Friday, August 15, 2008

Just Like Old Times (or Scary Times (Part II)

To think that I used to miss the Cold War.

Well it appears that a cease-fire has been negotiated in Georgia. Again. Let's see if the Russians respect it this time.

For an interesting article about what has been going on, I suggest reading Steve Levine's articles over at The Oil and The Glory.

As it appears right now, Russia will be retaining control of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Officially Russia will only be there as "peacekeepers". However, what will more likely happen is that in a year or so, I anticipate that there will be a Russian-sponsored referendum where the people of South Ossetia will "vote" to be annexed by the Russian Federation.

Just as the Georgian situation starts to, hopefully, calm down, a new situation is on the rise. As some people may know, for months, the Bush Administration has been seeking partners in Europe to act as location sites for a missile defense system. Among those that have been targeted are nations in Eastern Europe including Poland and the Czech Republic. Today, it was announced that Poland and the U.S. have reached an agreement on the missile defense program.

Russia reacted predictably. General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, the deputy commander of the Russian Air Force and a deputy of the Chief of Staff, stated, when asked about the agreement, "Poland, by deploying (the system) is exposing itself to a strike — 100 percent[.]" He also quoted Russian doctrine which permits the use of nuclear weapons "against the allies of countries having nuclear weapons if they in some way help them."

Aside from the fact that Russia has shown that its true colors are no different from those of Imperial Russia or Soviet Russia, it is interesting that it has taken this long for it to do so. Looking at what Putin has been doing to Russia since he took over in 1999, he has been trying to restore the old luster to Russia.

Now what is interesting is the timing of Putin's actions. From my less trained eye, the timing of the Georgian invasion seems to have been delayed. Judging from reports of what happened in Georgia, the Russian response to the situation appears to have been planned and not improvised. If it was planned, why did they wait so long? If this is the first step in Russia attempting to bully its way into recreating a bipolar world, why did they wait so long.

Start from the position that U.S. is only world superpower. As such, the U.S. is the preeminent threat to any country which seeks to establish itself as a hegemon in a region, continent, or hemisphere. Simply put, the U.S. has the ability diplomatically, economically, and militarily to project its power to any corner of the world. When bullets start to fly, as they have in Georgia, or are threatened, as is the case of Poland, then the most concrete form of U.S. intervention is the military.

The threat of a carrier battle group being dispatched to a region, of USAF aircraft being dispatched to create a no-fly zone, or of a U.S. Army Division being dispatched, causes many countries to pause before embarking on a military option. However, the threat of U.S. intervention is diminished if we are already engaged in a large campaign elsewhere which requires us to commit large quantity of our resources.

Which has been the case for the past five years. For five years, the bulk of the U.S. Army and USMC have been rotating through either Iraq or Afghanistan. This has left the bulk of U.S. deterrence to the U.S. Navy, USMC MEU units (when they aren't needed in either Iraq or Afghanistan and Air Force. In many cases, this has been enough. However, Russia has a large army, with an air force which boasts approximately 850 modern combat aircraft. They also have a sizeable nuclear arsenal.

Had Russia rattled its saber against Poland and attacked Georgia even a year ago, this would have left the U.S. in a position where it could do almost nothing concrete. A year ago, the U.S. was in the midst of the Surge in Iraq. Troops were committed there and withdrawing them , or even threatening to, would have been incredibly difficult. Had Russia, or any other nation which aspires to the position of superpower (i.e. China) or regional superpower (i.e. Iran), made their move then, the U.S. would not have been in a position to easily act to counter them.

However, times are changing. No matter who becomes president in November, the reality of Iraq has changed because of the events that occurred during the Surge. The Iraqis are increasingly eager to provide for their own security and to see all or the majority of the U.S. and Coalition forces in the region withdrawn. Although Afghanistan will continue to be a work a progress over the next few years, it is not Iraq. Large conventional forces that are deployed there do not pay the same dividends as they would in other areas.

Essentially, it's almost as if the Russians have begun flexing their overt muscles too late. In some areas, it has been suggested that Putin feels that the U.S. cannot do without his influence over events in Iran. Perhaps, but if we do decide to forgo Russian help there, it could lead to failure which will only cause Russia more trouble as it tries to bring the Central Asian republics back under its influence.

That being said, the Georgian operation could have been spurred by Putin wanting to accomplish his objective before the U.S. is in a more balanced position to meet overt threats to its allies. Therefore, could we be in a sitaution where for the next year to two years, Russia will be pressing its agenda (i.e. bringing the Central Asian republics back under its hegemony, as well as seeking to keep more of the former Warsaw Pact nations from becoming enmeshed in NATO/U.S. security guarrantees) before the U.S. can do more than just offer unsupported diplomatic notes and presidential proclamations to support its allies?

One thing seems clear: the bear is back in the woods. It would be prudent to be ready to confront this bear, or any other that is lurking there.

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