Under the umbrella
Aug 9th 2007
Why Georgia must join NATO
IT IS a fair bet that if Georgia were in NATO the missile that hit the village of Tsitelubani on the evening of August 6th would never have been fired.
The Russian view seems to be that on this and other occasions the Georgians have been inventing tales about bombing, or even bombing themselves, in order to attract western sympathy. Georgia says that two Russian Sukhoi Su-24 attack aircraft entered its airspace from Russia, fired a Raduga Kh-58 air-to-surface missile (which failed to explode) and left.
Russia insists that nothing of the kind happened. It is of course theoretically possible that Georgia is engaged in an elaborate bluff involving secret planes, faked debris, forged radar logs and diplomatic histrionics.
But it is startlingly unlikely. After all, it would be hard to conceal such a ploy from the many American and other foreign military advisers based there. If Georgia is to have a chance of persuading unenthusiastic NATO members like Germany that the club needs to take in still more members, it needs to radiate responsibility, not pull stunts. The former, not the latter, is just what President Mikhail Saakashvili and his government have been doing.
Furthermore, if the attacks were faked to whip up outside support for Georgia, they have failed miserably. In March, a mysterious raid by nightflying attack helicopters rocketed public buildings in villages in the Kodori Gorge, a region of the breakaway region of Abkhazia where Georgia has reestablished its rule. The western response was almost inaudible.
Investigating that bombing—in which, luckily, nobody was killed—was shunted off to the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG), which monitors the Russian “peacekeeping” efforts in Abkhazia. UNOMIG's bureaucrats shuffled paper for three months and then produced a feebly inconclusive report.
Wherever the latest, seemingly abortive, attack was actually aimed, it has also produced alarmingly little Western support. That may be because it is August, and most decision-makers are on their holidays. But if the result is to show for a second time that Georgia is rather isolated, that will send a useful signal to the Kremlin about any future planned adventures in the region.
It may also be that Russia wants to derail Georgia’s new and successful approach towards reintegrating the smaller breakaway region of South Ossetia. A pro-Georgian parallel government has been unnerving the Kremlin-backed administration there.
Whatever the aim, it comes at a high price: mysterious air raids just across the border from the Olympic site of Sochi hardly fit the image of stability and dependability that Russia is trying to promote. As with many other events in the Caucasus, the real explanation may lie in the Kremlin's internal power struggles, not in geopolitics or diplomacy.
The underlying lesson though is that Georgia should be in NATO sooner rather than later. Even the most paranoid Russian would presumably admit that once in the alliance, Georgia would have little need to bomb itself. NATO expansion calms things down: that is the lesson of the Baltic states, which joined—in the teeth of Russian objections—in 2004. None of Russia’s warnings about the effect of NATO expansion into the “former Soviet Union” have proved true. The Baltic region is more stable now, not less, as a result (and things would be still better if Finland and Sweden joined too).
If Georgia were in NATO, it would also be less likely that Russia would want to bomb it. It is one thing to try to intimidate a neighbour in a security grey-zone. It is another to jostle someone sheltered by (and contributing to) the Western security umbrella, however stretched and faded its canopy may be.
Friday, August 10, 2007