While most of us were busy admiring the work that Aunt Bea’s hairdresser did on Sarah Palin’s hair in St. Paul this week, Vice President Cheney was skulking around Georgia and other parts of the former Soviet Union. Some of the things he said and promises he suggested were alarming, to put it mildly.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani hinted at the mischief in decribing a quote he ascribed to GOP nominee John McCain: “We are all Georgians.” We are? Clearly the attempt was to suggest a solidarity between the United States and Georgia akin to that between Americans and Berliners, but does the analogy hold? And if it is accepted, what are the implications of this newfound brotherhood and synergy?
Amongst the nuggets that Cheney held out to the people of Georgia was the prospect of NATO membership (he suggested that Ukraine fell in the same category). As noted in an earlier entry, discussion of adding these republics to NATO has been under discussion in Brussels but has been shelved for the time being. There are at least two good reasons that this initiative should remain where it is: buried in NATO’s in-box.
The first reason is suggested in the title of this entry. Cheney suggested in Georgia that the Russians should not fear the inclusion of former parts of the Soviet Union along is border into the military alliance that faced it throughout the Cold War, because “NATO is a defensive alliance. It is a threat to no one.” The Russians, of course, do not see it quite that way. When combined with the recent agreement to install missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic (missiles in one, radars in the other), the suggestion of adding Georgia and Ukraine to NATO seems ominously like hostile encirclement to Russia, a possibility that no significant power could possibly embrace. Given the disagreement about who was actually the provocateur in the recent Georgian-Russian confrontation, taking up the cudgel so aggressively at this point can only seem very antagonistic, boredering on aggressive, to the Russians. Indeed, it is akin to poklng the bear in the eye.
The other reason to wonder about this proposed commitment is the question of whether it is in the interests of the United States to commit itself to the defense of Georgia through NATO membership. As also noted in an earlier entry, NATO members agree that a threat (or aggression) against one is a threat (or aggression) against all that obligates members to come to one another’s aid. Article 5 of the treaty (the operative article) does not specify that such a response will be military, but that is the normal expectation.
Does the United States really want to make that kind of commitment to Georgia? When the question of NATO expansion was first raised in the 1990s, the question of commitment to places where there were no previous important interests was lively, and many people argued it was not in the best interests of the United States to become committed to such places. High among the counries where this question was raised were the sucessor states to the Soviet Union. The United States does, of course, have an affinity for struggling democracies like Georgia, but does this translate into a mandate to defend them with military force against their traditional adversaries (the Russians)? In the spirit of no-conservatism idealism, such a case can be made, Through the lens of traditional realism, the case is by no means obvious.
Russia has already responded, grumbling about cutting oil production and the flow of natural gas to Europe, and these threats may well dampen what little enthusiasm there is for Cheney’s initiatives among the other members of the alliance. In the meantime, Cheney skulks around the world, carefully being excluded from St. Paul, looking and acting like Burgess Meredith playing the Penguin in the old Batman television series. In the wings, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has added her two-cents-worth, intoning “The free world cannot allow the destiny of a small independent country to be determined by the aggression of a larger neighbor.” Of course it can, and of course it has and will in the future. Let’s hope the election campaign does not get infected with this sappily sentimental thinking.