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Georgia has adopted a new defense code. What does it change?

Georgia adopts new defense code

Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili has signed a new defense code. Chief Advisor to the President on Strategic Planning, David Tevzadze, stated at a special briefing that despite its shortcomings, this code eliminates an important problem – from now on conscripts will serve only in the Defense Forces, which “corresponds to the essence of military service and the interests of the country”.

Tevzadze explained that the new code will put an end to “the harmful practice that has been in place for years, when young people had to undergo compulsory service in various departments, mostly in guardhouses.”

The amendments to the code were adopted by parliament on September 21, 2023. According to an explanatory map, the amendments are aimed at improving the efficiency of defense force management, correcting identified gaps in norms related to military service, and creating a single codified legal act in the defense sphere.

The government says the draft law is based on a Finnish-Estonian model.

What has changed?

● The duration of compulsory military service, which is called “national conscript military service” under the new code, will be changed. Whereas previously compulsory military service lasted 12 months, it will now have differentiated terms: 6 months for service in a combat unit, 8 months for service in a guard and support unit, 11 months for service in junior command positions and predetermined specialties.

● National military service of conscripts will be possible only within the Ministry of Defense system. Accordingly, conscripts will no longer have to report to the bases of the Special Penitentiary Service, the Special State Guard Service and the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia. After the adoption of the draft law, this change will go into effect in 2025.

● Conscription to national military service will be based on the principle of annual random selection in an established order through an electronic system, the issues of management and functioning of which shall be determined by the Government of Georgia.

● Based on the principle of “total defense”, types of military service are divided as follows: regular military service (which is divided into professional military service and national conscription military service) and defense force reserve (divided into active and mobilization reserves).



The new code provides for additional “motivational” benefits for conscripts and military personnel. Thus, according to the explanatory note to the draft law, servicemen will be able to enjoy free travel on railway and municipal transport within the limits of allocations from the state budget, as well as receive a 50% discount on public utilities. In addition, it is planned to increase the wages of conscripts.

The amount of compensation paid in case of injury or death of a serviceman is also changing. Under the current law, a serviceman receives GEL 7,000 [about $2600] for wounding and maiming, while under the new code this amount will increase to GEL 20,000 [about $7500]. The amount of compensation to the family in case of death of a serviceman will increase from 15,000 GEL [about $5500] to 30,000 GEL [about $11,000].



Criticism

Tevzadze 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 rules of operation of the National Defense Council defined by the Defense Code do not correspond to those established by the Constitution, due to which the coordination between the current National Security Council and the Defense Council is unclear, which may create significant problems in the management of martial law,” Tevzadze said at a briefing.

Some opposition parties have criticized the part of the code that abolishes army deferment for church ministers. Previously, the law allowed priests not to go into the army, a loophole exploited by the opposition Girchi party, which in 2017 created a non-governmental organization, called it a church and issued clergy certificates to young people who did not want to serve in the army.

Girchi deputies sharply criticize the new model of compulsory military service and call it a “legalization of slavery.”

“Our goal is to abolish compulsory military service. We want the army to be professional. Today, the Georgian army has 30,000 professional military men, and they need about 4,000 recruits every year. This code has nothing to do with strengthening defense,” says party leader Yago Khvichia.

Another member of Girchi, Sandro Rakviashvili, wrote on social networks that the president and his entire administration are extremely incompetent, but “unfortunately” this is part of a pre-planned religiously-motivated effort to postpone service in the army.