Georgian Reflections

The EU has faulted both sides in the 2008 Russia-Georgia conflict for violations of international law.  Russia, unsurprisingly, broke international law by its invasion of Georgia and its attacks on Georgian civilian infrastructure.  Though if that’s against international law, color me confused as to nations are supposed to fight wars and if any of them have ever done so.  The real meat of the report is not, however, what Russia did wrong but the simple fact that was clear a while ago to anyone paying attention: Georgia started the war by its bombardment of Russian forces.  Maybe John McCain feels a little silly for proclaiming that, “Today, we are all Georgians”…though probably not.  The point here is not that Georgians are “to blame” for the war (although they are), but that the worst instincts of both American political parties were pushing America towards a conflict with Russia over something really, really stupid.  And who says there’s no such thing as bipartisanship?
Call it a more generalized corollary of the “Foreigners are weird” dictum: Foreigner’s security strategies don’t necessarily match up with our own.  America sees NATO as a stabilizing force, and so is seeking to spread it eastwards.  Russia sees NATO expansion as an attempt to intimidate Russia, and so is trying to dissuade the West.  Georgia is threatened by Russian backing of internal insurgencies, and so sees American backing not as a failsafe, but a free hand to do whatever they feel like in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.  Quelling secessionism is certainly Georgia’s prerogative, just like the U.S. did in the Civil War, but I fail to see the compelling interest America has in the incorporation of Abkhazia into the Georgian commonwealth.  Georgia was on the road to NATO membership, and the main reason the Georgian war was a localized tragedy rather than something much worse is that they hadn’t made it yet.
Hopefully this report will convince American politicians that it’s not a good idea to extend unconditional security guarantees to states that will not behave responsibly if they receive them.  Of course it won’t, any more than Matsu and Quemoy taught the same lesson to America 50 years ago.  Here’s hoping we go another 50 years without anything terrible happening because of it.

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