In Modern Politics and Government, Ball and Peters state ‘Politics arises from disagreements and conflicting interests, and those differences arise from a number of sources’ (Ball and Peters, 2005 p.28). This statement is an attempt to describe the essence of politics, being the interaction of two or more people or groups who are discussing issues, attempting to resolve differences or trying to reach mutually acceptable compromises. These differences of opinion or perspective originate from a multitude of sources, historical, geographical, social background, ethnicity, political ideology and gender being examples, as well as the objectives of each side in the discussion.
A liberal perspective is that all differences ought to be settled by negotiation, but realists argue that war is inevitable. When Von Clausewitz said ‘War is nothing but a continuation of politics by other means’ (Von Clausewitz) he was clearly saying that when states have reached an impasse in negotiations, or when a state believes that war will be of greater benefit to it than continuing with negotiation, then the decision to go to war is a consequence of the politics that preceded it.
We can see, from history, that both of these statements are true, in that war generally follows periods of negotiation or discussion, with attempts to avoid conflict, and that the reasons for disagreements are often numerous and entrenched. However, there are those that believe that war is not an inevitable consequence of political differences and that in fact these differences are structured into our society. Feminists argue that by deconstructing the masculine language of politics and war and the gender roles in our society there would follow an opportunity to break the habit of conflict and war. However, this essay is an attempt to explain the complexities of modern political disagreement and reasons for using military force and as such will look at the recent outbreak of hostilities in Georgia.
Georgia has a long history of conflict, occupying an important geographical situation, the Black Sea coastline specifically, and acting as a crossroads between the Christian and Islamic worlds. Annexed by the Russian Empire in the early part of the 19th century, Georgians retained a sense of identity and opportunistically declared independence in 1918, following the Russian Revolution. This independence was short lived and Georgia was invaded and by and incorporated into the USSR in 1924. In 1991, with the Soviet Union in disarray the Georgian’s again declared independence. This declaration led to a civil war of four years. Abkhazia and South Ossetia secessionists achieved a de facto independence from Georgia. Georgia has more recently been working towards gaining membership of the EU and NATO.
In 1999 Russia’s defence minister stated ‘that Russia and the United States were locked in a bitter struggle for dominance of the Caucasus, Caspian and Central Asian regions’ (Gordon, M. 1999). Speaking at the outbreak of the second Chechnya war, this is a clear statement from the heart of the Russian executive that the conflict in the Caucasus is more than secessionist. At this time Georgia was seeking improved relations with the West as well as distancing itself from Russia. Georgia’s strategic importance to the West is for gas and oil supply, Georgia being between the oil and gas rich Caspian Basin and the Black Sea.
Georgian relations with Russia in 2008 were strained. Russia’s desire to have greater influence in international relations is not compatible with loosing influence over those countries that were once integral or satellite to the USSR, and we see Georgia looking to the West rather than to Russia for aid and partnership. The US training and equipping the Georgian military in preparation for Georgia’s membership of NATO, the proposed EU membership and the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline are key factors in this breakdown of relations with Russia. Furthermore, The US’s planned missile defence shield in Europe, most notably deployment of missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic, both former Warsaw Pact states, angered Russia who see their sphere of influence diminishing and their security being threatened.
Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the secessionist regions within Georgia, are politically complicated. During the civil war in the early 1990’s these region’s fought for independence, the ethnic minority supported by Russia and the ethnically Georgian population by Georgia. At the end of the conflict many Georgian’s were displaced, fleeing these regions and Russia offered citizenship to the remaining population. When Georgian forces started the air strike in August 2008 of Tskhinvali, a city in South Ossetia, The Russian Government were able to state that this was an attack on Russian citizens, the defence of these people being the right course of action for them. Furthermore ‘Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin made it clear again and again that if Georgia attacked South Ossetia, Russia would fight.’ (Times Online, 2008)
Georgia’s attack on South Ossetia, it can be argued, was encouraged by the US, through continued support for Georgia and with Georgia relying on the 2003 defence pact (Blagov, S. 2003) between the two states. Certainly, Georgia was emboldened by overtures from the West. Russia’s response to the air strikes was swift and seemingly deliberately punitive, a show of strength and resolve in the region, more a message to the West than a defence of Russian nationals. Russia’s newly found confidence following Putin’s strong leadership and frustration with the Wests interests in post Soviet states may have been key to the entering of Georgian territory by the Russian army.
The EU stepped in to broker a cease fire ‘with the outgoing Bush administration “out to lunch” on the issue for several months’ (EU business, 2008) and this intervention has seen a rise in EU influence in Georgia. Following the peace plan as agreed with the aid of the EU President, Nicolas Sarkozy, Russia eventually pulled back to their borders although have kept troops in both Abkhazia and South Ossetia, ostensibly as peacekeepers. Russia unilaterally recognised these areas as independent states and although it is unlikely in the short term that many other states will follow with recognising the two regions as independent, the Russian recognition provides a perceived legitimacy for a continued presence of Russian troops in these territories.Taken at face value, the war was one of Georgia asserting its right to govern its territory in the face of secessionist movements and of Russia defending its citizens from attack by Georgia’s armed forces. However, we can see that history, internal conflict, economic pressures, external influences and failure of diplomacy all played a role in the conflict.
For disagreements and conflicting interests to be resolved there is required a desire for debated resolution by both sides. However, where entrenched animosities between states exist, the capacity to overcome differences is often not prioritised. In Georgia, the naming of the street in which the Russian embassy sits after the leader of the 1924 Georgian uprising against the Soviets can only be regarded as inflammatory. Likewise, Russian insistence of Georgian complicity in supplying arms to Chechens in the second Chechen war or the increase in cost of gas supplies to Georgia in 2006 went no way to helping settle disputes.
Russia’s analysis of US interventionist policies in the Caucasus, the loss of influence over states on their borders in favour of the West and the proposed NATO missile defence shield, all Western policies that Russia has consistently argued against, to little effect, perhaps led Russia to enter Georgia with excessive force. It can be argued that Russia’s revived nationalism and perceived power, economic and military, encouraged a clear message, in the form of the Georgian conflict, being sent to the West. Russia was stating that their economic and border security and sphere of influence cannot be further undermined.
War in this instance is part of the political process, arising from the diverse differences of many interested parties. It is clear that Russia never intended to annexe Georgia or to start a greater war. It seems that Georgia miss-read the nature of Putin’s Russia and of the level of US support in the event of war. Von Clausewitz’s statement that war is the continuation of politics is therefore accurate, with Georgia testing both Russia and the US and Russia testing the West.
It is this testing of each other, risk taking to see how powerful or willing to act another state or grouping of states may be, that is part of the current political landscape. The testing is now over and a diplomatic solution to the conflict was reached.
Georgia now has greater ties to the US and EU, although it is now less likely to achieve early entry into the EU, and Russia has vigorously and in an international arena expressed its concern over Western influence on its borders as well as having effectively consolidated a land grab of Georgian territory. Perhaps these objectives could have been reached by diplomacy but given the conflicting interests and the forums and language available to discuss areas of disagreement, this seems unlikely.
The Georgian conflict stands as a clear example of both Ball and Peters and Von Clausewitz’s statements. Politics is rarely made up of simple disputes, with varied opinions and differing objectives shaping the debate. Where there is a breakdown of diplomacy and/or a struggle for power dominance, such as between the US and Russia in Georgia, conflict can erupt. War therefore is a political tool and in this case a tool well utilised by Russia.
REFERENCES Ball and Peters (2005) Modern Politics and Government, Hampshire, Palgrave Macmillan
Blagov, S. (2003) US-Georgian Security Cooperation,http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/insight/articles/eav041603a.shtml (Accessed 01/12/2008)
EU Business (2008) Europeans more influential but still divided over Georgia, http://www.eubusiness.com/news-eu/1227151022.2 (Accessed 02/12/2008)
Gordon, M. (1999) Georgia Trying Anxiously to Stay Out of Chechen War, http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9906E6DE113DF934A25752C1A96F958260 (Accessed 01/12/2008)
Times Online (2008) Analysis: roots of the conflict between Georgia, South Ossetia and Russia, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/europe/article4498709.ece(Accessed 01/12/2008)
Von Clausewitz, War is nothing but a continuation of politics by other meanshttp://www.clausewitz.com/CWZHOME/CWZSUMM/CWORKHOL.htm#Politik (Accessed 01/12/2008)3