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August 12, 2008 |  5 comments |  Print  Your Opinion  

The Transatlantic Divide Over the Caucasus Conflict

Nikolas Kirrill Gvosdev: The Caucasus conflict challenges the Atlantic community, because there is no consensus about resolving it. With regard to Russia, the European countries will have to decide if they want to follow their path of constructive engagement, or keep good ties with the US.

Senator John McCain wants US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to travel to Europe "to establish a common Euro-Atlantic position aimed at ending the war and supporting the independence of Georgia." He declares that Russia will face severe consequences for its actions in the Ossetian/Georgian war, but all of his recommended steps require close coordination and support from US's European allies. It raises the question, therefore, as to whether it will be possible to coordinate a response so that the West appears to speak with one voice.

Certainly, there are areas of agreement. The Western powers agree that Russia has used disproportionate force in its response to Georgia's attempts to retake control of South Ossetia by force. All proclaim the desirability of an immediate cease-fire and the opening of a new round of negotiations and dialogue.

Beyond that, however, I don't see a great deal of agreement. Certainly most Western Europeans--and I suspect privately Eastern Europeans as well--don't believe that the Russo-Georgian conflict presages tanks rolling westward back into the heart of Europe. Nor do I foresee the major continental powers agreeing with the assessment of some US pundits that the armed clash in the Caucasus is an existential threat to the viability of the Euro-Atlantic community. A regrettable conflict, to be sure, perhaps demonstrating why Russia cannot or will not be fully accepted in the European family of nations. But a clash that nonetheless is containable to the Caucasus and should not be more widely internationalized.

The gap is clear, even on the pages of the Atlantic Community. Simply compare the recent essays of Maurizio Massari and Ronald Asmus and the divergence is apparent.

Where I predict the dividing line occurring is along the following question. I believe that most European states would support a return to the status quo ante August 6: withdrawal of Russian forces from Georgia proper with an acceptance by Moscow of "rump Georgia's" integrity in return for the re-establishment of the de facto "independent" regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and a return to the drawn-out "peace process" of endless meetings and statements that produce no resolution but on the other hand keep things quiet. Forceful Western aid to complete the reintegration of Georgia and hold Russia at bay is not something I believe most European states will sign on to.

On the other hand, there is going to be no acceptance in most American circles of linking a Russian withdrawal and cessation of hostilities to re-opening the debate over the deployment of US theater-missile defense assets in Eastern Europe or toward any sort of voluntary restraint of the part of NATO expanding eastward, of accepting the notion that the Vistula and the Pruth mark the eastern boundaries of the alliance. But it also seems unlikely to expect that Washington will now be able to move forward on advancing the cause of NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine. Here, the reality is that the NATO alliance held together when there was an existential threat hanging above all members--the Red Army. There seems to be less support, though, for states that might face a threat that does not seem to pose a crisis for all of Europe. The reluctance of France and other European states to provide NATO guarantees for Turkey in 2002-03 if Turkey were to be attacked by Iraq should it permit US forces to use Turkey as a base for an attack on Baghdad is a case in point.

Because of the emotions generated by the fighting in the Caucasus, however, it also seems that the emergent "agree to disagree" consensus in the trans-Atlantic relationship for dealing with Russia--where Europe as a whole moved along a path of "constructive engagement" while the US remained more skeptical--is also going to be difficult to maintain. Washington will have to decide if this is a red line for the US, while Paris, Berlin, Madrid and other capitals in Europe may be forced to choose between their own approaches to Russia and good ties with the US.

If Iraq ripped at the fabric of the trans-Atlantic relationship in 2002-03, the Russia question may be the challenge that has to be faced today.


Nikolas Gvosdev, formerly the editor of The National Interest, has joined the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College. The views expressed here are entirely his own.

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Tags: | Georgia | South Ossetia | Russia |
 
Comments
Marek  Swierczynski

August 12, 2008

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The rift may not only occur between the US and EU but first of all inside Europe. The anti-Russian camp once again emerged with Poland at the helm - accompanied by the Baltic states and Ukraine. I have an impression that for some leaders in Central and Eastern Europe - including my own country - the events in Georgia remind what in the Cold War era was called a "proxy war". Of course no weapons are delivered (hopefully) to either side but politically, the EU newcomers do not try to hide their allegiance. While France is acting under duress of holding the EU presidency and Germany seems reluctant to act, I expect escalation of internal dispute on relations with Russia and attempts to question or obstruct the path the EU took towards Russia, a move that the EU is probably not ready to take. If that happens, a snowball effect may follow, resulting in various ways: installation of missile defence elements in Poland, deepening the EU's small crises and final rejection of the Lisbon Treaty as a retaliatory step - should the Georgia-solidarity movement be disdained. The question remains how stable the current US stance will be under the new administration, as the aftershocks of what happened last week will be felt for a few years at least.
Tags: | "proxy war" | Russia | Georgia | Poland |
 
Unregistered User

August 12, 2008

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Will the US get behind the plan Sarkozy drew up with Medvedev today, which allows the Russians to take "additional security measures" to safeguard Abkhazia and South Ossetia? It certainly doesn't seem like France is interested in "punishing" Russia or to use the words of Dick Cheney making sure that Russian aggression doesn't stand.
Tags: | Georgia | Medvedev | Sarkozy |
 
Unregistered User

August 12, 2008

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So, how many European politicians are declaring, "We are all Georgians" like McCain did in Pennsylvania today?
Tags: | Georgia | McCain |
 
Michael  Schuster

August 13, 2008

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@ anonymous

Do you seriously believe that purely rhetorical statements like "We are all Georgians" will really intimidate the Russians?

Do you really think the American people is ready to fight the Russians over Saakasvili's mistakes?
 
Unregistered User

August 14, 2008

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The Americans are jealous of Sarkozy position today, because he is the onnly one that can handle discusssions with the big bear and be likely to be heard.

Now, the right wing is still pushing the war button on,, but I doubt that they really want to start a WW3, they are not in enough good economical position anymore for it
 

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