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T r e a s u r e s 2008
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War in Georgia: It had to happen


Jan Oberg

August 28, 2008

I was part of a TFF fact-finding mission to Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhasia in 1994. That the August 8 war would happen was predictable, albeit not the exact time. My time perspective is about 20 years, my space is global and my subject is the underlying conflict, not the war as such.

Let me begin, therefore, with the dissolution of the terrible Soviet Union under the visionary leadership of a man we should still all be deeply grateful to, namely Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev.

- Gorbachev withdraws from Afghanistan and set Sakharov free. No reaction in the West. His entire philosophy of change deprives the West of its beloved enemy.

- Gorbachev suggests an entirely new security structure, a “European House” with the OSCE and the UN as centerpieces. The “triumphalist West ignores it.

- Gorbachev asks for economic support in the West to perestroika and glasnost, to create what would have been an open social democratic-inspired society. The G8 decides to ignores it and gambles on Jeltsin, a populist with no similar vision and charisma.

- The West - understandably - wants to unite Germany, but that is the great threat for historical reasons in the eyes of the Russians. Russia is promised that NATO will not expand.

- The Warsaw Pact is dissolved, NATO remains and expands rapidly. And it maintains its right to be the first to use nuclear weapons.

- The Clinton administration begins a huge U.S. military expansion program in 1992, building bases, positioning advisers and infiltrating ministries with “advisers” and people from mercenary companies in Eastern Europe, including Yugoslavia, and all around Russia. Russia’s protests about its “near abroad” are ignored.

- Serbs are cast in the role of the always and only bad guys, as the Russians of Yugoslavia, expansionist and dangerous vis-à-vis smaller allegedly freedom-loving democratic actors such as Croatia’s Franjo Tudjman, Bosnia’s Alija Izetbegovic, and Kosovo’s Agim Ceku. NATO’s bombing of Serbia and Kosovo violates all international law, takes place without UN Security Council mandate and leaves a thoroughly destroyed country behind. Russian arguments for a negotiated solution are ignored.

- The Ballistic Missile Defence, BMD - not a defensive system but part of the US nuclear doctrine to protect the U.S. territory against retaliation if and when the US has started a nuclear attack on someone else – develops as if the world has not changed at all. Russia thinks it is a bad idea, as bad as a similar system set up by the Russians across the border in Mexico would appear to the Americans. As a show of respect for democracy, the deal is made with Poland where 90% of the people is against the BMD on their territory. Russian worries are ignored – allegedly they don’t understand that BMD is to protect us all against – well, Iran and other imagined enemies of the US/West.

- The U.S. and major EU countries decide that Kosovo shall be an independent state. All substantial Russian arguments for a negotiated compromise and predictions of that secession stimulating secession elsewhere are ignored.

- Russia – increasingly being seen as the new great threat against which NATO must gang up - has military expenditures that are roughly 5% of NATO’s, 7% of those of the United States, and 13% of the EU’s.

What about Georgia in all this?

Already in 1994 at the U.S. office in Tblisi, I was told that this country was a centerpiece of the US strategy and interests in the region - and Georgian officials told me that they were just waiting for Georgia to be selected to host the huge oil and gas pipelines, then it would become a regional power to be reckoned with.

The U.S. Pentagon has conducted a number of comprehensive train-and-equip programs, U.S. Special Forces and U.S. Marines; and Georgia became a Partnership for Peace member of NATO in 2004.

Israel’s considerable military support to Georgia is largely ignored in the media as is the fact that Georgia’s defence minister, Davit Kezerashvili, is a former Israeli.

Here is what the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, IWPR, stated in mid-2007:

In late June, the Georgian government increased the defence ministry’s budget of 513 million laris (315 million US dollars) by 442 million laris (260 million dollars).

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, SIPRI, Georgia currently has the highest average growth rate of military spending in the world. Some independent experts are worried that the spending is not fully accounted for, while others say that it could undermine the peace processes with the breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The military budget of Georgia increased 50 times over the period from 2002 (US $ 18 million.) to 2008 (US $ 900 million.), reaching almost 9% of Georgia's GDP.

Georgia is the third largest occupier in Iraq, present also in Afghanistan and has been in Kosovo. Georgia emphatically supports the U.S. war on terror. It would be naïve to think that Saakashvili had not obtained Washington’s green light for his attack on South Ossetia.

This region is as complex as, say, former Yugoslavia: History, traumas, ethnicity, minorities in minorities, economic and constitutional crisis and all kinds of corruption and double standards blend. The future s bleak for us all – that is, until somebody stops to think instead of merely re-acting and justifying their own participation in the game of militarism and power politics.

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So what is needed to diffuse this crisis?

One, some little consideration of history.

Two, some little empathy with non-US and non-EU actors.

Three, some recognition that Western actions are not always innocent in their consequences.

Four, an understanding of the utter counter-productivity of militarization and its psycho-political effects, including miscalculating your power when you have some guns in your hand.

Five, that negotiations are far superior to threats and intellectual poor fear-ology.

The Russians have now said: This far, but no longer. It would be wise of the West to listen to the warning. It is not in its own best interest to continue bullying and humiliating Russia, disrespecting its history, dignity and resources.

And, if I may, it would be helpful if Western mainstream media would stop a) re-cycling the Cold War images of the all-aggressive Russia and b) disseminating, Pravda-style, what Western militarist elites say. 

The art of reading and asking good questions should re-enter international journalism and foreign policy reporting, freeing the profession from complicity in the next much larger war.     


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