Sunday, August 24, 2008

US-NATO's War in Georgia: Who Wins, Who Loses?

U.S.-NATO’s war in Georgia: Who wins,who loses?

By Sara Flounders
Published Aug 20, 2008 10:47 PM

The Georgian army’s assault on the small nation of South Ossetia this August, backed and armed by the U.S., will have widespread repercussions, including here in the U.S. The attack immediately caused great suffering to tens of thousands of people in South Ossetia and Georgia. It was the topic of a top-level meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels and will impact on the struggle against placing U.S. missile bases in Poland and the Czech Republic.

While there were many losers, the war has boosted the expected profits of the giant U.S. military corporations. The long-term cost for the war and for the expansion of NATO—if it is allowed to happen—will contribute to the further deterioration of cities across the U.S. and will diminish the lives of working people here.

The war in the Caucasus was “a bell-ringer for defense stocks.” (Wall Street Journal, Aug. 16) Big U.S weapons programs costing billions of dollars, like the F-22 Raptor fighter jet and high-tech destroyers, will have an easier time getting ensured long-term funding if the news media focus on alleged threats from Russia or China.

The Georgian war comes at a time of record profits and sales in the military industries, wrote the Journal. “Now the Russia situation makes the debate over the equipping of the U.S. military a front-burner issue. ‘The threat always drives procurement,’ said a defense industry official. ‘It doesn’t matter what party is in office.’”

The U.S. stake in Georgia

Georgia’s attack was a devastating blow to the Ossetian people, who maintained their national identity and culture as a distinct autonomous region for 70 years when they were part of the Soviet Union and have resisted Georgia’s attempt to grab the autonomous enclave since 1991.

Georgia’s Aug. 7 attack destroyed Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, with bombs hitting the university, parliament, hospital and many other buildings. More than 1,400 people died and thousands were wounded and traumatized. Tens of thousands were left homeless.

Russian troops responded to the devastating attack that destroyed much of South Ossetia, driving back the attackers. Under this counterattack, the Georgian army, trained and equipped by U.S. and Israeli advisers, totally collapsed and abandoned its new high-tech weapons, tanks and missiles on the roads.

“Israelis were stationed at bases throughout [Georgia] to carry out battalion-level infantry and reconnaissance training,” reported the Israeli daily Ha’aretz on Aug. 10.

“The United States, Britain, France, Israel, the Czech Republic, Poland and a number of other countries have been supplying Georgia with the latest in offensive weapons, including tanks, planes, strike helicopters and armored personnel carriers.”

The collapse humiliated the Georgian military, whose U.S.-supplied defense budget has grown by 60 percent annually since 2004 and is currently at $1 billion. (Stockholm International Peace Research Report) U.S. Marines had just finished three weeks of military exercises with the Georgian military before the attack.

The U.S. government’s National Endowment for Democracy and multibillionaire George Soros had funded the 2003 project, called the Rose Revolution, that installed Georgia’s current regime. The U.S. also instigated a similar regime change called the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004-2005, installing a government compliant with U.S. wishes.

Escalation and setback to U.S. plans

Following Georgia’s frantic retreat and appeals for NATO intervention, Washington escalated tensions by pushing the Polish government to agree to station U.S. missiles in Poland. Earlier, the pro-U.S. Polish government had hesitated to agree to this base. Poland’s population had expressed, in polls, overwhelming opposition to this aggressive and dangerous military escalation.

NATO members Germany, France and Italy had also publicly opposed this U.S. anti-missile base, which could make a U.S. nuclear first strike against Russia feasible. The base could escalate tension between NATO and Russia and begin a new Cold War-type arms race.

Washington had called the Aug. 19 emergency NATO meeting to press for united anti-Russian action. The Bush administration used the week’s heavy anti-Russian propaganda to try to push through Georgia and Ukraine’s NATO membership. Instead, European NATO members said, as they had at the Bucharest meeting in April, that the two countries’ memberships would be discussed in December.

Following the Georgian army collapse, the Bush administration claimed it had told the Georgians that they must not use force in Ossetia or in Abkhazia, another autonomous region bordering Georgia. But Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had visited Georgia less than a month before the attack, at which time she made clear that the Bush administration fully supported Georgian claims to the two regions.

Georgia would hardly have dared to move hundreds of millions of dollars of U.S.-supplied equipment without Washington’s backing. Nor could they move such equipment secretly.

South Ossetian officials publicly warned, two days before the Georgian offensive, that such a Georgian attack would occur before September. (RIA Novosti News, Aug. 6)

Problems for NATO expansion

NATO has expanded from a U.S.-commanded military alliance of Western imperialist powers active in Europe. It has more than doubled its original 12-country membership and has intervened from Afghanistan to the countries surrounding China as part of the drive to ensure U.S. corporate domination of the globe.

Each new member of NATO must go into debt and dependency to equip its military with U.S.-supplied weapons. Like the anti-Russia drive, this is great for a handful of U.S. corporations and bad for everyone else.

From Iraq to Afghanistan and now in Georgia, the Pentagon’s plans are creating problems and meeting resistance.

Major demonstrations in Ukraine last spring opposed NATO membership, while polls show 70 percent in Poland and the Czech Republic oppose the U.S. bases, which the parliaments in both countries must pass. Putting any of the agreements to a popular vote could set back these right-wing, pro-U.S. regimes.

In Georgia, President Mikheil Saakashvili’s humiliating defeat following his adventurous aggression may lead to his downfall. This New York-trained lawyer, who had worked at the well-connected top law firm of Patterson, Belknap, Webb, and Tyler, is Washington’s best friend in the region.

Economic crisis and militarism

While the Pentagon is the largest military machine on the planet, paying to maintain this global war machine is worsening the economic meltdown in the U.S.

The U.S military budget is now larger than all other national states’ military budgets combined. Just the supplementary budget to pay for the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, not part of the official defense budget, is itself larger than the combined military budgets of Russia and China. According to the Friends Committee on National Legislation, U.S. military spending has doubled in the last decade, with the Pentagon budget alone set for over $600 billion in 2009.

This budget is a giant subsidy to the largest and most powerful corporations in the U.S. today, which pay top dollar to their executives and multibillion-dollar profits to their shareholders. Meanwhile more than 2 million people are losing their homes in foreclosures.

It is the responsibility of the anti-war, progressive and working-class movements in the U.S. to expose and mobilize against these dangerous and aggressive war plans that threaten life on the entire planet. And it is equally essential to connect the exorbitant costs of militarism and the fantastic profits for a handful of the super-rich to the cuts in social programs, health care and education for the rest of the population.
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Commentary No. 239, Aug. 15, 2008

"Geopolitical Chess: Background to a Mini-war in the Caucasus"

By Immanuel Wallerstein

The world has been witness this month to a mini-war in the Caucasus, and the rhetoric has been passionate, if largely irrelevant. Geopolitics is a gigantic series of two-player chess games, in which the players seek positional advantage. In these games, it is crucial to know the current rules that govern the moves. Knights are not allowed to move diagonally.

From 1945 to 1989, the principal chess game was that between the United States and the Soviet Union. It was called the Cold War, and the basic rules were called metaphorically
"Yalta." The most important rule concerned a line that divided Europe into two zones of influence. It was called by Winston Churchill the "Iron Curtain" and ran from Stettin to Trieste.

The rule was that, no matter how much turmoil was instigated in Europe by the pawns, there was to be no actual warfare between the United States and the Soviet Union. And at the end of each instance of turmoil, the pieces were to be returned to where they were at the outset. This rule was observed meticulously right up to the collapse of the Communisms in 1989, which was most notably marked by the destruction of the Berlin wall.

It is perfectly true, as everyone observed at the time, that the Yalta rules were abrogated in 1989 and that the game between the United States and (as of 1991) Russia had changed radically. The major problem since then is that the United States misunderstood the new rules of the game. It proclaimed itself, and was proclaimed by many others, the lone superpower.

In terms of chess rules, this was interpreted to mean that the United States was free to move about the chessboard as it saw fit, and in particular to transfer former Soviet pawns to its sphere of influence. Under Clinton, and even more spectacularly under George W. Bush, the United States proceeded to play the game this way.

There was only one problem with this: The United States was not the lone superpower; it was no longer even a superpower at all. The end of the Cold War meant that the United States had been demoted from being one of two superpowers to being one strong state in a truly multilateral distribution of real power in the interstate system. Many large countries were now able to play their own chess games without clearing their moves with one of the two erstwhile superpowers. And they began to do so.

Two major geopolitical decisions were made in the Clinton years. First, the United States pushed hard, and more or less successfully, for the incorporation of erstwhile Soviet satellites into NATO membership. These countries were themselves anxious to join, even though the key western European countries - Germany and France - were somewhat reluctant to go down this path. They saw the U.S. maneuver as one aimed in part at them, seeking to limit their newly-acquired freedom of geopolitical action.

The second key U.S. decision was to become an active player in the boundary realignments within the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. This culminated in a decision to sanction, and enforce with their troops, the de facto secession of Kosovo from Serbia.

Russia, even under Yeltsin, was quite unhappy about both these U.S. actions. However, the political and economic disarray of Russia during the Yeltsin years was such that the most it could do was complain, somewhat feebly it should be added.

The coming to power of George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin was more or less simultaneous. Bush decided to push the lone superpower tactics (the United States can move its pieces as it alone decides) much further than had Clinton. First, Bush in 2001 withdrew from the 1972 U.S.-Soviet Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Then he announced that the United States would not move to ratify two new treaties signed in the Clinton years: the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the agreed changes in the SALT II nuclear disarmament treaty. Then Bush announced that the United States would move forward with its National Missile Defense system.

And of course, Bush invaded Iraq in 2003. As part of this engagement, the United States sought and obtained rights to military bases and overflight rights in the Central Asian republics that formerly were part of the Soviet Union. In addition, the United States promoted the construction of pipelines for Central Asian and Caucasian oil and natural gas that would bypass Russia. And finally, the United States entered into an agreement with Poland and the Czech Republic to establish missile defense sites, ostensibly to guard against Iranian missiles. Russia, however, regarded them as aimed at her.

Putin decided to push back much more effectually than Yeltsin. As a prudent player, however, he moved first to strengthen his home base - restoring effective central authority and reinvigorating the Russian military. At this point, the tides in the world-economy changed, and Russia suddenly became a wealthy and powerful controller not only of oil production but of the natural gas so needed by western European countries.

Putin thereupon began to act. He entered into treaty relationships with China. He maintained close relations with Iran. He began to push the United States out of its Central Asian bases. And he took a very firm stand on the further extension of NATO to two key zones - Ukraine and Georgia.

The breakup of the Soviet Union had led to ethnic secessionist movements in many former republics, including Georgia. When Georgia in 1990 sought to end the autonomous status of its non-Georgian ethnic zones, they promptly proclaimed themselves independent states. They were recognized by no one but Russia guaranteed their de facto autonomy.

The immediate spurs to the current mini-war were twofold. In February, Kosovo formally transformed its de facto autonomy to de jure independence. Its move was supported by and recognized by the United States and many western European countries. Russia warned at the time that the logic of this move applied equally to the de facto secessions in the former Soviet republics. In Georgia, Russia moved immediately, for the first time, to recognize South Ossetian de jure independence in direct response to that of Kosovo.

And in April this year, the United States proposed at the NATO meeting that Georgia and Ukraine be welcomed into a so-called Membership Action Plan. Germany, France, and the United Kingdom all opposed this action, saying it would provoke Russia.

Georgia's neoliberal and strongly pro-American president, Mikhail Saakashvili, was now desperate. He saw the reassertion of Georgian authority in South Ossetia (and Abkhazia) receding forever. So, he chose a moment of Russian inattention (Putin at the Olympics, Medvedev on vacation) to invade South Ossetia. Of course, the puny South Ossetian military collapsed completely. Saakashvili expected that he would be forcing the hand of the United States (and indeed of Germany and France as well).

Instead, he got an immediate Russian military response, overwhelming the small Georgian army. What he got from George W. Bush was rhetoric. What, after all, could Bush do? The United States was not a superpower. Its armed forces were tied down in two losing wars in the Middle East. And, most important of all, the United States needed Russia far more than Russia needed the United States. Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, pointedly noted in an op-ed in the Financial Times that Russia was a "partner with the west on...the Middle East, Iran and North Korea."

As for western Europe, Russia essentially controls its gas supplies. It is no accident that it was President Sarkozy of France, not Condoleezza Rice, who negotiated the truce between Georgia and Russia. The truce contained two essential concessions by Georgia. Georgia committed itself to no further use of force in South Ossetia, and the agreement contained no reference to Georgian territorial integrity.

So, Russia emerged far stronger than before. Saakashvili had bet everything he has and was now geopolitically bankrupt. And, as an ironic footnote, Georgia, one of the last U.S. allies in the coalition in Iraq, withdrew all its 2000 troops from Iraq. These troops had been playing a crucial role in Shi'a areas, and would now have to be replaced by U.S. troops, which will have to be withdrawn from other areas.

If one plays geopolitical chess, it is best to know the rules, or one gets out-maneuvered.
[Copyright by Immanuel Wallerstein, distributed by Agence Global. For rights and permissions, including translations and posting to non-commercial sites, and contact:, 1.336.686.9002 or 1.336.286.6606. Permission is granted to download, forward electronically, or e-mail to others, provided the essay remains intact and the copyright note is displayed. To contact author, write:

These commentaries, published twice monthly, are intended to be reflections on the contemporary world scene, as seen from the perspective not of the immediate headlines but of the long term.]

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