Spheres of Influence

Henry Farrell isn’t all that keen on what he sees as a tacit endorsement of the concept of spheres of influence from the left in the Russia-Georgia dispute:

Now it may well be that Steve [Clemons] and those who take similar positions [] do believe that it is better to formally recognize spheres of influence — there is certainly a realist case to be made for this. But if so, they should say so, and recognize that this isn’t a situation where Russia has been wronged; rather it is one where the US, Europe and Russia need to come to a tacit accommodation that reflects the balance of power or whatever. This is disagreeable if stated plainly in the terms of US political discourse — but it surely is where their position is leading them.

I suppose I’m not really disagreeing insomuch as I consider myself to be a realist, but it seems to me that “spheres of influence” shouldn’t really be a point of contention, it’s just a simple fact of the world. As I remarked earlier, the United States has certainly mainained their right to a sphere of influence, indeed the entire Western Hemisphere, since at least the 1820’s, and Russia has maintained their rights over the territory bordering them in the region for much longer than that.

But even simpler than that, we’re not really talking just about regional hegemony here, there are other, much larger, matters in play from Russia’s standpoint. Georgian NATO membership would, for example, likely mean NATO (read, American) presence in Georgia, right next door to Russia. I’m sure they also believe fully that the United States would move missile defense installations into Georgia almost immediately, and we’ve certainly given them decent enough reason to believe such things. I suppose the best lense to view it through is an overwrought hypothetical; how would America and Americans react to the news that China was seriously pushing for a military alliance with Mexico that could likely include Chinese personnel and weaponry being stationed in Mexico? Or if you don’t like hypotheticals, how did we react when the Russians and Cubans reached an agreement to install Russian missiles there?

This may seem hyperbolic here, but from a Russian perspective the prospect of Georgia in NATO registers the same way the Cuban Missile Crisis did/does here.