Press Release

RELEASE: U.S. Policy on Georgia Conflicts

By Samuel Charap, Cory Welt | February 15, 2011

Download the executive summary (pdf)

Read the full report

Washington, D.C. — Today the Center of American Progress released the report “A More Proactive U.S. Approach to the Georgia Conflicts,” by authors Samuel Charap and Cory Welt, offering recommendations for beginning a conflict resolution process on the Georgia conflicts, taking advantage of the opportunity for short-term progress that could facilitate resolution in the long term. The report includes a detailed plan focused on conflict prevention and confidence building.

Georgia faces a stark choice between two mutually exclusive futures. The first scenario—Georgia as a modern-day divided Berlin—is a recipe for perpetual conflict and envisions the conflicts it currently faces as a Cold War in the Caucasus—a long-term and largely bloodless division between sides whom outside forces have divided so profoundly that compromise is ruled out a priori. The conflicts are resolved when the other side surrenders, its own residents tear down the artificially imposed division, and its government implodes due to the weakening of its patron. It will lead to Georgia’s continued dismemberment; Abkhazia and South Ossetia’s remaining as isolated, impoverished, and militarized Russian protectorates; and unending Georgia-Russia confrontation.

The second scenario envisions a process of conflict transformation that reduces tensions, brings people together across the conflict lines, creates trust, builds trade links, and normalizes contacts among authorities. Through this process, the parties not only cease to antagonize each other but they also come to a shared understanding of the way forward. Over the course of years or even decades, such a process would result in a peaceful and just resolution of the conflicts within Georgia’s internationally recognized borders: the full restoration of Georgia’s territorial integrity; reconciliation among peoples; constitutional arrangements that guarantee self-government for Abkhazia and South Ossetia; the withdrawal of foreign troops from Georgia that do not have the government’s consent to be there; and a complete normalization of Russia-Georgia relations.

Under this second scenario, Georgia also benefits from increased regional trade links and a likely massive bump in foreign investment due to its increased stability. Further, it could rapidly progress toward full membership in Euro-Atlantic structures, which have proven centrally important in successful transitions in post-Communist Europe. This scenario is clearly preferable for U.S. national interests for a number of reasons. It allows the U.S. to maintain credibility after making a commitment to resolving Georgia’s conflicts within its internationally recognized border and facilitating the political and economic transformation of the post-Soviet states; assist in stabilizing Georgia and thereby reducing the occurrence of new bouts of violent conflict and upheaval in this fragile region; challenge the status quo that is causing major tensions in the international system; and prevent progress on other major U.S. goals. A failure to resolve these conflicts would be an impediment to both Georgia’s and Russia’s transformations.

But the first scenario—Georgia as divided Berlin—is implicitly privileged by much of the rhetoric that has come out of Washington since the August 2008 Russia-Georgia war. The Obama administration, following a policy pattern set in place more than a decade before, has yet to make conflict transformation a central priority of its approach to the region. Much effort is spent behind the scenes to convince the parties to avoid provocative behavior and peacefully work out their differences. This approach is incomplete and it needs to change.

The U.S. government has helped facilitate important steps forward since August 2008 despite the parties’ ongoing mutual suspicions and often hostile rhetoric. Conditions today are more favorable than any time since the war for a more proactive U.S. approach to the Georgia conflicts to have an even greater impact. Indeed, for a variety of reasons, early 2011 might represent a unique window of opportunity—not for resolving the conflicts but for short-term progress that could facilitate resolution in the long term. To take advantage of it, the Obama administration should begin by urging all sides to adopt a plan for short-term progress focused on conflict prevention and confidence building. This plan has three interlinked components, the details of which we will elaborate upon in this report:

  • A Russian commitment to the nonuse of force against Georgia
  • The conclusion of bilateral agreements between the government of Georgia and authorities in Abkhazia and South Ossetia to address humanitarian and human security concerns
  • Modification of existing Georgian and Russian policies that impede progress

This plan is in the interests of all sides. And implementing it does not entail any party reconsidering its positions on the issues that divide them. The actions outlined in the plan are also the necessary first steps toward achieving a peaceful and just resolution of the conflicts within Georgia’s internationally recognized borders. They may not inevitably lead to that outcome but without them that outcome is impossible.

Download the executive summary (pdf)

Read the full report