Thursday, August 28, 2008

Conflict in Georgia, and NATO's interests

Georgian Nation
Caucasus Region
(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.

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.
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.

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.

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.
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.

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.

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At 10:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My comments will not reflect that I consider Georgia's inclusion in NATO as a good idea. But I'm going to digress.

There were signs well in advance of the outbreak whether it was the 6th or the 7th. A Russian Mig-29 shot a UVA out of the sky that was hovering over Azbekia and was reported by Reuters on April 17.

Now any thinking person would realize that Georgia could not have produced a fairly sophisticated unmanned aireal vehicle. Two countries should likely be considered as the source manufacturer. That the Russians would deliberately target the UAV which they well knew would have camera footage showing the aircraft that brought it down, and that footage would be seen by the source country, should have been recognized by the source country that Russia "just might" not view such activities as welcome. A reasonable person might have concluded that Russia would respond in a disagreeable way should anything "untoward" occur.

NATO military forces depend heavily on the US military. The US military (land forces especially) are pretty much "otherwise engaged" and kinda over-extended and a bit tired.

So, the only effective arm of US military force projection must be naval in nature. US naval force projection is heavily aircraft carrier dependent. The Straits of Bosphorus present a challenge, actually the straight, even if it were deep enough (which it is not) is so narrow that any passing ship would be rather vulnerable.

Naval launched aircraft have rather limited range and unlike the Taliban, Russia possesses an airforce. Perhaps not possessing the "gee-whiz" factor of either NATO or US aircraft, but their flight distances would be much shorter. So then figure a long range aircraft?

Well that option would be America's B-52. One slight problem exists in using the B-52. It has been well known for a fair number of decades that the B-52 is the workhorse of America's Strategic Air Command. SAC is not the tactical arm of US air power in Russia's eyes. It is the aircraft America specifically designed to deliver nuclear weapons onto Russian targets.

Sending a squadron of 52's toward even a neighboring country in close proximity to Russia proper could be a dicey proposition.

Wars should be fought when a country's direct national interests are paramount or when a country's existence is at stake. To put it bluntly, whether or not Georgia makes great cheese or has an oil pipeline, or even whether it has (at best somewhat dubiously) a democratic form of government has not yet been shown to be in the direct national interests of my home country-the US- to my satisfaction yet.

I could go on about other facets of an argument over whether Georgia should be considered worth the risk, I realize I sound to some, unpatriotic perhaps, but so what? If we must defend some country due to it's democratic aspirations, why not gather our NATO allies and invade Haiti?

That way the Russians will be the ones having to fly the distance.


At 10:24 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, JK, your expertise is appreciated, and you give me still more to think about.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am not qualified to speak regarding current political situations, so I will present a biblical perspective.
Ezekiel 38 deals with a future invasion of Israel by Gog and Magog, which speaks of the prince and the land, that many scholars believe refers to Russia. Included are many allies named by Ezekiel. When this event is to take place is uncertain, except in a time when Israel is dwelling in supposed safety, perhaps under the protection of the prince spoken of by Daniel, in various chapters.
Russia likely has not given up her dream of consolidation and world power, and what we see is an example of her goal of uniting their former members of the USSR.
Whether this will happen in our lifetimes is arguable, but it is interesting to me to observe from that perspective.
Someone has said that coming events cast their shadows beforehand.
This, plus the rise of Islam and Asian nations, the European Common Market league, and world events in general makes me think that the prophecies of the Old and New Testaments could be nearing a climax.

At 7:40 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Uncle Cran, the end has seemed imminent before, and we're still waiting . . . but I guess that we'll find out eventually.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now I suppose that I should defer to the prophecies because they are after all-Divinely inspired.

But to me, the Divine also infers that it is wrong to commit suicide. Whether some scholars believe that Russia is Gog and Magog does not necessarily mean that all scholars agree. So it would seem that if man-even though he might seem to be in error-seeking to avoid a "situation" that involves a known nuclear power, apparently willing to go to some efforts which could result in an escalation; might be tempting the Devil.

I have heard that some early believers felt they were living in the end times. Actually I've read of various and somewhat sundry persons who also believe they lived in the end times.

My guess is that the Divine "wishes" in His version of poker, to hold His cards close to His vest and not show them to the likes of man.

I'm only guessing here-I do not pretend to know His Mind. But if I, or my fellow man were to be engaged in that hand of poker, I don't consider it a good strategy to bluff.


At 8:44 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

As Falstaff put it, "Discretion is the better part of valor" . . . though he might have meant by that "cowardice."

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone who thinks they can predict when prophetic events will happen, I immediately conclude they are either deluded or a false prophet. One mistake labels you as such.
I don't have a clue when they will be fulfilled.
But as I said, it is interesting to watch current events. The best I can do is say that they will be fulfilled on God's schedule, not ours. Every time the Lord spoke of his return, he said no man knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the son of man (during his earthly ministry, I presume), just his father in heaven.
History records that in just about every generation, someone thinks they have figured it out. So far, they have been 100% wrong.
Notice I said, events could be nearing a climax, but I would be the first to say that I don't know, neither does anyone else know when these things will happen.
The Lord concluded that we are to be ready, for we don't know when He will return. That's the best I, or anyone else can do.
I just try to live each day as if it could happen now, and plan as though it is in the distant future.

At 3:27 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

"I just try to live each day as if it could happen now, and plan as though it is in the distant future."

I think that yours is the best approach -- and the same way that we should approach our own mortality.

Reportedly, Martin Luther said that even if he knew that Jesus would return tomorrow, he'd plant a tree today.

There are variants on this saying, some attributed to figures other than Luther, so I don't know who really said it first, but it's well-expressed.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would simply attempt a more specific method in what I mean to say.

Man does not have any say in God's doings, if the End is nigh, well the End is pretty doggone close.

However man does have some say in what the affairs of men shall be. Some say definitively that God is a Republican. Some say he at least watches over fools and Democrats. I believe that God is an Independent, in fact the most independent of Independents. I acknowledge I make errors in judgement too frequently.

However, man, specifically that group of men (and women) who make the decisions regarding whether a prospective nation should be included in a man-made organization, Which would be bound of necessity, that should that nation be attacked for whatever reason-then the decision makers would be obligated to make war on whichever other nation might have, might not have, attacked the new member.

I have not read in the Bible that after the day God rested, God said "Let there be NATO, and there was NATO."

I have read that a group of nations got together after WWII and formed a mutual protective alliance based partly but particularly on mutual characteristics and interests.

At the time the original charter was formed Georgia, for whatever reason did not meet the requirements. I see no compelling reasons yet, that Georgia fits the bill now.

Now it may be that God whispered in George W's ear that Georgia must be included, I don't know, George hasn't mentioned it yet. Until he does, I should think NATO should consider the glass overflowing rather than empty.


At 5:54 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Abraham Lincoln is supposed to have said, "I do not boast that God is on my side, I humbly pray that I am on God's side."

I don't know if those are his exact words, nor do I know that context, but the point seems appropriate.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, noted preacher in England, was asked what he would do if he knew Jesus would return tomorrow night at midnight, replied in somewhat this vein, (as I don't have the exact quote):
He said he would rise at the usual hour, partake his meal, read and study as usual, in the afternoon, continue his regular routine, dine in the evening, retire at the normal time,and wake up in glory.
When you think of some of the excesses of various groups who thought they knew the time of his return, perhaps the Lord knows best in keeping it his secret.
It would be nice to be more specific in my statements, but since I am not in God's planning committee, this is the best I can do. The secret things belong to the Lord, Deuteronomy 29:29.

At 8:23 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

The wise hold similar views.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:29 PM, Blogger Bohemian in Korea said...

The Bohemian just staggered in a with whiskey on his breath and a cigarette in his hand reminded me that when we lived under the threat of nuclear war we all had better manners. It appears we all have forgot that life can be ended oh so easily

At 9:35 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

BoHinK, that Bohemian is right again . . . and being from the coast of Bohemia, he ought to know all about Russian domination, the Prague Spring, and an overriding need for courtesy.

Jeffery Hodges

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