The Landing Zone | 8.11.08

With Moscow consolidating the long-disputed regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, it’s apparent that the Russian military’s push into the embattled Western-oriented country of Georgia is not going to be reversed. But it can be punished. Even as Western leaders scramble to hammer out a ceasefire, they need to come together to send a strong signal to Moscow that its actions have consequences.

A few realities complicate a clear-cut solution to the Georgian crisis: 1) Georgia, although Russian-controlled for around 200 years before the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, is an internationally recognized, sovereign state; 2) Russia is an energy juggernaut; and 3) Russia is either unwilling or unable to come to terms with the post-Cold War world, even almost 20 years after the Berlin Wall fell and 17 years after the hammer-and-sickle flag was removed from atop the Kremlin.

Even with these realities, former Vice President Dick Cheney is correct to argue “that Russian aggression must not go unanswered.”

But what to do? After all, no one in NATO is ready to go to war for Tbilisi.

First, given that Russia knows Georgia has a special relationship with NATO – the alliance did agree at the 2008 NATO summit that the tiny Black Sea nation would someday become a NATO member – it’s obvious that Moscow has nothing but contempt for the NATO structures that promote continental cooperation. So, it’s time for NATO to rethink the NATO-Russia Council and perhaps end it altogether.

From Russia’s flouting of the CFE treaty, to the one-sided web war against Estonia, to the bullying of the Czech Republic and Poland, to the battering of Georgia, Moscow has made its feelings about NATO abundantly clear. If the NRC couldn’t prevent these expressions of Russian intransigence, one wonders what it’s good for.

Next, NATO and EU nations should lead an international effort to fund humanitarian and reconstruction projects across Georgia, not including the regions where Russia has intervened. Moscow can take care of rebuilding those cities and towns on its own.

Third, and just as important, NATO and EU nations should replenish, replace and renew the military hardware Georgia has lost in this war. Even before the Russian invasion, the imbalance was staggering: 641,000 troops vs. 27,000; 6,700 tanks vs. 82; 1,200 warplanes vs. seven; 7,500 artillery pieces vs. 95 (all according to Jane’s Defense). While they’re at it, NATO members should significantly modernize Georgia’s military.

Regrettably, the West is not ready to come to Georgia’s defense, at least not yet. This was obvious during the NATO summit last April, when several NATO governments rebuffed Washington’s strong push to invite Georgia into the alliance, instead deferring that hard decision for another day. Moscow certainly got the message.

The Landing Zone is Dowd’s monthly column on national defense and international security featured on the American Legion's website.