Saturday, August 16, 2008

Back to cold war style imperialism

It appears there is a resurgence in cold war strategy that is apparent in Georgia. Russia had always preferred bullying in the old "East Bloc" and "Soviet Union". These were not necessarily voluntary unions but ones that were enforced from time to time. The US tended to use money handles to get "client states" on side, and eventually, this proved to be the key to the breakdown of the soviet empire. Communism was an inferior economic model, and its lack of democracy meant it could not adjust appropriately through succession of leaders and failing economies. Thus it appears that although the borders have changed dramatically, the upgraded economics and transformed country altogether have allowed Russia to actively assert its geopolicy of old, which seems to only require a strong military, and complete control over its media. The only tactic that is plausibly optimal for the US is also the Cold war tactics of old - ie. money and military support for client states. There was a nash equilibrium for a long time throughout the cold war with the stalemate perpetuated by Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). The stalemate only ended when the USSR no longer had enough money to continue its strategies. Russia may yet again be vulnerable from say, a commodities bust economically, or a leadership succession issue politically, but these really cannot be counted on in the short term. Thus I foresee a solidification of the front line of the cold war in the Caucauses, and veiled threats of Great escalation as a way to manipulate policy in the future - virtually a return to MAD, in fact. China may well join the fray in imperialism of its own with its front lines of Taiwan etc.

What does Marconomics say about who is to blame for the war in Georgia?
Marconomics states that that is the wrong way to think (see principle 6). Blame in this case implies that there exists an impartial international court that can *both* judge and enforce its findings. Attempting to come to conclusions based on evidence as to who is to blame is putting the cart before the horse. The rules of the game in this case have as the highest court the UN security council. Thus if any of the veto-wielding members are part of the conflict, they cannot be effectively policed, except via threats by one of the other veto-wielding countries.

How did Russia "Win"
There are several strategic masterstrokes that Russia has made in the leadup to this conflict. Of course, in the long run, by the mere dint of the fact that they were "surprise" tactics which humiliated "the west" this will hurt Russia dearly (eventually).

One masterstroke was to give Russian citizenship to South Ossettians who wanted it. I have often thought that giving US citizenship easily to Iraqis (or Bosnians, Kosovars...)under occupation etc. could be easily turned to the US's strategic advantage.
Another smart move was to use the media cleverly to demonise Georgias leadership. As a "nominal" democracy, it is clear that the Russian population is right behind Putin, and think that the Georgian leader (Saakashvili) should be crushed like a bug because they believe him to be a tyrant. It wouldn't surprise me if in ten years, Russians rue the fact that they didn't go all the way and finish the job, much as the US rue the fact that Saddam Hussein wasn't brought down back in Gulf War I.
The tactical masterstroke was to predict Saakashvili's moves, and swiftly orchestrate counter-moves which included extensive propaganda. Staged and prepared propaganda from media fully under your control will always play better than even "nominally" fair and free western style press. Nobody believes the media to be impartial anyway, so it is better to go the whole hog and be as brazenly biased as people can believe.

Given that "true" democracies with "free" press have such a strategic liability over a system like Russia's, does this mean that the political/media systems in Russia (and China) are better than the west's?

No. The long term adaptability of true democracies and the truth-seeking nature of private, free media are decisive in the long run, even given their short term strategic liabilities.

15 comments:

Dr. Clam said...

Does 'blame' really need to imply the existence of an impartial arbitrator? If you select 'maintenance of the pre-War status quo' as the 'good', and for each player consider the questions: What possible action could player X have done to achieve this outcome? And, what would the cost of this action, relative to its resources, have been for player X? The ones who could have stopped the problem most cheaply are the ones who are to 'blame'. This is why the US is invariably to blame for just about everything. Here, what the 'International Community' should have done was be proactive at the time of the fall of the Soviet Union, and tried to broker a peaceful re-jigging of borders at that time, rather than taking the soft option of leaving the international borders as the borders of the SSRs.

The question, 'who should be blamed?', which is more important now, doesn't need an impartial arbitrator either. If you believe in the territorial integrity of these things called nations, a principle that goes back much further than the United Nations, then clearly Russia is to be blamed. If you believe in the once and future supremacy of Dar-al-Islam, then whichever state is less Muslim should be blamed.
If you believe in the Declaration of the Rights of Man, then whatever nation is worse at upholding these should be blamed. I am thinking that Georgia is very far from being a gallant paragon of democracy, especially if you are an member of an ethnic minority group, but that it is probably still better than Russia in this regard.

Marco said...

This very dependence of who should be blamed on the belief system of the discussers involved for one makes it almost impossible to be objective. The existence of an impartial arbitrator (complete with teeth) would have completely changed the actions of all the players anyway. That is why I am saying that it is putting the cart before the horse. You can't objectively say someone is breaking international law if the only reason they are doing it is because they know 100% they will get away with it and nobody will be able to prove it anyway. I am clearly not a fan of the blame game in any guise - except for the case where there are strong versions of all the three separate powers of law-making, law enforcing and law judgements.

Dr. Clam said...

Of course it is impossible to be objective! Just as it is impossible for an arbiter to be impartial. We should not throw words like that around willy-nilly (mea culpa, mea maxima culpa).

But it is true you *can* objectively say that someone is breaking international law, if they are violating treaties that they have committed to of their own free will.

Marco said...

I'll break it down to first principles.
(i) Marconomics is about looking at the strategic consequences of a thing, and not the moral rights and wrongs.
(ii) Blame is therefore only marconomically relevant where there are strategic consequences attached to where the blame lands.
(iii) There has been a great deal of tampering with evidence in this case.
(iv) This conflict was undeclared, so if any treaties were broken, it is impossible to objectively decide who started it.

Therefore, although it is *Definitely* not right just to say that all sides are equally to blame, it is strictly correct to state that it is an unanswerable question through marconomic principles.

Dr. Clam said...

Yes, the only sensible question is 'what do we do next?' - and here there are very clear strategic consequences, by your principle (2), from determining who ought to be blamed.
For instance: I think the UK was the first country to recognise Georgia as an independent state within its Stalinist boundaries, indirectly sparking the current crisis- doubtless part of the international conspiracy of nations whose patron saint is named "George". It would have been easy for the UK not to do this, so by my principle of apportioning fault they are to blame, and should be forced by international public opinion (e.g., threatened boycott of the London Olympics) to provide troops to patrol the cease-fire line and be shot at by both sides for the next 60 years. You know it makes sense.

Marco said...

If you really think that is where the blame is going to land.....
I for one believe that it is certain that blame is going to be polarised ie. each side blames the other. This is the natural human instinct to blame anyone else but oneself. I shall try to make an exception to prove the rule: It was my fault - If it wasn't for what I wrote about Iraq, this whole conflict would never have happened. Gee - that's a load of my chest :)
Anyhow, it is clear that western investment in Russia is going to dry up very smartly. Aid/investment and military support to Georgia will gradually increase.
On the other side, China will look to Russia for increased energy imports.
Places like Iran, Azerbaijan, Chechnya will probably fan the flames or take advantage of the chaos.

Dr. Clam said...

Anyhow, it is clear that western investment in Russia is going to dry up very smartly.

Hmm, I wouldn't be so sure - isn't Russia Germany's largest trading partner? (ref: vaguely remembered internet factoid). I don't think it can dry up without very serious consequences for Europe.

Aid/investment and military support to Georgia will gradually increase.

I don't know- Georgia won the initial stage of the propaganda war, but things are still fluid, Bush-hatred is still out there, and I can see Georgia morphing into Israel, with the international community continually blaming it for not making further concessions. This is of course contingent on Russia not being unduly provocative elsewhere.

On the other side, China will look to Russia for increased energy imports.

Yes- this means Europe needs Russia more than Russia needs Europe.

Places like Iran, Azerbaijan, Chechnya will probably fan the flames or take advantage of the chaos.

Azerbaijan is a well-behaved US ally, so far as I know. They had (possibly have)a solid contingent in Iraq. Geopolitically they look West to Turkey and they don't have any interest in chaos in their neighbourhood.

Chechnya lost its de facto independence some time ago. Assertion of Russian power in the region just brings it further into the fold.

I don't recall ever hearing anything about Iran aiding Islamists in their Near North, despite all the trouble in Chechnya. I don't think they want trouble in the Caucasus. Geopolititically they look south to the Natural Gas reserves not controlled by them and Russia. I think any resurgence of 'Cold War' tensions will push them closer to Russia, which is already the main enabler of their nuclear program.

Dave said...

Hey, you guys are talking about this here, not at Clam's blog [sheepish grin].

Yeah, I can't see Iran choosing to take sides against Russia on behalf of Chechnyan Islamists, they'd be shooting themselves in the foot.

Germany is largely dependent on Russia to provide its energy, so figure on them taking the lead on trying to defuse the Caucausus (I don't know how to spell that) situation. Hrm, why *is* Sarkozy the front man on this? Are the EU just letting him show of his diplomatic licks?

Further question: do trade/energy/economic and defense alliances between China and a resurgent Russia point towards a more or less stable planet in the Marconomic analysis?

Marco said...

Hmmm.. yes. Perhaps I should check specific country by country facts before I start making throwaway predictions. The bad guys are winning by more than I had imagined. The oil price would probably have to plummet to below $40 before Europe could even think of weaning itself off Russia dependence that you talk about. Georgia seems ripe for a Germany-style iron-curtain for Cold War II. Ukraine may find itself on the wrong side of the curtain altogether.
Cold War II might yet be tri-polar, as Chinese nationalism combined with UN veto rights and a more developed country certainly has the opportunity. Does it have any outstanding turf wars with Russia?

Marco said...

The emerging world order appears to be worse for almost everybody except tyrants.

As an example, all that Mugabe has to do is to verbally defend Russia's actions to get all the help he needs to stay in power.

Marco said...

Hrm, why *is* Sarkozy the front man on this? Are the EU just letting him show of his diplomatic licks?

I suspect its a "France is the one with the UN veto" thing.

Dr. Clam said...

Hrm, why *is* Sarkozy the front man on this? Are the EU just letting him show of his diplomatic licks?

Is he rotating president of the EU, or something? I thought I vaguely heard that.

Does [China] have any outstanding turf wars with Russia?

They seem to have tidied up their longstanding border dispute. And are now pals.

Dr. Clam said...

Er, that would be the Renegade Mainland Provinces and Russia.

The ROC still has, er, some outstanding territorial claims.

Marco said...

Yes, a tripolar world would require the border dispute to reopen (big time). In the upcoming Cold war, RMP and Russia will be the one eastern block and will cover for eachother in the UN.

Dr. Clam said...

If a country is defined as: 'something that is recognised by other countries as a country', I notice that there are two non-interesecting sets of them- Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transnistria, and Nagorno-Karabakh all apparently recognise each other, but aren't recognised by any of the countries in the other set. It does not seem like this will last too much longer, however.