The sovereign can no longer say, "You shall think as I do on pain of death;" but he says, "You are free to think differently from me, and to retain your life, your property, and all that you possess; but if such be your determination, you are henceforth an alien among your people."

(Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835)

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Obama's Georgian success

President Obama's attempted re-set of relations with Russia was criticised by many U.S. Republicans who claimed the policy would leave Georgia and Saakashvili out in the cold. Brian Whitmore argues in Foreign Policy that the re-set has enabled the United States to gain much needed leverage over Moscow, thereby restraining Russian policy towards Tbilisi.

There is real merit to this argument. Russia has much more to lose by attacking Georgia today than it did in 2008. This is primarily due to the economic benefits that Russia seems set to gain if the bi-lateral relationship continues on its current trajectory. One key area of potential economic cooperation, as Whitmore points out, is the proposed U.S. investment in Russia's high-tech sector, coupled with Moscow's need for U.S. support in its application to the World Trade Organisation. As a result, any return to military means against Georgia would be a blow to its economic development.

Georgia appears to welcome this breathing space.

However, there is one additional element that Whitmore doesn't mention: Russia's primary policy aim in the 2008 conflict - preventing Georgia's accession to NATO - has been largely achieved. Of course, this is a questionable statement - one that many will disagree with. But Georgia's membership of NATO has, at the very least, been indefinitely delayed and the conflict with Russia appears to have been a key contributor to that delay. Therefore, how much can the Obama re-set really take the credit for Russia's more restrained policy towards Georgia? It's likely that the truth is a combination of Russia having achieved its objective and it having more to lose today than it did in 2008.

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