Tedo Japaridze is chairman of parliament’s foreign affairs committee.

Polemical reflections on the UNM’s proposal for the constitutionalization of Georgian Foreign Policy

Constitutions are binding principles that are non-negotiable in the context of a polity. This is why principles enshrined in a Constitution set minimum benchmarks, such as freedom of speech, regard for individual and social rights, commitment to due process and so forth. Going beyond minimum benchmarks, especially in the field of foreign policy, entails considerable risks. The risks are twofold.

On the one hand, when a polity is unable to serve the principles of its constitution, it runs the danger of calling into question the authority with which fundamental laws must be bestowed.

On the other hand, every time a political debate is constitutionalized, it is also de-substantiated, reduced to a “technical and legalistic” debate over constitutional interpretation.

The real question is this: which policy serves the objective we have set before us? By reducing this substantial question to a constitutional debate we must be ready to assume a number of risks.

The first immediate risk for Georgia that stems from the declaration of “Euro-Atlantic” values on a constitutional level is reducing of room for tactical flexibility and strategic adaptability. Diplomacy allows a country to adapt to an ever-changing international environment. Enshrining a series of “Golden rules,” implies that a country deprives itself from the capacity to adapt to changing circumstances, not merely on the level of principles, but also on a tactical level. For instance, if the USA had committed to a German type “fiscal golden rule,” going over the fiscal cliff would be unavoidable. And this would hardly serve Washington’s objective of restoring a state of sound finances.

Multilateral engagement, such as membership in the World Trade Organization, the United Nations, or indeed, NATO and the European Union, are the de facto equivalents to Constitutional commitment for states. The difference is that the multilateral nature of similar engagements reduces the incurred risks and, therefore, increases the predictability of the international environment en bloc rather than unilaterally. Unilateral foreign policy commitments are suitable for a country like Switzerland. Alas, Georgia is located in the Caucasus.

If the UNM proposal is placed on the table so as to ensure Georgia’s commitment to NATO membership, it achieves quite the opposite. If Georgia commits to NATO without the reassurances of Article V, we may find ourselves exposed to the situation of 2008. What’s more, this very choice may in fact limit our prospects for actual membership in the future. It is clear that NATO accession at this point in time would imply one of the following: either NATO accepts Georgia without its breakaway republics, or accepts Georgia with its internationally recognized borders and, by virtue of Article V., our allies declare war to Russia. NATO is an organization that has traditionally maintained peace rather than enforced it. Much like in the Baltics, membership will consolidate peace rather than establish peace. In sum, if we were to follow the UNM prescription, we would be a step further rather than closer to NATO membership.

Similarly, EU membership is an aspiration that is clearly long term, since Brussels has not extended to the Caucasus region either a promise, as in the case of the Western Balkans, or defined a process, as in the case of Turkey. If the UNM suggestion serves the purpose of securing European orientation in terms of the acquis, there is nothing that prevents Georgia from pursuing this legal incorporation trajectory through a nationally debated and politically legitimized process. In fact, engagement in European Neighborhood Policy, as well as ongoing negotiations for the completion of a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement constitute substantial commitments of constitutional significance. If Georgia were to enshrine in its constitutional preamble a EU membership commitment, we would be symbolically loading a process that is well under way, to the detriment of our declared objective. The issue at hand is to pursue a policy that we declare to be to the benefit of our national interests, not to antagonize alternative projects in the region. In sum, we should not be creating international crises that a) we cannot respond to and b) run against our declared objectives.

What is now on offer is DCFTA. We must conclude this agreement and then reflect on a strategy that brings us closer to achieving our ultimate objective, which is and will remain on course for European and Euro-Atlantic integration. To design such a foreign policy, we need room to adapt to changing circumstances. What are these “circumstances” at the moment?

On the one hand, European relations with Moscow range from “strategic,” as in the case of energy, to confrontational, as in the case of Moscow’s Eurasian Union (ECU). Our choice, through our commitment to DCFTA, is made abundantly clear. Nonetheless, it is also clear that EU membership is now called into question even for states in the Western Balkans. Europe is undergoing a process of internal transformation in order to respond to the unfolding economic crisis. Expecting a bold policy of enlargement at this point in time is simply utopian. We must maintain our vision and sustain the prospect, an objective that is not served by grand declarations at a Constitutional level.

On the other hand, the USA is talking about a “reset” of relations with Moscow. Feeding Cold War confrontational narratives, becoming a barrier rather than a facilitator of rapprochement between Moscow and Washington, begs from our allies “either or” dilemmas. In placing ourselves in this position, we may find that we are compromising regional stability and European security at large. This is not the position we want to place our allies in. We want to be regional facilitators, part of a solution not part of a problem.

Furthermore, despite the detrimental foreign policy implication of making such a decision, we must also reflect on the dangerous overlap we are creating between domestic and foreign policy. It is clear that Georgia has a currently served Charter of Strategic Partnership with the USA; we are members of the Partnership for Peace program; we are significant contributors to operations in Afghanistan; our elites across the political spectrum have been trained and formed with a western orientation; we are dependent upon a policy of non-recognition for our breakaway republics and the de jure international recognition of Georgia as a sovereign entity with jurisdiction over its internationally recognized borders. In sum, our loyalty to our allies should be seen as self-evident. By enshrining this decision in our Constitution we are in a sense doubting this commitment, as if there is any domestic political force that calls this commitment into question. There is no such political force, except in the mind of UNM operatives.

The real issue of course is that the UNM wants through this Constitutional debate to call into question the peaceful transfer of power we achieved in October 2012, by domesticating an “East versus West” cleavage, suggesting that any transfer of power constitutes “regime change.” This is a very dangerous game that is detrimental to our national interests. We have achieved a peaceful transfer of power and we should be working to consolidate freedom of speech, raise human rights standards and reinforce a substantial social rights agenda. The UNM should be focusing on creating a substantial political alternative and criticizing specific foreign policy initiatives. We should all be working for the institutionalization of a normal and uneventful two party system. Instead, immersed in a zero-sum culture, the UNM is threatening our allies with “regime-change.” In principle, we should be willing to give the UNM the benefit of the doubt; de facto, this collision course clearly runs against national interests.

Let us be clear on this point. Cohabitation will be of benefit to Georgia, if and only if the discussion gravitates over the substance of our foreign policy. Georgia has had enough constitutional amendments. By adopting endless amendments to the Constitution, constantly using it as a legislative toy has proved detrimental to the authority of the Constitution itself and, thereby, democracy in Georgia. This was probably what Venice Commission Chairperson Buquicchio meant when he commented on this issue during his recent visit to Tbilisi and said straightforwardly, “I do not think that such a decision should be in the constitution.” We do not need to politically debate the substance of our foreign policy, not a Constitutional debate.

We should remember that in defining foreign policy, there is only one independent variable and that is geography. As Napoleon Bonaparte put it, “The policies of all powers are inherent in their geography.” At this point in time, we are ignoring our geographical constraints. Despite our long-term objectives, we need to be thinking of mundane short-term objectives. We need to be engaging with our citizens in the occupied territories, for whom the only international context is Russia. We need to be engaging with our displaced populations, who lose hope of ever returning home with every passing day. We need to be making the life of our sizable Georgian Diaspora in Russia easier, not more difficult. We need to be thinking that Turkey now has Russia as its single most important trading partner, because rather than despite of its special relationship with the EU. We need to be building “a region” in the South Caucasus and enhance our regional security framework. And we need to be responding to this substantial agenda now, with flexibility and strategic foresight.

UNM instead prefers to devote Georgian diplomatic capacity to a series of symbolic gestures. Nonetheless, assuming in good will that we all agree to a common foreign policy trajectory, if we actually want to secure that pending commitments towards our Euro-Atlantic integration are met, we need to be debating over our foreign policy, not our Constitution. Our political disagreements are not legal in nature. And our democracy should acquire the democratic maturity to face its cleavages in political terms. The Constitution is the backbone of the rules that underpin a democratic process, not a substitute for democratic contest. There is no foreign policy “engineering.” We need to be creating options, people must still have a choice and they must retain the prerogative of evaluating results rather than principles. Leadership is not about creating normative mechanisms that will respond to every policy challenge that we encounter; it is actually about confronting challenges as they emerge.