Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili: "Georgia aspires to NATO membership"
Dinner-Speech: Georgian's role in International Security Policy
Good evening ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, heads of government, and visiting delegations.
This is my first time attending the Munich Security Conference, and on behalf of my delegation, I would like to thank the hosts for honoring me with this invitation. Being in Munich today reminds me when I was a student in Ukraine in the 1980’s, when I listened every day to Radio Liberty – my only connection with freedom. I still remember the instant I heard the Berlin Wall had fallen – and tears came to my eyes. At that moment I understood a breakthrough was taking place, one that began here in Germany – and one I knew would have a profound effect on my life. Something new was dawning – and for the first time, I felt hope. If Germany and the rest of Eastern Europe could be free – I knew that one day, so would we. What I didn’t know then was that it would take full 14 years before my country and Ukraine would be genuinely free. Fourteen years later, the people of Georgia showed tremendous dignity and unity when liberty finally reached our shore. Because during our Rose Revolution, when peaceful protestors occupied all our government buildings, not a window was broken or drop of blood spilled. Not a single piece of furniture was stolen. Freedom brings out the best in people. And when democracy is genuine – it is the people who own it. For all those who have fought for our advanced freedom, we know the security that our democracies provide – and we know that our democracies must always be protected.
Our gathering over the next few days is devoted to addressing the many security challenges facing the Euro-Atlantic community of democracies. And the successful defense of these values has been a source of profound inspiration for all nations which were not fortunate enough to enjoy freedom’s embrace. Georgia – and the people of my nation – are proud to be a part of the international community of democratic nations and we are eager and ready to increase our contributions to Europe’s lasting security and prosperity. For in today’s increasingly interdependent world, our security is your security.
Over the past two years, a great deal has transpired in the European neighborhood that I come from. The march of freedom and the dream of democracy, once only a glimmer, are now a reality across the Black Sea region. That decisive development means greater stability not only at home – but more importantly, for Europe as a whole. For when we expand the community of democracies, we expand and enlarge our collective security umbrella. And that cherished security is best achieved – and protected – when freedom spreads, and democracy blossoms.
Tonight I would like to share with you my thoughts and observations on two topics: The march of democracy and liberty in my nation and my region, and the implications of these profound changes for Euro-Atlantic security.
Two years have passed since the citizens of Georgia made their historic choice for freedom. And in those two years, my country has been transformed. Today, Georgia has firmly established itself as a sound and legitimate democracy that looks, acts and functions like any normal European country. We have an accountable, transparent and democratically elected government. And we can take pride in our ability and commitment to strengthen the democratic institutions that form the foundation of our state, including a free media and a vibrant NGO sector. Over the past two years, we have had to confront numerous and at times overwhelming challenges. First among these was to defeat the scourge of corruption that had eaten away at the very fabric of our society. By institutionalizing transparency, deregulation, and by passing a Georgian version of RICO legislation we were able to do something people thought was impossible, to state that Georgia today is no longer a corrupt country.
I should also point out that we could not have accomplished as much as we did without European support. In 2004, when Georgia’s budget coffers were empty, it was the EU that moved quickly to re-program its assistance to meet our urgent needs. And when we launched our judicial reform, Germany provided the assistance necessary to build a modern and professional one. The achievements of the new Georgia have importance beyond our borders in demonstrating the benefits that legitimate, democratic governance brings. It is about the stability that comes with an open society, and the prosperity that grows when markets are free and unhindered. This is why, together with Ukraine and other partner countries in the region, we have launched the Community of Democratic Choice.
The CDC is devoted to strengthening ties between the emerging democracies in our region, so that together with our European partners, we can advance our common reform agenda, including Euro-Atlantic integration, conflict resolution and the promotion of democracy and human rights.
When I consider the challenges associated with advancing democracy, I am reminded of its universal appeal. Every dictator around the world looks stable and strong, until the moment their collapse is shown on CNN. I should know, because our Revolution was broadcast for four and a half hours, live on TV. Last year I was visiting CNN’s headquarters just before the Ukrainian elections, and I urged them to send correspondents to Kiev. Today, I’d like to humbly suggest that CNN and the others send their correspondents to Minsk, where all of us should stay tuned in.
Looking to the future, it is clear that my country faces many challenges. And it is hard not to notice that our march forward looks very similar to what took place in the Baltic States, just a few years ago. In Georgia, we draw inspiration from the courage of the Baltic States for what they achieved, and for how the Euro-Atlantic community embraced them.
Today, more than ever, we are blessed with an overwhelming national consensus to continue the difficult but necessary process of reform and democratic transformation. And I don’t believe any reform is painful – or even impossible – when you reach out to the people, taking the time to explain, and making them part of the solution.
Georgia’s national goals rest on four interdependent pillars. These include:
- The peaceful and complete restoration of Georgia’s territorial integrity
- The establishment of lasting security through energy diversification and the creation of a modern national defense force
- Broad economic growth and investment in education, health care and good governance
- And integration into NATO and other European institutions, including constructive relations with all our neighbors
Turning to the subject of Euro-Atlantic security, it is clear that now more than ever, together we face a range of complex and common threats – threats that can only be addressed and resolved through greater cooperation and deeper partnership.
The first point I would like to make relates to the emerging importance of the Black Sea basin – a key component of Europe's economic and security architecture. For thousands of years, Europe has been defined by the culture, the trade and the nations that exist along the Black Sea. And Georgia is a Black Sea European nation, with a political system that is very similar to countries like Romania and Bulgaria with whom we enjoy strong ties. Our history is a common one – and so are our principles and ideals. Yet today, our region remains a part of Europe’s frontier – with some countries inside Europe’s institutions, while others remain on the periphery. If we preserve this construction, Europe will remain exposed to a multitude of threats such as terrorism, arms trafficking, drug transit, illegal migration and perhaps most importantly, energy dependence. The events of the last few months – in Ukraine and in Georgia – were a wake-up call for all of us, revealing the critical importance of maintaining diversified and reliable energy sources. In Georgia, our recent energy crisis taught us important, but painful lessons – that we can no longer rely on one source for our energy needs, and that we can, as a nation, find alternatives and build a safer future. I believe Europe can, and must do the same. Indeed, the need for reliable energy alternatives underpins the very concept of national security. The good news is that solutions to our common problem exist, and that the answer lies in the very part of Europe that I represent. The nations of the Black Sea, together with partner countries in the South Caucasus and Central Asia, already provide energy alternatives to European and world markets. Today, oil is flowing through two successful pipeline projects that cross Georgia (the Baku-Supsa pipeline and BTC). And soon, gas will begin to flow through the South Caucasus pipeline from Shaz Deniz.
And we are ready and we are able to do more. There is no reason why Europe should not benefit from the further exploitation of vast hydrocarbon reserves in our region, including the construction of new infrastructure that will unlock reliable energy from the Caspian basin and Central Asia. There is no reason why we should not develop a common approach – and a common strategy – that will create stable and lasting alternatives. Georgia is ready to host, promote and protect these investments to help ensure that the rest of Europe does not find its schools, factories and citizens as vulnerable as we and Ukraine were last month.
The expansion of Europe’s institutional arc of stability to include the democratic nations along the Black Sea represents a win-win policy for all. Georgia, together with Ukraine, is ready and able to act as net contributors to Euro-Atlantic security through cooperation on issues just like these. I stated before in my remarks that Georgia aspires to NATO membership. We understand that much work needs to be done before that can take place. And we know full well that there are no shortcuts, nor are we looking for them. We embrace NATO’s open door policy, and the principle of performance-based evaluation. Today, Georgia is performing and working very closely with NATO and its members to realize our aspirations. Our defense reforms include:
- Enshrining the principle of civilian control through our Ministry of Defense
- Our Ministry of Defense has successfully integrated former Soviet-era interior troops
- And we are now completing our strategic defense review – establishing an objective force structure based on our national security
- We have also dramatically improved the morale of our forces through better pay and facilities
- And now we have trained and equipped two brigades to be interoperable with NATO
There is one more issue on the agenda of Euro-Atlantic security that can best be addressed – and solved – through closer integration and enhanced collective efforts: The resolution of frozen conflicts. What were once isolated, and sometimes forgotten pockets of instability now represent real sources of insecurity for Europe. Today, we must marshal all our efforts in the pursuit of peaceful and lasting solutions to these unfortunate conflicts. And the best way to bring about peaceful resolution is by acting in a united and resolute fashion – extending the values and practices that underline Euro-Atlantic security to those areas that remain outside its control.
As all of you know, Georgia suffers from the cancer of separatism – a condition that we inherited from our past. More than 30% of our nation lives today without the promise or benefits of democracy – held captive by repressive regimes that fear openness, transparency and freedom. My government is committed to resolving these conflicts peacefully – consistent with the principles enshrined in our democracy. That is why we have launched a comprehensive peace plan for South Ossetia, where we are ready to restore and augment the autonomy of this region, establishing constitutional guarantees that provide for broad language, governance, educational, economic and political rights. We follow the same approach in Abkhazia – where our aim is to provide a safer and more prosperous future for Georgia’s inhabitants. Despite the intransigence of separatist authorities, despite their attempts to turn away from the path of peace – we will continue to pursue our peaceful efforts. We will not allow their policies of hate and ethnic division to succeed. Nor will we shy away from engaging in a constructive manner with those who lend support to these outlaw regimes.
I am a firm believer in the ability of the Euro-Atlantic community to act as a powerful force for change. Likewise, I believe a clear path to NATO membership through MAP will help facilitate the resolution of Georgia’s frozen conflicts because the values that have secured Europe’s peace for more than 60 years are the same values that will bring about peaceful resolution today. And I believe we can break down the walls of isolation and fear that have divided our communities for too long.
I think one of the great leaders of the 20th century was former German chancellor Konrad Adenauer – a man of vision who understood the power of uniting national interests in favor of expanding collective security. In his memoirs, Adenauer writes about Germany after the Second World War that "We were a small and very exposed country. By our own strength we could achieve nothing. We must not be a no-man’s-land between East and West for then we have friends nowhere and a dangerous neighbor in the East". I am not sure the geographic direction is exactly the same today – but the message surely is. Georgia, along with nations like Ukraine, are integral parts of Europe, with the same vision, desire and aspirations. And I am convinced that by working together, we can solve our common security threats, and in turn create a peaceful and prosperous future for a Europe that is whole and free.
The spoken word is applicable!