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The EU and Georgia: time perspectives in conflict resolution

01 December 2007
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The European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) framework obliges the EU to coordinate closely with Georgia on its policies for conflict resolution in the breakaway entities of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Brussels and Tbilisi do not share the same time perspective, however.
The Georgian government is striving for a quick resolution of both secessionist conflicts, despite the impasse reached in the negotiations on the question of status and the marked incompatibility between its positions and those of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Russia. From the standpoint of the Georgian government, good governance cannot be expected with unmonitored borders, and the refusal of the Abkhaz authorities to acknowledge the right of return of all displaced persons is intolerable. In these conditions, a swift succession of new initiatives increases the government’s domestic legitimacy, while its proactive policy helps focus Western attention on the instability of this region.
The European Union supports the Georgian interpretation of the principle of territorial integrity, and is also prepared to increase its efforts to develop conflict resolution policies in the region, but not in accordance with the Georgian time frame. For Brussels, it is crucial to have a reasonable chance of success in the implementation of its programmes. It does not want to jeopardise its already complicated diplomatic relations with Russia by confronting it. Building trust between the parties involved in these secessionist conflicts and setting up negotiations on a mutually acceptable status will take time.
The difference between the Georgian and EU approaches to the question of timing in their conflict resolution policies has far-reaching consequences for their mutual relations. The EU fears that Georgian impatience may be one of the factors leading to an escalation of the conflicts to a violent and unmanageable level. Georgia, on the other hand, fears that too much patience and moderation on the EU side may cause the conflicts to be sustained indefinitely. These approaches can be analysed through a differentiation between forcible and peaceful means in the realisation of particular status options and between different objectives in conflict resolution policies.
On the question of conflict settlement, a distinction has to be made between five options: recognition of the sovereignty of the breakaway polities; the enforced abolition of their statehood; their forced inclusion in a federal framework; their peaceful inclusion in a federal framework; or, finally, the <i>status quo</i>. Each of these options is based on the choice between using primarily violent or peaceful means, and each approach involves a different time perspective. Those options that are based mainly on the use of force promise a quick solution to the question of conflict settlement. The peaceful option, in contrast, works slowly. It requires patience and continuity.
The first objective of conflict resolution is <i>conflict prevention</i>: the incompatibility of positions should not escalate to open violence. The second aim is <i>conflict transformation</i>: the parties’ positions have to be made more compatible. Conflict transformation fails when identities and interests are driven further apart. <i>International conflict management</i> is the third objective. External actors have to contain the escalation of conflicts and create incentives for a settlement, by exercising leverage on the parties or by changing the balance of power between them. The final objective is <i>conflict settlement</i>: the parties should reach agreement on a common institutional framework. Joint decision-making will show that identities and interests have been made compatible.
This paper defends the following three theses: (1) the attainment of each of these objectives corresponds in each case to a particular time frame; (2) conflict resolution requires a balance between these various policy objectives; (3) in principle the EU supports Georgia’s efforts to restore its territorial integrity, without sharing its lack of differentiation between conflict resolution objectives and its views on the timetable for their realisation.
The impasse in conflict settlement negotiations is leading Georgia to a policy of confrontation with the breakaway entities and Russia, which are accused of intransigence. This threatens the EU’s conflict prevention policies. And, owing to the Georgian desire to isolate the breakaway polities, it also places severe constraints on the EU’s transformation policies aimed at building lasting trust between the parties.
The EU has to avoid an imbalance between these four policy objectives. The policies should be clearly linked to each other, and not pursued separately. A kind of sequence in which conflict transformation is designed as the first stage and conflict settlement the second, for instance, would politicise trust-building programmes and create new tensions between the parties. The EU should pursue its present efforts to facilitate negotiations on status, but its support for long-term transformation programmes – including second-track initiatives – should also be made independent of the ups and downs of conflict settlement. In addition, the EU should try to convince the Georgian government that its severe constraints on EU conflict transformation policies in the breakaway territories are counterproductive.<br />Furthermore, in the field of conflict settlement the EU should adopt the principle of a separation of powers as the main criterion for judging the quality of federal models for resolving the status question. This principle has as yet been insufficiently implemented in the ‘horizontal’ division of powers between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary in post-revolutionary Georgia and in its ‘vertical’ division of powers with Adjara.
In the field of international conflict management, the EU has an interest in increasing its profile in the conflicts in Abkhazia, through its inclusion in the UN Group of Friends, and in South Ossetia, through its inclusion in a renewed OSCE mediation framework, where it would have to be on a par with Russia. But it should avoid supporting one party against the other, as this would lead to deeper distrust between the communities.
In the field of conflict prevention, the European Union should not confine itself to prudential arguments when urging restraint on Georgia. The <i>status quo</i> is not an option for Georgia. The EU should, strongly and convincingly, voice its determination to find a solution to these conflicts and should further deepen its dialogue with Georgia and the breakaway entities on alternatives to the use of force. Conflict prevention remains a priority in this volatile region, and should also become a central theme in status negotiations. International security guarantees within a federal framework should succeed in preventing the future use of force by the central government against the Abkhaz or South Ossetian communities.