Cold War Revived
August 16, 2008 18:58 by Harry van Bommel
The conflict between Georgia and Russia concerns much more than control over the rebellious province of South Ossetia. It is about accession to NATO and relations between East and West. If we are not careful we could be back, in a short space of time, in a situation reminiscent of the Cold War.
The quarrel over South Ossetia led to skirmishes as long ago as the early '90s. These were damped down at the time, and the arrival of Russian soldiers aimed at protecting the Russian majority in the province led to both a freezing of the conflict and to autonomy. The province of Abkhazia also feels itself more Russian than Georgian. The situation could have continued to be peaceful, but for the coming to power in 2004 in Georgia of President Saakashvili with the promise that he would bring South Ossetia and Abkhazia back under central control. He would, furthermore, lead Georgia into NATO and possibly even into the EU. Last week Saakashvili began his military adventure in South Ossetia. In military terms this was an action with no prospect of success, and the Russians hit back without mercy.
At the beginning of the year there was serious talk in NATO circles of extending candidate membership to Georgia. The United States and a number of central and eastern European countries were in favour. France and Germany, and also the Netherlands, saw it as still too early to take such a step and so an intermediary stage was established involving the intensification of dialogue with Georgia. In the debates around this I took a position against candidate membership because NATO is involved in a rethink of its mission and role. During such a process, you don't expand. Moreover it would hardly be sensible to import problems into NATO. And lastly, enlargement through accepting Georgia would provoke major objections from the Russians, who see NATO already, via other countries and the rocket shield, advancing to their own borders. Saakashvili, with his violence in South Ossetia, was seeking to accelerate and enhance western involvement. Unfortunately for him, he has not been successful in this attempt.
In contrast to the United States, the European Union must not take sides but, on the contrary, condemn the violence of both parties and direct its energies towards the cease-fire's being observed. In the short term humanitarian aid must be offered to the tens of thousands of refugees and their return to their homes must be made possible. Diplomatic negotiations must be used to reach agreement on the future status of South Ossetia and the other rebellious provinces. The EU can play a role in this but only if a neutral position is observed. Any further talk of canadidate membership of NATO has become senseless and would only contribute to a renewal of the Cold War between East and West. Nobody wants that.
Harry van Bommel is a Dutch Member of Parliament and Foreign Affairs Spokesman for the Socialist Party