Drezner on Georgia, Russia, NATO and Realists vs. Neocons

To continue a theme I’ve touched on in a few recent posts, Daniel Drezner’s comments (via the 8th Circle) on Georgia, Russia and NATO expansion are worth reading. Drezner cautions against believing that encroachment of Western influence and institutions like NATO and the EU is the primary cause of Russian coercion of its near abroad:

. . . I’m not sure that realist opposition to NATO expansion is vindicated by the Georgia invasion. I presume their argument is that NATO expansion somehow triggered the security dilemma, which led to Russia’s current revanchism. The thing is, I wrote half a book about how Russia treated its near abroad during the nineties, when it was supposedly so weak. It coerced the living hell out of them (sanctions, supporting irredentists, etc.) back then too — and this was long before NATO was expanded. So the idea that Russia wouldn’t have done anything in the Caucasus if the West had kept its nose clean strikes me as pretty absurd. Russia was going to do this as soon as it had the power and saw an opportunity. If you want to blame this on past United States actions, Iraq matters a lot more than anything else.

He also notes that joining institutions like the EU and NATO could moderate Georgia’s behavior, though he still comes out against NATO membership for Georgia:

[Realists] presume that alliances can encourage small states like Georgia to behave more recklessly. It is equally possible, however, that joining an institution moderates behavior. And, it should be noted, institutionalists find their greatest empirical support for this argument in the behavior of Eastern Europe since 1989.

For the record, I think I’m with Hilzoy on this question — extending NATO membership to the Baltics makes sense, but extending it to Georgia is a country too far. My point in this post is that I’m very leery of either all-in arguments (neocons) or all-out arguments (realists). Neither group has really distinguished themselves in this debate.

I remain in the realist camp with regard to NATO expansion to Georgia and Ukraine, but I’m skeptical of knee-jerk attempts lay the Georgian conflict at the feet of the United States. (Notice, for example, the dissonance between the headline of this story, and the quotes of every U.S. official within the body of the article.) It’s clear to me that U.S. policy toward Russia at the strategic level has been muddled and counterproductive, but U.S. policy didn’t cause the Georgia war.