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The Danger of Ignoring “Insignificant Statelets”

Every once in a while we hear a Kremlin critic argue that the country’s recent pattern of behavior mirrors that of pre-war Germany, characterized by truculence and rejection of the world order, nationalistic authoritarian capitalism, and aggression toward neighboring states. But rarely do we see such historically weighted claims come from credible and authoritative voices. Today we do, as the Harvard historian Richard Pipes has a surprising letter published in the Financial Times:

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: Russian aggression towards Georgia fits the pattern of Germany’s prewar tactics From Prof Richard Pipes. Sir, Peter J. Rooney (Letters, July 17) urges us to abandon the “insignificant statelet” of “tiny Georgia” to Russian aggression because its defence may lead to a military confrontation with Russia. This advice reminds me of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s willingness in the autumn of 1938 to sacrifice “tiny” Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany because it was a “quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing”. As it soon turned out, Germany’s aggression against Czechoslovakia was a prelude to her invasion of Poland, which unleashed the second world war. Aggressive large powers tend to begin their expansion with “insignificant statelets” in order to test the world’s reaction before going after bigger fish. I think Russia’s behaviour toward Georgia fits this pattern. It should not be ignored. Richard Pipes, Cambridge, MA 02138, US