After the holidays in august, the last weeks were marked by making the provisions for our main event of this year, namely the 2nd symposium in the framework of the International Europe - Central Asia Forum, which will take palce from 25 October to 2nd November 2008 in Kyrgyzstan.
For the the second time the forum will bring together the same 45 experts who have opened, in June 2007 in Alsace (France), this new dialogue between military and civil societies on the topic of the "Role of the Armed Forces and their integration into the modern civil societies".
But unfortunately, we were not kept away in the past few weeks from international political crises, including the deployment of troops of the states concerned. In the case of Georgia, once again the military were (mis)used to political power gesticulation, bringing death of innocent citizens and damage to their homes and infrastructure.
And again, the role of the military and the functions of the armed forces, namely to guarantee security and peace, have been put into question; that’s why we can not leave without comment this worrying situation. We therefore thank Brigadier General (ret) Patrice Mompeyssin (Secretary general of CIDAN) for his contribution, by which we want to open this column, which I hope will rapidly develop and become a forum for all members of our network develop.
The following reflections are proposed in a spontaneous way by a military who simply analyzes the situation and puts some questions, without particular knowledge of the region concerned and possessing only informations from newspapers as anybody. In respect of the major interests which are engaged in these ongoing operations, I do not want in no way deliver any speculation that would be as reckless as it would be irresponsible. In the contrary, I moreover expect contradiction or some answers to my questions.
Analyzing the different declarations, my first reflex was to learn more about the historical causes of the conflict, if possible from the beginning. Why is Ossetia divided? Who were the first inhabitants? Since when the north and the south are they Russian respectively Georgian? Of course, the reality is complex. At the beginning, it seems that the Ossetians, descendants of the Scythians, Alans and Sarmatic, landed in the Caucasus after having been banished from the Donez basin by the Mongols. There they have been turned to Christianity under the influence of the Georgians (!). In the Caucasus, they have subsequently formed three different cantons: Digor, Tual and Iron. Later on, Digor, in the west, came under the influence of the Kabardins who introduced Islam. Tual, in the south of what is today South Ossetia, has been part of the historical Georgian population of Kartli-Kachety (interesting information!). Iron, situated in the north, what is now the territory of North Ossetia, came under the domination of the Russian empire in 1767.
South Ossetia, together with Georgia, was annected by Russia in 1801. Today, the population of South-Ossetia is composed of two thirds of Ossetians and one third of Georgians, the latter having left the region in large numbers after the clashes of 1991. The conflict’s origins seem closely linked to the fact, that Georgia, after the collapse of the Soviet empire, took away autonomy previously granted to the Ossetians. But does this justify such violence? What is really leading to such hate between neighbors who have similar culture and who have lived together for long time in peace?
On the other hand, we learn that in early August Georgia had started a military action in South Ossetia and, by this, was labeled to be the real aggressor. But we know little about probable previous provocations from the Ossetian side (artillery fire?), presumably undertaken with the acquiescence, if not under the guidance of the Russians. As ever it happened, the intervention of Georgia now appears as a very unskilled one and it would certainly have been better, Georgia would have strongly protested before the international community and made clear evidence of the Ossetian attacks on the Georgian population of the region.
It is clear that the fast and hard response from the Russian side, which was probably planned previously, was unilateral and inadequate, outside of international law, not legitimated by a UN mandate and/or any credible right of Russia for self-defense.
For the rest, do the South Ossetians have the same right to independence as the Kosovo Albanians have? What is the difference between these two examples? In any case, the auto-proclamation of independence of the Kosovo was acknowledged by a hugh majority of the international community after long negotiations and on the basis of a recommendation of the Special Representative of the UN. By this, the Serbs certainly must indirectly bear the consequences for previous unacceptable atrocities for which they rightly were designated the "evil" force.
Behind all this, of course, we can perceive the reaction of the Russian leaders on what they consider to be only a further "interference of NATO" in Russia’s area of interest, especially after the Ukraine’s rapprochment to this same NATO and to the EU, after Kosovo’s declaration of independence, after the installation of radar sites and missile defense systems on Polish and Czech territory, although this can hardly be felt as a threat to Russia.
What could the United Nations, the United States of America, what could the European Union do, after being put in front of a fait accompli? Some are already speakig of a "new Munich"... but we must not exaggerate everything!
A powerful and united Europe, not having sent already to much favorable signals in the direction of the Russians, could perhaps have had the means to dissuade them from engaging this adventursome operation, although we must consider that even the hyper-powerful United States of America were not in a position to do so, because they are already committed too much on other war scenes. At least, the reaction of the European Union, given its own current constitution, can be seen as a uniform, realistic, steady and appropriate one.
In this typical situation, where the will of two players confronts in a "strategic chess game”, the Russians were militarily and economically in advantage over the Europeans, depending from Russian supplies in gas . They have, at least in the short term, militarily won the bet and shown to the rest of the world that we still must reckon on them as a remaining superpower. This demonstration was expensivly paid with dead soldiers and civilians from Russia, Ossetia and Georgia.
But are they also right in the long term? Throughout history, the Western democracies have always prevailed over the time, although not being quite responsive in every situation. Beyond the superficial surprise effect they created, the Russians are depending from the Europeans on the issues of energy and global exchange of goods, at least as much as the Europeans are depending from the Russians. These local conflicts hide much more serious challenges, such as regulating the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, which will be difficult to be solved without Russian intervention. Therefore, it is important to preserve steadfast principles and to let reason prevail.
Beyond all this, there is the the question of whether the international community can take care of all crises in the world: Palestine, Lebanon, Darfur, Congo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Kaucasus, etc.? It has quite simply not the means to do so, at least for the moment being. And there always remains the painful question of the acceptability of human losses with the peacekeepers involved, even if they are professional soldiers. Public opinion rightly agitates against and begins to question these kinds of operations. So, politicians have to explain their rationale and the imperatives.
What could be, under these circumstances, the criteria for decision on intervention by the United Nations, which, in any case, should not be taken under the pressure of the reporting media, the excitement of public opinion or before the background of hidden economic interests?
At the sad example of Georgia, we can only re-state that military force has to be employed only as a last resort, in an appropriate manner and with a mandate of the United Nations Organisation (which needs to be reformed so that it is more representative and more effective) or in order to defend against a qualified external attack. The civilian population and their properties must be spared, what obviously was not the case in Georgia, as the televised images showed on both sides.
Patrice Mompeyssin Brigadegeneral a.D. Civisme, Défense, Armées, Nation (CIDAN)