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Nostalgia for the Cold War

Civilitas Perspective / Georgia

We have often said, stability in Georgia is as important as Armenia’s own stability. And the consistently unpredictable situation there raises alarm and poses questions.

Most of the issues related to the situation in Georgia are very apparent, very obvious, very over-reported, and quite under-explained. There is no need to talk about good guys and bad guys, bullies and victims. The ingredients causing friction, contestation and conflict are basically questions of legitimacy, geopolitics in a historic context, geopolitics in the current dynamic, and a global game reminiscent of the Cold War.

The Cold War it seems is a war that refuses to die or disappear. Whether it is reflex, paradigm or an ineradicable perception of Europe and its neighborhood, the slightest new contestation reawakens the old patterns of response.

There are many, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili chief among them, who believe and want others to believe, that the crisis or threat are exclusively of Russian manipulation.

This seems to ignore the complaints of the domestic opposition in its own right. Economic grievances, political crispation, favoritism, arbitrariness, the absence of effective checks and balances are superseded. Many in the international community, on the ground in Tbilisi, sense the feeling of betrayal on the part of those for whom the promises of the Rose Revolution have been at best, only partially and unevenly addressed and realized. The explanation of the Georgian leadership that much has indeed been accomplished has not satisfied the disenchanted. This may be the natural consequence of expectations that accompany revolutionary vs. evolutionary change. Perhaps to compensate for this, the Georgian regime reduces Georgia’s domestic social and political sources of instability to essentially, if not totally, external machinations and provocations.

This rationalization entails a few risks, some more serious than others. Accusing Russia does not discourage Russia nor compel it to moderate or change its designs. In fact, Russia’s response can become a self-fulfilling process.

Then there is the logic of reciprocal provocation. If Russia pushes President Saakashvili to over-react, over-step, appear to be crying wolf and act like a victim, this can result in reduced credibility for Saakashvili, as it did in some international circles following August 2008, and diminished political support at home.

For Georgia, this game of provocation has its own logic. The thinking is that if Russia is pushed to act tough, then Georgia’s friends in the West, including and especially NATO and the US, will hopefully act tougher. After all, the West couldn’t possibly leave unchallenged Russian “expansionism” or Russian bullying in the near abroad, since there are some on all sides who consider accommodation to be appeasement or retreat.

In the context of a geopolitical linear zero-sum game, Georgia can hope to mobilize unconditional support from friends in the Pentagon and NATO. The more Russian engagement appears to be obvious provocation, the more likely it is to trigger the West’s determined response to resist.

If the Cold War is not fully over, then this Georgian calculus is not unjustified. However, in Moscow, Brussels and Washington today, and within some NATO members, there must be room on the broader global chessboard for give and take between regions, without limiting such competition to the South Caucasus alone. There does not need to be confrontation everywhere that there is a clash of interests. It must be possible to give and take across regions and allow tensions to decrease locally.

In other words, Georgia is not the whole story. What the West -- NATO and the US – must consider is whether there is going to be back-tracking from cold peace to cold war. If not, the global jigsaw puzzle has many more pieces than just Georgia, and by moving a few of them, confrontation in our back yard may be averted.

May 14, 2009
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Facts for Thought
Number of theater performances (1) and attendance (2) in Armenia
(1) (2)
2008 2,364 409,500
2009 2,443 367,800
2010 2,331 394,800
2011 2,707 458,900
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