The FINANCIAL -- Since the 2014 Russian military intervention in Ukraine, the level of interest in debate about Georgia’s position as a NATO partner has increased, but Georgia will not become a NATO member this year, nor in the next couple of years, William Lahue, Head of the NATO Liaison Office in Georgia, told The FINANCIAL.
As he says, this integration process from a strategic point of view is the most important thing for Georgia. William Lahue recently became an ICC consultative board member. “The business and economic climate in Georgia will be improved through having NATO permanently informed and involved in business activities in Georgia,” believes Lahue.
“Being a member of the ICC consultative Board gives us some access to the business and finance community in Georgia; to understand what the basic issues are for the reform process and what the challenges are that the business community has in the country. Our job at the NATO Liaison Office is to provide assistance and advice to the Government of Georgia for the EU-Atlantic integration process. Under the NATO-Georgia commission there is an agreed-to set of goals and objectives for Georgia’s transition towards NATO membership and that is covered under the annual national programme, which is produced every year by the Government of Georgia and reviewed and assessed by NATO. Part of the annual national programme covers the economic reforms, which is very important for the future of Georgia. The foundation for political stability and the strength of this country including the ability to support its own defence and security systems is based on the strength of the economy and the development of the job market and investment market. In order for democracy to work you have to have a functioning economy that provides for the prosperity of people. Without that it is difficult to have stability, including democratic stability,” said Lahue.
“By joining ICC this gives us a window into what is happening in the business community. It is related to issues like the rule of law, how it is developed and whether or not there is progress. As far as I can see, there have been accusations by some members of the business community of unfair practices. There are some accusations from the political opposition that they have been unfairly treated or that there are some relationships based on political interests. We are making a report that is looking at these issues and again the issue of the rule of law. What we have found so far is that the investment environment is currently improving compared to the last few years. If we look at some of the challenges that individual companies have faced in their relationship with the Government, at times it comes down to the effectiveness of individual government officials and not to a sort of systemic problem. It is natural and can be expected not only in Georgia but in many countries including those in the NATO alliance. There may be different interpretations of regulations by government representatives, which is a problem in many countries, maybe even in every country,” said Lahue.
“What we also found is that the level of investments of many major ongoing projects is very significant for Georgia’s future. For example, British Petroleum’s USD 2 billion pipeline investment, a new mall being built on the way to the airport, there are investments now in agriculture which is a very dynamic process which is going to lead to future prosperity for Georgia. Georgia as a nation offers a lot of interesting things to the world in the area of tourism. It is a matter of having peace, stability and security, a stable, democratic government that provides a foundation for foreign businesses as well as Georgian ones to invest. Becoming closer to NATO and the EU will bring Georgia tremendous benefit. So, my report will be promising,” he added.
“You have a NATO Liaison Office here, the NATO-Georgia Commission, which other aspirant countries do not have. You have the annual national programme and you have the Bucharest statement - guarantying Georgia’s membership. Georgia has a goal to join NATO and a goal to be closer to the EU. Reaching that goal is not what’s important. More important is the transformation that you are going through, that gets you to that goal,” said Lahue.
“It is the upcoming NATO summit where NATO-Georgia relations will be discussed. This is exactly what the summit will be about. The current situation in Ukraine with Russia’s military intervention in Crimea has caused tremendous concern in the Alliance and has shifted debate of course to issues like security and stability in Europe. It has increased the level of interest in debate about Georgia’s position as a NATO partner and exactly how to demonstrate how much progress Georgia has made in its EU-Atlantic integration process. The last two elections have been a test for Georgia’s democracy and Georgia’s future in NATO. For Post-Soviet Georgia they were unprecedented elections, which demonstrated the tremendous distance from where Georgia started its development and where it stands now. Every alliance has their own perspective based on their own democracies, their own political interests, own foreign policy relationship and their own perspective about where Georgia is,” he said.
“When I am talking about the membership at this point I mean providing MAP. There is no consensus on providing MAP yet. MAP itself is a political statement, a political stamp on what Georgia already has. Georgia has the Bucharest statement that says Georgia will become a member of NATO, which is unprecedented. Other countries that are aspirants do not have this kind of statement, this kind of guarantee that they will become a member. They have MAP but MAP does not guarantee membership. MAP is only a guiding document, which provides the goals and objectives for the transition to NATO membership. In concrete terms MAP would be a political statement and it would not change the relationship with NATO in any fundamental way,” he added.
“I am also a NATO Liaison Officer to the South Caucasus. I go to Baku and Yerevan frequently and I have a view of the whole region. I am interested in talking to businesses and I had an opportunity to talk to a businessman who makes significant investments here in Georgia. He also invests in other countries of the former Soviet Union and Central Asia. He said that Georgia is the easiest place that he has worked. He can bring his products to the Georgian border, to the customs service with no problems, with no bribes, and the rule of law is obeyed. It is easy to start business, it is easy to work and he does not face the challenges here with the government that he faces in many other countries. Georgia has been tremendously successful and reforming in limiting corruption. This is key for Georgia’s future,” he said.
“We see what is happening in Ukraine and with its former president. The president and people in his circle were taking billions of dollars every year from the Ukrainian economy into their own pockets. That corrupt government was supported by Russia. It was bad for Ukraine and if the country builds real democracy there it will be very beneficial in the long term but very difficult and painful in the short term. Georgia is isolated from these events. Politically, from the NATO perspective it does not affect the relationship with NATO at all. Georgia will continue to work with NATO under the Georgia-NATO commission and through partnership for peace activities. Maybe we need to focus more attention on Georgia, more effort in helping it and insuring that the sort of thing that happened in Ukraine will not happen here as well. Georgia is very fortunate in that it has a much more unified view of its population, about where it wants to be. This national consensus - to become a member of the EU family - is most important. There was no such consensus in Ukraine, and Georgia’s economy is not as closely tied to the Russian economy as the Ukrainian economy. In Georgia even the minorities like people living in the Javakheti region do not have any interest in any type of separatist activities. They want to be citizens of Georgia. Efforts need to be made in that area for these people to get more involved in political and economic activities,” Lahue added.