Seven Questions

Seven Questions: Georgia's Special Relationship

Georgia's new foreign minister tells FP what his country needs from the United States.

Georgia's foreign minister, Grigol Vashadze, was in Washington Jan. 9 to sign a strategic partnership agreement with the United States, reaffirming security cooperation and preferential trade status between the two countries and U.S. support for Georgia's membership in NATO. Shortly after signing the agreement with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Vashadze spoke with FP's Joshua Keating about the future of U.S.-Georgia relations.

Foreign Policy: Now that this agreement has been signed, what are Georgia's prospects for joining NATO in the near term?

Grigol Vashadze: We got the word from [the April 2008 NATO summit in] Bucharest that Georgia is going to be a member of NATO. After the August war, everybody saw why Georgia was trying so desperately to become part of the North Atlantic structure. Everybody has seen the menaces and dangers we're facing. With this charter, which stipulates that America will do everything possible to help with Georgia's accession to NATO, I think our chances are pretty good. But, of course, nobody on the face of this Earth will give you an exact date. Yes, we're going to be members of NATO, sooner rather than later.

FP: One of the messages from the European states at the Bucharest summit was that Georgia would only be considered after it resolved the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Isn't this an open invitation for Russia to make sure those conflicts don't get resolved?

GV: We are not speaking about conflicts. We could speak about conflicts before the August war. Now this is not a conflict; it's an occupation. From one point of view, it's absolutely dreadful because you wake up and 20 percent of your territory is occupied by an unwelcome neighbor. From another point of view, Russia played all their aces. Everything is called its proper name right now: Russia is not a peacekeeper; it is an occupier. We're not talking about ethnic conflict; we're talking about the cleaning of those territories of their core population to build up Russian military bases.

So we have a very simple question: Can Russia use those occupied territories as an instrument of influence? As this charter shows, and as the world's attitude changed, we see that, no, Russia cannot do that anymore.

FP: What do you mean that Russia has played its aces?

GV: What were Russia's aces? First, there was the promise that if Georgia behaves as a good neighbor, Russia would be a real peacekeeper and mediator. And, second, that Russia will never recognize the independence [of South Ossetia and Abkhazia]. Now they are an occupier and they have recognized the independence [of those regions], and ethnic cleansing is done. What are they going to do now? Enter Tbilisi and bring in one Russian soldier to stand over each Georgian?

After the August war, Russia discovered a simple thing: They have no political basis in Georgia. They don't have the right information. They don't have any allies in the political class, and they don't have any prospect of having any allies in the foreseeable future. If someone in Russia had been planning to make an enemy out of Georgia, it couldn't have been done more effectively than what they did.

FP: As you understand it, does this agreement increase the United States' obligation to come to Georgia's aid in case of future Russian aggression?

GV: We're all too experienced to believe that any international instrument of this kind provides any kind of obligation to involve one's ally in one's conflict. This document is not directed against anybody, but it's a very powerful signal to everybody that nobody -- first of all the United States -- is going to tolerate something like [the August war] again. I would like to add that we will be very, very responsible. The last thing we would like is to involve our main and sometimes only ally in our problems.

FP: Your president, Mikheil Saakashvili, has a very close relationship with U.S. President George W. Bush and also with Sen. John McCain. Do you have a sense of how Obama's team views Georgia, and how the relationship might change with the Democrats in power?

GV: Everybody from the Democratic Party and circles close to the new administration are repeating a simple thing: The Georgian-American relationship is not based on one administration's interests or tastes; it is based upon principles. America is supporting a new democracy, and this is a bipartisan effort. There's no way this is going to change. As far as the personal relationships, I wouldn't like to comment on that.

FP: Given Georgia's status as a transit link for gas from Central Asia, are you looking to take advantage of the ongoing Gazprom-Ukraine pricing dispute?

GV: We are not vultures to benefit from other countries' problems. What I can tell you is that everybody in Europe has again gotten proof, though I doubt there was really a need for supplementary proof, that alternative routes are vital and in the best interest of Europeans. America's insistence on creating new routes for oil and gas is not the caprice of a superpower. It is a very practical matter. If Russia can close the tap and leave all of Europe without gas at the end of December of every year, do you need any more proof that [the planned Nabucco pipeline that will carry Central Asian gas to Europe through Turkey] is necessary?

FP: Why is a close relationship with Georgia in the United States' interest?

GV: America is supporting democracy. America is supporting a state that supports and promotes human rights. This is very simple. Yes, Georgia is a very important link on the southern route to bring out Central Asian gas and oil. But this is not the reason Americans support Georgia. In the early '90s when America started supporting Georgia, nobody spoke about Georgia as a transit country. Only in the late '90s did everyone discover why Georgia was so important. Much more important is democracy, respect for the law, and human rights.


Seven Questions

Seven Questions: Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper on How to Kick Pirate Booty

The general who whipped U.S. forces in a famous war game tells FP how to crack down on Somali pirates. Ahoy!

Armed only with grenade launchers and automatic weapons, Somali pirates are giving the modern shipping industry a run for its money. This year alone, pirates have attacked well over 100 ships passing through the Gulf of Aden that divides the Somali and Yemeni coasts. Thirty-five ships are being held for ransom, meaning at least 200 crew members are hostage. Millions have been paid to free countless more ships at an average cost of roughly $1 million per vessel. Canada, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, NATO, India, and Russia have all sent ships to patrol the watersand the European Union has launched its own operation. On Dec. 2, the U.N. Security Council extended a mandate allowing those vessels to use all necessary means to quash the piracy.

Despite all these efforts, Somali pirates have only gotten bolder. In November, they captured their biggest vessel yeta Saudi oil tanker carrying 2 million barrels of oil. Even more impressive, the tanker was 420 nautical miles off the coast when seizedmuch farther out than the 250-nautical-mile limit that the International Maritime Bureau recommends sailing outside of.

Why the difficulty eliminating the scourge? Foreign Policy's Elizabeth Dickinson turned to retired Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper, a master of military grand strategy, for his take on cleaning up the Somali coast. Van Riper, a decorated Vietnam veteran, famously trounced U.S. forces in a war game in 2002 using such unconventional techniques as broadcasting attacks from mosque loudspeakers and using motorcyclists rather than radios as messengers. Here's how Van Riper would take on the Somali pirates.

Foreign Policy: During the Millennium Challenge war game of 2002, while playing the Red team opposing U.S. forces, you used unconventional tactics to communicate and strike by surprise, eventually sinking a U.S. flotilla. Drawing from this experience, as well as conflicts in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, why is it that these guerrilla strategies can catch allied forces so off guard?

Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper: What were really talking about is what kind of methods folks might use that are unconventional. You struggle with words because to the person doing it, its not unorthodox, irregular, any of those things; its very normal. If you think in history, the Japanese didnt think that kamikaze pilots were unconventional, but the U.S. did and the British did. The insurgents dont think that IEDs [improvised explosive devices] are irregular or asymmetrical. Its in the eye of the beholder. I think [the tactics] youre seeing with many of these piratesits not something theyve done deliberately with relation to more modern nationsits what they do normally.

FP: What is it like to be fighting enemies like these pirates who are thinking differently than you? How do you have to think differently about your own strategy?

PVR: What we tend to do is look toward the enemy. Were only looking one way: from us to them. But the good commanders take two other views. They mentally move forward and look back to themselves. They look from the enemy back to the friendly, and they try to imagine how the enemy might attack them. The third [way] is to get a birds-eye view, a top-down view, where you take the whole scene in. The amateur looks one way; the professional looks at least three different ways.

FP: Lets imagine that there is a command structure in place mandated by the United Nations. How would that force figure out the weakness of nontraditional combatants like the pirates? Where would be the best place to strike them?

PVR: You have to understand what their methods of operation are, so youd obviously begin with whatever kinds of intelligence you can gather. There are going to be a lot of ways to do that. Probably to a limited degree, it would be radio intercepts or communicationsbecause they use varying means of communications. Then, having some sort of broad area surveillance for extended periods of times, you begin to see patterns. Youve got to develop some sort of a picture of what is normal and what is not normal.

Some of those same techniques have been used for hunting the folks who put in IEDs. You watch an area long enough and you begin to see whats not normal in the daily routine. You have to understand their method of operation and what the clues are if something is amiss. Any military unit that goes into a new area doesnt see the subtle clues until they have been there awhile and unless they set up their intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance in order to pick those things up.

You're talking weeks and probably months [to get a sense of the patterns], because things dont happen every day. Its like weather: You watch one day; it doesnt mean anything. A week means a little bit [more]. But obviously, a month or months [of observation] means a lot. In Vietnam on the ground, we would have to be in areas for several weeks before we would begin to perceive what was normal and what was abnormal. And the longer they left [troops] in the same place, generally, the more effective they became.

FP: What platforms would you ideally need to counter piracy, given that these pirates are using rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons?

PVR: If they get close enough, certainly none of the commercial ships are capable of stopping them. Even small arms will go through many parts of a commercial ship. In the case of military naval vessels, navies have taken the tack since World War II of having sensors that tell you when somebody is in the vicinityyou see them before they see you; you can engage them. [But these ships dont have] near the heavy armor that we had in World War II on the battleships and cruisers. Most vessels now are relatively thin-skinned. You probably read about the cruise ship that [the pirates] attempted to hijack. [Passengers] would have to get to the interior, because if you were anywhere near the skin of the ship, the odds of some of those weapons penetrating it are pretty high.

FP: How many and what kind of troops would you choose for a mission if your goal was to eliminate piracy in the Gulf of Aden?

PVR: I guess your first question would be: Am I going to eliminate it at sea, or am I going to try to go to the places where these pirates have their home bases and their forts? There's a pirates nest, I guess; where are they? If you can separate them from their ports or wherever they hide out, then obviously you get them before they even come out. The difficulty you have there is what you have with most insurgent-type activities: sorting out the good from the bad. You know that [the pirates] go into a certain port, but trying to hit them without collateral damage is always a challenge.

It's [also] not a strictly military calculation because you have commercial interests who are worried about the cargo they are carrying. They're worrying about insurance rates. If they take on the nature of a naval vessel -- that is, they arm themselves -- then what happens to their insurance rates? The other side of the factor is, if the pirates know you're armed, then they're liable to shoot first and ask questions later. It's not thinking in terms of a straight head-on-head between two fighting vessels, but what are the folks that own these either cruise liners or commercial ships thinking about.

FP: On the cargo boats today how ready would a crew be to take on an attack like this, and when there is a security force, what kind of arms would they have on board?

PVR: I think the U.S. Navy is in pretty good shape, and they learned the lesson the hard way with the [USS Cole]. Up to that point, they had thought about it and written about it, but the skippers of the ships had not given it the serious attention they now do. Now, its under the rubric of force protection: the security of the ship. You have a number of things, from warning them with loudspeakers at a distance, possibly firing warning shots to announce when they get close. Some of the larger weapons were not effective when they got close -- the muzzles of some of these naval guns, you couldn't lower it enough to get close. But now they have small arms, 50-caliber machine guns, rifles, that they can use.

There's a lot of discussion about putting nonlethal-type weapons on. Some of the Navy officers are looking for dazzlers or sound systems that are just excruciatingly painful to listen to. The idea is to have a layered defense. If you warn somebody further out and you warn them a second time, then at the third time, if you elect to use deadly force, the odds are you are not making a mistake if somebody keeps pushing in.

FP: Over the last five years, since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, what has the United States learned about asymmetric warfare? What is it doing right, and what is it still doing wrong?

PVR: I believe that after a pretty rocky start, were in good shape now. No one can truly think in another culture, but if you have some understanding, you dont make serious mistakes. Second, the longer youre in an area, the more robust your own means can become, the more interlocked and coordinated your own sensors. And this familiarity I talked about before about whats normal and whats abnormal, you build up that reservoir of understanding.