Friday, November 30, 2007

Saltzman Forum: Rose Revolution--and China?

Some first reactions to the opening sessions of this year's Saltzman Forum on evaluating the Rose Revolution four years on.

The morning session (and to some extent, Ambassador Richard Miles' presentation) focused on energy and on the role Georgia plays as a transit country for resources to flow westward, and, as one participant put it, allows not only the Caucasus but even Central Asia as a whole to "return" to the European community.

One small problem, as I saw it. No mention of China. China's demand for resources will need to be satisfied--and Central Asia and the Caspian are within reach. I think there is a real danger in assuming that the greater Caspian basin is somehow an exclusive preserve for the United States and Europe if only Russian roadblocks can somehow be neutralized--and no one as of yet seems to be considering the major strategic impacts if there is a greater "eastward pull."

This is augmented because one of the takeaways from the first panel on economics is that while there has been an enormous amount of progress in reform the business sector still often remains opaque and still perhaps a bit uncomfortable for Westerners to invest. Russian capital, on the other hand, is expanding throughout the ex-Soviet space and usually is more comfortable in these situations. One point that was raised is the extent to which Georgia's political aspirations and desires to join the West run up against continued economic links to Russia but also a business and regulatory culture that still raises red flags for some Western investors.

Finally, on a separate note, Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff, a business consultant who spoke in the first morning session, raised the question as to whether Georgia has a "culture of process"--which he says is more than just the rule of law but also a comfort level in society that procedures have value independent of personality and that decisions taken by following the proper procedures has as much validity as those taken by "the big man". It was an interesting insertion of the debate over the extent to which culture matters, a subject Lawrence Harrison will return to in the next issue of the magazine.

Will continue posting during the day.

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