Lawmaker urges NATO to consider arms for Georgia

AP News
Posted: Dec 22, 2009 12:03 PM

A senior Republican senator is urging the Obama administration and European allies to consider rearming Georgia, an action that would inevitably upset Russia.

The recommendation comes from Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, a lawmaker who has long cultivated cooperation with Russia. Lugar has been a key ally for President Barack Obama on his pursuit of an arms control deal with Russia that has been the centerpiece of the administration's efforts to improve relations with the Kremlin. He also is leading efforts to win essential Republican votes to ratify the treaty once it has been completed.

During the brief August 2008 war, Russia destroyed much of Georgia's military infrastructure and occupied two breakaway territories. Russia has since recognized both Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent countries and established military bases close to their borders with Georgia proper.

A report by Lugar's staff, to be released Tuesday, warns that Georgia's military vulnerability could lead to further instability in the Caucasus amid continuing tensions between Georgia and Russia. It urges the administration to coordinate a strategy within NATO that strikes a balance between Georgia's security needs and NATO's relationship with Russia.

"The Alliance must come to grips with the reality that Georgia will require coordinated security support from America and European nations for some years to come," Lugar writes in a letter accompanying the report.

Lugar's report noted that the destruction of Georgian radar capability and air defenses have left the country vulnerable to further attack and also unable to verify air incursions over its territory.

Following the war, the United States allocated $1 billion in aid to Georgia for rebuilding, but both the Bush and Obama administrations, as well as European countries, have withheld lethal military aid fearing that it would antagonize Moscow. Meanwhile, European countries have struck important arms deals with Russia that the report says could "upset the military balance."

The report also warns that Georgia's current insecurity could destabilize the country and lead to greater nationalism.

"A continuation of the status quo appears to ensure that Georgia will not only have difficulty providing for its own territorial defense needs but remain susceptible to the internal strife and external manipulation that often accompanies such national insecurity," the report says.