Tag Archives: Russia

Russia vs. Georgia

In the midst of an otherwise sensible op-ed on the Russia-Georgia conflict, Anne Applebaum tells us to steel ourselves for “Russian military escapades to come.” First they take South Ossetia, then they take . . . the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic? Aside from the designers of Tom Clancy’s latest video game, is anyone anticipating Russian expansionism over the next few years?

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Why Georgia Isn’t Munich

Good stuff from TNR’s Joshua Tucker on Ukraine and Russia:

These points notwithstanding, an invasion of Ukraine by Russia remains very unlikely in the near future for a whole host of reasons. First and foremost, an armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine would likely be a different affair from the one between Russia and Georgia by orders of magnitude; one expert on the Russian military responded to my query by estimating that if the Georgian military was a 1 and the Russian military a 10 on a 1-10 scale, the Ukrainian military would be about a 5 or a 6. Second, Russia has plenty of its own troubles to deal with at the moment in the wake of the global financial crisis. This particular factor will be greatly exacerbated if the price of oil–which has provided a great deal of the backbone to Russia’s newly aggressive foreign policy tactics–continues to fall. Third, Russia paid a heavy price for its invasion of Georgia, including international condemnation, the flight of foreign capital from Russian markets, and even encouragement of separatists within its own borders. Finally, Russia still hopes to extend the lease of the Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol beyond 2017, and any armed conflict with Ukraine that did not result in a complete annexation of Crimea would essentially end that possibility.

For more background on the subject, I’d recommend the Wikipedia entry on Ukraine’s massive military.

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The Future of NATO, continued

In response to my earlier post, a friend writes (via g-chat):

you realize the nato charter commits us to nothing, right?

it allows collective self-defense

“as we deem necessary” – we get to choose

i say let russia in too

it is a non-binding and irrelevant organization that does not, in just about any real way, limit our sovereignty
not to mention
that Putin said the exact same thing about every eastern/baltic state
and so did yeltsin
and so did gorbachev
and yet NATO and the EU have expanded
Again, I find it extremely difficult to imagine the United States refusing to extend military aid to a NATO ally under Russian attack. Invoking Article 5 after the September 11th attacks sets a clear precedent that treats an attack on one member as an attack against the alliance. Here’s how NATO Secretary-General George Robertson explained the treaty’s collective security arrangement after September 11:
The secretary-general added: “The (NATO) Council agreed that if it is determined that this was an attack directed from abroad against the United States, it shall be regarded as an action covered by Article V of the Washington Treaty, which states that an attack against one ally is an attack against them all.”
Would that interpretation get thrown out the window if Georgia joins the alliance and Russia attacks? Are we implicitly conceding that there are two tiers of NATO membership – one for Very Important Countries who merit defending and another for peripheral members in Eastern Europe and the Caucuses? Treating collective security as optional anywhere east of Berlin is an effective way of ruining NATO’s military credibility, but I’m not sure what it does to actually deter Russia.
One also has to imagine the political context of a McCain presidency. McCain’s aggressive pose has been greeted with rapt approval by the political right, who evidently regard any diplomatic concession as tantamount to appeasement. If McCain lets Georgia (or Ukraine) into NATO to deter Russian aggression, would he really have the political wherewithal to back down from a confrontation with Putin, even if Article 5 doesn’t explicitly require a military response? Given his absurd posturing on the subject, I doubt it.
Granted, my friend is correct to point out that political doomsayers have long predicted NATO expansion will provoke Russian retaliation. A couple of things have changed since the 1990s, however:
  1. We’re not talking about NATO membership for Poland or even the Baltics anymore – we’re talking about the Ukraine and Georgia. Whether we like it or not, Putin seems to consider both countries within Russia’s informal sphere of influence. Georgia and Ukraine have deep cultural and ethnic ties to Russia that pre-date Soviet imperialism. Their close geographic proximity is another factor to consider.
  2. 2008 is quite different from 1998. Sky-rocketing oil revenues, more military spending, cyber-attacks on Estonia, and the recent Georgia incursion all suggest that Russia is much more assertive than it was a decade ago.

If you think NATO should become a non-binding organization that enhances civil-military relations and meets to discuss counter-terrorism and collective security, that’s fine. But that’s not how John McCain (and evidently Sarah Palin) see things. They view it as a military alliance intended to deter Soviet Russian aggression. And that’s a really bad idea.

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Not Ready For Prime Time

Via TPM and The Corner, I see that Sarah Palin favors granting Georgia and Ukraine NATO membership:

GIBSON: Would you favor putting Georgia and Ukraine in NATO?

PALIN: Ukraine, definitely, yes. Yes, and Georgia.

GIBSON: Because Putin has said he would not tolerate NATO incursion into the Caucasus.

PALIN: Well, you know, the Rose Revolution, the Orange Revolution, those actions have showed us that those democratic nations, I believe, deserve to be in NATO.

Putin thinks otherwise. Obviously, he thinks otherwise, but…

GIBSON: And under the NATO treaty, wouldn’t we then have to go to war if Russia went into Georgia?

PALIN: Perhaps so. I mean, that is the agreement when you are a NATO ally, is if another country is attacked, you’re going to be expected to be called upon and help.

National Review’s Mark Hemingway explains her position thusly:

Once they’re in NATO and if they’re attacked, we might — stress might — have to defend them. But obviously a major part of the reasoning in letting them join NATO is that it might make Russia less likely to attack, no?

I hate to piss in Hemingway’s cheerios, but if a NATO member is attacked, we’re obligated to provide military assistance. From the text of the North Atlantic Treaty:

Article 5

The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force . . .

Incidentally, this very clause was invoked after September 11th to justify NATO’s involvement in Afghanistan. If Article 5 authorizes a NATO military response to a stateless terrorist group operating outside of the North Atlantic region, I find it difficult to imagine the United States wiggling out of providing direct military assistance to a NATO member under Russian attack.

Hemingway’s second point is slightly more plausible. After all, NATO’s collective military strength is impressive (although if we’re not obligated to provide military assistance, NATO membership isn’t as valuable a deterrent as Hemingway assumes). But I’m sure I’m not the first person to suggest that adding several far-flung members undermines the credibility of NATO’s Article 5 security guarantees. If Russia perceives the United States as unwilling or unable to effectively defend Georgia and the Ukraine, NATO’s deterrent is functionally irrelevant. Would the public really support a war against a former superpower armed with nuclear weapons over Georgia? I doubt it, and I don’t fancy fighting the Russians in South Ossetia to preserve the credibility of the United States’ security guarantees. Bismark’s famous maxim about the Balkans not being worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier comes to mind.

Extending NATO membership to Georgia and Ukraine puts the United States in a strategic vice: if we respond forcefully, we risk a wider war with Russia. If we fail to respond at all, other NATO members will quickly take note and cease to rely on the U.S. alliance. Ironically enough, this outcome would probably encourage further Russian aggression in Eastern and Central Europe, as the United States’ security guarantees would cease to pose a credible deterrent.

UPDATE: It’s also worth noting that Hemingway is wrong about Obama and Biden’s positions on expanding NATO membership. The statement he reproduces only states that Biden favors “. . . MAPs [Membership Action Plans] to Georgia and Ukraine at the next NATO meeting in December.” A Membership Action Plan, of course, is not the same as full NATO membership. It’s a precursor to joining the alliance that provides a set of political, legal, and military criteria that must be met by the aspirant country before the alliance considers extending full membership. I hate to accuse Joe Biden of nuance, but allowing Georgia and Ukraine to pursue Membership Action Plans gives the United States a lot more flexibility that unconditionally offering NATO membership. Similarly, Obama’s statement on NATO expansion offers no firm commitment:

I welcome the desire and actions of these countries to seek closer ties with NATO and hope that NATO responds favorably to their request, consistent with its criteria for membership. Whether Ukraine and Georgia ultimately join NATO will be a decision for the members of the alliance and the citizens of those countries, after a period of open and democratic debate.

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