Anyone who practiced boxing or martial arts, played chess or other strategy games learns the following lesson: it takes a series of efforts to beat the opponent. In order to bring the opponent into imbalance, one must plan and then execute a sequence of consecutive actions to gain initiative, mount pressure, and finally impose one’s will upon the challenger – make him surrender to certain terms or else risk an outright defeat: Mate. In other words, a single blow rarely produces an absolute knockdown. The winning side is most often not only the fittest, but also the smartest; the winners run their decision-making cycle faster then the losers; they are the ones who act and the future losers only react to the actions; most importantly, the winners impose their will by creating a different context of a game. Only then it is possible to produce a knockdown or make the opponent surrender to the terms of your choice. The analogy between the strategy in the environment of a game and the strategy in conflict management is not new; it has been in use for already several decades to influence the outcomes of conflicts. This leads me to suggest that we approach the recent policies of the Georgian government vis-à-vis the breakaway republics in the light of a broader strategic context.
Let us look at some of the recent events in the history of Georgia’s conflicts in Abkhazia and the South Ossetia regions: The emergence of Dimitri Sanakoyev as an alternative actor in the South Ossetia; the return of the Georgian rule to Abkhazia’s Upper Kodori part; and the recent initiative to create a “temporary” administrative units covering the entire South Ossetia. All of this actions create a very different context for the de-facto rulers in these regions whose best shot would be to unite with the Russian Federation and the second best – to maintain the status quo. What we must not forget is that their very survival rests upon the pledges they make to their power brokers: that they will not deal in with the Georgian government.
However, the reality, which is now beginning to emerge (or more correctly which must by all means emerge if we want to succeed), in the hearts of the would-be states is very different. This new reality is marked with several important characteristics. Firstly, it is dynamic and attractive. It has a potential of offering a better living conditions to the local population and broader opportunities for profit-making. Secondly, it creates new actors with access to people – the greatest source of power; Thirdly, it gives the Georgian government better tools to communicate and administer. The creation of “temporary administrative units” in the South Ossetia will produce a backbone for both increasing the pressure on already existing leaders and to implement the variety of rehabilitation projects to win the hearts and the minds of the local population. It will also enable the Georgian government to create a greater pool of dependable allies right inside the separatist enclaves; such a new context will also help in deconstructing the image of the Georgian enemy: a world populated by Georgians versus Abkhaz or South Ossetians – an image being actively promoted by the existing regimes.
The Georgian government must invest a lot to create such opportunities and change the perceptions of reality inside the conflict zones.
Another important aspect of a different reality is that it puts several international organizations into an uneasy situation. On the one hand, they are dealing with existing authorities, who have no legal legitimacy and whose place at the negotiating table is conditioned by their influence in the region – at a time these decisions were made, they were appropriate and reflected the reality on the ground. The reality is, however, changing and the international organizations will have to adapt to it in order to maintain their value and credibility. The key questions are whether the UN must deal with the formally legitimate authorities sitting in the Kodori Gorge or shall the OSCE also be meeting Dimitri Sanakoev? What are the legal and, importantly enough, moral arguments for not dealing with the newly empowered actors? All major international organizations will sooner or later have to engage these groups and the Georgian government is right in its emphasis on the importance of such a shift.
In the medium to long run, these new actions of the Georgian leadership promise several important outcomes:
– They have a potential to change the local reality inside the conflict zones, in the power centers of the separatist regimes by ending the monopoly of power and distributing it amongst various groups – some loyal to the idea of a peace deal with the Georgia proper;
– They create a new international reality: major international actors will have to take the new reality into consideration and engage new groups into the process of negotiation regardless of how difficult for these organizations this might be at the beginning. This will help the peace process by leaving the smaller room for a political sabotage.
– The new policy creates an alternative to the very secessionist regimes: the risk of being marginalized and eventually the risk of outright defeat – hence, both the risk of an escalating violence and the opportunity that they take a more conciliatory approach. No wonder, the Kodori Gorge was bombed and people died in the South Ossetia, the risks run high for everyone in this period of changing political landscape on the ground.
All of the above mentioned concerns the planning stage, which is promising in general. Putting the plan into operation is a major dilemma. To make a plan viable one needs to have skilled administrators and smart leaders in place, apply persistence and patience steadily. This requires funds and a fair and effective mechanism for their disbursement. Strategy of peace or a peaceful policy of conflict resolution requires action. It is one of the remarkable differences between the Shevardnadze’s and the Saakashvili’s governments. The latter injects a new energy and a new vision in the process that covers administration, information policy and positive as well as negative inducements. In effect, the Georgian government had redefined its understanding of a “peaceful approach”, pro-actively managing the conflict rather then mistakenly relying on existing negotiating frameworks only. We could take advantage of them, if any, but we must create and use other frameworks too.
The new definition of peace process must be based on pro-active, aggressive diplomacy and must encompass as wide a range of activities as possible – everything and anything short of military or police action. The latent presence of a military force must back up peaceful initiatives and most importantly, protect the achievements of policy. We must create necessary context by offering a variety of economic and political alternatives as well as new institutional channels for funneling the demands and desires of the population in these regions. In that, all the three initiatives are the important beginnings of change and must be welcomed.
We do not need a knockout victory but a technical one. We need a peaceful reconciliation, which requires strenuous efforts, persistence and calm leadership. By maintaining and strengthening new formats, institutions and actors in these regions, by showcasing and promoting new, better opportunities for individual citizens, the Georgian government will be able to influence the decisions in Brussels, New York, Vienna or Moscow.
Muhammad Ali won his greatest bouts by the smart movements on the ring that others could not phantom. Most importantly, he surpassed others by his incredible willpower. He said: “Champions are made from something they have deep inside them: a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have last-minute stamina, they have to be a little faster, they have to have the skill and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.” We may err at certain stages, however, what Ali said is important not only for boxers but also for the politicians.