Steven M. Collins
August 27, 2008
As readers all know, the successful Russian invasion of Georgia has signaled that a very different (and more dangerous) era has arrived in relationships between the USA/NATO and Russia. The USA and the West have been encroaching upon Russia’s borders and interests ever since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. This is understandable as Russia was in a much-weakened position, its institutions were crumbling and it had weak leadership. The global increase in the price of oil and the arrival of Vladimir Putin as Russia’s new “strongman” have changed the entire relationship. Russia is flush with energy-based financial resources and it is rebuilding its military and international standing. Vladimir Putin has proven to be a hard-line (and capable) leader in the old Soviet style, not the “partner” that President Bush naively believed him to be. Russia is now “calling NATO’s bluff,” and I’ll explain what I mean by that phrase.
NATO was originally founded as a military alliance to defend against a Soviet attack upon Europe. After the collapse of the USSR, NATO had an identity crisis. The military threat that was its reason for existence seemed to have faded, but NATO steadily expanded its membership to include the Baltic nations and the Eastern European nations which had been part of the Warsaw Pact. Recently, it even tried to add the old Soviet states of the Ukraine and Georgia. For Putin, NATO had crossed all its “red lines,” and the Russian response was its successful invasion of Georgia. This invasion also was prompted by the West building a large oil/gas pipeline from the Caspian Sea region across Georgia to NATO-member Turkey to circumvent Russian control over the Caspian Sea’s energy resources. Russia’s invasion of Georgia demonstrated to the world that this pipeline will only exist and function if Russia allows it.
The NATO expansion involved a transformation of NATO’s identity. It was increasingly less of a military alliance and more of an economic/commercial/political alliance. NATO’s expansion into many of the old Soviet-dominated regions was accomplished by the use of “soft power” (economic and political incentives, diplomacy, corporate ties and expansions, sub rosa regime changes, etc.). It was not accomplished by using “hard power” (military invasions). Paradoxically, as NATO increasingly used soft power to expand, its reservoir of hard power steadily diminished. The USA radically cut its military forces after the “end of the Cold War” and European nations cut their military forces to the bone. The eastern European nations joined NATO to seek military protection vs. a resurgent Russia, but NATO has lost most of its power to deliver on its central mission: that “an attack upon one of its member states is an attack upon all of them” and that NATO will go to war to protect all its member states. Does anyone seriously think that the “old” NATO nations are going to go to war against Russia to defend the Ukraine or Georgia if they became NATO members? What about the Baltic states? What about any of the “new” NATO members from eastern Europe? Here is the crux of NATO’s bluff: it is severely deficient in the hard power military assets needed to defend the NATO alliance’s members. Russia knows this, and it is making this fact painfully obvious to the entire world in Georgia.
When Russia invaded Georgia (perhaps in response to an ill-advised Georgian attempt to assert control over its breakaway province in South Ossetia), NATO nations responded with a “full court press” of soft power responses: diplomatic faxs, emails and demands that Russia withdraw, threats to drop Russia from the G-8, threats of a UN action, threats of boycotting the 2010 Winter Olympics to be held in Russia, etc. Vladimir Putin looked at all these “soft power” threats and told NATO to “stick it.” Putin knew the NATO nations in Europe needed Russian energy (especially with winter approaching) so NATO’s European nations were highly unlikely to jeopardize their energy imports by doing anything serious about Russia’s invasion. Putin also knew the USA’s shrunken military was tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan and lacked the reserves to push Russia out of Georgia. So Putin “called NATO’s bluff” and showed that NATO cannot back up its current geopolitical bets. In any confrontation between soft power and hard power, hard power wins.
Russia has just made that point very convincingly with its willingness to use military force to confront and stop NATO’s advance to the east. Putin also ignored many cease-fire and withdrawal arrangements, and in so doing, further demonstrated the glaring weakness of NATO to back up its demands with meaningful actions. Putin also used NATO’s own logic against it when Russia recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as new pro-Russian nations severed from Georgia. After all, didn’t NATO pull Kosovo out of Serbia to make Kosovo a pre-western state? If NATO can do this in the Balkans, Russia can do it in the Caucasus region as well. The leaders of the Ukraine, Poland and two Baltic nations flew to Georgia to demonstrate their solidarity with Georgia (confirming they saw the increased dangers now posed by Russia to their nations as well).
The first link below, by J.R. Nyquist, offers information indicating that Russia adroitly suckered Georgia (and the West) into attacking South Ossetia so Russia could launch a powerful invasion of Georgia. Russian forces have wrecked much of Georgia’s infrastructure and the pipeline with energy resources to the West was shut down. The main east-west Georgian railway was blown up. The Georgian port of Poti was devastated and Russia now controls it. The Nyquist analysis makes this vital observation about the very weak NATO response to Russia’s invasion: “The Europeans have telegraphed their total capitulation to Russia, and Moscow knows it. The Kremlin has looked into the soul of Europe and found–there is none.” The second link, from the Wall Street Journal site, also documents the weak NATO response.
NATO’s limp response to Russia’s invasion will only embolden Russia to act with hard power elsewhere in the world. The third link reports that Russia is deploying warships to Syria and may establish a permanent naval base in Syria. Poland signed an agreement to base US missiles in Poland, and Russia is countering by threatening to base new missiles in Syria to threaten the Israelis. The fourth link reports that a possible naval crisis is brewing in the Black Sea as NATO warships are deployed there and now face Russian warships. We are in a new Cold War, whether the West wants to admit it or not. So far, Western leaders seem to be in denial.
Matthew 24:6 prophesies that there would be “wars and rumors of wars” in the latter days just prior to the return of Jesus Christ. Russia’s invasion of Georgia was a hot war. There are hot wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are “rumors of wars” in the naval confrontation building in the Black Sea, the growing Syrian-Hezbollah threat to the Israelis, and the possibility of an American or Israeli strike vs. Iran’s nuclear facilities, etc. We do not know whether these “rumors of wars” will lead to shooting wars or not. However, it is clear that Russia has proclaimed to the world that it will meet NATO’s soft power with Russian hard power (military force), and that it will not “play by the rules” that the West had thought it could impose on Russia.
Readers of this site know that Ezekiel 38 reveals that a Russian-led alliance including China, Iran and many other nations will eventually attack the USA, the NATO nations and their allies at the end of this age. Russia’s hail of bullets against NATO’s plans in Georgia indicates the end of this age is looking ever-closer as world events confirm that God is shaping world geopolitics to fulfill his biblical prophecy in Ezekiel 38. God is the Creator–no force on earth can stop him from fulfilling his prophecies.