What is Old is New Again
By Paul Davis
As we grow older, we discover through events that occur around us that the world changes little and that history repeats itself regardless of what we should have learned and passed on. Not all lessons are benign, not all lessons that would keep us from harm are learned. I began my military career in the early 1970’s just as the war in Vietnam was winding down. The enemy at the time was the Soviet Union with its large army and nuclear capabilities. Through a series of deterrent actions such as the Berlin Brigade or direct actions such as the Cuban Missile crisis we out lasted the evil empire and watched as peace broke out around the world, or most of it, or some of it, well at least for a little while. My analytic career as well began with the Soviet Union then progressed, both in the military and then as a civilian, from the Soviet Union, through North Korea and then the Middle East. So now, after all these years, and triumphs and the peace dividend, where are the hot spots, and which regions/countries threaten world peace, Russia, North Korea and the Middle East. The news and events of the day continue to remind us that the world is a dangerous place to live.
Russia (USSR, Czarist Empire) has always been paranoid and xenophobic. It has always relied on hard power, its military. Even under the Czars, it was never an economic power, though it had the potential after the fall of the Soviet Union. Today it has Oil and Natural Gas and uses these resources as a weapon to subjugate and control. It has always been expansionist and it has never gotten along with the West. Now today thugs run the country. These thugs envision a return to empire and to expand back to the lands they lost; historically they have expanded through force of arms.
The West apparently does not understand Russia. We rejoiced when the Soviet Union fell and elected the first president of Russia, a verbose alcoholic. We then saw a “democratic” transfer of power from the alcoholic to an unknown former KGB agent. The KGB agent then engineered another election in which his handpicked successor became President and he became Prime Minister. This was convenient since it allowed for no real transfer, which became official in the next election when the KGB agent was once again the President and his successor became the Prime Minister. During this time things started to get interesting. In 2008, Russia decided that the regions of a former Soviet Republic, Georgia, actually should be independent since they had Russian speaking separatist movements. Therefore, while the West tried to negotiate a resolution, Russia invaded and “freed” Abkhazia and South Ossetia; the US imposed economic sanctions, which did not last after the next administration reset the world. The thugs also decided that this whole experiment in a free market economy needed to be brought under the thumb of the thugs. How to do this? The KGB guy had an idea. In 2003, a privately owned oil company under the leadership of Mikhail Khodorkovsky was in direct competition with the government both economically and politically. The government, now stop me if you have heard this one, arrested Mikhail Khodorkovsky on trump up charges and shipped him off to Siberia. Next take the private company and roll its assets into the government run oil industries. The West will not object as long as they get their oil. The West did not object. OK now let’s see what can be done about all this foreign capital in Russia that the thugs don’t control. In 2007 a financial group called, Hermitage Capital Management was accused of trump up tax evasion charges and taken over by government goons. This time an employee of the firm, Sergei Magnitsky, thought he could help by bringing out the truth. He was wrong. He is dead. This time the West, after several years, did something. The US congress passed a law that barred some Russian officials blamed for the death from entering the US.
Now let us move forward to 2014. The thugs have now seen that the West in more interested in oil and peace then right and wrong. That when their morals are affronted they will resort to wholesale diplomatic finger wagging. So next, the thugs chopped off a piece of Ukraine that they claim is full of Russians and really should be independent like those parts of Georgia. No wait, the West did nothing then so let us not just say they are independent lets hold an open and honest vote with Russian troops in the street that makes this part of Ukraine part of Russia. This now is too much for the West that, after days of finger wagging, decides to punish the thugs by economic sanction of about seven people, most of whom have no economic interests that the West can control. You know the rest some additional sanctions imposed on additional people. Yes, the sanctions have hurt the Russian economy but as we said, they have never been an economic power so the thugs will not feel the pain.
Now the thugs have been trying for years to bring the whole of Ukraine back into the new empire but most Ukrainians do not like the Russians, and would like to be part of the West. Well the thugs cannot have that, so they send in special army units to pretend to be Russian speaking Ukrainians to arm and train Ukrainian thugs who may be able to chop off more land for Russia. To this end Moscow continued to arm the rebels with more and more sophisticated weapons, until it resulted in the deaths of 298 innocent people going home or on vacation or, for some of the top researchers in the world, to an AIDS convention. This horrific consequence of war shook the resolve of the Russians and their Ukrainian proxies for about 24 hours; long enough to remove the anti-aircraft missile launcher back to Russia. The Russians did hold back for a while until the Ukrainian terrorist started to lose the fight. The Russians then invaded with a small army to rescue the agenda they had set out, the annexation of Ukraine. Up to today. The west has failed, the Russians are looking more and more like they will annex east Ukraine and the Ukrainian government is helpless to stop it without western support. DIRECT western support.
HOW DID WE GET HERE
Now let’s get back to lessons learned or not learned. In order to do this we need to travel back in time (this is when you see the wavy lines and hear strange music) back to 1532. In his book, “The Prince” Nicolo Machiavelli asked “… is it better to be loved then feared or feared then loved…” The answer obviously is feared. Am I endorsing Machiavelli, of course not, but sometimes he does make a good point. Now let’s move a little forward in time to 1832. Following his death, the book, “On War” by the Prussian General Carl von Clausewitz was published. I will not go into all of what he wrote but one thing he did point out is that war is a continuation of foreign policy by other means. There are many interpretations of what he meant, but all agree that at a minimum when diplomacy fails, the state still has the military option. How does all this tie in. In 1966, Thomas Schelling an American economist and professor of foreign affairs, national security, nuclear strategy, and arms control wrote “Arms and Influence” in the first chapter, he wrote about the “diplomacy of violence.” The diplomacy of violence states, amongst other things, that regardless of the size and capability of your military should your enemy perceive that it will not be used then the deterrent effect is nullified. In other words if the military option is off the table then the bad guy has nothing to fear. This is the lesson the leaders of today have not yet learned. That what has been passed down to us by all of the above and others is that without the military option there is no diplomatic option.
Russia has no reason to be concerned over its actions, there is nothing the West will do, we have removed the military option. As I stated above no iteration of Russia has ever been an economic power and the threat of economic sanctions is of little effect. In fact, I can think of no place in modern history where economic sanctions had any effect other than punishing subjugated populations.
This is not a call to arms every time someone pisses us off. Diplomacy is always the preferred method to conflict resolution. Nevertheless, we must understand that diplomacy has to be a two way street with both sides acting to come to a reasonable accord. When you are dealing with thugs, if there is no fear of a violent response, there is no hope for a peaceful resolution. There was nothing we could have done when Russia took the Crimea. Yes, we could have streamed ships into the Black Sea or sent troops to Kiev. This would not at the time been a credible deterrent since there was no belief of any actual engagement. Had there been, then maybe the threat would have been enough. Had there been then maybe the crisis would not have begun. Had Europe stood up to Hitler in the 1930’s would so many have died. In 1962, did the world become safer when the US confronted the Soviet Union over missiles in Cuba and the Kremlin understood that the threat of force was real? I do not believe that war is an answer to the world’s problems but I do believe that sometimes there needs to be a credible threat of violence to contain violence.
Benjamin Franklin said “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” Can we paraphrase that to say those who give up someone else’s liberty to secure their own temporary safety… well you get the point.