NATO Toothless in Georgia Situation?
Charles Krauthammer has a scathing column this morning excoriating NATO for its weak response to the Georgia crisis. He observes that NATO’s recent statement on the matter is “almost comically evenhanded.”
It’s not until paragraph six that NATO, a 26-nation alliance with 900 million people and nearly half of world GDP, unsheathes its mighty sword, boldly declaring “Russian military action” — not aggression, not invasion, not even incursion, but “action” — to be “inconsistent with its peacekeeping role.”
Having launched a fearsome tautology Moscow’s way, what further action does the Greatest Alliance of All Time take? Cancels the next NATO-Russia Council meeting.
That’s it. No dissolution of the G-8 (group of industrial democracies). No blocking of Russian entry to the World Trade Organization. No suspension of participation in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics (15 miles from the Georgian border). No statement of support for the Saakashvili government.
Look, I would have preferred that NATO had been much bolder here. They announced at Bucharest that Georgia and Ukraine will eventually become members of the Alliance. That position has been reiterated in recent days by both Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Nicolas Sarkozy, who blocked Georgia’s admission to a Membership Action Plan at Bucharest. NATO membership, by definition, means that we would consider an attack on Georgian territory — which decidedly occurred here — to be an attack on all members. It’s a very bad signal, then, that we’ve done so little in immediate response to Russia’s attack on a country we’ve made that declaration about.
That said, NATO is a consensus organization comprised of 26 members with decidedly varying national interests. Krauthammer is quite right the New Europe has been much stronger here than Old Europe and about the reason for that: “Eastern Europe understands the stakes in Georgia. It is the ultimate target.” Contrariwise, Western Europe has little at stake in Georgia — let alone South Ossetia and Abkhazia — and much at stake with Russia.
Krauthammer is simply wrong when he says that the above measures would be “painless for the West.” Most of our European allies have much more to lose from further alienating Russia than we do because of their geographic proximity and greater economic ties. Most obviously, Russia is a huge energy supplier to the region.
The measures Krauthammer outlines should indeed be on the table. But lesser measures and a game of diplomatic kabuki is going to have to play out before we can achieve consensus on what are rather major steps.
Alliance politics are incredibly frustrating. That was true in the midst of World War II, when the need for consensus was even more urgent. Getting agreement from 26 parties on complex problems with significant risks and a decided lack of good options is next to impossible. Even American experts are far from agreement on what approach is best here, so it’s not surprising that Western and Eastern Europeans don’t see eye to eye. That means we muddle through and hope to get agreement as events play out.