Column on Russia v. Georgia

NATO, Georgia and Russia
Tibor R. Machan
Thomas Friedman of The New York Times writes that he is against expanding
NATO. While he condemns the Russian government for its muscle flexing
vis-à-vis the Republic of Georgia, he considers Georgia’s desire to join
NATO unwise. As he recounts his and some of his allies reasoning at the
time when the USSR collapsed, “It seemed to us that since we had finally
brought down Soviet communism and seen the birth of democracy in Russia
the most important thing to do was to help Russian democracy take root and
integrate Russia into Europe. Wasn’t that why we fought the cold war — to
give young Russians the same chance at freedom and integration with the
West as young Czechs, Georgians and Poles? Wasn’t consolidating a
democratic Russia more important than bringing the Czech Navy into NATO?”
No doubt, the desire expressed by Mr. Friedman, the famous author of The
World is Flat, a very reasonable defense of globalization, is
understandable and were it not for Russia’s bad history and habit of
expansionism, reasonable. But, alas, as with so many millions of people
across the globe, the governmental habit keeps reasserting itself and with
Russia this habit includes bullying its neighbors.
Having been in Georgia twice over the last two years and having lived
under the Soviet regime in Hungary in the early and mid-fifties, I was
interested in Friedman’s column about Russia v. Georgia today. I, too,
believe, as Friedman does, that it would be valuable to tame Russia and
that perhaps expanding NATO is an obstacle toward that end.
I do not believe, however, that Friedman gives sufficient weight to how
justly frightened most people near the Russians are of the Russian
government and many Russians people. I believe it’s too optimistic to
expect Russia to change its proclivity of wanting to be in charge of its
neighbors, especially as regards their international alliances. The
Russian habit of expansion via conquest and intimidation has not abated, I
am afraid.
This, I believe, explains why so many of those surrounding nations look at
something like NATO for protection. Are the Russians justified in
regarding this a threat? Not if they think about history. But perhaps that
is just the problem, they do not.
The pacifist impulse is not a strong one within the current Russian
leadership which is mostly made up of but barely reformed ex-Soviets.
Unless Russian leaders become less bent on physically ruling the region
and firmly, credibly commit to co-existence with their vulnerable
neighbors, the NATO option simply cannot be discounted. Some kind of
security measure will have to be available to these countries and arguably
any will irk the Russians. And Mr. Friedman, who is an educated individual
concerning geo-political matters, ought to know this and provide his
commentary on the recent Russian v. Georgian conflict in that light. In
short, what advice does he have for leaders of countries like the Republic
of Georgia given the evident aggressiveness of Russia? As it is, his
exhortations in support of less concern with Russia’s tendency to bully a
country its neighbors sound more like wishful thinking than sound advice.
It isn’t that Russia cannot change–the Russian people are not all
adherents to the previous policy of expansionism and even those who have
been can rethink matters. Many, for example, want to trade with the rest
of the world rather than pick fights. But unlike after World War II, when
much of the aggressive leadership of the Third Reich had been
incapacitated, after the fall of the Soviet Union the people who were
loyal to some more or less virulent version of Stalinism remained free to
influence Russia’s domestic and foreign affairs and are still vying for
power. These people continue to hope to recover the sort of political and
military prominence in the region that the Soviets believe was their
historic birthright.
So it is going to be necessary, at least for a while, to not only be
reasonable with the Russians but also back up reasonableness with
sufficient muscle. Whether NATO is the answer or something else, I am not
sure. All I am sure about is that the leadership of the Republic of
Georgia has good reason to want to gain protection against Russia’s
current government.

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