Thoughts on South Ossetia, Russia and Nation States

Using a perceived Volksgeist as basis for creating nation states is potentially the root of many bad situations. In a post Ottoman world very few of their formers charges have been successful in creating functional and effective governments or nation states for that matter. The imposition of Soviet rule just further complicated Eastern European/Middle Eastern countries evolutionary process and in many cases propagated ill founded societal paradigms for the sake of order and communist efficacy.

I am therefore not certain blame lies at the feet of Ottoman innefectualism, but moreover on successor nations, their new benefactors/conquerors or certain groups own poorly founded nationalistic tendencies. The resulting nationalistic-tribal mentality is indeed fiercely independent, yet reliant. The tendency to be unencumbered by overarching societal structures and invariably self sufficient means never creates a solid population which embraces (for any length of time) truly effective, democratic government. Hence, we see these nations, most recently in the Caucasus opportunistically and ritualistically use wedge issues between potential benefactors as a means to achieve their goals. This is shallow thinking which they feel is necessity, but really represents a dearth of leadership and sagacious national direction.

Until the Risorgimento, Italy was a bunch of independent states existing on the same peninsula. While some may say the peninsula shared a common Volksgeist (based on Roman history) they were not a Republic until 1946. Post Ottoman Greece may provide another similar example which is exceptional. These are indeed successful nations today. However, as we get closer to Eastern Europe and the Middle East, Soviet (and current day, Russia) becomes more of a factor and indeed influence. These countries still feel the ebb and flow of cold war inclinations. Nonetheless, the successful ones have evolved into true nation’s based on common democratic principals and what Montesquieu called “the general sprit of nations”. Argumentatively, outside Eastern Europe, one might see Iraq is a “transitional” nation; still delicately trying to forge conflicting demands into a singular spirit. Are they a model for successful transition? Perhaps.

The Caucasus unfortunately has not evolved further along this scale due to Russian subjugation and their inherent tendency to “poke the caged dog with a stick”. Both sides have ethnic groups effectively fighting a guerilla war; sanctioned or not. This proliferates a situation whereby the kettle is ready to boil over each day; in Georgia it is a destructive influence. This is especially true since Georgia has a democratically elected government and economy that is growing; a hopeful sign and one reason other Eastern European governments have successfully transitioned away from Russian influence and developed their own sense of “self”. This latest engagement, irrespective of how it started, sets back their march towards democracy. It is also the result of an astounding underestimation of Russian intentions and will; one of the most important realizations coming from this development.

Meanwhile, once again Europeans have demurred; the UN has allowed an invasion force with blue helmets to occupy internationally recognized Georgian territory and Russian hegemony marches on. There are no winners in this conflict as Georgia lies in ruins; their democracy threatened and territorial integrity in doubt. For Russia, their inclinations have been revealed, detractors suspicions confirmed, goodwill in doubt and international prestige under attack. This does not reassert their position or power; it just shows the bully has been sleeping.

Our response was initially tepid, but now moving more sagaciously. Slowly reassert commitment through aid and support brought in by military forces. Demonstrate in a forceful, diplomatic manner that such actions will not occur with impunity. Relegate Russia’s global economic aspirations to the lowest priority and denote financial markets as the highest risk. Escalate to meet any new challenges and protect allies from a similar fate. This my friends is the Russian Achilles heel.