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  Global Views
G7 Needs New Priorities
Special Contribution
By Dan Prud'homme
G7 Finance Ministers and Central Bank governors meeting on February 9, 2008 in Tokyo, Japan. Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

Big players in the world, particularly a group of seven industrialized nations known as the "G7," have busily condemned Russia's recent action against Georgia and the situation in South Ossetia. The selectiveness of the G7's criticism shows the group needs a serious realignment of priorities.

The G7's sentiment, by and large, reflects indifference that Georgia initiated the attacks on South Ossetia; but it was Georgia who launched an attack on the night of August 7, 2008, that has since contributed to anywhere up to 2,000 civilian deaths.

Even Human Rights Watch, certainly a group not expected to shelter less than democratic governments like Russia's from criticism, attributes much of the damage in South Ossetia, and its capital of Tskhinvali in particular, to Georgia's zealous bombardment using Grad multiple-rocket launchers.

And Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's justification for the attacks? An attempt restore "constitutional order." A disturbing decision, but nonetheless a potentially strategic calculation taking advantage of industrialized democracies' support.

Georgia's guilt doesn't at all suggest that Russian troops haven't looted battle areas, or along with cluster bombs contributed to deaths in cities like Gori. However, the G7's limited concern over this guilt is disconcerting; and as an American, the lack of US concern is particularly disconcerting.

Washington's rally behind Georgia reflects a desire to support a bastion among suspicious and powerful neighbors, a policy that eerily echoes a rather antiquated Cold War mentality of counterbalancing Russia. And one that reflects Bush's Iraq policy.

Such ‘proxy' policies are controversial. They have cost, and in most cases continue to cost, many lives.

But that seems of relatively limited importance to US policymakers and their other G7 partners.

The fact that Georgia is at least nominally democratic, and that South Ossetia is recognized internationally as part of Georgia has sold easily. Throw in some inflammatory rhetoric about Russia, and for many you have an easy elevator speech, if not supporting than not strongly condemning Georgia's recent actions.

But the quality of Georgia's democratic institutions is questionable. Even President Saakashvili's supporters suggest the institutions need fixing.

Accordingly, the power of Saakashvili to make a largely unchecked decision similar to the one on August 7th calls into question the sanctity of such institutions. This doesn't mean Georgia's institutions won't develop further in the future, but it does mean that they are perhaps less important than many industrialized democracies make them out to be.

Also, although it is secondary whether South Ossetia is legitimately part of Georgia, even that issue in itself is sticky.

Although South Ossetia is recognized as part of Georgia by the international community (with the recent exception of Russia) as both national policy and via bodies like the UN, the 1991-1992 civil war; a pro-separation referendum in 1992 and then again in 2006, both of which experienced overwhelming turnout; and a huge amount of proudly held Russian passports suggest otherwise. These facts aren't meant to undermine the plight of ethnic Georgians living in South Ossetia, but merely paint a more realistic picture than the one many mainstream sources provide.

And then there's the Russian bear, who is certainly quite accustomed to being portrayed as dangerous and frequently angry.

An announcement at the NATO summit in April that Georgia and Ukraine could one day join NATO significantly upset Russia. The fact that gas pipelines were built specifically through Georgia with US assistance still angers Russia, threatening its sense of control over energy in the region.

The continued back-and-forth over a US-planned missile defense shield in Europe, in places like the Czech Republic and Poland in particular, inflames Russia further, and at one point angered Russia enough that it threatened to point missiles at Europe. In fairness, Russia did try to cool the situation by proposing an alternative, joint site in Azerbaijan.

Russia is by no means blameless in the recent South Ossetia conflict. Provocation has run both ways across Russian-Georgian borders. Honoring calls from the G7, Russia should continue to pull its recently planted troops out of the conflict region.

However, the US and the rest of the G7 reflect questionable priorities by still glossing over the Georgian role in the South Ossetia conflict. At least in Georgia, now that the crisis has cooled, growing sentiment finds President Saakashvili made a mistake.

It is extremely worrying when any government attacks a nation without meeting jus ad bellum principles. If the G7 criticizes Russia on any of these principles, it must also fairly criticize Georgia under the same principles, which arguably can be stretched to cover Georgia's initial attack.




Dan Prud'homme works at an international law firm in Beijing, China where he has stayed for a year while also assisting different NGOs, including the World Wildlife Fund. Prior to coming to China, Prud'homme was a university instructor of classes in civil society, worked as an associate for an NGO funded by the United Nations, and before that served as a Legislative Director in the Maryland General Assembly. He holds an MA in Public Policy & International Development and a BA in Government and Politics, both from University of Maryland, College Park. He speaks English and Mandarin.

 

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