Monday, August 11, 2008

A Perspective on the Conflict in Georgia

The Olympics have distracted much of the world from the war that has erupted in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. I've been trying to study the issue, but the divided news coverage and my lack of background knowledge on the factors driving the conflict make me uncomfortable making any statements of my own.

That being said, it seems like a far too important event to not comment on. Needless to say, wars - especially involving powers the size of Russia - are always a big deal, but this one really captures my attention for what it seems to suggest about the role Russia will play in shaping world events in the coming years or decades. In short, it's pretty troubling if not downright scary.

Robert Kagan, writing today in the Washington Post, discussed his take on Moscow's intentions in this conflict and speculates on the role they will play in the coming years. If you are interested in international relations, I recommend the whole essay but I've copied his core conclusion below:

Historians will come to view Aug. 8, 2008, as a turning point no less significant than Nov. 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell. Russia's attack on sovereign Georgian territory marked the official return of history, indeed to an almost 19th-century style of great-power competition, complete with virulent nationalisms, battles for resources, struggles over spheres of influence and territory, and even -- though it shocks our 21st-century sensibilities -- the use of military power to obtain geopolitical objectives. Yes, we will continue to have globalization, economic interdependence, the European Union and other efforts to build a more perfect international order. But these will compete with and at times be overwhelmed by the harsh realities of international life that have endured since time immemorial.


James F Barry said...

I hope that Kagan is wrong. I hope that 8/8/08 will not be remembered on par with the fall of the Berlin Wall.

I wonder if Putin calculated the move to coincide with the opening of the Olympics.

That said, Kagan is correct in asserting that the writing has been on the wall for a long time, and that this is a dramatically assertive step in reestablishing Russia's power and influence regionally, and, indeed globally.

The question now is, "What's next?" Who is going to tell Russia that it cannot invade a sovereign state? Will the US? How much weight does the US denunciation of Russia's actions carry given the virtually unilateral action the US took against the sovereign nation of Iraq - without having found links to al-Qaeda or any WMDs?

Will the UN have the courage or the power?

China has derided the US for meddling in internal affairs of other nations, will it do the same to Russia?

Thanks for the link.

Jared said...

I hope he's wrong too and I suspect he might be overreacting a little bit. Russia's economy is still pretty weak comparing to other major powers and if any significant part of the world begins to move away from fossil fuels in any meaningful way, they are going to get hit pretty hard unless they manage to diversify their economy.

I have found Russia's moves to be a little bit surprising. Until he decided to get his longtime subordinate elected President with himself established as Prime Minister, I actually wasnt totally convinced that Putin was as bad a guy as some had said. I didn't think he was an angel or anything, but I cut him a lot of slack for being so ruthless while he was President. Russia was such a trainwreck after the end of the USSR and Yeltsin's tenure that no President was going to right the ship without being willing to aggressively use his power.

Anyway, recent events seem to reveal that the darker assessments of his nature are pretty accurate. It seems we are going to have to view him as an adversary from now on and not as the potential strategic partner (as Bush has worked so hard to make him)...

As for the "what's next" question... I don't think there are any short term solutions - certainly not on the Georgia question. Russia is pretty much going to get what it wants, regardless of what that is - whether it be the "disputed" region they invaded or an entirely new regime in Georgia. The UN will not have the will or the power to stop them.

The US won't either. Georgia is clearly not worth the US going to war with Russia over and we need them to help us with Iran too much to take any punitive economic actions... Putin knows all this and therefore he felt free to act. And yes, I am certain that it was no accident that the invasion coincided with the Olympics.

Unknown said...

The US has done the world a great disservice with our invasion of Iraq in defiance of the UN. Now anyone can invade any place they want, and who are we to object?

And let's not pretend that Bush "worked hard" at anything with regard to Putin. The extent of his diplomatic efforts was "looking into his eyes" and "seeing into his soul," whence the President was able to conclude decisively that Big Vlad was a swell guy, despite plenty of indications to the contrary.

James F Barry said...

This may help illuminate our discussion further.