An international trusteeship for Abkhazia could solve the Russo-Georgian conflict.
By ALEXANDER COOLEY and BORUT GRGIC From today's Wall Street Journal Europe
After the collapse of the negotiations between Moscow and Tbilisi in Geneva last month, and with little expected from a second round of talks beginning today, a solution to Georgia's territorial conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia appears out of reach. The breakdown, while not unexpected, highlights just how far apart the two sides remain on the central issues of Georgia's future sovereign status and borders. Finding a compromise on Abkhazia, the larger and politically more viable of the two disputed territories, seems particularly difficult.
By upholding the sanctity of Georgia's territorial integrity, the European Union and the United States signal to Abkhazia's de facto government that Moscow remains its only reliable partner and security guarantor. Conversely, Moscow's recognition of the two breakaway regions -- which Russia insists must fully participate in the negotiations -- sets an unacceptable legal precedent and intends to reward Russian military actions in Georgia.
Yet there is an intermediary sovereign formula that could bridge the two absolutist positions. While neither restoring Georgia's territorial integrity nor recognizing Abkhazia's independence is acceptable to all sides at the moment, Abkhazia could be placed under an international system of trusteeship or supervised administration. Similar to the processes in Bosnia, Kosovo and East Timor, the United Nations would authorize international organizations to work with Abkhaz authorities to improve the territory's economic and governing capacity and democratic institutions. By placing Abkhazia under international administration for an initial period of, say, 10 years, the status issue could be deferred until the parties may be better prepared to resume peaceful talks.
The architecture of such a plan would draw upon the international community's previous experiences. An international peacekeeping force drawn from NATO countries and Russia would guarantee security. Although Russian troops could be concentrated within certain sensitive border areas, they would have to be placed under an international command structure. This new peacekeeping mission would be supplemented by an external police force under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe that would supervise the activities of Abkhazia's de facto security services.
As in the cases of Kosovo and Bosnia, U.N. and EU civilian advisers would work along with their counterparts in various Abkhaz ministries to improve their administrative capacity and ensure that their governance is brought up to acceptable standards. An international board could establish a procedure for adjudicating property-rights claims and process the return of refugees in a selected number of areas. The EU, as the OSCE did in Kosovo, would ensure that democratic standards are upheld.
The internationalization of the conflict would facilitate Abkhazia's long-sought integration with the greater regional and international economy. Under U.N. trusteeship, Abkhazia would be eligible to receive stabilization funds from the International Monetary Fund and lending from the World Bank and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. The capital Sukhumi would develop direct links to Brussels, Washington and other global centers. Abkhaz authorities and private companies could even obtain independent credit ratings to secure international financing. A much improved and internationally guaranteed security environment would also foster more constructive ties between Tbilisi and Sukhumi. This in turn would give all parties better access to the international economy and foster common interests among the region's business communities.
Putting this option on the table would force Abkhazia to make a fundamental choice: Join the international community through a supervised status process or remain completely isolated and dependent on Russia.
The benefits for Georgia are also clear. Instead of wasting resources on the politically incendiary status question, the conflict's internationalization would allow Tbilisi to focus on reconstruction and institution-building. This is key as Georgia's only realistic hope of getting Abkhazia back is to become a more stable, prosperous and open democracy that is attractive to the people of Abkhazia.
At the same time, internationalization would allow Europe's relations with Russia to move beyond Georgia while Moscow could demonstrate its leadership. By supporting such a plan, Moscow would prove its commitment to stability in the Caucasus through an internationally sanctioned legal process.
Mr. Cooley is an associate professor at Barnard College, Columbia University and co-author of the forthcoming "Contracting States: Sovereign Transfers in International Relations" (Princeton University Press, 2009). Mr. Grgic is founder and chairman of the Institute for Strategic Studies Ljubljana.
- A Way Out in the Caucasus, by A. Cooley & B. Grgic - Wall Street Journal
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