Unoubtedly the crisis in the Caucasus is now intensifying. Georgia is paying a heavy price for tugging the tail of the bear and such international diplomacy as has been possible may have failed.
The Georgians in the end took the correct steps and withdrew from South Ossetia. But the bear continues to growl and lash and, according to news reports, now has troops on the ground within Georgia itself.
There are now many thousands of innocents caught up in this battle, as in all battles of this kind, people whose lives have been torn from worlds of peace and stability in an instant. War may seem distant from the clubhouses of London but statesmen must always remember it is no game of chess or draughts or even "poker"; any conflict brings unspeakable horrors, drawing in innocent and involuntary participants just as much as professional merchants of death.
There are those, such as Cicero, who have launched Phillippic denunciations of Mr Putin, suggesting that the former President, now Prime Minister, is intent on expansion by provocation. Cicero was ever thus, a man made for troubled times and ready to believe the worst of all.
The Russians, it seems clear, have few friends and are happy to be friendless. If they choose to overrun Georgia, the world must stand by and watch. Georgia is not a member of NATO although it has sought to ingratiate itself with the NATO powers. Russian treatment of its own rebel provinces has often been brutal, if not as brutal as in the darkest days of the communist hegemony. I have heard speculation that Russia might then proceed to threaten the borders of NATO, to seek to dismantle this burgeoning alliance. It may indeed be that for South Ossetia to summon Russia to its aid was as catastrophic as the Britons placing their trust in Hengist and Horsa.
In these circumstances there are those who show no knowledge of history and those who turn to the past to justify their stance. I may have missed events of the last century; but it seems to me that 1914 and 1939 give diametrically opposite lessons. In the first instance a world of alliances tumbled into conflict because statesmen drew clear maps, unpassable boundaries, and let them determine an unstoppable and catastrophic course of events. In the second, weak statesmen were bullied by a weak bully that puffed itself up to be stronger than it was.
If Russia does occupy Georgia we will know what manner of beast it is and what is the depth of its respect for international law. Statesmen must indeed then cooperate to contain it. But let us not fall into the trap that I worked for so long to avoid, of creating a world where nations tumble carelessly into catastrophe.
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