Georgian Defense Minister Outlines Reform Plans
Liz Fuller November 08, 2016
Speaking on November 7 at a press conference pegged to his first 100 days in office, Georgian Defense Minister Levan Izoria announced plans for reform of the country's army, air force, and air-defense system, but ruled out as too costly building a new naval capacity. Izoria also said that after several months of consultations, it had been decided to preserve conscription into the army, but in a slightly different format than before.
Four months ago, Izoria's predecessor, Tina Khidasheli, had unilaterally announced the abolition of conscription into the army as of January 2017 and publicly signed the relevant decree. Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili and President Giorgi Margvelashvili both criticized her for doing so before the government or the National Security Council had discussed the issue.
Izoria said that in the future, conscripts' basic training will be the same as that of professional soldiers, which will create a larger pool of qualified personnel to serve either as contract servicemen or in the reserves. Previously, army conscripts performed only logistical and support functions; they were not trained in, and did not engage in, combat. Izoria also said conscripts will be paid 50 laris ($20.49) per month, and they will be entitled to days off.
At the same time, Izoria stressed that the army will continue to consist primarily of professional contract servicemen. (Conscripts currently account for just 10 percent of the total 37,000 manpower.)
It is not clear whether the length of compulsory military service will remain the same as before (15 months).
Khidasheli immediately criticized as "empty demagogy" the reversal of her abolition of conscription. She also criticized Prime Minister Kvirikashvili, who had expressed full support for Izoria's proposals, saying he "spends more time talking about developing tourism than about improving the country's defense capability."
By contrast, Irakli Sesiashvili, who chaired the outgoing parliament's Defense and Security Committee, termed the decision to retain conscription "a correct first step" on the grounds that the conscription system needed to be reformed, not abolished. At the same time, Sesiashvili advocated analogous changes in the regime for conscripts serving in other agencies, such as the State Protection Service, the State Security Service, and the penitentiary system.
At the same press conference, Izoria also announced plans for the "optimization" of the General Staff, the army, the air force, the air-defense system, and the military police. The plans will encompass the abolition of an unspecified number of departments within the General Staff, and greater emphasis on the use of combat helicopters and unmanned drones.
Izoria further said the number of army brigades will be cut from five to four, and changes made to where they will be based. The rationale cited for the decision in September 2007 to create a fifth brigade was taken in direct contravention of the advice offered by a body of Western experts that Georgia should focus on creating a small, mobile army that conformed to NATO standards.
Finally, Izoria said that in light of the "colossal expense...running into billions," he was "categorically against" rebuilding Georgia's naval capacity, which was almost totally destroyed by Russian bombing during the August 2008 war. He pointed out that the United States had helped finance the repair and modernization of Georgia's three remaining naval vessels for use by the Georgian coast guard, which is subordinate to the Interior Ministry.
That lack of a full-fledged naval capacity calls into question Georgia's ability to participate in NATO's proposed plans, adopted at the Warsaw summit in June, to beef up its presence in the Black Sea with the explicit aim of countering Russian aggression. Prime Minister Kvirikashvili nonetheless affirmed on November 7 that "we shall be part of Black Sea security together with the North Atlantic family, and Georgia will be included in patrolling and other similar operations."
Copyright (c) 2016. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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