Conflict in Georgia, and NATO's interests
(Image from Wikipedia)
Although my blog has given no indications of my awareness that Russia has invaded Georgia, I have been paying attention to events there. I've written nothing here because I lack sufficient information and don't know the history of that region well nor the validity of conflicting claims made by various ethnic groups.
I have also been aware that the US has pressed its reluctant NATO allies to accept Georgia as a member of that military organization, partly as reward for contributing troops to the effort in Iraq, but I have wondered if that's a good idea, strategically. In the first place, for several nearly two hundred years Georgia was part of the Russian empire (if we include Soviet domination), and for even longer has been within Russia's immediate sphere of influence. In the second place, ethnic tensions within Georgia make it an unstable state and thus not clearly a proper candidate for inclusion within Nato. Both of these points -- Russian interests and ethnic tensions -- are interrelated, for ethnic minorities in Georgia look to Russia as their champion and Russia legitimates its policies there on that basis.
As William Pfaff points out in a recent article for the International Herald Tribune, "NATO membership for Georgia has war with Russia built into it" ("Why Georgia Does Not Belong in NATO," IHT, August 12, 2008):
In Georgia . . . [the intrinsic conflict] is between the linguistically distinct enclaves that in the past were Russian and wish again to be Russian, and the majority of Georgians who want to be part of the West, but are also determined to dominate their rebellious territories.Right. Ethnic tensions. Russian interests. NATO membership? Why should NATO involve itself in such a region that is traditionally part of neither Europe's nor America's sphere of influence if that region is plausibly within Russia's sphere of influence and clearly so unstable? A reasonable, positive answer might exist for this question, but I've not yet seen a persuasive one.
If they would peacefully renounce those territories, an ethnically and culturally united Georgia would have every right to demand NATO membership. But as things are now (or were, until the last few days), [Georgian president] Mikheil Saakashvili wants his country inside NATO to protect him from the consequences of forcing those dissident territories to remain under Georgian domination. NATO has no business doing such a thing, and as Russia supports the rebel enclaves, NATO membership for Georgia has war with Russia built into it. As we have just seen.
Moreover, assuming that reports are correct, then as events have recently shown, Saakashvili cannot be relied upon to show wise restraint, for he provoked this current conflict on "Aug. 7 when Georgia launched a barrage targeting South Ossetia, which claims independence and close ties to Russia," or so states the ordinarily reputable International Herald Tribune in an Associated Press article of August 23, 2008, "South Ossetians happily loot village in Georgia." And nearly every other report that I've heard has stated the same point, namely, that Georgia's central government started the conflict by sending its military to bring South Ossetia back under its control, overunning Russian peacekeepers in the process and thereby making inevitable a Russian military response.
However, some dissenting voices have been raised about this chronology. Michael J. Totten, whose reports from Iraq over the past couple of years have been exceptionally informative, was in the Caucasus region when the conflict began, and he presents a heterodox view in "The Truth About Russia in Georgia" (Middle East Journal, August 26, 2008):
Virtually everyone believes Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili foolishly provoked a Russian invasion on August 7, 2008, when he sent troops into the breakaway district of South Ossetia. "The warfare began Aug. 7 when Georgia launched a barrage targeting South Ossetia," the Associated Press reported over the weekend in typical fashion.If this is correct, then this war was more likely provoked by Russia as a step toward enforcing its interests in the Caucasus, an interpretation of events that I find reasonable -- whether or not this happens to be the case. Totten relies for his information on two individuals knowledgeable about the region, the German Patrick Worms, a former European Commission official (but currently a public relations advisor to Georgia), and the American Thomas Goltz, an author and academic (and an expert on the Caucasus). Totten's report is worth reading in its entirety for a different view of what has happened.
Virtually everyone is wrong. Georgia didn't start it on August 7, nor on any other date. The South Ossetian militia started it on August 6 when its fighters fired on Georgian peacekeepers and Georgian villages with weapons banned by the agreement hammered out between the two sides in 1994. At the same time, the Russian military sent its invasion force bearing down on Georgia from the north side of the Caucasus Mountains on the Russian side of the border through the Roki tunnel and into Georgia. This happened before Saakashvili sent additional troops to South Ossetia and allegedly started the war.
Yet be that as it may, the question remains: Why should NATO invite into its military coalition an unstable country in such a conflicted region?
I'm willing to listen to reasonable suggestions.