Sunday, August 10, 2008

Georgia : Does It Matter?

At the time of writing, Russian bombers are still bombing Georgia and United Nations in currently discussing the crisis. It is expected that the security council will call for an immediate ceasefire, if it can get past a possible Russian veto. The civilian casualties are rising - so there is indeed an urgent need to do something. However, is this important - given that there is Beijing Olympics and US Presidential Election around the corner - to be counted as the most significant news at this moment?

Georgians certainly need all the help they can from the international community. Russian Military superiority is overwhelming. Russia is, of course, interested in teaching Georgia a lesson and from the recent interview Mikhail Saakasvili gave to CNN, it seems they don't have much time left before their military is wiped out. Of course, Georgia has offered a ceasefire to Russia, and obviously Russia isn't interested at this time, when they are winning the war.

What will the world do? What can the world do? Talk, of course. But can they put sanctions on Russia? Out of question, with Oil being Russia's most important export. Can they face down Russia? Unlikely - it is too great a risk. An UN resolution - which may not come because of Russia's veto - isn't going to stop the war. The war will only stop at a time of Russia's choosing, and all the unnecessary civilian deaths will happen. It is a shame. But I do think this small war will have wider significance beyond its immediate consequences.

It is important to note that Georgia started this. Agreed, there has been this breakaway republic of South Ossetia in the middle of Georgia since 1992. The North Ossetia is part of Russia and South Ossetians are close to Russians, protected by Russian peacekeepers and many carrying Russian passports. Georgia, last week, sent troops to 'attack' South Ossetia. Russians went in to Georgia in response.

What is puzzling is why Georgia took the military action first. South Ossetia exists till 1992, and the Russian response could have been easily predicted. It almost seems that Georgia wanted this to happen, just that they did not expect how bad this could become. Their timing was possibly wrong - with World's leaders gathered in Beijing for the opening of Olympics, where, for a moment, the news of the war sounded like an unwelcome distraction.

The possible reason is for such recklessness can be that Georgia wanted to establish their credentials for admission to NATO, which it sorely wants to become. Georgia, of course, believes that joining NATO will assure its security, from threats as this one from Russia. NATO, of course, sees Georgia as their frontier - to push the conflict deep inside Russia's 'Sphere of Influence', to become the first casualty in a conflict if it eventually comes. Unfortunately for the citizens of Georgia, the conflict has already come.

I say this has wider significance, as the outcome of this conflict will determine three things:

One, whether we shall remain in the shadow of the old 'areas of influence', an imperialist hangover which got passed onto the free world by the post-war leaders. It was a false assumption that in the unipolar world, such concepts will not hold valid, and accordingly, the post-Cold war thinkers in the Washington continued pushing the frontier. However, we shall realize, post this conflict, that such concepts are not valid in a nuclear world. Some countries are more powerful than others, may be overwhelmingly powerful. But, yet, no single country is powerful enough - nor ever will be - to dominate the entire world. So, post-Georgia, we shall possibly return to Areas of Influence - through this Russian assertion by force and American acceptance of the same by inaction.

Two, this conflict, taken to its logical conclusion, will configure a new world order. Over last few years, Russia and China has worked in unison for many international issues. After Russian display of force in Georgia and Chinese display of ability in Beijing, it is possible that a new formation will emerge - in direct counter-balance to the United States. As we read in any history of Cold War - that it was more a state of mind than an actual reality - we shall enter into a new age of conflict and competition yet again.

Third, this conflict and the resulting power formations will mean that the emergent powers will not have the necessary capability to take on the mantle of a World Super-power, like the old Soviet Union and current United States. The world will then work in regional formations, rather than in two straight camps. So, eventually, Europe has to stand on its own, and Asian, African and Latin American formations will emerge. Accepted, even continent-wide entities will be too large to have a singular interest, and hence, possibly, these will be sub-continental formations, led by one or two major states. This will, eventually, lead to the erosion of national identities, and contribute to the emergence of a strange combination of local (such as Ossetian) and regional (great Russian) identities. Nation is so nineteenth century as a concept, and soon it will be history.

The problem is that such a scenario is possible, and this makes perfect setting for an war of the world. Unipolar or Bipolar systems actually work for stability, at a great cost to freedom and human rights, but no one wants destruction in those settings. But, when churning comes - such as the one possible - destruction of the existing world order helps a group of people against others. Without making a far-fetched prophecy, it should surely be mentioned that this conflict has all the necessary attributes of becoming such an era-defining event.

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