After Afghanistan, the US must work with countries committed to Western alliances

After Afghanistan, the US must work with countries committed to Western alliances
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In response to its strategic retreat from Afghanistan, the United States must work more closely with countries in key regions that are committed to Western alliances. In particular, it can increase the capacity of NATO allies and partners to defend themselves from Russian and Chinese aggression.

In the vital Asia-Pacific, these include Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. In the contested Black Sea region spanning Europe and Asia, a key partner country is Georgia, which just completed local elections.

Georgia is in the crosshairs of Russian anti-Western and anti-democracy offensives in the Black Sea region that also encompasses Ukraine and Moldova and are designed to disqualify these countries from joining Western institutions.

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In addition to hostile foreign assaults, Georgia’s democratic development has had to fend off internal forces intent on dividing society by delegitimizing elections and eroding public trust in national institutions. Some Georgian political leaders who refuse to accept defeat have claimed that the elections are “rigged” without hard evidence and despite the findings of international observers. Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili warned about this threat in his recent speech at the United Nations General Assembly, claiming that democracies around the world are under pressure from forces often aided and abetted by outside saboteurs. 

Despite Russia’s illegal occupation of 20 percent of Georgia’s territories and constant economic and political pressure, the government in Tbilisi remains committed to democratic development and EU and NATO membership. According to the head of the European Parliament election observation mission, the recent election process plays an important role in Georgia’s road to the EU. The government, led by the Georgia Dream coalition, has implemented electoral reforms in line with OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) recommendations, ensuring more proportional representation at the municipal level and increasing opportunities for multi-party local councils.

Despite this progress, some opposition leaders in Georgia attempt to disqualify the elections in a strategy reminiscent of disruptive attempts in some NATO member states. For instance, parliamentary boycotts and claims of massive fraud occur regularly in Albania and North Macedonia. Despite such charges, neither country failed to qualify for NATO on the merits of their democratic progress, strategic position and commitment to the alliance.

Georgia’s main opposition party, the United National Movement (UNM), regularly claims massive election fraud. But such claims contradict the findings of international monitors from the OSCE, the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and U.S. democracy promotion organizations.

Georgia’s democratic progress was confirmed by the OSCE observation mission, which declared the local elections to be competitive, transparent and professionally administered. Georgian Dream received another mandate by winning nearly 47 percent of the national vote in a relatively high turnout for local elections.

The opposition UNM obtained almost 31 percent. On the eve of the elections, former president and UNM leader Mikheil Saakashvili surreptitiously returned from exile but was imprisoned because of a previous conviction for abuse of office. Saakashvili’s claims that the government has upended Georgia’s democracy and pursues a pro-Moscow policy. But the Georgian government remains committed to regaining its occupied territories from Russian control and resisting Moscow’s subversion. The former president plays into the Kremlin’s hands by attempting to stir unrest, deepen social polarization and delegitimize the country’s institutions, while calling on the security services to disobey the government.

An unstable and divided Georgia is easier to discredit internationally and keep outside Western organizations. Unable to establish a loyal administration in Tbilisi, the last thing Moscow wants is a stable political environment with legitimate elections that can serve as a model for neighboring states, including Russia’s restless North Caucasus republics bordering Georgia.

In such a climate, it is important for the Western allies to support further electoral and democratic reforms within an institutional framework and discourage any political force from provoking street conflicts and potential violence.

After the failure in Afghanistan, the U.S. needs to demonstrate strategic success by strengthening relations with key allies in the geopolitically important Black Sea region. While Moscow aspires to dominate the region and project its power toward the Middle East and the Balkans, Beijing seeks a major foothold in this important energy corridor between Central Asia and Europe. 

Without consistent U.S. support, including a roadmap to NATO membership, EU membership and stronger trade and economic ties, Georgia will become increasingly vulnerable to the ambitions of anti-Western powers. 

Janusz Bugajski is a senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation in Washington, D.C. His upcoming book is “Failed State: Planning for Russia’s Rupture.”