Alliances often are advanced, as with NATO expansion, as a cheap way of keeping the peace. After all, it is said, no one would dare challenge America. But while alliances can deter, deterrence can fail -- with catastrophic consequences. Both World Wars I and II featured failed alliances and security guarantees. Oops!
If deterence fails, the guaranteeing state either has to retreat ignominously or plunge into war, neither of which is likely to be in America's interest. Moreover, promising to defend other nations encourages them to be irresponsible: after all, why not adopt a risky foreign policy if Washington is willing to back you up, nuclear weapons and all? It's a form of moral hazard applied to foreign policy.
That appears to be the case with the country of Georgia. There's a lot of disagreement over the character of Mikhail Saakashvili's government, even among libertarians. But a new European Union panel has amassed evidence that President Saakashvili is a bit of a foreign policy adventurer. Reports Spiegel online:
Unpublished documents produced by the European Union commission that investigated the conflict between Georgia and Moscow assign much of the blame to Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili. But the Kremlin and Ossetian militias are also partly responsible.
From her office on Avenue de la Paix, Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini, 58, looks out onto the botanical gardens in peaceful Geneva. The view offers a welcome respite from the stacks of documents on her desk, which deal exclusively with war and war blame. They contain the responses, from the conflicting parties in the Caucasus region -- Russia, Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia -- to a European Union investigative commission conducting a probe of the cause of the five-day war last August. The documents also include reports on the EU commission's trips to Moscow, the Georgian capital Tbilisi and the capitals of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, dossiers assembled by experts and the transcripts of interviews of diplomats, military officials and civilian victims of the war.
The Caucasus expert, nicknamed "Madame Courage" by the Zurich-based Swiss daily Neue Zürcher Zeitung, is considered a specialist on sensitive diplomatic matters. The Caucasus issue is the most difficult challenge she has faced to date. The final report by the commission she heads must be submitted to the EU Council of Ministers by late July. In the report, Tagliavini is expected to explain how, in August 2008, a long-smoldering regional conflict over the breakaway Georgia province of South Ossetia could suddenly have escalated into a war between Georgia and its much more powerful neighbor, Russia. Who is to blame for the most serious confrontation between East and West since the end of the Cold War?
In addition to having a budget of €1.6 million ($2.2 million) at her disposal, Tagliavini can draw on the expertise of two deputies, 10 specialists, military officials, political scientists, historians and international law experts.
Much hinges on the conclusions her commission will reach. Is Georgia, a former Soviet republic, a serious candidate for membership in NATO, or is the country in the hands of a reckless gambler? Did the Russian leadership simply defend South Ossetia, an ally seeking independence from Georgia, against a Georgian attack? Or did Russia spark a global crisis when its troops occupied parts of Georgia for a short period of time?
The confidential investigative commission documents, which SPIEGEL has obtained, show that the task of assigning blame for the conflict has been as much of a challenge for the commission members as it has for the international community. However, a majority of members tend to arrive at the assessment that Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili started the war by attacking South Ossetia on August 7, 2008. The facts assembled on Tagliavini's desk refute Saakashvili's claim that his country became the innocent victim of "Russian aggression" on that day.
In summarizing the military fiasco, commission member Christopher Langton, a retired British Army colonel, claims: "Georgia's dream is shattered, but the country can only blame itself for that."
Whatever the justification for President Saakashvili's conduct, it certainly isn't the kind of policy to which the U.S. should tie itself. Yet including Georgia in NATO would in effect make President Saakashvili's goals those of the American government and, by extension, the American people.
How many Americans should die to ensure that George gets to rule South Ossetia and Abkhazia? Should we risk Washington for Tbilisi? These are questions the Obama administration should answer before it joins the Bush administration in pushing NATO membership for Georgia. The American people deserve to know exactly what risks the Obama administration plans to take with their lives and homelands before adding yet another fragile client state to Washington's long list of security dependents.