Georgia and the missile shield

by Marek Jan Chodakiewicz  |  August 21, 2008  |  PAPERS & STUDIES

 Russia’s war against Georgia jolted the US into concluding a defense deal with Poland. The agreement provides for the deployment of a battery of Patriot missiles on Polish soil. It complements an earlier accord with the Czech Republic, which consented to host the radar component of the American defense system. This so-called “Missile Shield” is a tactical device set up to guard Europe and Israel against a rocket attack by Iran or other rouge state, according to Washington. For Warsaw and Prague, however, the Shield is of strategic significance. Its unheralded role is to protect the former Soviet satellites from a new Russian aggression. It is also the first step to achieve US military presence in those countries modeled after the South Korean paradigm. That is precisely how Moscow views the defense installation.  

The Kremlin is very unhappy. It has even threatened a nuclear strike against Poland. Its increasingly shrill rhetoric coupled with its brutal military campaign in Georgia indicates Russia’s confident return to its old imperial ways. It has also shown that it can flaunt international law in regards to the “near abroad,” the nations formerly incorporated in the USSR. Ukraine, the Baltic states, Azerbeidzhan, and others can hardly ignore the Georgian lesson as they are next on the list of “re-assembling the lands of Russia.” Eschewing a lightning strike and biding its time, the Kremlin will continue a gradual mode of undermining their sovereignty, including through the energy weapon. Moscow has further played its propaganda game very skillfully, reinforcing Russophile tendencies in much of the EU. Thus, Italy has supported Russia brazenly, while Germany more discreetly. France scurried to foist upon Georgia the Kremlin’s ultimatum disguised as a cease fire agreement. Great Britain and a few smaller countries followed America’s lead to condemn Russia’s aggression.  

Thus, the European Union has failed to elucidate a common policy regarding the crisis in Georgia. Moreover, some of its leading member states have shown themselves to prefer solutions incompatible with freedom, justice, and democracy which supposed to be the cornerstones of the EU. Their excuse is the apparent “moderation” of the Kremlin. 

Russia has proceeded cautiously and gradually thus far in Georgia. It could have overrun all of it and practically done pretty much anything it wanted to with impunity. The West would have abandoned Georgia, limiting itself to pious condemnations of the aggressor, as it did after Soviet Russia’s assault on Central-Eastern Europe (1944-1947), Hungary (1956), and Czechoslovakia (1968). There would have been neither any “rollback” nor “liberation” of Georgia any more than there ever was of half of Europe suffering under the Kremlin’s yoke. 

Russia does not want to overplay its hand, however. Excessive rapaciousness at this stage could trigger adverse reactions in the West. First, it would validate the fears of the former satellites, foster unity among them, prompt them to counterbalance the Russophile part of the European Union, and encourage them to seek a closer relationship with the United States. Next, Russia’s extremism could even restore unity among the NATO allies, in fact re-vitalizing the alliance under US leadership. Further, it could necessitate for Washington to provide comprehensive security commitments to the nations as yet unaffected by Moscow’s aggression, the way America saved Western Europeans faced with Stalin’s revolutionary imperialism in the wake of the Second World War. Last but not least, the Kremlin’s bellicosity could influence the outcome of US presidential campaign to the detriment of Russia, which usually prefers to deal with those who are more prone to distance themselves from any such broad security commitments. And nothing mobilizes the American electorate better than supporting an underdog, including a victim of aggression. The candidates will surely pay attention. 

Moscow’s ambitions will be hard to ignore, whoever ultimately wins the presidential race. It will also be hard to forget that the Georgian crisis was a serious litmus test which has shown that Poland’s reflexive affinities lie with the United States and that at least some of “Old Europe’s” choices can be inimical to security and freedom of “New Europe.” A viability of a political union is tested best under extreme circumstances. The EU has failed, as it did in the Balkans in the 1990s, to pass the test. America may have to step in once again, sooner rather than later, to provide security for the Old Continent and prevent regional aggression and global destabilization. 

Marek Jan Chodakiewicz
Academic Dean and Professor of History
The Institute of World Politics
Washington, D.C.
www.iwp.edu