Last week, the Georgian Defense Ministry unequivocally signaled that it is moving forward by publishing its plan for 2009.  The MoD—civilian and military—is building upon its achievements, studying the lessons of the August 2008 war and moving forward to defend Georgia at home and in international security operations.

On February 17, Defense Minister Vasil Sikharulidze presented the document Minister’s Vision 2009 to the public, press and Tbilisi diplomatic corps.  Joint Staff Chief Colonel Vladimer Chachibaia, senior MoD staff, members of the Parliamentary Committee on Defense and Security and representatives of non-governmental organizations also spoke at the event. Later in the week, Sikharulidze flew to Krakow, Poland to attend the NATO defense ministers meeting.

Vision 2009 sets out a logical, integral approach to Georgia’s defense for 2009—doctrine development, training, defense management and GAF capability.  The ministry’s ultimate objective is, of course, to field an effective armed force.  “Development of GAF capabilities,” Vision 2009 says, “is the constant top priority for Georgian defense policy.”  However, achieving effective capabilities in the 21st Century is not just a matter of buying guns and tanks.  An army must understand how to fight under the most likely conditions.  Then it can train, organize and equip accordingly.  Consequently, a GAF priority is to “elaborate and implement doctrine,” including educating the people who will develop doctrine, institutionalizing the process, and training the force to implement it. Therefore, to “improve the military education and training system” is another top priority.  The MoD will reorganize the National Defense Academy, revise the courses at the Non-Commissioned Officer School and continue to take advantage of opportunities for international training.

Under this approach, the men and women of MoD—military and civilian—become Georgia’s most important defense asset.  Understanding this leads to two more main priorities: to “reform the military staff management system” and to “improve the civilian staff management system.”  Indeed, a modern MoD must continuously modernize its entire defense management system.    In particular, the Georgian MoD must continue to implement the Planning, Programming and Budgeting System (PPBS) on which it has already made great strides.

Admittedly, when discussion turns to PPBS, we are on arid intellectual terrain—but that is the point.  Most of us prefer a military band, soldiers on parade and shiny equipment rolling down Rustaveli Avenue. However, behind the scenes, thinking, organization and management are necessary to field an effective army.  That the Georgian MoD is devoting such attention to this is a sign of modernization and maturity.

Instructively, the section on Development of GAF Capabilities appears toward the end of Vision 2009.  Note some of the main priorities: to “enhance air defense capabilities…enhance the command and control system…improve intelligence capabilities…develop anti-armor capabilities…elaborate and develop a new reserve and mobilization concept based on lessons learned in August.”

Minister’s Vision 2009 is an annual guidance document.  Two complementary, broader studies will fully address the matter of needed capability enhancements.  First, Georgia is conducting a thorough National Security Review, which will include a defense section.  This Review examines Georgian security as a whole to identify gaps and recommend solutions.  The aim is to target resources on specific, prioritized objectives. Meanwhile, the Joint Staff is conducting a formal process to derive Lessons Learned from the August 2008 war.  Like the National Security Review, the Lessons Learned study will identify specific targets for improvement.  A team from NATO’s Allied Command Transformation will advise on this effort.

Continued NATO and NATO country involvement in Georgian MoD efforts is important because, Vision 2009 points out, “One of the main priorities of Georgia’s foreign and security policy is integration into NATO…From this standpoint, improving NATO interoperability and compatibility with a view to developing NATO-standard deployable forces is an important GAF priority.”  Interoperability is more than common equipment and set procedures; it is thinking and doing things as NATO forces do.

In this regard, the MoD looks forward to participation in the newly created NATO Annual National Plan and the NATO-Georgia Commission.  Sikharukidze addressed a meeting of the Commission in Krakow on February 20.  He described Vision 2009 to his colleagues and no doubt shared some preliminary findings of the defense section of the National Security Review and of the Lessons Learned study. The image he presented was of hard and methodical work to rebuild Georgia’s defense capability after last summer’s Russian aggression.  This effort contemplates the past, but does not dwell upon it.  It stands upon a strong foundation, looking forward to future achievements.  Meanwhile, Georgia remains a contributor to NATO-led international security efforts. Speaking of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, Sikharulidze told his colleagues in Krakow, “We stand by our decision to participate in ISAF.  A Georgian infantry company stands ready to join ISAF.”  Georgia’s will and ability to deploy to Afghanistan speaks for itself.

You can read Minister’s Vision 2009 at:

David J. Smith is Director, Georgian Security Analysis Center, Tbilisi, and Senior Fellow, Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, Washington.  This column originally appeared in 24 Saati (24 Hours), Tiblisi’s major newspaper.