Eastern Europeans are rightly alarmed about the brazenness and success of the Russian blitzkrieg into Georgia. For many living in Russia’s shadow, this is reviving traumatic memories—of 1968 for Czechs, 1956 for Hungarians, 1939 for Poles. It does not help that senior Russian generals are threatening to rain nuclear annihilation on Ukraine and Poland if they refuse to toe the Kremlin’s line.
Even those states which, unlike Georgia and Ukraine, are already in NATO can take scant comfort. As Poland’s foreign minister, Radek Sikorski, says, “Parchments and treaties are all very well, but we have a history in Poland of fighting alone and being left to our own devices by our allies.”
Warsaw’s response has been to draw closer to the United States, by rapidly concluding an agreement in long drawn-out negotiations over the basing of U.S. interceptor missiles on Polish soil. That’s a good start, but it’s a move of symbolic import only. The small number of interceptors are designed to shoot down an equally small number of Iranian missiles—not the overwhelming numbers that Russia deploys. Poland and other states should be under no illusion they can count on the U.S. in a crisis. In the past we left Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia in the lurch. More recently we haven’t done much to help Georgia.
The only thing that the frontline states can count on is their own willingness to fight for independence. But willingness alone is not enough.