Georgia passes a new defense law
Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili signed the new defense law. Chief Presidential Advisor for Strategic Planning David Tevzadze explained at a special briefing that, despite its shortcomings, this code eliminates one of the important problems – from now on, conscripts will serve only in the Defense Forces, which, according to Tevzadze, “corresponds to the essence of military service and the interests of the country”.
Tevzadze explained that the new law “puts an end to the harmful practice that has existed for years in which young people were subjected to compulsory service in various departments, mostly in guard houses.”
The amendments to the Defense Bill were adopted by Parliament in third reading on September 21, 2023. According to the explanatory card, the aim of the changes is to improve the efficiency of defense forces management, eliminate identified gaps in the norms related to military service and create a single codified legal act in the field of defense.
According to the government, the draft law is based on the Finnish-Estonian model.
What has changed?
● First, the duration of compulsory military service, referred to as “national military service” in the new law, will be changed. While conscription previously lasted 12 months, differentiated terms now apply: 6 months for service in a combat unit, 8 months for service in a guard and support unit, 11 months for service in leadership positions and specified specialties.
● National military service of conscripts will only be possible within the Ministry of Defense system. Accordingly, conscripts are no longer required to report to the bases of the Special Penitentiary Service, the Special State Guard Service and the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia. Once the bill is passed, this change will come into effect in 2025.
● Enlistment for national military service is carried out on the principle of annual random selection in a specified order through an electronic system, the administration and functioning of which are determined by the Government of Georgia.
● Based on the principle of “total defense”, the types of military service are divided as follows: regular military service (divided into professional military service and general military service) and defense force reserve (divided into active and mobilization reserve).
The new code provides for additional “motivational benefits” for conscripts and military personnel. According to the justification for the draft law, military members can travel by train and city transport free of charge within the framework of allocations from the state budget and receive a “discount” of 50% on public utilities. In addition, it is planned to increase the wages of conscripts.
The amount of compensation in the event of injury or death of a soldier also changes. According to current law, a soldier receives 7,000 GEL [about $2600] for wounding and mutilation, while under the new law this amount is increased to 20,000 GEL [about $7500]. The amount of compensation for the family in the event of the death of a soldier increases from 15,000 GEL [about $5500] up to 30,000 GEL [about $11,000].
David Tevzadze, the president’s chief adviser on strategic planning, said he was surprised that the naval defense forces had no place in the new code.
“The solution of strategic and operational tasks in the maritime space is left to the trust of the maritime police. Finally, the powers and working rules of the National Defense Council established in the Defense Law do not correspond to those of the Constitution, so the coordination between the current National Security Council and the Defense Council is unclear, which may have significant implications. “There are problems in the administration of martial law,” Tevzadze said at a briefing in the presidential administration.
Some opposition parties have criticized the part of the code that abolishes military deferment for church priests. Previously, the law did not allow priests to join the army, a loophole exploited by the opposition Girchi party, which founded a non-governmental organization in 2017, called it a church and issued priest certificates to young people who did not want to serve in the army.
Girchi MPs sharply criticize the new model of conscription, calling it a “legalization of slavery”.
“Our goal is to abolish conscription. We want the army to be professional. Today the Georgian army has 30,000 professional soldiers and needs around 4,000 recruits every year. This code has nothing to do with strengthening defense,” says one of the party leaders, Iago Khvichia.
And another member of Girchi, Sandro Rakviashvili, wrote on social networks that the president and his entire government are extremely incompetent, but “unfortunately” this is part of a pre-planned, religiously motivated effort to postpone military service.