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Balancing a Tightrope: Constraints, Possibilities and Ideology in Georgian Foreign Policy, 1991-2014

Kevork Oskanian

Tbilisi's recent foreign and security policies present analysts working from a neorealist balance-of-power perspective with something of a puzzle. With Russia very much the regionally dominant power, against the predictions of structural-systemic theories (Jervis, 1978: 172-173; Walt, 1990: 29-31, 263; Waltz, 1979: 113; Wolfers, 1962: 13-16), small state Georgia has ended up balancing against, rather than bandwagoning with great power Moscow, apparently disregarding a major structural constraint to its foreign and security policies. The continuity of these pro-Western policies is similarly unexpected: they have persisted even after the country's defeat in the August 2008 war and following a change in government in 2013. This essay will analyse the complex Georgian-Russian-US triangle from a neo-classical realist (Lobell, Ripsman, & Taliaferro, 2009; Rose, 1998) theoretical viewpoint, combining systemic, balance-of-power and domestic, ideological factors. It will posit that Tbilisi's policies were largely due to misperceptions of the regional balance of power between Russia and the West, amplified by the ideological makeup of the Saakashvili administration and its stated belief in liberal democracy as a source of soft power and broader regional structural change. In conclusion, the paper will offer a number of possible future scenarios in light of recent domestic political shifts within Georgia.

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