Thursday, 21 August 2008

Georgia, Poland, and the US missile defence shield

It has been a rather dramatic two weeks since Georgia's attack on South Ossetia and the uncompromising response of the Russian military, but only now - with Poland signing a deal to host US missile interceptors as part of the missile defence shield - is the full story becoming clear. The war between Russia and Georgia took the West by surprise, despite the strong precedent for it, and has led to a quite heated debate. The only problem, though, is that this debate has remained largely shallow and simplistic.

The basic analysis of the conflict, as depicted by the mainstream media, is this: Georgia was wrong to attack South Ossetia, but Russia's response was completely disproportionate and unnecessary, whilst the US and UK are in no place to criticise due to its role in Iraq. And, to an extent, this is all true, but it is not the whole picture.

Although the conflict does have its roots in the South Ossetians' struggle for autonomy against the then-Soviet Republic of Georgia, its unrecognised independence of 1992, and Mikhail Saakashvili's strengthened crackdown in the region after the "Rose Revolution" in 2003, international influences also have to be taken into account. Georgia, though not a formal member, has strong ties with NATO and is engaged in an "Intensified Dialogue on ... membership aspirations" with the organisation. This is consistent with NATO's post-Cold War expansion, which has taken in Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Bulgaria since the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact, and makes Georgia a strategic US ally in the Caucasus.

This does not mean that the South Ossetia conflict is a proxy war between the US and Russia, as "New World Order" conspiracy theorists insist, but it has allowed the United States to protect and reassert its global economic hegemony in the face of Russian resurgence. The US and NATO have failed to provide military support for Georgia, allowing Russia to completely dominate the disputed region, instead offering only diplomatic condemnation. However, fighting back militarily would have been unproductive, as Russia's swift and brutal retaliation against Georgia has given the US the prefect excuse to expand its Missile Defence Shield with Poland.

Though the US has officially denied any connection with the Georgia incident, instead sticking to the official line of the Missile Defence Agency (MDA) that the shield is necessary to protect against "rogue states" such as Iran who are "hostile to the U.S. and its allies," the Polish Defence minister Bogdan Klich's comments to Polish newspaper Dziennik suggested otherwise. "Above all," he is quoted as saying "it seems that the Americans changed their opinion as a result of the situation in the Caucasus" adding that "this conflict proved that Russia was not a stable partner for the States."

This fits well with the view put forward by the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) think-tank that the US must capitalise on victory in the Cold War by "build[ing] upon the achievements of past decades" and "shap[ing] a new century favourable to American principles and interests." And it is important that the US's "global leadership" must face no "challenges to our fundamental interests" and accept its "unique role in preserving and extending an international order friendly to our security, our prosperity, and our principles."

Thus, Russia's resurgence - and, for that matter, the rising economic might of China - cannot be allowed to present a "peer competitor" to America, and the crisis in South Ossetia has provided the perfect excuse to further negotiations for the expansion of the missile defence shield. These negotiations should not be viewed in isolation. The US also has designs upon the militarisation of space, and to that effect in 2002 vetoed efforts by the UN Conference on Disarmament to ban space weapons. We also know that the missile defence system has the capability to shoot down satellites as well as ballistic missiles, and that there is historical precedent of America making preparations for devastating "First Strike" plans.

So, the prospect of a completed missile defence shield presents some very disconcerting concepts. Essentially, it threatens to give America the power to launch a first strike anywhere in the world without fear of reprisals, and to cement US hegemony over the world. Russia and China both know this and have both promised to do everything in their power to stop it from going ahead. This places us, right now, at one of the most precarious and potentially unstable moments in the history of the planet.