Global and Local Rivalries in NATO’s Push Towards the Caucasus

Kees van der Pijl


The corridor that runs from the Balkans, via the Caucasus, to Central Asia, has constituted a major axis of Western penetration and expansion for the last two decades.1 Only when Georgian president Saakashvili sought to recapture the province of South Ossetia by force in August 2008, this came to an abrupt end. The Russian military response to secure South Ossetia and Abkhazia not only destroyed the Georgian army as a fighting force but also terminated the prospect of further Western expansion through NATO enlargement.

The present contribution is structured as follows. First I will briefly outline how NATO can be viewed as a means of integrating the wider ‘West’ around a North Atlantic, English-speaking heartland. The argument is that this integration always had to contest with the legacy of rivalry dating from the epoch prior to it. This can be traced back to the fact that contenders to Anglo-Atlantic military power and commercial pre-eminence have necessarily pursued state-led modernisation paths. The further we move to the East, the more difficult it appears to abandon this state-led model again. Examples are given in separate sections on the collapse of the USSR and the Balkan wars. In a fourth section I will briefly investigate how the increasingly violent forward pressure by the West, as testified by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and threats to Iran, is destabilising not only the Caucasus but the wider region. I can also safely repeat my claim, made in March 2008 before an audience in Tbilisi, that integration of Georgia into NATO would be a casus belli for Russia.

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