And what if there was some rationality involved in Saakashvili’s move?

One might find that Georgia’s president Mikhail Saakashvili move was the dumbest thing a world leader ever did, but what if he had some brain-work put to it?

Everyone was trying to find a reason for why Georgia would take its troops inside South Ossetia while the Russians were intensifying their garrisons on the border, and the best answer they found was that Mr. Saakashvili and his Chiefs of Staff found out that Russia would be so surrounded by the beautiful olympic spirit that they simply would not retaliate. That looks stupid, sounds stupid and if one could smell it, I would bet it would smell stupid. Fortunately for Mikhail Saakashvili there might be a more appealing interpretation of his move, and even though still a strange option, a more reasonable one.

The Second World War (or The Great Patriotic War, whatever ideological preference you have and we here at Imminent Crisis are democratic above all) was what the academic Edward Luttwak called the last heroic conflict that humanity has experienced. In simple opposition we can find the modern conflicts as post-heroic (non-heroic would be disrespectful to our fellow peacekeepers). The post-heroic conflicts, are broadly defined as ones in which there’s no full commitment to the war effort, since there are new conditions and restrictions that a government has to attend that discourage the fulfilling of the hard sacrifices made when a party wages war. Let’s set an example: a state would never sustain enduring efforts and sacrifices for humanitarian reasons in some foreign ground. Remembering Mogadishu or Sarajevo, we look at the limit of the commitment that exists: the United States left the battle after several marines were ambushed and killed and NATO planned a humanitarian intervention in the Balkans that was fought on the air entirely, reducing the “allied” casualties to zero. No one wants to die as a hero for another one’s cause. Neither the people, neither the fighters, neither the politicians. But maybe, just maybe, Georgia’s strategic insight went through the old heroic spirit.

Of course there was no “humanitarian” issue at stake when Mr. Saakashvili did his calculations (even though some say he just wanted to protect Georgians in South Ossetia from Russian authorized ethnic purge) but the point here is the level of commitment that one can have to a war that he knows he can’t win and how that affect his calculations. It’s very odd for some commentator to say that Georgia drove it’s beloved fighters to a battle that was obviously already lost (for the simply analysis of the disponibility of war means by both sides could discourage the clash – being that deterrence or armed suasion, if one prefers), meaning, by other words, that they were sent to the slaughter house. But then again, what if the calculation was done considering that result? What if this result is the composing part of a greater strategy?

It might sound too much of realpolitik for Georgia’s size and matter, but let’s just ask ourselves if wasn’t that a actually intelligent way to force a desired (to Georgia and some other countries) confrontation between Russia and the West? Before the Ossetia move, US and Russia disagreed on Georgia, on Kosovo and in several other questions, but no one made hard moves to each other. Russia did not fussed when the European Union and USA worked out independency to Pristina, but also gave the wise advice that they had just gave a precedent for South Ossetia, Transdniestria, Abkhazia and so on to also go look for it. As for Saakashvili’s Georgia needed the american support to detach from Russian sphere of influence, he needed them to do more than sell UAVs and send training staff.

Georgia’s warfare is now probably reduced to zero and a reasonable number of lives were lost on the conflict. What is more important in the Georgian calculation (and why thinking that way we might see some wisdom and accomplishment in their move) is that now the USA and Europe will have to step in, commit politically and play the cards dealt. The same is for NATO and for Russia. By the way, is not a bad example of that commitment the halt of NATO-Russia Council meetings and deliberations. A long road of negotiations for the settlement of West-Russia good relations is being torn down, yet slowly. For what it looks like, is not the Russian side that is more scared with the situation, but the westerners that will have to handle the tricky issues without poking the Bear.

* Postado originalmente por Daniel Rio Tinto na versão (local) anterior deste blog, no dia 26/08/2008.

Back in the USSR?

One week from the day of the first move in the latest (but probably not last) clash in the Caucasus, not one but two major deals were signed. One of them was a cease-fire agreement, signed by Georgian President Mikheil Saaksashvili and brokered by Nicholas Sarkozy (his Russian counterpart Dmitri Medvedev signed the agreement on Saturday), the other was the deal signed by Poland and the U.S. which allows for the deployment of American interceptor missiles in Polish soil as a component of the long-debated US “Missile Shield”.

Both agreements are tentative and don’t necessarily mean the end of the struggle, be it the struggle over the breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia or the one over the missiles. Actually, the success of one could mean the failure of the other. Poland’s agreement to house American missiles, after a great deal of stress within Poland and fierce debates as to the pro’s and con’s of doing so, was a product of the fear of renewed Russian assertiveness and increased American pressure. An easing of tensions following the success of the cease-fire could lead to less support for a move that was made under a (false?) sense of urgency. This holds especially if the Poles realize that Saakashvili’s test of Russian temper was a major cause of Georgia’s ill-fate.

Although both sides are guilty of provocative and overeager behavior, it’s increasingly clear that Georgia made the first definitive move. The West has been testing Russia’s patience for quite a while. Since 1991, one could say, but a glance at recent events should suffice. NATO’s encroachment of Russia, the American recognition of an independent Kosovo (which Putin WARNED IN ADVANCE could lead to similar claims regarding South Ossetia and Abkhazia), and, last but definitely not least, the absurd missile-shield plan defended in casual and patronizing tone by the US.

As Russians were quick to note, the hurry with which the US-Poland agreement was signed – not to mention Ukraine’s pledge to participate in the missile defense system and increased restrictions on activities in the Russian naval base of Sevastopol – betrays the true intentions behind the missile-shield and just who the threat is perceived to be (“protection against Iran, eh George?”). And although Russia has nothing to fear from this “shield” (see why) – or maybe precisely because it’s such a gratuitous move – it will feel compelled to push back in other spots of the world that are of Western concern. It is in this sense that insistence on the fantastic idea of a missile-shield could have sealed Georgia’s fate: Russia may feel all the less willing to let this one slide.

The realization that Western self-righteous, self-serving, patronizing and passive-aggressive behavior towards Russia for the past decade or so is one of the major drivers of Russian assertiveness (coupled with what Thomas Friedman called the First Law of Petropolitics) has not been enough to convince some commentators to rethink their stance. Quite to the contrary, it has led them to dig up the ghost of appeasement. Yes, though it should be quite obvious that 21st century Russia is not Nazi Germany and Putin is not Hitler, the latter’s specter looms large and the analogy gets thrown around. The fact that Secretary of State Rice compared Russia’s invasion of Georgia to Brezhnev’s 1968 and not to Hitler’s 1938 invasion of Czechoslovakia is thus actually a small relief.

This was the kind of thinking that provided the rationale for a “vigilant containment” of the USSR since the aftermath of the WWII. The predominance in the United States of the belief that a sustained strategy of containment “won” the Cold War lends further credence to this idea even today. But Putin’s Russia is not Soviet Union either.

All these flawed analogies obscure what should be the real lessons drawn from the history of the Cold War, namely that paranoid, frantic “containment” of even a moderately conservative, defense-minded power is counterproductive and acts as a self-fulfilling prophecy. The Soviets were not without their share of the blame for the Cold War, and the bipolar distribution of capabilities made SOME tension and counterpoising inevitable; but Kennan-style containment of the “red threat” just made it harder to deal with the complex realities of international politics.

In the Cold War, the “West against the rest” formula made it impossible for the US to work the cleavages in the “communist bloc” fully to its advantages, namely the Sino-Soviet split from the 60’s onward. Today, the fact that Russia and China both failed to democratize after the fall of communism and thus remain the main players of what Robert Kagan and others have recently characterized as the other extreme of a new divide, between democratic and authoritarian governments, pushes analogical new-cold-war thinking a step further. Recasting the old Cold War formula in these new terms risks, therefore, any prospect of a sensible strategy towards China (and Iran, for that matter), as well as towards Russia.

There is some truth to this reading, though. As Kagan powerfully argues, it is in the fault-lines between democracy and authoritarianism that conflict is more likely to occur these days (see his The Return of History and the End of Dreams, where he stops inches short of predicting the present war). This happens because democracies are increasingly pushy and downright abusive when it comes to “good governance”, “responsibility”, and “democratization”; and authoritarians, jealous of their power positions and sovereign rights, and are not afraid to play the power game to keep intruders at bay. It’s not a necessary feature of power politics, but a sad reality with nasty consequences.

And like in the Cold War, it’s the small players that are the most enthusiastic about this “ideological” struggle, because it blinds statesmen to the necessities of power politics. Saakashvili was quick to play the democracy card, the Western media followed suit, and so did American leaders, though not to the extent that Saakashvili hoped. He was counting, fantastically, on Western intervention on his behalf. Putin decried the ridiculous notion that government-type politics should trump power politics and, luckily, cooler heads prevailed. Crude power considerations no doubt played a major part in preventing the West from taking a much tougher stance against Russia, but the picture is clear: Russia comes out of the war as the bad guy, and some major developments in Russia’s integration into the “international society” (e.g. NATO-Russia cooperation, Russian candidacy to the WTO) will suffer.

But the big losers here are the US and Europe. Europeans do not want to pick a fight with Russia right now. The Euro-zone is going through some difficult economic times and the European Union is still not a cohesive actor in foreign and defense affairs, and Russia has been very successful in driving wedges between European countries. Tension with Russia could put overwhelming stress on both economic and political integration in Europe.

The US have bigger fish to fry in the Far East, but instead of devising a comprehensive strategy to deal with a rising China – something that has been a top political priority in Russia –, let alone a strategy that takes advantage of the potential divergences between Russia and China (such as the Chinese Diaspora in Siberia or disputes over political influence in Central Asia, South Asia and the Middle East), American politicians keep pushing both countries together.

This war was not the political blunder of the decade, but it was pretty close. Thousands of Ossetians lost their homes, Georgia is probably going to lose both provinces and any chance of joining NATO anytime soon, and Saakashvili could lose his job. Russia lost any remaining sympathy from the West and could lose a lot of money in trade and investment. Though Poland stands to lose a lot more in case of a nuclear exchange, the chances of this happening (or of Poland surviving an all-out nuclear war even if it didn’t accept American missiles) should not be overestimated. The US and Europe are losing in the long term as well as the short term, as was argued above. Even China lost, by having its thunder stolen. To the extent that this war is turned into an omen of the “dawn of a New Cold War” we’re all losers.

* Postado originalmente por Dani Nedal na versão (local) anterior deste blog, no dia 16/08/2008.

Georgia’s on my mind!

1)The Republic of Georgia Map (with references to Abkhazia and South Ossetia) by United Nations Cartographic Section


Hello Humble Reader!

After four months with no new posts, Imminent Crisis was awaken from the calmness by the remarkable situation in Georgia.

Even though the happenings in South Ossetia are not exactly surprising (many of us were already expecting this to come), it is interesting to see a inter-state (involving quasi-states, for the sake of irony) war that doesn´t directly involve the United States by this time. For it has come to the attention of those who try to write some interesting and (at least) funny words at this place, the Situation in Georgia shall be addressed by some notes and quotes.

If you don´t find that so funny, at least it´ll be funny that we wrote that post using the “Georgia” font! DUH!

Being that said…we´ll stop the chit-chat…and start talking crisis.

The Imminent Crisis Crew

* Postado originalmente por Daniel Rio Tinto na versão (local) anterior deste blog, no dia 13/08/2008.

Can they spin it?

The Bush administration has been eager to stop Iran’s drive towards becoming a nuclear power. It spent years pushing for Security Council sanctions, pressuring for international inspections, etcetera; everything short of declaring war (but coming pretty damn close to it). And then along came the last U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran’s nuclear weapons program informing that the program has been halted since 2003. Many have been quick to point out the seemingly obvious, how that ruins the American case against Iran. However, cooked up with another purpose in mind, the November 2007 (released in December) NIE is NOT a definitive blow to Bush’s Iran policy; it can work either for it or against it. It all depends on how the administration sells the report.

First of all, let’s take a second to look back at NIE records and ponder just how reliable they are, and thus how seriously this one should be taken. Misinformed NIEs were at the heart of most major misperceptions and subsequent foreign policy screw-ups during the Cold War and beyond. Faulty intelligence assessments led to Eisenhower’s “bomber gap” of the late 50’s and JFK’s “missile gap” of the late 50’s/early 60’s which helped re-fuel the tensions among both superpowers. NIEs backed Khrushchev’s boasts of “burying the US” in the economic and military race and led many to believe the USSR might surpass the US, while the Soviet economy was really holding by strings. Later NIEs came out to dispel these misperceptions, but only when reality was already clear enough. More recently, NIEs came out supporting and then denying claims of Iraqi WMDs, Al Qaeda’s ties with Saddam and, of course, Iran’s nuclear weapon program. So, the best we can say about intelligence estimates is that they are right 50% of the time. The worst we can say is that they’re just as biased as any other government document and serve a policy purpose; they’re as much a cause of policy as a consequence of it.

The NIE in question is no different. It shouldn’t be regarded as an input that can change policy directives, but as a result of changes which already occurred and made it necessary – and possible – for the government to ease the pressure on Iran. Some of the main ones are the deepening of the financial crisis in the US and now creeping recession, the relative improvement in Iraq (which can be traced to less Iranian interference, some argue), sky-rocketing oil prices, worsening Russian-American relations, and the political crisis in Pakistan. If an intervention (multilateral or otherwise) in Pakistan is to be considered even as ultima ratio the US must be at relative ease with Iran. The presidential election should probably be factored in as well, but not to the same extent as the above, since it doesn’t pose such unambiguous incentive regarding the Iranian situation. All these elements make it extremely hard for the US government to push against Iran. For that alone the NIE, by minimizing the sense of urgency and impending doom that had been previously overplayed by American diplomats and pundits, can be accounted favoring American policy.

On the other hand, to the extent that the report can be interpreted as evidence that the US has been wasting time and energy, it’s largely a push on a shove. Talks with Iran have been clearly going nowhere for some time now. Ahmadinejad has only profited from the attention, boosted his confidence and sounds as provocative as ever. Meanwhile, Iranian uranium processing capabilities are developing and sanctions are yet to have a serious effect on the country’s economy. Iran is far from isolated: its relations with central- and east-Asian countries are holding up fine. China, for example, already relies on Iran for over 10% of its crude oil imports and has recently signed a multi-billionaire agreement to partner up with Iran to explore the Yadavaran oilfield. That the US has been wasting a lot of time and energy on Iran is a given, and we don’t need the NIE to tell us that.

Herein lies the twist: While the NIE states that, contrary to all previous expectations, from 2003 to at least mid-2007 the Iranian nuke program was halted, it also states – and that’s the part we ought to stress – that “Iran has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity eventually to produce nuclear weapons if it decides to do so,” BUT “may be more vulnerable to influence on the issue than we judged previously.” It goes on to say that “some combination of threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressures, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways, might—if perceived by Iran’s leaders as credible—prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program.” So, far from detracting from American efforts against Iran, the report actually upholds them as the cause undelying the suspension of the Iranian nuclear program in the first place! And it calls for more of the same.

Countries who gave up their nuclear weapon programs are not unheard of: South Africa, Libya and Brazil are just a few examples. And there is some truth to the claim that international pressure has had a hand in delaying the Iranian nuke program. The main problem with that line of reasoning, though, is that it seems to blissfully ignore the side-effects of mismanaged international pressure. For the greater part it has been worst than useless, actually adding to Ahmadinejad’s appeal, justifying his drive for an insurance against foreign (read American) intervention, and bringing Iran together with other “victims of imperialist harassment,” like Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela.

The NIE comes, then, not to damage Bush’s Iran policy, but to save face and flip history on its head. No longer an oil-powered hatemonger bent on spreading nukes to terrorists and wiping Israel and their American patrons off the map, Tehran is supposed to be now a rational actor, “guided by a cost-benefit approach”. So all the US has to do is keep up the good work. Great news, huh?

*This essay was first published in the Drill Press digital magazine Spooky Action at a Distance. For the original click here. For the version in portuguese click here.

* Postado originalmente por Dani Nedal na versão (local) anterior deste blog, no dia 07/04/2008.

The Bad Decision Dinosaur

By Dorothy (found on
(If you can´t read it properly, click on it to open a bigger version)

This is, undoubtedly, one of the best comics/charges I ever put my eyes on.

The Bad Decision Dinosaur may look quite new to the reader, but I´m sure he has been near a few times, even if not properly noticed.

Here, for instance. Is quite hard to see him sometimes, but if you take a little time and effort staring…

Saw him here? I could spot him behind.

This is quite an old picture.
For as far as I know, Mr. Colin Powell resigned, and so did Mr. Donald Rumsfeld.

Nowadays, I imagine I´d see only Mr. Bush and the Bad Decision Dinosaur. But then again, I wish Mr. Bush gave a little time for the Dinosaur to visit some other “world leader in need”.

Like Kim Jong-Il, e.g.

Awww…wishful thinking sucks!

With my best compliments.

P.S: This little piece of “IR amenities humour” is somehow a “firestarter” for a more technical and serious (yes, you heard me) accessment on Iraq, that shall be coming any time now.

* Postado originalmente por Daniel Rio Tinto na versão (local) anterior deste blog, no dia 27/08/2007.