I hope I’m not turning into an obsessive writer on Georgia – or worse, a Georgia-basher – but I keep running across stories that make me say, “What??!!” in which Georgia features prominently. The latest, by those cut-ups over at the Jamestown Foundation by way of the Eurasian Daily Monitor, is such a comical exercise in statistical manipulation that I couldn’t leave it alone.
Look, everybody’s aware that high-ranking representatives of the United States government more or less rotate through Georgia to slap Saakashvili on the back for what a great job Georgian soldiers are doing in Afghanistan. And they are – it’s not my intent to downplay their courage, or their sacrifice. However, I’m beginning to get a feeling that the effusive praise for Georgia’s contribution is intended to do more than just thank Georgia for being such a good friend. It’s also intended to burnish Georgia’s NATO qualifications, and to reinforce just how interested the U.S. government is in seeing Georgia accepted. As I’ve mentioned before, NATO members commit to a mutual-defense agreement, so that if Georgia had been a NATO member in 2008, Russia’s counterattack to Saakashvili’s strike against Tskhinvali might have constituted an attack against NATO. Under current circumstances, the USA would have a tough time rationalizing direct military support for Georgia, even though it has furnished a lot of money, training and equipment. It didn’t help that Saakashvili was the aggressor. But if Georgia were a member of NATO – problem solved. It would be unlikely to happen (although not many people thought Saakashvili would attack in 2008, either), but the deterrent value of having a little piece of NATO on Russia’s doorstep would be orders of magnitude greater than the leverage NATO can currently bring to bear in the region, and Russia knows it. The strategic value of the region in terms of oil pipelines and logistic corridors, similarly, need hardly be reemphasized.
Thus it was that the NATO Secretary-General’s recent visit to Georgia disappointed author Vladimir Socor. Mr. Fogh Rasmussen’s committment to Georgian regional domination was a little lukewarm for Mr. Socor’s taste – oh, he “reaffirmed NATO positions on Georgia at the level of declared principles”; but, damn it, he didn’t strip down to gym shorts, shake his pom-poms and cheer for Georgia the way he ought to have done. He repeated NATO’s “open-door policy toward membership-aspiring countries, including Georgia”…bla, bla, bla: epic fail, Mr. Secretary-General. You failed to emphasize Georgia’s specialness, or the eagerness with which NATO looks forward to welcoming it. And what was all that stuff about striving for a “strategic partnership” with Russia? Were you high? The visit, overall, was rated a decidedly limp “unedifying” by Mr. Socor.
Likewise, the bravery and disproportionate sacrifice of Georgia’s military in Afghanistan did not receive the proper degree of attention. That’s why the first paragraph of the story is dedicated to reminding you that Georgia is the ”number one troop-contributing country on a per capita basis to NATO’s mission in Afghanistan”. You’re further reminded that Fogh Rasmussen’s visit coincided with the deaths of four Georgians in combat in Afghanistan’s Helmland Province. Also, just in case you forgot, Georgia is among the few countries that operate without “national caveats” – dirty tricks that gutless NATO allies use to duck any service where they might actually get shot at.
As I suggested earlier, my purpose is not to demean the brave service of Georgian troops, or to mock the sacrifices of such a small country in its assistance to bringing peace and order to Afghanistan, although both are still far away. However, I hope you won’t mind if I introduce my own country as a basis for comparison, since it also is a NATO ally with troops in Afghanistan. My hope is that this comparison will allow the relentless statistics to be seen from a different perspective.
The reference suggests Georgia is the number one troop-contributing country on a per capita basis. That’s true. And it suggests…what? Incredible generosity of spirit and indomitable national will? How? Georgia has a conscript military, and the Land Forces are disproportionately large for the size of the population. But in the end, what does it matter to the Commander in Afghanistan? Would he rather have more soldiers overall, or does he feel better knowing the Georgian contribution represents a significant chunk of the population? Because while that’s true, it represents a statistically less significant percentage of the Georgian Army.
Canada is quite a bit bigger, and has a larger population. However, it has a volunteer – and much smaller – military. The Georgian Land Forces number about 37,000. The Canadian Army is only a bit more than half that, at 19,500. Canada has 2,830 troops in Afghanistan – 14.5% of our total deployable forces. Georgia has 925 troops in Afghanistan – 2.5% of its deployable forces. Canada has been there in more or less the same strength since January 2007: until December 2009, Georgia had 1 soldier in Afghanistan. Georgia operates without national caveats, in dangerous areas like Helmland Province, and has had 5 soldiers killed in combat since the beginning of the war. Canada operates without national caveats, in dangerous areas like Helmland Province and Kandahar, and had lost 106 killed before Georgia even entered the war: the current toll stands at 152.
One more time, it’s not the point of this to make Georgia look worse, or make Canada look better. I’m not jealous because Canada doesn’t receive the fawning American recognition Georgia does, I couldn’t care less. The situation is what it is, and soldiers go where they’re sent. Whenever they’re sent into a combat situation, you always expect there will be casualties, and I wouldn’t wish those Canadians alive again without wishing the Georgians alive as well. The point of this is to show you how statistical manipulation is being employed to make Georgia look like it’s carrying the war all by itself, and the point of that is to agitate for quicker NATO acceptance for Georgia by guilting NATO into it. And at the end of the day, achieving the goal of NATO acceptance for Georgia is not about dead Georgian soldiers, or what percentage of the population is serving in combat. Not for Saakashvili, and not for his western cheerleaders.
Be aware of what’s going on around you, but don’t take your eye off the ball.