A top defense official hailed the U.S. relationship with the country of Georgia, saying it is an “incredibly important strategic partnership” with a nation that shares values and interests with the United States.
The U.S.-Georgia defense relationship is “important and blossoming,” Robert S. Karem, the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, said here today.
Karem spoke at the United States Institute of Peace, at the second annual U.S.-Georgia Strategic Partnership Conference. He was part of a panel discussion, Geopolitics and Security: U.S.-Georgia Strategic Alliance in Making.
The principles enshrined in the U.S.-Georgia Charter — the rule of law, territorial integrity and sovereignty — are all under assault today, Karem said.
Russia and China are seeking to undermine the rules-based international order that helped create the conditions for peace and prosperity, he said.
“That peace and prosperity will only last if we can defend it, and it’s very important for the United States to have partners like Georgia who are so willing to contribute to our common security,” he said.
He highlighted U.S. efforts to support Georgia, including the Georgia Defense Readiness Program, which is a training initiative to enhance combat readiness and institutional capacity of Georgia’s armed forces.
‘Truly Impressive’ Commitment to Security, Values
It has been 100 years since Georgia originally declared independence, Karem pointed out. That independence was followed by Soviet conquest in 1921, which lasted until the fall of the Soviet Union and Georgia’s second declaration of independence in 1991.
It has been 10 years since Russia invaded Georgia, he said, explaining that Russia continues to occupy 20 percent of Georgia.
“It’s hard not to be impressed and surprised at the progress that Georgia has made, in spite of so much adversity,” he said. Karem highlighted the progress made in defense reform and defense spending, adding its “commitment to defending its people, and its values and its commitment to Euro-Atlantic integration is truly impressive.”
Contributions to Global Peace, Security
Karem commended Georgia for its commitment to global peace and security, pointing out its troop contributions to missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Mali and the Central African Republic.
“This has come at considerable cost,” he said, paying tribute to the dozens of Georgian soldiers who have been killed and the hundreds wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The conflicts, he pointed out, “are far away from Georgia, but the things that we are fighting for as partners I think resonate in Tbilisi as they do in Washington.”
Karem cited Georgia as a model to other nations for its defense modernization and reform to meet the challenges of today. He echoed Vice President Mike Pence’s statement that Georgia will one day become a member of NATO.
(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter: @FerdinandoDoD)