fbpx

Old and New Spheres of Influence

rachman041408.jpg In tomorrow’s Financial Times, columnist Gideon Rachman visits Georgia, and argues that “It would be nice to believe that the argument about extending Nato membership to Georgia and Ukraine was purely about principle. But, in reality, it is also about power.

From the FT:

But the counter-arguments should not be airily dismissed. For all Mr Bush’s impatience with the concept, unstated spheres of influence do still exist in the modern world. There is a powerful moral case for recognising an independent Taiwan. Yet Mr Bush has leant heavily on Taiwan not to declare independence, because China is so implacable on the issue. Taiwan is, de facto, recognised as part of a Chinese sphere of influence.Georgia and Ukraine are also harder cases than Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Russian culture has deep roots in Ukraine – and opinion polls suggest that the Ukrainian population is divided about Nato membership. Support for Nato membership is much less equivocal in Georgia. But Georgia is locked into territorial disputes with Russia – and its geographical position would make it harder to defend than the Baltic states. Yet, under article five of the Nato treaty, all Nato members would be committed to defending Georgia – a country of less than 5m people – in the event of a Russian attack.Russia is also stronger and angrier than it was a few years ago, when Nato let in the Balts. And Russia’s concerns are not obviously unreasonable. I was in Georgia at a conference organised by the Brookings Institution. One of the American participants mused: “If the Russians were concluding military alliances with Mexico and Canada, I think we might have some concerns.”The official American response is less understanding. The Bush administration argues that Nato is a defensive alliance and that Russian concerns are irrational and outmoded. As Mr Bush put it as his recent summit with Mr Putin: “The cold war is over.”But the Russians are not reassured. On my last visit to Moscow, Grigory Yavlinsky, a liberal politician, explained to me that Nato’s military intervention in Kosovo had made it much harder for Russian liberals to make a pro-western case. Yes, Mr Yavlinsky said, Nato might have intervened on human-rights grounds – but the Russian population knows that its own army has committed human rights abuses in Chechnya. If Nato could bomb Belgrade in a war over human rights, why could it not bomb Moscow?Mr Yavlinsky said that the Russians had concluded that the only difference was that their country was too strong and frightening to take on. So the only response to Nato expansion was to be even more assertive.It would be nice to believe that the argument about extending Nato membership to Georgia and Ukraine was purely about principle. But, in reality, it is also about power.If Nato ultimately decides to admit these two countries to the alliance, it will be taking a calculated risk. The risk may be a small one. But it is not unreasonable to do a little more calculation before taking it.