Opinion: A Call for Concrete EU Actions on Georgia
New European Union policies regarding the Caucasus must strike a balance between Europe's concerns and the needs of the region's countries and people. At the same time, Europe must also distance itself from the confrontational position Washington has adopted towards Russia.
A Georgian soldier places explosives around what the military say is an undetonated Russian bomb that was dropped near Kutaisi airport. A group of Dutch thinkers argue the EU should offer to help clear up cluster bombs as part of a humanitarian aid package.
Europe has maintained distance from the growing tensions in the Caucasus, which escalated last month. This was a serious mistake. Europe should have intervened much earlier as a mediator in the Georgia conflict. But now Europe must distance itself from the confrontational position that the United States has adopted towards Russia.
Human Rights Commitments
Europe must also avoid any rhetoric or action that will only serve to deepen polarities in an unstable power balance. Instead, the EU must develop a foreign policy that equilibrates its own economic concerns with the special needs and considerations of the countries and people of the region.
Hard power should be avoided. Instead, the EU should deploy its arsenal of soft power approaches: open dialogue, diplomacy and new forms of cooperation. Moreover, it is absolutely critical that Europe’s strategy for Georgia is clear, based on a true dialogue with Georgia and addresses human rights and environmental concerns with concrete actions.
Ensuring coherence among EU policies in these areas will prove that we are serious about our human rights commitments, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is celebrating its 60th year anniversary this year. We would go one step further, however, and urge the EU to underpin its Georgia strategy with the integrated ethical vision of the Earth Charter, a declaration of principles for a just, peaceful and sustainable society. The charter provides a framework that the EU should use to ensure that its conflict resolution dialogue with Georgia addresses a range of important issues such as the rights of minorities, environmental protection, good governance and public participation.
This is especially important in light of the killing of civilians, rape, property expropriation and hindering of Red Cross aid to the wounded -- not to mention both sides’ deplorable use of land mines and cluster bombs. Unfortunately, neither Russia nor Georgia is a party to the anti-land mine and anti-cluster bomb treaties.
The underlying causes of conflict are complex, with the diametrically opposed views of the Georgians on one side and Russia, the South Ossetian and Abkhazian separatists on the other.
At this point, Europe must avoid the temptation to place blame. Even if Russia is far from innocent in other regional conflicts, for example in Chechnya, the reality is that the global balance of power has changed radically. We must avoid launching a crusade against Russia and remain sensitive to the humiliation that is systematically and widely felt by Russians.
Not only in Russia, but also in the rest of the world, there is a widespread feeling that the West has acted far too arrogantly toward Russia in the past few decades. Russia has tolerated this begrudgingly. But the country’s windfall oil revenues and growing economic power has reshaped geopolitics. With greater force than before, Russia points to the "double standards" of Europe and the US, not only in relation to Israel and Palestine, but also in terms of the invasion of Iraq and the war on terrorism. Russia maintains that the importance given to human rights appears to vary in accordance with the perpetrators involved. But in this respect, Russia is also guilty of hypocrisy.
This is why Europe, aroused by the understandable antipathy of the former Eastern bloc countries towards Russia, should not react to the Georgian crisis by exerting its dominance. This is what the US has done all too often in recent years with unfortunate results. The world is becoming gradually more multipolar. Therefore, in finding a new power balance, Europe must provide a genuine alternative to the political status quo.
A new stable world order can only be achieved if the influence of other emerging economies is acknowledged and openly respected, whether they be Russia, or China, India or Brazil. This means a renewed strengthening of minority rights, addressing the democracy deficits in international organisations and developing sound and rational policies on energy security. Cooperation must replace confrontation as the dominant mode of conflict resolution. It also means that powerful actors such as the EU will have to look critically at themselves instead of pointing the proverbial finger elsewhere.
What then are the elements of a more coherent EU foreign relations policy towards Georgia?
1. We must abandon the idea that the NATO has a role to play in the Georgian conflict. It must move to the background in order to de-escalate the conflict. The European Union and its members states must demonstrate collective will to treat Russia as an equal partner. This must start first with reversing the US’s unilateral decision to place its missile defence in Poland and the Czech Republic. It requires more reflection.
2. We will have to examine how the security and sovereignty of Georgia can be guaranteed without NATO membership. In a special treaty with the Russian Federation, Russia should be called upon to recognise the territorial integrity of Georgia and remove its troops. In addition, the EU should assist Georgia in creating buffer zones in the form of a regional economic cooperation alliance for the Caucuses, which could later extend to issues of foreign policy.
3. In dealing with these countries, the EU should prioritize economic development, energy security, climate change and the importance of cultural diversity.
4. The Non-Proliferation Treaty should be strengthened as a matter of high priority and Europe should actively support the extension of the Nuclear Weapon Free Zone in Central Asia. Other countries in the Caucuses such as Georgia and Ukraine should be encouraged to accede.
5. The EU should offer to act as mediator in a tripartite initiative with Russia, Georgia and the two separatist regions. But a number of key conditions are essential:
- in exchange for recognition of Russian territorial integrity, Georgia should recognise the autonomy of South Ossetia and Abkhazia;
- guarantee of the safe return of the many hundreds of thousands of Georgian and other refugees to South Ossetia and Abkhazia;
- a peace treaty must be formally recognized and endorsed by the Security Council;
- the treaty must apply to the whole of the Georgian territory, including the two regions;
- and human rights commitments must be strengthened and enshrined in the agreement. Special emphasis must be placed on the goals of peace and security and respect for cultural diversity and identity, as reflected in the Earth Charter.
6. The EU should provide humanitarian aid as soon as possible, for example in the form of assistance to remove the cluster bombs and landmines in Georgia and the two regions. As well, the Red Cross must have free and unfettered passage to all areas and a substantial EU presence should focus on securing the safety of civilians and compliance with the treaty.
7. The EU must adopt a common energy policy to reduce its dependence on Russian oil and gas. Europe’s concern for the region is not just focused on the struggle of Georgians who are building a democracy based on European values and ideals. It is also related to the safety and security of the large oil pipeline which runs through Georgia. We suggest that the EU can build on earlier agreements with Russia and Georgia, for example, within the framework of the 1989 European Energy Charter, which calls for cooperation on energy policy, notably in regard to energy security (especially related to coal and nuclear energy) and investments flows. But other important elements such as the sustainability imperative of transitioning toward a low-carbon energy future must be addressed.
Entering into a dialogue with Russia in respect to the Georgia crisis does not mean that we have to betray our own fundamental democratic principles. On the contrary, we should continue to support the democratic processes that have been set in motion in Georgia. But this does not necessitate that we must escalate confrontation with Russia, as some nations would prefer. Fortunately, a sensible EU response has been articulated. Translating it into concrete action is essential to ensuring lasting peace and stability in the region.
About the authors: Ruud Lubbers is a member of the Earth Charter Commission, former prime minister of The Netherlands and the former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Joris Voorhoeve is the former Dutch Defense Minister. Jan Pronk is the former UN Special Envoy to Darfur, former minister of the environment and former minister for development cooperation. Tineke Lambooy is a lawyer and expert on Georgia. They are all members of the Round Table of Worldconnectors in the Netherlands, a think tank focused on global issues.
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