Monday, August 11, 2008

Georgia, the New Map, and Oil Pipelines

I thought I would talk briefly about the current situation in Georgia/South Ossettia between Georgia and Russia. The news seems to be ignoring the critical aspect of this situation--that it is a symptom of the larger issue of the decline of the Nation-State.

In a recent diary entry, Jerome a Parils makes a good point that neither side here has any claim to a "moral high ground"--this isn't an issue of principle about supporting territorial integrity or supporting a national group, but rather an issue of realpolitik. It's also been building for quite some time. Stratfor has been screaming about the impending war in Georgia for years (they must be quite pleased to sound less like they've been crying wolf right now). I wrote about Georgia in the context of enveloping Central Asia's resources by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization back in 2006. The US has long maintained a sizable signals intelligence ground station in Georgia, and has been advising Georgia on fighting Islamist rebels in the Pankisi Gorge region. This is something to watch for--one angle the US may use to argue the moral high ground approach is that they need to ensure the "territorial integrity" of Georgia in order to deny a training ground to Islamist "terrorists" in the Pankisi Gorge (sound familiar?).

It's also important to ground what's happening in Georgia in the larger context of the decline of the Nation-State system. I wrote and presented a paper about this at the 2006 Yale Journal of International Law conference which some people may find worth reading, and highly recommend Philip Bobbitt's "Shield of Achilles" for an in-depth look at the topic. The basic issue is not that the "state" is going away, but that the constitutional basis of a "state" in providing for the welfare of a contiguous "nation" is increasingly invalid, leading to the rise of the "market-state" (where the constitutional basis for the state comes from its ability to provide market opportunity to those within its borders) and a growing conflict with disenfranchised and marginalized nations (and other non-state groups) that exist wholly or partially within the borders of the new market-state.

This "market-state"/"nation" conflict is the new lever of choice in the new "great game." Where it serves Russia's interest, they will support a non-state "national" group against the integrity of a "market-state" (Georgia). Where it is against their interest, they will support the "market state" (here, Russia) against separatist "national" groups (e.g. Chechnya, Dagestan, and a dozen other internal problems--Siberia, for example, has some serious separatist problems). Similarly, the US will support the "market-state" where it must (as in Georgia, Iraq, Pakistan, etc.) and will support non-state "national" groups where it serves its interest (Kosovo, the Ahwaz rebels in the Iranian province of Khuzestan where most of Iran's oil is, the Baluch rebels in the East of Iran, but not the same rebels in the SW of Pakistan, etc.). Where this "market-state"/"national" conflict overlaps with key resource production or exportation infrastructure, look for increasing problems, in part because the conflict between nations and state will intensify, and in part because growing resource scarcity will make resource infrastructure an increasingly popular and effective target within the context of these struggles...

Just for context, here is the route of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline that connects Caspian Sea oil with the West (it was also bombed, probably, last week by Kurdish separatists in Turkey, so is currently shut down):

Russia also bombed the trunk pipeline from the BTC and associated export port to Georgia's black sea coast, thereby requiring all Azerbaijani oil to transit Russia. Before this bombing, a portion of the oil carried by the BTC could have been re-directed via the Black Sea without transiting Russia:


Ruben said...

This post was linked on The Automatic Earth. Is it true?

Jeff Vail said...

Some of the article looks like fear mongering or hyperbole (and the link to Debka doesn't help their case), but several other reputable sources are confirming the naval buildup. I don't think that an increase in naval order of battle in the region necessarily presages action--it can also be explained by normal rotation schedules, exercises, etc. I don't have enough resolution on how common this level of presence is to say how unusual the current US force levels are. What I can say is that carriers aren't really the critical part of any potential conflict with Iran. If we take the most likely (in my opinion) military action, we wouldn't need any carriers at all to conduct an ongoing campaign of precision strikes--you'd want to look for EC-130H deployments, cancellation of B-2 presence at a scheduled exercise or appearance (because they don't need to forward deploy), or possibly B-52 forward deployment to Diego Garcia, among other possibilities. It's still all reading tea leaves. Carriers are, in my opinion, more of a liability than an asset in a potential conflict over the Strait of Hormuz, primarily because their strike capability is not the best at time-sensitive targeting, which is exactly what is most needed in a "keep the Strait open" scenario. They do represent a lot of airpower, but I don't see anything especially worrying yet. It's pretty common to surge carrier battle groups to various places--there have been numerous false alarms of this type over the past few years, so maybe I'm suffering from Carrier-buildup fatigue. We'll see what happens!

dryki said...

I'm thinking of this nation-state vs market-state dichotomy with respect to the Cobell Tribes decision today. It perverts the "rule of law".

Anonymous said...

Interesting post and paper. When you look at the map the BTC takes, I wonder why there wasn't a bigger push diplomatically to deal with the issues preventing it from going through Armenia, rather than circumventing it. Maybe its b/c it was easier to get the Georgians on the West's side rather than the Armenians who have a better relationship w/ the Kremlin. I know the geopolitical issues between Yervan, Baku, and Ankara, run very deep, so do the Georgian ones.

John.Howley said...

The oil routes across Georgia that have been shutdown are not insignificant.

Why do you think there has not been a bigger response on world oil markets?

Yes, the U.S. summer driving season is winding down but still...

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