In the wake of this weekend's invasion of Georgia by Russian armed forces, things seem to be proceeding from bad to worse. After Georgian forces took action against ethnic Russian separatists in the region of South Ossetia, Russian forces entered the country in a self-proclaimed effort to force Georgia to "bring peace" to the region. However, Russia quickly expanded the conflict, conducting air strikes against Georgian cities and crossing the border and occupying a military base in the region of Abkhazia. Reports today from Georgia claim that Russian forces have seized a vital highway, effectively splitting Georgia in two, while a Georgian official in the embassy in Russia has said that Russian forces are moving towards the Georgian capital of Tbilisi and that Russia's goals are the "complete liquidation" of the Georgian government.
Most of the blame deservedly falls on Russia for using force to reassert its fading power in areas Russia deems critical to its own national security. And Russia is also clearly sending a message to the West in the wake of the declaration of independence by Kosovo. If NATO is free to use force to intervene in an ethnic conflict over sovereignty, so is Russia. And finally, Russia is likely punishing Georgia for its recent move towards the West, particularly the US, that culminated in Georgia's failed bid to join NATO.
But some blame for this situation must fall on the West as well. NATO allowed Georgia to put itself in a very dangerous position with its bid for membership, and then failed to follow through and admit Georgia. At the time, I wrote that NATO made a bad choice by bowing to Russian concerns over Georgia (and Ukraine); now we see the consequences of that bad choice. Georgia put itself out on a limb by seeking NATO membership (not to mention by contributing troops to Iraq), and the West is now standing by while Russia saws that limb off. Needless to say, this is likely to have a very negative impact on the value of ties to the US, NATO, and the West, if seeking such ties produces an outcome such as Georgia is now experiencing.
What is to be done at this point? Given Russia's membership on the UN Security Council, the UN is not likely to be capable of playing any kind of role, be it meaningful or token, in resolving this crisis. Nor is the NATO-end-around viable here, as war with Russia is certainly not on anyone's radar screen at this point.
However, the West, and particularly the US, must not roll over here. It is vital to send a message to countries, such as Georgia and Ukraine, that warming up to the West will not end in abandonment and a Russian invasion. If globalization, engagement, and other aspects of Western global strategy are to succeed, nations in hot spots must be willing to take risks and confidently believe that those risks will pay off and that the West will help them.
For starters, Russia should have its membership in the G-8 suspended immediately and indefinitely, if not revoked all together. I have long argued that Russia's participation is a joke and more of a sop to a fading former power. But now that membership is a true farce. If Russia chooses to act in this way, it cannot be a participant in the global order. The whole logic of engagement is predicated on the benefits of the global system acting as an inducement for states to liberalize their behavior. Now, not only is Russia's domestic situation problematic, but it's international behavior is as well. Russia cannot be allowed to continue as a member of the G-8 so long as it remains involved in Georgian affairs to this degree.
After that, I'm not sure what steps should follow. But the G-8 has served as a useful carrot in the past, now it is well suited to be a stick.