War in the Caucasus was both predictable and avoidable
BRUSSELS -- The current war in Georgia has taken much of the world by surprise. However, for those of us working on Georgia and traveling to that country, including the separatist provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, it was a conflict that was both predictable and avoidable. The tragedy is that no one was willing to take the steps that could have headed off this conflict at key points along the path that led to war August 8th. The signs were there. As I look back at the five op-eds I have written on Georgia since the beginning of the year, I feel like I am reading the script to a movie where I know the ending, but can no longer stop or change it.
In November 2007, I published an op-ed in the Financial Times, after having led a study group to Georgia in the immediate aftermath of the declaration of a state of emergency. In concluding that op-ed, I wrote that the West needed to embrace Georgia in two ways. Tbilisi needs tough love to ensure it stays on a democratic path. But it also needed to be shielded from Moscow's growing pressure."Many in the west continue to ignore or play down this threat," I wrote. "As one European official put it, if he told his home capital what the Russians were up to in Georgia no one would believe him. Standing up for democratic values cannot only mean criticizing Mr. Saakashvili.
It also means standing up for Georgian independence and its territorial integrity." Following the NATO Bucharest Summit, I wrote another article in the leading German daily the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung where I analyzed the rift between Washington and Berlin over MAP for Gerogia and Ukraine and suggested that, instead of creative ambiguity, the compromise NATO had reached could be destructive and seen as weakness, thus encouraging rather than discourage Russian aggression.
In early June I published another op-ed in the Financial Times, this time with Mark Leonard from the ECFR, entitled"Get involved over Georgia or invite a war," in which we warned that passivity was a recipe for disaster and that the West was sleepwalking into a war in Georgia unless it took steps to change the dynamics on the ground.
After a rather dramatic lunch with President Saakashvilii at a conference in Yalta in early July, I warned in a piece in the Washington Post entitled,"A War the West Must Stop," that the West needed to draw a clear red line and tell Moscow that there would be real consequences in its relations if it did not stop its aggressive course on Georgia if we hoped to prevent a war.
Meeting with Congressional staff shortly thereafter, I predicted the war would start in mid-August. I was off by a week. As I argue today with Richard C Holbrooke in the Washington Post, the war in Gerogia is indeed a watershed -- and a failure for Western diplomacy. It could have been different if we had heeded the warning signs and acted.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.