Pence’s Visit to Georgia: Several Lessons and What We Should be Expecting
Author: Amb. Valeri Chechelashvili, the Senior-Fellow at the Rondeli Foundation
The visit of the Vice President of the United States of America, Mike Pence, to Georgia has been completed. This, in itself, is a huge success, especially if we take into account two very important conditions:
First – the configuration of the visit took us out of the South Caucasus regional context and coupled us with two Eastern European NATO member countries – Estonia and Montenegro.
Second – the visit was parallel to NATO’s Noble Partner exercises.
Together with these undoubtedly positive events, there are a couple of conditions that need to be analyzed in order for us to use our opportunities better in the future.
Pence’s strong statements will not be very productive for Georgia and in fact may be counterproductive if the issue of Georgia will not re-appear on the agenda of bilateral negotiations between the Russian Federation and the United States of America. If this does not happen, Russia will quite rightly assume that the United States does not consider the issue of Georgia to be the first grade priority and will continue its tactics of the creeping occupation more actively.
We are not aware of what our Prime Minister told the Vice President during their face-to-face meeting. In principle, there are two options in this regard:
First – a clear and non-ambiguous request for the issue of Georgia to become an integral part of the negotiations between the United States and Russia;
Second – a hint that Georgia will once again try to solve its problems with Russia through bilateral contacts and it is not necessary to provoke Russia any further.
Hopefully, the Prime Minister chose the first option.
The employees of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs must remember the concept – Act as an Ally, which has been used by our diplomats in their relations with NATO. They must also remember how well this principle worked and how it managed to strengthen Georgia’s reputation and authority in NATO. We must not have abandoned this principle today either, especially given our main foreign policy priorities, which is joining NATO. If we have in fact abandoned it, then we have failed to pass the test due to the uncoordinated actions during the visit.
In terms of the results, it is clear that the Georgian President’s proposal about the appointment of a Special Representative of the US President’s Administration to Georgia will not be implemented. The members of the US delegation, including the Vice President, saw very clearly that there is no common position, to say the least, in the Government of Georgia about this issue. Hence, our American partners will not wish to facilitate additional tensions in the domestic politics of our country through unplanned actions.
One of the customs of diplomacy is that different branches of the government must have special communication before such important visits, mainly to synchronize their messages. In the given case, such communication was either not very effective, which is very bad, or it did not take place at all, which is even worse. As a result, the President put forward a proposal, which, as it would appear, was not agreed with the government. If this was the case, it was a serious mistake as even the best of proposals, when voiced in an unfavorable situation and at a wrong time, can become counterproductive. The diplomats are well aware of this.
However, the previous mistake was followed by thoughtless and unacceptably worded statements made by the government and the Parliamentary majority MPs. Undermining the President’s statement was also a serious mistake. I believe that the latter assessments/messages are even more harmful as they confirm the level of disconnect between the government branches when dealing with the main strategic ally of our country. This harm could possibly overturn the positive effects obtained from the visit of the Vice President.
Neither the President nor the Prime Minister have emerged as victors in this battle. On the other hand, both of their reputations, as well as that of our country in general, have been tarnished by this incident.
Three conclusions can be drawn from the given situation:
First – the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia is the key government institution for conducting the foreign policy of our country, especially in terms of the issues of coordination. It is possible that the Prime Minister’s entirely correct decision to elevate the status of the Minister of Foreign Affairs to that of the Vice Prime Minister was dictated by this consideration as well. It is necessary to use this institutional leverage more boldly. It is understandable that for a number of objective and subjective reasons it is not easy to perform this function of coordination, as it sometimes requires unpleasant discussions about difficult matters with the President and the Prime Minister. However, the state interests demand that this be done and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has no real alternative in this field.
Second – the Ministry of Foreign Affairs must be commenting on the results of the visit, including the proposals of the President. The diplomats know how to wrap even the most unpleasant messages without using absolutely inappropriate wordings when assessing the actions of the President. This is especially important when comes to Georgia’s relations with its main strategic partner – the United States of America.
Third – it would have been good if the appropriate department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had prepared a compilation of major foreign policy messages and terms to be used to convey them. The usage of such a document by the politicians and public servants from different branches of the government would have helped us avoid mistakes.
Now let us, for a minute, imagine a summarizing discussion/assessment between President Trump and Vice President Pence about the visits paid to the three Eastern European Countries and let us try to guess what conclusions these two people would draw. The Presidents of three NATO member Baltic States are united in their attitude towards Washington’s policies whilst in Georgia we do not even have an agreement between the President and the Prime Minister about the main messages to be conveyed to the United States. I would hope to be wrong about this; however, it is possible that after this visit the United States will think that they were too fast to place Georgia into a special configuration, together with two Eastern European NATO members. As already pointed out earlier, the geographic-political configuration of Vice President Pence’s visit was, in itself, a great victory for Georgian diplomacy.
What can we do to balance the negative background, which has been created?
First, we need to form and well-coordinated and convincing position, voicing it in Washington. The fact that this position brings together the opinions of the President of our country, as well as the Prime Minister, must not be under any suspicion. For this purpose, we need to use all the resources at hand, including the former Georgian Ambassadors to the United States of America. Many of them are in Georgia today and I am convinced they would be pleased to have an opportunity of serving their country once again. It is good that the current Ambassador of Georgia to the United States is also a quality professional – in a remarkably short while Mr. Davit Bakradze has already managed to initiate many beneficial proposals and implement projects.
We must also remember that the government of the United States will receive information from its own embassy in Georgia as well.
It would be very good if we could manage to maintain the geographic-political configuration used by the US Vice President during his visit in the future visits of the US and European Union high ranking officials as well. Taking the EU integration priority into account the Kyiv – Tbilisi – Chisinau triangle also seems to be an interesting option.
The mistakes made by diplomats may not be noticeable on the surface, unlike those of a builder or a doctor; however, the mistakes made in diplomacy can cause irreparable damage not merely to specific persons or groups of people, but to the whole nation and the state.
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