John Maynard Keynes famously said: “The difficulty lies not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones.”
That’s the intellectual challenge for the West in the wake of Russia’s aggression against Georgia: how to escape from its long-held assumptions about Russia’s character and intentions. Moscow’s brutal, unlawful invasion of Georgia on August 8 followed on August 13 by its warning that Poland is “exposing itself to a strike” by signing a missile-defense accord with the U.S. are the new facts. They undermine the post-Cold War idea that Russia is ready to join the West in pursuing a peaceful world where strong nations respect the rights of the weak and the rule of law replaces force.
At the end of the Cold War, then-President George H. W. Bush spoke of the “new world that is struggling to be born.” It is, he said, a “world quite different from the one we’ve known. A world where the rule of law supplants the rule of the jungle. A world in which nations recognize the shared responsibility for freedom and justice. A world where the strong respect the rights of the weak.”
That was 1990, and the U.S. and the West were confident in that year that Russia could share the civilized standards of President Bush’s vision. The Russian bear, with its long record of using force and the threat of force to achieve its imperial ambitions, soon could be a thing of the past. Confidence in this image persisted and directed policy. If such confidence ever was warranted, Russia’s aggression in Georgia and its threats to Poland make it clear that it no longer is. It is time to relinquish that image of Russia and make the necessary changes in policy mandated by a corrected image.
Every Western leader who has not already done so must now take one crucial initial step: Change his attitude toward Russia and recognize it for the threat to security and freedom its behavior has revealed it to be — regardless of the outcome of the inevitable negotiation about how much of Georgia Moscow lets Georgia retrieve and retain.
This means that the political leaders of the United States and each of its allies must reevaluate their own defense and security policies and programs and the collective security policies and programs on which they have depended to take into account the updated perception of Russia the new facts demand. This is not the place to provide an exhaustive list of what practical impacts such a review might bring about. But here are some illustrations:
- NATO, which in recent years has refrained in its military planning from developing plans to counter Russian aggression against NATO countries (think Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), should immediately begin to do so.
- NATO, and each of its member countries, must decide if NATO security guarantees should be extended to Georgia and the other countries most immediately under threat of Russian military aggression, most especially Ukraine.
- The U.S. and Western Europe must recognize that the “peace dividend” no longer exists, if it ever did. NATO members from the west need to boost their defense spending if their Article 5 commitments are to have any meaning. (Article 5 of the NATO treaty obliges each member to go to the defense of any other that is attacked.)
- NATO members from the east that are past victims of Russian aggression and which are at greatest immediate risk from Russian aggression again — Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Germany, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — must adjust their defense budgets to take this into account. They also must carefully analyze what collective security arrangements are likely to bring military help should Russian aggression be imminent. Russia will certainly make the same evaluation before its tanks roll.
- The U.S. needs to reevaluate the size and budgets of the army, marines, navy and air force. If the U.S. is to have a realistic option of countering potential Russian military aggression, as it did from 1949 through 1990 — when the mere existence of its military might discouraged Russia from militarily pursuing its ambitions — the size of our forces and our defense budget must be increased.
- U.S. defense planning, which recently has concentrated resources on combating terrorism, needs to be expanded. We also must be prepared to combat large states with large and improving military establishments; over-the-horizon weapons and capabilities may well be necessary to prevail over well-financed large state militaries and decisions to cut back or to end research and weapons programs should be reevaluated in the context of new facts.
- Leaders of all affected countries should recognize that the United Nations Security Council will not be able to pass resolutions ordering a military response to potential or actual Russian aggression because of Russia’s veto. In addition, Russia may try to use the United Nations to reduce the U.S. ability to protect its interests and to thwart the U.S. from helping victims of Russian aggression by arguing that the United States may not act without such a resolution.
- Faced with Russia’s imperialistic ambitions and disposition to pursue them by military and other means, including perversion of the purposes and ideals of the United Nations and other international institutions, the United States should reevaluate how it acts collectively with other nations and give consideration to:
- devoting more of its diplomatic and economic resources to collaborations with like-minded countries, as in the Proliferation Security Initiative, where participating countries agree on a simple statement of principles committing them to lawful action on a case-by-case basis to thwart the unlawful proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and materials and technology necessary for their manufacture or use;
- making new multilateral security arrangements with and providing security guarantees to countries whose jeopardy also jeopardizes important U.S. interests.
The Russia we thought we knew and on whose perceived character the West has based its defense and security policy since 1990 has shown itself not to be very different from its Soviet predecessor, which rolled its tanks into Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Afghanistan. Can our leaders abandon their old ideas about Russia and develop new ones?
When Keynes was criticized for changing his views on an economic matter on which he previously had written, he countered: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” In the wake of Russia’s aggression in Georgia, what will the West’s leaders do?