These developments take place amid Russia’s continued aggression and incursions in its neighborhood. In the November 2020, Russia took advantage of the renewed Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh and inserted a military force of 2,000 soldiers into Azerbaijan proper — so called-peacekeepers.This marks an expansion of Russia's military presence into the third and the last country of the South Caucasus that had successfully avoided this in the 27 years since the breakup of the Soviet Union.
With increasing its clout in the region, Russia is poised to force the U.S. out of the South Caucasus and snatch the strategic hub of highways, railroads, oil and gas pipelines, and fiber-optic cables crisscrossing Georgia — a strategic node linking Europe with Asia and its marketplace of 2.3 billion consumers.
Washington should respond by siting military forces and air presence in Georgia. This will deter the Russian aggression, contain Iranian assertiveness, and provide a friendly nearby location from which to counter violent extremism in the Middle East. While the U.S. military base in Georgia facilitates America’s easy access to the Middle East, it will provide strategic depth and operational capability in times of war and peace.
In Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries, the U.S. faces recurring demands to vacate bases, restrictions on the type and nature of its operations, and the loss of overflight rights. It can hedge against them by looking into Georgia as an alternative. Georgia features Soviet-built and U.S. renovated military infrastructure — airports, military bases, training centers, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and most importantly, the strategic geography.
As the U.S. gradually moves away from large, monolithic, and centralized military base systems to a smaller, distributed, and more adaptive network of dispersed basing, it should take advantage of the Vaziani Military Base and integrate Georgia into its new overseas architecture. Between the Middle East and Afghanistan, it is an ideal location for the U.S. to store supplies and keep forces that can respond swiftly and decisively to state adversaries and terrorist threats alike.
The U.S. should also consider expanding its flexible logistics network, the Western Sustainment Network, to include Georgia’s Black Sea port Anaklia. This would create an alternative option for American forces operating in and around the region while mitigating the effect of potential checkpoint closures in the Gulf and the Red Sea, building sustainment depths to the Middle East.
Georgia’s inclusion in the Western Sustainment Network will also expand U.S. operational depth, enhance protection of critical infrastructure and reduce the U.S. force deployment timelines in the event of a contingency.
Tbilisi is not new to such endeavors. Georgia has already demonstrated its high value and strategic significance by successfully contributing to the Northern Distribution Network’s activities, playing a key role in supplying NATO’s international security operations in Afghanistan.
In Georgia, U.S. forces will enjoy a reliable, comfortable, and friendly environment. Over 90% of Georgians hold a favorable view of the U.S. According to Edison Research’s survey, 64% of Georgians support the idea of hosting a U.S. military base. Consequently, unlike many partners in the Middle East, Tbilisi is less likely either to challenge U.S. basing rights or deny access for operations.
Isolationists in the U.S. may fear that an increased American military footprint in Georgia could lead to a direct clash with Russia, especially given that the Kremlin has more crucial interests in the region than Washington does. But the overwhelming superiority of U.S. technological and military capabilities will make Russia less likely to challenge America over a military base in Georgia. The constellation of U.S. military bases in Europe contained the Soviet expansion during the Cold War, and something similar can contain a much weaker Russia today and into the future.
This is why the U.S. should increase its military presence in the South Caucasus and embrace the opportunities Georgia offers against the challenges emanating from the Middle East. A American military base in Georgia, integrated into the new distributed basing architecture, will provide the U.S. with more flexibility to deter Russia, contain Iran, and get the upper hand against violent extremism while preparing for a future-focused on great power competition.
Miro Popkhadze is a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Eurasia Program.