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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

1815 all over again?

...and might that be a good thing?

Christopher Meyer in the Times (London) Online:

"We can foolishly downgrade national interest within the armoury of British diplomacy, if we wish. But we had better not underestimate its driving force in the international behaviour of others. That is the road to dangerous miscalculation"

More here.

This is not the first time (by a long shot) that I've seen this opinion, but it seemed worth linking to during a presidential election.

1 comment:

Glenn said...

I think that Christopher Meyer is making a lot of sense. Certainly, during the entire Soviet era there was a school of observers who held that, far from Communism being the primary motivator for the actions of Russia in the Cold War, Russian nationalism would have militated that the regime adopt the same policies. Communism was a means to power, not an end.

Pan-Slavism, Orthodox religious solidarity, the Third Rome, the Warsaw Pact, were all manifestations of the basic Russian approach to foreign policy: protect the heartland, the Rodina, with buffers.

So, I agree that Meyer is right when he says that "Russian foreign policy would not be one jot different if it were a fully functioning democracy," and that "The Russia that we are dealing with today, ... is as old as the hills."

I would put in two caveats. First, if Russia were a fully functioning democracy, it would probably be interested in having similar states near it, in the buffer zone, rather than the autocracies with which it is most comfortable now. In such a case, Georgia would be (seen as) less of a threat to Russia, and Turkmenistan possibly more of a threat.

Second, there is oil, energy, economics. One of the great levers of power, as well as a source of wealth, for Russia today is oil. One of the problems with Georgia is that the latter offered alternative means of getting oil and gas from Baku and the Caspian to the West, bypassing the Russian chokepoints.

One of the first consequences of the Russian intervention in Georgia was to shut down the main pipelines that run into Turkey and out into Europe, independent of the Russian will.

Finally, 1815, and the Council of Vienna, didn't prevent the Crimean War. At some point, NATO will have to draw some lines in the sand and move to hold them. I think Georgia is the wrong line now. But if we concede Georgia and Ukraine, as Christopher Meyer suggests, we'd better start shoring up our forces, and polishing up our war plans, in Poland and Turkey.