President of Georgia Giorgi Margvelashvili criticized the proposed abolishment of the National Security Council, envisioned by the draft of the constitutional amendments, at the Tbilisi Strategic Discussion event on May 10.
Tbilisi Strategic Discussion, a regular format for security and foreign policy dialogue, gathered diplomats, representatives of the Parliament and the Government, as well as the members of non-governmental organizations to discuss the security system reform in the proposed constitutional amendments.
In his remarks, President Margvelashvili highlighted the importance of the Security Council, expressing regret that “the agency that should be working on strengthening the armed forces and preparedness for serious challenges is essentially gone from the Constitution, and replaced on the one hand by the Defense Council that will function only during the war, and on another hand by [a mere] slogan that Georgia must become a NATO member state.”
The President added that Georgia was still facing a threat in the form of the Russian occupation, and that security environment in the region had worsened since 2008, referring to the events in Ukraine and Syria. He also pointed out the new type of threats “which does not always mean an open conventional confrontation between armed forces,” and added that “what we today call the hybrid war actually was conducted in Georgia in the 1990s.” According to Margvelashvili, in such circumstances the NSC played an especially important role in Georgia. The President also said that the agency was effective in coordinating the process of Georgia’s NATO integration.
Margvelashvili added that the decision to abolish the NSC stemmed from inadequate assessment of existing challenges. “I believe it is an incorrect perception of reality, that the country will no longer have a major constitutional organ which guarantees the development of the armed forces, conducts civilian oversight over the military and makes effective decisions on the country’s defense capabilities,” Margvelashvili noted.
“This attitude that exists today is worrying – that since the Security Council belongs to the President, it should be abolished and other agencies should be strengthened,” Margvelashvili added. He also stated that efforts to sideline the NSC were evident even before the draft constitutional amendments were introduced.
Besides the NSC issue, Giorgi Margvelashvili criticized the part of the constitutional amendments weakening the presidential powers as the Commander-in-Chief, saying that it would distance him from the actual decision-making and make him a “nominal” figure.
Secretary of the National Security Council of Georgia David Rakviashvili also spoke during the event. Referring to the threats facing Georgia, Rakviashvili stated that as a result of the proposed constitutional amendments, “democratic control mechanisms will be considerably weakened, the risks of misuse of the armed forces will appear, and we will get a security system that is inadequate of the challenges and practically non-functioning Commander-in-Chief.”
Rakviashvili listed three key problems with the amendments: the use of the phrase “military and other armed force” in the constitution, abolition of the NSC, and the issue of the Commander-in-Chief during wartime.
The NSC head pointed out that the status of the “other armed forces” in the amendments was unspecified, allowing possible interpretations for their use for purposes other than defending the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, such as dispersing protest rallies. He also said that the provision might cause the establishment of two parallel armed structures, only one of which would belong to the Defense Ministry.
Speaking about the threat of hybrid warfare, the NSC Secretary stressed that it could be countered only by preventive actions, and a “common national approach” which meant “consolidated effort of various state agencies, military forces and the public.” According to Rakviashvili, only the NSC was the constitutional platform adequate for this purpose.
Rakviashvili also criticized the new provision, according to which the Prime Minister can decide to use the armed forces without the Parliament’s participation, also negating the President’s function as the Commander-in-Chief, while the Defense Minister “is being freed from the [obligation to seek the] Parliament’s consent for the use of armed forces.”
Georgian Dream parliamentary majority leader Archil Talakvadze, who attended the conference, responded to the President’s and NSC Secretary’s remarks saying that the present Constitution “settled the defense and security matters very vaguely,” leaving the specific roles of various officials unclear. According to Talakvadze, the new amendments address these problems, while giving the President the Defense Council leadership during wartime.
Archil Talakvadze justified control of the crisis decision-making by the executive branch (as opposed to the Parliament’s involvement) by saying that due to the branch’s members’ everyday connection to the security and military institutions, they are better informed to conduct the decision-making process.