Foreign Policy Blogs

Tripwires

A glance at today's coverage of the Georgian crisis in the Washington Post and the NYT reveals the two different ways the Bush Administration's latest moves may be understood. President Bush's announcement yesterday of a “vigorous” program of humanitarian aid was either “modest action,” or the “strongest warning yet of potential [U.S.] retaliation.”

There is in fact a calculated ambiguity to these moves. U.S. official humanitarian aid is being dispatched by military aircraft — even naval vessels (although there are none yet present in the area). Strong statements by Bush and Condolezza Rice are now (finally) followed by Rice's own travel to Tbilisi. With a growing number of American aid workers and diplomats on the ground in Georgia, backed by a small contingent of U.S. military personnel, the U.S. sends an implicit warning to Putin not to continue the Russian military advance within Georgia, lest a tripwire be crossed.
While the risk of physical confrontation between U.S. and Russian forces remains low, the two sides must take steps to ensure that their intentions and actions are clearly understood. As I noted yesterday, the text of the French-brokered ceasefire agreement between Russia and Georgia allowed Russia to take unspecified “temporary” security measures that became the justification for Russia's occupation of Gori.

The “temporary” measures now need to be rescinded and Russian military forces removed from Abakhazia, South Ossetia and any other areas of Georgia that they have occupied. A credible international peacekeeping force should be dispatched to the contested areas. This will required skilled, resolute, bipartisan diplomacy. We will probably look back at NATO's Bucharest summit last April as a failure — a failure of the West to send an unambiguous message to Moscow. Putin saw NATO's discord on Georgia and Ukraine as a lack of resolve, while Saakashvili convinced himself that the summit's final statement meant just the opposite. Now we all pay the price.

 

Author

Mark Dillen

Mark Dillen heads Dillen Associates LLC, an international public affairs consultancy based in San Francisco and Croatia. A former Senior Foreign Service Officer with the US State Department, Mark managed political, media and cultural relations for US embassies in Rome, Berlin, Moscow, Sofia and Belgrade, then moved to the private sector. He has degrees from Columbia and Michigan and was a Diplomat-in-Residence at the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies at Johns Hopkins. Mark has also worked for USAID as a media and political advisor and twice served as election observer and organizer for OSCE in Eastern Europe.

Areas of Focus:
US Government; Europe; Diplomacy

Contact

Great Decisions Discussion group