Monday, August 11, 2008

Georgia On My Mind

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.


Anonymous said...

Seth, I'm sure you've already read and are already thinking about this, but I'm very interested in your take on this stuff. I think that, outside the world of scifi, your telling me about wargames and "Air Force Next" might have been my first exposure to serious thought on this subject:

"As it turns out, the July attack may have been a dress rehearsal for an all-out cyberwar once the shooting started between Georgia and Russia. According to Internet technical experts, it was the first time a known cyberattack had coincided with a shooting war."

David Orlowski

Anonymous said...

When the U.S. goes into Iraq unprovoked, the professor writes in the Tacoma News Tribune that there is nothing illegal about it. Remember, "stupid ain’t illegal".

When Russia goes into Georgia after being provoked, that is illegal and Russia should be kicked out of the G8.

That would seem to me to be a very obvious double standard. No?

Seth Weinberger said...

Subalternate: No, it's not a double standard, because in neither case am I making a legal argument. As you note, the title of my earlier piece was "stupid ain't illegal," in which I argued that even if one thinks that the invasion of Iraq was a stupid thing for the US to do, that doesn't make it illegal. Nor in this piece do I ever claim that it was illegal for Russia to attack Georgia. Yes, I argue for the US to punish Russia, but not on legal grounds. Rather, the US should act because it is in its interest to do so. The US has an interest in demonstrating to states like Georgia that if those states move closer to the US and anger a power like Russia, the US will help them. No legal argument needed or made.

David: Yes, I've seen the stuff about the cyberattacks. This isn't the first time Russia has used cyberwar against an enemy. And it is very disturbing, although not surprising. Given the massive information networking and dependencies present in modern day governments and militaries, attacking an enemy's information is only logical.

I do think that this may have been a bad idea on Russia's part, however. One always likes to hold back new weapons until necessary so that one's enemies don't get a peek at a new system and figure out how to defend against it. Hopefully, the US will be able to figure out what kinds of attacks Russia used and design some defenses against them.

Anonymous said...

I understand the security question are you trying to tackle, but most diplomats and policy analysts score this as a strategic victory for Russia. Georgia cannot now go into NATO because stability is a prerequisite and this current conflict made it a tough sell for Tbilisi to enter into NATO.

Plus, Russia is determining the entire cease fire policy, including the peace keepers. I would say that they got everything they intended.

Seth Weinberger said...

I completely agree. So far, this is pretty much a total victory for Russia. They've shown the danger of sidling up to the West, demonstrated the limits of western/NATO expansion, exercised a virtual veto over NATO expansion, strengthened Russian separatists in Georgia, and made a point about the problem of intervention in ethnic/nationalistic conflicts. NATO and the western powers don't really seem to be thinking long-term here. I know no one wants a war with Russia, but more should have been done to reassure Georgia and send a clear message to Russia about the limits of its influence.

TSM said...

Seth -

I think you're absolutely right regarding the West using Russia's G-8 membership as a "stick".

I won't comment on Subalternate's questioning of a "double-standard", except only to simply say the two situations cannot be compared, ever, on equal grounds.

In addition to the G-8 punishment, I think, as I'm sure you do, there must be others as well. If the U.S. and other Western nations do not stand up to Russia in the face of this blatant invasion, who's to say it will not continue such behavior against its other neighbors? Specifically, if those countries are former Soviet-satellites.

Anonymous said...

Well, if you want to look at this from a purely realist perspective, which many people are...than it is obvious that Russia is doing exactly what any state in its position would be doing.

TSM.: I agree, the two situations are not the same. The U.S. invasion of Iraq, in which hundreds of thousands of died, is far worse. Unfortunately, I presume that you think the Russian adventure in Georgia during the past week is far worse than the 5 year misadventure in Iraq. If that is the case, I am sorry for you.

By all accounts, Georgia baited Russia into coming in. They expected their Western allies to come in and when they didn't, Georgia came out the loser in the whole situation. Now, not only did Russia show its might, but it also now threatens Georgia's future cooperation with regional bodies and perhaps even more so, scares off foreign investment in the country.

The problem with the grandstanding that involves threats about the G8 and the like is that the uni-polar world is slowly starting to change. China and Russia have proved in the past week that they are in fact powerful states (albeit with many problems, like all powerful states) and that, much to the chagrin of the Hegelians like Fukuyama, liberal democracy is not the fiat accompli it was assumed to me.

Bill Reidway said...

subalternate, I don't think I get your point, exactly. Are you saying that the West (Georgia in particular) had this coming, and because Russia has an interest in re-annexing its old satellites, it's merely hubris to oppose that?

This isn't about right and wrong, the superiority of democracy, or the end of history, for that matter. It's about managing the consequences of colliding American and Russian interests. There's a measure of security and prosperity that we sacrifice by permitting this situation to fester or repeat itself. Everything else is a distraction, including whatever geopolitical calculus you use to compare Georgia to Iraq.

Talking about the G8, the WTO, the Olympics, or whatever is only grandstanding if nothing comes of it; there's plenty that can be done to increase Russia's cost here without resorting to military escalation. I'm interested in what the candidates have to say, but this is Bush's ball. As the Hammer said this morning, much is at stake.

TSM said...

Subalternate -

You wrote the following:

"I agree, the two situations are not the same. The U.S. invasion of Iraq, in which hundreds of thousands of died, is far worse. Unfortunately, I presume that you think the Russian adventure in Georgia during the past week is far worse than the 5 year misadventure in Iraq. If that is the case, I am sorry for you."

It would serve you well not to put words in the mouths of others. The situation is NOT the same, given that Iraq and its leader had been making a mockery of the UN and its inability to enforce "tough sections" for over a decade.

Also, I was not beginning to get into the “misadventure in Iraq.” Rather, I thought we were discussing the invasion of a foreign nation by a military force. Again, the U.S. led invasion and ousting of Saddam was on far differing grounds that this Russian invasion of Georgia.

Briefly, how are the two different from the outset?

• Georgia's DEMOCRATICALLY ELECTED President had NOT invaded two neighboring nations, nor used WMDs against a minority within his own easily we forget THE TRUTH. Please read a history book. It is obvious the two situations are not the same.

You suggest that various punishments only serve to somehow strengthen Russia and China? What world are you living in? The world is changing, but that does not mean the U.S. should fall into the abyss of isolation, running from the naked aggression of a former superpower trying to reclaim past glory through all out invasion of a nation which has been democratizing for a decade.

Russia may have been provoked, but you suggest its moves to march on the capital of Georgia are somehow justified? Regardless of how you feel about Iraq, Bush, or War in general…the Russian invasion has been an excuse to make a power grab, one which SHOULD provoke the West to react harshly.

If you are so upset about Iraq that your judgment of international affairs has become skewed, I’ll borrow your own words, “…I am sorry for you.”

Anonymous said...

I am only saying that what Russia did was in response to Georgia moving into South Ossetia. Is there really any contention there?

"Read a history book" says the guy who sources right wing websites when discussing media bias. Good work. I am sorry that I read the communist Associated Press...

The issue, than, is not whether a country is a democracy, but rather that is it is sovereign. If it is wrong to invade a sovereign country, than it is wrong in all instances. That is all I am saying.

Part of reading the news and discussing policy is to be objective, not come at every story with a flag in your hand.

Bill Reidway said...

"Is there really any contention there?"

Yes, if only because that's not how the story began, but I still don't see the point. Even if it was a pure tit-for-tat, it doesn't follow that there's no place for Western response.

"If it is wrong to invade a sovereign country, than it is wrong in all instances. That's all I'm saying."

Without saying what you mean by "wrong" and "sovereign", that just doesn't say much, is all. If you're saying Iraq has removed our moral authority to react to Russian aggression in Georgia, it sounds as though you're talking about a common standard of ethics, which is less than relevant in international affairs.

Anonymous said...

wrong = against international law. Sorry, I thought that was assumed.

Bill Reidway said...

This is where I'm likely overmatched, but to my mind the American government is bound only by domestic law, treaty, and the properly determined will of the American people. There is no notion of international law in the sense of shared obligations administered by central authority. So the notion of 'against international law in all instances' doesn't come with enough specificity.

Unless I've missed what international law are you referring?

Anonymous said...

That would be the UN Charter, which would fall under a treaty. It reads: 'All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations'

You are saying that Russia violated this. All is needed is to admit that indeed, the U.S. also violated this.

TSM said...

Subalternate, you wrote:

["Read a history book" says the guy who sources right wing websites when discussing media bias. Good work. I am sorry that I read the communist Associated Press...]

First, I never referenced any source of yours, not the AP or any others…so if you like to call the AP "communist," feel free.

Second, it is interesting that you've become so heated in our discussion. I thought we were discussing the issue.

As Seth has said, there is no legal argument is in the U.S. interest to resist this move. It has done so and it should continue to do so.

[Regardless of how you feel about Iraq, Bush, or War in general…the Russian invasion has been an excuse to make a power grab, one which SHOULD provoke the West to react harshly.]

Are you suggesting that it is not in the U.S. interest to stand up to Russia on this issue? Or are you suggesting that because the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003 it has no legs to stand on today when Russia invades former proxies who are now moving closer to the West politically?

Moreover, you highlight the UN charter against invading sovereign nations, but say that Russia was provoked in this instance? Can you explain - with any clarity - the position you’re taking?

***Regarding your comment on MEDIA BIAS: If you did not know there was a media bias in this country, whether gathering that sought after info from a conservative or liberal source, you've been horribly oblivious for quite some time.

The “conservative” source you referenced only served to contribute to stories from two good men/soldiers.

I would tell you to trust that they are both good sources, but somehow I think in your miscalculated anger toward me, you would deny that.

Anonymous said...

I am not angry at you. My only enemy is ignorance...blind ignorance.

TSM said...

So I'm guessing you're not going to answer any questions brought your way?

Bill Reidway said...

"You are saying that Russia violated this. All is needed is to admit that indeed, the U.S. also violated this."

I actually wasn't saying that Russia violated this. I was only saying that it doesn't have the binding force you imagine it should - although you have done a nice job in highlighting the tissue-paper worth of the UN Charter.

Anonymous said...

You don't pose any questions so there is nothing to respond to.

TSM said...


Haha...okay. Good luck to you...You're an interesting one.

Such fire until challenged.