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    Central Asia
     Aug 21, 2008
US falters on NATO's failure
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi

United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is supposedly a specialist on Russia, yet one would not know that by looking at her triumphal statement that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) will defeat Russian aims in Georgia.

Rice proclaimed boldly that Russia "is becoming more and more the outlaw in this conflict", referring to the Russian offensive into Georgia following Georgia's attack on the rebel region of South Ossetia. "They intend and probably still do intend to strangle Georgia and its economy," Rice said in reference to the Russian forces that remain in Georgia.

However, at an emergency summit of NATO's foreign ministers in Brussels, European countries agreed to suspend formal contacts


with Moscow until its troops pulled out, but refused to bow to American pressure for more severe penalties. NATO is "considering seriously the implications of Russia's actions for the NATO-Russia relationship", said a statement of the 26-member alliance.

The fact is, Russia has finally drawn a line in the sand and, for all practical purposes, the buck stops in the South Caucasus. Short of destabilizing Europe, there is practically nothing the US can do about it, except fire more verbal volleys, as Rice has been doing relentlessly since the outbreak of Russia-Georgia hostilities on August 7-8. And even the rhetoric has fallen on deaf ears in Moscow,

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has labeled Russians as "barbarians", but the former New York attorney should have taken a course in global geopolitics before foolishly taking on the Russian bear.

There are four interrelated causes of the present crisis: irredentism in Georgia, NATO's expansion, the US's plan to station an anti-missile system in Eastern Europe, considered a first-strike capability by Moscow, and the geo-economics of energy security.

Russia's military has now entered into the calculus of energy security and, in light of Europe's heavy energy dependency on Russia, the crisis will certainly impact the future of pipeline politics in Europe.

On the US's part, instead of applying the arithmetic of political realism and coming to terms with the sources of Russian anger, that is, at NATO's unwelcome, intrusive and threatening expansion near Russian territory, the US is now seeking to augment Russia's insecurity by pushing more aggressively for NATO's role and influence in the region and beyond. The US is taking advantage of Ukraine and other neighboring countries' fear of Russian power, put on full display inside Georgia these past few days.

Such bellicose US reactions are neither fully in sync with Europe's needs and interests, nor that of US's own interest - such as in engaging Russia in the NATO-Russia Council. Whereas Moscow's legitimate national security worries have been completely side-stepped and ignored in Washington (and to a lesser extent in London), other Western leaders, such as those in Paris and Berlin, have been more cautious and one may even say considerate of the Russian point of view.

Henceforth, a new trans-Atlantic rift between the US and some of its European allies who are members of NATO may be in the offing.

For its part, the European Union's failure to offer Russia an adequate framework for strategic partnership, reflected in its inability to provide a new cooperation agreement with Moscow, is also a source of the present crisis.

But, with Russia consistently painting its relations with the EU as a fundamental pillar of its foreign policy, the EU today has no choice but to reframe its security calculus partly under the shade of Russia. For Russia's neighbors such as Ukraine and Georgia, still harboring the notion of joining NATO, the war in Georgia has all but cemented Moscow's veto power, unless these countries are ready to embrace worse outcomes.

With respect to China, which has limited itself to a studied reaction to the fast-paced developments, the chances are that Beijing's real sympathy rests with Russia and in this post-September 11, 2001, international milieu, Beijing and Moscow have a greater common cause with regard to US unilateralism and NATO expansion than they have disagreements over specific tactics and sub-strategies. In a word, we may expect closer Russia-China security cooperation via the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in the near future, due to the two powers' perceived threat of the US and NATO.

Given the long-term damage to US-Russia relations as a result of this crisis and the US's insistence that it has done nothing wrong and that Moscow shoulders all the blame, a new era of frosty relations reminiscent of the Cold War has now set in that will carry over to the next US administration, no matter who wins the US presidency this November.

Although on the surface Republican Senator John McCain's "get tough on Russia" attitude may seem to have benefited from this crisis, propelling US voters toward more national-security focused elections in November, it is clear a smart US policy will have to blend in more elements of diplomacy toward Moscow to be successful. This means paying more attention to the Russian state of mind, political psychology and perceived national-security threats, instead of dismissing them as "nonsense" as Rice did not too long ago.

The crisis is also a litmus test for "smart power" US policy-making, a premise that has remained in potential despite official pretensions to the otherwise. It is simply not wise to corner the Russian bear and provoke it into aggression by taking blatant initiatives that threaten Russian national-security interests

Such a narrow approach to global affairs is certainly a recipe for disaster and, perhaps, Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Barack Obama and his motto of change is the right alternative to set troubled US-Russian relations back on a healthy track.

This he could do by reversing what former president Bill Clinton did, that is, renege on the elder George Herbert Bush's pledge to the Russians regarding NATO's expansion.

All that Rice and her aides need to do is to put themselves in Moscow's shoes and try to digest what it would mean if it was not the Warsaw Pact but rather NATO that had been disbanded and now was actively procuring several new members while, simultaneously, threatening the national security of the former adversary.

Not hard to do, yet no one in Washington seems capable of this elementary exercise.

Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) and co-author of "Negotiating Iran's Nuclear Populism", Brown Journal of World Affairs, Volume XII, Issue 2, Summer 2005, with Mustafa Kibaroglu. He also wrote "Keeping Iran's nuclear potential latent", Harvard International Review, and is author of Iran's Nuclear Program: Debating Facts Versus Fiction. For his Wikipedia entry, click here.

(Copyright 2008 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

The new cold war era (Aug 20, '08)

Americans play Monopoly, Russians chess
(Aug 19, '08)

Georgia through Russian eyes
(Aug 19, '08)

China seeks Caucasian crisis windfall (Aug 19, '08)

1. Americans play Monopoly, Russians play chess

2. China seeks Caucasian crisis windfall

3. Georgia through Russian eyes

4. The US economy is in a funk

5. US worries as Maliki gets 'difficult'

6. The 'Hanification' of Xinjiang

7. Iran gambles over Georgia's crisis

8. Utterly pointless Europe

9. Jawboning the Chinese elephant

(24 hours to 11:59pm ET, Aug 18, 2008)


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