War Games in the Caucasus

TBILISI/BERLIN (Own report) - A large-scale military exercise - with German Bundeswehr participation - aimed at Georgia’s integration into NATO operations, will end on Wednesday. This is the "Noble Partner" exercise's fourth itineration since 2015, extending the already bloated war exercises, held by US and NATO troops in Eastern and Southeastern Europe since the escalation of the Ukraine conflict, to the southern Caucasus. Systematic efforts to adapt Georgian armed forces to the western military alliance's standards are thereby being renewed. Impetus for this adaptation was provided following the "Rose Revolution" coup in 2003, the Tbilisi-instigated Russian Georgian war in August 2008, and finally since the intensification of the West's power struggle with Russia in 2014. Whereas Georgia seeks to join NATO, high-ranking Bundeswehr experts are calling for restraint. This step would be a "red line for Russia," a professor at the Bundeswehr University warns; "Nobody in NATO wants to die for Tiflis."

Offensive against Russia

This year’s "Noble Partner" exercise, which began August 1 and will end tomorrow (Wednesday), is already the fourth iteration. It is part of the efforts the transatlantic powers have been undertaking to increase their pressure on Russia since the escalation of the Ukraine conflict, by bolstering their military presence in Eastern and Southeastern Europe. In June 2014, US President Barack Obama launched the "European Reassurance Initiative" (ERI) with US forces rotating to the east and southeast of the European continent and training with the local armed forces for future wars ("Operation Atlantic Resolve").[1] In the meantime, the ERI has been renamed to "European Deterrence Initiative" (EDI) and has been continuously expanded over the past few years. At its September 2014 summit in Newport, Great Britain, NATO also decided to establish the "Very High Readiness Joint Task Force", (VJTF) known as the "NATO spear head force," which can intervene on short notice, particularly in Eastern and Southeastern Europe. The VJTF began its first training activities in April 2015. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[2])

Noble Partner 2018

In Mai 2015, "Noble Partner" was held for the first time as a joint war exercise of Georgian and US troops on Georgian territory. The United States thus extended the territory, in which the western powers intensified their military maneuvers, from eastern and southeastern European NATO members to a country in the Southern Caucasus. From the very beginning, this was aimed at enhancing the interoperability between Georgian and NATO armed forces - i.e. the capacity to jointly wage war. "Nobel Partner" has been systematically expanded since 2015. The Bundeswehr has been participating since 2017 - this year with around 160 soldiers. Besides Georgia (with about 1,300 soldiers), the USA (with around 1,170 soldiers) and Germany, participants include NATO members France, Great Britain, Norway, Turkey, Estonia, Lithuania and Poland as well as non-NATO members Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Armenia with smaller units. The US contribution includes Abrams battle tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles, and the Bundeswehr’s Marder armored infantry fighting vehicle. The exercise is taking place at the Vaziani Training Area near the Georgian capital Tbilisi.

Impetus for Cooperation

"Noble Partner" 2018 not only builds on the previous exercises, but also on Georgia's cooperation with NATO, which has been systematically intensifying for years. Through the so-called Partnership for Peace (PfP), the country has had formal ties to the war alliance since 1994. Tbilisi has been persistently expanding its cooperation with NATO, particularly since the pro-western "Rose Revolution" coup in late 2003. The cooperation has received another impetus following the Russian Georgian war, instigated by Georgia in August 2008. In October 2010, the war alliance opened its own liaison office in Tbilisi. The escalation of the Ukraine conflict provides a third impetus. At their 2014 summit in Newport, the NATO members agreed on the "Substantial NATO-Georgia Package" aimed at strengthening the Georgian armed forces’ military power and helping them to adapt to NATO standards. In August 2015 the "Joint Training and Evaluation Centre" (JTEC) was established at the "Krtsanisi National Training Centre" in Tbilisi, which will organize a joint exercise of Georgian and NATO military forces next year. The "Defense Institution Building School" (DIBS), which also serves to train Georgian soldiers, has been established in the vicinity. The school's director is a German.[3]

"Nobody Wants to Die for Tiflis"

In principle, Georgia seeks more than merely a constant convergence with NATO. It wants full-fledged NATO membership. Washington tried to make Georgia a member at the Bucharest NATO summit in April 2008. The effort failed, however, due to Berlin's objection. The German government was first seeking to have Georgia become an EU associate, as a means of reinforcing its own influence in Tbilisi, which would have been thwarted by the increase in US influence associated with its becoming a NATO member. Since then, the military alliance has always dangled the theoretical prospect of Georgia becoming a member at some time in the future, however always refusing to be more precise. The fact that Moscow would consider Georgia's NATO membership a red line is also an aspect playing a role in the hesitation. A full-fledged member of the western war alliance on its southern flank would massively enhance Russia's encirclement. This is the official NATO position as was formulated for example by Carlo Masala in early July. Masala is a professor of international policy at the Bundeswehr University in Munich. At the Seventh Georgian-German Strategy Forum organized by the CDU-affiliated Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Masala retorted to Georgia's Minister of Foreign Affairs David Zalkaliani's observation that his country wants to become a NATO member, at all costs. This would undoubtedly provoke strong reactions in Moscow, however, "nobody in NATO wants to die for Tiflis."[4]

The Largest Non-NATO Troop Provider

In fact, from NATO's standpoint, the steady intensification of cooperation with Georgia is, at least for the time being, sufficient. The persistent military activities in Georgia and keeping open the prospect of official NATO membership is maintaining constant pressure on Russia's southern flank. In addition, Tbilisi feels compelled to underpin its desire to be as close to the military alliance as possible by consistently furnishing troops for NATO's interventions. Already back in 1999, Georgian troops were sent to NATO's KFOR intervention in Kosovo, and has its own contingent in the NATO Response Force (NRF). Georgia is particularly prominent in Afghanistan. Since 2004, Georgian troops have participated in NATO's intervention at the Hindu Kush, where currently - with 870 soldiers - it constitutes the fourth largest troop contingent. Back during the ISAF intervention - which ended in 2014 - Georgia had the largest non-NATO contingent. Even if it were a full NATO member, Georgia would not be able to provide more to the alliance's operations.


[1] See also Vom Frontstaat zur Transitzone.

[2] See also 21st Century Warfare (I) and 21st Century Warfare (II).

[3] Interview: Besuch der deutschen Botschafterin im Feldlager Vaziani. deutschesheer.de 07.08.2018.

[4] Stefan Stahlberg: Georgiens Prioritäten: Europa und die NATO. kas.de 04.07.2018.