Georgia, Bulgaria and the Second Balkan War

So, the Second Balkan War.

Unless you’re a history buff, or Bulgarian, you probably don’t know about this. And that’s fine. Unless you’re a history buff, or Bulgarian, there’s no reason to. Still, I think it might have some relevance to recent events.

Short version: back in 1912, Bulgaria, Serbia and Greece teamed up to attack Turkey. They won. In fact, they won big, grabbing huge slabs of territory from the hapless Ottomans… but they couldn’t agree on how to divide their spoils. The disagreement got so sharp that just a few months later, the Bulgarians tried to resolve it with a surprise attack on the Serbs and the Greeks.
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So, Georgia Georgia Georgia. Yet there’s one name I’ve hardly seen mentioned: the late Zviad Gamsakhurdia, the first president of independent Georgia.

That’s sort of strange. Because if there’s one man who’s responsible for the current mess in Georgia — more than Saakashvili, more than Putin — it’s Gamsakhurdia.

Why? Continue reading

Back in Tbilisi

We’re back after a happily uneventful, if hot and a bit long, drive from Yerevan. Went past one of the air bases that was bombed, and saw what looked like a burned field, but otherwise no damage visible from the public road.

The city itself is more difficult to judge, and I’ve been too preoccupied with personal things to manage to do anything like a general taking stock. Quick impressions: lots of visible police, some with submachineguns prominently held; traffic seemed lighter, but then again it’s mid-August; jets flying by at odd hours in the afternoon. Our corner grocery didn’t have any Parmalat milk; on the other hand, it did have pizza kits. Even under regular circumstances, consistency is not the strong point of the Georgian market. (Winter promises to be more interesting than I really wanted.) Our local swingin hotspot is swingin again, after a couple of very quiet days last week.

Down the street, work seems to be getting close to finished on a small office building. There was a night watchman, and a lot of leftover material was piled at the front so as to block the entrances that are still open. Is this a regular precaution, or are the builders worried about refugee squatters? There are said to be 60,000 refugees in and around the city, and lurid rumors about their attempts to occupy houses and other buildings. Lurid rumors are, in fact, something of a general commodity. Makes me more than usually skeptical.

The default screen on several ATMs that I saw was an appeal for donations to help people from the zones of conflict. A local mobile company was a major vector of organization for the patriotic rallies of this last week. Political mobilization in the 21st century.

We’re glad to be here.

Update: Forgot to mention: There’s a pretty widespread assumption among the internationals that a fair number of phone lines are, shall we say, shared. The three candidates for listening in can be transparently called the Hosts, the Neighbors and the Friends.

Hamlet without the Prince

In Crawford Texas today for a meeting about the Georgian crisis at George Bush’s home, here’s Condoleezza Rice yet again using an analogy of the Georgian situation with the USSR period —

Now, I think the behavior recently suggests that perhaps Russia has not taken that route [international integration], and either that they have not taken that route or that they would like to have it both ways — that is, that you behave in a 1968 way toward your small neighbors by invading them and, at the same time, you continue to integrate into the political and diplomatic and economic and security structures of the international community. And I think the fact is, you can’t have it both ways.

Perhaps odd here is the equation Russia=USSR and an associated absence of any role for Communism (as it was implemented) in explaining behaviour within the Soviet bloc. It’s an intellectual gap that might escape the notice of politicians but could draw fire from the sort of academic who had written articles with titles like “The Party, the Military, and Decision Authority in the Soviet Union”. And who might such an academic be? Well, an article with that title appeared in World Politics in 1987 under the authorship of a certain C. Rice. The lunacy of academic copyright restrictions makes it impossible to find out more about this intriguing thesis, which apparently is that the Communist party really matters for understanding military decisions from the USSR period. Hopefully a good Sovietologist is around to advise the White House of the problems with transposing that structure to the present situation.

By request: Croatia and the EU

Right, so I started writing something about Ukraine, Russia and Nato. There wasn’t an issue of time and energy for once, but I discovered couldn’t quite decide what I thought. I see some problems with this concept, but will soldier on…

Bob and SK wonders about Croatia’s EU prospects. Croatia is closer than other prospect countries of becoming members, but the Irish no dashed their hopes of a quick entry. France and some other countries stance here seems pretty indefensible to me, but maybe they’ll relent if the treaty woes goes on long enough. A new report points out what we all knew, that the EU’s ticking along nicely without a new treaty, and two or three more members won’t change that. I don’t know at what point there would be trouble, but my gut feeling is the EU could accommodate more members without paralysis than the EU policy elites seem to think.

In any case, I think Romania and Bulgaria would have maybe benefited from a longer wait, and the same is true of most current candidate countries, maybe even including Croatia.

The monopolarist recession

For a while now I’ve had a private theory about the way our world used to work. It goes like this: although communism may have been bad for the people of Russia (and of the Soviet satellite states), it did a useful job in keeping the west honest through negative example. Free speech? Yes, we in the west have that. Imprisonment without trial? No, that would be evil and wrong. Peace through international treaties? Naturally. As long as communism was going on, a sense that it would be better to be on the side of the angels permeated western society, its institutions, and its way of conducting relations abroad.

Anyway, I don’t expect that this suggestion won’t be falsified through multiple counter-example, and all to the muffled sound of laughter. But I thought it might give some colour to the background of this week’s events. For one, we have the French president in Moscow, brokering some sort of deal in which the Russians agree to (mostly) stop moving their tanks in the direction of the Georgian capital. Today we have the German chancellor meeting Medvedev in Sochin. And Condoleeza Rice, the US foreign policy chief, is in Tbilisi to show the Aghmashenebeli the surrender document he doesn’t know he’s already signed. It looks more like peer cooperation to me, and not so much like the dismal, chauvinist picture of a monopolar world that kept getting pushed our way circa Iraq.

War, international dynamics and chaos theory

Dutch military analyst Ingo Piepers is doing some extremely interesting research on the dynamics of international systems and… war. If his theories are correct, then another world conflagration at some point in the future may well be more or less inevitable. I am going to let Piepers explain and point our readers to two of his papers.

The first one is entitled The International System: “At the Edge of Chaos”:

It seems that chaotic war dynamics contribute to the ‘smooth’ development of an anarchic international system: non-chaotic dynamics result in more intense Great Power wars and in a delay of an (unavoidable) fundamental reorganization of the international system. The assumption that complex systems function more optimally at the edge of chaos, seems valid for the international system as well.
This speculative research provides additional support for the assumption that self-organized criticality, punctuated equilibrium dynamics, chaotic war dynamics and development of the international system towards a more stable condition, are closely related (Piepers, 2006, 1).

His second paper is entitled Dynamics and Development of the International System: a Complexity Science Perspective (emphasis mine):

In this article I discuss the outcome of an exploratory research project based on complexity science concepts and theories; this research is focused on the Great Power war dynamics in the time period 1495 – 1945. According to this research, the international system has self-organized critical (SOC) characteristics. A critical point is the attractor of the international system. The war dynamics of Great Powers can be illustrated by a power law. As a result of a driving force, the international system is constantly being pushed toward this critical point. The security dilemma is a booster of this driving force. Tension and frustration build up in the international system as a result of various system thresholds, and are periodically discharged through wars. The SOC characteristics of the international system result in a punctuated equilibrium dynamic. The punctuations produce new international systems, each with its specific characteristics. A quantifiable development of the international system toward a condition of increased stability and reduced resilience can be observed. In addition to SOC characteristics, the international system exhibits characteristics of a chaotic system. Chaos, order and development are closely linked. The SOC dynamics generate a process of social expansion. It is possible to explain the social integration of Europe from this perspective.

And, finally, here is a list with the above mentioned papers by Ingo Pieper as well as a few others. Enjoy the reading. (via Sargasso)

PS: Alex linked to this item on Georgia in his post The Revolution is Over. One excerpt from that item that may provide some additional food for thought in this context:

The cost of the fighting in lives has yet to be tallied. But President Bush on Monday made it clear that the outcome was sure to mark a turning point in Russia’s relations with the West. It might also prove costly for the West’s relationship with the budding democracies of Eastern Europe, which now must contemplate a world where the United States could do little to protect a close ally in the face of a determined Russian onslaught.

Could this be a chance to bring the whole of Europe closer together? Or am I just being incorrigibly naive here? After all, there is this.

The Revolution is Over

It seems clear they done it; for God knows what reason – arrogance, hoping beyond hope, misjudgment – Georgia started something it couldn’t finish. The Russians, for their part, were playing for it for years; the harassment campaign, the motor-rifle regiments parked up on the southern road. But however wrong they were, I’m saddened by it; they believed in the European dream, in joining Sweden and Venice, far more seriously than they did in America in any practical sense.

Russia has Ledeenised the situation – they picked up some crappy little country and threw it against the wall to show they meant business. Vladimir Putin, who presumably spent the autumn of 1989 cursing in the mess at Yasenevo, turned up to take pseudo-charge in the field; the US advisors exited via the pool at the Sheraton. Isn’t it always the pool, at the Sheraton?

As with Ledeenisation 1.0, we didn’t really offer an alternative nor any resistance. Worryingly, a range of other ex-Soviet states lined up to offer their support to Russia; not that they needed Kazakh divisions, but it’s not hard to see which way this is going. Nicolas Sarkozy would have come off this the worst – he flew in, at last, the Western support, and recommended surrender on terms the Prussians of 1870 would have considered tough, but not before making profile with jet, grin, grip etc as the war went on. Worse, he doesn’t even seem to have checked that the terms were sufficiently humiliating before setting out. He didn’t even deliver that. Carlo Levi’s remark that nothing came from Rome but tax collectors and speeches on the radio comes to mind.

It’s a tale of ugliness and failure, all right. I said Sarkozy would have come off this the worst, but then….Bush administration bungling/stupidity/callousness is nothing surprising any more. But this is truly impressive. One of the good things about NATO, after all, is that it’s a lot harder for two member states to a) not tell the other the Russians are coming or b) not tell the other they’re coming for the Russians.

What now? Well, every wind turbine is a vote for independence. And perhaps Hezbollah should start offering military advisors; after all, they know a thing or three about dealing with an enemy on the other side of a hilly border with many tanks.

Georgia and NATO

The Russian-Georgian war should remind everyone of a very important point regarding NATO and the European Union. Specifically, just as John Lewis Gaddis said about the Cold War, reassurance was as important as deterrence, and this made self-deterrence very important indeed.

NATO members benefited from a common deterrent towards the Soviet Union, but also from reassurance that they wouldn’t face any threats within Europe – one of the reasons NATO militaries spend so much time cooperating in multinational HQs is precisely this. NATO also provided, and provides, a degree of certainty that US, British, and French nuclear weapons are available to deter an attack on other Europeans. But, as Gaddis pointed out, the balance of power was so stable because as well as the prospect of a formidable conventional defence and a devastating nuclear counteroffensive, NATO also offered the Soviet Union confidence that nobody would do anything stupid. Reassurance was as important as deterrence, and its most important form was self-deterrence.

Self-deterrence? Yes. It was a provocative way of saying it, but what was meant was that everyone agreed to observe a policy of non-provocation towards the other side. The results of actually triggering the common deterrent were, after all, so awful that nobody would take the risk. The upshot, in Europe, was that the European club’s entry requirement is as follows: you must hand in your historical baggage to be searched. If they find any irredenta in there, you’ll have to get rid of them before you’re coming in.

So, surely, we all ought to be delighted Georgia didn’t get into NATO. Right? What the hell were they thinking?

There’s a problem here, though; if we assume that Georgia, and specifically Mikhail Saakashvili’s version of it, wasn’t sufficiently responsible (adult, civilised, possibly even white?) to play, how do we explain that Germany got to join in 1955, when a whole great chunk of it was in the other side’s hands? Or Turkey and Greece, who despite being profoundly NATO-integrated regularly use their NATO-standard air defence infrastructure to play cowboys and Indians over the Aegean? One of the reasons for extending membership of NATO, and the EU, has been to reach out first; that it’s better to offer membership, and hope the requirements shape some country’s thinking, than to wait forever for perfection. If this was good enough for Germany, surely it can be good enough for Georgia.

However, it’s a hell of a big risk, and you have to wonder what possible guarantees would have sealed the deal; only a peaceful solution of the frozen conflicts would have been enough to provide NATO with the necessary reassurance that Georgia wouldn’t get them into trouble, and that would have got rid of much of the point of NATO membership for Georgia and also have been politically unacceptable to Georgians. Sometimes there is no good solution, although you have to wonder whether some European power shouldn’t find Georgia a supply of portable anti-tank and surface-to-air missiles, which have the advantage of not being anywhere near as useful aggressively as Grad MLRS batteries.

Karadzic; a one-man fin de siecle

It’s strange, really; looking back at Radovan Karadzic’s career, the thing that strikes me is how he seems to have recapped most of Europe’s 20th century in his own life, barking his shins on the bits that didn’t fit.

First of all, he wanted to be a romantic poet, itself a dated idea. According to Tim Garton Ash’s interviews with old student friends, he was obsessed by Viennese decadent poets of the 1890s and 1900s, especially Georg Trakl. That atmosphere of stifling conventions and strange new ideas, the motif of curling, growing plants as a symbol for sex and worshipped youth.

Then he thought he would be a psychiatrist. Well, what do you say – it’s not just Freud. Charcot fits in the same period, as does Emil Kraepelin, who founded most of the classical psychiatric diagnoses. Failing the empathy required of psychoanalysis and the rigour of medical psychiatry, what did he do?

Of course, he became a romantic authoritarian nationalist. Like Lanz von Liebenfels and so many others, he worshipped the race and the leader, who would come up like the lifegiving sun of the north when war swept away all that conventional clutter. In his case, the conventional clutter included an awovedly communist state that also practiced free trade and something you could describe as multiculturalism; a total package to provoke an Edwardian/Wilhelmine madman.

And as you might have expected, when he got his hands on the controls, he delivered something very like Europe in the great wars, before going down at the hands of the great world seapowers’ planes and tanks (well, more accurately their light infantry and guns – but people like Karadzic loved to imagine their enemies as degenerate weaklings).