22 August, 2008

"Peacekeeping" and imperialism

From John McCreary's Nightwatch:
[The Russian foreign minister] said Russia will keep 500 troops in the buffer zone around South Ossetia and establish eight checkpoints, Reuters reported.

No significant withdrawal of Russian forces has taken place or is being prepared. Reuters related a report that a column of Russian armor withdrew from central Georgia. Interfax, however, withdrew an earlier report of a pullback from Gori. Russian forces still hold positions around the cities of Gori and Igoeti, about 30 miles from the Georgian capital in the center of the country.


Georgia no longer has the right to conduct peacekeeping operations in its secessionist region of South Ossetia [my emphasis--PO], Russian General Colonel Anatoly Nogovitsyn said, as RIA Novosti reported. Nogovitsyn insisted only Russian forces have the right to carry out peacekeeping missions in South Ossetia and that Russian peacekeepers are still operating in Abkhazia. Russia will set up additional peacekeeping observer posts there soon.

Nogovitsyn announced any planes flying over South Ossetia and neighboring Georgian regions [my emphasis--PO] must have Russia's permission and that foreign observers must coordinate visits to the conflict zone with the Russian Defense Ministry. (Note: This is a new requirement.)

Comment: The gap between statements by the Russian President and the Foreign Minister and those by the Deputy Chief of the General Staff has widened this week. Ground truth favors the Deputy Chief of the General Staff. The miscommunication and disinformation are reminiscent of the Soviet era in which civilian officials, including the highest ranking diplomats, lacked the clearances to discuss military operational issues, but hated to admit it.

The Russian moves this week reinforce the assessment that the Russians have carved out a security zone from the north center to the northwest of Georgia. Both Abkhazia and South Ossetia have requested Russian recognition of their independence. Russian behavior suggests it will grant that recognition in some form and back it up with a mutual defense agreement, a conventional military presence including armored forces, plus a security zone of lightly equipped peacekeepers in Georgia proper. Recognition might not occur immediately, but the other moves are nearing completion. Georgia as it existed on 6 August 2008 no longer exists except as a memory.
It looks like Russia is pushing to set up de facto protectorates in Ossetia and Abkhazia. Rebel governments in both areas want Russia to acknowledge their independence from Georgia. Russia might just do it--but it will be clear that formal "independence" means permanent Russian domination. Making that move could prove counterproductive--why rub everyone's face in the mud?--but military success can lead to political overreach.

I wonder if the Russians would be happy with a "lawless zone" not officially under its control, but with the understanding that criminal activity would be disproportionately aimed at the Georgians?

19 August, 2008

John (1958-2008)

John was my friend since 6th grade. We were roommates in our first year of college, and shared a house our fourth year. We shared interests in science fiction, military history, strategic board games, role-playing, technology, politics, monty python's flying circus, girls, movies, motorcycles, and the general absurdity of life--though not necessarily in that order. I stopped riding my bike years ago, but he progressed to motorcross and cross-country cruising. He saw most of the country on his BMW. Second only to his wife, Sue, he loved to ride most of all.

John was an engineer, running his own consulting company. It was really starting to take off. Returning from a meeting with a client, he passed through an improperly-marked intersection: flashing red in one direction, flashing yellow in the other. He stopped, looked both ways at the red light, and carefully pulled out to see what might be coming.

What was coming was a car that came down the other street without bothering to slow down.

As best we can reconstruct it, John did everything right. It didn't help: the car clipped the front of the bike, throwing John forward, putting his knee through the windshield and wrapping the rest of his body around to drive John's head through the passenger side window.

He was declared dead at the scene.

I've spent the past few days in Missouri, trying to help his wife and all the relatives to take care of the things that have to be done, while struggling with the shock. That's why there haven't been any posts here lately. And while I usually keep my personal life out of this blog, I want everyone to know what happened.

John was one of the smartest people I've ever known. He was also, although he didn't share it at first, one of the most caring. What was most obvious to everyone who knew him was he was one of the most alive people you would ever meet. If there was something he needed, or wanted, to do--his marriage, his business, his riding, his collection of microbrews, or simply making somebody laugh--he threw his whole self into it.

He lived large. Now he leaves a large hole to fill. We'll survive, and get back to the business of living. All of us--even Sue, who is another of the most remarkable people I've ever known--will rediscover that the world remains full of things to do, and enjoy, and laugh about. At the same time, we will always remember him, and miss him.

11 August, 2008

Russian "peacekeeping"

The term "peacekeeping" has a fairly straightforward definition. The Russians claim the 1500-man Operational Group of Russian Forces inTrandnestria (seperatist Republic of Moldova) and the CIS-authorized force in Abkhazia (Georgia), as well as the forces operating in South Ossetia as "peacekeeping" forces and claims they operate under the authority of the UN. The UN includes none of them in its official list of peacekeeping forces.

The official mandate of the the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) "peacekeepers" in Abkhazia ended in 2003, but last I heard (May) about 2500 Russian troops remained. Georgia has tried to get the Russians out, to be replaced by a larger UN force, but of course it has gotten nowhere. The UN Security Council refers to the "CIS collective peackeeping operation" in its regular (6 month) reauthorization of the official peacekeeping operation in Ossetia, UNOMIG. If it didn't include that phrase, the Russians would veto reauthorization.

Besides, according to Russia’s Ambassador in Georgia, “The Russian constitution stipulates protecting Russian citizens wherever they may be --- whether in Abkhazia, Zanzibar, Antarctica, wherever,” and President Medvedev (Interfax, Aug 11) is saying that the operation is almost finished. Some quotes:
"The task of forcing the Georgian side, the Georgian authorities, to
[accept] peace in South Ossetia has almost been achieved. Tskhinvali is
under the control of the reinforced Russian peacekeeping contingent."

"We – I mean the Russian peacekeepers – will take all further necessary
measures to protect the lives and dignity of Russian citizens."

“From the political point of view Georgia’s aggression has ruined the
process of searching of the peaceful solution for the Georgian-Ossetian
problem. As a result Georgia has hit an irreparable damage to its
territorial integrity."
The Georgians are looking for help. They won't get much. They really screwed up, and the Russians are taking full advantage ot it.

08 August, 2008

War versus global markets

This could be an interesting test of the relative importance of economic factors in restraining violence:
Ruble, Russian Stocks Fall as Putin Says Georgia `War' Started

By William Mauldin and Emma O'Brien

Aug. 8 (Bloomberg) -- The ruble dropped the most in 3 1/2 years, Russia's Micex Index fell to a 22-month low and bond yields climbed after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said ``war has started'' in the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia.

Credit-defaults swaps, a measure of bond risk, jumped the most this year after Georgia's Interior Ministry said jets bombed the towns of Gori and Kareli near South Ossetia. Yields on government bonds rose.

The ruble fell the most against the central bank's basket of dollars and euros since that gauge was introduced in February 2005. The Micex plummeted, bringing its decline this year to 28 percent after oil slid 20 percent from its July high. Russian ``volunteers'' are pouring over the border to help defend South Ossetia from Georgian forces, Putin told U.S. President George W. Bush in Beijing, according to Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

``We didn't need this,'' said Ivan Mazalov, who helps manage $5 billion in shares of companies from the former Soviet Union at Prosperity Capital Management in Moscow. ``It's not going to break the Russian economy, but war is bad for investor sentiment.''

Russia and Georgia at war

I suspect the timing of the escalation has something to do with Georgia’s efforts to join NATO, coupled with the local power to perhaps do something to block it. It’s bad enough to have American troops (about 500, I believe, training Georgian forces). The Baltic members joined before Russia was in a position to do much about it. Now Georgia, with Ukraine and Moldova next in line.

This could be an attempt to draw a line and protect what the Russians see as their natural sphere of influence. As far as the Russians are concerned, Western influence in these areas have gone much too far already.

Besides, what are the Americans going to do about it? The US has no treaty obligation to defend Georgia, the American military is already overextended, and nobody wants to see American and Russian forces shooting at one another. Last but not least, Russia has had "peacekeepers" in Ossetia for years.

On the ground, Russia appears to have the advantages. Then again, it also did in Finland. And Chechnya. And Afghanistan. Even if the Russians win, if they don’t win quickly (and what do they say they want, anyway?) this could be expensive.

Best guess for the outcome: international condemnation, lots of back-channel negotiating, an unspoken understanding to prevent Georgia’s formal membership in NATO, troops back to each side of the Georgia-Russia border, and a jump in arms sales. In the meantime, people will die.

UPDATE: There were already Russian “peacekeepers” in South Ossetia, supporting the separatists. Jane’s (the best available source) reported this morning it was the Georgians who struck first, apparently “to fully restore its control over the entire separatist territory, rather than a continuation of the sporadic tit-for-tat violence seen in the region over recent years. Georgian forces have mobilised its reserves and launched the attack using tanks, heavy artillery, Grad multiple-barrel rocket launchers and Su-25 attack aircraft in support of its infantry.” From the point of view of Georgia and almost all other countries, the "disputed" territories are part of Georgia, it is within its rights to do this. But progress was apparently being made to end the hostilities. If Georgia chose to start this, now, Georgia has been remarkably stupid.

Can political science be a real science?

I especially appreciate Dan of tdaxp for his ability to cut to the core of a problem. This leads me to rattle (prattle?) on about it in reply. This is based in large part from one of those replies.

Politics is about contesting goals and actions, and the subject can be affected by the act of “explaining” it. This leads the study of politics (including the definition of “politics” itself) to be based on essentially contested concepts.

It would be a lot easier if we could do "normal science." Not easy, by any means, but easier. However, many political scientists don’t want “normal science” because it places out-of-bounds the questions that brought them to the field in the first place. The subfield of political theory, for example, is almost completely normative and philosophical. Some political scientists, starting around the 1960s, engaged in a “behaviorist revolution,” patterned on a simplistic view of how the natural sciences work, that divided the field of international relations for years. It essentially involved counting things and looking for patterns. Within its limits, some of it is quite good, and it has gotten better in the “post-behaviorist” period by incorporating a greater sensitivity for the perils of concept selection and model-building for what is sometimes a multi-level non-linear self-reflexive creative process.

I doubt political science will ever be a what is called a "normal" science so long as it involves people studying (and recreating) themselves. Too much of it is art. I can give you an explanation for art based on evolutionary biology and neurophysiology, but it won't help you to be a better artist or to appreciate great art. Some areas–such as the application of genetics and game theory–are more promising because they deal with the structural realities that humans have greater difficulty changing. These approaches sometimes provide a larger context for the interesting questions. Even incomplete understanding can be useful. But then, I’m the sort that believes there is a “real” world than we can understand better (but never perfectly) by critical observation and abduction. In political science that statement is itself controversial. I can’t “prove” it any more than others can “prove” their worldview to me.

07 August, 2008

Russia: back to the Cold War?

Duck of Minerva has yet another example of Putin and his people looking for ways to reestablish Russia's international status.

Unfortunately for him, the demography doesn't work. And oil--the greatest source of income--is a temporary tool, at best.

I wonder if anyone over in Moscow is considering the consequences for Russia of a "post-oil" global economy? We're not there, and won't be for years, and oil will always be an important commodity in manufacturing, but what will 150 million electric cars in the US, and parallel developments in Europe and Asia, do to Russia's position in the world?

UPDATE: (August 8) It looks like Russia and Georgia are at war. That doesn't negate the long-term trend. In fact, it may even accelerate it. Not that it's any comfort for the people living through the violence.

A book to put at the top of the stack

Yesterday, I wrote a long serious post about Ron Suskind's new book, The Way of the World. Today it's gone.

Conspiracy? More likely I pushed a wrong button somewhere. Meanwhile, just about everything I said was said better here. Read the commentary, read the book, make up your own minds.

03 August, 2008

Learning from history

From the Washington Independent:
After nearly seven years of costly strategic ignorance in the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a coming handbook written mostly by a former top aide to Gen. David H. Petraeus seeks to instruct senior civilian policy-makers about the complexities of counterinsurgency.


Asked for comment, the handbook's chief author, David Kilcullen, a former Australian Army officer who is now an adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, explained that it tells policy-makers to "think very, very carefully before intervening." More bluntly, Kilcullen, who helped Petraeus design his 2007 counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq, called the decision to invade Iraq "stupid" -- in fact, he said "fucking stupid" ** -- and suggested that if policy-makers apply the manual's lessons, similar wars can be avoided in the future.

If we (re)learn some important lessons about the nature and limits of power, perhaps something good will come out of the war.

(Thanks to Fabius Maximus for the pointer.)

EO 12333

Executive Order 12333, issued by Ronald Reagan, is the formal unclassified blueprint for missions and elements of the American intelligence community. It has been amended several time since. The most recent amendment of EO 12333 was issued by the White House last week. If you are an intel geek, you might want to compare the current form to what what came before.

Making a side-by-side of the various forms of EO 12333 is pretty tedious. Fortunately, Cryptome has been following it for years, and has versions that indicate what has been struck out. added. and changed over the years. Some things are clear at first glance:
  • the Director of Central Intelligence, and the CIA as an agency, are in relative decline
  • the Vice President has had growing power to directly task intel elements
  • the concern with WMD is growing
  • the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, and its Director, are in a relative rise
  • there are still problems with getting budgets, personnel, and info-sharing coordinated under the Director of National Intelligence
  • there are "elements" or organizations in the intelligence system that are mentioned in an oblique manner, or only described in the most general terms, which means the "community" has some parts that are too classified to talk about
  • the DNI is gaining the critical power to fire the "subordinate" directors (although I suspect it would never be a straightforward as the order suggests).
What can you find?

UPDATE: Fascinating analysis and comments from a man who knows what he's talking about is found here.

National Defense Strategy

The DoD released the most recent version of The National Defense Strategy of the United States on Friday. It can be found in its entirety at http://www.defenselink.mil/news/2008 National Defense Strategy.pdf . Overall, it looks a lot better than the 2005 document. I think we can thank Secretary Gates for that. For example,
This conflict is a prolonged irregular campaign, a violent struggle for legitimacy
and influence over the population. The use of force plays a role, yet military
efforts to capture or kill terrorists are likely to be subordinate to measures to
promote local participation in government and economic programs to spur
development, as well as efforts to understand and address the grievances that often
lie at the heart of insurgencies. For these reasons, arguably the most important
military component of the struggle against violent extremists is not the fighting we
do ourselves, but how well we help prepare our partners to defend and govern
It's 23 pages, and it's very general. That 's just the nature of the NDS. It's still worth a look.