War is bad.
Or to put the sentence more meaningfully
Interestate war as a tool of negotiation in areas of the world that are not worthless destroys global public goods and reduces economic development.
Interstate war can be though of as a global version of the domestic war that Thomas Hobbes saw ended only by the presense of a Leviathan. Within a national polity, that Levithan is a government which (if it is functional) possess vastly more firepower and organization than any challenger and so is able to enforce its will. A national government Thus, the people of a government spend a good deal of time thinking of how their government’s force can be contrained, or shaped, so that it does not deprive the people of liberties. This is domestic peace.
Interstate peace never features a leviathan as strong as domestic peace can. Right now, the closet thing to a “Leviathan” is the United States, internation law (most essentailly the World Trade Organization and other trade regimes), and the U.S. military. Because the U.S. is much weaker relative to the international great powers than the U.S. is compared to domestic great powers, there is no concern about the people of the world losing their liberty because of the U.S. leviathan role.
Nonetheless, there is a real concern that states may lose sovereignty due to the international order. For functional states that rely on the benefits that trade provides, this isn’t much of a concern. One extreme example of this is Europe, but even developing countries like China, India, and Mexico prefer the benefits of ordered trade to a return to full sovereignty, and great power war. Parasitical states do not share this belief. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is opposed to great power war not because of it depends peace for economic development, but it is too frightened of its own subjects to field its own military. Iran and Russia, which trusts their citizens enough to have large militaries, see no trade as no reason to give up sovereignty.
Therefore, in order to protect the peace, the U.S. needs only to deter trade-oriented states from suicidal strategies, but must deter parasitic states from otherwise rational strategies. This is because even trade-oriented countries can make bad decisions they must be protected from. So, for example, our policy with regards to China should be one of hedging without wedging. Parasitical states would normally use the cash they receive by sucking wealth out of growing countries to increase their power and further warp the global system. These countries must be contained in the traditional sense.
Deterannce in this sense means matching unconventional thrust with unconvential thrust, while preventing any conventional expansion of their power. This explains much of our relationship with Iran over the past few decades. Special forces, kidnappings, and the like happen on both sides, but Iran has been consistently conditioned such that it presents no threat to its neighbors, as long as the conditioning continues. Russia has unfortunately not learned its lesson, and has violated the peace in order to violently expand its influence.
So what should be done? How should we react to Russia’s invasion of Georgia?
The ‘free-riding’ approach would be to do nothing, or merely call on all sides to show retraint while reciting some international legal ideal. This gets us off the hook, allows the global public good of peace to crumble around us, and trades long-term security for short-term good relations with Russia. It breaks the conditioning, rewards bad behavior, and encourages future aggression.
The ‘investment’ approach would be to condemn Russia, send troops to the region, and begin the processing of forcing a humiliating Russian withdrawal. This costs of time and attention now, forcing us to delay lower-priority objectives. It reinforces the conditioning, allows future rewarding of good behavior, and discourages of aggression.
Invest in Peace. Expel Russia from Georgia.