After Georgia, what future for NATO?
Russia's message – 'We're back and we're strong' – creates a new geopolitical dynamic in Eurasia for the Western alliance.
The Russian Army's foray into Georgia this month has had enormous international impact. But the actions of its conventional forces served more to send a message to the West than to pose any significant military challenge much past its borders.Skip to next paragraph
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The immediate crisis in Georgia appears to be over for now. But as the West assesses what is clearly a new geopolitical dynamic in Eurasia, there is recognition that while Russia's military may not be as formidable as it once was, NATO and other Western allies must adapt quickly to counter the threat it does pose to its immediate neighbors.
That will undoubtedly lead to a broader debate about the future of NATO, its membership roster, and the resources it will need to create a viable impediment to Russia's military, whatever Moscow's ambitions may be.
But for now, it seems obvious that Russia has used its forces to send a clear message that it won't be ignored.
Once all but indomitable, Russia's military had crumbled by the 1990s, marked by its dilapidated tanks, very low troop morale, and deflated defense spending.
Russia's move into South Ossetia, however, showed its military in a new light. While it may not be a military on the rise, Russia showed for the first time in years that its military could exceed the world's low expectations. Under President Vladimir Putin, ground force training doubled from 2002 to 2003, for example, according to GlobalSecurity.org, citing open sources.
"Russia desired to have the ability for its Navy and Air Force to operate globally, as evidenced in their joint exercises in the Indian and Pacific oceans in 2003," according to this analysis of the Russian military. In 2006, Russia spent about 2.7 percent of its gross domestic product on defense – comparable to many Western nations though far lower than the roughly 4 percent the US currently spends on defense and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Yet Russia's ability to do anything more than rough up its weakest neighbors remains in question.
"I don't lose a whole lot of sleep over their conventional capability," says Eugene Rumer, a senior fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense University in Washington. Television news footage of Russian military operations seemed to show a "pretty undisciplined force," he says. "The fact that they went in and did what they did speaks that this is no longer the Russian military of the 1990s, but that is a pretty low standard," he says.
Part of the reason the Russian military appeared to exceed expectations is because the Georgian military response was widely seen as poor.