Michael Trapido
Michael Trapido

South Ossetia: How close is World War III?

The clash between Russia and Georgia over South Ossetia, as disturbing as it may be, could have been far worse if Georgia was a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. In that instance the Russian attacks on Georgian cities, as part of its retaliation for the invasion, would be considered an assault on a member of Nato requiring mutual defence.

As things stand and despite all the verbiage and current escalation of the conflict, it remains localised and fighting will be confined to that region — although we are hearing Georgians complaining about the West’s failure to assist them despite their helping out in Iraq.

Abkhazia and South Ossetia — formerly part of Georgia — broke away in 1992, occasioning enormous anger and resentment in Tbilisi. Despite Russian protection the breakaway territories borders do not enjoy international recognition.

If United States President George Bush had had his way, Georgia, one of the most progressive former Soviet republics, might well have had its Nato membership even now. In terms of the current circumstances, that would have been untenable.

Would this membership have deterred the Russians from getting involved in this conflict or stopped Georgia from intervening in South Ossetia — that is, on Nato’s orders not to do so? We can only speculate.

What if Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, who made reclaiming Abkhazia and South Ossetia part of his election campaign, came under intense domestic pressure to carry out his promise and intervene?

In 1992 his predecessor, Eduard Shevardnadze, had tried reasserting Georgian control over the breakaway territories with disastrous results for Georgians living in those areas and his military.

As things stand now, Georgia already commits 70% of its entire budget to the military. The defeat that was suffered in 1992 is still a source of ongoing humiliation for its population with many refugees from the previous conflict still displaced.

What if the domestic internal pressure on Saakashvili to intervene exceeded any sense of loyalty or obligation to Nato? If resigning his post (heaven forbid a politician should do the right thing), rather than launching what would then be a strategic attack in global terms, was not an idea he would even contemplate?

The United Nations has already shown us how powerless its Security Council is in addressing matters when Russia, China and the US and its allies are in conflict. In the case of Zimbabwe, China’s economic interests in our neighbour coupled with Russia’s anger at the missile shield going up in the Czech Republic meant that a resolution considered vital to the US and Britain was always going to suffer.

As a result, five million people close to starving to death were considered irrelevant in the greater scheme of things. The US and European Union were left to contemplate increasing sanctions that could only put pressure on Mugabe, who would happily watch his people succumb while the West waits him out.

Now consider Iraq. The UN weapons inspector returned from Iraq and said that if there were weapons of mass destruction, he couldn’t find them. Regardless, Bush and Blair were relentless in pressing for the invasion and nothing was going to stop them — certainly not the UN. Was the invasion illegal? Is it relevant? The fact is that they went ahead regardless of the basis for the invasion and with scant consideration of what they would do once the war had been won or what their exit strategy involved.

Imagine then if Georgia, a member of Nato for the purpose hereof, launched an attack on South Ossetia. Then Russia, the South Ossetian protector and guardian against genocide (funny how it was happy to see five million Zimbabweans die), hits back with attacks on the Georgian military. But it doesn’t leave it there; it continues its attacks on Georgian cities as well — exactly the case here.

Nato, unaware an unauthorised attack on South Ossetia was going to take place, would then be in the invidious position of having to defend Georgia against Russia’s retaliation. If it disowned Georgia, where would that leave the alliance?

Should Nato not intervene and call Russia’s “bluff”, where does that leave its mutual defence theory? If Russia backed down to Nato, where would that leave its claims of being a world power and how would that affect its status in the region?

As we saw with Iraq, when the big kids want to fight they are going to fight.

Interestingly, Poland demanded an emergency session of the EU in respect of South Ossetia. It is the champion of the Georgian cause in respect of joining the EU and Nato. Poland, like Georgia, has an axe to grind with Russia.

What if Georgia were a member of the EU as well? Where would that leave the EU and Nato with their member at war with Russia? At war with Russia themselves?

A World War III scenario or just tonnes of hot air and handbags at 10 paces?

Whichever way you look at it, I believe that the UN is powerless to stop Nato, the US, the EU, Russia or China if they decide to go to war, just as it was useless in helping the poor Zimbabweans.

These huge power blocs, as we have seen, are quite capable of ignoring the world body and starting what could develop into World War III.

Mutually assured destruction as a deterrent?

What’s the price of petrol today — anyone know?

  • owen

    Oil slightly up at $116.27, Rand has weakened again to R7.69. From R8.00 to R7.20 in 2 weeks and then back to R7.69. What is going on?

    Did the UK move a large amount of money into SA over the past 2 weeks as some sort of carrot for the Zim talks as I ahve not seen any major corporate moves?

    The Georgia disputed regions are like Matabeleland in Zim – minority ethnic groups in another mans country – always will be a recipe for failure.

    btw Stalin created this problem by splitting an ethnic group that live in Ossetia by giving half to Georgia and half to Russia.

  • BLACKLISTED DICTATOR

    Trapzuman,

    WW3 would not blow up over South Ossetia even if Georgia was a member of Nato.

    If you want to go to war, the first rule of war, is that you have got to know where the war is.

    I looked up South Ossetia in the index of the massive “The Times Atlas of the World”. And it isn’t listed. The truth, amigo, is that South Ossetia doesn’t actually exist.

  • Michael Trapido

    I saw this one coming in early May.

    I asked why the world’s press were focused on Fritzl and his cellar rather than this powder-keg which was sure to blow up.

    http://www.thoughtleader.co.za/traps/2008/05/07/russia-georgia-on-the-brink-its-all-fritzl-and-saunders/

    Posted 7/5

  • Sentletse Diakanyo

    World War III? MIKE, you’re being alarmist again. Russia as a powerful member of the UNSC simply has the power to do as it pleases; and other permanent members will only scream from the sidelines pretending to be disgusted by this recent action. I do not foresee any military action being taken or sactions for that matter being slapped on Russia for this military adventure. Certain countries are can get away with murder!

  • BLACKLISTED DICTATOR

    Trapzuman,

    Excellent news! I have found a region marked YUGO OSETINSK on my Times atlas. If that translates into South Osettia, I would definitely say that WW3 was on the cards (assumng Georgia is part of Nato).

    I thought that WW3 ewould ultimately break out over Jerusalem, but if it has to break out over Yugo Osetinsk, then it is ok by me.

    Just for the record, would you go and fight in Yugo Osetinsk?

  • Birdman

    WW III is no further or nearer than it was before the South Ossetia war. If NATO or the UN or the EU or any other acronym had been involved the outcome would still be the same. Super Powers do not go to war over principles, they only rattle their sabres and bowie knives and have talks to find common ground etc.
    WW III will not arrive over a dispute that is no worse than seen almost daily. When the war talk starts it will be about strategic resources, strategic access or strategic logistics, not about the poor people of South Ossetia ( the middle east makes so much more sense, and as you mentioned reasons for war can be dreamed up).
    Doing “what-if” scenarios is interesting but not productive. “What if Bin Laden was seen in Moscow or Jerusalem?” Would the US stamp out terrorism in the Kremlin? Would they never rest until Israel is flattened?
    WW III will be about choosing the right time for it. The reasons will not be important or sway a super powers response.
    WW III will not be a knee-jerk reaction to situations like Ossetia. If Iran, Iraq, Palestine, Israel and other places havent triggered the war yet Georgia shouldn’t do it.
    It needs to be something really worthwhile!

  • Michael Trapido

    Sentletse – I watched Sir Malcom Rifkind yesterday on Sky.

    He was expressing concern about membership of the EU and Nato by states that sometimes shoot first and think later.

    NATO is bound to defend her members in terms of the mutual defence agreement. Had Georgia as Bush wanted been a member then where does that leave us?

    I don’t know how many of the guys read Tom Clancy, Larry Bond, Philip Larkin and all the other novelists that like speculating on global conflict?

    I love their stuff and it gives food for thought about what would happen if certain conflicts took place.

    Never forget WWI started over Sarajevo and WWII over Poland.

    America is trying to bring Georgia and Ukraine into NATO.

    This would put NATO on the Russian doorstep.

    The missile shield they are putting into place is also making Moscow very angry.

    Is the cold war restarting?

    Will the energy crisis prove to be a tipping point?

  • BLACKLISTED DICTATOR

    Trapzuman,

    Q: What are the lessons of this conflict?

    A: Do NOT bring Georgia into Nato. The USA has got bigger fish to fry in Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran etc. The Georgians should be left to their own devices. Of course, this might be an immoral response, but this conflict is best left up to the Georgians and Russians.

  • Andrew

    If Russia gets its way in Georgia then the Baltic states are next. This is where the stakes really become important with direct conflict in the Baltic sea.

  • Richard P

    Michael,

    People seem to forget that Georgia kicked this off by indiscriminately shelling Tskhinvali, killing (it is asserted) more than 1,600 civilians. There is a massive amount of hypocrisy in Western condemnation of Russia (bearing in mind what the West has gotten up to the past decade), with many portraying Georgia as the wounded innocent.

    I hold no particular brief for Russia (it is a glorified one party state and Putin is a nasty piece of work), which has also be stirring the pooh in the region, but in my view it was quite entitled to intervene (as much, if not more, than the West was entitled to intervene over Kosovo). That said, the South Ossetians are just pawns in the game; I don’t believe the Russian government really cares that much for them.

    If Russia is sensible about this, having booted Georgia out of SO, it will cease fire and not try to indulge in a bit of regime change by invading Georgia proper.

    If it does invade Georgia, even then I do not see the West doing anything other than furiously wag its fingers and tut very loudly. The US and UK are already overstretched in Afghanistan and Iraq and none of the other European countries are going to risk their supplies of gas and oil and the lives of their citizens by getting into a shoot-it-up with Russia.

    The US has to share at least some of the blame here. With its support for Georgia becoming a Nato member (thank God the French and Germans put the kibosh on that) and its deepening involvement with the Georgian military, I think that the Georgians were given to understand that whatever happened, they would have US support. I think that they are about to find out that moral support is as much as they are likely to get.

    And Georgia has completely blown its chances of Nato membership with this ill-considered, lunatic and brutal attack on SO.

    The only winner in this is Russia, which has been able to do what it wanted while being able to claim the moral high ground.

    I planning on being in Moscow for a week at the beginning of October (visiting friends who live there), so that should be interesting. Guess I won’t be visiting any Georgian restaurants (as I have done on previous visits), though.

  • BLACKLISTED DICTATOR

    Trapzuman,

    You write:

    “I don’t know how many of the guys read Tom Clancy, Larry Bond, Philip Larkin and all the other novelists that like speculating on global conflict?”

    Is that Philip Larkin the English poet who died in 1985? I have read his poems. I didn’t know that there was another Philip Larkin.

  • Michael Trapido

    Did I say Phil I meant “Patrick”. The 3 of them wrote “Red Storm Rising” which later turns out to match Larkins style more than Clancy or Bond.

    One of the Clancy book had an exact scenario for 9/11 with a plane crashing into Washington and wiping out the president…before 9/11

    Amazing.

    I was hoping that you lot would try and work out potential scenarios like the guys do on some of the message boards overseas.

    It’s great fun.

    What would China do etc etc

  • Viking

    I am very interested to know how many of you know of the oil bonanza as it is called around the Caspian Sea. There has been a race to get the oil deals sealed by both an Anglo-American group of companies and Russian companies. In Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan to the east there has been jockeying for position by the big oil companies. And not to forget the oil pipeline running through Azerbaijan, GEORGIA and Turkey supplying huge amounts of oil to Europe, the US and Israel.

    Georgia is spending 70% of their national budget since 2004 buying American weapons and for what? Maybe to be a buffer between Russia to the north and the next country on the American hit list, Iran?

    If you ask me any country who asks for a ceasefire a few hours before launching an all out assault on people who under a 15 year old agreement is self governing, and of whom 90% hold Russian passports and kills Russian peacekeepers legitimately there in the process deserves what they are getting. You cannot go the the border of a super power and kill its soldiers and civilians. You will get stepped on. I believe the Russians will stop shooting once the Georgian army is decimated. Hopefully this will persuade the Americans to leave Iran alone and continue talking. This thing has the makings of a tragedy. God willing cool heads will prevail….

  • Craig

    The world will wait until after the Olympics and then form coallitions based on who beat who to the medals.

    Putin may well put them all off invasion by releasing more pictures of his naked and waxed upper body.

  • Marcus

    Not world war material. Will take a lot more than that to start a war. People have a far greater sense of a global village than with the previous two world wars.

    South Africa is still most probably a more dangerous place to be in.

  • malumalu

    WWW3 Scary thought. It looks though as it would be Russia against the world. America and its coalition of the willing, covers almost all of EU, through Nato. Would China be part?

    Is Georgia not a breakaway USSR territory itself? If so what goes around can expect breakaways, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. No need to break their knee caps!

  • Pingback: South Ossetia - Page 40 - World Affairs Board()

  • Siphiwo Qangani with kangaroos

    Call it WWIII or the return of Rwanda II

    It seems as if powerful countries like Russia, US, Great Britain/UK and even China and Israel are getting agitated for not using their brutal weapons, they’re so horny.

    Just look at the way Israel reacts when Palestine or one of the Middle Eastern states try to make their voice heard, Israel makes sure that it kills masses to make a point, US did the same with Afghanistan and Iraq, China is in quest of doing the same with Tibet, Russia is reaffirming its position and making its point against Georgia.

    The old proverb of “when two Elephants fight it’s the grass that suffers”, doesn’t necessary apply here, it looks as if, we’re dealing with Buffalo and a Squirrel.

    We, the rest of the world, can only make noise to help out the squirrel, with the hope that the Buffalo will take heed and back off.

  • Alisdair Budd

    ww III is probably as close as it has been at anytime since SA lost its nukes.

  • http://katedickman.com Kate

    LOL @Craig’s comment.

    I believe the US would have jumped at the opportunity a lot quicker had we not made such a mess in Iraq. Our hands are tied up! Ridiculous if you ask me… hoping World War III doesn’t erupt anytime soon although I’m sure it will.

  • Leo

    Guys, you have a very interesting discussion. It looks for me like Richard P is the guy who knows quite a bit about that region. I emigrated from USSR 20 years ago and know quite a bit of that region history. Believe me: without knowing that history, without knowing Russians, Georgians, etc, it is not possible to comprehend what is going on over there.
    Especially since 95% of what is written in Western media is 105% lies …
    By the way do you know where Alfred Nobile (Nobile Prize and stuff) made his initial money? Baku oil fields, beginning of the previous century …
    It’s an old story and “those who don’t know history – don’t have future”, true?

  • Michael Trapido

    Lots of questions on this one

    Did Georgia underestimate Russian response?

    Is Russian response as protector disproportionate?

    Will she move for regime change in Georgia?

    Did Russia provoke Georgia?

    Did the USA encourage Georgia to overreach?

  • Richard P

    1) Did Georgia underestimate Russian response?

    I can’t believe that Georgia thought that Russia would NOT respond (but then again, you never know). I think that Georgia thought that it would quickly create facts on the ground which it would be able to defend (bearing in mind the only land access to SO from Russia is through a tunnel). I certainly believe it didn’t think it would get its bum kicked so badly.

    2) Is Russian response as protector disproportionate?

    By invading Georgia proper and attacking Georgian cities, yes it is. Putin has always loathed Saakashvili (and the Georgians have never been the Russians favourite people anyway, although they do like Georgian food, given the number of Georgian restaurants in Moscow), and I think it will be hard for him to resist the opportunity for a bit of regime change and to turn Georgia into a Russian client state (think of the USA and Iraq). The Russian argument is that they want to make sure that Georgia is not able to mount a similar adventure in the future.

    3) Will she move for regime change in Georgia?

    See above. I can’t see Russia tolerating Saakashvili remaining in power. I am certain that his stepping down will be one of the Russian terms for the cessation of hostilities.

    4) Did Russia provoke Georgia?

    Well, it certainly was more than just a peacekeeper in SO. Russia actively supported the separatists there and in Abkhazia (one can imagine what Russia’s response would have been had Georgia done the same in Chechnya). That said, neither SO nor Abkhazia, so far as I am aware, posed any risk to Georgia’s security and had been allowed effectively to remain self-governing since the 1990s. This was all about Georgian nationalist pride and was a stupid, short-sighted and, frankly, brutal, gamble. Also, I think it was a means of Saakashvili boosting his domestic popularity (think Galtieri and the Falklands). Whatever now happens, SO and Abkhazia will never be reintegrated into Georgia.

    5) Did the USA encourage Georgia to overreach?

    I hardly think that the USA encouraged Georgia to invade SO. That said, by supporting Georgian membership of Nata and being actively involved with the Georgian military, in my view the USA let Georgia believe that this adventure had US support and, perhaps, that the US would actively defend it against Russia (some hope).

    I have to say that I have not read a word of condemnation by the USA or any Nato country about the Georgian shelling of Tskhinvali (how many civilians were killed depends on who you believe: SO says 1,600; Georgia says 100), which somewhat undermines their strong (and not unjustified) condemnation of Russia.

    I very much doubt that this will turn hot between Russia and the West (one can almost understand why Germany was appeased in the 1930s – here is another “quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing”), but I think that relations between Russia and the West (particularly the USA) are likely to go into the freezer for the next while.

    I will try to remember to post my observations here after I have visited Moscow in October.

    These are worth reading

    http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/front/la-fg-saakashvili12-2008aug12,0,2111136.story?page=1

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/7555155.stm

  • Richard P

    Der Spiegel has an interesting take on this:

    http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,571230,00.html

  • Michael Trapido

    Thanks Rich P

    Guys you will see the link to the World Affairs Board above.

    There is plenty of hot debate on the topic there.

  • http://letpeoplespeak.amagama.com Lyndall Beddy

    If you were not all so adament that Georgia is the aggressor, I would be a bit suspicious of this event happening at the beginning of the Olympics in China, Russia’s arch rival. Russians have acutely felt the loss of face occassioned by the sollapse of communism into bankruptcy,the loss of their image as a superpower, and the growth of China. Both Yugoslavia and Georgia were previously paraded by Russia as model states.

    What this and Iraq do show is that the super powers will continue to ignore the UN while they have an unworkable veto system.

    Since the superpowers would never agree to a removal entirely of the veto – what about changing it to the veto having to be applied by at least 2 powers? That could have restricted action in both Iraq and Georgia.

    And World War 1 did not break out because of Sarajevo – that was the excuse used by the morons who were dying for a fight on both sides.

    And if World War 11 was over Poland – why were they entirely abandoned at the end of the war?

    And was not action in Zimbabwe initially stopped by Mbeki and not by any of the superpowers?

  • Michael Trapido

    Lyndall – In terms of your comment see my follow up which agrees with you on Russia’s position.

    In terms of Superpowers – initially they were pro-Mugabe.

    Over the last few years and particularly post 2000 Zim referendum SA has been blocking action against Zim in terms of “quiet diplomacy”.

    The super power impasse is of recent vintage.

    My thoughts on quiet diplomacy and the human crisis it has created are set out ad nauseum.

  • nointerestwhatsoev

    WWIII happened and is also called the Second Congo War! No one noticed 8 Nations, 25 (para)military groups and 5.4 MILLION DEAD?? How about hyperthermia in cancer treatment, no one noticed?

  • LoveSa

    Here is the scenario for WW3.

    1. Iran keeps pissing on the USA until they invade.

    2. Isreal gets involved with the US Iranian poo.

    3. North Korea sees this as the perfect time to sort out the south as the US has its hands full.

    4. Taiwan upsets China and they decide to hell with it we want our island back.

  • http://letpeoplespeak.amagama.com Lyndall Beddy

    Michael

    The superpowers were in anti-Mugabe agreement until Mbeki muddied the waters. Why should they be fools and stay out of the free for all while Mbeki stuffs it all up to protect Mugabe?

  • Zorge

    Hi
    This is ridiculous to listen all the shit on TV and media.

    Georgia destroyed the whole town. 2000 people died.
    How they did it? Just BOMBS, BOMBS only

    Ground troops were shooting unarmed civilians. Georgian were killing kids and women.

    IS THIS A WAR???? WHO CALLED THIS A WAR???
    THIS IS A MURDER.

    Saakashvilly is CRIMINAL AND MUST BE JAILED.

    more then 2000 died just because politicians want to Play their games.

    MONEY MONEY MONEY

    What is NATO? What is US government?

    A bunch of criminals because they are trying to say that Georgia did the right thing and Russian troops are bustards.

    While NATO and US are trying to say whose fault is this Russian Serbian and other countries currently helping 1000s of people to survive.
    Еурн need to rebuild the whole city. Establish supply of electricity, food, gas

    While useless NATO (one of the offices of the US Government) trying to put something on the paper for the media. Hundreds of Russian, Georgian, Serbian, SOUTH OSETIAN and many other people NOW fight for the lives of thousands of people.

    Do we need to get permission to help people and bomb people without any warning?
    NONSENCE.

    US is fantastic country. It has built amazing infrastructure and facilities, lifestyle for millions of people however current aggressive politics of the government, pushing lies in the media and forcing other countries to do what they say show primitive political structure, faulty goals and crisis of the nation.
    Nation cant show the people their real goal which people would follow.
    The only motivation for the solder is a DOLLAR
    The only goal is MONEY
    FREEDOM IS JUST another marketing tool to do Business

  • http://letpeoplespeak.amagama.com Lyndall Beddy

    Zorge

    It is not so simple, pal. Read the other posts.