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US – Georgia Relations: From Strategic Partnership to Strategic Alliance

Nikoloz Khatiashvili is a 2023 McCain Global Leader from Georgia. He is the chief of staff of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Parliament of Georgia and the international secretary at the leading think tank of Georgia GEOCASE.

In 1991, when Georgia regained its independence and was finally freed from Soviet claws, the United States was one of the first countries to lend a helping hand. In 1992, then-U.S. Secretary of State James Baker made a historic visit to Georgia. The same year, the U.S. Embassy was established, which laid the foundation for unwavering political support for our country. Tremendous practical assistance was also carried out through USAID projects. There is no doubt that in those dark days, the U.S. became the main driving force for Georgia, leading the country forward along the path of development. Many American politicians have supported Georgia over the past 33 years, yet it is impossible not to mention Senator John McCain’s special contribution to the deepening of Georgia-U.S. relations. It was Senator McCain who advocated for Georgia for many years in the international arena so that the country would take its place on the geopolitical map of the world.

When I think about our past and future, I often ask myself the following question – could Georgia ever be a sovereign state without the support from the U.S. and other allies? The answer is simple – it is unlikely. As my great teacher and the mastermind of Georgia’s pro-western foreign policy Dr. Alexander Rondeli lectured to his students – small states, especially in the early stages of development, struggle to survive in the cruel international system that tries to swallow them up. This is when the state can be saved with the help of strong allies and unions. In my opinion, the U.S.-Georgia partnership is a clear demonstration of this.

In the early 1990s, when Georgia had a war with the Russia-backed separatists, and the civil war raged in the capital city of Tbilisi, the United States took on this mission to help Georgia implement reforms in almost every area, from institutional strengthening, consolidating democracy, and enhancing security and defense capabilities to education, agriculture, and healthcare.

This successful cooperation has continued year after year, turning Georgia into a U.S. stronghold in the South Caucasus region. Georgia has become one of the significant contributors to the U.S.-led global coalition against terrorism and has participated in many successful initiatives. Against this background, Russia attacked Georgia in 2008 and occupied our territories, which is still the main challenge of the country. Right after the Russian invasion, the Charter of Strategic Partnership was signed between Georgia and the United States, declaring strategic relations between the two countries. This charter represents an important milestone in our bilateral relations.

Up to now, the United States has been a significant supporter of Georgia.

Despite such a successful strategic partnership, there are challenges that require more involvement and assistance from the United States. The ongoing war in Ukraine is no less dangerous for Georgia. In Georgia, as well as in the West, we are well aware that Russia’s next target after Ukraine may be Georgia itself. Why Georgia? Georgia is one of the last remaining pieces of Russian imperial puzzle.

The geopolitical role of Georgia is increasing day by day, especially for the West, as Georgia represents the bridge between the West and the East where Russia doesn’t participate. We see that the center of gravity is moving to the Black Sea, and if Russia achieves its imperialistic goals, the U.S. will lose its stronghold in the region, contradicting U.S. foreign policy interests. Especially given the fact that the United States troops withdrew from Afghanistan and questions are being raised regarding the presence of U.S. military in Iraq. Once there was an old historical quote that if you control Georgia, you control the whole Caucasus region. As time passes, I am convinced of the truth of this saying.

In general, all relationships – be they personal, family or relationships between countries – permanently require refreshment, development and innovation. If this does not happen, the relationship weakens and loses its original charm. Right now, in today’s geopolitical turbulence, it is more than ever necessary to take U.S.-Georgia relations to a qualitatively new level and declare them from a strategic partnership to a strategic alliance.

What does strategic alliance with the United States mean for Georgia? First of all, it will be an additional security guarantee for Georgia to deter the threats that it is facing. This alliance will give further impetus to multiple directions in bilateral relations, including the signing of the U.S.-Georgia Free Trade Agreement and will also accelerate the process of Georgia’s accession to NATO and the EU. And the United States, as a global power, will strengthen its role in the Black Sea region, which is vital for the security of the United States and Europe. I believe this is an achievable goal. Our countries and people are bound by strong values, such as the love of freedom and independence, democracy, mutual respect, and patriotism.

The time has come for countries to make bolder and more drastic decisions on the global political scene, but on the contrary, we are witnessing a lack of leadership. It’s time to act now to maintain the global peace and security.

DISCLAIMER: McCain Institute is a nonpartisan organization that is part of Arizona State University. The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not represent an opinion of the McCain Institute.

Nikoloz Khatiashvili, 2023 McCain Global Leader, Georgia
Publish Date
March 6, 2024