Tuesday, October 21, 2008

More on Diplomacy

An article in today’s International Herald Tribute reads, “Top U.S. and Russian Military Officers Meet.”

“The United States and Russia sent their top military officers to this neutral capital [Helsinki] for an unannounced meeting Tuesday to seek and define common ground and to try to move bilateral relations back on track, American officials said.

American officials said they anticipated that the war in Georgia would be high on the list of issues to be discussed. But other topics also have bruised bilateral relations. The recent agreements with Poland and the Czech Republic to host American missile defense sites have angered the Kremlin despite repeated statements from the United States that the modest system of radars and 10 interceptors poses no threat to the vast Russian nuclear arsenal.

"It is important that we have a dialogue with Russia and sustain a meaningful relationship," said a senior U.S. military officer.” ”

This is the right conversation to have with Russia for the moment because it addresses the short term goal of placating Russia for the time being and it helps address some long term concerns that will help smooth the way towards better bilateral relations in the future.

However, this is the nightmare scenario for Georgia and US allies following the August war between it and Russia over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which are internationally recognized territories of George, not “disputed territories” as Barack Obama characterized them in the second debate (meaning that either he agrees with Russia on the issue, doesn’t understand the issue, or doesn’t care).

To quickly recap, in the 12 months leading up to the war, Russia distributed Russian passports to the peoples of these territories and armed native militias favorable to Russia. When Georgia sent its military into the territories to confront these militias, Russia invaded under the dubious auspice of protecting its own citizens who, after all, carried Russian passports. To be clear: everything Russia did was illegal, and not the sort of action the world needs its big countries to take.

Yet here we are, two months removed, and the American military is now meeting with the Russian military to talk closer ties. From its little expedition into Georgia, Russia has succeeded in destabilizing the Georgian government and intimidating regional NATO allies. And from this, they are rewarded with closer US ties.

In the long term though this stands to create some real problems. It sends a terrible message to Russia that the US will not punish it for invading and destabilizing developing independent democracies. It sends an even more terrible message to US allies that the US will not protect them and in fact will become friendly with their aggressors. It sends a yet more terrible message to the world that America will not stick to its moral code or keep its word. And above all, this will accelerate the already-started arms race in former Soviet states that would prefer to align themselves with the West.

Meetings between America and Russia are necessary right now. But this is how difficult diplomacy is, and exemplifies its limited reach. The dearth left by diplomacy in this scenario is that it serves as absolutely no deterrent for future Russian aggression, which is one reason the US has pursued the missile defense shield that protects US and NATO allies as well as increased efforts to lobby Brussels for the inclusion of Georgia and Ukraine, which would mandate NATO response to Russian aggression. Diplomacy is not the magic wand many would have you believe.

No comments: