Montag, August 11, 2008

On Just War, Georgia and Stupidity...

For background on the war now being fought between Russia and Georgia, see this for perhaps the best basic explanation around.

The important parts:

The goals behind Moscow's operation are threefold, each with its own time frame. The immediate goal is to re-establish the authority of Russian-controlled negotiating and "peacekeeping" formats. By firing on Georgian positions unremittingly and escalating the intensity of the fire with every passing day, Moscow hopes to force Georgia to turn to those Russian-controlled formats to relieve the pressure. Furthermore, Moscow wants to force Tbilisi to acknowledge a leading Russian role as "guarantor" of an eventual political settlement.

In other words, Russia wants a "win-win" situation and they have been working hard to develop the environment for one.

But the question becomes: which Russia? In this case, it's the St. Petersburg-based Russians who have close ties to the various intelligence agencies.

Moscow's next goal, on a timeframe overlapping with the first, is to capture Georgian-controlled villages in South Ossetia. The pattern of attacks since August 6 indicate the intent to reduce the Sanakoyev administration's territory to insignificance or even remove it from South Ossetia altogether. If successful, this undertaking may well be replicated in upper Abkhazia by Russian and proxy forces attempting to evict authorities loyal to Tbilisi.

In other words, both ethnic cleansing and creating the ability to draw clear lines on the map.

The strategic political goal is to dissuade NATO from approving a membership action plan (MAP) for Georgia at the alliance's December 2008 or April 2009 meetings. More immediately, Moscow seeks to derail the North Atlantic Council's assessment visit to Georgia, scheduled for September, or at least to influence the visit's assessment about Georgia's eligibility for a MAP. Since NATO's "Russia-Firsters" insist that unresolved conflicts disqualify Georgia from a MAP, Russia seeks to demonstrate that those conflicts are indeed unresolved. NATO's failure to approve a Georgian MAP at the April 2008 summit emboldened Russia to escalate military operations against Georgia.

This is where the classic Russian paranoia of being surrounded by enemies comes into play: by involving Georgia in a war, it is highly unlikely that NATO will consider MAP for Georgia at all, fulfilling one of Moscow's goals.

Moscow also seeks to bleed Georgia economically through protracted military operations. Russia can not tolerate the successful economic performance of a Western-oriented government on Russia's border. Aware, furthermore, that Georgia's government is accountable to public opinion, Moscow seeks to force the government to choose between yielding at the risk of a domestic backlash or, alternatively, fighting back in a costly confrontation.

Economic success in this area is, bluntly, everything, and indeed Georgia has made progress. Perhaps now all for naught?

How did the conflict start?

By August 6 and 7, heavily armed proxy troops opened fire on Georgian villages, while the secessionist authorities refused to talk with Tbilisi. The attacking forces began destroying the transmission antennae of Georgian mobile telephone systems. Arms and paramilitary groups poured in from Russia to South Ossetia through the Russian-controlled Roki tunnel. Russian officials in Georgia claimed that the attacking forces were out of Russia's control. Officials in Moscow, meanwhile, justified the attacks directly and indirectly by accusing Georgia of aggression (Interfax, Itar-Tass, Russian Television, August 4-7).

At 7:00 P.M. local time on August 7, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili spoke live on national television, announcing a unilateral ceasefire and asking the other side also to cease hostilities. In highly conciliatory words, Saakashvili called for talks "in any format"; reaffirmed the long-standing offer of full autonomy for South Ossetia; proposed that Russia should guarantee that solution; offered a general amnesty; and pleaded for international intercession to stop the hostilities (Rustavi-2 TV, August 7).

Following Saakashvili's address, attacks on Georgian villages intensified. The village of Avnevi was almost completely destroyed, Tamarasheni and Prisi shelled, and the police station in Kurta, seat of the Sanakoyev administration, smashed by artillery fire. Civilians began fleeing the villages.

These attacks forced Tbilisi to take defensive action. By 10:30 P.M. local time on August 7 the Georgians returned fire. During the night, Georgian forces including armored columns began advancing toward Tskhinvali, the secessionist authorities' administrative center.

So, let's talk about Just War, which is scarcely what is going on here...

The Russians are behaving like their good old bad selves: use a proxy to trump up reasons for conflict, escalate via proxies so that they can't be blamed, then intervene "to stop the killing" that they themselves started up. The justifications and the propaganda are virtually indistinguishable from the Soviet era.

Just war: let's look at what Wiki has to say.

Jus ad bellum (before the war)

Just cause
The reason for going to war needs to be just and can therefore be recapturing things taken or punishing people who have done wrong. A contemporary view of just cause was expressed in 1993 when the US Catholic Conference said: "Force may be used only to correct a grave, public evil, i.e., aggression or massive violation of the basic human rights of whole populations."
This is where both sides claim the upper hand: the Georgians to stop the shelling of their villages by the South Ossetians, the Russian to stop the "killing of Russian civilians". There's a difference, though: the South Ossetians, from what I have been able to glean, placed their artillery close to civilians, who then suffered when Georgian counter-battery was fired to stop the artillery, since counter-battery here was rocket launched and hence not nearly as precise as it should be. Here the South Ossetians violated the Rules of War, which prohibit, basically, putting military resources in a civilian environment for this exact reason.
Comparative justice
While there may be rights and wrongs on all sides of a conflict, to override the presumption against the use of force, the injustice suffered by one party must significantly outweigh that suffered by the other.
This one seems to be a toss-up: we simply don't know - or understand - the situation on the ground well enough to make a judgement here.
Legitimate authority
Only duly constituted public authorities may wage war.
Ouch. This is where the Russians have severe problems: the South Ossetians are not a duly constituted public authority, and hence they have a problem here...
Right intention
Force may be used only in a truly just cause and solely for that purpose—correcting a suffered wrong is considered a right intention, while material gain or maintaining economies is not.
This doesn't seem to apply: neither wants to plunder or pillage, unless we count the bombing of the oil pipeline to be a negative of the right intention, i.e. not maintaining an economy, but rather preventing the other country from maintaining theirs...

Probability of success
          Arms may not be used in a futile cause or in a case where disproportionate measures are required to achieve success;

This is where the Russians will have problems: their response is disproportionate.
Last resort
Force may be used only after all peaceful and viable alternatives have been seriously tried and exhausted or are clearly not practical. It may be clear that the other side is using negotiations as a delaying tactic and will not make meaningful concessions.
This is where the Russians also have problems: the Georgians here have a fairly long documented history of trying to do exactly this, and the Russians do not, ignoring as well calls for a cease-firer.
The anticipated benefits of waging a war must be proportionate to its expected evils or harms. This principle is also known as the principle of macro-proportionality, so as to distinguish it from the jus in bello principle of proportionality.
Here both sides have problems: the Georgian response to the initial shellings was disproportionate, but the Russian response is even more ham-fistedly so.

If you've been keeping score: 7-4 in favor of the Georgians...

Now, if you go to the MSM, you get a fair mishmash of reporting. There's some fairly blatant party-line toeing going on on both sides, but the real problem is plain and simple ignorance and, to certain extent, stupidity involved.

Like here.

Ostensibly fair-handed, that NYT article includes this whopper:

The risks were intensified by the fact that the United States did not merely encourage Georgia's young democracy, it helped militarize the weak Georgian state.

Oh give me a fucking break.

C.J. Chivers of the NYT, providing training so that a small country's military can achieve a certain amount of professionalism and can be considered to be effective is not militarization of the Georgian state.

Real militarization of Georgia would have entailed massive arms purchases, the creation of a draft so that Georgia could field the largest number of troops possible, as well as a re-orientation of society to serve the needs of the military.

None of the above is the case: Georgia simply rebuilt its military from the dregs of what was left over after decades of Soviet military training.

This isn't a fact, it's an opinion, and I think it's a stupid one at that.

But the real stupidity is this war itself: there is no good reason for it. There are plenty of reasons that the war is being fought, but let me reiterate: there are no good reasons.

The Russians are fighting the war to trumpet to the world that they can do this, will do this, and don't really give a rat's ass about what anyone says. It's a typical jingoistic war.

The Georgians are fighting the war because they can't be who they want to be without being able to deny the Russians their ability to do what they have been doing: interfering in Georgia because they can. The problem for the Georgians, of course, is that they have traded one intolerable situation for another intolerable situation, making their position worse.

What makes this so stupid is that no good will come of this: the right intention for both sides will be far more heavily outweighed by the negative consequences. If Russia wins, forcing Georgia to fully back out of the regions that have belonged to it, Russia will have created a permanent cause of dispute between the two countries, one that will not be resolved; if Georgia were to win, regaining control over the regions, then Russia will view this as a major setback and will continue to play their Realpolitik games.

There are a number of ways that the war can go: the Russians have a limited troop contingent, dependent on supply lines that in South Ossetia are fragile at best (Roki tunnel), and cannot afford to have a large-scale battle that might go the way of the Georgians, who, after all, are trained by the US and could be considered potentially superior to the Russian forces currently arrayed against them. If the Georgians could cut the Russian supply line in the mountains, the Russians could only dig in and hold on; the Georgians could then deal with the problem on their western flank (
Abkhazia and 9000 Russian paratroopers) and then return to prosecute the battle in South Ossetia against a Russian division that is effectively cut off from supply.

The Russians, of course, can escalate by landing even more troops in Abkhazia and conducting holding operations against the Georgian army, which is fairly small (ca 28 000 troops), keeping the core of the Georgian troops near Gori and environs, and then launching a strong attack from Abkhazia over land to lure the core of the Georgian army out into the open where it could then be savaged by Russian air power.

In any case, everyone loses: this is a stupid war. It is the result of Russian meddling and provocation not because they genuinely fear a resurgent Georgia, but because they simply don't want one. Their behavior is that of a bully and a meddler, inflaming sentiments and emotions because they can and feel it is in their interest to do so. The Georgian leader is not the sharpest knife in the drawer and has allowed himself to be bullied into reacting this way.

The whole region needs prosperity to achieve peace and development: the Russians have been the greatest hindrance to this, preferring chaos and anarchy to cover up how incompetent their own economy is in the region.

I'll reiterate: it's a stupid war. It's not what the area needs, it's not in the interests of economic development, and it's most certainly not going to be one that results in clear winners and losers: to go to war over the petty feuding and thievery of the region is like trying to command the waves to stop. Futile at best. It's a stupid war.

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