Who Cares About Georgia?
Scott McConnell reports that AEI’s Fred Kagan has asked the rhetorical question, “Would the United States really want to live in a world where Russia held sway over Georgia and the Ukraine?”
Daniel Larison finds the question strange, indeed:
Obviously, I understand why Ukrainian-speaking Ukrainians and Georgians are not interested in having Russia hold sway over their countries. They want to preserve their national independence, and they view Russia as the historic oppressor or occupier that must never be allowed to regain control. I get it. I can even understand why they, or at least some of them, would actively seek the protection of other great powers to prevent that happening, but what has never been clear to me is why Americans should be willing to harm our relations with the Russians for the sake of countries in which we have no particularly important interests and which Russians consider part of their sphere of influence, if not, in fact, historically theirs. Georgians and Ukrainians may not want to live in the world Kagan paints, but an overwhelming majority of Americans would not be concerned one way or another.
That’s undoubtedly true insomuch as most Americans are unaware that there’s another place called Georgia out there for whom Herschel Walker never played. The question, though, is whether American policymakers should care if Georgia’s fate is controlled by Russia.
While I’m much more Realist than Kagan and generally subscribe to old notions such as spheres of influence and vital national interests, I nonetheless believe that the United States has a strong interest in seeing Georgia, Ukraine, and other Eastern European states continue their path to democratization rather than devolving back into Russian satellite states.
Poland, Latvia, Slovakia, and others have made remarkable strides since joining the West via membership in NATO and/or the EU. Similarly, Georgia (and to a lesser extent, Ukraine) has radically revamped its institutions, modernized its society, and otherwise become more Western in response to the prospects of membership. It’s very much in our interests that these trends continue.
As to hurting our relations with Russia, that concern continues to be overblown. Russia has opposed NATO and EU expansion at every step. They’ve learned to live with it. Their interests very much require cooperation with the West in a whole host of issues — and vice versa.
Obviously, we should be as diplomatic as possible and avoid rubbing their noses in these policy disputes. Russia has legitimate concerns and interests in the region and we should work with them closely. But it doesn’t mean turning our back on natural allies in order to appease the Russians, either.