Everyone was trying to find a reason for why Georgia would take its troops inside South Ossetia while the Russians were intensifying their garrisons on the border, and the best answer they found was that Mr. Saakashvili and his Chiefs of Staff found out that Russia would be so surrounded by the beautiful olympic spirit that they simply would not retaliate. That looks stupid, sounds stupid and if one could smell it, I would bet it would smell stupid. Fortunately for Mikhail Saakashvili there might be a more appealing interpretation of his move, and even though still a strange option, a more reasonable one.
The Second World War (or The Great Patriotic War, whatever ideological preference you have and we here at Imminent Crisis are democratic above all) was what the academic Edward Luttwak called the last heroic conflict that humanity has experienced. In simple opposition we can find the modern conflicts as post-heroic (non-heroic would be disrespectful to our fellow peacekeepers). The post-heroic conflicts, are broadly defined as ones in which there’s no full commitment to the war effort, since there are new conditions and restrictions that a government has to attend that discourage the fulfilling of the hard sacrifices made when a party wages war. Let’s set an example: a state would never sustain enduring efforts and sacrifices for humanitarian reasons in some foreign ground. Remembering Mogadishu or Sarajevo, we look at the limit of the commitment that exists: the United States left the battle after several marines were ambushed and killed and NATO planned a humanitarian intervention in the Balkans that was fought on the air entirely, reducing the “allied” casualties to zero. No one wants to die as a hero for another one’s cause. Neither the people, neither the fighters, neither the politicians. But maybe, just maybe, Georgia’s strategic insight went through the old heroic spirit.
Of course there was no “humanitarian” issue at stake when Mr. Saakashvili did his calculations (even though some say he just wanted to protect Georgians in South Ossetia from Russian authorized ethnic purge) but the point here is the level of commitment that one can have to a war that he knows he can’t win and how that affect his calculations. It’s very odd for some commentator to say that Georgia drove it’s beloved fighters to a battle that was obviously already lost (for the simply analysis of the disponibility of war means by both sides could discourage the clash – being that deterrence or armed suasion, if one prefers), meaning, by other words, that they were sent to the slaughter house. But then again, what if the calculation was done considering that result? What if this result is the composing part of a greater strategy?
It might sound too much of realpolitik for Georgia’s size and matter, but let’s just ask ourselves if wasn’t that a actually intelligent way to force a desired (to Georgia and some other countries) confrontation between Russia and the West? Before the Ossetia move, US and Russia disagreed on Georgia, on Kosovo and in several other questions, but no one made hard moves to each other. Russia did not fussed when the European Union and USA worked out independency to Pristina, but also gave the wise advice that they had just gave a precedent for South Ossetia, Transdniestria, Abkhazia and so on to also go look for it. As for Saakashvili’s Georgia needed the american support to detach from Russian sphere of influence, he needed them to do more than sell UAVs and send training staff.
Georgia’s warfare is now probably reduced to zero and a reasonable number of lives were lost on the conflict. What is more important in the Georgian calculation (and why thinking that way we might see some wisdom and accomplishment in their move) is that now the USA and Europe will have to step in, commit politically and play the cards dealt. The same is for NATO and for Russia. By the way, is not a bad example of that commitment the halt of NATO-Russia Council meetings and deliberations. A long road of negotiations for the settlement of West-Russia good relations is being torn down, yet slowly. For what it looks like, is not the Russian side that is more scared with the situation, but the westerners that will have to handle the tricky issues without poking the Bear.