The Corner

After Georgia – A Three-Way Struggle?

Here’s a typically interesting article by John O’Sullivan on Georgia/South Ossetia/Abkhazia, and the international response to the conflict there. John appears to lean to the view that this particular crisis highlights the division of the world into “a three-way struggle between authoritarians, national democrats, and global legalists” (I assume that he’s putting aside the question of Islamic extremism for another day). As someone whose general view (with some very significant exceptions) is that the ineffectivenesss of international law is exceeded only by its illegitimacy, I certainly share John’s long-standing skepticism about the “global legalists.” Indeed, it’s worth noting that the tragedies of recent weeks can at least partly put down to their account thanks to (a) the refusal of the EU to send some peacekeepers to Georgia a year or so back, and (b) the foolishly premature recognition of an independent Kosovo. It is indeed also obviously possible to discern, in China, the dramatic (re)emergence of an authoritarian development model (remember, say, South Korea, and Taiwan back in the day) on the world stage as at least a temporary alternative to the idea that democratic and economic progress move in lockstep – although I’m not at all convinced that’s the perspective through which Russia should be viewed (the better analogy seems to be that Russia is currently an odd blend of Wilhelmine Germany and mafia satrapy). Where John may possibly over-simplify matters is in his view that we are witnessing the emergence of a quasi-manichean struggle between the ‘national democrats’ and the authoritarian states. John’s starting point is correct. Forget the ‘global legalists’, the nation-state is, ultimately, the only ‘real’ actor in international affairs. That happy fact, however, represents the best hope that the nature of the struggle between the ‘democrats’ and the ‘authoritarians’ will be rather less dangerous than John may fear. In saying that, I’m assuming of course, that, in their inevitable competition, both sides remember to put their respective national interests, clearly and unsentimentally calculated, before any more widely-defined agenda. And, to take the example at hand, so far as the democracies are concerned, that calculation should not include NATO membership for Georgia. At least for now

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