Will Georgia Back Up Defense Reform Rhetoric With Action?

Will Georgia Back Up Defense Reform Rhetoric With Action?
Georgian Defense Minister Levan Izoria visiting the NATO-Georgian Joint Training and Evaluation Center near Tbilisi, Jan. 2, 2017 (Sputnik photo by Alexandr Imedashvily via AP).

In early November, barely a month after the ruling Georgian Dream party’s commanding victory in parliamentary elections, Georgia’s defense minister, Levan Izoria, outlined an ambitious defense reform program that captured immediate headlines for reintroducing conscription. The former defense minister, Tina Khidasheli, had officially abolished conscription in late June, just a few months before the elections and only weeks before she officially departed her post. Although Khidasheli’s political coalition allies attacked her for dissolving the draft, conscription is widely seen as unpopular in Georgia, which likely explains why Izoria waited until after the elections to reintroduce it.

Obscured by the focus on the draft, however, was the fact that the proposed defense reforms represent a technocratic turn for the often politically charged Defense Ministry and appear to signal a fresh statement of intent from the next Georgian Dream government. Coinciding with a growing defense budget and robust international defense aid set for 2017, Georgia appears to be quietly investing in more durable state and military capabilities just as Western commitments to the Caucasus look increasingly fragile.

Georgian Dream’s victory over the opposition United National Movement, or UNM, in October left it with a constitutional supermajority in the Georgian parliament and reasonable claims to an electoral mandate—albeit one largely boosted by the quirks of the Georgian electoral code. While Georgian Dream outperformed the UNM by some 20 percent of votes, it did not manage to gain an outright popular majority. Instead it benefited from a 5 percent vote threshold that kept a smattering of smaller parties out of parliament. Single-mandate district seats also diluted the strength of proportional voting.

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