The Edward Snowden saga has confused me. He decided to reveal information about NSA surveillance. He revealed that information in a piecemeal and confusing way. He decided to surface in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is sovereign Chinese territory: we are supposed to believe that Chinese intelligence did not get any information from him while he was there. He then travelled to the Russian Federation. Once the U.S. began extradition proceedings in Hong Kong he might not have had any other options but Russia ... but nonetheless that is where he wound up.
Glenn Greenwald just told me on national television that Russian agents have not had any interactions with Mr. Snowden (or copied his data by other means) because they “want him gone.” I have immense trouble believing that.
The NSA surveillance programs are complicated things that deserve to be brought to light and debated. I am glad that Snowden revealed what he revealed. We now need to debate them. An American court of law seems not a bad place to have that debate. A braver man than Mr. Snowden would have risked going to court, as did Daniel Ellsberg. No?
Still, one can imagine why he would want to remain outside the American criminal justice system. But why then did he not surface in one of the Bolivarian nations in Latin America? Going to Hong Kong seems entirely mysterious unless Mr. Snowden intended to pass information to the Chinese government. And it was not hard to know that Hong Kong has an extradition agreement with the United States.
It is possible that Snowden wants to end up in Russia. It is not unreasonable to think that in Latin America he would not be safe from be vulnerable to apprehension by U.S. agents. But going to Russia, I would think, means giving Vladimir Putin all the information that he has. Am I wrong to assume that?
I am glad that Mr. Snowden revealed what he revealed. And I am gratified that the revelations have moved American public opinion despite Mr. Snowden’s odd decisions. But until new information is revealed, the man himself has not got my sympathy.
It looks like Ecuador is backing away from Snowden. Their position now boils down to the following: if he can get here (or at least to one of our embassies) then we will consider his petition.
The reason does not seem to be American pressure. The first arrow in the American quiver would be Ecuador’s preferences under the Andean Trade Preference Act. Only now Ecuador has unilaterally renounced its benefits! So it ain’t that.
Rather, it seems that the diplomatic staff in London was going off the reservation and giving the impression that Julian Assange ran Ecuadorean foreign policy. So President Correa cooled things off by stating that Ecuador would do nothing unless and until Snowden got to its territory.
If I had to guess, I think that Ecuador would grant asylum if Snowden could get there. I think it is a risk that Mr. Snowden should be willing to take. The question really is whether the Russians (and Cubans, since no Ecuadorean jet can reach Moscow directly and the only commercial flights go through Cuba) will let him. I have no doubt that Raúl Castro would be fine with letting him change planes. The Ecuadoreans might be reluctant to let him board a TAME flight in Havana without a passport (although I would bet that Correa would let him) but that would mean only the need for a flight through Venezuela. And honestly, President Maduro would not have a problem.
So it is up to President Putin. Alas for Mr. Snowden. What does Putin want?
All right, so this story is neither unpredictable nor surprising. But it seems ironic. Hugo Chávez, you see, has made a deliberate policy of attracting investment from countries like Russia and China in order to displace the evil companies from the Empire. He would be free from the Empire without losing access to foreign capital and technology. The foreign companies, meanwhile, would get good deals from the Bolivarian Republic, and be protected by diplomatic ties.
How’s that working out? Um, not so great. On September 16, 2011, the government nationalized the gold industry. (The link goes to the text of the decree, for those who are interested in the gory details.) The decree was not, it seems, expected. On April 3rd, the Venezuelan government took over Rusoro, a Russian-owned (and Canadian-listed) gold mining company.
Rusoro says that it’s invested a billion dollars in its operations, and holds title to $3 billion in gold reserves. (In 2010, it had a book value of roughly $590 million.) The market does not agree. At the end of 2010 it was worth only $182 million. Moreover, it had to sell 60% of its output to the Banco Central de Venezuela at an exchange rate of 4.30 bolívares per dollar, at a time when the black market rate was around 8.3.
But Venezuela has gone ahead and nationalized it anyway, for reasons that are beyond me. The company currently has a market cap of $34 million and loses money. The Russian connection meant nothing. So now the owners have put a limit: come to an agreement by June 15th, or go to ICSID. I have no idea what they will get; I will bet it has an NPV above $34 million.
My money is on a settlement. I wish I understood why President Chávez wants to bother, though.
Short version: intervening in Syria would be much, much harder and more expensive than intervening in Libya. This was true back in March, and it’s still true today.
(1) The uprising in Syria has never remotely approached the success of the uprising in Libya. Syria has seen a bunch of large, sustained protests and demonstrations. That’s great! But Libya saw the effective secession of almost half the country. By the middle of March, the rebels controlled the country’s second largest city. About a fifth of the country’s area and maybe a third of its population had passed completely out of government control. Major government military units had gone over to the rebel’s side. Nothing like that has happened in Syria.
(2) Syria has an actual, functioning air force. This is in sharp contrast to Libya, which did not. Syria actually has late-ish model planes, pilots who know how to fly them, and some semblance of a professional administrative and logistical infrastructure to support them. No, the Syrians couldn’t stand up to a sustained war with NATO — but they exist, and would have to be dealt with.
(3) Syria has an actual, functioning air defense system. Again a sharp contrast to Libya. As with the air force, it could be dealt with — but it would take time, and would likely cost casualties.
(4) Syria’s in a much, much more delicate and complicated location. Just look at a map. Taking Gaddafi out was relatively easy — Egypt and Tunisia just had their revolutions, and nobody cares much about Chad. But Syria? Israel, Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon. What a nightmare. Do I need to spell out why this makes everything much harder and more fraught?
(5) Assad is much less diplomatically isolated than Gaddafi. By 2010, the Brother Leader had managed to alienate or annoy pretty much everyone. Even the Arab League openly despised him. His nominal “friends” in the Mediterranean — most notably Berlusconi’s government in Italy — turned out to be fair-weather indeed. Russia restricted itself to tut-tuts from a distance. Only in Sub-Saharan Africa did he have any real allies left, and the plain sad fact is that Niger and Senegal just don’t count for much when you’ve got the United States, United Kingdom, and French Republic all lined up against you. With bombs.
Assad, on the other hand, is a respected member of the international club. He’s a dictator, but he’s not a flake. He’s a reasonable neighbor. (Well, unless you’re Lebanese. More accurately, a Lebanese of a certain political flavor.) The Arab League is never going to pass a resolution approving force against him. And the Russians are likely to veto anything in the Security Council — they’re much closer to him than they ever were to Gaddafi. They’ve had a small naval base at the Syrian port of Tartus since the 1970s, and they’ve sold weapons to the Syrians since forever.
In fact, the Russians were just closing a deal to sell Syria a bunch of Yakhont antiship missiles when the uprising started. The Yakhont is basically a bigger, dumber Exocet; a supersonic cruise missile designed to kill large ships from far away. Israel vigorously protested the deal, for fear Syria would pass a couple along to Hezbollah. (Hezbollah blew a massive hole in an Israeli corvette a few years back using a crappy little Chinese C-802, and my co-blogger will eventually post something about his research on the brewing conflict over Israel’s new offshore gas fields, so it’s a quite reasonable fear.) Remember how in Libya, we had capital ships hanging around just offshore from Tripoli, and the Charles de Gaulle parked conveniently just a bit further out? That wouldn’t happen in Syria; even the faint possibility of shore launched cruise missiles would make any sane admiral pull his ships well back over the horizon.
Oh, and he’s got the Iranians on side, at least for the moment. I think the Iranians would switch sides in a flash, if they thought it was in their interest — but until they reach that point, they’re backing him firmly. (They just replaced their ambassador to Damascus with a hardliner with ties to the Revolutionary Guards.)
(6) Assad is much less physically isolated than Gaddafi. Libya looks like a solid block of territory, but in fact it’s like Canada — a long, thin populated strip and a vast empty hinterland. 90% of the population lives within 100 km of the coast. The civil war cut that strip in two, east and west. Gaddafi had an open path to the south, but as supply lines they were meaningless; an 800 km drive across desert, and then you’re in Niger. (A country whose major resources are under French control.) With NATO controlling the seas, virtually everything in Gaddafi’s territory had to come in or out through Tunisia, most of it on a single coastal road. The moment the rebels cut that road was the moment when everything changed for good.
There’s nothing like this in Syria, which has well-developed land links to all its neighbors except Israel. And most of Syria’s coast is actually Lebanon. Nobody’s going to blockade Lebanon. As with the air defenses, this is a solvable issue — but it makes everything much, much more difficult and expensive.
So, to summarize:
I wish the Syrian people good luck in getting rid of the loathsome Assad regime. But the plain fact is, they’ll have to do it without direct military help from us.
I am reading The Icarus Syndrome, by Peter Beinart. It’s a good book. Unfortunately, it gives a misleading impression of the strategic situation during the Cuban missile crisis. Moreover, the misleading impression is unnecessary for Beinart’s overall argument.
The Icarus Syndrome is about hubris and American foreign policy. Beinart argues that hubris (from different sources at different times) caused foreign policy overreach, first in World War 1, then in Vietnam, and then in Iraq. In the case of the Cuban missile crisis, he wants to fit it into a seamless narrative connecting Cold War “toughness” with the debacle in Indochina. Therefore, Beinart wants to imply that the Cuban confrontation of October 1961 was about toughness and signalling, rather than actual concrete strategic threats.
On page 155, Beinart writes:
At first Kennedy was not sure why the Cuban missiles posed such a grave threat. (“What difference does it make?” he mused. “They’ve got enough to blow us up now anyway.”) But when he met with his advisers, a consensus quickly formed that the missile were intolerable. Whether or not the actually threatened America, Kennedy later explained, they “would have appeared to, and appearances contribute to reality.”
This description gives a misleading view of President Kennedy’s actual thinking. The first quote comes from page 72 of James Hershberg’s piece on the Cuban missile crisis in the Cambridge History of the Cold War. The quote is from a months before the U.S. detected Soviet missiles in Cuba, and appears to have been an offhand comment taken from a tape recording. As I will explain in a moment, Soviet missiles in Cuba did in fact give the USSR an offensive capability that it otherwise lacked, something that JFK knew quite well.
The second quote comes from pp. 174-75 of Melvyn Leffler’s For the Soul of Mankind: the United States, the Soviet Union, and the Cold War, and Leffler’s paragraph is worth quoting in full:
Kennedy acknowledged that Khrushchev did not want to use the missiles in Cuba to attack the United States. But their presence in the Caribbean “would have politically changed the [world] balance of power. It would have appeared to, and appearances contribute to reality.” The Soviet leader had demonstrated again that he could not be trusted. Through guile and through daring, the Soviets ceaselessy sought to create “a monolithic communist world.”
In context (and Leffler is a very good historian) is clear that Kennedy’s comment referred to Soviet intentions, whereas Beinart makes it seem that it applied to Soviet capabilities. To analogize, Leffler recounts the fact that Kennedy stated that Khrushchev had loaded a gun and pointed it at the U.S., although he knew full that Khrushchev had no intention of pulling the trigger. Beinart, however, gives the impression that Kennedy was saying that the gun wasn’t loaded. (More accurately, he gives the impression that the Soviet leader was merely pointing a handgun at the U.S., when he already carried an assault rifle.)
In 1962, the Soviet Union possessed very little ability to threaten the continental United States with nuclear weapons. Let me repeat that. This is not something that was publicly known at the time, but it was something that was known by the President of the United States. In 1961, President Kennedy received a report indicating that the USSR possessed only four ICBMs, all at a test site in Plesetsk. In November 1961, the President received a dissenting CIA report that included the following table:
In other words, even the dissenters believed that the Russians likely had only 10 (or 25 on the outside) missiles, all of which were vulnerable to U.S. attack. We now know from Soviet sources that the low estimate was spot-on: the Strategic Rocket Forces had only 10 operational intercontinental ballistic missiles at the beginning of 1962, whose reliability the commanders did not trust. Soviet missiles at the time relied on radio guidance, which in turn depended on installations that were not likely to survive a war, given the American ability to quickly detect Soviet launches.
As for bombers, here is Anthony Cordesman: “Soviet long range bomber forces consisted only of 100 Tu-Bears and 35 May Bison, whose range and flight characteristics forced them to fly at medium and high altitudes, and which made them extremely vulnerable to U.S. fighters and surface-to-air missiles.” What Cordesman doesn’t mention is that U.S. surface-to-air missiles at the time were armed with nuclear warheads, which made them extremely effective at destroying incoming aircraft.
In short, placing Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba substantially changed the strategic balance. Moreover, in hanging tough, President Kennedy took less of a risk with American lives than is commonly perceived. The missiles in Cuba held the possibility of devastating wide swathes of the southeastern United States (and Western Europe would have been destroyed) but the sort of civilization-destroying attack that was very real by 1973 was not on the table in 1962. Of course, the logic also applies in the converse: by refusing calls to attack the missile sites in Cuba, the President was showing much greater restraint than he is commonly credited.
It is true, of course, that the Soviet buildup was so quick that within a decade any missiles in Cuba truly would have been superfluous. Moreover, as indicated, Kennedy did not believe that Moscow intended a first strike. (The fact that Moscow could not have pulled one off explains the President’s certainty, of course.) Restraint was of course an option. The point, however, is that there were solid strategic reasons to resist the placement of nuclear missiles in Cuba. It was not just about signalling and toughness and (by implication) pointless machismo.
None of this alters Beinart’s overall point. He makes an excellent argument about hubris, the cult of toughness, and the descent into Vietnam. The problem is that he wanted to make the Cuban confrontation a seamless part of that narrative, but it just doesn’t easily fit.
Below the fold, Brad DeLong argues that what he calls the “Barrington Moore problematic” is no longer a useful way of ordering the social sciences.
What is the Barrington Moore problematic, you ask? (Yes, I had to google the name.) In short, it is the search for the answer to why 20th-century states gave rise to regimes like Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. In an advanced industrial society and a backwards industrializing one, regimes arose which killed millions of people. And even without those horrible ideologies, the First World War showed modern states using nationalism to mobilize for slaughter on an unprecedented scale. Understanding why drove research agendas for a long time; it certainly provided a useful way to organize undergraduate education.
DeLong argues, with good reason, that this no longer dominates. Modern Western societies mobilize rapidly against even relatively mild forms of racism or authoritarianism. Other societies sometimes (but ever less) give rise to tinpot dictators or self-proclaimed socialists, but they are simply not the same.
Al-Qaeda is not about to seize control of any state. Hugo Chávez may be leading an increasingly authoritarian regime, but he is no Joseph Stalin: he isn’t even a Fidel Castro. (Heck, these days even Fidel Castro isn’t much of a Fidel Castro.) And for all the attention to the threat of chaos, embodied by nihilistic terrorists or drug cartels, neither has really been able to do much damage inside functioning modern democratic states.
We need, therefore, to find a new overarching question to bind together the social sciences.
Except ... well ... in one field, economics, a lot of people believed that we had achieved a Great Moderation. Depressions were a thing of the past. Well, not so much. In political science, many believed that we had a pretty good handle on what politics looked like under first-past-the-post. Again, not so much.
Do we really understand why the world hasn’t been turning up many Stalins lately? Are we sure that Communism and facism and future things like them are dead? Is it in fact time to abandon the study of dictatorship and democracy because things look like okay, right now?
Well, probably yes. That said, I worry that in a few years or decades the below essay (under the fold) just might (perhaps) look a little bit like the literature on the Great Moderation, or the Westminster system, or worse yet the positivism that preceeded the First World War. Maybe, just maybe, after the resurgence of problems that so many thought were dead, we just might not yet want to abandon the search for the roots of totalitarianism.
And it sure wouldn’t hurt to keep undergraduate education focused on it.
“Isn’t that obvious?” you say. Well, perhaps it is, but yesterday Vladimir Putin opened a pipeline to China, crossing the border near the town of Skovorodino, the financing of which caused many observers to doubt the truth of this post’s title.
In February 2009 the China Development Bank lent $25 billion to Rosneft and Transneft to build a pipeline, in return for 300,000 barrels a day for two decades. The loan was a floating LIBOR-based rate, then about 6%. At face value, analysts reported that the deal translated to oil at $20 per barrel. (I calculated $14, but close enough.)
Wow! Taken at face value, that sounds like a great deal. Even you think the Russians will renegotiate when oil prices rise, that is still a great deal. (Renegotiation is expensive and risky, so China would still get below market oil for some time.) The Washington Times was breathless. Bloomberg reported analysts practically yelling “Buy Sinopec!” Philip Zelikow, over at Foreign Policy, called it “informal empire,” and if the above had actually been the deal, I would have unequivocally agreed with him.
Which means that you shouldn’t take things at face value. First, the Russians did promise to deliver a fixed quantity of oil, but at whatever the market price happens to be at delivery. This is exactly the same sort of long-term contract that Saudi Aramco signs: they promise to show up on time with the exact quantity, and you pay whatever the market says it’s worth.
Second, Transneft issued 10-year Eurobonds in August 2008 at an interest rate of 8.7%, more than the rate on the Chinese loans. (The link is to an official Transneft financial statement for the first quarter of 2010.) Admittedly, the Chinese loan was floating rate, not fixed, but for twice the term as the Eurobonds ... it still doesn’t look as if China got a particularly good deal.
This is not to say that it was a bad deal. China got its pipeline, which the Russians were not thrilled about building. The pipeline increased the People’s Republic’s ability to import, meaning that unforeseen Chinese demand shocks (or China-specific supply shocks) will be marginally less likely to cause Chinese prices to spike relative to world prices. Plus, the China Development Bank got a not-terrible interest rate, about the same as on Russian ten-year bonds, and without the currency risk. Russia, meanwhile, got a guaranteed market and $25 billion to develop new fields at time when credit is less-than-available and exploration and development costs are rock-bottoming. It all makes business sense.
But an expansion of some sort of Chinese economic empire into Russian territory this is not. Yet.
I am not sure what to make of watching Russia Today in a Miami hotel room as it questions global warming, makes fun of George Bush the Younger, and conducts an in-depth investigation into honor killings in Iraqi Kurdistan. Followed by someone with a British accent comparing NATO to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and calling for its dissolution and a story about Chinese knockoffs of Russian military hardware. “This plane is simply a Russian design stuffed with Chinese electronics! It’s a knock-off!”
Plus a story about a controversy over an Islamic charter school that the R.T. producers decided to call, and I am not kidding, “Intifada: NYC.” Gosh, my home town suffered an uprising and I only hear about it now?
The really surreal thing is the accents. A few of them are really quite good, practically native-born American; most have a faint faint barely-audible touch of Russian. Since the broadcast seems directed at a domestic audience (I would hope) that fact almost makes me feel Russian myself!
Why does the dude dubbing the voice of the Ingushetian president have a clear Scottish accent? I like to imagine that’s what an Ingushetian accent sounds like to a Russian from Moscow. Sadly, I am probably wrong.
Jussi, have you seen this thing? Who is it aimed at?
Anyway, I’ll try to catch up on posting. I just went from L.A. to N.Y. to Tulsa to Burlington to Miami and I’m off to Atlanta tomorrow. (I also managed to briefly get to Northern Mexico. Worrisome.) I have lots of stuff to report ... although recent criticism from the honorable profesora has made me much more perfectionist.
Eighty-five years and one-day ago, on December 11th, 1924, the Republic of Finland celebrated a very special anniversary. The state and the military establishment hosted it at the Officers’ Casino Building in the Katajanokka neighborhood of Helsinki. The celebration commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Battle of Magersfontein, part of the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902.
The conservative newspaper Uusi Suomi (New Finland) advertised the event on its front page, and the periodicals of the Finnish Civil Guard published articles on the conflict between the Boer republics and the British Empire. The celebration opened with the the Finnish Naval Orchestra’s performance of “Kent gij dat volk,” the South African anthem. Among the guests of honor were Lauri Malmberg, the minister of defense, and Per Zilliacus, the chief of staff of the Civil Guard. The Finnish Civil Guard also sent a wreath tied with blue-white ribbons to South Africa, where it was laid at the monument on the battlefield of Magersfontein.
Why did independent Finland celebrate a battle fought in a British colonial conflict in South Africa? Simple: Finnish volunteers had fought in the battle as soldiers of the Scandinavian Corps of the Boer forces. The Scandinavian Corps was founded in Pretoria on September 23rd, 1899, supposedly as a testimony of loyalty felt by the Scandinavian immigrants towards the South African Republic. It included 118 men; 48 Swedes, 24 Danes, 19 Finns, 13 Norwegians and 14 other miscellaneous nationalities, mainly Germans and Dutch. In addition, three Swedish women served as nurses in a separate ambulance unit. The Scandinavians fought in the siege of Mafeking and the battles of Magersfontein and Paardeberg; of these, Magersfontein was the most significant.
After the war, a special Scandinavian monument was constructed on the battlefield. The monument consisted of four cornerstones, representing the four Nordic countries, each decorated with the Scandinavian valkyrie and national symbols of each country. The verse is from Johan Ludvig Runeberg’s March of the Pori Regiment, these days the ofificial Finnish presidential march: “On valiant men the faces of their fathers smile.”
The names of the fallen soldiers are engraved on the shield. Emil Mattsson died in Magersfontein; he’s buried in the field. The British captured Henrik Hägglöf, who died from his wounds at an infirmary near the Orange River. Johan Jakob Johansson — whose name is mistakenly written “Jakobsson” — died at the prison camp on St. Helena and is buried in grave number 18 at the Knollcombe cemetery. The name of Matts Laggnäs, another Finnish volunteer who died in captivity on St. Helena, is missing.
My very first peer-reviewed academic article concerned this very topic, and it was published in the Finnish Journal of History a few years ago. Afterwards, I was delighted to note that an Afrikaner fluent in Finnish had read my article and discussed it in his own blog. Reading my own text translated in Afrikaans was an interesting experience. The term “Boer War” was translated as Tweede Vryheidsoorlog, the “Second War for Freedom.” The official term in the Afrikaner historiography for the wars against the British Empire in 1880-1881 and 1899-1901 were the First and Second War for Freedom, and the terms seem to still be in use. Non-Afrikaner South Africans do not seem to use the phrase, understandably enough.
The history leaves us with three obvious questions. What significance does the Anglo-Boer War have today, eleven decades after the war broke out? What is the significance of the Finnish Republic’s 1924 commemoration of its citizens’ participation in that war? And what are we to make of the fact that an event considered highly significant in 1924 has been almost forgotten in 2009?
Kevin Drum repeats a claim that I’ve heard elsewhere:
“By 1989, the Soviet Union was so far in hock to western banks that they basically had Gorbachev by the balls. He couldn't afford a repeat of 1956 or 1968, and when that became clear the jig was up. Hungary went first, Berlin followed, and within a few months the Iron Curtain was on the ash heap of history. In the end, it was hard currency, not ICBMs, that brought down the empire.”
I don’t understand this claim. There are two premises behind it which do not make sense to me. The first is that Western creditors would care if the Soviet Union cracked down in eastern Europe. Why would they? The only reason that I can think of would be if they believed that a crackdown made it more likely that Warsaw Pact regimes would default on their debts. But why would a Soviet crackdown make default more likely?
In fact, there seems to be some circular reasoning involved regarding Soviet debt. The USSR had a reasonable debt burden until April 1989, when perestroika allowed Soviet enterprises to borrow in hard currency. As a result, debt exploded. But Moscow stopped taking Budapest’s calls in March! The timing is off.
In 1990, the collapse of Comecon led to a collapse of Soviet trade with eastern Europe, worsening the problem. Except ... if the tanks had rolled, then Comecon would not have collapsed. See here and here for contemporary discussions of the debt problem.
Nor do I buy the possibility that creditors would have moral qualms. They didn’t care about Georgia last year; would they really have cared about Hungary in 1989?
But let us grant that creditors might have been upset at a crackdown. Violence in Eastern Europe might have been unsettling, I can imagine that. Only that brings us to the second premise of the “bankers killed Communism” argument, which is that western creditors held some sort of special leverage over the Soviet Union.
Considering the frequency of sovereign default, and the willingness to restart lending afterwards, I have trouble understanding what exactly that leverage would be. Say the Warsaw Pact countries defaulted in 1990. Why would regimes capable of using tanks against their own people have found the consequences so unpalatable? Perhaps they would fear economic sanctions ... but that gets us to a version of an argument in which Western governments killed Communism by their implied economic threats, not one in which bankers did it.
Truth be told, I tend to think that neither creditors nor Western governments had all that much to do with the fall of the Wall. (I did not always believe the latter, as some readers of this blog can attest.) But I could easily be wrong. I have, after all, heard the “bankers did it” story elsewhere. Is there a more sophisticated version that addresses my concerns?
So, there seems to be some evidence of disagreements between the President and the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation. It shows up in trade policy, with Prime Minister Putin wanting to first cement the customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan, and President Medvedev wanting to get the R.F. into the WTO ASAP. It is hard to tell who's winning. Other subtler signs of division have also emerged. Who is in control?
Well, Gancho tells us the answer. It is all in this photograph.
Hey Vladimir, what say we cut rugs at the discotheque tonight? Eh? A little dancing and some girls for the former president?
Shut up, pawn, or I bury you with fish in this water. Go away, you block my sun.
I say the Prime Minister is still in charge. What say you?
These images show the medal that the Russian army minted to commemorate the 1831 conquest of Warsaw. You can occasionally still find these in Finnish antique shops; this one was provided courtesy of Jani Tiainen’s Finnmedals in Helsinki.
Before we leave behind the Finnish soldiers who fought on behalf of Russia in Poland back in 1831, there are a few questions left to be answered. What were the consequences of the war for Finland? What were its effects on Poland? In the short term, the Polish campaign of 1831 undoubtedly strengthened the Grand-Duchy of Finland. In the context of the politically incendiary situation in 1830-1831, the Finnish Guard’s participation in the Polish campaign played an important role in securing Imperial favor for the Grand-Duchy’s autonomous status. At a time of crisis, Finland demonstrated to the Russian Empire that (unlike Poland) she could be trusted.
For the Finnish officers who had distinguished themselves on the front, the campaign marked the beginning of some splendid careers. Adolf Aminoff, the young lieutenant from the painting in the fourth part of the story, rose to the rank of General of Infantry and ended his career as an adjutant of Alexander III. Henrik Lyra, whom the Poles captured at Długosiodło, became a General Major. The young Casimir von Kothen became the adjutant for Governor-General Aleksandr Sergeyevich Menshikov, and later the governor of the province of Viipuri. And finally, Colonel Ramsay, the commander of the Guard, became General of Infantry and a member of the Russian Imperial War Council. In short, over the decades preceding the Crimean War, the government of the Grand-Duchy of Finland was in the hands of officers who had earned their ranks on the battlefields of Poland.
For the common people of the Grand-Duchy, the Guard’s campaign of the became the first concrete example of a developing Finnish patriotism that put love for the Finnish fatherland and loyalty towards the Russian Emperor into one and the same breath with no sense of contradiction. A belief in the virtues of the Finnish soldier instilled a special sense of devotion and enthusiasm, celebrated in popular broadside ballads that proclaimed the willingness of the younger generations to follow the example of their predecessors and take up arms under the banner of the Finnish Guard in defense of Finland and the Empire:
There is no official definition of “depression.” Tim Kehoe says a 20% deviation from trend growth over a decade. Richard Sylla says double-digit unemployment for a period of months. Brad Delong says unemployment staying in double-digits for three years, or peaking above 12%. Michael Bordo says a two-year continuous output decline of at least 10%. By any of those definitions, Finland suffered a depression in 1991-93, or even 1991-96.
So what caused it? Well, there was a discussion about that somewhere, but I can't find it. Anyway, you can sum up the evolution of the conventional wisdom as follows: “We thought it was the collapse of the Soviet Union, but then we figured out that it was actually caused by a banking crisis.” Blaming it on the Soviet collapse exculpates Finns: it all came from Russia. Blaming it on the banks turns the episode into a Greek tragedy, which Finns unknowingly brought upon themselves.
Evidence for the banking-crisis hypothesis can be found here and here. (Another hypothesis holds that Finnish workers decided to take an extended vacation because managers forgot how to run their firms and the government raised taxes. No, seriously. I don't have a whole lot to say about that.)
Now, however, a Ukrainian, a Mexican, and an American have entered the fray to argue that, no, it was indeed the sudden collapse of trade with the Soviet Union what caused the Finnish depression of 1991-96. Their paper is here. The argument is pretty simple. (1) Yeah, there were some signs of financial weakness before 1991, but let's not get crazy. (2) Trade shock. Huuuuuge. Plus, when you look at the industries that went under first and fastest, it was the ones that relied on the Soviet trade. (3) The banking system didn't fall apart until after the trade shock. Absolutely, it was a weak system, but few systems could have handled a shock that big.
Basically, they argue that you don't have to assume a lot of friction in the real economy to get a slow recovery from a trade shock of the magnitude that hit Finland in 1991.
But there is that nagging question: why did Sweden go into a (much less serious) recession around the same time? Could the Soviet trade shock have precipitated the Swedish crisis somehow? Or is all just a coincidence, kind of like a man getting hit head-on by a truck and then having a bicycle ride over his hand?
It's an interesting paper, even if it turns out to be wrong. Thoughts?
In Finland, as we saw yesterday, the participation of local soldiers in the campaign against Poland ignited patriotic sentiments, at least among those who had served in combat: “May our banner call the sons of Finland to perform the highest civic virtues still in the future, to fulfill their obligations and loyalty towards their sovereign.”
Elsewhere in Europe, the bloody suppression of the November Insurrection aroused, well, different feelings. The Polish independence struggle became an immediate cause célèbre for European liberals. Casimir Delavigne, for example, celebrated the old Napoleonic brotherhood in arms between France and Poland in his exhilarating song La Varsovienne. In the German-speaking countries, August von Platen’s 1831 sonet collection Polenlieder topped what later generations would call the charts.
West European sympathy towards Poland, however, hardened Russian attitudes; even the Russian intelligentsia abandoned its criticism of the Tsarist régime and supported Imperial policy in Poland. The anti-European backlash culminated in Aleksandr Pushkin’s legendary (if somewhat unsubtlely-titled) poem, “To the Slanderers of Russia.” Pushkin’s diatribe, in particular, should be familiar to a modern reader.
(Uh, Jussi, you give us too much credit. I’ve never heard of any of the works of music or literature that you’ve cited in here. Then again, I hope nobody criticizes people in 2145 for their ignorance of, say, “Eve of Destruction” or “Bad Moon Rising.” Right? Or am I excusing my ignornance? —ed.)
Russian officials still reference “To the Slanderers of Russia” in times of conflict. During the 1999 Kosovo War, for example, the Russian foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, cited the poem in order to give a stern warning to the NATO countries. Eight years later, in 2007, the Russians once again used the poem for propaganda purposes during the Bronze Warrior crisis between Estonia and Russia.
The work of art that you see below is a painting by Robert Wilhelm Ekman, a pioneer of early national romantic art in Finland. Ekman is perhaps best remembered for his early attempts at the illustration of Kalevala, but this work, finished in 1848, invokes the memory of the Finnish soldiers who had fought and died in Poland seventeen years before. You won’t find this work on display in any museum; it is part of a private collection, and the owner prefers to keep it that way.
The painting depicts the young lieutenant Adolf Aminoff wounded on the ramparts of Tykocin on May 21st 1831. As you can see, the painting captures two ideals. First, an officer who leads his men from the front, even at the risk of his own personal safety. Second, his soldiers, equally ready to risk their lives by rushing to the aid of their wounded comrade. During the following decades, national romanticism claimed these universal ideals as quintessentially Finnish military virtues. Emphasizing the importance of solidarity and camaraderie is always a natural choice. After all, it doesn’t really matter what you’re theoretically fighting for, because putting your life on the line for your comrade is always a virtue.
The soldiers of the Finnish Guard joined the other units of the Russian Imperial Life-Guard in Białystok on April 11th, 1831. By this time, the Polish-Russian war had been raging for two months, and the insurrection was spreading, with violence and mayhem escalating on daily basis. On the same day as the Finnish soldiers listened Colonel Ramsay’s lecture on the Russian War Articles and the letters of protection issued to the Polish civilian population, one Russian cossack regiment massacred civilians in the small Lithuanian village of Oszmiana. The event was subsequently commemorated in Adam Mickiewicz’s epic poems.
The Polish-Russian war was fought on two fronts. In the south, on the eastern side of the Vistula, the main 100,000-man Russian army (under a Baltic German field-marshal, Hans Karl Friedrich Anton von Diebitsch) advanced directly towards Warsaw. Meanwhile, in the north, Grand-Duke Mikhail Pavlovich’s units of the Russian Imperial Life-Guard (the Finnish Battalion included) approached the Polish capital from the northeast, through the dismal woodlands between the Narew and Bug rivers in Mazovia. You can get a rough view of the surroundings from the map. (Click on it for a larger image in a new window.)
Diebitsch’s army crossed the frontier on February 5th, fully prepared to crush the Polish rebellion. Resistance, however, proved to be a good deal tougher than anticipated; as mentioned before, the Congress Kingdom had a large, professional standing army, which now proved its mettle. On February 25th, the Poles halted the Russian advance in the bloody battle of Grochów. The Poles then began a counteroffensive. Lieutenant-General Ignacy Prądzyński, the Polish chief of staff, defeated the Russians at Dębe Wielkie on March 31st, and again at Iganie on April 10th.
But wars, like baseball games, aren’t over until they’re over.
We continue the story from December 14th, 1830, when the Finnish Guard received its mobilization orders and started to prepare for a long and arduous journey to the Polish battlefields, on behalf of the Emperor and the Fatherland. [The “Fatherland” would be Finland, not the Russian Empire, right? In our hemisphere, we’re not used to those distinctions, except maybe the Canadians. And the West Indians. And the Puerto Ricans. And the Colombians. And … oh, never mind. —ed.] However, before we describe the Finnish participation in the suppression of the Polish independence struggle in any further detail, it’s perhaps best to describe those men who ended up serving as tools of the Imperial Russian war machine in the said campaign. What kind of a unit was the Finnish Guard, and what do we know of its officers and soldiers?
Hello, everyone. For those who don’t know me, and for those who are wondering why I’m posting here, it’s perhaps best to start with some details. [No pix of you with a dangling cigarette and sunglasses? —ed.]
Who am I? My full name is Jussi Olavi Jalonen. I’m a single man on my thirties, and after a long residence in the city of Tampere, I now live on the Western Seaboard of Finland. Why am I posting here? Well, because Noel suggested it. I’ve done all sorts of things for living, but these days I’m basically a free-lance researcher and writer. Guest posts on a high-quality weblog are just as good a way to kill time as anything else. [We’re high quality! —ed.]
I write about history. As said, I’m single, but Clio is a very demanding mistress. [My wife is very understanding of that, and it's one of the many reasons I love her. —ed.] As for my field of study, you could probably say that I’m more interested in Power than Money. [One often begats the other. —ed.] I specialize in military history, in a very broad sense. Two months ago, an article that I wrote on the interned Polish soldiers in Finland in 1940-41 appeared in a publication of the Finnish National Archives, and just recently, Studia Historica Septentrionalia published another article that I wrote on the theme of comradeship-in-arms. In particular, however, I’m interested in soldiers who have, for one reason or another, ended up serving in the military establishments of foreign powers — usually, in the service of their Imperial master, occasionally in the service of its enemy, or sometimes even in conflicts where there appears to be no vested national or ideological interest whatsoever. I’ve written articles on the Finnish volunteers in the Boer War, Finnish volunteers in the Waffen-SS, and also a biography of jäger colonel Eino Polón, Knight of the Mannerheim Cross. For those who don’t know, the term “jäger” refers to the Finnish independence activists and volunteers who served in the Imperial German Army against Tsarist Russia in 1915-17.
One particular thing that I find fascinating is the historical contrast between Finland and Poland in their relations towards Russia; as the most recent example, you may remember that during the South Ossetian war last August, Poland sided openly with Georgia, while Finland, as the head of the OSCE, attempted to mediate the conflict and maintain communications with Russia. These contrasts between Finland and Poland have very deep roots. Consider the Finnish Guard’s participation in the 1831 Polish campaign. (Last year, I wrote an article on this topic for the Polish weekly Tygodnik Powszechny.)
But what was this so-called “Finnish Guard?” What exactly happened in Poland in 1831? And how did it create such long-standing differences between the two border countries?
Where can I find time series on:
Get me that data, and I might be able to make some sense out of Russian policy. I will say that current events make me think that Russia doesn't want to snarfle off bits of Ukraine. You can extract a lot more surplus out of a neighboring vassal than you can out of your own citizens.
Get me that data, and I might be able to make some sense out of Russian policy. I will say that current events make me think that Russia doesn't want to snarfle off bits of Ukraine. You can extract a lot more surplus out of a neighboring vassal than you can out of your own citizens.
My friend Will hopes that oil prices stay low, in order to insure that the Russian Federation remains behaved.
My response: Please get the stupid, and I mean truly monumentally stupid, idea of the resource curse out of your heads? It's a well-accepted idea, but it's just plain wrong. No matter what Tom Friedman writes about it.
Stephen Haber and Victor Menaldo have a paper coming out that shows that there is no, squat, zero, ningún relationship between democracy and oil resources. Haber and ... uh ... me ... will eventually have a paper showing the same thing for civil war.
But hell, maybe Russia is different. So my question for you all is simple. Why would an authoritarian government, no, why would a dictatorship give up power because its export revenues went down? That makes no bloody sense. It could default on foreign debtors. It could blame foreigners for any crisis. It could shoot dissidents, you know, the way Panama did under Noriega.
Is there any reason to believe that a fat Russia would be more democratic and less expansionist than a lean Russia? No. F@&k no. There isn't any reason to believe the opposite either, of course ... but by God do I wish that people would stop fooling themselves. Resource money has fueled democratic transitions and dictatorial takeovers, foreign expansion and foreign engagement. Those who know Russia better will be able to predict that country's idiosyncratic political reaction to declining export revenues ... but why any of the information in this story, about governments trying to crack down on the bearers of bad news, would make an observer hope for sustained bad news is beyond me.
Ah, here comes my first AFOE cross-post. But your reactions first. At least until I can find the damned keys to that blog.
Somehow I just don't think that this is going to happen. I mean, it's nice that Managua recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia, but Russia just doesn't have the money right now. No, if you're going to reward your faraway friend (although I'm at a loss as to why Moscow would want to) this seems like the way to do it.
And much as Nicaragua is a full-up member of the Alternativa Bolivariana, Venezuela doesn't have the money to toss away on such a megaproject right now. Astoundingly enough, Caracas is going to have to cut back spending if oil goes below $90, a level of fiscal irresponsibility to rival Washington.
Still, for a guy who proposes transcontinental railways and really likes to build stuff, I'm surprised that a Nicaraguan canal hasn't caught his eye.
There has been a lot of talk recently about how the markets are punishing the Russian Federation for its actions in Georgia. Dan Drezner, for example, writes: “An estimated $21 billion left Russia last month, and the RTS Index has declined by more than seven percent this month ... this is a pretty high price to Russia to pay for creating two unrecognized buffer states.”
It isn't just political scientists. Investors also believe that the markets punish aggressors on their own.
I am not so sure. No, let me be stronger. I am almost positive that Dan Drezner is wrong about the economic damage that Russia is taking from its actions, even if I agree with his assessment of Russia’s weak political position.
Markets do not punish successful aggressors. Other countries can impose sanctions that punish aggressors, and that will hurt the markets. That logic, however, runs exactly the other way from the sanguine belief that our brave new world of globalized markets contains automatic mechanisms that contain interstate war.
This chart shows the evolution of four different Russian equity indices. The RTS-1 that Dan referred to in his post is in dark red. The date that the Georgians started the war (August 8th) is represented by the bright red vertical bar.
Russian indices were in decline well before the war started. If anything has happened since, it is that the decline has slowed. This is not consistent with the hypothesis that the markets are punishing Russia for the war.
Below the fold is a closer look at the same data. The closer look makes it even clearer that the markets are not punishing Russia for invading and carving off chunks of Georgia.
The last time I posted something from Comedy Central, the only dude to comment didn't see the humor.
So ... here's to Russia, a very serious country to be taken seriously, at least as seriously as we take the great great United States. Serious! Be serious!! There will be no joking!!! Ski.