The views expressed are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the Tribune.
By Viktor Kipiani, Chairman of GeoCase
The modern world is once again faced with the important need to re-analyse the role of the state and its functional components. This matter is particularly relevant to those countries whose claim to exist and whose development rest upon national and historic roots and will have claims for adjusting to this or the other global order tomorrow as well.
Georgia ranks among these countries for reasons that our readers will find perfectly understandable.
Given the unpredictability of the current global, international, regional and security context, the following task strikes us as being a very real and practical challenge: how to pursue our development and become a modern country without abandoning our distinguished past or losing our national consciousness and identity.
I understand that this topic is so complex that merely mentioning it is not enough, just as attempting to analyse it ‘in a single go’ (as is usually done in our society) is hardly serious, which is why in this article—which I would refer to as ‘thinking aloud’—I shall focus upon the more specific and institutional components of this larger question.
I think it is no longer debatable that the proper functioning of a country depends on the proper functioning of its state institutions. This explanation is perfectly simple and it could be in this way: in order to neutralise excessive abstractionism and to obtain greater specificity, this or the other subject having statehood status establishes two of the most important links through its own institutional arrangement—on one hand, with its population, and on the other (and at the same time) with its international audience. The state acquires specific assignments and functions by embodying the will of the electorate in formal institutions, and the better the condition of its institutions, the more important and reputable the country and the more competitive it becomes now and in the nearest
Since the range of this issue is still too wide for the short format of an article, even if we limit ourselves to institutions, I shall only speak about one specific and very important institutional aspect of our country: the principles that direct the country’s foreign policy. In general, the foreign policy agenda is a topic whose evaluation practically nobody finds too difficult or tiring and which everyone is eager to do. One problem is when people beyond this sphere busy themselves with such analysis, but if you ask me it is much more harmful when this topic is discussed by those who only imagine the ‘Foreign Office’ as a prospect for employment, careerism, self-promotion or politics. Such an attitude wrecks the foreign service itself and damages its chances of attracting future talent, and as a result, weakens the country’s position on the international stage and thereby undermines its domestic affairs.
Two important explanations before going into further detail: I have never had any close links to the foreign service. The views I express in this article, therefore, rest upon my self-inculcated knowledge of foreign policy issues as well as my use of this knowledge in various practical aspects and observations. It is also worth noting that, before presenting these thoughts to the reader, numerous discussions or conversations were held with truly knowledgeable experts in the field alongside much lengthy research and evaluation of international developments. Equally noteworthy is the fact that bringing this issue to the public’s attention was conditioned by the need to identify the current state of Georgia’s Foreign Ministry as well as the indicators for its proper restructuring and tangible
I will also add here that all my assumptions are purely subjective in nature and that I, as their author, have no claims as to their authenticity or precision. I should indeed be very glad if anything I say is subjected to ruthless criticism. At times like these, it is essential to encourage real and uncompromising discussions of the essence and future of the foreign service, particularly as the latter is the presenter, executor and watchdog of the country’s national and state interests. Many of us talk about the need for such discussions, but these tend to be limited to a single private space and unable to reach the level of public politics. It is difficult to say with confidence who wins by leaving these conversations in the background, but the identity of the losers is clear: every single one of us and the Georgian state itself.
Shall we begin?
As you already know, processes and events tend to be changeable—and the same goes for specific concepts: constant changes within political formations and social categories, especially considering modern dynamics, also change the essence of this or that concept or notion, completes it and adapts it to the current moment. This is how I imagine my general remark regarding the foreign service, which currently bears the official name of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia. I will try to better explain this private matter.
In the beginning of this article, I used the term ‘foreign office’ as a kind of barbarism, and this was no accident. The thing is that, along with the image and content of the modern state, the perception of public institutions carrying out state functions also changes. As for Georgia’s foreign ministry, I
believe that its current name is not only a Soviet and post-Soviet cliché but that it also digresses from its modern assignment. This assignment is directly linked to the principles of foreign activity that I will discuss further below, but in this section, I will ground the need to change this institution’s name in the following manner: the presence of the word ‘affairs’ in the title implies carrying out the will of the state. This is undoubtedly the case, and at the time the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Soviet Republic of Georgia served exactly this purpose: protecting the state interests of the Soviet Union in the international arena. This was its first and most important mission, at the expense of practically every other task.
I think that nowadays even this relatively unimportant and formal issue is linked (at a glance) to another kind of comprehension and approach. I believe that the title of this institution should serve the interests of not only the state but also the personal and business interests of every individual member of our society, particularly as such interests have become so diverse in the modern world and have penetrated significantly more layers or segments of activity. In practical terms, given the complexity of internal and foreign relations, ‘Chitadze Street’ also has to restructure itself according to the institution’s tasks and specialities. Based upon this assumption, I truly believe that the official
name should reflect the ministry’s real function and everyday meaning; it must become relevant to current times and demands. This is why it would be appropriate to rename this institution from ‘Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia’ into ‘Foreign Office of Georgia’: the latter title is much more capacious and, more importantly, much more relevant to the current agenda and modern understandings.
But for what reason?
For the benefits, total and real and not half and false: this could be the short formulation of the state-political and public-societal assignment of Georgia’s foreign office. Its existence should not be perceived as a necessity — as of an organisation built into the state system as a sovereign attribute — as something that we must have just because that is the rule. Nor should the foreign office remain a mere symbol of mechanical respect for the rules first established by the state and then by the representatives of the institution itself, as well as of a certain pride. Georgia’s foreign office should honestly and unquestioningly justify its existence as the forefront of the Georgian state as well as in the eyes of Georgia’s taxpayers: in the first case, this should be expressed through an uncompromising and competent defence of the country’s national interests; whereas, in the second, the citizens of our country should feel that the efficacy of their foreign office is tangibly (if perhaps variably) reflected in their everyday lives.
It should be mentioned with great pride that despite existing institutional difficulties, faults or challenges, our foreign office has always had and still has many diplomats and specialists responsible for many foreign policy victories and who have honourably and selflessly served and still serve the present and future welfare of our country. Without their professionalism and enthusiasm (and in some cases fanatical devotion to their work), we would obviously not have had any grounds for discussing the institution’s future.
And now let us move to the contours of the future, whose polyhedral aspects and total unpredictability pose essentially new risks and challenges to the efficacy of the Georgian state, and as a result form in totally new ways assignments or missions that must be accomplished by every one of its institutions.
I already said above that the goal of this article is not, and cannot be, to discuss every aspect directly or indirectly linked to Georgia’s foreign service. Such an intention would have been extremely frivolous and irresponsible since a complete understanding of this topic requires a methodological accumulation of the past and present experiences of experts in this field as well as an extended evaluation of tomorrow’s world; and, as a result, requires an analysis of these two components through the functional and structural prism of this specific institution and in the context of Georgia. This is a very ambitious and pretentious task.
Therefore, by publishing this article we honestly wish to encourage public conversations and to openly begin discussions for a better system for furthering Georgia’s state interests on the international stage that would be tailored to our times and challenges, and to identify all those faults or failings that hinder development as well as pinpoint ways to solve the difficulties of problematic points. I hope that such a discussion will take place without delay and, more importantly, that it will result in concrete and comprehensible practical actions and political decisions.
For the moment, I will share with interested readers my assumptions regarding what should become the indicator for fundamental reform of the Georgian foreign service and therefore for evaluating its activity. What would give us a reason to think that the foreign office has changed and established itself as a stable and reliable support for our own geopolitical agenda, our military and economic security, our competitiveness oriented towards the future, our identity and the identity that will unite every single citizen of Georgia? To use a rough analogue, which principles and prominent indicators would grant us the moral right to give the main institutional guarantor of our foreign interests the highest marks?
Facing the need for change
And yes, today we are facing the need for change. Yes, it is desirable to make these changes in a calm manner but without procrastinating; systematically but without demolishing that which already exists; in a studied manner, and not thoughtlessly; thoroughly and not partially and in a propagandistic way; through a real comprehension of institutionalism and not through the adoption of political or conjectural rhetoric; by allowing an uncompromised functional transformation but not by crushing people’s genuine professional and well-earned careers. Achieving this ‘eclectic’ (at first glance) balance is a complex mosaic and hardly achievable, but we cannot avoid trying if we are to orient ourselves towards achieving real results.
Therefore, with the permission of my readers, I will move on to a short review of the practical or political components that can help this above-mentioned process.
A novel understanding of the foreign office
I have mentioned the foreign office’s function as a service provider when discussing the question of its name, but restructuring this institution in order for it to serve every segment of our society and country is not only linked to narrow departmental issues. This task requires an organic understanding of the country’s modern role at given historic stages. This is, generally speaking, a truly vast topic that I have discussed several times in different articles and that could be summed up in the following manner: (a) the state as a provider of quality public services; (b) the state as a guarantor of security and development; (c) the state as a creator and guarantor of equal opportunities for development among citizens and businesses; and (d) the state as responsible for regulating the eradication of social
injustice and imbalance.
With regard to the ‘Foreign’ Office, such novelty is linked to effectively, rapidly and optimally furthering state, public, business or individual needs (including any foreign elements) both in terms of time and expense.
Another very useful (in a practical sense) result of this approach is the ‘humanisation’ of this institution in the eyes of the country’s citizens, its maximum rapprochement with the expectations of society and the eradication of that undesirable distance which can be seen in the photographs of an average statistical citizen of Georgia and the photographs of a diplomat posing in front of a state symbol. But this alienation is not a specifically Georgian problem. During Biden’s presidential campaign, for example, his foreign policy advisors were openly declaring that a successful American foreign policy should be employed to help solve the country’s domestic problems. Already back then, the cornerstone of Biden’s programme was to shift the country’s foreign policy towards serving the interests of the middle class and the average American family—a shift that continues, for the moment at least, to be
a priority for the current administration.
This and many other similar examples are very important lessons that we must understand and apply to the reality of our own situation.
The policy of Georgia’s Foreign Office
In analytical terms, I believe that the work of Georgia’s Foreign Office must be rearranged towards providing much greater support to thematic, non-superficial, all-encompassing and practical policies. Having familiarised myself with different sources, I have the feeling that there are vast resources and spaces to be mastered in this direction.
Also, in a technical sense, the analytical role of the ‘Foreign’ Office contains two important directions: (1) based on the above-mentioned approach, the conceptual analysis of current trends of international politics and putting into practice a Georgian analogue of the same white paper (the so-called ‘policy documents’); and (2) providing everyday support to concrete and specialised agencies and institutions in order to study issues relevant to their competences.
Another interconnected and relatively delicate aspect worth mentioning is the need to ensure specialised analysis alongside the functioning of specialised agencies. I imagine that the ultimate beneficiary of the country’s Foreign Office would be the country’s security system and relevant departments and agencies. Besides carrying out such research autonomously, further positive involvement by the Office could be the coordination of efforts in order to accumulate, compile and summarise analytical materials from different agencies. By adopting this approach, analytical processes within the country’s public institutions would become much more organised and systematic
and would reduce to a minimum that undesirable situation when, according to the famous expression,
“the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing.”
It is also very important that the policy of the Foreign Office, as well as that of all state institutions, would co-operate closely with research and analytical centres and Georgian think-tanks. I understand that the credibility of modern Georgian expertise is to some extent being undermined for reasons with which our readers are all too familiar, although the cooperation which rests upon an irreproachable approach and a depoliticised competence has many effects—from improving the quality of the analytical materials needed to make political decisions all the way to developing a Georgian analytical culture in general and establishing relevant traditions. All these would benefit the Georgian state and society as a whole.
Foreign policy experts and creators will be at the heart of achieving these above-mentioned aims, and this process will require constant toil, care and support. It cannot emerge on its own, cannot be developed all of a sudden and cannot achieve its desired results solely through enthusiasm, philanthropy or voluntarism. The country’s national body is beautified by many other professions that also require high levels of support and all the possible help they can get. Among these, professionally speaking, the diplomatic corps of the Foreign Office is naturally the most precious human capital, whose real ‘capitalisation’ (considering the country’s foreign and domestic agendas) lies through a proper understanding of the Foreign Office’s meritocratic system.
There are many branches to discussing this very specific topic: recruitment, continuous professional development and the improvement of qualifications, the transmission of professional and historic memories from one generation to the next (which is so essential), the transparency and fairness of evaluation mechanisms within the Foreign Office, creating effective counterweights to corruption, the proper rotation of diplomats, ensuring the durability and predictability of professional careers and related personal issues, minimising the likelihood of stagnation when journeying up the ‘hierarchic ladder’, properly managing lateral hiring by the Foreign Office itself, and so on and so forth.
This is also the necessary, thoroughly planned ‘routine’ without which any expression and discussion of high ideals on television will serve neither the prestige of the Foreign Office nor the country’s interests.
Priorities in numbers
A reliable indicator for evaluating the activity of the country’s diplomatic representation is the amount of investment attracted to Georgia’s economy from different geographic areas. Yes, I imagine investment figures as a reliable measure of the successful activity of this or that embassy. Obviously, when opening or widening a diplomatic representation abroad, two other important factors must be taken into consideration: Georgia’s geopolitical interests, and support for the non-recognition policy. Of course, the existence of one of them creates enough grounds for the Foreign Office to make positive decisions in terms of human and financial resources.
In the meantime, considering the economic challenges that the Georgian state is currently facing, I imagine uniting investment factors with the other two factors I mentioned (or even one of them) as an ideal combination. Moreover, I do not exclude the possibility, in this or any other case, that the prospects for attracting investment could become one of the motivations behind the establishment or maintenance of a diplomatic mission.
In general, economic diplomacy has been a long-term problem whose possible solutions, including the introduction and support of a diplomatic cadre of economic experts, have been discussed for many years. It is surprising that the problem remains unsolved but modern trends of international relations developing around Georgia—especially given growing levels of economic nationalism—speak volumes about the need for this line of diplomacy and the importance of a systematic approach.
Anyway, if we leave aside external tendencies, the development of national economies, employment, infrastructure and the environment, this would basically leave us with no alternatives. I suppose we must all agree: without a self-sufficient national economic system—and in the absence of local production, a lack of modern technological and qualified technocratic resources, the thinness of a stabilising middle class—even thinking about Georgia’s progress and success as a state would be impossible.
This combination of words—’between diplomacies’—might strike some readers as an oxymoron, but this is in reality not the case if we consider the diversity of modern diplomacy and the coexistence of parliamentary and popular diplomacy alongside the Foreign Office’s official line.
The synchronised arrangement of these three categories also counts among the challenges that modern Georgia is facing. The current impression is that the interrelationship between them lacks coordination (especially between the Foreign Office and parliamentary diplomacy), and any discussion of the reasons for this would, I suppose, be both endless (a lack of culture of cooperation between state institutions) and relatively unpleasant (personal incompatibility due to the Georgian character and ego).
Yet one cannot doubt that fulfilling Georgia’s tasks as a state as well as restructuring the Ministry of Foreign Affairs according to the real spirit of the ‘Foreign Office’ would be difficult to achieve without complete co-operation and coordination between different diplomatic priorities. I would also name the inaction of Georgia’s ‘soft power’ as an additional problematic aspect of this challenge: this is a phenomenon which, considering modern globalisation, I think could have been our so-called ‘geopolitical trump card’ and which I have discussed many times already in the past.
By the way, since I have mentioned diplomatic diversity, it would be impossible to avoid mentioning a further phenomenon that emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic and was ‘encouraged’ by limited mobility: digital diplomacy. Its positive and negative aspects are currently the subject of many publications as well as the difficulties of digitalised relations in general. But we should also openly discuss the advantages which digital diplomacy would bring to Georgia. Considering our country’s lack of financial and human resources, I believe that activating and intensifying digital diplomacy could bring about the same effect as we would have achieved thanks to a fully restructured diplomacy working in ‘field conditions’.
But the thing is that…
Georgia nowadays has no right (luxury?) to choose to pursue a foreign policy line stipulated by a static a specific status-quo. Given current levels of aggression, the country’s occupied territories, economic renewal, socio-economic and social transformation and, of course, in the name of the civilisation choice dictated by its past and present, only an ‘activist’ Georgian foreign policy can be viable. Searching for new, underlining unorthodox decisions, introducing asymmetric approaches to state policies, adapting (or attempting to adapt) Georgia’s geopolitical realism to the transactional and forceful international context—must become the signature of Georgia’s foreign office’s work. I also
understand that no institution can make all the difference on its own if transforming and reforming the state apparatus will not become an overall national signature policy advancing the vainglorious ego of Georgian national identity.