Deterrence in the Twenty-first Century

Deterrence in the twenty-first century - Air University Press

Chapter 9

Case Study—The August 2008

War between Russian and Georgia

Denis Corboy

How did it happen that in August 2008 Russia and Georgia

fought a nineteenth century war in the twenty-first century?

Why was the West caught unawares? And why did all the actors

end up as losers? This presentation attempts to answer these

and related questions, to look at the background that led to the

Five-Day War, and to point to some lessons to be learned.

The principal actors were all affected by the outcome. Moscow

launched its first large-scale military operation outside the

Russian Federation since the end of the Cold War. Its recognition

of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia was

the first attempt to revise interstate boundaries on the territory

of the former Soviet Union. While in military terms Russia won

the war, it left in its wake myriad unforeseen problems leading

to greater insecurity in the Caucasus, both North and South.

Georgia lost its dream to restore territorial integrity and any illusions

that it might have harboured that the United States or

the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) would come to

its aid, if attacked. Not only was Georgia humiliated on the

battlefield, its military infrastructure was destroyed along with

the loss of business confidence and its hopes of rapid economic

development. For the United States, the reckoning was equally

telling. The Five-Day War exposed the fact that the commitments

of the Bush administration to Georgia’s territorial integrity

were no more than rhetoric and that any belief in Washington

that the United States had leverage in Moscow was an

illusion. US credibility was seriously undermined, and justifiably

Russians said “the emperor has no clothes.”

For the European Union (EU), the successful diplomacy of

the French presidency in negotiating the cease-fire agreement

raised its reputation regionally and its standing internationally.

A major result of the conflict has been that the EU increased

its involvement in the Caucasus and is now providing

a visible presence to support peace and stability. The EU Mon-


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