to its success.
If the Russian political elite thought according to Western patterns (that is, if they were “Westernizers”), Georgia would have never been confronted with the orientation issue. In this case Russia itself would be willing to be integrated into Western structures. So far Russian political mentality is dominated by anti-Western sentiments and integration into Europe is regarded as a deadly threat to its statehood, therefore Georgia has to choose between the West and Russia.
It is an alternative to both Western and Russian orientations. Recently it has been gaining more and more supporters. Many believe that this is the most rational choice. On the one hand, neutrality is a form of relationships with other states; on the other, it is a legal status that bans involvement in any war except a war of self-defense. Perpetual neutrality excludes participation in military conflicts and membership in any military-political organization. A state’s territory cannot be used for military purposes (military bases of other states or moving troops of other states across a neutral state’s territory). Today, neutrality is frequently associated with economic aspects as well.
One might imagine that neutrality is the best instrument for continued independence, originality, territorial integrity, and economic and cultural prosperity. This is a beautiful and attractive dream for a small and weak country, which explains its popularity in Georgia. However, the real situation is much more complicated and serious while neutrality is harder to achieve than any of the other two orientations.
In the first place, one should never forget that neutrality means nothing until other (great and neighboring) states recognize it. But this is not all. History abounds in examples of neutral states falling victim to aggression. Therefore, neutrality as a legal status means that it is permanent, recognized and, most important, guaranteed by great powers. Today, Switzerland is the only neutral country with guaranteed neutrality among more than 190 sovereign states. This shows why guaranteed neutrality is a luxury Georgia can barely afford.
What is needed to persuade the world leading countries to guarantee the neutrality of a small country? (Naturally enough, these conditions are not sufficient, since many small countries observe them but no one of the great powers became a guarantor of small states’ neutrality.) The following are the main of them: a neutral country should not be an object of an active policy of any other state and should be found in a “geographically marginal zone;” it should be able to defend itself; it should be alien to expansionism; it should be internally cohesive because disunity invites other countries’ interference. In addition, it should not bring too much ideology in its foreign affairs.2
We can see that Georgia is still too far removed from the conditions indispensable for a neutral state. Even if it meets all of these conditions, the question remains: Why should large countries guarantee its neutrality? Those who support the idea of neutrality regard the status as a guarantee of sovereignty, stability and prosperity. They look at Switzerland, Austria (the neutrality of which is recognized but not guaranteed), Sweden, and Finland that have no status of neutrality but are regarded as such because of their neutral policies.
The geopolitical and historical gap between Georgia and these countries is vast but this is not the main thing. The very nature of the contemporary international system questions a possibility of neutrality. By joining the EU Austria, Sweden, and Finland cast doubt on their neutrality. It is doubted even more because the number of people in these countries wishing to join NATO is growing. Membership in a strong military-political organization is regarded as a more reliable guarantee of independence and security than neutrality. There are experts who believe that the idea of neutrality is quickly becoming an anachronism because world economy is becoming internationalized and the world itself is becoming interdependent and globalized.
It should also be said here that neutrality is a very expensive toy. The economically developed countries alone can defend themselves and ensure their security. For example, Switzerland spends nearly as much on defense as Turkey with the third largest army among the NATO members; Austria’s military budget is much larger than those of Denmark and Portugal, both NATO members.
From this it follows that the idea of neutrality, no matter how attractive, is hard (or even impossible) to realize in Georgia. An orientation to it may negatively affect the country’s political life. An obvious orientation to Russia is alien to the logic of world development: Georgia cannot afford isolation from the global processes of the day associated with the West. The above suggests that integration into the European Atlantic structures is the main foreign policy trend and a guarantee of the republic’s sovereignty and security.
Georgia and the West: The “Divided Nation” Syndrome
Western orientation, very popular with part of the Georgian political elite, is hard to realize for a number of objective reasons.
According to Huntington,3 a “divided” nation needs meeting three conditions to integrate into other civilizations: first, the political and economic elite should help the country move in the right direction; second, society should be prepared to change its identity; third, the main forces of the receiving civilization should be prepared to accept a new nation. Georgia can hardly meet any of these conditions.
Everybody knows that the Georgian political and economic leaders often demonstrate their anti-Western biases. It may be partly caused by disillusionment with the West, yet the awareness that “us and them are too different” is the main reason. The West wants steps that the political elite cannot make because it cannot rule the country in a new way. The people on top are too fond of their privileges and prefer to look at Russia rather than turn to the West. After all the style of administration in Russia is very much like ours, therefore Russia will not demand resolute anti-corruption measures.
This is what our business community is thinking, too. They are convinced that the West does not know the local specifics and recommends steps that will bring the country to ruin. Nobody can explain what “local specifics” means except, of course, shadow economy and tax avoidance. The logical conclusion is: we shall never find a niche on the western markets, therefore we should better stick to Russia.
Even if the political and economic elite actively supports integration into the West, the chance of such integration is tiny because of an absence of two other conditions. The public is saying more and more loudly that the western lifestyle is too different from the Georgian one, contradicts the republic’s national traditions and is therefore unacceptable. Integration into the West spells the nation’s degradation.
This creates an image of the cosmopolitan West that is an enemy of anything national or ethnic, including the Georgian ethnic specifics. Many people are convinced that Western companies came to plunder the country, that Western mass culture kills Georgian culture, that Western religious sects were deliberately planted in Georgia, etc. Sociological polls register a decline in sympathy with the West and a growth of pro-Russian sentiments.
The third condition is the hardest to meet. The West that is gradually forming an image of Georgia as a country in which corruption and crime are reigning, where the laws are not observed and where terrorists feel absolutely secure does not want to accept Georgia as part of its civilization. In other words, Georgia differs radically from the European states, it is an alien world. If accepted it will create more problems.
From this it follows that Georgia will be ready to integrate into the West and the West will be prepared to accept it only when Georgian society draws as closely as possible to the European standards.
In Which Way Georgia Differs from the West
Where are the historical, social, cultural, and psychological factors rooted that separate Georgia from the West? How real is a prospect of their drawing closer?
In his article “The West: Unique, Not Universal”4 Huntington has identified several features of the West that make it different from other civilizations. Some of them are too specific to be borrowed by non-Western peoples. At the same time, there is a number of features that the non-Western peoples can accept and assimilate.
The classical heritage is one of them. By this we mean ancient Greek philosophy and rationalism, the Roman law and the Latin language. Islamic and especially Christian Orthodox civilizations also drew from the same sources but to a much lesser extent. Georgia as a Christian Orthodox country experienced a relatively weak influence of classical civilization.
Western civilization rests on Western Christianity (Catholicism and Protestantism). The Renaissance and Reformation created Europe as a social-cultural community and counterposed to other civilizations. No wonder that in the 17th and 18th centuries, when Georgia was seeking patronage of European states, some of its prominent figures adopted Catholicism as a means of drawing closer to Europe. Today, there is an opinion that different religions are the main obstacle on the Georgian road to Europe. They are responsible for the differences between the Georgian and European mentalities.
Huntington says that linguistic variety is another specific feature of Western civilization. Indeed, other civilizations are dominated by one religious and cultural language (Chinese, Japanese, Hindi, Arabic, and Russian), while when the Latin language had retreated in Europe in the early 17th century, cultures were developing in their own national tongues. French in the 17th through 19th centuries was not as important for the West as the “main” tongues for other civilizations. The same applies to English in the 20th century and after. This is close to the truth, yet a question remains: Why is Russian regarded as the main tongue for the Christian Orthodox nations and in which respect is its influence on Greeks and Rumanians greater than the influence of English on the Germans? Georgia, at least, completely coincides with the European model. It even outstrips the European countries in this respect because its national culture has at all times been using exclusively the Georgian language.
Western civilization is also characterized by the division of secular and church powers. Huntington is convinced that the church is separated from the state only in Western and, probably, Hindu civilizations. In Islam God is the Caesar, in China and Japan the Caesar is God, while in Christian Orthodoxy God is the Caesar’s junior partner. In Georgia as a Christian Orthodox country the Church was part of the state and served it. When Georgia lost its independence, the Georgian Orthodox Church also lost its autocephaly. When the autocephaly was restored, Georgia became part of the U.S.S.R., an atheist state in which the Church had an insignificant role to play. Today, under the republic’s constitution the Church is separated from the state, which corresponds to the Western standards. More and more frequently, however, political and Church figures say that Christian Orthodoxy should become a state religion. If this happens, Georgia will move backwards, away from the West. This will do no good either to the state or the Church.
There is another important feature of Western civilization: the rule of law. All citizens are equal before the law irrespective of social and official status. This is an important achievement. The rule of law laid the foundation of constitutionalism and civil rights, especially the right to protect property that limits the authorities’ possibilities. In non-Western civilizations the law was much less important in shaping social thought and the way of life (the Shari‘a in Islam is a rare exception). The above can be completely applied to Georgia where laws are commonly violated. What was more, the ruling group deliberately and openly violated the laws to emphasize its privileged status. In the 1960s the Communist Party and state nomenklatura entered into an alliance with shady businessmen thus firmly planting a conviction that laws were written for simpletons. The authorities and the people treat law with disdain, and this creates a gap between Georgia and the West that will be very hard to bridge.
Social pluralism and civil society are also distinctive features of the Western civilization. Historically, Western society is formed by autonomous groups not related to each other (all sorts of orders, guilds, and unions) that promoted alliances and associations of various kinds. Civil society in Europe took many centuries to acquire its final shape while social pluralism existed side by side with class pluralism. Feudal Europe relied on strong peasantry and relatively independent aristocracy that limited absolutism. In Russia, China and the Ottoman Empire the situation was quite different: aristocracy was weak while the bureaucratic machine was centralized and strong. There is no social pluralism or civil society in Georgia, even though feudalism in Georgia was close to the European pattern with strong aristocracy and private ownership of land.
Social pluralism led to representative bodies—another main feature of Western democracy. No other civilization can boast of thousand-year long history of legislative organs. An urge to self-administration is another striking trait: a developed system of local self-administration has been in existence in European cities since the Middle Ages; representative bodies have been functioning both on the local and state level—something that other civilizations lack. It should be said that Georgia made an attempt at setting up a parliament of sorts (“karawi”) back in the 12th century, that is, earlier than in Europe. The attempt failed and was never repeated. Until the latest time Georgia knew no parliamentary activities.
Finally, there is another, probably the main feature of the West: pronounced individualism seen, first and foremost, in protection of the personal rights and freedoms. Born in Europe in the 14th and 15th centuries, it is practically unknown to other civilizations. The right to individual choice exists since the 17th century. Europe has been aware of the principle of equality for many centuries while it came to other areas only in the 20th century and is not implemented there (with rare exceptions). No wonder that, according to sociological data, out of the 20 countries with the highest level of individualism 19 were found in the West. Individualism there towers over collectivism while in other civilizations collectivism obviously predominates. Not only Western people but also people from other regions look at individualism as the most typical feature of Western civilization.
In Georgia people are convinced that their compatriots are individualists and this makes them different from the Russians who are obvious collectivists. This is wrong. In fact, Georgia is a classical country of collectivism. However, this collectivism is a culture of a small group rather than of a large group (nation, state, religious entity) typical of Russians, Chinese and many other Asian nations. In our culture the key social unit is composed of relatives, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances while their lifestyle and conduct are determined by the norms of the group. This explains why the sphere of thinking and responsibility is narrow and does not spread to wider social units such as state and nation or even to such abstract ideas as law. The norms and values of a small group are placed above all else. This is the main difference between the Georgian and the European. Association with small groups helps Georgian establish personal contacts and win hearts (this is wrongly taken for individualism). However, in public actions and anonymous audiences with no feedback Georgians are as a rule lost and disoriented.5
There are other things that separate Georgia from the West. First of all this is the state type. Georgia is an Oriental state, and this sets it apart from European countries. In the states of Western type money brings power, the state is governed by the forces that are also managing economy. In the state of Oriental type power brings money while the economic levers belong to the bureaucratic machine; the individual’s social status is determined by its place in the nomenklatura hierarchy. To get a post in the state hierarchy and keep it one should have strong patrons and obedient subordinates—this is connected with required behavior and certain moral norms. For example, corruption of a state bureaucrat is looked at as nearly a norm. In the eyes of the majority an official who does not “make money” on his post is worthless. As distinct from Protestantism, Christian Orthodox culture treats money negatively. This interferes with entrepreneurship. For example, in Russian culture rich people are treated with suspicion while society is convinced that its members should be not rich. In Georgia saving money is considered meaningless because an individual is sure to be deprived of it either by his own people or by others. Money should be spent immediately to enjoy oneself and entertain near and dear ones, some of the money should be donated to “good guys” from state or criminal structures.6
We can see that there are so many differences between Georgia and the West that the republic has no chance to be incorporated into it. To do this Georgians should radically change their mentality—this is what certain forces are afraid of. They think that such changes will deprive country of its originality and that the state will be lost in the Western cosmopolitan world. Others believe that modernization is possible without Westernization and cite Japan as an example.
In any case such change will take time, so Georgia’s integration into the West is a distant perspective.
1 See: S.P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, Touchstone Books, New York, 1998.
2 Quoted from: A. Rondeli, “A Buffer Zone and Neutrality: Two Roles of a Small Country,” Georgian Diplomacy, Annual collection 5, Tbilisi, 1998, pp. 161-162 (in Georgian).
3 See: S.P. Huntington, op. cit.
4 See: Foreign Affairs, Vol. 75, No. 6, 1993.
5 See: G. Nizharadze, “Political Behavior in Georgia,” Epoch, No. 1, 2001 (in Georgian).
6 See: Ibidem.