Summary: Bob Killebrew at the SWC displays the aggressive aspect of American strategy, joining the chorus calling for us to restart the cold war. Fortunately we have Chet Richards to provide a useful perspective on the events in Georgia. The contrast tells much about America.
What will the 2033 version of Wikipedia say about the Georgia – Russia fighting? Chet Richards (Colonel, US Air Force, retired) suggests (via email) that we look at a similar event that occurred 25 years ago. (Others have also compared the current fighting to Grenada, but I found none with this focus). From today’s Wikipedia:
The Invasion of Grenada, codenamed Operation Urgent Fury, was an invasion of the island nation of Grenada by the United States of America and several other nations in response to an internal power struggle which ended with the deposition and execution of Grenadan Prime Minister Maurice Bishop. On October 25, 1983, the United States, Barbados, Jamaica and members of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States landed ships on Grenada, defeated Grenadian and Cuban resistance and overthrew the military government of Hudson Austin.
The invasion was highly criticised by the United Kingdom, Trinidad and Tobago, Canada and the United Nations General Assembly, which condemned it as “a flagrant violation of international law”. Conversely, it was reported to have enjoyed broad public support in the United States as well as in segments of the population in Grenada. October 25 is a national holiday in Grenada, called Thanksgiving Day, to commemorate this event. Approximately 100 people lost their lives.
The Soviet Union pushed into our sphere of influence; we responded by invading Grenada and changing its government. That’s what great powers do. This simple insight, a commonplace of history, provides an antidote to the hysterical over-reaction of so many American geopolitical experts. Like this essay, calling for us to restart the cold war. Reading it illustrates why so many people in other lands consider the US a loose cannon on the world stage — too quick to escalate military tensions.
“Russia-Georgia: Early Take“, Robert Killebrew (Colonel, US Army, retired), posted at the Small Wars Council, 15 August 2008 — Excerpt:
… Second, Putin and his government are attempting to establish the legitimacy of a Russian sphere of influence that looks very much like a reestablishment of the old Soviet empire.
… What does this mean for the U.S. and for U.S. strategy? The first, obvious, lesson is that great-power competition is back, and it is not only with a remote and only vaguely challenging trading partner like China. Russia is now an active menace.
… As scholar Fred Kagan said recently, there is a “new axis” of anti-Russian democracies around the edge of the old Soviet empire. Supporting those states and securing their future must be a top priority for the U.S. and NATO, while Russia passes through the Putin phase and perhaps into a more benign future — the encouragement of which should be the top priority for U.S. and Western diplomacy. If this sounds like containment, well, it is.
For military strategy, the U.S. should immediately revamp its foreign military assistance programs to those countries, including a post-invasion Georgia. The intent of U.S. aid now should not be aimed not only at preparing forces for low-intensity conflict … but also at deterring Russian high-intensity, combined-arms attacks. Advanced integrated air-defenses (the Georgians had none), antitank munitions, precision weapons all must be provided so that Russia can no longer plan a walkover like the one we have witnessed.
Killebrew does not explain why these measures are necessary. Probably due to some version of the Domino Theory. Jack Snyder explains how this works in his National Interest article “Imperial Temptations” (Spring 2002):
ANOTHER COMMON myth of empire is the famous domino theory. According to this conception, small setbacks at the periphery of the empire will tend to snowball into an unstoppable chain of defeats that will ultimately threaten the imperial core. Consequently, empires must fight hard to prevent even the most trivial setbacks. Various causal mechanisms are imagined that might trigger such cascades: The opponent will seize ever more strategic resources from these victories, tipping the balance of forces and making further conquests easier. Vulnerable defenders will lose heart. Allies and enemies alike will come to doubt the empire’s resolve to fight for its commitments. An empire’s domestic political support will be undermined. Above all, lost credibility is the ultimate domino.
Such reasoning has been nearly universal among overstretched empires.
In keeping with modern geopolitical thinking in America, Killebrew does not both to weigh costs vs. benefits of his recommendation. An aggressive response is warranted, the costs are not relevant, and Russia’s response to our actions is not considered (the last is almost a signature trait of American geopolitical work, as we saw in the planning for the Iraq adventure).
Robert Killebrew served more than 30 years in the US Army and is a former Army War College instructor. He is the author of “SecDef has signaled a turning point in U.S. defense thinking“, Armed Forces Journal, February 2008.
Other posts about the Georgia-Russia fighting
- The Russia-Georgia war threatens one of the world’s oil arteries, 10 August 2008
- Perhaps *the* question about the Georgia – Russia conflict, 10 August 2008
- Keys to interpreting news about the Georgia – Russia fighting, 13 August 2008
- What did we learn from the Russia – Georgia conflict?, 13 August 2008
- Comments on the Georgia-Russia fighting: Buchanan is profound, McCain is nuts, 15 August 2008
- Best insight yet about America and the Georgia-Russia fighting, 15 August 2008
Posts about America’s grand strategy
- The Myth of Grand Strategy (31 January 2006)
- America’s Most Dangerous Enemy (1 March 2006)
- America takes another step towards the “Long War” (24 July 2007)
- One step beyond Lind: What is America’s geopolitical strategy? (28 October 2007)
- How America can survive and even prosper in the 21st Century – part I (19 March 2007; revised 7 June 2008)
- How America can survive and even prosper in the 21st Century – part II (14 June 2008)
- America’s grand strategy: lessons from our past (30 June 2008) – chapter 1 in a series of notes
- President Grant warns us about the dangers of national hubris (1 July 2008) – chapter 2
- America’s grand strategy, now in shambles (2 July 2008) — chapter 3
- America’s grand strategy, insanity at work (7 July 2008) — chapter 4
- A lesson in war-mongering: “Maritime Strategy in an Age of Blood and Belief” (8 July 2008) — chapter 6
- Geopolitical analysis need not be war-mongering (9 July 2008) — chapter 7
- Thoughts on fixing America’s national security apparatus (11 August 2008)