The Atlanticist

Western weakness spurred Russia’s invasion of Georgia.

The image of the leader of the free world grinning watching Olympic volleyball and basketball while Russian tanks penetrated deep into Georgia captured the moment.

What did KGB alumnus and strongman Vladimir Putin see when he surveyed the world scene while baiting his trap for the Georgians?

President George Bush had dithered and not dealt forcefully with Iran’s nuclear weapons program, reinforcing the impression America was otherwise distracted and irresolute. In May Germany and France blocked fast-tracking Georgia and the Ukraine into NATO, which, lest Putin had doubts, was a green light to act. That said, the estimable Victor Davis Hanson rightly notes had Georgia been in NATO Russia’s overrunning it would have exposed the alliance as hollow. If NATO is only a call option on American troops, it is indeed a shell of the alliance that once held the Soviets at bay. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are in NATO now.

What if Russian tanks rolled to Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn? Who seriously believes France’s and Germany’s political classes would put their troops in harm’s way to protect the Baltic States, the Ukraine or even Poland?

The West’s response to Russia’s invasion of Georgia, a sovereign democratic proWest state has been pathetic.

Bush’s condemnation and dispatching humanitarian aid and Condi to Tbilisi was tepid. NATO issued an even-handed, utterly toothless statement and cancelled the next NATO-Russia Council meeting.

EU and French president Nicholas Sarkozy had his Munich moment, racing to Moscow broker a cease fire, which ratified the facts on the ground and did not mention Georgia’s territorial integrity.

Not to be outdone, Great Britain’s foreign secretary David Mililband weighed in with his own invertebrate response, recommending the invasion be addressed by the United Nations, where Russia has a veto, and the powerless Organization for Security and Cooperation. Putin must be quaking in his boots.

And from West’s legions of self-styled human rights and peace activists there’s been nary a peep. In stark contrast, massive crowds filled Western Europe’s streets to protest the liberation of Iraq and in the eighties to object to America’s installing Pershing missiles to defend them from the Soviet Union.

The only responses to Russian aggression of any consequence came from those well within the bear’s reach. The presidents of the Baltic States, Poland and the Ukraine flew to Tbilisi to signal support. Poland approved installing a missile defense system. The Ukraine offered the West a satellite tracking facility to incorporate within a broader European missile defense system and imposed new restrictions on the Russian fleet operating out of Sevastopol.

What now?

If there is anything positive in this war, it is that Russian tanks crushing a weak democratic neighbor may reinvigorate NATO, dispel Euro “soft power” delusions, and wake up a somnolent American electorate that the world remains a dangerous place.

Former US UN ambassador John Bolton warns the vacuum between Russia and NATO increases the likelihood of Russian aggression. New Europeans can afford and need to spend more on defense, much more. The US should furnish arms.

The US is the most benign superpower in history. Today the world’s problem is not that the US is not sufficiently loved or deferential to the United Nations or Brussels bienpensants, but rather that the US is not sufficiently feared by the world’s bad actors.

Russia’s aggression is a clarion call for American leadership.

Russian savagery must be roundly condemned. It should be expelled from the G8 and blocked from joining the WTO. It’s high time to reconstitute NATO, within Europe where it seems almost moribund, and beyond, where it would fill a void. Ukraine and Georgia should forthwith be invited to join a revamped NATO.

The militaries of the Baltic States, Poland, the Ukraine and Georgia should be fortified and supplemented with Western troops. If, however, NATO members are not prepared to move troops east then moving NATO’s perimeter east would be a mistake. And if some Western European NATO members are not committed to the alliance, perhaps it’s time to end the charade and invite them to leave.

But for its massive nuclear arsenal, Russia is weak. Russia’s Russian population is declining. Its economy is largely dependent on oil and gas. There are more than 1.3 billion resource-hungry Chinese next to vast, empty, resource-rich Siberia. Additionally there are hundreds of millions of Muslims along Russia’s southern border and its growing Muslim population is increasingly likely to define itself as Muslim rather than Russian.

Yet, Russia arms Islamist regimes and China, foments trouble in the Middle East, and seeks to cow or reabsorb much of its near abroad and former satellite states.

Weakness whether lack of will in the United States or lack of will and means in the case of Western Europe, invites further Russian aggression.

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Comments

  1. I agree with most of this article but would like to point out that NATO will have to change its decision making process to one with some type of majority based system as its get bigger and more diversified.

  2. Long time reader, first time responder:

    With two active theaters of military action and the armed forces spread to the breaking point, the Bush administration has effectively invited this type of response, Vlad knowing there is not much we can do. Furthermore, was it worth risking a Sarajevo, August 1914 moment over this? After all, Georgia is not completely blameless in this, although I hasten to add Russia’s response was totally inappropriate and deserve condemnation.

    Hey, Sarah Palin?!

    Your “subscribe” button didn’t work for me.

  3. georgia is not wise as most nations are; the world can do nothing serious against the weather you like it or not THE MIGHTY RUSSIA what is usa to russia?. But mighty here does not order people not to think of their want biases.

  4. Tragically, this article hits the nail on the head.Certainly, the West must expel Russia from the G8. The West must move with lightening speed to find alternatives to oil and gas especially Russian oil and gas. Above all the West must do everything possible to support democratic movements in Russia and to withdraw all forms of support for the tyrant who controls that great country

    Rob Gass

    Australia

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