Category Archives: Russia

The longterm status of Georgia: Challenges ahead

Georgia’s US- and Israeli-built armed forces got pulverized by the Russians during last month’s short war over South Ossetia. The Bush administration has promised $1 billion to the Georgians in reconstruction aid. So far, administration spokespeople have been at pains to stress that this aid is for humanitarian relief and reconstruction, and no mention has yet been made of the idea of rebuilding Georgia’s military.
The Bush administration’s actions during the entire Georgia crisis until now have been marked by a degree of caution and risk-avoidance that, in the circumstances, is entirely appropriate. Remember the reports about how the 100 or so military trainers the US had in Georgia at the time of the war were immediately told to change into civvies, stash any weapons they had out of sight, and sit out the war hanging round hotel swimming pools?
So why did the Bushists behave like that? Three reasons. First, they had no spare forces– their own, or forces of ‘allied’ nations– to send in. Second, they didn’t want to get drawn into a direct mano-a-mano with another Big (and also nuclear-armed) Power. Third, remember that the Russians have agreed to help out NATO’s campaign in Afghanistan by allowing non-military supplies to be shipped to NATO’s forces there through Russia…. So Moscow might have large parts of western Europe over a barrel. But it has the US over a railhead.
For now, the war has died down… I’m assuming that Pres. Saakashvili is desperately eager to rebuild his armed forces. There would be a number of logistical problems regarding how the US (or its Israeli surrogate) might undertake any rearming of Georgia. Ships through the Black Sea? Airlifts? Overland through Turkey?
Those problems could be solved, I suppose. But it’s the political problems that are still limiting all foreign reconstruction aid to non-military items.
So far, the call to “re-arm Georgia!” has not become any kind of a big issue in the US election campaign. (Imagine how different things might be if we had a Democrat in the White House.) But the Georgia situation has not been anywhere near resolved yet, in any durable political way. If the present status quo remains in place, I suppose it is possible a sort of “Finlandization by default” may emerge there.
However, reaching a formal, negotiated agreement on Georgia’s status– one that’s agreed to by all relevant parties including Russia, and that also resolves the currently contested status of the two now-seceded regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia– is far preferable. Absent such an agreement, all of Georgia, including the two seceded regions, would be unable to do the kind of long-term economic planning and investment that made Finlandization into a palatable and workable deal for Finland itself. Absent that agreement, all of Georgia will remain mired in the kind of directionless limbo that seems to mark Kosovo to this day.
I think I asked this before. But where in the world is Ban Ki-Moon?

HRW revising its Russian cluster bomb accusations

Yesterday, Human Rights Watch started to step back from the claims it made very loudly last month that during the fighting in Georgia,”Russian aircraft dropped cluster bombs in populated areas in Georgia, killing at least 11 civilians and injuring dozens.” Those claims were first made August 15, and were repeated in two further public statements issued by the organization, this one on August 21 and this one on September 1. In addition, individual HRW staff members repeated these accusations against Russia– which it claimed were backed up by solid “evidence”– in a number of other signed articles, media appearances, etc.
I blogged here, on September 2, about the flawed nature of the “evidence” HRW had used in its accusations against Russia, and the impact that such accusations can have on raising tensions and galvanizing opinion for war. (Cf., the “Kuwaiti incubator story” of 1991.)
Yesterday’s statement was titled Clarification Regarding Use of Cluster Munitions in Georgia. Referring only to its report of August 21 on this matter, not the earlier August 15 report, it said:

    On August 21, 2008, Human Rights Watch reported a series of attacks with cluster munitions around four towns and villages in Georgia’s Gori district. Human Rights Watch attributed all the strikes to Russian forces, but upon further investigation has concluded that the origin of the cluster munitions found on August 20 in two of the villages – Shindisi and Pkhvenisi – cannot yet be determined.
    …This clarification does not affect Human Rights Watch’s findings on August 15 that Russia used aerial cluster bombs to attack the village of Ruisi and the town of Gori on August 12. Eleven civilians were killed and dozens more injured in these two locations. In Ruisi, Human Rights Watch researchers found submunitions that they identified as PTAB 2.5M, which are known to be in Russia’s arsenal. Human Rights Watch based its findings on visual identification of the submunitions and the cluster bomb carrier in Ruisi, craters typical of submunition impact, and accounts from Georgian victims in both towns, as well as doctors and military personnel. The Russian government has yet to adequately respond to these findings.

What caused HRW to step back from the accusations regarding Shindisi and Pkhvenisi had been, the statement said, communications “from the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment (NDRE), based on Human Rights Watch’s photographs.” The NDRE had identified the submunitions in the photographs as “M85 DPICMs, which have not been reported to be part of Russia’s arsenal.”
On August 31, as HRW told us September 1, the government of Georgia informed them that it had had a stockpile of ground rocket-launched cluster munitions that contained M85 submunitions. The Georgian government also told HRW it had used some cluster bombs “during an attack on Russian military forces near the Roki tunnel.” That tunnel is at South Ossetia’s northern border, quite a long way away from Gori.
It occurs to me that one explanation for what HRW’s witnesses in the Gori area saw is that the Russian aircraft might have blown up some of Georgia’s cluster bombs stockpiled in the area.. In HRW’s August 21 statement, and in the latest “Clarification”, the eye-witnesses to the attacks are quoted as saying that “Russian air strikes on Georgian armored units located near Shindisi and Pkhvenisi were followed by extensive cluster munition strikes that killed at least one civilian and injured another in Shindisi.” Would this description not be consonant with (a) the Russians having bombed ground targets in these areas– hopefully only legitimate military targets, and then (b) some of those strikes, hitting units equipped with cluster bombs, had caused secondary explosion of those cluster bomb munitions?
I looked at the video of one such attack that HRW has on its site, and this could be an explanation of what I was seeing.
If this is what happened– and I would welcome any comments on that from experts– then it’s very tragic. Well, whatever the explanation, it’s very tragic for all those noncombatants who were hit.
I note, though, that HRW’s “Clarification” is still far from satisfactory. It still maintains that the submunitions found in Ruisi and in Gori itself were of the the (Russian-owned) PTAB 2.5M type– though it gives us absolutely none of the evidence on which this finding is based. The photos of submuntions in the August 21 statement– published with no provenance given, though they seem to have been from Shindisi or Pkhvenisi– had been identified in the text as “Russian” too, though as NDRE noted, they actually were not.
So we still need to see HRW’s “evidence” regarding Ruisi and Gori.
The latest “Clarification” is also insufficient in the following ways:

    1. It expresses no apology to the Russians or anyone else for the inaccurate nature of the organization’s earlier allegations against the government of Russia. Indeed, it explicitly states its continued support for the allegations made on August 15, regarding Russian cluster-munition attacks in Ruisi and Gori– even though it also says it will “continue its investigation into the use of cluster munitions in Shindisi and elsewhere by all sides during the armed conflict.” So presumably that means it will continue its (re-)investigation into what happened in Ruisi and Gori. … But even before those investigations are completed, HRW still maintains a defiant, accusatory attitude toward Russia (but not Georgia), saying, “The Russian government has yet to adequately respond to [HRW’s allegations regarding Rusisi and Gori].”
    2. It says nothing about any internal investigation, within HRW, into the issue of how the organization could have earlier gotten the facts so very wrong about Shindisi and Pkhvenisi. Without such a thorough, transparent, and credible investigation, why should anyone believe what they say…. on anything?

HRW remains a frustratingly unaccountable organization, as I noted in my September 1 post.

Russia and the world

Yesterday, the Russian government recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In today’s FT, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev explained why. (The two main house organs of British capitalism are so much more open-minded and coolly realistic than their spluttering Wall Street counterpart. Can you imagine the WSJ opening its opinion page to Medvedev at this time?)
His bottom line on the events of the past 2.5 weeks:

    we persistently tried to persuade the Georgians to sign an agreement on the non-use of force with the Ossetians and Abkhazians. Mr Saakashvili refused. On the night of August 7-8 we found out why.
    Only a madman could have taken such a gamble. Did he believe Russia would stand idly by as he launched an all-out assault on the sleeping city of Tskhinvali, murdering hundreds of peaceful civilians, most of them Russian citizens? …Russia had no option but to crush the attack to save lives. This was not a war of our choice. We have no designs on Georgian territory. Our troops entered Georgia to destroy bases from which the attack was launched and then left. We restored the peace but could not calm the fears and aspirations of the South Ossetian and Abkhazian peoples – not when Mr Saakashvili continued (with the complicity and encouragement of the US and some other Nato members) to talk of rearming his forces and reclaiming “Georgian territory”. The presidents of the two republics appealed to Russia to recognise their independence.
    A heavy decision weighed on my shoulders. Taking into account the freely expressed views of the Ossetian and Abkhazian peoples, and based on the principles of the United Nations charter and other documents of international law, I signed a decree on the Russian Federation’s recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. I sincerely hope that the Georgian people, to whom we feel historic friendship and sympathy, will one day have leaders they deserve, who care about their country and who develop mutually respectful relations with all the peoples in the Caucasus. Russia is ready to support the achievement of such a goal.

These last two sentences make it sound as though regime change in Tbilisi is still on his agenda.
And “Russia had no option but to crush the attack to save lives. This was not a war of our choice.” This is the rhetoric of just about every political leader who launches a war or any other form of radical escalation of violence.
The response among the vast majority of western politicians has been a degree of verbal apoplexy fueled to a significant degree by their frustration over realizing that, actually, the “west” had no plausible military options in the Osssetian War and that their darling, Saakashvili, had recklessly overplayed his hand.
So the past inability to act led to much current spluttering. But where might the current western spluttering lead if wiser heads are not to brought into the global equation? I worry about that. Back on August 16, I asked “Where in the world is Ban Ki-Moon?” He is still notably MIA. But where are the others who could also act like wiser heads?
Two small glimmers of light. While Barack Obama himself said the US should “further isolate Russia” because of its support for the two breakaway regions, two of his top national security advisers, former Defense Secretary Bill Perry and former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig, called for more engagement. Good for them.
For his part, John McCain is still doing what he can to revive the embers of anti-Russianism. I wish Obama wouldn’t continue trying to sing from the same inflammatory songsheet, but would describe a realistic and constructive way forward that could de-escalate the tensions with Russia rather than further stoke them.
Another glimmer of good news comes from this FT report, which notes the following:

    Diplomats acknowledge that they will soon have to work with Moscow on restricting Iran’s nuclear programme.
    Russia also shows signs of wanting to calibrate its approach to the west.
    Although it scaled back contacts with Nato yesterday, Russia’s move did not include a ban on Nato’s use of Russian land to supply non-military equipment to its forces in Afghanistan.

It’s not that I particularly want Russia to throw its weight behind what still looks like a badly misconceived western military project in Afghanistan. But I am glad to see that in certain fields, officials in both Russia and the west see that they have a broad degree of common interests.
Medvedev, meanwhile, has gone off to Dushanbe, capital of Tajikstan, to make his debut at the annual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a body that since 2001 has established a lot of coordination among its members: China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Also in Dushanbe will be Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose application for full membership is still outstanding. Iran, Mongolia, Pakistan, and India all have observer status at the SCO…. I am sure the SCO summiteers will all have lots to talk about.
This analysis of the SCO by Stephen Blank of the US Army War College indicates there is considerable tension between Russia and China within it, with each of them seeking to push it in a different direction. Anyway, it is notably not, as NATO is, a defense-pact grouping that requires an external enemy for its own justification.
This evening, I was watching the BBC’s distinctly overwrought diplomatic correspondent Bridget Kendall as she sought to confront Pres. Medvedev in an interview. At one point she huffed and puffed about Russia having to work a lot harder to “restore its relations with the outside world.” I was struck by that latter phrase. As though Russia were currently in some kind of tightly enclosed situation, and the people in “the outside world”– that is, the west– would be able to control the degree to which Russia could have contact with this “outside world.”
Sort of like Israel and Gaza.
Except that in the case of Israel and Gaza, that’s exactly how it is. Israel is the jailer and Gaza is the completely encircled jail. (And even then, the Gazans haven’t given in to their jailers’ demands.)
Russia, I submit, is not Gaza. There is plenty of “outside world” to which Russia has good access. Including, some of the world that lies to its west. And even more of it that lies to its east and its south.

NATO’s supply lines in Afghanistan

… First of all, they’re incredibly long. That makes sustaining the troops in the field there incredibly expensive. Another way of looking at that, in the present hyper-privatized era of US public life, could be: Lots of nice fat contracts and opportunities for fraud, payoffs, and payroll padding for the logistics companies! Yum, yum, yum! (For them.)
But here, basically, are the options. (A thought: Maybe we should call the present era that of the Return of Geography, rather than– or in addition to– the Return of History?):

    1. Through Pakistan.
    2. Through Russia and its former satellite-states.
    3. Through Iran.
    4. Through China.

Well, for now, you can forget about numbers 3 and 4– as far as NATO goes. Both Iran and China have decent working and economic relations with Hamid Karzai’s government in Kabul. But they, um, don’t really have them with NATO.
So that leaves Pakistan– currently in a state of continuing or perhaps even escalating political turmoil… And Russia.
Oops. Our “friend” Saakashvili put a bit of a spanner in the works on that, didn’t he? Well, maybe yes, and maybe no. But evidently, as the western nations and Russia proceed with their negotiations over a more durable settlement for Georgia, NATO’s non-trivial reliance on Russia’s cooperation for the ISAF mission in Afghanistan will be another big factor in the talks, along with the reliance of Germany and much of the rest of Europe on hydrocarbons from Russia.
The NATO-Russia Council has been in existence since 2002. On this handy info page that they publish you can learn what it is they do. (Or, what it is they don’t mind you knowing about they do.) Just last March the two sides established the basis for “facilitating transit though the Russian territory of non military freight from NATO, NATO members and non-NATO ISAF contributors in support of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, in accordance with UNSCR 1386.”
I guess that’s what the Russian ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin was referring to when he told Reuters yesterday,

    “Without Russia’s support in Afghanistan, NATO would face a new Vietnam, and this is clear to everyone. Militarily, NATO and Russia have a very good and trusting relationship.

Translation: “Nice little supply line system we’re running there to Afghanistan. Wouldn’t want anything to happen to that now, would we?”
Rogozin expressed some (perhaps understandable?) confidence that the present, Georgia-related tensions in the NATO-Russia relationship would not last very long…

    “Now temporary decisions are being taken on the current cooperation and not about cooperation in general … These decisions are of temporary character, of regional character, not global character,” he said.
    Areas that could be affected were military naval exercises in the Far East, the Mediterranean and the Baltic region, he added. “We don’t need to ruin this cooperation now.”

He also warned that “NATO rearming Georgia after all that has happened would be… cynical and illegitimate.”
Bernhard over at Moon of Alabama has been doing some great blogging about the tough logistical challenges NATO/ISAF faces in Afghanistan. See e.g. here.
Peter Marton of the [My] State Failure Blog gave some important background as to why NATO felt the need to reach out to Russia for the supply line agreement back in March. Basically, the Taliban had just torched a convoy of 100 ISAF-bound fuel tankers as they waited at the border-crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Between 40 and 50 of the tankers were reported destroyed and several people killed. He adds:

    If one counts with 44,000 liters as a possible standard payload of fuel for each tanker (I’m taking that figure from a news report about a previous attack), that’s 1,760,000 to 2,200,000 liters of fuel lost in the attack. Big fireball, big loss.

Christian, at “Ghosts of Alexander” has a handy map of the Uzbekistan rail system, which could be (or perhaps already is?) used to transport (non-military) goods for ISAF in from Europe– via Russia and Kazakhstan– to the Termez border point between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. It looks like passenger service takes three days from Moscow to Tashkent and maybe 18 hours from Tashkent to Termez. (Ah. Helena needs to get her ferrophilia back under control here a bit.)
… Right now, the UN Security Council is starting to see some preliminary diplomacy developing around the project to reach agreement on a durable political settlement of the Georgia-Russia crisis. Basically, two drafts are circulating. Russia submitted Sarkozy’s ceasefire plan of last week– which has been signed by both sides– to win the SC’s imprimatur of support for it. A draft resolution that France submitted yesterday, that apparently has US support, expresses support for the existing ceasefire but also calls for immediate Russian withdrawal and the “return of Georgia’s forces to their bases.”
As I noted in my CSM piece, now up on the web already though it’s dated tomorrow, if there is to be an un-vetoed resolution, then it will have to represent a negotiated consensus that all the Permanent Members can support. In these negotiations, Russia is not without its own leverage in the realms of both hard and (as Kishore Mahbubani noted) soft power. Let’s see how the negotiations proceed.

More on NATO, etc.

The statement issued by the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting yesterday was considerably more sensible than the belligerent, jingoistic rantings that make up much (though thankfully, a decreasing amount) of the commentary in the US MSM. At several points it goes to lengths not to express any strongly anti-Russian judgments. For example, “We deplore all loss of life, civilian casualties, and damage to civilian infrastructure that has resulted from the conflict.” It notably does not make any promise of either immediate or more delayed military aid to Georgia, saying only that NATO has agreed to measures “intended to assist Georgia, a valued and long-standing Partner of NATO, to assess the damage caused by the military action and to help restore critical services necessary for normal public life and economic activity.”
And finally, it seems to go quite a long way toward respecting the leadership in negotiating the political tasks that lie ahead regarding the Georgia crisis to… none other than “the Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE, Finnish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. Alexander Stubb.”
This strikes me as extremely realistic, sensible, and helpful. The more they do that, the better. (You can read more on OSCE here.)
The NATO people well understand that the US- and Israeli-trained Georgian armed forces got trounced in the recent fighting. (The US had been training the Georgians mainly to do checkpoint duty in Iraq… And one of the Israeli private companies training the Georgians was headed by Gen. Gal Hirsh, drummed out of the IDF after the troops he’d trained showed in 2006 that they couldn’t do anything effective other than checkpoint duty in the West Bank. H’mmm.)
AP’s Matti Friedman had this account of some interviews he did with US trainers in Tbilisi, who were fairly disparaging about the skills of their trainees. Interestingly, Friedman interviewed these trainers last weekend while they were “on standby at the Sheraton Hotel, unarmed and in civilian clothes.”
From the beginning of the Georgia-Russia conflict, the US military took great pains to keep its own troops far away from any situation in which they might be seen as being involved in the fighting. I also saw a report that, though the US flew the 2,000 Georgians who had been in Iraq back to their country, they disarmed them before they did so, so as not to be accused by the Russians of pumping any more arms into the country during the war.
Despite its sometimes accusatory rhetoric, the actual actions on the ground taken by the Bush administration have been prudent and wise, and I am happy to give them credit for this.
It strikes me there is a huge contrast between the prudence displayed in those actions and the belligerence expressed so many times by McCain.
Journalists and others should ask McCain: “What, actually, would you have done differently? Would you have put US troops into this fight? How would you have supported them there?”
It strikes me that McCain’s rhetoric– including his repeated expressions of strong and completely uncritical support for Pres. Saakashvili– have been irresponsible and incendiary.
Why is Barack Obama not calling him on this?
Why is Obama not putting forward a strong and compelling alternative to the belligerent and dangerous approach espoused by McCain? Surely he can see that the US public doesn’t want another war? (Especially one that it has zero hope of winning.)
I just want to come back, for a moment, to the question of what it is that NATO used to do, back when it still it had a rationale. What it did was deter the Russians from sending their massive ground troops into the industrial heartlands of Western Europe.
NATO succeeded precisely because it succeeded at deterring. It didn’t succeed at fighting, because thanks to the success of the deterrence it never had to fight.
Georgia is not an industrial heartland of Europe. On August 8, Georgia was not a member of NATO. If it had been, NATO’s crisis would have been even sharper and more immediate– because even if it had been a “member” of NATO, very few NATO members would have come to its aid.
But member of NATO or not, the war in Georgia has shown that the old western doctrine of “deterrence” failed on that occasion.
One caveat, though: This was deterrence still at the strictly sub-nuclear level. (And that in itself is also significant. What utility at all do nuclear weapons have today?)
Deterrence, it strikes me, is closely linked to a desire (or, a readiness) to achieve significant strategic goals through “shock and awe.” Yet the whole world has now seen that even “shock and awe” didn’t bring Bush a strategic victory in Iraq, just as it didn’t bring Olmert one in Lebanon.
Military power just ain’t as useful in “foreign” encounters as it used to be. (To be discussed later, not now: the extent to which Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Georgia are actually “foreign” for Russia. Military power did prove “useful” for Russia there; and lack of a working, indigenous national-defense strategy proved disastrous for Saakashvili…)
As of now, Georgia’s military forces have been just about stripped of all their capabilities. I’m sure the Russians have been fascinated to look at all the computers, drone-control systems, naval electronics, and other military hardware and software they’ve been carting home from all the Georgian military bases they’ve over-run in the past ten days.
A question: How many sensitive US or NATO systems have been compromised as a result?
Another, more important question: What will be the outcome of the negotiations that will doubtless occur over the Georgians’ ability to rebuild their military, given that it would be starting, as of now, from somewhere around ground zero?
… Okay, I realize this is a slightly rambly post, but I’m too tired to divide it up better or do any other form of high-level editing on it. I just want to note here, finally, that The National Interest, the uber-Realist mag published by the Nixon Center, has a couple of very good pieces on Georgia/Russia on its website today.
This one is a very well-informed ‘Realist’ take on the whole Russia question, by Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett.
They write:

    in reality, today’s Russia is not a resurgent imperial power. In the post-Cold War period, it was Washington, not Moscow, which started the game of acting outside the United Nations Security Council to pursue coercive regime change in problem states and redraw the borders of nominally sovereign countries. In Russian eyes, America’s invasion and occupation of Iraq, including arresting and presiding over the execution of its deposed President, undermined Washington’s standing to criticize others for taking military action in response to perceived threats. And American unilateralism in the Balkans, along with planned deployments of missile defense systems in Eastern Europe and support for “color revolutions” in former Soviet republics, trampled clearly stated Russian redlines.

And this article is an interview with Shalva Natelashvili, the founder and chairman of the Georgian Labor Party, and a veteran leader of the Georgian opposition.
Two key excerpts from that:

    Q: Why did President Saakashvili order Tskhinvali to be taken by force?
    A: He probably had hopes of receiving some kind of external support. Someone must have lied to him to give him these false hopes—whether it was from the West, South, or North is uncertain. Someone was deceiving him.
    Also, Saakashvili had real delusions of grandeur, and saw himself as the Napoleon of Asia, which is a psychological disorder for an individual and a tragedy for Georgia.
    Third, he wanted to speed up the entry of Georgia into NATO, but this is a mistake: the issue of the Abkhazia region would still remain unresolved.
    Fourth, he’s committed crimes against democracy—he established a one-party dictatorship in Georgia in all the elections held in Georgia during his reign (local, presidential, parliamentary), closed the free flow of information, seized TV companies and dozens of innocents died.

And this:

    Q: How can Georgia and Russia overcome these tensions and live peacefully?
    A: Russia and Georgia are fated to live peacefully together. Russia should recognize Georgian territorial integrity, and Georgia shouldn’t conduct a strident anti-Russia policy.
    Georgia is a very small country located at the very center of Eurasia. Its geographical location is supposed to make it the unifying point of the Western and Eastern, Northern and Southern civilizations. That is the function of Georgia—it can solve its problems and those of the rest of the world as well.

That sounds realistic and hopeful. I hope we can all hear a lot more from this guy.

NATO’s crisis

… Hint: It isn’t just the organization’s massively long over-reach in Afghanistan, as revealed in the ever-mounting casualties among western forces and the continuing, dire crises of insecurity and pauperization through which the Afghan people are living (or not), now, nearly seven whole years after the US invaded their country…
It’s also the whole range of questions raised about NATO’s purpose and usefulness by the whole Georgia crisis.
Many militarists here in the US have been arguing vociferously (a) that the existing NATO members should now ‘fast-track’ Georgia’s entry into the alliance and (b) that Russia would have been completely deterred from the counter-attack it launched against Georgia if Georgia had already been a member of NATO.
Excuse me?
Imagine if Georgia had already been in NATO on August 7. That was the day Pres. Saakashvili broke an existing ceasefire when he launched a rocket attack against targets in South Ossetia who included Russian peacekeepers serving there under the auspices of OSCE.
Russia’s military response to that can certainly be described as disproportionate (though not nearly as much so as, say, Israel’s assault against Lebanon in 2006.) But it was not completely unjustified… One could also describe it, in the circumstances that prevailed in the region over preceding weeks, as predictable with quite a high level of certitude.
So if Georgia was already a NATO member, would NATO as a whole have come to Saak’s rescue once the Russians counter-attacked? Or failing NATO-as-a-whole, would individual NATO members have sent in enough troops to push the Russians back out and “punish” them?
(NATO’s ground-rules of “all for one and one for all” would indicate that it should be NATO as a whole that responds… But we could look at the other option, too.)
In a word, no.
And that’s the real crisis of NATO. It doesn’t actually seem to have any point any more. And that is probably what has gotten “front-line” states like Poland and the Czech Republic into such a tizzy right now.
A good part of the reason that NATO wouldn’t have come to Saak’s aid even if Georgia were already in it is that it couldn’t have done so effectively because of the deep bleeding of its lifeblood and capabilities over Iraq and Afghanistan. The US military is the absolutely necessary backbone of NATO. But now, US ground forces are stretched to break-point. US military airlift, sealift, global recon capabilities, and long-distance attack platforms are all just about fully tied up trying to keep the Iraq and Afghanistan missions going.
And no, no-one in the US– as far as I know– was about to launch a nuclear first strike against Russia over Ossetia.
Nor should we forget that the political infrastructure of NATO– the web of relationships among its members– was rent in two by Bush’s decision to invade Iraq and remains in very bad shape because of the demands placed by Bush regarding Afghanistan…
So the Bush administration’s decisions to (a) invade Iraq and (b) frog-march as many NATO members as possible into the mission in Afghanistan have caused NATO’s crisis to manifest itself with particular sharpness right now.
But there are deeper problems, too… Mainly those connected with the phenomena of mission creep and/or mission dissolution. (Often linked phenomena in troubled organizations, I note.)
NATO was founded in 1949. Its founding goal– as its first Secretary-General, Lord Ismay, once famously said– was “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.” (I got the attribution on that great quote from Wikipedia, whose entry on NATO is pretty good.)
So what do you do, if you’re a western leader, in 1991-93, when first the Warsaw Pact and then the Soviet Union itself collapses?
Do you hold a victory party, dissolve NATO, and then work with Russia and all the former WP/Soviet states to build a new, much better set of relationships among all these countries? (You might call that the Abraham Lincoln approach.)
You could have used OSCE as the main framework for this, given its significant history and its broad, trans-Eurasian and even transatlantic reach.
Or there were those, back in the early 1990s, who proposed inviting Russia (and presumably all the other formerly -Soviet countries) to join NATO.
Andrew Meier reminds us that that idea aroused significant interest from Boris Yeltsin, who in 1991 described it as his “long-term political aim.” Also, that even Vladimir Putin, during his first few days in office in March 2000, still expressed support for that aim.
But Presidents GHW Bush, Clinton, and GW Bush have never been able to get their heads around that idea of Russian integration into the transatlantic system on the “equal” basis that both Yeltsin and Putin insisted on. Indeed, they and the vast majority of the US political elite seem, even after the fall of the Soviet Union, to have stuck rigidly to the idea that the idea of NATO is “to keep the Russians out” of the system.
But given that the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union had both collapsed, there then arose the tricky political problem of how do you “sell” NATO, and the non-trivial costs involved in keeping the old war-horse going, to its sometimes skeptical non-US members? The watchword in some US circles at the time was that NATO had to either go “out of area”– that is, take on tasks outside its traditional Central European (counter-Russian) area– or it would have to go “out of business.”
As we can see from a glance at the map, Afghanistan is massively “out of area”!
So that’s one of the big differences between NATO and OSCE. NATO’s goal was to keep Russia out while OSCE’s goal, since the very beginning, has been to keep the Russians and their allies well integrated within the transatlantic/Eurasian part of the world system.
The other difference– which is huge, and fundamental– is that NATO is overwhelmingly a military alliance. Military action is its entire raison d’etre. (Hence, the need for ‘enemies’, and the shock with which most NATO leaders view any suspicion that Russia might be included in the membership… After all, if Russia is not an ‘enemy’, what is NATO for? Ah, good question.)
OSCE, by contrast, seeks to use numerous networks of relationships in the non-military sphere to try to keep its 56 member nations together, to build up support for common norms and for the institutions that embody and further them. One key one being the norm of finding nonviolent ways to resolve thorny political problems..
Hence, the role that OSCE’s been playing for the past 17 years– including inside Georgia– in midwifing and monitoring ceasefire and demilitarization agreements among and sometimes within its member states.
So here’s my proposal. Let’s declare the Cold War over? Let’s disband NATO. And rather than looking at ways to further encircle, ‘contain’, or push back Russia, let’s work hard at strengthening the norm of nonviolent conflict resolution across the board, including by seeking stronger roles for the UN, at the global level, and for OSCE, in the areas that it covers.
One good first step: OSCE’s announcement yesterday that it will be increasing the number of unarmed military monitoring officers it has inside Georgia by “up to 100.” Twenty of these monitors should be deployed “immediately.”

Sarkozy’s ceasefire, Georgia’s future

The NYT was able to use its people’s good relations with the Georgian government to get hold of the text of the ceasefire agreement that Sarkozy got the Russians to agree to at 2 a.m. Wednesday. Here it is, in PDF, with the French original bearing handwritten notes representing the Georgian side’s requests for further revisions, which according to this accompanying story by Andrew Kramer Russia had not accepted..
According to Kramer, when Sarkozy made his first stop in Tbilisi earlier this week he and the Georgians agreed to the first four four of the six points listed there. He then went to Moscow, where Putin (and Medvedev?) insisted on adding the last two points. So the six-point version without the phrases added in parentheses is what Moscow agreed to. And then, during Wednesday, yesterday, the Russians used the provision in Point 5 that says, “While awaiting an international mechanism, Russian peacekeeping forces will implement additional security measures” to advance further into Georgia, go into the military bases the Georgian forces had abandoned there, to confiscate all the weapons etc.
In the interest of assuring “security”, of course.
Since some of these bases had been built to strict NATO specifications, I imagine the Russians were also extremely interested in many of the things they found there, including computers, security systems, and so on.
But this provision about being able to implement “additional security measures” seems to give them very wide latitude to rush around wherever they please inside Georgia and to suppress any forces there that might oppose them.
(The Russians take as given that all the troops they have in Georgia are “peacekeeping forces.” Just another really horrible example– like the west’s much favored “humanitarian intervention”, or the idea of US troops as “liberators” in Iraq– of the misuse of eirenic language to euphemize what are obviously extremely coercive actions backed up by brute force.)
My reading of Moscow’s decisionmakers is that they most likely won’t, in fact, use the permission that Point Five might, by some readings, appear to give them to take over Tbilisi or other parts of Georgia. But they almost certainly will use their presence inside Georgia to extract the very best political terms they can from Tbilisi.
Charles Krauthammer, in his belligerent column today, warned against the “Finlandization” that he identified as being Russia’s goal in Georgia.
“Finlandization” is the term to describe the arrangement that tiny Finland worked out with Stalin’s Russia in 1947. It gave the Finns broad autonomy (or, a form of bounded “sovereignty”) over its conduct of the entire gamut of domestic affairs, while the Finns agreed that Moscow could exercise a virtual veto over its conduct of foreign affairs.
Wikipedia tells us that,

    After the Paris Peace Treaty of 1947, Finland succeeded in retaining democracy and parliamentarism, despite the heavy political pressure on Finland’s foreign and internal affairs by the Soviet Union. Finland’s foreign relations were guided by the doctrine formulated by Juho Kusti Paasikivi, emphasizing the necessity to maintain a good and trusting relationship with the Soviet Union. To this end, Finland signed an Agreement of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance with the Soviet Union in April 1948. Under this pact, Finland was obliged to resist armed attacks by “Germany or its allies” against Finland, or against the Soviet Union through Finland, and, if necessary, ask for Soviet military aid to do so. At the same time, the agreement recognized Finland’s desire to remain outside great power conflicts, allowing the country to adopt a policy of neutrality during the Cold War. As a consequence, Finland did not participate in the Marshall Plan, and took neutral positions on Soviet overseas initiatives. By keeping very cool relations to NATO, and to western military powers in general, Finland could fend off Soviet preludes for affiliation to the Warsaw Pact…

In US public discourse, Finlandization is generally seen as a form of humiliating appeasement, and something to be avoided at even a very high cost. (Strange, then, that these same westerners have consistently been urging the Palestinians to accept a deal from Israel that gives them terms considerably less favorable than what Finland won from Moscow?)
Within Finland itself, the period of Finlandization is viewed with considerably more nuance than in the US. I’d like to suggest that in Georgia, some arrangement like the one that gave Finns such broad rights of local self-governance– under which they kept their country out of both the Warsaw Pact and NATO, used the revenues that they saved by not having to maintain large armies to make considerable advances in their socioeconomic and educational status, and used their neutral diplomatic status to host important east-west gatherings like the 1974 Helsinki Conference– might be considerably better for the country’s people(s) than a descent into further war?
… Anyway, the diplomacy over these issues has still only barely started. First, let’s hope the ceasefire holds.

On US over-stretch

When I blogged about the Ossetia crisis Sunday, I wrote that one thing it clearly showed was that “The ‘west’ is hopelessly over-stretched, what with all its current commitments of troops in Iraq, a crisis-ridden Afghanistan, and (still) in the Balkans…”
Today, McClatchy’s dogged reporter Jonathan Landay gives us more details of that over-stretch. (HT: Dan Froomkin.) Landay quoted one US official as saying that the US military authorities had not really understood the seriousness of the preparations the Russian military had recently made along the Georgian border– because US spy satellites and other means of technical espionage were “pretty well consumed by Iraq, Afghanistan and now Pakistan.”
That, you could describe as logistical over-stretch. But there has also been political over-stretch. You’ll recall that back last year, shortly after the Bush administration announced that portions of its new “ballistic missile defense system” would be placed in Poland and the Czech Republic, Russia announced that it would withdraw from the 1990 Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE). Few people paid much heed at the time, or thought thaqt Moscow’s exit from that older treaty was very important. But one of the key provisions of the CFE Treaty was that signatories were committed to engaging in regular exchanges of information about troop movements and submitting to challenge inspections from other treaty participants.
Guess what. After Russia withdrew from the CFE, they no longer had to do that.
And guess what else. It truly seems that no-one in the Pentagon was on duty last week as Russia’s troop build-up gained momentum.
All that, despite Condi Rice’s long-vaunted reputation as a go-to “expert” on Russian military affairs…
Landay quoted the unnamed US official as saying,

    “I wouldn’t say we were blind… I would say that we mostly were focused elsewhere, unlike during the Cold War, when we’d see a single Soviet armor battalion move. So, yes, the size and scope of the Russian move has come as something of a surprise.”
    Now, the United States is left with few options for countering what it calls Russia’s “disproportionate” response to Georgia…

And that, mind you, despite the continued presence of presence of some 130 US military trainers in Georgia.
Ouch. Did anyone say “over-stretch”?
… So what does it all mean?
It means that this conceit that members of the US political elite of both parties have nearly all entertained for the past 15 years: that the dominance of the US military over just about the entire globe is really, kind of the natural order of things… and that yes, of course, our country has “vital” interests in very distant parts of the world that yes, of course, we need to be able to protect– on our own, if necessary… now, that entire conceit is no longer going to be sustainable.
We are, after all, less than five percent of humanity. Sure, there are still a few countries we can bludgeon in one way or another into supporting this or that military adventure. Like the way Tony Blair and Georgia’s Mikheil Saakashvili agreed– for their own reasons– to contribute their support and a limited amount of their own manpower to the US project in Iraq. Like the way that some (but not all) NATO countries got strong-armed into acting as if Afghanistan were really right their in their own “North Atlantic” backyard. But these contributions from the increasingly resentful allies never added up to anything that would solve either the intense manpower problems, or the intense legitimacy-deficit problems, or the horrendously mounting funding problems suffered by these imperial-style US projects in distant countries.
So we need a radically different model of how the world’s countries can act in response to the security challenges that just about all of our countries face.
As it happens, this model exists. It is one that the US itself created, back in 1945. It is one based on the unassailable foundations of a commitment to finding nonviolent ways to resolve thorny international conflicts, and a deep respect for the equality of all human persons and all nations. It’s called the United Nations.
It also happens that just last week I wrote a piece in the CSM arguing strongly that the US should seek UN leadership of the peace-restoration efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan…
Just imagine if, over the past seven years, the US government had put its energies into using, building up, and reforming the UN and its associated principles, instead of going full-bore for unabashedly US-led military action in Afghanistan and Iraq!
Imagine how much stronger the mechanisms of nonviolent conflict resolution available to the world’s leaders would be today.
Imagine how different the politics of Russia’s relations with its neighbors and with the world’s other big powers would be.
Imagine how different Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Palestine, and that whole part of the world would look today.
Imagine the resources that, instead of being thrown into equipping very expensive, hi-tech military units and sending them halfway round the world to kill and die, could instead have been spent on rebuilding flourishing communities in Africa.
Imagine the lives that would have been spared. Imagine the families that would still be whole, instead of having to live with their current pain of bereavement or displacement…
Well, regarding the past seven years, we can only sit here and imagine that alternative universe.
But regarding the coming seven or 20 years, there are many things that we who are US citizens can and need to do, to turn our country away from the dead-end of unilateralism and militarism.
What’s happened this past week in Georgia has been a tragedy of serious proportions. But we also need to look at it as a lesson of what happens when one country, that represents only five percent of the world’s people, tries to run the whole world– and then finds itself hopelessly over-stretched.
There is a better way.
It’s called shared leadership, and the rebuilding of sturdy institutions of all-nation cooperation and action. Let’s pursue it.

The South Ossetian War: Some thoughts

Some of the best running commentary on the War of South Ossetia has been that produced by Bernhard at Moon of Alabama over recent days. Including this post today. What I find particularly useful about Bernhard’s blogging is his ability both to keep up with diverse news sources and to reveal to “western” readers the biases that are often deeply embedded in our MSM’s coverage of the events. For the latter, see some of what he wrote here.
Today, the NYT’s James Traub had a lengthy piece on the Ossetian war. It provided a lot of deep background about the decades-old disputes between Georgia and Russia (but actually, not a whole lot more than you can get in Wikipedia); and it noted, quite rightly, the relationship between Russia’s support for the self-rule of the South Ossetians (and Abkhazians) and the recognition that many western nations recently gave to the “independence” of Kosovo.
There are a large number of structural parallels between these cases, as well as a causal relationship. (Parallels, too, with the campaigns many westerners have supported for the breakaway of Iraqi Kurdistan and Darfur from the countries of which they are currently part.)
Traub’s piece is, however, plagued by being confined within the same occidocentric bubble that Bernhard does such a good job of identifying and puncturing. For example, Traub repeatedly refers to westerners “getting it” when they come to share his own judgment that Putin’s Russia is aggressive and hostile. (So much for “objectivity”!) And in his last graf, he writes this:

    One party has all the hard power it could want, the other all the soft.

I’m assuming he means it’s the Russians who have all the hard power, and the Georgians who have all the soft power?
Well, perhaps inside the NYT bubble things look like that. (“Harsh Russian aggressors! Poor, long-suffering Georgian victims!”) But in the rest of the world– and almost certainly within Russia itself — they probably look very different, or perhaps even the reverse of that. There have certainly been civilian victims of Georgian military power within South Ossetia, and Georgian civilian victims of Russian military power within Georgia. But you can bet that in the Russian media, only the former have been given the spotlight; just as in the NYT’s reporting today there were three prominent photos of Georgian victims surveying the results of Russian bombing (one of them on the front page), and only one photo of Ossetian victims of Georgian bombing. This, though the wire-service reporting seems to indicate that there have been much greater numbers of victims in S. Ossetia than in Georgia.
Well, it is hard at this point to know the precise numbers of victims on either side. But it’s not hard to conclude that Traub’s judgment about the relevant distribution of hard power and soft is quite misleading.
It’s interesting, too, to see that Haaretz reported today that,

    Jewish Georgian Minister Temur Yakobshvili on Sunday praised the Israel Defense Forces for its role in training Georgian troops and said Israel should be proud of its military might, in an interview with Army Radio.
    “Israel should be proud of its military which trained Georgian soldiers,” Yakobashvili told Army Radio in Hebrew, referring to a private Israeli group Georgia had hired.
    … Yakobashvili said that a small group of Georgian soldiers had able to wipe out an entire Russian military division due to this training.

H’mm. That sure sounds like some Georgian access to hard power, to me. As do the reports of Georgia getting SAM-5 missiles from Ukraine… Also, I wonder how those revelations in Haaretz might affect Israel’s long-tended relations with Moscow?
Well, despite Yakobashvili’s crowing, it seems the Georgian government took enough of a drubbing from its massive northern neighbor that it is now eager to sue for peace.
The final outcome on the ground from this nasty and damaging little war are still far from clear. But some of the broader implications for world politics of what has been happening are already emerging:

    1. The “west” is hopelessly over-stretched, what with all its current commitments of troops in Iraq, a crisis-ridden Afghanistan, and (still) in the Balkans. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was most likely relying to a great extent on the NATO forces pulling his chestnuts out of the Ossetian fire if they should start to burn there. But NATO is in absolutely no position to do that. All the US could do to give him any concrete help was to gather up and return to his country the 2,000 Georgian troops who had previously part of their occupation coalition in Iraq. That airlift is happening right now. But it will do little to affect the balance on the ground in the Caucasus, while it will certainly cause considerable disruptions to the US project in Iraq.
    2. Russia is coming back as a force to be reckoned with in world politics. This is no longer the 1990s– which for Russians was an era of economic mega-crisis, dismemberment, and rampantly atrocious (mis-)governance. The Russia of the years ahead will not have the great weight in world politics of the Soviet era. But neither will it be the confused, resource-starved pygmy of the Yeltsin era.
    3. Westerners who thought they could easily redraw international boundaries as they pleased, without consequence for their own interests, will have to rethink the wisdom of that tactic. The national boundaries drawn up and laid down in, basically, the post-1945 era, are in many places highly imperfect. (Especially throughout Africa!) But the system of boundaries and sovereignty that they represent acquired its own logic, however imperfect. Tinker with one, and the whole system threatens to unravel. I tried to argue that point– among others– back in February, when I expressed my criticism of the move that many western nations made toward recognizing (and even encouraging) the Kosovars’ declaration of independence. Lots of food for thought there for the Iraqi Kurds, too…

This latter point about the wisdom of the tendency many westerners have shown in recent years to encourage secessionist movements– especially those seeking to secede from countries they disapprove of— is worth a lot more exploration. Back in February, Russia’s leaders were quite explicit in warning that if western nations proceeded with backing Kosovar independence, then they might well push for a similar outcome for Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Putin and Medvedev had also repeatedly expressed their deep concern at the prospect that NATO might extend membership to both Georgia (and Ukraine.) So Saakashvili should have known he was playing with fire when, earlier this week, he ordered his security forces to “retake South Ossetia by force”, thus breaking the Sochi Agreement of 1992, which gave responsibility for public security in the S. O. region to a Russian-commanded peacekeeping force.
That would be equivalent, in Kosovo, to Serbia sending in its armed forces to seize control of Kosovo from the western-dominated peacekeeping force that’s currently in control there.
(Worth reading about present-day Kosovo, by the way, is this depressing piece of reporting by Jeremy Harding in the LRB. He writes, “No one would have imagined that a UN protectorate in Europe, stuffed with NGOs and awash with donor receipts, could perform so badly. Kosovo has low growth, no inflation, and few signs of an emerging economy… In Kosovo every scam and indignity, from the protection of ex-KLA war criminals down, is common knowledge…” Under its new banner of “independence”, Kosovo doesn’t quite seem to have become the land of milk and honey that some people predicted?)
But back to Saakashvili. He seems to have miscalculated, rather badly. The west that was so ready and eager to take on the Russians over Kosovo back in March 1999 is not nearly as ready– or able– to take them on over Georgia, nine years later.
On Friday, Reuters’ William Schomberg quoted James Nixey, an analyst at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, as saying that,

    Saakashvili had worried Western capitals with his tendency to overreact when provoked.
    That was shown when he used force last year to quash anti-government protesters and again now in the conflict in South Ossetia, [Nixey] said…
    “If he is going to start a war, he is going to lose the support of a lot of friends in the West.”
    … Analysts said Saakashvili’s gamble in launching military action against the rebels could trigger a David-and-Goliath war between his country and the its powerful neighbour Russia, and it was far from certain that the West would come to his rescue.
    “He has had plenty of warnings from the West that it won’t pull any chestnuts out of the fire for him so I don’t think he can count on the cavalry riding in,” said Fraser Cameron of the EU-Russia centre in Brussels.

One last little note I want to make here is about the use and abuse of the whole concept of “humanitarian intervention”, being used as a reason to launch military operations that by their very nature are quite anti-humanitarian.
I have no doubt at all that Russia’s media are at this very moment displaying all kinds of images of suffering Ossetian civilians and describing Russia’s actions in Ossetia as as an intensely “humanitarian intervention.”
And similarly (mutatis mutandis) in Georgia.
This should give us all pause.
Back in 1999, I was one of the few liberal commentators in the western MSM who argued consistently against the idea that a western military campaign against Serbia could ever be described as a “humanitarian intervention”, or otherwise justified.
Please, let’s now take this opportunity to bury this idea, once and for all, that wars can ever be described as “humanitarian.”