Friday, September 05, 2008

New Cold War?

Dick Cheney's foreign policy advisers arrive for consultation with his designated successor, White Princess Sarah Palin

Joschka Fischer has been writing about the Russia-Georgia conflict in his Monday column for Die Zeit. (See the end for links; all translations in this post are mine.) He views Russia's main goals and concerns as follows:

  • To revise the international situation in its "near abroad", including Georgia and Ukraine
  • Competing with the United States in which Fischer calls "the new great game", the struggle for control of Central Asian oil resources
  • Maintaining effective control of the oil pipelines that runs from Russia through Georgia (for more on this particular topic, see Steve LeVine, Georgia: A Blow to U.S. Energy Business Week 08/13/08, who writes that "in this part of the world, diplomacy and war are about oil and gas as much as they are about hegemony and the tragic loss of human life.")
  • To stop further westward expansion of NATO

  • To restore to the Russian elite a stronger feeling of having a great-power position
  • To maintain Russian security and interests in the face of long-term challenges from China and from Islamic state and movements; Fischer sees those as Russia's "decisive strategic threats".
Fischer argues that the challenges to Russia from China and Islamic states/entities make Russia's evident intent to act as a bullying great power with the neighboring states short-sighted. Yet he reminds us that such a policy is now reality, and the EU and US need to take seriously the fears of countries that feel themselves threatened by it.

He warns that both Russia and the West would pay a high prince for a renewed Cold War. He doesn't mention it specifically here, but such a new Cold War would benefit some players in the US military-industrial complex and the national security state bureaucracies. And in some of their Russia and EU counterparts, as well.

Fischer highlights some important considerations that call for a measured and rational reaction to the Russia-Georgia conflict. The US national security state is chronically inclined to inflate the foreign threats on which it focuses. That is all the more reason for citizens to look carefully at such assumptions.

For one thing, the current situation with Georgia, the breakaway dwarf republics, and the Russia is a "strategic cul-de-sac" for the US, Europe and Russia.

Fischer describes Saakashvili's decision to initiate military operations against Russian forces in South Ossetia as "catastrophic". He argues that the only remotely rational goal of Georgia's action was to create an international incident that would politically force the Americans to provide direct support to Georgia. Fischer writes, "But a direct confrontation between Russia and the USA over South Ossetia would be a nightmare scenario that hopefully will never occur!"

He calls Saakashvili's act that of "a political gambler". Because of the Georgia government's recklessness and because of the severe limit on the West's applying military force in the Caucuses (Georgia, Ukraine), NATO membership for Georgia is basically impossible to seriously contemplate, though Fischer himself doesn't put it quite so categorically.

The US has weakened itself badly, both physically and politically, by the Iraq War, Fischer writes. And the EU has declined to build up a common force and a united foreign policy that would allow them to provide a credible military deterrent in the caucuses. He does suggest that the EU undertake a project to strengthen Ukrainian independence outside the NATO framework, but doesn't really describe the form he thinks such assistance should take.

There's also that GWOT (global war on terror) that requires cooperation with Russia, as well as major issues like nuclear proliferation and global warming. As Fischer writes:

Russia today - differently than in the 1990s - is needed everywhere: In Iran, the Near East, in Afghanistan, on arms control, energy supplies, and climate policy. The USA cannot go it alone any longer on these challenges, and Europe has weakened itself. These realities also constitute Russia's new strength.
As I understand Fischer's Green outlook, his foreign policy views in American terms are closer to "liberal internationalism" than to "realism". But he certainly seems to base his analysis on a clear assessment of the realities of the world. Despite the American habit of threat inflation, reality-based strategists in Europe and American have failed to appreciate the relative rise in power of Russia and China, he argues. (Neocon Chicken Littles are not part of the reality-based community.)

So Fischer thinks the West in principle has to reject Russia's attempts to dismember Georgia. But he also warns that the West has to respect Russia's legitimate interests in the matter, as well.

But he also calls the clash over the Georgian provinces "the turning point ... at which Russia's renewed confrontation with the West begins: the new Europe is founded on the basis of inviolable borders". Breaking this principle as Russia is doing in Georgia is something "that Europe can never accept", in his view.

Yet Fischer cautions strongly against inflating the new challenges of Russia to the West. He expects Russia to concentrate on its new role as a major energy power. But outside energy, Russia's economy is weak and faces serious problems across the board. Their population is declining in numbers. The infrastructure is backward. Significant social conflicts create real problems. "Russia has not really over come its internal weaknesses; its strength cannot be compared with that of the former Soviet Union," Fischer writes.

He sees the real solution and hope for Western relations with Russia as being in strengthening cooperation with Russia in the many areas of common interest while building up Western strength in meaningful ways, such as politically and militarily strengthening the EU.

For the US, his hope is that the US will be able to minimize the disaster of the Iraq War, though he sees no net positives for Europe or America coming from that misbegotten war. "Bush's political legacy is a confrontation with the Islamic world whose end is not yet visible."

Interestingly enough, Fischer sees the greatest long-rang beneficiary of the Iraq War to be not Iran (which has clearly benefited enormously) but China:

While the leading Western power, the USA, blew its credibility and power in the so-called "war against terror" - that is, against broad parts of the Islamic world - China grew powerfully in the slipstream of this strategic foolishness.
Sources:

Großmacht und Hasardeur von Joschka Fischer Die Zeit 12.08.2008

Europas Schwäche und Russlands Stärke von Joschka Fischer Die Zeit 18.08.2008

Amerikas Schwäche von Joschka Fischer Die Zeit 25.08.2008

Warum Obama es schaffen wird von Joschka Fischer Die Zeit 01.9.2008

For more info on the Russia-Georgia conflict see Memeorandum.

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