Thursday, July 23, 2009

19th-Century Notions

Vice President Joe Biden derided Russia’s “19th-century notion of spheres of influence,” at the end of his trip to Georgia. But Biden’s careful deflection of Georgia’s various security proposals, including deploying US monitors to its border with Russia and supplying Georgia with additional weapons systems, suggests that such 19th-century notions aren’t yet outmoded.

Mr. Biden, through his National Security Advisor, Antony Blinken, deflected the suggestion of American border monitors, stating that the EU had not invited the US to join the mission. As for the Georgian National Security Advisor’s suggestion that the US provide more armaments, Mr. Blinken replied that the Georgians had yet to request weapons and training.

Mr. Biden was careful to urge the rest of the world to not recognize Georgia’s breakaway regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, as independent states.

While Vice President Biden decried spheres of influence, his presence in Georgia was all realism, all the time. The United States may not be able to extend a serious defense umbrella over Georgia – especially given the recklessness exhibited by both its president and its National Security Advisor – but Biden’s blistering criticism of Russia was a short diatribe on the efficacy of soft-power:
“When all the people of Abkhazia and South Ossetia see prosperity and opportunity in the rest of Georgia, and when they look north into Russia — unless it radically changes — and don’t see the same opportunity, they’re going to say to one another, ‘Regardless of ethnic background, I want to be in Georgia,’ ” he said. “That’s ultimately why the Berlin Wall came down. That’s ultimately why the Soviet Union broke up peacefully.”
Georgia sits astride a strategically important portion of the globe that, like it or not, fits within Russia’s traditional sphere of influence. Georgia’s recklessness last summer, leading to the August War, thrust US strategic limitations into stark relief and aggravated its already cool relationship with Russia. Even without the August War, it was likely that the US and Russia would spar repeatedly in the coming decades over the role of the US, NATO and the EU in the Caucasus.

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