Winning Georgia: Obama's balancing act

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Date: Spring 2009
From: Kennedy School Review(Vol. 9)
Publisher: President and Fellows of Harvard College, through the John F. Kennedy School of Government
Document Type: Article
Length: 1,732 words
Lexile Measure: 1430L

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U.S. President Barack Obama's new administration promises to bring a more collaborative foreign policy approach to both friends and foes abroad. At the February 2009 Munich Security Conference, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden presented policies aimed at greater consensus building with European allies, diplomacy with Iran, and the deepening of the United States's relationship with Russia. While much of the world applauded the new administration's approach to Russia, the small Caucasus nation of Georgia, the gateway from Europe to Central Asia and a geographic link to the Middle East, is uneasy about the possibility of becoming a bargaining chip in American efforts to befriend Russia. But the United States does not have to sacrifice its interests in Georgia to build stronger relations with Russia.

While the United States may choose to postpone its support for Georgia's accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to enable collaboration with Russia, it should continue to expand its economic ties with Georgia and promote Georgian democracy. In the long run, a stronger U.S.-Russian relationship will both increase U.S. leverage over Russia and help the United States facilitate Georgian integration into transatlantic institutions.


Georgia has received much support and encouragement from the United States in its struggle to gain acceptance into transatlantic institutions such as NATO. Under the Clinton administration, Georgia became the largest per-capita recipient of U.S. aid after Israel. The United States has also invested heavily in Georgia's energy infrastructure: U.S. companies have built critical oil and gas pipelines in the country that serve as the only alternative to Russian routes for transporting the region's energy resources.

The final communique of NATO's April 2008 Bucharest Summit declared, "We agreed today that these countries [Ukraine and Georgia] will become members of NATO." In January 2009, Georgia and the United States signed the Strategic Partnership Charter, which supports Georgia's territorial integrity and aspirations toward NATO membership. In the region and beyond, Georgia is largely viewed as a U.S. ally.

Georgia has consistently supported key U.S. interests as well. It has been one of the most supportive partners of the Unites States in the war on terror and has contributed troops to peacekeeping operations in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Although only a small part of the total coalition, Georgian troops were, until recently, the third-largest foreign contingent in Iraq after the United States and Britain.

But of greater importance is Georgia's location. The Georgia-Azerbaijan corridor serves as a critical link between U.S. forces in Central Asia, including in Afghanistan, and bases in Europe. As such, this corridor is essential to effective U.S....

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