Friday, August 15, 2008

Common Sense About Georgia

Writing in the Christian Science Monitor, Andrew Bacevich offers an even-handed analysis of the Russian intervention in Georgia that puts the action squarely in the context of the last sixteen years of US-Russia relations. Since the end of the Cold War, Bacevich notes, the US has pushed its advantage against a weakened Russia to drive the NATO alliance straight to Russia's western border. Last week, Russia announced, quite dramatically, that the game had changed.

Today Russia is no longer weak. In the age of Vladimir Putin – still the prime mover as prime minister under President Dmitri Medvedev – it is no longer willing to play the patsy. Through its incursion into Georgia, a US friend that has eagerly sought to become NATO's newest member, the Kremlin sends a signal to the West: This far and no further. Russia will not tolerate any more Western intrusions into what it considers its rightful sphere of influence.

After a long run of losing hands, Russia will likely take this trick. The West, especially Europe, needs Russian oil and gas and is no position to impose sanctions that have any bite. Furthermore, even if NATO were inclined to ride to Georgia's rescue, it lacks the ability to do so. Paradoxically, as the alliance expanded geographically and went out of area, it also shed military capacity. NATO forces already have their hands full, fighting Taliban guerrillas in faraway Afghanistan. The once-formidable alliance is tapped out: there's nothing left to divert to the Caucasus, or anywhere else for that matter.

As the old saying goes: The sky grows dark with chickens coming home to roost. Russia's brutal treatment of Georgia is payback for the West's disdainful treatment of Russia back when it was prostrate. Western weakness in responding to this challenge reflects the folly of allowing NATO to lose sight of its core mission, which is to protect Europe, not pacify Central Asia. Meanwhile, the Bush administration, despite America's vaunted military power, can do little more than protest, remonstrate, and offer Georgia symbolic assistance. Still trying to extricate itself from the quagmire of Iraq, the US already has more than enough military commitments to keep itself busy.

Bacevich's point about NATO should not go unnoticed. NATO is, fundamentally, a much weaker organization than it was during the Cold War. The European nations that comprise NATO have slowly eviscerated the militaries to such a point that few if any of them are capable of even self defense. Even Britain and France have so shrunk their ground and naval forces as to be barely able to project any power at all. Europe has been able to adopt this lax defense posture because of American military guarantees, which have allowed European governments to pass off their defense costs to the US taxpayer. There is no NATO alliance as such, there is only US military guarantees spread across a growing number of defenseless nations. Given that US military forces have also contracted in number, and are currently deployed elsewhere, the truth is that the US would be unable to properly defend most of NATO in the face of a substantial conventional attack. Only the promise of nuclear retaliation gives the "alliance" any credibility.

This is a perilous situation, both for the US, which is entangled by an unwieldy alliance to nations otherwise incapable of assisting the US in any meaningful way, and to Europe, which like a trust-fund child that doesn't have to work for its survival is free to engage in all sorts of unproductive nonsense at home. NATO places the US in grave danger of getting sucked into a way that isn't in its interest, while helping to further weaken European nations through the poison of dependency. This is why Europe has some of the shrillest anti-American voices; dependency breeds resentment.

President Bush has unfortunately responded to the Georgia "crisis" by intervening, rhetorically and otherwise into a situation that holds no interest for the US. More provocatively, he has signed a completely unnecessary anti-missile deal with Poland that puts US missile defense technology directly no Russia's borders, something the Russians view as a profoundly hostile act (as we would if they did the same in, say, Cuba).

Bacevich concludes his article with a dose of common sense sadly missing from the facile pronouncements of President Bush, Condi Rice and John McCain.

Russia is not our friend, but it need not be our enemy. The Kremlin's ambitions are not ideological but imperial. Putin is not a totalitarian; he is a nationalist, intent on ensuring that Russia be treated with respect and, within the area defining its "near abroad," even deference. Yet beyond its immediate neighborhood the danger posed by a resurgent Russia is a limited one, in no way comparable to the threat once posed by the Soviet Union. When it comes to projecting power, today's Russian Army is a shadow of yesterday's Red Army.

The chief lesson of the Georgian crisis is this: The post-cold war holiday from history during which Europe took its security for granted has now ended. NATO's eastward march at Russia's expense has reached its limits. Enlarging the alliance further by incorporating Georgia or even Ukraine as member states will entail costs likely to be prohibitive.

The priority facing the West – and especially the major European powers – is to get serious about repairing its defenses. That means reorienting and rebuilding NATO. An alliance able to defend its frontiers and manifestly intent on doing so will have little to fear from Putin's Russia. The West's response to a Russia that has flexed its muscles in Georgia needs to be unambiguous: This far and no further.


At 6:55 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

The importance of European military is a red hearing - especially in Western Europe. Western European nations do not need strong militaries because no other nations would desire to launch a military invasion of Europe. There has not been a military attack on any Western European nation by a non-European nation in hundreds of years. The threat of Soviet invasion died with the Soviet Union. If all of the European nations are demilitarizing, then they certainly do not need a defense from each other. Pytheas, I believe, implies that Europe should develop its own militaries to defend itself. But from whom? It is not necessary to invade and destroy Europe with foreign armies, when European governments themselves will facilitate invasion and conquest through Third World immigration. A strong military will not stop Third World immigration that is sponsored by government. And if the government sponsors foreign invasion through immigration, against whom would the military be used? The native citizens? Europe doesn't need national militaries, it needs national revolutionaries.

At 8:51 AM , Anonymous PacificGatePost said...


Only rarely does someone surface with qualifications as well as insights and a delivery that stimulate thinking. Even more rarely does an individual stimulate the very personal mental articulation of self observation.

Bacevich deserves as broad an audience as can be exposed to his thoughtful analysis.


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