The Illogic of Empire
Regarding the situation in Georgia, Megan McArdle writes:
Another way to look at the question is: are we going to allow Russia to reassemble the old Russian empire? At its heart, that’s what this is about. Maybe we should; maybe it’s none of our business who Russia decides to invade, or what puppet governments they decide to prop up, so long as they don’t share a border with Germany.
I don’t mean that sarcastically–I can make all sorts of arguments in favor of this attitude. On the other hand, it has obvious, dramatic costs, including the fact that Russia’s imperial ambitions are unlikely to stop at the Georgian border. Also, as far as I know, Georgia controls the only major pipeline to Europe not owned by Russia or Iran–Russian control of Georgia would dramatically increase its negotiating power with the entire European Union.
There’s an old saying that I recall from my childhood: “You and what army?” The simple fact of the matter is that short of displaying a willingness to use nuclear weapons, Russia simply lacks the manpower and resources to expand its borders by force. Note that even right now, they are not invading Georgia proper–just the provinces in dispute. With a declining population, increasingly antiquated equipment, and a shaky economy outside of the energy sector, that’s about all they can do.
It’s also worth pointing out that, short of displaying a willingness to use nuclear weapons or engage in large-scale bombing of civilian populations, there’s not much that the United States could do right now to intervene in the situation in Georgia to any significant extent. Our manpower and resources are busy in Iraq and Afghanistan right now.