1. Obama praises George Kennan and realism here. George Kenann calls NATO expansion a “strategic blunder of potentially epic proportions” here, a position most realists share. Obama calls for NATO expansion to Georgia here, despite the fact that an alliance with Georgia offers little benefit to Americans but is likely to the drag the US into conflict with a nuclear armed state. Obama, if it wasn’t clear already, is no realist. That is a perhaps a result of running for President of a country that wants idealist presidents, but the fact remains.
2. John McCain, various neocons, and George Will argue that had NATO membership been offered to Georgia last spring, Russia would have been deterred from attacking it. Will writes:
Georgia, whose desire for NATO membership had U.S. support, is not in NATO because some prospective members of McCain’s league of democracies, e.g., Germany, thought that starting membership talks with Georgia would complicate the project of propitiating Russia…If Georgia were in NATO, would NATO now be at war with Russia? More likely, Russia would not be in Georgia. Only once in NATO’s 59 years has the territory of a member been invaded — the British Falklands, by Argentina, in 1982.
Will is confused. Even if George Bush had his way at the NATO conference last spring, Georgia would be on a path to membership in NATO, not in it. What Germany blocked was a Membership Action Plan for Georgia, which takes years, not months. McCain argues that the mere prospect of NATO membership would have deterred Russia from invading Georgian territory. But it is more likely that a Membership Action Plan would have proved an accelerant for this war, both by heightening the moral hazard that seemed to encourage Georgian President Saakasvili’s move into South Ossetia, and by inducing Russia to fight before Georgia had an official defense commitment from NATO.
3. Commentators of all stripes seem to assume that Russia’s move into Georgia was driven by its increasingly autocratic nature. (This is reminiscent of Kennan’s argument back in the X article that Communism made the Soviet Union prone to aggression, which he later regretted.) It is worth considering whether this is a misperception. A powerful body of political science argues that states’ foreign policy actions are driven mostly by their circumstance and interests, not their regime type or the personality of the leaders. Regime type and personality affect how states interpret their circumstances, but maybe not as much as we tend to think. The United States is not particularly tolerant of seemingly hostile states in its near abroad either, whether they are democracies or not.