Thursday, August 21, 2008

Georgians, the Ruskies and My Job

Not a usual post... I digress and talk about my interest.

I told a friend of mine the other day, "You know I have best job ever? My job is to follow, understand, and analyze conflict. News is old to me--or I helped create it. Revelations in the media are pretty "duh". You should switch careers."

I work in the defense/foreign policy world. I made the above statement because I spent the majority of my workweek following and assessing the war in the Caucasus (normally, I would pounce on a layperson and ask, "Which one?" However, I am referring to the thrashing of Georgia by the Ruskies.) I think this cartoon sums it up nicely:

I will not recount the conflict here; I also can't be bothered to type out in depth analysis. Suffices to say that the Bear has come out of hibernation. Not to say that the Russians haven't been flexing their muscles, reasserting their influence along their periphery, beefing up their military, or provoking Georgia and planning this operation for a long time. They have. At the same time, Georgia acted foolishly in a vacuum: did they believe that the US and NATO would fight open war with Russia over a handful of separatists, despite economic, political, and military considerations and investments? Remember that whole nuclear deterrence thing between Russia and NATO?

Josh Foust at Registan has been covering this particular buildup for over a year now. Russia was waiting to pounce and Georgia grossly miscalculated (i.e. was dumb)--see above cartoon. Nothing new. However, some huge observations can be drawn from the conflict.

1. Russia is testing the US and NATO. By invading and staying put--in some cases, digging in--she is trying to see how far she can press her luck.

2. Russia is proving that Europe can do nothing against her--Russia supplies Europe with over one third of its oil and nearly 40% of its gas. Europe is helpless.

3. I am a recovering idealist and say this with regret. Half of me wants to stand by the Georgians, however badly they screwed this up. However, the realist side admits that war with Russia--given security concerns, energy pressures, and economic issues--over tiny Georgia will not happen. Realpolitik, people. The US and UK could posture and put a couple of Carrier Groups in the Black Sea; Russia would call our bluff, we would not risk open war, and we would look even weaker.

4. Saakishvili has learned that putting a European Union flag behind you does not mean you are a member.

5. From an 'academic study of war' aspect, this war has shown us the blurred lines between conventional and non-conventional wars. Russia invaded with troops, tanks, and jets--yes. However, she deployed irregulars and paramilitaries and relied on local Ossetian fighters as well, who often carried out the nasty bit of warfare we'll call The Spoils. Moreover, the Russian have revised their claims of Georgian ethnic cleansing and civilian deaths--from 1,600 civilian Ossetian dead to 130. Hmmm. Information warfare attempt that didn't take?

6. Speaking of information warfare (IO), the kinetic assault on Georgia was coupled with an IT assault--the first time this has happened. Georgia government and military websites and servers were bombarded with DOS attacks that attempt to flood, overwhelm, and shut down servers, restricting access, information dissemination, and communications. We're talking Cyberdyne and SkyNet.

7. The Russians have pumped holes through international law. To be fair, this who area (the Caucasus) is dodgy to begin with. However, if you weren't paying attention, you wouldn't have noticed that Russia issued Russian passports/citizenship to most Ossetians and Abkhaz in Georgia. Legality? When violence erupted, they asserted, "We will protect our citizens." Legality? Uh... Why doesn't the EU issue passports to all Chechens and then "defend her citizens"? Why doesn't the US issue passports and citizenship to all Tibetans and then defend her "people" from China?

8. The whole episode will make NATO and the EU review their invitation to Georgia. If there is a chance of this happening again, there is no way that continental Europe--and less chance the US and UK--will enter a defensive treaty with Georgia that potentially put NATO into likely confrontation with Russia over 30,000 separatists in the Caucasus. See Observation #3.

Sad, fascinating, and exciting all at the same time. My boss asked me the other day where I would like to be stationed or work during my career. I said the Caucasus. Call me crazy, but I doubt I'll be bored there.