The West's tepid response to Russia's recent invasion of Georgia sends a dangerous message to Asian democracies who have long depended upon support from the United States to protect them from regional menaces. Lack of pronounced U.S. support for its Georgian ally may lead China and other autocratic powers in Asia to infer that the American defense of global liberalization is mere rhetoric. When autocracy sneezes, Asia catches cold. Russia's naked power grab in the Caucasus will have global repercussions, nowhere more so than in Asia. While Europe now contemplates a return to long-term tension on Russia's southwestern borders, Moscow's act of war will have lasting effects far from the Black Sea, namely the threat to democratic trends in Asia, and the bolstering of China's global position.
The struggle for freedom in Asia has changed millions of lives, and yet is an unfinished battle. Asia's young democracies, from Mongolia to Taiwan, are no doubt chilled by Georgia's plight. The naked use of force against a sovereign, democratic state by a gargantuan rival sends a message hard to miss. Whatever the pretext, be it natural resources, separatist movements, or old territorial disputes, the reassertion of might over right threatens the political gains of the past decades that have helped Asia become the most vibrant region on earth. Anti-liberal forces at home in these smaller nations will take comfort from the reversion to a machtpolitik world, while other national elites may well be willing to compromise their freedoms to maintain their economic privileges.