VP Joe Biden gave a speech at the Munich Security Conference today that made quite a splash.
The main themes of the speech were about American outreach to Iran and Russia, Still, the Washington Post's Craig Whitlock reported the following oddity:
Biden is scheduled to meet privately later this weekend in Munich with Sergei Ivanov, Russia's deputy prime minister. While he was conciliatory in his speech, Biden also signaled that the Obama administration would take a tough line when necessary.
For example, he said the U.S. government would not recognize the breakaway Caucasus republics of Abkhazia or South Ossetia, which seceded after the war in Georgia and has received strong Russian support.
This is Biden's example of a tough line? Well, whoa, blow me down!!
In not recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the United States has bravely aligned itself with... every other country in the world except for Russia and Nicaragua. This is a tough line like saying the U.S. government would also not recognize Vladimir Putin as King of the World.
We'll see how Tehran and Moscow respond to the outreach. I do like the fact that the "America will extend a hand to those who unclench their fists" line from Obama's inaugural address is now part of U.S. lexicon. It's a clever framing that puts the onus on Iran and Russia.
The euphoria that followed the destruction of Georgian's $2 billion Army and the humiliation of President Saakashvili has dissolved. And for the first time since Vladimir Putin – and his muscled, uncompromising, and vindictive world view – came to power in 1999, serious voices are expressing doubts about his judgment. They clearly feel that Russia has not emerged onto the world stage quite so authoritatively as Mr. Putin may have thought; the country has instead stumbled into a dangerous and debilitating trap. A number of prominent Russian foreign policy analysts saw the recognition of the disputed territories coming and warned urgently against it. They include a highly experienced diplomat and former government minister, Alexei Adamishin. "Russia has every moral right to recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia," he wrote in an opinion piece beforehand. But the consequences will be "catastrophic." A couple of weeks earlier, Sergei Karaganov, of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy, Russia's equivalent of the Council on Foreign Relations, urged the Kremlin to think carefully before recognizing the two secessionist states. Equally grim analyses have followed the announcement, and there are indirect signs of concern in the business community.... [Putin] trusts very few people. Aides say he makes policy on key issues – Georgia, Ukraine, NATO – himself, along with a small circle, and tends to improvise. He shows little interest in the Russian stock market, which has taken a battering since the outbreak of the Georgia crisis, while most of the mega-rich, many of them close associates, have attained their fortune by obeying one rule: Do exactly what Putin says. In the past, everybody obeyed this rule, and many in the ruling elite were genuinely convinced that he was the right leader for these times. Now, doubts are creeping in, and people are bracing themselves for tense years. The strong man has started to show his weaknesses.Clearly, Russia will pose significant regional headaches for the United States and other countries for some time to come. There's a big difference, however, between "regional headache" and "major shift in the distribution of power." *Let's stipulate that while I'm not 100% confident that everything on the Wikipedia page is correct, I am over 90% confident about the relevant information.
One minor casualty of the recent conflict in Georgia was the doctrine of peace through McGlobalization — a belief first elaborated by Thomas Friedman in 1999, and left in ruins on August 8, when Russian troops moved into South Ossetia. “No two countries that both had McDonald’s had fought a war against each other since each got its McDonald’s,” wrote Friedman in The Lexus and the Olive Tree (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux). Not that the fast-food chain itself had a soothing effect, of course. The argument was that international trade and modernization — and the processes of liberalization and democratization created in their wakes — would knit countries together in an international civil society that made war unnecessary. There would still be conflict. But it could be contained — made rational, and even profitable, like competition between Ronald and his competitors over at Burger King. (Thomas Friedman does not seem like a big reader of Kant, but his thinking here bears some passing resemblance to the philosopher’s “Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Perspective,” an essay from 1784.) McDonald’s opened in Russia in 1990 — a milestone of perestroika, if ever there were one. And Georgia will celebrate the tenth anniversary of its first Micky D’s early next year, assuming anybody feels up for it. So much for Friedman’s theory. Presumably it could be retooled ex post facto (“two countries with Pizza Huts have never had a thermonuclear conflict,” anyone?) but that really seems like cheating. Ever since a friend pointed out that the golden arches no longer serve as a peace sign, I have been wondering if some alternative idea would better fit the news from Georgia. Is there a grand narrative that subsumes recent events? What generalizations seem possible, even necessary and urgent, now? What, in short, is the Big Idea?Now I recommend giving the rest of the essay a read -- but the premise upon which McLemee bases the piece is a bit bogus. Social science theories tends towards the probabilistic. Just because one McGlobalized country has invaded another McGlobalized country does not mean that the "theory" has no explanatory power. There's no need to reject the general trend that globalized states tend to not attack each other. There's certainly no need to throw out Kant with Friedman. Furthermore, one could argue that the causal processes articulated in the theory are actually working pretty well. Russia's stock market fell by more than 4% after yesterday's recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. As Lex points out on the FT blog:
By any normal measures, the Russian market – down 36 per cent since May - is now as cheap as a bottle of bootleg vodka. Sadly, investors are concluding Russia is not a normal country. Its choice of confrontation with the west will do little immediate damage to its economy - $1bn a day is still flowing in from exports of oil, gas, and oil products. But the damage to growth and the development of its market could be long-lasting.... If reforms are slow or non-existent, long-term earnings growth will be slower too, and vulnerability to commodity shocks higher. Investors will demand a premium to reflect the political and event risk. Russia’s chances of closing the valuation gap with China and India – which it never quite managed – recede sharply. How much of that worst-case scenario comes to pass will depend, in part, on how the current crisis evolves. Meantime, investors will continue their retreat from Moscow in favour of places that act in their own long-term economic self-interest.So, in the end, the war has resulted in losers on all sides. Georgia has obviously lost through its aggressive behavior towards the breakaway provinces. The United States and Europe has lost because they clearly were not able to deter Russia in Georgia. Russia has gained the humiliation of Georgia, but is has lost in terms of its ability to raise capital and coordinate among its erstwhile allies, who seem to be juuuuust a bit nervous right now. Now the sixty-four thousand dollar euro dollar question is whether these costs will deter further military aggression by all the parties involved. My instinct says yes, despite all this "new Cold War" rhetoric -- but I want to hear from readers on this question.
The post-Cold War world, the New World Order, ended with authority on Aug. 8, 2008, when Russia and Georgia went to war. Certainly, this war was not in itself of major significance, and a very good case can be made that the New World Order actually started coming apart on Sept. 11, 2001. But it was on Aug. 8 that a nation-state, Russia, attacked another nation-state, Georgia, out of fear of the intentions of a third nation-state, the United States. This causes us to begin thinking about the Real World Order.Why, yes, I can't think of another post-Cold War conflict involving breakway provinces. Oh, wait.... Look, as significant events go in world politics go, a great power's invasion of its small, fragmented neighbor does not rank that high.* Even from a American-centric perspective, North Korea's acquisition of nuclear weapons -- and the Bush administration's policy reversal on said weapons -- ranks as more significant. The rise of China and India are way more important. Things do change in international relations -- but Fred Savage/Daniel Stern epiphanies are pretty damn rare. One caveat: the event does move up the importance scale if Russia decides to annex Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Expect to hear lots of "Alsace-Loraine" language then. *NOT TO BE READ AS AN ENDORSEMENT OF RUSSIA'S BEHAVIOR.
What will it take for the Georgians to figure out that South Ossetia and Abkhazia... Are gone. They. Are. Never. Coming. Back. Ever. They weren't before the war. If it weren't a mathematical impossibility, I would say that the events of the last week reduced the chances of Georgia regaining the two territories from zero to an even smaller value of zero.In the spirit of cheesy Robert Ludlum three-word titles, let's call this The Nexon Conversion. This happens when a foreign policy leader stops demanding policy reversals that are never going to happen. Two examples from the Russia-Georgia conflict. First, the Financial Times reports that Condoleezza Rice is demanding that Russia withdraw its forces from all of Georgian soil "immediately." Right. Because Russia will definitely do that now that the United States has demanded it publicly. Second, the FT also reports that Russia is so upset at Poland for signing a missile-shield agreement with the United States that it's making loose nuclear threats against the country. Right. Because on top of invading Georgia, issuing these kind of warnings will definitely convince Poland that Moscow is not a threat. Way too many people in positions of power need the Nexon Conversion right now.
George Kenann calls NATO expansion a “strategic blunder of potentially epic proportions” here, a position most realists share. Obama calls for NATO expansion to Georgia here, despite the fact that an alliance with Georgia offers little benefit to Americans but is likely to the drag the US into conflict with a nuclear armed state. Obama, if it wasn’t clear already, is no realist. That is a perhaps a result of running for President of a country that wants idealist presidents, but the fact remains.OK, first of all, could realists please spare everyone the lament about how hard their lot is in the United States? I know realists like to believe that this country is hostile to realism, but it just ain't so. Second of all, I'm not sure that realist opposition to NATO expansion is vindicated by the Georgia invasion. I presume their argument is that NATO expansion somehow triggered the security dilemma, which led to Russia's current revanchism. The thing is, I wrote half a book about how Russia treated its near abroad during the nineties, when it was supposedly so weak. It coerced the living hell out of them (sanctions, supporting irredentists, etc.) back then too -- and this was long before NATO was expanded. So the idea that Russia wouldn't have done anything in the Caucasus if the West had kept its nose clean strikes me as pretty absurd. Russia was going to do this as soon as it had the power and saw an opportunity. If you want to blame this on past United States actions, Iraq matters a lot more than anything else. Indeed, Friedman seems to make this exact point later on:
Commentators of all stripes seem to assume that Russia’s move into Georgia was driven by its increasingly autocratic nature. (This is reminiscent of Kennan’s argument back in the X article that Communism made the Soviet Union prone to aggression, which he later regretted.) It is worth considering whether this is a misperception. A powerful body of political science argues that states’ foreign policy actions are driven mostly by their circumstance and interests, not their regime type or the personality of the leaders. Regime type and personality affect how states interpret their circumstances, but maybe not as much as we tend to think. The United States is not particularly tolerant of seemingly hostile states in its near abroad either, whether they are democracies or not.UPDATE: Friedman responds in comments:
I... argue that the war demonstrates the idiocy of expanding NATO to Russia's doorstep, which for the US is all costs, no benefits. That is because it demonstrates that Georgia has showed itself to be the kind of ally you don't want to have - reckless, carrying a territorial and ethnic conflict with a nuclear armed state, and devoid of benefit for us.He's got a point here, but I'm not sure how generalizable the point is. All of the Baltic states could have met Friedman's definition of a "reckless" state in the nineties. They all bordered Russia, two of them (Estonia and Latvia) treated their Russian minorities pretty shabbily, and the third (Lithuania) had some fun border disputes too. NATO membership for those countries, however, has not resulted in more recklessness -- if anything, it (plus EU membership) moderated their behavior. This might be where institutionalists have a point. Friedman (and other realists) presume that alliances can encourage small states like Georgia to behave more recklessly. It is equally possible, however, that joining an institution moderates behavior. And, it should be noted, institutionalists find their greatest empirical support for this argument in the behavior of Eastern Europe since 1989. For the record, I think I'm with Hilzoy on this question -- extending NATO membership to the Baltics makes sense, but extending it to Georgia is a country too far. My point in this post is that I'm very leery of either all-in arguments (neocons) or all-out arguments (realists). Neither group has really distinguished themselves in this debate.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.