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Georgia in US defense authorization bill

By Ernest Petrosyan
Wednesday, January 4
President Barack Obama signed into law a defense authorization bill on December 31, however listed the section of the document envisaging arms sales to Georgia among those which he may treat as “non-binding”.

Among hundreds of separate sections of the voluminous U.S. National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, the section number 1242 titled “Defense Cooperation with Republic of Georgia” calls on the Obama Administration for “normalization” of military cooperation with Georgia, including inter alia the sale of defensive arms.

In the signing statement on December 31, which represents comments by the President on how the administration intends to implement the law, the White House spelled out President Obama’s position on the Act saying that he had “signed this bill despite having serious reservations”.

The statement focuses on the provisions of the Act, which regulate the detention, interrogation, and prosecution of suspected terrorists - provisions authorizing indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens was strongly opposed by the civil liberties groups and human rights advocates and these provisions were the key controversial points of the bill debated recently in the United States.

President Obama said in the signing statement that he would never authorize the indefinite military detention of American citizens, because “doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a nation”.

The same statement also refers to several other sections of the Act, which President Obama said may interfere with his constitutional powers and thus may treat them as “non-binding” - among them is the section 1242, which deals with Georgia.

In the statement he cited two reasons why he would treat them as non-binding; the statement says that these provisions of the Act could interfere with the President’s constitutional foreign affairs powers and also said that these provisions “could be read to require the disclosure of sensitive diplomatic communications and national security secrets”.

Yet the statement reads that some of the provisions of the Act, including the one on Georgia, “would interfere with my constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations by directing the Executive to take certain positions in negotiations or discussions with foreign governments”.

As the section of the legislation dealing with Georgia reads, the US Secretary of Defense should submit to the congressional committees for defense and foreign affairs within 90 days after the bill is enacted a “plan for normalization” of defense cooperation with Georgia.

According to the legislation, the purpose is to support Georgia “in providing for the defense of its government, people, and sovereign territory, consistent with the continuing commitment of the Government of the Republic of Georgia to its non-use-of-force pledge”.

It also calls for the sale of U.S. “defense articles and services” and also for encouraging “NATO member and candidate countries to restore and enhance their sales of defensive articles and services to the Republic of Georgia as part of a broader NATO effort to deepen its defense relationship and cooperation” with Georgia.

Yet as the document reads, the plan should include “a needs-based assessment” prepared by the US Department of Defense about Georgia’s defense requirements, as well as a list of “each of the requests” made by Georgia for purchase of defense arms during the last two years. The plan should be submitted in an unclassified form; nonetheless, according to the document, it may contain a classified annex.

The document has indeed caused concerns in Sokhumi and Tskhinvali, who, condemning the document, claimed that arms sale may encourage Georgia to take “aggressive” actions. The Kremlin, however, has not made any public comment in regards to the document, probably calmly waiting for the final signature.

Such an outcome might have been expected, since in terms of the country’s ‘reset policy’ with Russia it might have a controversial effect. Yet much remains at stake due to the Iran issue. And in the meantime the Georgian military is still expecting a weapon upgrade.