Time for a strategy rather than more dangerous spin against Russia

The West has aroused the Russian bear through its contradictory actions over Kosovo and Georgia. Russia now sees the West as asserting its power too far, recognises the West is now overstretched in the east, and thinks the West is becoming too intrusive close to Russia’s borders.

I wish to stress that I like most Westerners condemn the invasion of Georgia and the military actions taken by Russia in the Georgian war. I also disagreed with some of the actions taken by the EU and the USA during the Yugoslav wars, which are an important part of the background to Russia’s attitudes today. The West is in danger of reaping what it has sown.

Now the bear has awoken we need to analyse carefully what are the legitimate and illegitimate aims of Russia, and how might it use its growing military and economic power? We need to think before we speak, and plan and act before we commit ourselves too deeply, beyond the range and strength of our power.

The irony of the present situation will not be lost on the Russians. The West is paying Russia to re-arm, thanks to the failure of the UK, the US and other western governments to take the necessary action to cut dependence on imported oil and gas from parts of the world that are unstable or unfriendly. The more oil and gas we buy from Russia at these new higher prices, the more missiles they can finance and the more tanks they can manufacture. The first thing the West should do, if it wishes to strengthen its hand vis a vis Russia, is take urgent action to cut its dependence on imported fuel. I have set out before some of the steps the UK should be taking now to do this.

The second thing the West should do is think through its position more clearly on whether it should help defend all existing borders of states or not. It has been normal in the post 1945 world to attempt to defend existing states borders, buttressed by the UN. It required UN agreement and action to ratify changes in states borders. That changed with the recognition of Kosovo, opposed by Russia, a UN Security Council member with a veto.

This doctrine is also in conflict with another Western doctrine, the self determination of peoples. Under this doctrine, if a dominant majority in a substantial region of a larger country wish to secede and form their own state, they should be allowed to do so following referendum and legal process. This is, for example, the view of the Scottish Nationalists over how they should take control of their country, and the growing view of many English nationalists who want a vote on the independence of England from the UK and the EU. It is a view that the US set out as a war aim in the 1940s, seeking to liberate European countries from German control, and favoured by the US when supporting the removal of colonial powers from Africa. Czechoslovakia was allowed to split in two when the popular wishes were so clear.

In the modern complex world we live in there should be no reliance on one of these doctrines to the exclusion of the other. Sometimes they will be in conflict, and decisions need to be made. In practise each case has to be settled on its merits. The judgement will be better if it is supported by more countries, including all the important global and regional powers who can help maintain the peace around whichever decision is made. I incline more to favouring self determination, but accept there may be occasions when that cannot work. There have to be some limits to it to avoid a constant state of flux and an endless movement to ever smaller states.

So how should the West respond to Russia? Today the West needs to understand why Russia is so alarmed by NATO’s current stance, and to understand how there is no acceptable military option for the West to dominate in Georgia and to determine borders so close to Russia. In other words, we need to talk to Russia, and to discuss the issue of splinter regions from Georgia. We need to discuss the whole architecture of states around Russia’s western and southern border, to avoid committing NATO to maintain borders we cannot in practise enforce at an acceptable military cost, and to allay Russian fears to make Russian military action less likely. We need to see how big the disagreements are and to assess if any other state apart from Georgia is in danger of a Russian invasion. So far the West has not won over enough independent world opinion to strengthen its hand in negotiation with Russia.

At the same time we need to strengthen NATO and the Western economies, so we are less dependent on Russian fuel and more capable of acting if Russia pushes too far and uses her military in even more unacceptable ways.

The USA has been the world’s only superpower for a couple of decades. It has got lazy about using its power and enforcing its will. Only asymmetrical warfare and terrorist attacks have challenged it for years. Now US power is coming up against other important powers in China, Russia and the Middle East that it would be unwise to attack head on. Worse still, the US is in danger of creating too many different enemies and threats, fighting a live war in the Middle East, a cold war with Russia, and engaged in a superpower struggle of various kinds with China, primarily in the economic sphere in the first instance. There are flash points in all of these relationships – in each border state near Russia that the US guarantees, in Taiwan, in Iran and Iraq. Even the world’s superpower has to be careful not to overstretch. It is dangerous to create so many opponents who might one day help each other against their common enemy. The US needs to ask itself what are its long term interests? How many of them can it pursue backed with effective military force? The EU needs to stop posturing as a major player when its words can be inflammatory and when it lacks the military capacity to enforce. I am not recommending it has military capacity – I am recommending it should remember its limitations. The UK needs to look to its economy first – it is now so weak it cannot afford its current defence commitments properly, and is vulnerable thanks to the lack of a cogent energy policy. We need some strategy rather than more foreign policy spin.


  1. Kevin Lohse
    August 27, 2008

    Thank you John. I was beginning to despair of a heavyweight politician doing more than uttering platitudes or advocating clearly unenforceable policies.
    Putin is probably the most intelligent, certainly one of the most efficient, of the current crop of world leaders. His move was perfectly timed. Europe cannot defend itself, let alone frontier states on the Russian Marches, and the US is paralysed by the Presidential election for another 6 months, by which time Putin will be completely dug in.
    Removing economic independence not only should apply to energy, but also other strategic necessities. We should be growing more of our own food, rather than allowing set-a-side, thereby reducing our balance of payments. Reasserting control of our national waters rather than allowing all and sundry to destroy fishing stocks is also essential. Much of the alarmist theory of Man Made Global Warming is becoming discredited, as contemporary scientific data continously disproves computer-generated extremist predictions. CO2 is in fact a natural fertiliser, and research has shown that in the past, life has tolerated far higher levels of the gas than exist at present. There is no reason while coal, using and developing the latest technologies, should not again become part of the fuel mix. Nuclear energy ,shorn of false eco-costs, is essential. I fail to understand why the attraction of wave power generation, in a country with some of the highest coastal tides in the world, is not being more publicly pursued.
    Our military has been shamefully run down by successive governments (your government used the "Peace Dividend" as an excuse to reduce our defence forces). Under this Govt. the disbanding of the Scottish Regt.s was in part a party-political act to reduce the bond between Scotland and the rest of the UK. As demonstrated continously from 2003 on, the disconnection between foreign policy and military capability has come close to our military ceasing to exist as a viable force – no doubt as a precursor to forcing the Nation into a European Defence Force. The Tories are going to be faced with a momumental defence bill for a decade or more just to restore the Services to a minimal stand-alone capability.

  2. Letters From A Tory
    August 27, 2008

    Agreed. Miliband complaining about Russia without adding any action to the narrative is pointless and shows how weak he is. The UK and other EU leaders must put their heads together and ask themselves how far they are willing to go.

  3. Richard lark
    August 27, 2008

    At last a politician has introduced a dose of reality into the crisis in the Caucasus. I agree with you 100%

  4. Martin Adamson
    August 27, 2008

    So which other rogue states are going to be entitled to the same sweet deal as the Russians are getting by bullying their neighbours? Will China be given the same right to reduce its neighbours to vassals? What about Iran? It is vastly bigger than Kuwait, The Emirates, Bahrein etc. Will you be willing to concede Iranian hegemony over those?

    Reply: I do not wish to give anyone a sweet deal for bullying the neighbours – the question for you given the weakness of NATO's position is which state will you be prepared to start a major war for? Not even Bush will go to war for Iran or Georgia

  5. wrinkled weasel
    August 27, 2008

    Glad that you have demonstrated the dual standards operating in this fiasco. I wonder how the USA would respond if the Mexicans were building Russian funded missile sites in the Sierra Madre?

  6. Bazman
    August 27, 2008

    History has proved that Russia's enemies are either swallowed or spat out. Russians are wild people and Mother Russia is a cruel mother.
    Russia is rising rapidly in monetary and social terms, but is still largely a gangster state, so until it is political change in the form of land reform, as in the possibility to own private land, and a convertible currency are put in place it will always be a wild country. The only way to bend Russia is not be so reliant on Her resources, but as many places in Russia float on seas of gas and oil it's easy for western politicians to become tempted to do deals to get votes, some are even foolish enough to trust Russian politicians.

  7. Neil Craig
    August 27, 2008

    A well thought out post John. Though I feel more strongly than you about what we did to Yugoslavia we are where we are. Siding with every anti-Russian tinpot thug & denouncing Russia for bending international laws we have already so thoroughly broken is not the way to convince them that they have an alternative to a new cold war.

    It has been said that this is the equivalent of the Sarajevo crisis of 1914. Happily I do not think so – it is much more the Morocco crisis of 1906 when Germany proved unable to exercise power in a far away country. However that did lead directly to 1914 because Europe was in a situation where international law or at least agreement (the Concert of Europe) had been replaced by a military calculation of, who or which alliance, had the power to tell others what to do.

    We have 2 alternatives – either build up our military so that we think it can impose its will, as happened prior to 1914, or come together under a common acceptance of international law & a common European security network.

    After the cold war we could have easily established this but instead we tore it up over Yugoslavia & then occasionally used the remnants to cover our naked aggression. The creation of a fraudulent war crimes commission (the UN Charter reserves that right to the General Assembly), its use virtually exclusively against Serbs & the suborning of the Hague court to refuse to rule on whether NATO's war against Yugoslavia was illegal were all egregious outrages which did immense damage to the concept of legality, without which there is no basis for peace in any grouping.

    Once we have come to an agreement on whether we should all be restrained by law & what it is & probably how the Hague court, or some new court, can be trusted by all parties, we should together look again at Yugoslavia, particularly the Serb areas of Kosovo & the "nation" of Bosnia, both of which, if we upheld the principles on which we encouraged secession, should in turn be allowed to secede & join Serbia. Also at some reasonable compensation for those "cleansed" from Krajina & the rest of Kosovo & some permanent international protection for the battlefield & the thousand year old Christian churches there, or at least those ones which have survived our occupation.

  8. Keith
    August 27, 2008

    John, I agree with every darn thing you've written there. Kevin Lohse's reply hit several nails right on the head; particularly my own bete-noire, that of the ridiculous set-aside system. There is also the problem of ensuring we have sufficient fuel production capability and storage.
    Not least is the shameful run-down in the Armed Services. If we wish to use our forces as, for instance, they are being used at the moment then it is our duty to make sure that they have the best equipment that money can buy.
    And we don't need Brown comparing them with Olympic athletes.

  9. Freeborn John
    August 27, 2008

    I am not convinced that the West has a dog in the Russia-Georgia fight. Either the Georgians are suppressing the rights of minorities or the Russians are acting in a way they would find intolerable if another power acted as they have done in coming to the aid of their minorities in the Caucasus (e.g. Chechnya).

    Although I agree that Russia has superior forces in the region than the West and we would be foolish in the extreme to challenge them, I disagree that she is a rising power. I would say Russia is a power whose long-term decline is merely masked by the current high price of oil. This is a country with an economy the size of that of S.E. England, the world’s fastest declining population and that has lost most of industrial base such that it is reduced to a supplier of raw energy commodities. Its absolute decline is made worse in relative terms by the long border its shares in the east with the rising power of China and instability along her southern flank with the Islamic world. The danger with Russia is the increasing unpredictability of its autocratic regime as its retreats from democracy.

    I think we should be keeping Russia out of the G8 and WTO, but should not be offering Georgia NATO membership. Georgia is not a vital interest of the West sufficient that we would go to war to protect its independence. Politicians like Angela Merkel who are going around offering Georgia NATO membership should be asked if Germany is prepared to go to war with Russia in the event of repeat of its recent actions in South Ossetia. If not then what she is really promising is to undermine the credibility of NATO’s mutual defence. Better that Georgia (and the Ukraine) be offered free access to EU and US markets and the type of long-term military and financial support that has allowed Israel to maintain its independence outside of NATO. This should be accompanied by diplomatic measures to encourage Russia to return to the path of democracy as this is the measure that is most likely in the long-term to lead to sustainable peace with her neighbours.

    Reply: Russia is also a country with a huge nuclear arsenal and a large army.

  10. Chuck Unsworth
    August 27, 2008

    This is economic confrontation. The West's response to Russian pursuit of wealth by force of arms has been dreadfully clumsy. Why should we believe vociferous Russian protestations about 'threats'? It's a remarkably convenient position, so similar to Bush/Blair's scaremongering about WMDs.

    It's time for The City to be involved. Clearly the Politicians are intent on fighting the wrong kind of war.

  11. Acorn
    August 27, 2008

    While agreeing with most of the above, may I suggest there is a much bigger problem on the horizon. Advances in drilling technology make it much easier to drill for oil and gas in deeper waters, with the ability to point your drill in any direction you desire.

    There are various disputes over national boundaries and associated tribal affiliations, real or contrived, as mentioned above. But; the coming "land grab" will be sovereignty over the Continental Shelves by those Nations that have a shoreline with the wet bits of this planet. It appears that the current "Exclusive Economic Zones" [UN Law of the Sea], will take a lot of defending in the next decade. I reckon that the Arctic sea area will be the first battle ground, with Russia taking on the Canadians in round one.

    There are about fourteen British Overseas Territories at the moment and one of them, the Argies still have their eyes on. You will be aware that The Falkland Islands are rumoured to be sitting on a lot of oil within its continental shelf area.

    Somehow, I don't see Miliband doing a Thatcher; that's assuming we had the squadies, with enough kit, that Maggie had.

  12. mikestallard
    August 27, 2008

    Excellent post here, John, and super comments from the punters.

    The world situation is changing and fast.
    China is (an authoritarian-ed) state, based on (low cost-ed) labour (more or less), discipline and harsh government.
    (Islamist terrorism fights against British troops in the Middle East -ed)
    Russia has a lot of raw materials and trained KGB men in command.
    The US is, as you say overreaching itself.
    Europe is a talking shop but some of its nation states still have an army.
    All five of these have a nuclear arsenal and large armies which work. And all four have totally different ideals and, indeed, religions.

    We also have, as you say, a clash between the idea of self determination and the idea of the Cold War where frontiers were knows and respected. In Georgia, it was noticeable that the Georgians wore the same uniforms and had the same tanks as the Russians. They also invaded, just like the Russians did. In Georgia, Ukraine, Lithuania and Poland, these two factors clash horribly.

    And, as ever, Mr Brown did not even contact Mr Saakashvili more than once during the crisis. He is, as usual, in hiding. He has not loved and cherished the soldiers in the same way that he cherished the Olympians. I do not see any of the people with medals getting the MBE, for instance. And I do not see Mr Brown greeting the coffins as they return home from the Eastern theatres of war.

  13. Susan
    August 27, 2008

    The double-speak of the EC doesn't help. In trying to assert itself as a world power, the EU simply muddies the waters and then stands back, incapable, while others take the flack. It does untold damage to diplomatic relations whilst trying to assert an assumed authority which it doesn't democratically possess.

  14. Eddie Allen
    August 28, 2008

    If people were to take time enough to research what politicians are saying and listen carefully to what they say, then you know they already know there are massive problems with our foreign and economics policies and Georgia simply brings these problems to a head.

    Recently, President Medvedev related to western global economics being a threat to the GLOBE. His ambassador to the EU also related to the economic threat imposed by enlargement.
    Then you have two guys in the audience at the Democrat Convention just yesterday referring to the Georgian President Saakashvili being the pawn of the New World Order.

    I take you back also to 10th July and to Sarkozy giving his presidential speech to the EU when he indicated there were arguments from “two opposing economic theories” which we “need to debate”, and he clearly outlined his own position when he said he didn’t understand it but he wanted to listen, and that he knew there was a problem.

    Sarkozy is undoubtedly aware having spoken with Medvedev, that our economic encroachments are a threat to world peace and they are a threat to democracy because they place capitalist policies before people.

    This is why we people have no political power because every western country is threatened by economic change –
    i.e. A pull out of investment if investors don’t like the “social policies” which are / were once shaped by democratic voices like ours.

    This is how extreme rampant capitalism now plays the tune and how its march into other nations which don’t agree with it, must end in defeat for the prime capitalist motivator ( Milton Friedman’s theory and Maastricht ), or a defeat for the opposition – Russia!

    Once you understand the monetary systems we use MUST have continual growth otherwise our economies will die at varying degrees of decline ( if alone in a cause to change them ), then you know they’ll eventually take our economic invasion forces into Asia and China and so on until the economic and political geo-sphere has been fully Globalized.

    Hence rampant unfeterred capitalst growth under present economic policies will one day dominate all nations and threaten all national economies which oppose it.

    The issue of turning “sovereign nations” into unions under the guise of freedom – globalization – free markets – inevitable consequences – global security etc etc etc, ( all the catchwords they can find with totally meaningless spin ), simply removes the capacity for a government to argue for change as power is placed into lesser hands, economic unelected bureaucrats and non-elected officials who take no responsibility.

    Politicians are not really able to contest what’s happening because collectively they look to these non-elected “advisers” for guidance themselves as political life has become even more complicated by the geo-political and economic systems which appear too complicated for a politician to involve him/herself thus leaving it up to bureaucrats and advisers and no collective authority to change it by reason of a lack of skill and subject knowledge on the part of shorter term politicians who don’t want to upset the apple cart.

    If you have “breakaways”, then the system would disintegrate, and if you have democracy it would stop altogether simply because social needs of the people would come first rather than the mean economic advantages or disadvantages worked out by non-elected “officials”.

    It is a ruthless system and I doubt it was planned to be this way but unless politicians agree to tackle it and alter it back to more to socially accountable economics then it will engulf the remnants of our democracy and sovereignty, whole nations and will evaporate even our cultures.

    Why ?

    Because mass immigration is the essential means to create a mobile workforce to serve capitalism. To think economic advantage rather than social implication.
    NO possible reckoning could have been made of any social factors when our country adopted monetarist policies ( Denis Healy 1976 ) – Hence we are without control now, without a distinct national awareness , we’re under constant economic threat, and people are completely at odds with their leaders which cannot change the system on their own, politicians are frustrated and turn to spin, and the inevitable globalizing of the planet as an affect of monetarism which MUST produce continual grow, will one day either dominate the planet or it will sell us into a war with those who oppose it et al Russia.

    Social economics is the way to peace and to finding a return of democracy, and it is the means to secure good foreign relations between nations with common interests so we can share the world rather than seeking to dominate it wittingly or unwittingly it doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is that politicians begin to understand the natural end game of monetarism and begin to see that economics without a social conscience must fail simply because it is adverse to humanity itself and totally corrupting because it essentially produces elitism. Hence we have lots of billionaires in tax havens which the government is too afraid to tackle so instead outs the costs of social needs on to ordinary taxpayers for fear of the threat of investor pull-out.

    How can it be changed ?

    Politicians need to change Maastricht and make the trading area work for the people first and then for business. i.e. To remove the areas where an investor can take advantage where investors would otherwise continue to play countries “and economies” off against each other.

  15. Richard Calhoun
    August 28, 2008

    Cameron's courageous and well thought through stand with Georgia is refreshing.

    We have a bellicose Russia that should not be appeased, Cameron's proposal is an excellent first step to opposing Russia's actions.

    We will no doubt be at variance with Germany, France, Italy and Spain but will find the new EU members in the East falling in behind us.

    This will mean strengthening our ties with the US, assuming that McCain is the next President, which looks increasingly likely.

  16. Bazman
    August 29, 2008

    All this is very interesting, but Russian leaders have been (words left out) just legal gangsters. The whole culture of the Russian state reads like a mafia plot. The characters and the population are always on a conveyor belt that leads to prison, (It is said that the Statue of Lenin points to the prisons in Samara), abroad, (Exile) or death, (Because one day you might live). Better to have young men fighting wars in the Caucuses than asking questions in Moscow.
    Read for a century, study for a century, and you’ll die a fool in the snow. (Russian proverb)

  17. Bazman
    August 31, 2008

    To quote David Cameron:

    "Russia's elite value their ties to Europe – their shopping and luxury weekends. We should look at the visa regime for Russian citizens. Russian armies can't march into other countries while Russian shoppers carry on marching into Selfridges."

    Absolutely right Dave me old mate. Russia should be given a clear choice. Either they continue to be part of the West and enjoy that, or they will have personal problems in terms of money and benefits. No more hanging out on the French Riviera will upset their wives and girlfriends. Britain has other ways to make life uncomfortable for the Kremlin elite and the ranks of crony capitalists around them. Huge sums of Russian money are deposited with London's finance houses, much of it from dubious transactions. If the UK financial authorities probed a lot of those dealings rigorously, it would make the Russian elite feel very uncomfortable.
    It will work and is the only way.

  18. Scott
    September 3, 2008

    Russia is a Superpower again as the United States, CNN (as stated here on CNN August 1, 2008) and other news media's have admitted http://www.kommersant.com/page.asp?id=768929 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g8dNr2GH08I, this is an NATO expansion war. US former president Ronald Reagan promise Russia there would be no NATO expansion into post Soviet Union countries back 1989 which has clearly been violated. NATO is the new cold war, they are expanding and we cannot trust NATO. NATO is evil and Russia is the ally here. People need to Google the truth about what NATO means and what relation is NATO, EU & Bilderberg together. I support Russia and I am against NATO, NATO is the enemy here. NATO wants to expand membership and spread every they can into more countries. NATO is about building a military block and when countries apply for NATO membership, they wave their rights to protect themselves or governored themselves but are under the rules of NATO. It is a communist movement on a private sector by NATO and this is wrong. Russia & China has been dead set against NATO and this is why. I want Russia to make its stance and stand against NATO, this evil lying agency that has no business taking countries rights away.

    Who start this conflick? Georgia, NATO & the US, read link by Pat Buchanan : http://www.lewrockwell.com/buchanan/buchanan94.ht… and this video link here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UBRl-BvKJII

    And read what Ron Paul has said about NATO pushing into Russia: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zyJiWYmXGLY

    Here is a couple of Americans living in Georgia admitting Georgia & the US started the conflicts with Russia and that Georgia was indeed killing Russian people inside of Georgia. Something the US bilderberg media is not going to air on US television news channels. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S4DdRmALFYg

    We have to understand that Russia is protecting itself from NATO.

    NATO is an organization whose purpose ended with the end of its Warsaw Pact adversary. When NATO struggled to define its future after the Cold War, it settled on attacking a sovereign state, Yugoslavia, which had neither invaded nor threatened any NATO member state.

    This current round of NATO expansion is a political reward to governments in Georgia and Ukraine that came to power as a result of US-supported revolutions, the so-called Orange Revolution and Rose Revolution. The governments that arose from these street protests were eager to please their US sponsor and the US, in turn, turned a blind eye to the numerous political and human rights abuses that took place under the new regimes. Thus the US policy of “exporting democracy” has only succeeding in exporting more misery to the countries it has targeted.

    NATO expansion only benefits the US military industrial complex, which stands to profit from expanded arms sales to new NATO members. The “modernization” of former Soviet militaries in Ukraine and Georgia will mean tens of millions in sales to US and European military contractors. The US taxpayer will be left holding the bill, as the US government will subsidize most of the transactions. Providing US military guarantees to Ukraine and Georgia can only further strain our military. This NATO expansion may well involve the US military in conflicts as unrelated to our national interest as the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia. The idea that American troops might be forced to fight and die to prevent a small section of Georgia from seceding is absurd and disturbing.

    By Congressman Ron Paul: http://www.antiwar.com/blog/2008/04/01/ron-paul-d

    1. mikestallard
      September 3, 2008

      Yes. NATO is expanding.
      The reason, of course, is ideological.
      The US was founded on these self evident truths: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
      (Wrongly) The US assumes that the Georgians are obeying these self evident truths and the (wicked) Russians are going against them.
      We are going to see a lot more of this kind of conflict which, of course, broke up the British Empire (wrongly) and caused interference (disastrously) in Iraq.
      Just as Communism drove Russia, so now the US Constitution drives America.

  19. Bazman
    September 3, 2008

    Well! except for the gymnast chick.

  20. Bazman
    September 7, 2008

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