The main story of the past few days is of course the recrudescence of Russian aggression. I would direct you first to the wise comments by Bernard Kouchner. No European statesman knows more about the recent consequences in European of allowing ugly nationalisms to run unchecked, and Kouchner's allusion to the catastrophes wreaked in Bosnia and Kosovo by that type of regime is apt.
I don't defend Georgia's initial, unjustified and violent incursion into South Ossetia. But Russian policy is a brutal amalgam of realpolitik, consistent ethnocentrism, and an uncomplicated desire to undermine Western diplomacy. The Caucasus has been the victim, under leaders who've been responsible as well as others who've been disreputable. Of the latter kind, the extreme nationalist Zviad Gamasakhurdia, Georgia's first President after the collapse of the Soviet Union, was almost certainly overthrown with Russian support. A far better leader, President Abulfaz Elchibey of Azerbaijan, was subjected to Russian initimidation and economic pressure merely for seeking to negotiate an oil contract with a Western consortium. He was deposed in a Russian-backed coup. And so the story continues.
On Western diplomacy, I recommend an astute commentary by my colleague Bronwen Maddox.
Of course, many Nato members will consider how, had Georgia already been a member, they would have had to defend it. Germany will win more support for its argument, which dominated the Nato summit in April, that it would be wrong to offer membership for fear of provoking Russia and while its territory remains in dispute. Alarm at this near-war on Europe’s borders will easily persuade more governments of the need for caution.
That would be wrong. It would tell Russia that it had an effective veto over who joined Nato. It would discourage the pro-American and pro-European spirit of President Saakashvili, elected in 2004 partly for those sentiments. It might even make it harder to agree the deployment of international peacemakers in South Ossetia by showing that the US and Europe were indifferent to Georgia’s case.
This is a desperately important point. The value of Nato is not only in providing for our collective security. The alliance is also a way of cementing liberal tendencies in emerging states and regions. (Likewise, the European Union, which is the single most important reason - far more than any economic grounds - for my support for wider European integration.) It would be wrong for Western governments to infer from Russian aggression that they should be cautious about expanding Nato membership.
UPDATE: Denis MacShane makes an important point in The Telegraph: "The idea of a common foreign policy and the means to implement it in the Lisbon Treaty are anathema to Eurosceptics; but a disunited EU will be easy meat for Russia and leave America without a partner of weight to face down Russian bullying."
Amid the voluminous abusive and xenophobic reader comments posted underneath the article, this one stands out:
Only THREE words to Say To Bush and Brown
IRAQ AFGHANISTAN HYPOCRACY.