Saturday, August 16, 2008

 

Russia Shows How World Balance of Power is Shifting

How times have changed since the 1990s when, with its Eastern European empire vanished and its very substance dismembered, the Russian rump did not walk tall internationally. Francis Fukuyama even had the misguided temerity to declare the 'End of History', his code for 'The West has Won'. Hmmm. The Economist today leads on 'Resurgent Russia' and concludes its main article with:

Most importantly, although Mr Saakashvili’s foolishness makes admitting Georgia harder, Russia’s incursion should not delay plans to let Ukraine and Georgia into NATO.

There can be no doubting that Russia, in recent years has been using its oil and gas wealth to pursue a more robust foreign policy and in recent weeks has not acted so very differently from its former incarnation as the USSR. Supporting satellite countries, so recently freed from the Stalinist yoke, is properly a role for democratic countries, but there are many reasons for caution regarding the extent of the support given.

1. The major reason is the decline in the power of the USA. It is still by far the most powerful military country in the world but no longer scares smaller countries to any degree. The war in Iraq and the lese majesty of Iran have proved to the world that the US cannot enforce its will, or that of the western world, away from home.

2. Fololowing from the above, Russia's virtual invasion of Georgia has further exposed American weakness. Bush and Rice have been able only to issue vacuous denunciations which have probably had the effect merely of raising smiles on the faces of Putin and Dmitry Medvedev. America's total inability to respond militarily has been cruelly exposed.

3. Russia's threat to pre-empt planned anti-missile defences in Poland, with a mailed fist only too evident, suggests Russia is quite prepared to follow a much more adventurous foreign policy over the next few years.

4. Russia has historically been paranoid about being surrounded by hostile forces and allowing US and NATO influence to intrude as far as its southern borders was bound to provoke displeasure in Moscow.

5. Displeasure is one thing but if Georgia or the Ukraine is part of NATO all members will be obliged by formal treaty to come to their military aid in the event of a war with Russia.

It could be that such an alliance would deter Russia from bullying its neighbours, but given America's involvements in the Middle East and Asian sub continent, it could be that Russia would feel the geopolitical balance has shifted to the extent that subversion and eventual takeover of its former Warsaw Pact empire is not just an atavistic dream. A war by proxy is bad enough; a full out war between two nuclear powers is a danger that has to be handled with great care indeed.

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