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Two Questions And Observations
Posted by: MichaelW on Thursday, August 14, 2008

In what's sure to be a vain attempt, I will try to live up to this site's name with two questions and observations.

Question #1: Does Russia's recent incursion into Georgia have more to do with threatening the entire NATO alliance than just scuttling Georgia's inclusion in it?

Question #2: Did Russia do us a favor?

Observation #1: There is much consensus that at least one of Russia's motivations for going into Georgia was to end whatever bid the former satellite had of joining NATO. I think that's probably right, but just the tip of the iceberg. If we play out the game theory, it seems likely to me that intervening before Georgia joined NATO yielded potential benefits to Russia:

  • NATO, being a defensive alliance, obligates Russia's (mostly) European neighbors to get involved militarily.
  • Absent Georgia's inclusion, no NATO country suffers under such pressure.
  • Russia, therefore, gets the benefit of scuttling its former satellite's bid, while also "putting the question to the bishop" — i.e. daring NATO to make a bold sacrificial move.
  • In addition, Russia places doubt on the actual strength of the alliance. This is because, even though Georgia was not yet a member, the fact that NATO could not easily and effectively deal with a threat to such a member will surely chill considerations of including other, similarly situated nations as members.
  • Moreover, Russia taking such action now, as opposed to post-inclusion of Georgia into NATO, means the members are not forced into a decision.
  • The end result is that Russia signals to NATO that it knows the alliance's weakness (an unwillingness/impracticability to actually fight) without having force the actual issue.

In other words, Russia succeeds in weakening the NATO alliance by both challenging its efficacy, and its commitments, without having to directly challenge its provisions by starting a fight with a member. In this way, Russia sows the seeds of doubt in those who are commanded to maintain the alliance yet the alliance itself is not directly challenged. This approach is not without historical precedence (see, e.g., Nazi Germany and its subjugation of surrounding sovereign territory prior to WWII, betting on the unwillingness of Europe to fight so soon after suffering devastating losses in WWI).

Observation #2: If Russia's (Putin's?) gambit is correct, in that NATO is a weak and ineffective alliance, then have they done us favor? I would argue that they have. NATO has succeeded primarily in one thing: the subsidization of the European welfare state by American military prowess. If there was no NATO, then Europe would be forced to pay for its own defense (at the expense of its overly generous welfare state), and America would not be on the hook when the continent is threatened. Were Europe in such a state then threats from Russia and Islamofacists alike would be more easily repelled. After all, it's easier to blame the sheep dog when everyone else are lambs. But instead we have a huge populace, who are our putative allies, totally committed to pacifist notions of security, fully knowing that the sheep do will come to the rescue when necessary. Unfortunately for that premise, the sheep dog is preoccupied with its own survival, and asking it to protect evermore allies is beginning to seriously strain the ability to uphold the alliance.

I think that Russia knows this full well, and is exploiting the inherent imbalance in the way that NATO is truly enforced. Plainly stated, without America, what use is NATO? And if America is not currently able to toe the line with Russia due to other commitments (or whatever reason), then why not send a message to the entire alliance "we know what you're made of, and we are not afraid"?

Grand Conclusion: In sum, my personal, terribly uninformed and wholly unauthoritative opinion is that they understood all of these points from the start. When the invitation to intervene was given, Russia took it for myriad reasons, but chief among them was to put a dagger in the heart of NATO. Fair enough, but it may be the Bear's undoing. If America were to withdraw from NATO, then Europe would have to fend for itself. The prospect of a potentially hostile, and developmentally more stable than Russia, region trading butter for more guns will not sit well with any reasonable Muscovite's stomach.

As well it shouldn't. Europe's GDP is perpetually depressed by its social welfare largess. If NATO were to fall apart (as I propose Russia aims by its latest moves), then Europe proper would have no choice but to discontinue its generous social subsidies in favor of building defensive infrastructure. I would predict that, however modestly, GDP for each of these countries would rise as the social welfare dropped, thus allowing for an evermore potentially effective military (since tax dollars would inevitably rise with increased economic activity — yes, that means I think that Europe is operating on the right side of the Laffer curve). More military competence on the part of Europe is not a good result for Russia.

On the other hand, it would be good thing for America because we wouldn't be footing the bill for everyone else anymore. Instead, we could ally ourselves with democracies of proportionally equal ability and intent. Consequently, in my view, we would be in a better position both militarily and domestically speaking since we would no longer be the policemen of the world.

Again, as I said at the beginning, these are merely my thoughts on the subject. Feel free to poke holes in my reasoning.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

I’d agree & say that it was a 4fer. 1) The Russians gain control & offset an upstart whelp of a former satellite country, @) There by sending a message to the other satellite countries that no one’s going to help them, 3) threaten/control delivery of Europe’s natural gas supply (either forcing them to other sources, Iran, etc) & 4) gain an improved world view, because they acted independently & stood up the to world’s perceived bully, the "USA."

Given Europe’s response to such tactics throughout the last century I’d say that they more than likely turn against NATO, more specifically the US & grovel at closest, most direct big dog.

An added benefit that it could benefit the upcoming Presidential Elections, since the World - Europe - & US Democrats perceive that this action is related to Bush’s foreign policy & will attempt to use it to drive home any minute differences, all-the-while apologizing to the world for the US’s strength.
Written By: PMain
URL: http://
I don’t believe its as dire as it seems.

The fact Georgia isn’t actually part of NATO matters to a degree. Doesn’t spare us from looking ineffective, but it is more than a technicality at the same time.

And there’s multiple reasons we look ineffective and I’m not sure its clear to anyone, including Russia, which it is.
1) Lack of resolve or will to defend Georgia
2) Lack of resources
3) Mismanagement of the situation by arrogance and incompetence.

I believe all three are in effect here. And all three make NATO look ineffective. However only #1 is a real harbinger of doom for the NATO alliance. How much is it is #1 remains to be seen and no one will know until we see how Europe’s participants in NATO act in the future. Whether this was a wake up call for them, or a reason to shrink away further.
Written By: jpm100
URL: http://
If NATO were to fall apart (as I propose Russia aims by its latest moves), then Europe proper would have no choice but to discontinue its generous social subsidies in favor of building defensive infrastructure.
I challenge that assertion. They have one additional option, and I think it’s the one they would take. They could stick their heads in the sand and pretend that stronger defense was unnecessary.

I believe we have a generation of decision makers in Europe that cannot take seriously the possibility that their own countries might actually be threatened militarily, no matter how many "near abroad" countries are abused by Russia. They genuinely believe that diplomacy plus a bit of groveling will solve any foreign policy crisis.

They will continue to believe this up until the point that some leader with a decent military and the will to use it proves them wrong, and then it will probably be too late to do anything about it. Their ultimate fallback is that the patsy Americans don’t really mean it when we say we’re cutting them loose, and that we will ride to the rescue the same way we did three times in the last century. They would much rather believe that (and they might actually be right) rather than face their own aging populations and tell them about necessary cuts in the welfare state.
Written By: Billy Hollis
URL: http://
They could stick their heads in the sand and pretend that stronger defense was unnecessary.

Then they would have to possible futures, one where they become EUrabia and the other where they become "part" of the Russian sphere of influence.
Written By: capt joe
URL: http://
NATO died in ’91, but nobody bothered to bury the corpse. The Euros are in a bad, bigamist marriage with the nanny state and pacifism, neither of which will allow them to do anything to defend themselves. It’s been said that, when all you have is a hammer, all problems start to look like nails. It might be said of the Euros that, if all you have is a pen, all problems start to look like an agreement waiting to be signed. The Euros think that they can have peace in our time again if they only hold enough talks. They have no other option, because they’ve made sure that talking is all they CAN do.

I would even say that NATO actually INHIBITS the Euros’ ability to defend themselves. First of all, it’s a defensive arrangement. What need has a defensive military for such things as long-range transport aircraft and strategic bombers? Even if the Euros wanted to stand up to Russia in (for example) Georgia, they can’t project their puny military forces outside of their own collective borders without our help (remember Bosnia?). Second of all, because NATO is "collective" defense, it makes it easy for each of the members to push the burden off on somebody else. "Well, if Germany won’t increase its defense budget, why should I? Why won’t Belgium contribute more? Yadda-yadda-yadda." They’ve lived for so many decades under the protection of Uncle Sam that they wouldn’t know how to defend themselves.
Written By: docjim505
URL: http://
The US has been the backbone of Europes defense since the 1960’s if not the 1950’s. That’s not new.

What is new is that the US traded military spending for more of that welfare state. So we’re left with cold war ambitions, with many of the cold war tools gone atrophied.

One of those tools used to be trade. I believe there is less will to use that tool than the military tool. And I’m not so sure we haven’t signed that tool away either.
Written By: jpm100
URL: http://

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