In many ways, Georgia’s sovereignty and slow but gradual integration into the western political and economic systems (NATO and EU) is contingent upon direct US support and power in the region. Therefore, tracking changes in American power and Washington’s vision of its military posture around the globe should be of importance for successive Georgian governments.
The starting point of course is the understanding that the US power in the South Caucasus and the Black Sea overall has always been of relatively limited character in comparison with other regions. This is largely caused by the fact the US is a sea power surrounded by large swathes of water and its reach into the depths of Eurasian continent through the deployment of troops is constrained.
Let us start with simple numbers. The Earth is a relatively modest-sized planet having 25,000 miles in circumference at the Equator, while its total surface area is 197 million square miles. This means that nearly three-quarters of the planet is water. The power controlling the world ocean thus commands numerous economic and military developments across the globe.
Americans know this well, seen in their efforts since the late 19th century to expand naval capabilities. The 20th century was an American century, but this is changing. China and India are building navies, Iranians grow assertive in the Persian Gulf, while the Russians do the same in the Black Sea.
Among them, the Chinese are crucial to watch. Their strategy is more to dilute American power than to engage them outright. This is a clever approach, more like hit and run, and creates uncomfortable conditions for a rival power. Chinese strategists of ancient times give some interesting insight into how the Chinese could be seeing their competition in the modern world.
Pure numbers and power overstretch too is blame. Consider the following fact. In the Cold War the US had to deploy fleets (overall up to 1000 ships) mostly in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans as well as the Mediterranean Sea. In a striking contrast, nowadays, with up to less than 500 ships, the US need to cover the whole world as the number of competing sea powers has risen, as mentioned above.
Another reason for probable decline of the US naval capacity is globalization. The faster the pace of globalization, the bigger is the need to control every corner of the world as a minor military confrontation in Asia, Europe or the Middle East might transform into a global problem.
The sea power throughout history has proved to be far more long-lasting than any other land power and it actually is the best indicator of a nation’s power.
The US might hope to retain its global dominance also by enlisting allies of similar geopolitical aspirations as its own. But even there, it will rather mean that the US naval power admits its relatively weaker position. Many would call it an elegant decline. Another possibility will be spending more on navy and building new fleets, but their cost is at times as high as the accumulated GDP of tens of African and Asian states.
In many ways, this is what the British officials experienced before World War I. The country has been a primary naval force in the world for almost two centuries (especially in the 19th century), but a gradual rise of the US and German naval fleets was becoming more evident and potentially threatening to the British order at sea.
One of the reactions of the British elite was to negate the trend and claim that their power will be unmatched. It is difficult to admit your relatively declining power.
What does all this mean for Georgia? It relies on the US for its security and it borders on the Black Sea. However, in the long run when the focus of the US grand strategy will more focused on containing China at sea, Washington will be less able to properly address the Russian navy in the Black Sea. As said, there are simply not enough naval resources to hand. The scenario is unfortunate for Tbilisi, particularly at a time when the country is set to build the Anaklia Deep Sea Port.
Author’s note: first published in Georgia Today