FORUM ALPBACH – Politische Gespräche 8/24/2008
Gűnter Bischof, University of New Orleans
Euro – Atlantic Relations
The Georgian Crisis has raised 3 important questions
1. Has the Russian intervention unleashed a new Cold War?
2. Do we need to FEAR the Ruskis again?
3. Has this crisis caused ruptures in the Atlantic community?
Let me try to answer this question by way of a historical comparison – by looking at Western decision making and crisis response: The Western response to the Warsaw Pact invasion crushing the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia in 1968 vs. the Russian invasion on Georgia a fortnight ago.
1968 – A Cold War Crisis
Crisis rarely come alone but within multiple crisis scenarios – in 1968 the Vietnam War loomed ominously over the Czechoslovak crisis; the U.S. simply did not have the manpower to respond militarily to the Czech crisis; a month before the intervention Washington had already decided there would be “no action” in case of a Soviet intervention in its sphere of influence.
There was much wishful thinking going on within the Western community that Moscow would resolve the challenges of the Czechoslovak reform movements through negotiations rather than a military intervention
Domestically a tough election season paralyzed the political class in the U.S.; Lyndon Johnson’s decision not to run again made him an instant lame duck for his last 8 months in office
LBJ was worried about his political legacy; when the invasion came on August 20/21 he was very reluctant to sacrifice his efforts towards détente to a tough response vis-à-vis the Warsaw Pact invaders
The CIA has accurate information and DCI Richard Helms warned him in the morning of August 20 that something was afoot in the Kremlin; LBJ chose to ignore it
LBJ issued a relatively mild condemnation of the Warsaw Pact invasion; he did not issue a tough statement – he only told UN Ambassador George Ball to give the Soviets hell by way of rhetoric rather than action; nor did consider any tougher diplomatic options such as economic sanctions, diplomatic isolation, CIA covert operations, let alone a military response, which might have produced a nuclear war (LBJ: “let us not unleash the dogs of war”). LBJ quickly continued business as usual – four days after the invasion he went on a vacation to his beloved ranch in Texas
NATO’s response was similarly guarded – determined not to provoke the Warsaw Pact.
2008 – Georgia: A Post-Cold War Crisis or a Post-American Crisis – or as the famous American popular philosopher Yogi Bera would have said “Déjà vu All Over Again”
Multiple crisis scenario: The U.S. stuck in Iraq and Afghanistan with an Army that is extremely stressed out regarding men and materiel
Again, there was wishful thinking in the West that Moscow would not use force a would reluctantly tolerate NATO expansion so Georgia
Again, a major crisis occurs during a presidential election year paralyzing the American policy apparatus; again we have a lame duck in the White House
Again, Washington’s response to the Russian breach of international law is relatively mild – mainly rhetorical – Ambassador Khalizad gave the Russians hell in the U.N. like Ball did in 1968; there was no tougher diplomatic responses recorded so far – no economic sanctions; no covert operations have become known (even those would hardly be announced to the public); and certainly no tough military response – again, Moscow’s sphere of influence (not so clearly defined as in 1968) willy-nilly is being respected. Business as usual.
NATO, too is deliberating, but evidently no military responses have been seriously considered – other than the signature of the treaty to place American defensive missiles close to the border of Russia as a form of deterrent against Iran.
So are we back to a Cold War with Russia? I don’t think so:
The Cold War was an intense ideological struggle – I don’t see that in this conflict. The Russians have become good capitalists and consumerists like the West; even though they are not a Western type democracy, Putin system is not like Stalin’s
The Cold War was defined by the nuclear arms race and “Mutually Assured Destruction” (MAD); at this time there is no such arms race going on although it’s too early to tell whether there might be a race in ABM systems, exactly what the SALT arms negotiators already feared in the 1970s
There is enormous economic interdependence between the Euro-Atlantic community and Russia; the Russians want to do business with the West and will need it technology; the Europeans don’t want to see the lights go out; and all the Americans I talked are not embracing the Ray Charles Doctrine (“Georgia on my mind”).
The Vietnam War did ring in the beginning of the end of American preponderance in the world; the Georgian conflict may be just another signal of the beginning of the end of American hegemony due to the “rise of the Rest” (Zakaria)/ the “rise of the Second World” (Khana). That process has been afoot for a while. We do not fear the Russians again as we did in the Cold War – but that will differ from where you stand in Europe. The recovery of transatlantic comity after the disastrous invasion of Iraq will continue – Georgia will be a bump in the road, but not a turning point.