TBILISI, DFWatch — Georgia’s Defense Minister Irakli Alasania sat down with DF Watch to talk about the bilateral security and defense cooperation with the US which he said has already started.

A few days ago bilateral consultations were held in Tbilisi in the defense sphere between the two countries. The main topic of the conference was the deepening of military cooperation between the US and Georgia, Georgia’s participation in ISAF operations and rehabilitation programs for Georgian soldiers injured during the mission. US military officials attended the conference.

What condition is the bilateral cooperation agreement with the US in, might there be any problems in that regard?

Those two days we had meetings, which dealt with all aspects of the bilateral cooperation – security, defense – and I want to remark that the implementation of the bilateral security and defense cooperation has already started. The Georgian Defense Ministry will no longer restrict talks and in the future there won’t be restrictions on buying defensive systems on the international market. This means that processes evaluated by the world which took place here in Georgia; that the prime minister with the people’s trust came in together with his people, which is a guarantee for more political stability in our country. Issues which were in question under the previous government are not here today. But I want to also mention that cooperation in defense and security sphere did not start yesterday, or after the October election or after the Rose Revolution. This cooperation started back in 1999, when a program for arms and training was prepared in US-Georgia security relations. That’s why I want to underline and value the merits of each government in the US-Georgia security relations. Now we are at a new stage and trust me, Ivanishvili’s government will deepen and widen those opportunities.

Western media, including well-known US newspapers, criticize Georgia’s new government?

Articles which appeared in the media weren’t unexpected to us. The National Movement has been busy with PR for nine years. Their PR machine is well-trained and continues media-attacks against its competitors. Those are natural processes and it shouldn’t make us irritated. We should build our country, build institutions and our work will speak for us. This is Bidzina Ivanishvili’s policy and that’s why he abolished all his contracts with lobby companies.

Maybe it was a mistake to cancel those contracts if it could correctly report the new government’s policy and actions abroad?

This is a separate topic and we can discuss it separately. But our actions should speak for us and we shouldn’t listen to those who publish such articles.

Which points specifically of the bilateral cooperation document with the US do you plan to enforce? Does it apply to rearmament?

I don’t want to talk about it, because the US party will soon make an official statement about it, but I can tell you that restrictions are already taken away and we are at the implementation stage. It is very important to us that we agreed to build rehabilitation center for injured soldiers in Georgia together. Currently we have to care for our injured soldiers at US hospitals and we prefer to have a comprehensive option to care for them here in Georgia. There won’t be restriction in regards of rearmament and negotiations in this regard are continuing. Negotiations will continue on purchasing different air transport means. So there won’t be any problems to take specific steps to increase defense ability from US, but also from Western partners as well.

This issue always used to be subject of dispute in relations with Russia to the west. Can it be said now that Russia won’t create problems in this regards?

Everything will be transparent and to say directly, if Georgia will purchase such type of defensive arms, it won’t change balance of power in the region. It is pretty clear for Russia and for the west that we do not have a goal to attack Russia’s borders. It is very clear and in addition, there are no talks about rearming, which would create a threat to Russia from this region.

So in this case there are no talks to open bases or to place missile installations?

No, there haven’t been any talks about it.

Is there a plan to start talks about this issue?

We have no reason yet to say that there will be such types of bases or rearming.

You talk about the necessity of system reform. What do you mean specifically?

It’s been a months that I chair this body and during this one month I managed to get introduced to human resources. I can say that I’m satisfied with what I’ve seen in the armed forces. Our officers in the armed forces are having such an experience that they have a large potential for creating a strong, mobile military force. I mean educational experience, and experience which our soldiers and officers gained in Afghan and Iraqi combat operations, gives us reason to say that we really have a potential to create a strong, mobile army with opportunities to react fast. As for the structure itself, many things will change and we already started preparing a package of reforms. Levan Dolidze, my first deputy, chairs this process and by the end of December we will say what structure reform is needed at the Defense Ministry. We plan to share it with the civil sector, with persons and NGOs which are interested in the military topic. Afterwards we will have relations with the parliamentary committee on defense and security. The reform will start next year.

Social defense of military soldiers participating in peacekeeping operations is a larger problem, or people who participated in the Russian-Georgian war of 2008 had many problems and all of them have problems continuing their military service, and in many cases they cannot have other jobs. Are there planned any type of assistance for them?

Of course, and not only for them, but for those who left not only due to health but some other reason. A special group works on fully protecting those people and take care to use their experience. This group works to employe those people who sacrificed their health for their country. Of course it is very important for those people to have opportunity of honorable life. But it is important that they could have an opportunity for self-realization. In addition we have set up a base of people who studied at western military school and we want them to get back to Georgian armed forces, as they have qualification, which it takes much time and resources to gain and we want to use it for the benefit of our country. So we want to get back those qualified people. In addition our military academy is in a condition which I am pleasantly surprised by, but it needs more support and our priority will be military education, where we will direct appropriate resources to.

Your predecessor spoke about the so-called three Ts concept, which was followed by criticism. Is there being planned another concept to replace it?

As I see it, the idea wasn’t even supported by the previous government as well in the beginning. That’s why there are no talks on this issue at all. As for the new concept, there is a document of the so-called SDR strategy, which will soon be finished and we will adopt it. It is about how our defensive strategy should be in long-term planning. I want to add that it is necessary to analyze the reasons for our military success or failures for the latest twenty years; what mistakes were made in terms of strategic, operative and tactic levels, so as not to repeat them. A defensive doctrine should be prepared, which is a professional army concentrated on mobility and has a fast reaction ability. We plan to slowly reduce the number of recruits and also the term of obligatory military service. We want to soon switch to a professional army based on contracts. As for the reserve, there will be a reserve in our country, because it is a support, which the army regularly needs and as much prepared the reserve will be, it will be important for military actions, also for alertness situations. This will be an integrated reserve. There is Norwegian experience, Swiss experience and will merge those experiences and will start to form reserve in new way, on grounds of the National Guard.