From the moment when the United States condemned Russian involvement in the Georgian conflict, it became apparent that that we were in for a rough ride. Despite existing tension with Russia, and long term tension with the Soviet Union before that, United States politicians, speaking through the White House, continue to insist on taking sides in a conflict that isn’t ours.
South Ossetia, a Georgian territory populated by ethnic Russians, has claimed independence and is being recognized by Russia as a sovereign nation. The conflict has cooled down after Russia has pulled its troops from the separatist region, but both the European Union and United States are condemning Russia in their involvement and denying Ossetian independence.
Now, it seems Putin and his American counterparts are in a word-slinging contest to see who can be the most petty. Putin claims that the United States provoked conflict in Georgia on behalf of a Presidential candidates; a claim that the White House has dismissed as ‘patently false.’ It is, of course, a wild claim, given that most of the American public probably didn’t know that a country called Georgia or the region of South Ossetia existed before a couple of weeks ago — and many of them probably still don’t. Still, the fact the United States responded by stating that Russia would face ‘consequences’ if it continued military action in Georgia is worrying.
This coupled with tension caused by the United States’s installation of defense technology in Poland, an act which Russia no doubt sees as an act of military escalation at its own doorstep, is cause for concern.
It is doubtful that Russia, the United States or the European Union actually wants military conflict; such a thing would probably end in a disastrous nuclear holocaust. It seems, however, that we are easily slipping into another cold war, where both sides unconsciously build up strategic military defenses and fighting the occasional proxy war. This was common during the Cold War and is something to look for now; a U.S.-supported Georgian army versus the Russian and Ossetians, for example.
If U.S. politicians insist on making Russia our enemy by making unnecessarily aggressive overtures, we’re going to find ourselves going up against quite a formidable opponent. The old Soviet Union had a socialist economy with a limited capacity for economic mobilization. Merely convincing the labor force increase productivity took great effort that resulted in massive prison camps and genocide.
These days, however, Russia is a capitalist giant under the political control of a pseudo-totalitarian, but with an 80% approval rating despite allegations of human rights abuses. Putin’s accomplishments, saving of Russian economy and reintroduction of Russia as a world superpower, ensure that simply outspending Russia won’t win us a new Cold War.
Even though getting Washington politicians to stop meddling in foreign affairs is akin to a Sisyphean task, we still must seriously consider what we are getting ourselves into. Last time, we slipped into a Cold War without fully understanding what the military costs were. Even though we never had direct confrontation with the USSR, the resulting military conflicts (in Afghanistan, Vietnam, Korea, Cuban missile crises, etc.) could have been avoided. Now, we have a chance to act without getting our military involved and it’s a golden opportunity.
It means that we need to stop taking sides in overseas conflicts and performing military actions that outrage a potential enemy. Putting ‘defensive’ technology in Poland doesn’t sound like a very defensive move if it escalates tension with Russia. Picking Georgia’s side in a civil conflict isn’t going to make anybody freer. After all, it was Western powers drawing artificial boundaries which have caused many problems between different ethnic groups living in one nation in the first place. We’re not going to solve others conflicts for them by more meddling.
Now is the time to be wary of war and stay out of foreign affairs. We have enough problems at home to deal with, we don’t need to get involved in external conflicts as well. If we really feel the need to ‘beat’ Russia, we can do so in the way we always have — by being a shining example of economic and civil freedoms to show others what they can also have if only they willingly followed our example.