The South Ossetia crisis put me in mind of the early 90s when with the Cold War ended a lot of morons thought that was the end of war altogether. I well remember smug interviewers putting the probing question ‘who are our enemies now?’ to hapless politicos as if the lack of an immediate threat meant that we could disband our armed forces, all join hands and sing kumbaya. Unfortunately, that sort of thinking permeated into the body politic, and we cut our military so much that when the new wave of threats appeared they struggled to cope. People have come home in body bags because of those oh so clever people and now South Ossetia shows starkly how a major foreign policy crisis with a military dimension can boil up out of nothing. What on earth did the Georgians think would happen? The Russians claim most of the people of South Ossetia as citizens and there were around 1000 Russian ‘peacekeepers’ already on the ground. The Georgian action may have been strictly legal in terms of International Law, this is Georgian territory after all, but moving military forces in on that scale was remarkably ill-advised. There was bound to be a Russian response, but the scale and speed of it bears some examination. From media reports it appears that the Russians brought air power to bear almost immediately, and followed that up with what appears to be an entire Motor Rifle Division, reported as the 42nd Guards. For those who aren’t familiar with the Russian Order of Battle, a MR Division is a combined arms force with over 150 tanks and over 250 other armoured fighting vehicles with well over 10000 men. The 42nd may also have some attached special forces. Mobilising something on that scale from barracks would take days, but it seems they were on the ground and advancing in about one day. That means that they were already at a high state of readiness and within striking distance of the Georgian border, which makes the Georgian action even more puzzling. How could they not notice a formation of that size so close and so ready for action?
Meanwhile, David Cameron has been saying exactly what the government should have been saying if they hadn’t outsourced our foreign policy to the EU. The Georgians may have made a terrible misjudgement, but the Russian reaction has gone well beyond being reasonable, with widespread air attack and ground action that is less designed to protect their people in South Ossetia and more designed to cripple Georgia as a nation. This is the point when Labour’s dithering and incompetence stops being funny. Our foreign policy should not be paralysed by a Prime Minister who can’t make a decision and a Foreign Secretary whose sole focus is getting the Prime Minister’s job. Can we really afford another two years of this?