RUSSIA AND THE QUESTION OF SOFT POWER: A LOOK AT THE RECENT EVIDENCE
"DUSHANBE, August 28 (RIA Novosti) - "The leaders of the SCO member states welcome the signing in Moscow of the six principles for regulating the South Ossetia conflict, and support Russia's active role in assisting peace and cooperation in this region....The SCO member states are deeply concerned over tensions around the South Ossetian issue, and call on all sides concerned to peacefully resolve existing problems through dialogue." www.en.rian.ru
"The Pope! How many divisions has he got?" Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin, 13 May 1945, as quoted by Winston Churchill in, "The Gathering Storm."
"You can do anything with a bayonet, except sit on it," attributed to Napoleon or Talleyrand.
The declaration by the Shanghai Cooperation Council, was not, as the Financial Times and other observers noted, a ringing endorsement of Russia's position in the aftermath of its victory in its war with Georgia. Indeed, according the Eurasianet.org
, the statement at the summit was clear evidence that Russia, was becoming "more diplomatically isolated," in its confrontation with the West. The failure to obtain a ringing endorsement constituting a "rude diplomatic surprise," (See: "Russia Fails to Secure Regional Backing," in www.ft.com
& "Russia: Kremlin tries to put on a brave face, following diplomatic slap," in www.eurasianet.org
). With State Department Official Robert Wood crowing today that: "Russia is doing a great job of isolating itself" (see: www.state.gov). Given the reality of the above fact (that Russia did not win, a ringing endorsement from its erstwhile allies in the SCC), as well as the fact that except for a few states, such as Belarus and Kazakhstan, few are the powers that have come out clearly on Russia's side, what one may ask is the upshot of the lack of Russian diplomatic support? In short how important is the fact that Russia does not have much in the way of 'soft power'?
According to the Bulgarian scholar, Ivan Krastev, the Russo-Georgian War, highlights the fact that the Russia of Putin and Medvedev is a 19th century Great Power revidivus. As per Krastev, in one of the few interesting essays that I have come across in quite awhile dealing with Russia's place in the international politics:
"Russia's failure to persuade the world of the legitimacy of its actions in and towards Georgia should force Moscow to rethink its plans for a return to the world stage. Russia is a born-again 19th-century power that acts in the post-20th-century world where arguments of force and capacity cannot any longer be the only way to define the status or conduct of great powers. The absence of "soft power" is particularly dangerous for a would-be revisionist state. For if a state wants today to remake the world order, it must be able both to rely on the existing and emerging constellation of powers and be able to capture the international public's imagination.
Another way of making this point is to say that the normative moment of the 1990s is over, but the need for universalist appeal has remained. The lesson of the Georgia war for Russia is that Russia cannot become the only kind of great power possible under 21st-century conditions if it remains trapped within a 19th-century definition of international politics. Russia needs a new time-machine" ("Russia and the Georgian War: the Great Power Trap," in www.ecfr.eu).
The above point of view, raises the crucial question of how important is exactly 'soft power,' and can Russia do without it, and, still be an effective actor in the international stage? Using Joseph Nye's classical definition of 'Soft Power', as being the ability to use persuasion, as opposed to brute force, to obtain consent from other powers in the International arena. With the subtext that cultural and or ideological influences being upper most as variables here. The USA cultural influences in the 20th century being classical examples. Well from a historical perspective, it does not appear that Russia (as opposed to Sovietskaya Vlast) was ever a heavy weight in the realm of "soft power". As opposed to say France (the reigning champion of 'soft power', in pre-1914 international politics), or England, or even Wilhelmine Germany. Yet that fact, does not have appeared to have greatly handicapped Saint Petersburg, in its foreign policy in the two hundred years prior to the outbreak of the Great War. Indeed, as compared to say La Belle France, Russia's net performance, is by almost every definition infinitely better, more effective, in this time frame. Which seems to indicate that in point of fact, 'Soft Power,' is not ne plus ultra of international politics, that Nye and his adherents seem to believe.
Bearing the above in mind, it is my surmise, that if, and, only if, the Putin-Medvedev regime is underminded from within, and, collapses like the Tsarist state almost did in 1905, will 'soft power,' be as important as people like Ivan Krastev, like to say that it is. Right now, even given the absence of active and willing allies in its confrontation with the West, there does not appear to be any reason per se, for Russia to either 'give-in,' and retreat under pressure. Indeed, as per one Russian Ambassador, in Vienna, Russia's decision to recognize the two break away Republics, was: "irreversable" (see: www.oscoop.com
). Which merely emphasizes the fact that we are in a deadlocked situation diplomatically. Of course, another key point to emphasize in any discussion of 'soft power,' in the current crisis, is that there are many powers in the world: those of the SCC, India, much of the Near East, almost all of sub-Saharan Africa, some portions of East Asia, which either are opportunistically willing to support Russia (Syria, Venezuela, Belarus, et cetera), or studious neutral (India, Israel, Persia, Azerbajian, et cetera, et cetera). As a Singaporean academic noted in the Financial Times recently:
Most of the world is bemused by western moralising on Georgia. America would not tolerate Russia intruding into its geopolitical sphere in Latin America. Hence Latin Americans see American double standards clearly. So do all the Muslim commentaries that note that the US invaded Iraq illegally, too. Neither India nor China is moved to protest against Russia. It shows how isolated is the western view on Georgia: that the world should support the underdog, Georgia, against Russia. In reality, most support Russia against the bullying west. The gap between the western narrative and the rest of the world could not be greater.
Kishore Mahbubani, "The West is Strategically Wrong on Georgia," 20 August 2008 in www.ft.com
Unless, and, until there are definite means of "making Russia pay," for its de facto annexation of Georgian territory, then I do not see any way of how the West can possibly triumph in this conflict with Moskva. And, as the French Foreign Minister Kouchner again admitted today the EU is not considering any real sanctions at its extra-ordinary meeting on Monday. And, while verbal jousting with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov no doubt has some psychological satisfactions, for Monsieur Kouchner, one is not inclined to see this as a serious sort of policy (See: "A l'evocation de Sanctions, Moscou ironise sur 'l'imagination maladive'de M. Kouchner", in www.Lemonde.fr
). In short, while soft power is indeed an important weapon in international politics, it is not, a weapon which is as powerful, or I would argue as effective as brute force. At least in the short term, and, as Lord Keynes has told us, "in the long run we are all dead".
THE RUSSO-GEORGIAN WAR, THE AFTERMATH: MOSKVA THROWS DOWN THE GAUNTLET
"Respected citizens of Russia! You undoubtedly know of the tragedy of South Ossetia...I have signed decrees on the recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia by the Russian Federation....This is not an easy decision, but it is the only way to protect people's lives....In violation of the UN Charter, its commitments under international agreements, and in defiance of common sense, the Georgian leadership began an armed conflict...The same plight was in store for Abkhazia. Tbilisi had obviously planned a blitzkrieg that would have presented the world with a fait accompli."
Dmitri Medvedev,"Russia Recognizes Georgia's breakaway Republics," 26 September 2008in www.en.rian.ru
"We, the Foreign Ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom,condemn the action of our fellow G8 member. Russia's recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia violates the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia and is contrary to UN Security Council Resolutions supported by Russia. Russia’s decision has called into question its commitment to peace and security in the Caucasus.
We deplore Russia's excessive use of military force in Georgia and its continued occupation of parts of Georgia. We call unanimously on the Russian government to implement in full the six point peace plan brokered by President Sarkozy on behalf of the EU, in particular to withdraw its forces behind the pre-conflict lines.We reassert our strong and continued support for Georgia's sovereignty within its internationally recognized borders and underline our respect and support for the democratic and legitimate government of Georgia as we pursue a peaceful, durable solution to this conflict."
"Joint Statement on Georgia by Foreign Ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United States, and the United Kingdom",
Released on August 27, 2008 http://www.state.gov maintained by the Bureau of Public Affairs.
As I noted in this journal at the beginning of the Russo-Georgian War, Europe, nay indeed the world has entered a new reality in International Relations. And, whilethat 'reality,' is primarily of the psychological variety, that does not obviate the fact that what has occurred in the last two and half weeks, has completely upset the applecart of both the post-1991 and indeed the post-1945 world order. Like the Japanese in 1931 and 1932 in the Manchurian Crisis, Moskva has thrown down the gauntlet, in particular to the Western Powers, and especially to its fellow members of the G-8, and, the leading European powers (UK, France, Germany, Italy) and the institutional EU in Brussels. What the British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, characterized in a speech in Kiev today as using a torpedo to stop all discussions (see: "Foreign Secretary Speech in Ukraine," 27 August 2008, in www.fco.gov.uk
). In short, Putin and Medvedev have turned the tables and presented the International Community with a faite accompli over the Georgian War. The reason or the rationale behind this move is irrelevant for my purposes. What I want to examine is: a) what will be the Western Response; b) will that response be effective; c) where does 'a' and 'b', leave the future of Russo-Western relations in the near term.
Perhaps the first place to look for something approaching an official or semi-official response to Moskva' action is to be found in Miliband's speech. The location of which, was of course a harbinger of attempting to ascertain what type of response one can expect from the Western Powers, or at least some of them. According to Miliband, irregardless of the rights and wrongs of what occurred in South Ossetia, the fact of the matter is that Russia has destroyed the entire, post-1991, basis of Russo-Western relations. Calling into question the bon fides of Moskva in a whole host of areas. In particular as per Miliband:
"The Georgia crisis has provided a rude awakening. The sight of Russian tanks in a neighbouring country on the fortieth anniversary of the crushing of the Prague Spring has shown that the temptations of power politics remain. The old sores and divisions fester. And Russia is not yet reconciled to the new map of this region".
Thus while Miliband rejects, calls to throw Russia out of the G-8, and to suspend ongoing ties between Russia and NATO, & Russia and the EU, what he calls "a policy of 'isolation'", he instead advocates:
"Our approach must be hard-headed-engagement. That means bolstering our allies, re balancing the energy relationship with Russia, defending the rules of international institutions, and renewing efforts to tackle ‘unresolved conflicts’".
In particular Miliband, calls for sharply backing the current, pro-Western government in Kiev. Both as it relates to membership of the EU and possibly of NATO. As well as the rest of the countries: NATO and non-NATO, which lie on the Russian periphery. The American Vice-President's, Mr. Cheney upcoming visit to both Kiev and Baku as well as Georgia are no doubt part and parcel of the same proposed policy. In essence to build-up a new cordon sanitaire , around certainly the Western and perhaps the South-Western portions of Matushka Roissya. With the rest of the items mentioned by Miliband: like 'rebalancing' the EU's energy relationship with Russia, 'defending the rules of international institutions', and suchlike, being much more akin to the diplomatic version of eatings one's vegetables and drinking all your milk. Admonitions, which one hears and indeed indulges in, but, which one rarely actually engages oneself. In short a complete damp squib in practical terms. In reality of course, short of coming to an agreement with Persia over its nuclear programme, there does not appear to be any short or even medium term alternative to Russia as a supplier of energy to the EU. And, of course for both the USA and its Israeli ally, there is no possibility to coming to terms with Teheran, short of the latter voluntarily giving up its nuclear ambitions.
So the question becomes then, assuming for arguments sake that the above list of proposals will be the sum total, or close to it, of the Western response to the Russian action, will it succeed? Concerning the nominal cause of the dispute: Russia's recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the answer is: of course not. As Dominic Lieven noted almost two weeks ago in the Financial Times at the very beginning of the Russo-Georgian War, short of the complete collapse of Russia as a state, the two breakaway Republics are lost to Tbilisi forever. Pur et simple. Concerning the other goal of the above Western response: to 'police', Russia, to make sure that it understands that it cannot violate the norms of International Relations, as they have evolved in the last seventeen, if not indeed, the last sixty years. That is a difficult question to ask. For the simple reason that there does not appear to be, on the surface at any rate, points of dispute, which are so open and so prone to highlight the nature of Russian behavior as an international actor, as the Georgian War. In the case of Ukraine's joining NATO, it does not appear that the Tymoshenko Cabinet in Kiev has enough backing in terms of Ukrainian public opinion to venture forth on this particular policy. Nor is it entirely clear that if a government in Kiev were to embark on such a policy, presuming of course that it were in fact to be invited by NATO (not a sure thing by any means), that Moskva would in fact overtly oppose it with all the (many) means at its disposal. The Polish decision to host American anti-missile bases on its territory is a faite accompli. And, nothing that Moskva can do will change that decision by Warsaw. The same thing of course can be said about the membership of the countries of the Baltics in NATO. Or indeed, even the basing of American troops or ships in the same. However much Russia, may resent or indeed howl like a wolf, it cannot overturn that decision. Short of course of going to war with NATO, which is not something that anyone in Russia wishes to do of course...
So, where does our examination of items 'a' [Western / American Response] and 'b' [effectiveness of the same'], leave us? At this time, I would state once again that while Western governments will engage in extended amounts of finger pointing, and lecturing at Moskva, as well as symbolic pin-pricks, the fact of the matter is that Russia is impervious to any likely Western response, or responses. As for the potential build-up of a cordon sanitaire, against Russia, that seems to assume a much greater degree of hostility between Russia and the West, as well as a much greater degree of focus, and, energy on this subject than what one can see at the moment. Especially, since Russia holds in its hands many more cards than the USA and its allies does. The best examples being that, Russia can if it so wishes prevent NATO, from using its air space as well as a proposed land route through it, to transport materials to NATO's troops in Afghanistan. Russia may also of course withdraw from the contact group who is attempting to pressure Persia into giving up its nuclear programme. Or Russia may decided to back diplomatically, the current Hamas government in the Gaza Strip. Or the Hezbollah in the Lebanon. Or to provide arms to the regime in Syria (for rumors on this subject, see Nikita Petrov's article in the Middle East Times, in www.metimes.com
For the moment none of the above Russian responses to Western counter-moves, will come about, since Russia does not have, nor does it aim to become a counter to either the USA or to the West in global. Russia, and its elites are way too enmeshed in the nexus of ties: economic, and cultural, to attempt to go it alone. Other than on the Georgian issue, there is no hot button point of dispute between the two sides. Which does not mean of course that if, Washington were to say, attempt to re-build Georgia's military, that some of the above Russian counter-moves might come into play. They very well might. It is just unlikely that the Americans will throw good money after bad in the Kavkaz at this point. That is of course where the analogy with the Japanese in the 1930's, breaks down. For the Japanese, the conquest of Manchuria, was the first of many other faite accomplis. In the case of the Russo-Georgian War, there is not, as far as I can see, any Russian aspiration to say, break-up the Ukrainian State. Or to do the same with Kazakhistan. Until we are at the stage, the current war of worlds will remain merely a rhetorical and psychological exercise.
THE RUSSO-GEORGIAN WAR: THE NEAR EASTERN ANGLE
"The Russian move into Georgia has begun a tectonic shift in the region. It has emboldened Syria, Hizbullah and Iran to push harder against Israel and the US in an attempt to capitalize on recent set backs in the Balkans, Lebanon, and Afghanistan.
Hizbullah's and the Lebanese opposition's success in rolling back the influence of the March 14 coalition in Lebanon has emboldened Syria to push its advantage.
The peace talks with Israel, which Syria is counting on, have stalled due to US opposition and Israel's conviction that Syria is asking too high a price for the Golan. The notion that Syria is weak and unable to deliver a shift in the regional security balance has led to its isolation over the last 6 years and to the failure of peace talks under president Clinton. An Obama advisor, Daniel Kurtzer, has recently asked Syria to make deeper concessions to Israel in order to move the talks to another level. The implicit threat in such advice is that the Obama team of policy makers will follow the Bush administration in shunning the Syria-Israel negotiation track, unless Syria is forthcoming. In short, the democrats agree with Israel that Syria is too weak and demanding too high a price from Israel. Israel recently acquired new promises from Washington for technology transfers and missile improvements that improve Israel's defense posture. This has emboldened it to demand deep Syrian concessions in the peace negotiations. (see Ahram article below)
Syria's bad negotiating position is leading it to look for more weapons and to try to grow more teeth before returning to the table with Israel. Both Assad and Hizbullah are hoping to get new weapons systems from Russia and greater diplomatic backing. Israel cannot afford to sit idly by as Syria and Hizbullah flex their muscles. They are raising the military bar themselves, suggesting that they are not frightened to use force and next time they strike, it will be much more devastating and effective than it was in 2006. If Syria can up the ante, so can Israel. Yesterday, Israel threatened that if it bombs again, Lebanon will be smashed in its entirety - the North and Beirut will not be spared. It is in this context that Hizbullah threatens today that "Israel will no longer exist on the map," when it strikes back.
This is a new war of words. For the time being the diplomatic jockeying is tactical and not a game changer. All eyes remain on the peace process. Nevertheless, the increasingly bellicose rhetoric is not propicious for peace. We will have to see if all sides can climb down from their new and hardened stands to make compromises that will lead to a peace deal. There is little chance of the peace process advancing during the next year of elections and reorganization in the US. In the mean time, both Israel and Syria will be elbowing each other".
Joshua Landis, "New Cold War or Merely Jocking For Position? What Does Syria Want?", 22 August 2008, in http://www.syriacomment.com
As readers of this journal know quite well, I have always been appreciative of the insights offered by the ever-knowledgeable Professor Joshua Landis. One of the USA's leading scholars on contemporary Syria. In a nutshell how true does Professor Landis' analysis seem? In some ways it rings quite true, and, in other ways less so. It is quite clear for example that the regime in Damasus would love to be able to go back to the close relationship that it had with Moskva, say circa 1985 or so. Where for reasons more relating to ideology, than to realpolitik, Rossya would fund Syria's purchases of weapon systems and suchlike in a futile pursuit of military equality with Tel Aviv. Of course the reason why no such alliance will be resurrected is the simple fact that there is no 'pay-off', for Moskva is such an arrangement. Syria and its allies in the Levant (Persia will be dealt with further on): Hezbollah, and Hamas, are (in no particular order), poor, or at the very least not wealthy, have nothing to offer Moskva (no oil or gas resources or markets) either to buy or to sell. One presumes that if Moskva were to fund Syrian hunger for military equipment, that Damascus would want to purchase the same using loans which Moskva would have to give Syria to jump-start the transaction in the first place. The Kremlin of Putin, Medvedev and Lavrov, unlike say the Kremlin of Brezhnev, Ustinov and Gromyko, is not interested in any arrangements which do not 'pay' immediately in hard currency, aka Dollars, Euros, Swiss francs, et cetera. It is not for nothing that the current regime in Russia is labeled by some of its critics as "Russia, Inc". And, while there are no doubt some in Moskva who would like to see Russia resume a strong and independent role in the Near East (such as the out of power, Yevgenii Primakov for example), it is doubtful that such individuals hold much sway in Moskva at the moment. Indeed, even Primakov, in a recent trip to the region, failed to bring up the idea that Russia wanted to get back into the arms trade with its former partners in Damascus (see: "Former Prime Minister heads to Syria and Iran and says Russia has a lot to offer the Arab (sic!) world", 2 May 2008, in http://www.en.rian.ru
). This unwillingness on the part of Moskva to re-enter its former role in the region, was readily signaled to the outside world by no less than Lavrov in Moskva last week in conjunction with the visit to Russia by Syria's Assad. In response to reports that Syria was asking Russia for advanced anti-missile systems, for use against Israel, Lavrov told reporters for the Russian news agency Novosti that:
"We will supply Syria primarily with weapons of a defensive nature that will not disturb the strategic balance in the region".
See: "Russia says ready to supply Syria with defensive weapons," 21 August 2008, in http://www.hri.org.
Of course when Lavrov refers (archly no doubt) to weapons which "will not disturb the strategic balance in the region," he means that Syria (much less it allies) will not get any weapons, to upset current Israeli military superiority. Pur et simple (for a similar reading of Lavrov's comments see the article in the Financial Times covering Assad's trip to Moskva: "Kremlin Baulks at Missiles For Syria", http://www.ft.com
The only possible exception to the status quo ante bellum aspect to Russia's Near Eastern diplomacy is its relations with Persia. If and only if, Washington were to be unrealistic enough to retaliate via a series of tit for tat, sanctions and suchlike, against Moskva, it is quite conceivable that Putin and Lavrov will call a complete halt to any further co-operation with its fellow members of the Contact Group of countries who are attempting to halt Persia's nuclear ambitions. As the Russian Ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, stated last week:"Russia may deny its help to the United States in resolving some major problems, for instance, the one with Iran [Persia]."
No doubt that particular path is not one that Moskva wants necessarily to take. For the most part, the Kremlin has a justified skepticism of the regime of Mullahs, and, that skepticism is returned by the Persians. Indeed, it would appear that the Persians are more than willing to try to play off, the tensions between the USA and Russia to its own advantages, than necessarily attempt to make-up to Moskva `a la Assad Fils, did last week. The regime in Teheran no doubt remembering that in point of fact, that there is little love lost between itself and Moskva and that beyond a (current) shared dislike of the Bush Regime and its policies, not much that ties them together(see on this the intelligent article by Kamal Nazer Yasin, "US-Russian Tensions Creates Diplomatic Options for Teheran", in http://www.eurasianet.org
) . Does one have to add, that it would be the very mid-summer of madness for the USA, to actually play into the hands of the Mullahs of Teheran and unnecessarily alienate Moskva? And, for what? For crazy Saakashvili, who still thinks that he can regain South Ossetia and Abkhazia? Militarily no less (see interviews with the Georgian leader in both today's Financial Times and the New York Times). It is time to stop this nonsense before it is too late. Much too much depends upon sanity returning American, nay indeed Western foreign policy. To paraphrase the great Lord Salisbury over one hundred years ago, we cannot talk to Putin, et. al., as is we "have a half a million men at our backs," when diplomatically speaking we do not. And, Moskva knows this quite well indeed. Perhaps it is time that we acted accordingly.
NATO'S BRUSSELS MEETING: EUROPE'S RESPONSE TO RUSSIA?
"I have just finished attending a meeting of the North Atlantic Council at the level of Foreign Ministers. That meeting has produced a declaration, which I am certain you now have copies of, which is a comprehensive response to the crisis in Georgia. This was an extraordinary meeting of the North Atlantic Council. And that, in itself, is a clear indication of NATO’s interest in this crisis and NATO’s concern that this crisis has a real impact on peace and stability in this region and therefore is crucial to the alliance.
There are several elements to the declaration. But perhaps most important, I think the declaration clearly shows that NATO intends to support the territorial integrity, independence and sovereignty of Georgia, and to support its democratically elected government, its democracy, and to deny Russia the strategic objective of undermining that democracy, of making Georgia weaker or of threatening Georgia’s territorial integrity. In that regard, a number of steps will be taken to support Georgia, including the creation, as the Secretary General has just said, of a NATO-Georgia Commission to oversee cooperation with Georgia on a wide range of matters and to oversee the program to achieve the goals of Bucharest. The Council reaffirmed the Bucharest Declaration of our heads of state, as well as developing this program of specific steps that we will take".
American Secretary of State Rice, "Remarks After the Meeting of the North Atlantic Council at the Level of Foreign Ministers", in Brussels, 19 August 2008, in www.state.gov
"We have also agreed today to support Georgia, upon its request, in a number of areas. In addition, we have agreed to task the North Atlantic Council in Permanent Session to develop with Georgia rapidly the modalities for a NATO-Georgia Commission. This Commission will supervise the process set in hand at Bucharest, including the measures of support agreed at today’s meeting. These measures are 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. Georgia's recovery, security and stability are important to the Alliance. NATO will continue to cooperate with Georgia in the framework of the Partnership for Peace and Georgia’s Individual Partnership Action Plan with NATO, and will review any additional Georgian requests for assistance. We also welcomed the fact that a number of our governments have indicated that they will actively support measures to help the economic reconstruction of Georgia.
The conflict between Georgia and Russia has compromised regional stability and security. We deeply deplore the use of force in the conflict between Georgia and Russia. We reiterate that there is no military solution to the unresolved conflicts. We remind all parties that peaceful conflict resolution is a key principle of the Partnership for Peace Framework Document.
We remain concerned by Russia's actions during this crisis and remind Russia of its responsibility for maintaining security and order in the areas where it exercises control, especially in light of continuing reports of Russia’s deliberate destruction of civilian infrastructure. Russian military action has been disproportionate and inconsistent with its peacekeeping role, as well as incompatible with the principles of peaceful conflict resolution set out in the Helsinki Final Act, the NATO-Russia Founding Act and the Rome Declaration. We call on Russia to take immediate action to withdraw its troops from the areas it is supposed to leave under the six-principle agreement signed by President Saakashvili and President Medvedev1. The Alliance is considering seriously the implications of Russia’s actions for the NATO-Russia relationship. In 2002, we established the NATO-Russia Council, a framework for discussions with Russia, including on issues that divide the Alliance and Russia. We have determined that we cannot continue with business as usual. We call on Moscow to demonstrate – both in word and deed – its continued commitment to the principles upon which we agreed to base our relationship".
"Meeting of the North Atlantic Council at the level of Foreign Ministers held at NATO headquarters, Brussels, on 19th August 2008", in www.nato.int/docu
"The mountain has given birth to a mouse"
Dmitri Rogozin, Russian Ambassador to NATO, 19 August 2008, in www.nytimes.com.
If one is a reasonably intelligent human being, and, one has one wits about one, it is self-evident that Grazhdanin Rogozin, has for once had a much better relation to prosaic reality than the American Secretary of State. The fact of the matter is that regardless of the headlines in say the Financial Times ("NATO tells Russia: no new line in Europe", in www.ft.com
), the foreign minister's meeting in Brussels produced nothing which either changes the new reality on the ground in the Kavkas, id est, Russian domination of the area, or materially punishes Russia for having created this new reality. The airy promises that Georgia can expect to be considered for membership in NATO, come December are just that: hot air and nothing else. As one, unnamed European diplomat told the New York Times today, the reality is that Georgian membership of NATO was "impossible". Since, no one in Europe wishes to become involved in Saakashvili's danger gambits and adventures. And, while the creation of a NATO council to solidify ties with Georgia might look good on paper, it is nothing more than a damp squib. If not in fact a mechanism to keep Tbilisi in check going forward.
The reality is that aside from some fire-breathing American neo-conservative ideologues, such as Robert Kagan, and, out of power Russophobes like Richard Holbrooke (admittedly one of the best minds on foreign policy this side of the Atlantic) & Strobe Talbott, no one has any serious notion of either 'isolating' or
'containing' Russia. As the French Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, admitted to the International Herald Tribune today:
"We must not threaten them [Russia] because it will not work. Because everyone knows we are not going to war....We are not back to a Cold War, and I don't want this language to come back....I don't want to consider the relationship with Russia like a confrontation, block against block.... in www.iht.com
And, even though Kouchner comes out of a NGO, and, human rights lobby background, his reading of Moskva is one of a pur et simple realpolitik, which Furst von Metternich could very well understand:"I consider realistically that yes, they are tough....This is a great country coming back to the first rank in the concert of nations, and they want to play as they used to play, as a great country."
In short if Secretary Rice and her cohorts in official Washington think that they have European backing for confronting Moskva, then she has a seriously misunderstood the realities of what Europe can do, and, cannot do. And, today that means that no one will stand up to Matushka Roissya for the sake of Georgia, and, perhaps not even for Ukraine.
THE DOWNFALL OF PAKISTAN'S MUSHARRAF: WHAT DOES IT PORTEND?
"President Musharraf has been a friend to the United States and one of the world's most committed partners in the war against terrorism and extremism. President Musharraf made the critical choice to join the fight against al-Qaida, the Taliban, and other extremist groups that threaten the peace and security of Pakistan, its neighbors, and partners throughout the world. For this, he has our deep gratitude.
We will continue to work with the Pakistani government and political leaders and urge them to redouble their focus on Pakistan's future and its most urgent needs, including stemming the growth of extremism, addressing food and energy shortages, and improving economic stability. The United States will help with these efforts to see Pakistan reach its goal of becoming a stable, prosperous, democratic, modern, Muslim nation".
American Secretary of State Rice, 18 August 2008, inhttp://www.state.gov/
"Musharraf’s role was, by the end of the day, very ambivalent. He was seen as the ally of the United States and a symbol of stability in the region. But was he really such a symbol? Was he part of the problem? Or was he part of the solution?"
"....More and more observers came to the conclusion that Musharraf himself was part of the problem. Therefore, his resignation today signifies more confusion....But it will not necessarily lead this part of the world into immediate chaos. He was part of the problem. And part of the problem is resigning today...."
"Unfortunately, the vision one has of Pakistan right now is an extremely negative one....The future is very bleak. The economic situation is confused. The political situation is even more confused. And the security situation is deteriorating. So, unfortunately, it looks like a dark spot on the planet."
Dominique Moisi, quoted in "Initial Reaction to Pakistani President's Resignation cautious," by Ron Synovitz, 18 August 2008, in http://www.eurasianet.org/
"These classical projections, and something from the fire, suddenly suggested Poussin's scene in which the Seasons, hand in hand and facing outward, tread in rhythm to the notes of the lyre that the winged and naked greybeard plays. The image of Time brought thoughts of mortality: of human beings, facing outward like the Seasons, moving hand in hand in intricate measure, stepping slowly, methodically sometimes a trifle awkwardly, in evolutions that take recognizable shape: or breaking into seemingly meaningless gyrations, while partners disappear only to reappear again, once more giving pattern to the spectacle: unable to control the melody, unable, perhaps, to control the steps of the dance".
Anthony Powell, "A Question of Upbringing", in the Quartet, "The Dance to the Music of Time".
If there were ever a real life equivalent to the late, great, British novelist, Anthony Powell's dictum (taken from a painting by Nicolas Poussin), that human beings are creatures in an intricate dance which they cannot control, with new actors replacing old ones, from time to time, the modern day history of Pakistan is the sine qua non of such an example. The ouster (by forced resignation) of President Musharraf today, being merely a predictable end-result of what a long line of military rulers eventually face: initial popularity, especially by the secular, urbanized, bourgeoisie, with some co-operation by the lesser notables in the countryside. Soon followed by growing discontent, as difficulties both at home (usually economic down-turns) and abroad (another debacle in war) follow one after the other. With the upshot that the unpopularity of General or Field-Marshal, XY or Z, results in the ouster of the same, and, the restoration of civilian rule, under a pseudo Democratic rubric. This in turn, also follows a tried and true formula: initial popularity, followed by growing discontent, due to corruption, and, discontent by the 'outs', either regionally (Baluchistan usually) or in terms of the carve-up of public goods which are parceled out to the ruling clique of insiders (with all three Bhutto administrations being perfect examples of this pattern). The upshot in this case, being that rising discontent results in a military coup d'etat, directly or indirectly (Turkish style).
Musharraf's ouster today is merely another movement in this minuet rien plus. The reasons for it being almost entirely, those of primate der innenpolitik. With the influence of the USA, at the tail end of Musharraf's time in office being for all intents and purposes nugatory. Notwithstanding the rather frequent comment, made in prior years, that the mere fact of American influence would keep the General in power. Such outside influences have never done anything of the sort before, nor did they in this case. Nor can we, in keeping with the above dance macabre, expect much in the way of an 'improvement', in internal conditions in Pakistan. One can very well foresee that the two parties currently forming the government (the Bhutto clique and the Sharif clique) will soon enough set about quarreling with each other. Mostly for the spoils of office. The only difference between the two, being that the former is more corrupt, but, also more intelligent and more prone to listen to Western advice (one following perhaps from the other), while the latter while perhaps less corrupt (at least in Pakistani terms), is more inclined to give vent to symbolic, if also at times deadly foreign policy gestures (the near-war with India in 1998-1999 of Kashmir being a good example). The eventual end product being another ouster of the civilian government(s), and, another round of military rule. Anatol Lieven comments in today's Financial Times, while applying to Musharraf's fall from power, can be equally applied to his civilian successors as well in the years to come:
"Sooner or later, the administration would have fallen anyway, for the same reasons that destroy all Pakistani governments. They cannot satisfy the demands of the masses for higher living standards, if only because these are always devoured by population growth. And they cannot satisfy the demand of the political elites for patronage because there is not enough to go round. The state and the military cannot govern without the elites because there is no basis in ideology or society for the creation of a new mass political movement. In the end, elite and mass discontent unite in unstoppable protest".
Anatol Lieven, "Musharraf's Exit will not end Pakistan's woe", in http://www.ft.com/
Is there anything that can be done to stop this dance macabre? Yes, but such as can be done, can only be done in Pakistan itself and not by any Western, much less American assistance or advice. With the only true 'assistance', that Washington can provide is to shore up the current government in Kabul, without however using or projecting force into Pakistan itself. The very last thing that the new government in Pakistan needs, indeed any Pakistani government needs is for an American military incursion into its territory in a futile attempt to destroy the Taliban. That is one case, if there ever is one, of the cure being far, far worse than the disease.
RUSSIA'S GEORGIAN WAR: WHAT DOES IT MEAN, PART TWO
"The war in Georgia, therefore, is Russia’s public return to great power status. This is not something that just happened — it has been unfolding ever since Putin took power, and with growing intensity in the past five years. Part of it has to do with the increase of Russian power, but a great deal of it has to do with the fact that the Middle Eastern wars have left the United States off-balance and short on resources. As we have written, this conflict created a window of opportunity. The Russian goal is to use that window to assert a new reality throughout the region while the Americans are tied down elsewhere and dependent on the Russians. The war was far from a surprise; it has been building for months. But the geopolitical foundations of the war have been building since 1992. Russia has been an empire for centuries. The last 15 years or so were not the new reality, but simply an aberration that would be rectified. And now it is being rectified".
Dr. George Friedman, "The Russian Georgian War and the Balance of Power," in www.stratfor.com
"You must either conquer and rule, or lose and serve, suffer or triumph, be anvil or be the hammer".
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
"Strong do what they can, the weak suffer what they must".
Thucydides, "The History of the Peloponnesian War," Book V.
I would not go to say that the world has 'changed', much less changed substantially in the last week. Perhaps it in truth has not, and, perhaps it is too early to tell. Did anyone know pour example, say in September-October of 1931, in the immediate aftermath of the 'Mukden Incident', that the whole scheme of International relations had been profoundly changed? It would seem that the answer to this query is a resounding 'non'. It was only in retrospect, five, ten years later, that the importance of what occurred on the 18th of September 1931, acquired the importance that it did. Which raises in an acute fashion the points made by Friedman in his interesting article. In and of itself, what has occurred in Georgia and South Ossetia, are what the renowned French historian, Georges Braudel, once labeled a: 'mere event' ('une evenement'). Meaning that the occurrence had no intrinsic importance in and of itself. What gave it any importance was that it reflected and was caused by the underlying shifts ('structure' and 'conjuncture') in the historical process. Neo-realist and International relations discourse notwithstanding, Friedman's article in essence posits the same thesis. The outcome of the Russo-Georgian War: Russian trouncing Georgia, the USA's ally and standard bearer, was the endproduct of historical processes of the past five years or so. Among which are: a) the stabilization of Russia; b) the astronomic rise of the price of petroleum; c) the American debacle in Iraq; d) the standoff between the USA and Persia; e) the fact that Russia has the world's third highest currency reserves; f) the pacification of Chechnya; g) the diplomatic alienation of much of Western Europe from the USA since 2001; h) the political enfeeblement of the Bush regime at home.
All of the above variables, when taken together, have significantly changed the underlying foundations upon which the Russo-Georgian war took place. Au fond, if the war had taken place, say five years go, the results would most likely have been far different. Presuming that Moskva would have taken the risks involved by going to war in the first place. However due to the changes in the geopolitical structure upon which the conflict did take place, the results were quite different. Hence the utter rout, of the Georgian forces and the dismemberment of the Georgian state. As well as the failure of the American 'project' (in Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov's wonderfully accurate description (see: "Russia's Lavrov slams Bush statment on S. Ossetia", in www.en.rian.ru
), to build a pro-American citadel. All that is over with now. Gone. Scattered to the winds. As the ever-intelligent, Anatol Lieven trenchantly commented in yesterday's Financial Times:
"The bloody conflict over South Ossetia will have been good for something at least if it teaches two lessons. The first is that Georgia will never now get South Ossetia and Abkhazia back. The second is for the west: it is not to make promises that it neither can, nor will, fulfil when push comes to shove." www.ft.com
All the above being said, where one may ask does that leave us, leave say Europe and the USA vis-`a-vis Matushka Roissya? It leaves us, at the opening edges of the return of something that perhaps has not been seen for upwards of sixty years now: the return to 'International Anarchy', using the expression in the sense defined by the late, great British academic, E. H. Carr. Whereas circa in 1950, the world had a sort of on the window ledge, "stability", divided as it was into two great power blocs. And, circa 1999, the world was presided over (if one may use that expression) by the sole Superpower, the USA. We can now see in the mists of the future, perhaps, something which has not been visible since before 1945: an anarchic, world system of international relations, in which there is no effective system of governance, and of course no longer an effective hegemon. We are not at that point yet. However it could well be the case, the Russo-Georgian War and its aftermath (so far) points us in that direction. Which in the case of Moskva means that its future moves, will be dictated much more by what it 'can get away with', and, less with what 'Europe thinks', or 'what Washington says'. Even the threat of being expelled from the Olympian heights of the G-8, may not count for that much, if Washington, intends to use it as a stick to keep Russia in line. Based upon ths weeks events, the only thing that will keep Moskva in line, is Moskva itself. Rien plus.
For those curious please stay tuned...
RUSSIA'S GEORGIAN WAR: WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
"In weeks and years past, each of us has argued on this page that Moscow was pursuing a policy of regime change toward Georgia and its pro-Western, democratically elected president, Mikheil Saakashvili. We predicted that, absent strong and unified Western diplomatic involvement, we were headed toward a war. Now, tragically, an escalation of violence in South Ossetia has culminated in a full-scale Russian invasion of Georgia. The West, and especially the United States, could have prevented this war. We have arrived at a watershed moment in the West's post-Cold War relations with Russia....
This is a not a war Georgia wanted; it believed that it was slowly gaining ground in South Ossetia through a strategy of soft power....
Moscow seeks to roll back democratic breakthroughs on its borders, to destroy any chance of further NATO or E.U. enlargement and to reestablish a sphere of hegemony over its neighbors. By trying to destroy a democratic, pro-Western Georgia, Moscow is sending a message that, in its part of the world, being close to Washington and the West does not pay....
Finally, the United States and the European Union must make clear that this kind of aggression will affect our relations and Russia's standing in the West. While Western military intervention in Georgia is out of the question -- and no one wants a 21st-century version of the Cold War -- Moscow's actions cannot be ignored. There is a vast array of political, economic and other areas in which Russia's role and standing will have to be reexamined. Moscow must also be put on notice that its own prestige project -- the Sochi Olympics -- will be affected by its behavior.
Weak Western diplomacy and lack of transatlantic unity failed to prevent an avoidable war. Only strong transatlantic unity can stop this war and begin to repair the immense damage done. Otherwise, we can add one more issue to the growing list of this administration's foreign policy failures."
"Black Sea Watershed", Ronald Asmus & Richard Holbrooke, 11 August 2008 in www.washingtonpost.com
"Under the circumstances, Saaskashvili has made a virtue of necessity and tactfully and intelligently made changes to his prior policy. Hopefully, this will not be merely be a tactical maneuver, but a strategic shift, in which he recognizes that the only means to reunite Georgia with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, is to come to some type of modus vivendi with Moskva. That and nothing else it would appear will result in the reunification of Georgia with its two dissident regions. To maintain an anti-Russian course, is one that will guarantee that Saakashvili will be forever remembered as the Georgian leader who ensured that his beloved homeland was partition into three parts. Something that one hopes Saakashvili recognizes and wishes to avoid at any cost."
"Kavkaz Crisis: A Quick Update," 13 November 2006, in Diplomat of the Future, www.diplomatofthefuture.blogspot.com
The tone exhibited by Messieurs Asmus & Holbrooke is reflected in much of the Western, or at any rate, the Anglo-American media. It matters not a jot that the writer is a Conservative or Labour or Liberal, Republican or a Democrat, the tone vis pretty much the same: Russia's advance of the last two days, indeed Russia's entire role in the crisis, and for some such as Richard Holbrooke, Russia's role for a good number of years now, both in the Kavkaz region and in the general diplomatic orbit, has been malicious and mendacious. The root of all evil. Hence the constant reiterated usage of the analogy with Nazi Germany which has appeared in the last two to three days.
The above raises the issue of: why all of the (pent-up I would surmise) hostility vis-`a-vis Russia? For a some like the egregious William Kristol in today's New York Times, it is merely a substitution of present-day Roissya for the ex-Sovietskaya Vlast (see: www.nytimes.com
). For others like Mr. Holbrooke, and much of the American, nay-Anglo-American foreign policy elite, the Putin regime's refusal to recognize and kowtow to American hegemony is simply a refusal to face the post-cold war reality and a sin. Using the word in its original, metaphysical sense. The end result in the case of the current Kavkaz crisis, is that Russia's policy of seeking to subordinate Georgia to its new found quest for regional hegemony, attracts the type of attacks which all or most of our learned gentleman, would never care to utter in the case of say Peking or India. The reason for this being that we, have all become to way too comfortable to the Roissya of Yeltsin and the late Gorbachev. The Roissya that refused to say 'nyet'. Make no mistake, I think that Russia's current policy is perhaps mistaken insofar as it wishes to topple the Saaskashvili regime, and, install or have installed internally, a government much more friendly to its. The current policy may, destroy for twenty years, any Georgian policy to either join NATO, or to re-annex South Ossetia or Abkhazia. The upshot as I predicted of Saakashvili's adventurism back in late 2006, that if he wished to re-unify Georgia, only a policy of reapprochement with Moskva would work. A policy of playing the 'American tune', would be self-defeating and the results are all to easy to see on our newspapers and television. Thanks to Grazhdanin Saakashvili, and his Anglo-American supporters we can almost say, for good or for ill: 'Finis Georgia'.
SOUTH OSSETIA: SKIRMISHES OR WAR IN KAVKAS?
"The fight for the future is worth fighting. If we stand together, there is no force that can defeat Georgia, defeat freedom, defeat a nation striving for freedom -- no matter how many planes, tanks and missiles they use against us". Mikhail Saakasvhili, 7 August, in www.eurasianet.org. "
We have Russian tanks moving in. We have continuous Russian bombardment since yesterday....specifically targeting the civilian population....Russia is fighting a war against us in our own territory". Mikhail Saakasvhili, 8 August, in www.ft.com.
"Mighty Russia, population 150m, and tiny Georgia, population 4.6m, its former colony and now fiercely independent neighbour, are in terrible danger of blundering into a bloody and pointless conflict in the Caucasus. It would sorely damage relations between Moscow, the European Union and the US. It could also destabilise the rest of the Caucasus region. Washington and Brussels can urge restraint, but the only country that can stop the nonsense is Russia itself....
Mr Saakashvili does not want to take on Moscow. But Mr Putin (and Dmitry Medvedev, his anointed successor) seem to want to prove two things: that Georgia is far too unstable to join Nato, and that they alone can determine the future of the former Soviet space. They are right that neither the US alone, nor the Nato allies, would dream of intervening in a military confrontation. But Georgia is only unstable because of Russian policies. Encouraging secessionists sends a terrible signal to others inside Russia, especially in the rebellious north Caucasus. Moscow’s policy may be macho, but in the long run it will be utterly self-defeating"."
"Russia is asking for trouble in Georgia", Editorial in the Financial Times, www.ft.com
It is obvious. At least to me. That the line taken by the editors of the Financial Times, and, others of such ilk in the American and West European press, reflects not the reality of what has recently occurred in South Ossetia, but, merely an idee fixe. A pre-facto state of mind, about "who is to blame" (my apologies to Aleksandr Ivanovich Herzen). However once one gets away from the mindset that everything that emanates from Moskva is by definition bad, and, everything that comes from Tbilisi is good, then one can begin to formulate what has actually occurred. Or at the very least attempt to do so. An exercise that I will attempt to do now. First, it is readily apparent that the authorities in Tbilisi have been for quite awhile preparing for some type of military 'quick strike', for purposes of a faite accompli, in which much if not all of the capital of South Ossetia, Tskhinvali would be overrun and, then annexed to Georgia proper. Without its capital city, Saakashvili no doubt hoped that the South Ossetian regime would collapse. With Russian forces being too slow and too timid to do much more than react when the battle was over.
According to Reuters, Georgian forces appear to have been unable to have entirely secured the South Ossetian capital. Notwithstanding artillery barrages which have killed several hundred civilians in the capital (figures go as high as 1,400). According to Reuters' correspondent based in Gori, in Georgia proper, Georgian troops were seen retreating back to Tbilisi (see: www.reuters.com
). The key variable being the quick intervention of Russian forces into the conflict. And, while the Russian army is not the force by a long shot that the Kraznii Army, it does not appear to be in doubt, that if Moskva wishes to retake all of South Ossetia, and, indeed to make a push into Georgia proper there is nothing that can stop it. However that will require Putin and Medvedev make a proper decision to do so. And, due again to the debased nature of Russian forces, it is not entirely clear that either man would wish to put to a test the current state of those forces. Let us be clear: if it came to a crunch Russia would emerge victorious. However that victory would take time and money and would cost Russia much in the way of prestige and international goodwill. I am not gainsaying that as the nearest Great Power, Russia has a 'right' to intervene in this rather chimerical and (to my mind) meaningless conflict. A conflict of the Borgesian 'two bald men fighting over a comb' variety. It is just that Moskva would to well to consider its options and how much it wishes to spend on retaining its South Ossetian foothold, before it takes the final plunge. Nothing would be worse for Russian prestige than being saddled in a stalemate with Tbilisi. For Tbilisi, nothing would be better. At the very least it would have the sympathy of much of the Western World, and, it may have strengthened its hopes of being admitted to NATO in December of this year. That if nothing else would make the conflict a worthwhile endeavor for Saakashvili. Who truth be told, while I do not like the man in the least: the worst sort of hotheaded, small nation nationalist, one has to admire the skill in which he timed these recent events. However, as of this writing, it appears that his gamble has not quite paid off. The real losers of any conflict being of course, the poor people of South Ossetia and Georgia. A meaningless conflict which has no real meaning or purpose for anyone other than the clique in Tbilisi. The very last thing that is needed at this point, is Western or American intervention to assist Georgia in this conflict. Let Saakasvhili fight his own battles. This is one that he most definitely did in fact start.