Kaplan has a short, clear and insightful piece up at the Atlantic cutting through the regurgitated cliches and common thinking on the current Russian aggression in Georgia. It begins:
Russian troops have established control over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two separatist regions of Georgia. The Russian military, having now secured complete control over the autonomous territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, appears increasingly engaged in an assault on Georgia proper. Distinguished commentators and Western governments alike have demanded action and called for transatlantic unity in the face of the Russian assault.
But it’s unclear what transatlantic unity implies. Does it mean deployment of NATO troops to Tbilisi? A bold and creative move, perhaps, but unlikely, given western Europe’s gun-shy nature. Does anyone seriously want to contemplate a scenario in which the United States and Russia are engaged in combat against each other? Economic sanctions against Russia probably won’t happen, given Russia’s stranglehold on western Europe through natural-gas deliveries.
The truth is, Russia has called the West’s bluff on Georgia and won. It is the advantage of the first move in a situation whose underlying geopolitical realities are starkly different from the diplomatic pretense that often governs media headlines.The main diplomatic pretense has been that Georgia is a thriving, fledgling democracy that the West, and particularly the United States, supports (in part through U.S. Marines’ training Georgian forces at a camp near Tbilisi) in its struggle against Russian intimidation. But the geopolitical reality unravels this description in every aspect. To start with, a nation’s political system is defined by the strength of its institutions more than by the name the system gives itself. Georgia is a democracy in Tbilisi and its environs. Everywhere else, it barely functions. Though small compared to Russia, Gerogia is a sprawling, mountainous, and therefore extremely vulnerable mini-empire of nationalities that will take years to forge into a cohesive nation.
That is not in any way to justify a Russian invasion, but merely to state how vulnerable Georgia is in the best of circumstances. Because it is barely a state, it can barely defend itself. And the U.S. military’s assistance to its Georgian counterparts — specifically to train for Georgia’s limited duties in Iraq — hasn’t prepare the Georgian armed forces to take on an adversary like Russia.