Bruce Arnold

Critic of Public Affairs, writing about art, theatre, music and politics

We must take a stand against US over new Cold War games

I have been waiting for the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheal Martin, to offer the Irish people some guidance as to our position in respect of Georgia and Russia. A statement independent of the European Union line on the issue is important since Europe is deeply divided between the views of Eastern European members and Britain, on the one hand, and the rest of us on the other.

Martin's view should respect our supposed national fervour for neutrality but should also question the strange position adopted by the member states of NATO -- if indeed that position can be defined -- and the further encroachment, within Europe, of the belligerent United States' desire to further encircle Russia with surveillance systems, missile bases and the paraphernalia of the Cold War.

I will wait for a long time. Micheal Martin and the Department of Foreign Affairs are ducking this one, pretending it does not know where Georgia is or which side Ireland should be on. Those who do -- and this may, or may not, include Javier Solana, Europe's foreign minister -- are also ducking out.

Even Britain, still a major military power with probably more diplomatic and political wisdom and experience in the area than any other European country, cannot disentangle itself from the fumbling intervention of President Nicolas Sarkozy of France. Moreover, Britain is embarrassingly pro-America.

We should not carry the same embarrassing burden. If we want peace we should not be tied closely to American global strategies. These include a policy of encirclement of the former Soviet Union with US missiles, military bases, surveillance operations and a welter of supine allies supporting a confrontational approach towards Putin and Russia.

It happens to be a hollow threat. America is in no state, militarily, to help Georgia and Georgia does not deserve help. It does not merit inclusion in NATO and its alliance with Western military interests is more of a threat than a help. We should be saying that.

Its invasion of an independent province sympathetic to Russia, South Ossetia, was irresponsibly supported by the United States, which sustains in Georgia that country's main military advice system. Since America could not supply actual military aid on the ground, such advice -- if, as I think, it was given -- had a quite different objective, which was to raise the temperature at home in support of international drum-beating.

This seems to have had an appreciable impact on the opinion-poll standing of John McCain at the expense of Barack Obama as well as bringing to the forefront America's very questionable wisdom or capacity to be the world defence of freedom, liberty and the West.

Ireland should be contemptuous of Europe's, NATO's and the UN's prevarications. In terms of the balance of power, Russia's move has found the United States with its pants down. Preoccupied in Iraq and Afghanistan, worried about Iran and Pakistan, the US did not expect the reaction and had no ground forces to help that 'little country', Georgia, beset by a giant neighbour.

This interpretation is a manufactured one, anyway. It was Georgia, not Russia, that started the spat. Georgian forces made a mess of their first objective, capturing the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, and got bogged down. Russia, experienced in such things, did a better job for its ally, South Ossetia. They clearly expected the Georgian attack. Details of it were probably leaked by the Americans. Russia wanted the spat.

All of this was absurdly superficial; it was playing at war games for devious reasons, probably smirked about in the White House much more than in the Kremlin, though both sides knew what were the real objectives. For Georgia, this was a big operation and demanded much planning. It is inconceivable that the country's hot-headed and inexperienced president, Mikheil Saakashvili, was not in touch with his allies, the most important of which is the United States. The Georgians must also have known that the Russians had a better army on the frontier.

What should have been both puzzling and a source of dismay for 'little Ireland' in all of this was that we, unlike Britain and other European countries, are not gung-ho for American sabre-rattling, particularly if it costs lives and causes unnecessary tension. We do not share with our closest neighbour, Great Britain, pro-American military support. And if we do not want to become a NATO member ourselves, we should want even less the admission of Georgia to that organisation.

This was massively miscalculated by the West but not by Russia. Europe should wake up to the reality that the EU responded to foolhardy Georgian aggression, probably with direct US involvement. It is not in Europe's long-term interest to side with the United States in what has all the appearances of a global pact against a powerful adversary whose military might and economic sustainability makes a nonsense of the troubles in both Europe and the United States.

We should be against the encirclement policy and against the traditional view of Russia as Europe's enemy. There must be a better way. Javier Solana has not yet found it, nor has Sarkozy. All the promises made to Russia about European integrity have been broken. The latest mistakes are the location of further American military bases in Poland and other east European members of the EU.

We rightly congratulate ourselves on being part of a Europe that has maintained peace in the area since 1945. Progress was achieved on the principle that national borders would not be altered. This changed with the creation of independent Kosovo, supported by Europe. Russia publicly and privately opposed formal independence, but the Kremlin was ignored. This snub added to Russia's long-held fears of strategic encirclement.

Of course, Micheal Martin will have nothing to say. His view of Irish foreign policy is simply that what is good enough for Europe is good enough for us. What a relief, then, that we have held ourselves a little bit aloof. Long may this continue.