I’ve seen a certain sentiment that if Russia “gets away” with kicking Georgia around, then who knows where they’ll stop; after all, “Russia’s imperial ambitions are unlikely to stop at the Georgian border”. And it’s true that ambitions doubtless do spread beyond Georgia. But what about capabilities? In an op-ed yesterday, Ronald Asmus and Richard Holbrooke noted that Russia seeks “a sphere of hegemony over its neighbors.” I might add that the United States has traditionally sought the same in our hemisphere. And yet despite the Monroe Doctrine’s claim of hemisphere-wide applicability, in practice it’s a lot easier to boss Guatemala around than, say, Brazil.
For example, since Georgia and Ukraine are linked as countries that are seeking NATO membership over strong Russian objections, I’ve heard some sentiment that it may be “today Georgia, tomorrow Ukraine” in terms of Moscow reasserting control over its near abroad:
It’s useful in this regard, though, to compare Georgia to Ukraine. Georgia contains 4.6 million people in a land area of 27,000 square miles. Ukraine is 46 million people in a land area of 233,000 square miles. Georgia’s PPP adjusted GDP is $20.5 billion, Ukraine’s is $400,000 billion. Georgia is vulnerable to Russian coercion not primarily because anyone has conceded a point of principle to them, but simply because Georgia is tiny and poor. Ukraine is about ten times as big and twice as rich on average, giving it a massive edge in terms of ability to resist pressure. What’s more, due to the geography of the situation it’s much easier for the West to give practical assistance to Ukraine than to Georgia.
This sort of consideration is why things like this John Barry article that breaks out the usually “appeasement” cant in order to argue for direct US military intervention in Georgia is so daft. The appeasement frame rests on the idea that it’s some kind of slippery slope from Russian bombers hitting Tblisi to attacks on Talinn, Kiev, Warsaw and who knows where else. But that’s to view international politics as some kind of purely abstract, logical affair where if Russia gets away with one thing there’s nothing to stop them from marching as far west as they please. In practice, the issue is whether there’s a slipper slope of capabilities and there clearly isn’t.
Photo by Flickr user ezioman used under a Creative Commons license