Well, Foreign Policy just reminded me that people in the Pentagon are taking this book very, very seriously.
This series has not been forgotten; other things have simply intervened. We still owe posts on the implausibility of the naval technology, the outright impossibility of the space battles, and the ridiculousness of the tactics used by the Hawaii occupation and resulting insurgency.
Right now, a short post on tone.
One problem for all books presenting a villain is how to get into that sweet spot where the villain is competent enough to be frightening, but not so competent as to become caricature. Some readers don’t mind caricature, of course. But Ghost Fleet bills itself as plausible, so it has to hit that sweet spot or fail.
In terms of what the Chinese actually do in the book (and ignoring the technical flaws) the authors more-or-less accomplish their goal. The Chinese of Ghost Fleet are improbably but plausibly competent, and such competence is required for the plot. The book suffered more from making their American opponents implausibly incompetent, at least at the beginning, rather than making the Chinese superhuman.
That said, there are ways to make competence seem like just that, normal old competence, rather than silly steely Nietzschean power-willing. The book did okay on the substance (ignoring its technical impossibilities) while failing in tone. It tossed in throwaway lines about the Chinese Directorate’s super competence for absolutely no reason — well, no reason other than playing on the implicit prejudices of readers primed to fear China in order to make them more scared of the villain.
And that was a major disappointment, especially since I believe that the authors were convinced that they were doing the opposite.
The New York Times had an article today about Obama’s “war presidency.” It isn’t a bad article, but it makes much of the idea that there is something new in the idea of a U.S. fighting foreign enemies in less than “an all-consuming national campaign, in the tradition of World War II or, to a lesser degree, Vietnam.”
The article went on to say, “The longevity of his war record, military historians say, also reflects the changing definition of war.”
Except, as I wrote in 2012 in response to the debate around Rachel Maddow’s Drift, the definition of war hasn’t changed! I was disappointed that none of the people engaged in that debate recognized that history didn’t begin in 1945. So, it has lurched up again the idea that there is something new about having the U.S. continuously engaged in small-scale low-casualty low-footprint military actions, let me repeat what I said in 2012:
In 1898, the United States went to war with Spain. Between 1898 and 1902, American troops battled Philippine insurgents. Peace came to Luzon in 1901-02, but fighting continued on Mindanao until 1912. In 1904, the U.S. navy bombarded rebel positions in the Dominican Republic; eventually U.S. Marines wound up (with the permission of the local government) occupying the customhouses. In 1906-09, we occupied Cuba, although there was (to be fair) not much fighting. In 1907 and 1911, we deployed to Honduras to halt Nicaraguan invasions. Between 1912 and 1925, U.S. Marines actively hunted insurgents (the original Sandinistas) in Nicaragua. In 1914, we once again bombarded Dominican rebels; we also occupied Veracruz to prevent arms from getting to the government. Between 1914 and 1934, we occupied Haiti: unlike Cuba in 1906-09, that one did involve quite a bit of fighting. We did the same on the other side of Hispaniola in 1916-24. In 1916-17, we invaded northern Mexico after Pancho Villa attacked Columbus.
Then there was World War 1. After which ...
In 1917-19, U.S. troops again garrisoned Cuba. In 1919, we landed in Honduras to protect a neutral zone during a civil war. Between 1918 and 1920, American forces blundered pointlessly around Siberia doing something or other, and sustaining a lot of casualties. For a few days in Guatemala, Marines saw combat during a civil war in that country. In 1925, we invaded both Honduras and Panama during periods of unrest. In 1933 and 1934, we waved gunboats around Cuba, but no war was necessary, since we succeeded in overthrowing the government by what would today be called covert action.
And then, peace until 1941.
Counting ... between 1898 and 1934, the United States was at peace for all of ... well, never, actually.
It is true that with the exceptions of Mexico, Siberia, and Cuba, most of the American interventions were not sold as protecting what we would today call the Homeland. But those are three large exceptions!
In short, President Obama’s experience as a “president at war” rather than a “war president” is nothing new. McKinley, Roosevelt, Taft, Wilson, Harding, Coolidge and Hoover would find it very familiar.
Mexico’s armed forces are tasked with all sorts of law-enforcement missions that elsewhere would be handled by police or gendarmerie forces. As a result, they are incredibly under-resourced, as Iñigo Guevara recounts here. It is an excellent article; if you have any interest in Mexican issues, you should read it.
But he does say one interesting thing with which I think I disagree:
For the last decade — 2006 to date — Mexico’s entire defense procurement has been limited to supporting its internal security and civil defense roles. Only very few items are actually considered military ...
Mexico’s Air Force is running dangerously low in this capacity and requires a replacement for its obsolete F-5 supersonic fighters. Likewise the Navy will need to field a new generation of ocean going frigates and amphibious ships that can navigate beyond the exclusive economic zone and the Army will need to begin replacement of its museum-grade armor and artillery.
For those skeptics — I know you are out there — who will ask does Mexico really need a squadron of supersonic fighters? … or a squadron of blue water frigates? … or a brigade of armored fighting vehicles? … the answer is yes, absolutely yes. Mexico — like all other modern states of its size — needs at least a token defensive capability to provide a minimum deterrent against unknowns and uncertainties. Why? Because the best weapon in a country’s arsenal is the one that it never has to use.
I agree that the best weapon is one that never has to be used. But I do not understand why that means buying useless weapons! And it hard for me to envisage the circumstances under which supersonic fighters or an armored brigade would be useful for Mexico. (I can hazily see a use for blue-water frigates ... but only hazily.) Mexico pulled out of the Rio Treaty in 2004, but that treaty provided only the vaguest defense guarantees.* So nothing has changed. Mexico still falls under the American defense blanket in terms of extra-continental threats ... and cannot possibly defend itself against the United States.
Moreover, unlike Canada, the United States does not expect Mexico to help deal with extra-continental threats. And unlike Canadian voters, Mexican voters do not seem to expect their country to do so.
Sure, Mexico can afford an armored brigade, a blue-water navy, and modern fighter jets, but they would seem to be utterly useless even for deterrence. So why bother?
I wish Jussi Jalonen still came around here; I think he may have thoughts on this issue.
At Vox, Shadi Hamid argues no. He rightfully says that in order to evaluate the success of the intervention, we need to evaluate the Libya that is against the Libya that would have been without NATO airpower. He argues, pace Barack Obama, that “had we not intervened, it’s likely that Libya would be Syria. ... and so there would be more death, more disruption, more destruction.”
Do we know that, however? It is also possible that the government would have invaded Benghazi, killed tens of thousands of people in reprisals and round-ups, and then re-established its authority.
If you believe that a prolonged civil war was inevitable, then the intervention was not a failure. If you believe that the government could have re-established order, then the intervention succeeded only if the subsequent chaos led to fewer deaths than a government victory.
Was it realistic to believe that the Libyan dictatorship could have (unlike its Syrian counterpart) re-established order and survived, or was the country doomed to fall into chaos once the rebels chased government forces out of eastern Libya in February 2001?
Back in 2012 we thought some of the other minorities might join the Alawites as relatively enthusiastic supporters, since their position in a post-Assad Syria would be pretty precarious. But this hasn’t really happened — support sometimes, enthusiastic no.
The majority of Assad’s combat troops are Alawites, because he can’t trust anyone else. That’s why he has to supplement with Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and whatnot. Even so, this means he’s perpetually, desperately short of manpower.
Sure, I could imagine a scenario where the government gradually rolls up the cities and large towns, one by one, and slowly strangles the various rebel groups or drives them out of the country. But it would require levels of administrative efficiency and resource mobilization that we haven’t really seen yet, and some diplomatic chops as well. (Or full-scale Russian intervention, which is not going to happen.)
My prognosis: no Assad victory this year. 2017 could theoretically happen but I would bet against it, even with a very generous definition of “victory.”
Caveat: replacement of Assad by someone more palatable or competent could throw things up for grabs. Assad is of course aware of this, which is why his personal security is very very tight.
The previous post looked at overseas basing costs and concluded that there were no real savings from shutting them down unless the United States also cut the military budget. Which, of course, we could do without ending our defense obligations.
The post did not account for the fact that NATO has a common budget, funded in part by the United States. That common budget comes to ... €2.1 billion, or $2.4 billion. The U.S. pays 22% of the common budget, or $523 million per year.
There are also individual NATO trust funds established for particular projects. They come to a grand total of €69 million, or $78 million. The U.S. share can vary, but assuming it’s around 22%, then you get a total U.S. contribution of $17 million. (The trust fund projects aren’t annual, but let’s run with that.)
So destroying the entire postwar Atlantic alliance system would save us $540 million per year. Call it a buck-seventy for every man, woman and child in the United States.
That is not a lot of money. But hey, it is something. Make the Euros cough that up! Yeah! U-S-A! Winning!
The previous post reminded me of DMZ, an excellent comic book about a future American civil war.
Towards the end of the series, we get to see the President of the United States, who leads government forces in that war. He is never named. But you see his face. And he is ... Dennis Kucinich.
In comments, Logan suggests that perhaps the Trump surge wasn’t due to the Paris attacks, but rather Ben Carson’s collapse. It certainly does look like most of the support for Trump came from Carson:
The Pollster data isn’t as fine-grained as the Fivethirtyeight data, but it casts some doubt on the hypothesis that terror helped Trump. It is still possible, of course, that Carson lost support to Trump because frightened Republican voters decided that Trump was somehow stronger. But it is also possible that Carson crashed for other reasons and those voters went to Trump as the other anti-establishment candidate in the race.
Back to you, Logan.
Terrorism in Europe was much worse in the 1970s and ‘80s, even discounting Northern Island during the Troubles. The below chart of annual deaths from terror attacks has been updated to include Brussels (and one lone death in Northern Ireland, included since the Troubles officially ended with the Good Friday Agreement.) NOTE: An earlier version of this chart mislabeled the London subway bombings, which occurred in 2005, not 2011. The 2011 spike is due to the mass shooting in Norway by a white supremacist.
Unfortunately, it is not clear that American primary voters care about the historical perspective. On November 30th, we pushed back against a breezy statement by Kevin Drum in which he argued that the Paris mass casualty attacks had no impact on the primary election. Fivethirtyeight has now published a somewhat more sophisticated analysis demonstrating the same argument: both Paris and San Bernadino helped Donald Trump in the GOP primary.
Hopefully, history will not repeat. It would be better for the country (and probably the GOP) for Donald Trump to go to the convention with less than a majority of delegates.
We have some unfinished posts fisking the World War Three novel Ghost Fleet. We are not fans of the book. And now one of the authors, August Cole, has posted this.
“This” is a paean to Tom Clancy wargame in which there is a smallpox outbreak in New York City, after which society collapses and warlords take over. Or something. You can watch a trailer.
Now, to be fair, Cole has nothing to say about whether a smallpox outbreak in New York would suddenly cause civilization to collapse into dog-eat-dog violence. He just thinks it’s useful to depict scenes of mass human suffering in video games because it will better prepare future soldiers for urban operations:
“But scavenging in the confines of the New York subway system or winding up in a shootout with a local gang reinforces that your own worst enemy is all too familiar: fellow humans. The game lays bare how the odds are stacked against the survivors of such a calamity, and how even functional complex urban environments teeter and sway between chaos and order each day. Just as the novel World War Z by Atlantic Council senior fellow Max Brooks presents this uncomfortable truth through the premise of a zombie outbreak, this video game does so with close-quarters anarchy caused by catastrophic bio-terrorism ... The Division will appeal more broadly to gamers, given its formulaic progression of acquiring skills, weapons, and powers, which big studio games must incorporate in order to entice millions of players. That is also one of its strengths and perhaps greatest forms of utility in the defense realm: broad appeal. Megacity operations, be it relief or combat, will no longer be an abstract concept to young corporals or privates — or their commanding officers.”
I would like to point out here that there is remarkably little evidence that looting and unrest spike in disaster situations. The first paper of which I am aware pointed that out in 1968. A 2004 paper from the CDC reinforced the argument, showing that most looting involved necessary supplies rather than egregious attacks on other people or their property. “In contrast, researchers have found — at least in the immediate aftermath of disasters — that community resilience and unity, strengthening of social ties, selfhelp, heightened initiative, altruism, and prosocial behavior more often prevail. In short, when things are at their worst, disaster-stricken communities tend to rise to the occasion.”
This issue came up again in 2010, when preliminary reports of widespread disorder after the Chilean earthquake proved unfounded. The looting that did occur was easily controlled. No roving gangs taking over whole neighborhoods; for some numbers, we are talking about an increase in armed robberies from 52 in 2009 to 102 in the year of the earthquake. No houses were hit. It was not Mad Max.
And again in the Philippines in 2013. Same general story.
In other words, I think our military would be very ill served if it were to promote training tools that gave soldiers the impression that organized violent gangs were going to be their main problem in post-disaster situations.
Ross Douthat is one of my favorite commentators at the New York Times. He comes from a fundamentally Catholic and small-c conservative background, from which he derives insights quite unlike my own. I rarely agree with him, but he does a very effective job of communicating how he arrives at his conclusions, which I find very enlightening. You can see where common ground might be found. I encourage my readers to regularly peruse his stuff.
Today Douthat is beginning an entertaining series of science-fictional tweets:
Envisioning a future where the Bob Kagan of 2050 writes that "Europeans are from Mars, Americans are from Venus," and everyone nods.— Ross Douthat (@DouthatNYT) February 11, 2016
Dateline, 2035: Parisian tabloids scream "Yankee Cowards!" as socialist U.S. gov't opposes French invasion of Islamist-ruled Egypt.— Ross Douthat (@DouthatNYT) February 11, 2016
Dateline 2032: Democrat-Socialist candidates promise "U.S. out of NATO" after American peacekeepers die policing Russo-Turkish armistice.— Ross Douthat (@DouthatNYT) February 11, 2016
First, will humans still be peacekeeping in 2032? My guess is “yes,” but robots will be with them.
Second, it looks like fun!
Third, this blog got there first. His future has already come true! We just don’t realize it yet.
Recently, there has been some worry that a Chinese government facing internal challenges might choose to aggravate external conflicts. These worries are plausible, but it strikes me that it is far more likely that an American president might provoke a conflict with China than the reverse. After all, a war with China would be primarily at sea and in the air. It would provide the United States with clear victory conditions. And it is one that (as of right now) the United States would win.
So might an American president be tempted? Realistically, any scenario would need to fill several requirements:
One question, of course, is whether a short naval war with China would have adverse economic impacts on the United States. The answer to that question is surprisingly unclear. Chinese demand for U.S. bonds is irrelevant, given that we borrow in our own currency. A decline the U.S. dollar could be good for the American economy. Most Chinese imports are replaceable, certainly in the short run. The long-run consequences would not be good, but the assumption here is that the American administration is not worrying about the long run.
The question for you, then: what are the circumstances under which an American president might deliberately try to provoke a war with the People’s Republic of China?
Read this first.
“The United States provide the majority of security on earth. What would the world look like without that security? Would South Korea exist? Would they be selling us Hyundais and Kias? Would Taiwan exist? How would the Cold War have ended? Would Germany still be divided? Who would control the largest known oil reserves on earth? Would Israel exist? The armed forces of the United States guarantee certain conditions on planet Earth, conditions with which much of the Western world is happy. It is worth considering what the world would look like without them.”
Those words come from a review by Adrian Lewis (U-Kansas) than damns with faint praise a book called State of War: The Political Economy of American Warfare, 1945–2011, by Paul Koistinen (Calstate-Northridge). Koistinen describes the rise of the national security state in the United States. He does not quite call the defense industry a “vampire squid,” but he does write: “The [defense] industry became characterized by inefficiency, waste, and corruption; defense contractors too often turned out defective or failed weapons and equipment. Over time, massive expenditures for defense have had a very deleterious effect on the economy. … Of crucial significance … DOD budgets have distorted public priorities and spending, denying adequate attention and resources to infrastructure, education, medical care, and other public services and interests.”
But Koistinen, like a lot of liberal critics, acts as though the national security state came out of nowhere and survives for no reason other than its ability to lobby. Lewis acerbically points out that Koistinen needs two more chapters. One should explain why the American people “continuously put into office political leaders who sustain the Military-Industrial Complex, and who, after the Vietnam War, failed to show up to fight.” The second should describe the threats that the national security state evolved to confront. The pithy paragraph opening this post comes from that second proposed chapter.
Lewis actually saves his final one-two punch for the end. It is a doozy: “I will recommend this book to some of my graduate students. There are a few points, however, with which I strongly disagree; for example: ‘Although the armed forces had acquired some new weapons and equipment, the military as a whole appeared to be in no better shape in 1989 than it had been in 1981’ (p. 29). Having served in the Army throughout this period, though, I know this is just not true.”
In short, State of War seems pretty mediocre, but Adrian Lewis has pithily penned one of the best and most succinct briefs in favor of the American empire (at least as it behaved until 1991) that I have read in a long time.
From Putin’s annual Q&A, a question about the cost of Russia’s military operation in Syria, where its warplanes began a campaign of air strikes in support of President Bashar al-Assad’s forces on September 30:
“It does not impose additional pressure on the budget. We just used a portion of the finances we had allocated for training and military maneuvers to conduct our Military-Space Forces’ operations in Syria. It’s hard to imagine any better training ... We can train for quite a long time there.”
[Credit: Will Baird Doug Muir for news and Doug Muir Will Baird for title.]
Ghost Fleet’s climactic cyberwar scene reached a depth of stupidity suitable for a SyFy made-for-TV movie, only without the self-awareness. It would have been laugh-out-loud funny had the authors not been telegraphing what was going to happen for about 100 pages.
We have already covered most of what is wrong with the cyberwar climax on page 288 of Ghost Fleet. At the start of the scene, a Chinese superhacker is moving to shut off Akron’s power supply. The set-up, of course, makes no sense. The superhacker is attacking using software “modeled after the Americans’ Project Aurora malware.” You can go to this video to see what a cyberattack really looks like. She would not be flicking rings to “initiate attack protocols.” Maybe she would fool around with the utility’s control panel after the malware had executed, but she wouldn’t be “initiating” anything.
Second, and more importantly, there is no way on God’s Green Earth that the United States would still be vulnerable to the Aurora vulnerability more than a year (or two; the book is remarkably unclear on chronology) into the war. Consider: “Mitigation is relatively inexpensive and straightforward. It entails placing a hardware device between each substation and its loads. That device monitors for the rapid out-of-phase condition associated with an AUORA event and isolates the substation from its loads before the torque of the grid can be applied to the equipment loads.” Sure, the United States might be vulnerable at the start of the war. But if the enemy doesn’t attack immediately, then it won’t be able to attack at all.
But the real idiocy is at the end of the scene, where our Chinese attacker is thwarted by … Anonymous. Yes, freedom’s secret weapon. Anonymous get a very Hollywood moment where the Chinese hacker’s virtual reality gear and interface to her hacking tools is obstructed by a rendering of a wall of Guy Fawkes masks. Anonymous then proceeds to take over the systems that keep her drugged up (WTF?) and kills her and all the rest of the cyberwarriors.
Anonymous is presented as an ally of convenience than “good guys” or “patriots” for the U.S. At that point, the accuracy stops.
The book paints Anonymous as a coherent and effective force. The truth is rather different. Fact checking their cohesion and ability is not terribly hard. In fact, Anonymous just conducted an operation. One deemed #OpParis.
After the attacks in Paris, Anonymous announced they would go after Daesh, aka “the Islamic State.” They planned to take down twitter accounts associated with Daesh and compromising forums and systems associated with the same. After a week of their #OpParis, Anonymous reported taking down more than 20,000 twitter accounts and claimed to have doxxed several Daesh recruiters. (“Doxxing” means posting private information about names, locations, generally personal details, etc.)
Already one might start to wonder whether the authors of Ghost Fleet were grinding an ideological axe or (more likely) writing a scene they knew was immensely stupid in the hope of getting a movie deal. Taking down Twitter feeds and doxxing Daesh sympathizers is a long way from killing Chinese government operatives by remote control.
Except Anonymous is even less capable than than its claims about OpParis reports would indicate. After all, accounts that were supposedly taken down included such Daesh supporters as the New York Times, U.S. President, BBC and Hillary Clinton.
Multiple sources reported most of the twitter accounts were active still after the so-called attacks. Twitter stated the lists of supposed Daesh accounts provided from some Anonymous members were wildly inaccurate. So is the claim they took down 20,000 accounts complete hogwash? Is there a way to reconcile Anonymous’ statements with the observations of the outside world?
Yes, actually, there is. At least for some of their claims.
To do so though will require examining how Anonymous attacked its targets. While there are a number of skilled hackers, the majority of Anonymous is little more than what we call script kiddies. These are users of prepackaged software meant to compromise systems. How such software works, we’ve talked about before. Such software is not, however, anywhere as near as sophisticated as Stuxnet or other real cyberweapons.
Anonymous essentially spammed the Twitter accounts so people could not, while under attack, use them. They sent wave after wave of messages including Rick Astley’s 1987 Song “Never Gonna Give You up.”
Yup. Essentially Anonymous rickrolled the supposed Daesh accounts, spamming all incoming communication and making conversation impossible. The accounts were taken out … but only temporarily. As soon as Anonymous stopped their attacks, the accounts were usable again. This is what is called a denial of service attack, and, frankly, it’s a weak one. In other words, Anonymous didn’t take anything out. All it did was make a few accounts temporarily unusable until Twitter’s management stopped the nonsense.
That brings us to the greatest problem with Anonymous: its a volunteer organization attracting support based on enthusiasm and interest. Its a militia, of a sort. But it not a militia driven by concern for people’s homes or life. Rather, most Anonymous volunteers do what they do for the “lolz;” their own amusement. When they get bored, they stop. #OpParis petered out. The Islamic State steams on.
I’ll mention here that when Anonymous decided to doxx people who collaborated with the Zetas, they learned right quick that it was a bad idea. As for other ways of cyber-attacking the cartels, so far there has been nothing. The cartels are not running scared of Anonymous.
To be sure, there are probably talented hackers out there affiliated with Anonymous, but the vast majority of them are not. That majority is the cyber equivalent of bunch of high school kids egging a house. Nothing more.
And certainly not the insanely powerful group portrayed in Ghost Fleet. And I see no way for the current group to somehow transmogrify itself into an all-powerful collective in only nine years ... or ever.
In short, the way the authors portrayed cyberwar may succeed as a way to catch a Hollywood agent’s attention. It failed on every other metric. Which is really quite disappointing, given that they have the knowledge to have written a good book.
Things are slowing down professionally, and so this series will continue. But I just finished re-reading the book ... and man it looks much worse than the first time through. Really shoddy work by the authors in what should have been a classic. I am befuddled by the positive reviews.
Any way, here is Politico (of all places!) reporting on America’s arsenal of offensive cyberweapons. Key quote: “One thing everyone I spoke to agreed on: The U.S. has the most powerful cyber arsenal in the world.”
Weirdly, the article quotes one of the authors of Ghost Fleet. I know that they know all the stuff Will Baird explained here. So why does the book pretend that they don’t? They really could have done much better ... and realism would have introduced more drama, not less. It is weird.
Next up: the silliness of the way the book treats insurgency and counterinsurgency, followed by fisks of how it presents international politics, conventional military capabilities, and space travel. (Oh, God, the space travel.)
After the Paris massacres, there was a lot of chatter that GOP primary voters would now get serious and turn away from Donald Trump. I think there is now a consensus that two weeks on there is no sign of that happening.
Kevin Drum just wrote that the attacks seem to have changed nothing. And using poll data from all voters, that is true. But if you limit the universe to the likely voters who make it through the polling firms’ filters, you get a different story:
This is not conclusive, of course, since it took several days for the jump in Trump’s standing to show up. But I do think that it means that Drum can’t really conclude that the attacks have had no effect on the race. From here, it looks like they have helped the Donald.
One of the most disappointing things about Ghost Fleet was the dog that didn’t bark: the massive immeidate American cyber-counterattack against China. It’s one thing to write an exaggerated warning against a threat that you believe your country is neglecting. It’s quite another to ignore the loud and massive preparations for cyberwar that the United States has already made — and that those very authors have reported upon extensively. It was weird; weird enough to remove much of our ability to enjoy the book.
One thing that the authors get completely right is that much of any future cyberwar will be fought using malicious programs that are pre-positioned inside hardware. Trojaned electronics are a very real concern. It is entirely conceivable that in a future conflict, the Chinese government could do serious damage to the American civilian infrastructure. Moreover, with the advent of the “internet of things” such an attack — when combined with the more “traditional” operations described in our last post — such an attack would consist of a serious Weapon of Mass Annoyance, as toilets seized up and heating systems went haywire. To their credit, the authors evocatively show just such effects: a home front dealing with unfixable automated refrigerators.
Unfortunately, the authors jumped (a lot of sharks) far away from the great fictional war classics like Red Army or Arc Light or The War in 2020. They moved out of the realm of the plausible. Let’s start with the idea that the Chinese could install Trojan horses in most of our military systems. They couldn’t. There seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding on how some of this works. Adding a modification to a chip is a pretty profound process. It is highly likely to add glitches that would be easily detected. It would likely add significant time to delivery as well … and sudden additional delays for manufacturing a relatively generic chip would catch people’s attention.
Field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) are even less susceptible to Trojan horses. (Elsewhere, the authors of Ghost Fleet have pointed out in ominous tones that two-thirds of all the U.S. military’s field-programmable chips are made in China and Taiwan. We’ll ignore the fact that Taiwan is not in fact a part of China but an ally of the United States and pretend that all the key chips come from the People’s Republic.) FPGAs are not where you need to worry about Trojan horses because FPGAs are blank slates: the customers can put whatever programs they want on the chips. There is no way for the manufacturer to know what the customer (whether the U.S. Air Force or Intel) plans to put on the chips.
Remember, in order to subvert a program, a hacker must have an understanding of a program. But there is no way to know what program will be placed on a FPGA. Furthermore, many FPGAs allow for a program to be permanently loaded — written once, read many – such that any attempt at overwriting with a new subverted program would be impossible.*
Moreover, the United States has a trusted foundries program administered by the National Security Agency to make chips for the military. (Bizarrely, the authors have the trusted foundries play a key role in the successful U.S. counteroffensive.) Now, the trusted foundries do not make the United States invulnerable. But it does make a breakdown on the scale depicted in Ghost Fleet very hard to believe. The worst case scenario is an attack allowing for the crashing of the software through understanding the hardware — garnered through espionage.
Recovering from a cyberattack based on Trojaned electronics would “merely” require resetting the software. The scare quotes are because such a reset would be far from simple and would take a substantial amount of time. During a battle, such an attack could be catastrophic. We believed in the U.S. defeat during the initial offensive. (Save perhaps the actual invasion of Hawaii: more on that later.) But over the course of a war, the problem is entirely addressable, and the U.S. should have gotten a handle on the issue much faster than it did in the book.
But to be fair, while the scale of the attack may have been hard to believe, but it was not impossible to believe. Yes, the details were wrong, but the United States could in fact get punched in the nose as hard as it was in the opening battles of a future war.
What was impossible to believe was that the United States would not strike back, hard. The U.S. is already training offensive cyberteams. And this is the latest part of a long-standing program — viz the fact that the only documented cyberattacks in the history of the world have come from the Israel and the United States. Hooah, indeed.
As for Trojan Horses hidden in hardware, the Chinese have far more to fear than we do. They don’t know what they are manufacturing! It’s far more likely the U.S. is slipping in something into their chips than vice versa. Not because the U.S. is miraculous, but because we are doing the design. Chinese firms, for the chips made there, do the manufacture. It’s easier for us to verify that a design is what we think it is than it is for them to verify that a design does what they think it does.
Now, perhaps the United States isn’t installing Trojan horses in Chinese electronics. We’re perfectly willing to accept that as a premise. (Even if it’s improbable.) And we are willing to accept that the Chinese could inflict enough damage on American systems as to allow them to win a naval campaign in the Pacific. What we’re not willing to accept is that the United States would be unable to strike back against Chinese infrastructure.
A realistic counter strike would cripple the Chinese in a manner in parallel to the United States. Those same fridges taken out in the U.S. are likely to be taken down in China. The irony of the Chinese situation is with their modern infrastructure, they are likely to have far more of their critical infrastructure taken down in a cyberwar scenario. The analog systems of yesteryear are completely immune to the hacking of digital systems. Digital upgrades will be very uneven in the U.S. They will be almost ubiquitous in China. The Chinese could pummel the United States. The United States would equally pummel the Chinese in a cyberwar. The authors highlighted Los Angeles and the problems with fridges, a metropolitan area currently of 13 million people. What happens when Beijing’s 21 million can’t store food either?
A realistic scenario for cyberwarfare would be the race of the cripples: compromised systems on both sides will cripple each side’s military and homefront in unexpected ways. Both sides would go into battle with their equipment malfunctioning. Both sides would find some of their premier weapons unusable. No one has a monopoly on cyberwar. As of 2015, the U.S. has a significant lead, despite what the authors imply. It is certainly possible that the U.S. would lose that lead by 2024, but it is simply impossible that America would lose the ability to strike back.
The revelations about Stuxnet and the Equation Group have made it clear that the United States has adapted its Cold War approach to nuclear warfare to the new world of cyberwar. During the Cold War, it was theoretically possible to defend against nuclear weapons on a large scale. (Using nuclear tipped interceptors, for example.) But the costs — and there were many! — were deemed too large.
Instead, American war planners adopted an approach that worked surprisingly well: mutually assured destruction (MAD). If a power launches nuclear weapons against the U.S., then the U.S. will literally destroy them in response.
The U.S. could construct an economy invulnerable to cyberattack, but that would slow progress in development of computers and the internet to a crawl. Moreover, it would require civilian discipline unprecedented outside of the two World Wars: does your grandmother always update her computer? Or your uncle his phone? Your child her tablet? Or your husband his new smart thermostat?
Rather than attempt the impossible, the U.S. has applied MAD to cyberwarfare: China unleashes cybernetic hell on the U.S. and the U.S. will unleash it in turn on China.
Finally, there is no way that a cyberwar on this scale wouldn’t go global. The authors themselves have noted in other venues how Stuxnet spread to systems far outside Iran. The same would happen with Chinese and American cyberweapons unleashed in a Third World War. To some extent, that’s a minor point: why should the reader of a good WW3 yarn care whether municipal sewers and automated metros in Lyon are going haywire? They shouldn’t. But the rest of the world will be affected and they will be angry … and in a scenario where China strikes first, they will be angry at China. Maybe America’s NATO allies would refuse to invoke Article 5. (We’ll get to whether that is believable in a later post.) But there is no way on God’s green Earth that they would pretend as though nothing has happened.
In short: the scale of the effect of the initial cyberattack on the U.S. is believable, even if the depictions of how it was carried out make no sense. But it is improbable. And it is completely impossible that the U.S. wouldn’t strike back. We can believe a Chinese victory in the first phase of the war. But one of on the scale depicted was laughably silly and the lack of an American counterstrike was ludicrous fantasy.
And so, once again, our disbelief was desuspended. If you can’t believe the scenario is possible, then what’s the point? These guys know enough to have done much Much MUCH better.
The reference is to a 2003 book by Robert Kagan, where he argues that Americans are more bellicose than Europeans simply because their country is more powerful. Americans from Mars, Europeans from Venus, get it?
Which is why I cannot help but note that a second pre-Paris attack poll showed that 61% of the French favored sending ground forces to take on the Islamic State, whereas according to a new Gallup poll, 53% of Americans oppose sending American soldiers into ISIS territory.
According to an Ifop poll, 56% of the French public favors sending the Armée de terre française into Syria.
That is, they did two months ago. You can only imagine what opinion looks like now.
For comparison, back in August about 52% of the American public favored sending ground forces against the Islamic State.
In short, people, Europeans are from the same place on Mars as we are over here. For better or for worse.
I found out about the attacks in Paris the old-fashioned way: reading about them on the front page of a Mexico City newspaper. (I was there briefly for a conference on organized crime; an in-and-out two-day visit.) I would like to make two points, both of which I am sure are being made elsewhere.
First, the attack was not unprecedented. Mass casualty events of this size are rare, but they do happen. The below figure uses data from the Global Terrorism Database and removes all incidents in Northern Ireland. (The Troubles would otherwise drive the results; they more resembled a low-level civil war than “terrorism” per se.) Political violence was far more common in the 1970s and 1980s. There were fewer mass-casualty attacks, but they did occur. After removing airplane bombings in 1970, 1974 and 1988, you have 76 people dead in the 1980 explosion at the Bologna train station, 61 dead in the botched hostage situation at the Rome airport in 1973, 37 dead in the 1980 London nightclub firebombing, and 19 other incidents with double-digit death tolls over those two decades.
If the Islamic State manages to make this the first of a wave of attacks, then it would be something new ... but I would be surprised if they have the operational capability to carry out multiple mass casualty assaults.
Second, France is limited in what it can do. French airstrikes are not likely to accomplish more than the U.S. coalition has already accomplished, as Kevin Drum has pointed out. Now, the air war against the Islamic State is not played out. The coalition has only now started to target the oil trade, which will weaken the Islamic State’s finances. But it is not clear how stepped-up French participation in the air war will alter the correlation of forces. It is more likely to simply let the USAF ease up a bit on its operational tempo.
Now, with U.S. airlift and cooperation from neighboring countries, France could assemble three brigades to invade and destroy the Islamic State. Inasmuch as attack planning happens in Syria, that might even have a salutary security effect. (The U.S. really did disrupt Al-Qaeda’s ability to plan after it invaded Afghanistan.) France has fallen behind its 1999 commitment to be able to deploy 30,000 troops on short notice, but with American airlift and ISR support it has enough capacity to deploy and sustain half that figure (see also here and here and here). Consider how rapidly French deployed to Mali (including allied African forces):
But what then? Three brigades could probably disrupt ISIS forces on the ground and retake all of the territory it occupies. But it would not be enough to hold it. You could turn the area over to the Syrian National Army, but that seems impossible (on multiple levels) unless you had a political settlement of the civil war.
You could also try to magically cook up a third force capable of holding the area, but good luck with that ... it did not work terribly well in Iraq the first time around. Invite in the Egyptian army? Paging Marco Rubio: That would be a bad idea even were it possible, as the commentator here argued convincingly.
You could leave the area in chaos, but then you would have accomplished precisely nothing in terms of preventing terror attacks against the Hexagon or other parts of the West.
Moreover, with such a small footprint, it is hard to see how the collateral damage from retaking Iraqi and Syrian cities would be anything less than enormous. Which means a lot of angry civilians and some awful propaganda losses.
So you could settle in for a long-term occupation, but I do not believe that anyone in their right mind wants to try that again.
In short, while the French (with American help) probably could dispatch the Islamic State in short order, they won’t.
Unless there is another attack, in France or in the United States. Now, I doubt that it will come to that; it seems unlikely that ISIS has the capability to launch multiple mass attacks. Moreover, intelligence and law enforcement is now on high alert. But unlikely does not mean impossible. It just means mildly improbable.
Should another attack happen I fear that a ground war would be politically inevitable. Futile and likely counterproductive, but inevitable. A terrible dilemma for whomever is in charge.
A request below the fold.
Two years ago, I wondered about the importance of property rights in economic growth. The reason for my doubt was the example of Greece. The country has terrible property rights, yet managed to grow remarkably quickly between 1950 and 1980. As illustrated in the below figure (nicked from here), its annual output per worker rose from the level of Colombia to the level of France, before falling slightly behind.
Well, what happened? One useful line of inquiry might be to dig deeper into history. In 1950, Greece had suffered greatly from World War 2 and the subsequent Greek Civil War. It is entirely plausible that the country possessed reserves of human capital far in excess of its contemporaneous Latin American counterparts. Maybe there is nothing miraculous about its catch-up economic growth in the subsequent decades.
But then I came across a recent paper by Carmen Reinhart and Christoph Trebesch. On page 11, I spotted this rather stunning figure:
Now, the aid between 1946 and 1949 went to fight the war, but it meant that the opportunity cost of equipping the Greek National Army was essentially zero. It also meant that Greek civilians avoided much privation that might otherwise have been expected. In fact, the economy managed to grow during the war, albeit from the depressed levels at the end of the Axis occupation. (See page 30 here.)
American aid continued after the war, however. In fact, it was not until 1961 that high levels of direct support metamorphosed into (rather soft) loans.
To be frank, I do not think that American aid caused rapid Greek postwar growth. I am still not sure what caused that. But even had Greece avoided a Communist takeover without the aid, the chances are very high that the country would have slid into counterproductive redistributionist battles had American taxpayers not agreed to cover Greece’s continuing current account deficits. My prior would be that a counterfactual Greece without American aid would go the way of Argentina, at best. Some catch-up growth, rapidly petering out, followed by relative stagnation at the level of a wealthy Latin American country.
Of course, we did it to keep the Communists at bay, not promote Greek economic growth. But it makes you wonder. Could foreign aid at the right time have kept Argentina, for example, from running off the rails in the postwar decade?
And what was it about Greece, anyway, that let it catch up so fast to the rest of Western Europe once aid covered the cracks? There had to be something else different about the place compared to Argentina or Mexico. No?
Vox has not covered itself in glory when it comes to issues of war and peace. The reason, I think, is that they really want to believe that war is generally pointless. That leads them to seize on evidence that state violence is failing to achieve its goals even when such evidence is weak.
For example, they seized on an opinion poll stating that most Ukrainians did not want to have a civil war as evidence that there would not be a civil war.
Now they have seized on “evidence” to argue that Russia’s intervention is failing. (That sound is my head hitting my desk.) Their evidence? In one week of ground action with Russian air support, the SAA has only advanced a few miles on one northern front.
Do they know the Russo-Syrian operational concept? No. Do they recognize that the Syrian government is fighting on multiple fronts? No. Do they recognize that the Syrian government is worried about rebel enclaves inside its territory? No. Do they know anything other than unsourced claims from the Institute for the Study of War? No. (The ISW is not terrible, and ironically it holds the exact opposite opinion to Vox on most war-related issues, but it is not an unbiased source.)
Since they call the offensive a “fail,” I think it is fair to call the post a fail for a site that aims at explaining the news in a thorough, rigorous and wonky way.
Russia’s intervention may yet fail to stabilize the front lines and give the Syrian government a defensible frontier. But the evidence from Vox tells us nothing about that. For opposing evidence, read today’s New York Times.
Neuromancer set the template for fictional depictions of hacking: colorful icons swooping through cyberspace in a glorified videogame. Sometimes the depiction is a little more sedate, but only a little: hackers frantically banging at keyboards as they break enemy defenses. Films like Swordfish or Hackers and many, many others make it seem rather glamorous, even visual.
Ghost Fleet falls right into that trap early on. Page 41:
“The young hacker focused on her attack, navigating the malware packet through the DIA networks while fighting back the desire to brush a bead of sweat off her nose with her gloved hands. The Pentagon’s autonomous network defenses, sensing the slight anomalies of her network streams, tried to identify and contain her attack. But this was where the integration of woman and machine triumphed above mere ‘big data.’ Hu was already two steps ahead, building systems components and then tearing them down before the data could be integrated enough for the DIA computers to see them as threats. Her left arm coiled and sprung, her fingers outstretched. Then the right did the same, this time a misdirect, steering the defense code to shut down further external access, essentially tricking the programs into focusing on locking the doors of a burning house, but leading a small ember on the outside for them to stamp on, so they’d think the fire was out.”
Needless to say, this is not how hacking works.
Hacking comes in two major flavors. The first is the all-out assault. The second is the stealthy compromise.
The Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attack is a prime example for the all-out assault. A large number of software bots are surreptitiously placed on computers all over the world, usually by getting someone to click on an infected link or attachment. The software then automatically downloads itself and send reports into a controller server (itself likely another hacked system). The number of bots can range up to the hundreds of thousands and be directed by a small handful of servers. When the attack is launched, all those computers fire off requests in such volumes to cause the receiving computers to lock up. This is somewhat like having several hundred 5-year-olds ask questions of one person at the same time.
A variation on this is a massive port scan: using the same botnet, hackers can check all the different places software listens to for communication. The bots will then try to crash the software listening on that port, hopefully getting the system to cough up another entryway in response, like a username or password. The botnet is effectively looking in all the computer’s pockets for a hole from which it can swipe the key. Again, the hacker “merely” pulls the trigger after aiming the botnet. You could, I suppose, have a scene of the hackers feverishly writing the code before they launch the attack. But nobody is going to be sitting in a room swooping through 3-D displays. No typing, no visuals.
Then there is the stealthy attack. The special forces to the DDOS tank army. The classic is stealing access to passwords, preferably from a network administrator. The attacker then moves through the network slowly and carefully. The problem with this method is lots of places log their access and strange places often get flagged. If it happens too often, they lock accounts. That is part of the reason why many sites require periodic password changes.
The problem with this model — the hacker working hands on — is that it’s far more traceable and slow. Better is to compromise a system and let a bot go to work. In fact, far better is to let a bot just plain do all the work. It’s faster and safer.
The most common bot for this is the infamous “malware”: viruses, worms, Trojan horses, etc. The single most famous example of malware that went above-and-beyond was Stuxnet. The authors of Stuxnet didn’t sit and click or wave their hands in real time as they manuevered their way into the Iranian nuclear facilities. They had someone pop in a USB drive and the rest was automated.
This makes it tremendously unsexy. The Stuxnet infection took a significant amount of time before it compromised the systems at the Iranian nuclear enrichment facility. And once it was in, there was no way to know if it had worked until the U.S. received human intelligence that the centrifuges it targeted had actually broken. The infected Iranian facility wasn’t hooked up to the internet, but even if had been, it would have been very, very dangerous to report back. Communications can be intercepted.
Now, the Chinese hacker is working in nine years in the future. Why couldn’t she use virtual reality to hack systems in 2024? Well, maybe she would write code using a V.R. headset and virtual keyboard, although I’m unclear as to why. But she wouldn’t interact with the cyberattacks once they were underway. That would just result in detection once the communications were intercepted. Moreover, the time it would have taken to send back data about what was happening and send back the response could be up to ten seconds on the round trip. Add another ten seconds for her reaction time. That is a lot of time for the DIA to realize something is wrong and start shutting the doors.
The authors talk about her and her bots trumping Big Data. It’s a nice buzzword, but it is totally meaningless in this context. Big Data might have been used as a way to train the DIA’s intrusion detection system to recognize which data flow patterns are normal activity and which might indicate an attack. But I have no idea what it would mean for the Chinese hacker to be “building systems components and then tearing them down.” As a description of cyberwarfare, it’s not even wrong; it’s meaningless.
In summary, the hacking in Ghost Fleet is derived from the silver screen, not the reality of today. It also is highly unlikely to be what comes about in ten years.
Now, to be fair, these scenes are just window-dressing. There is, in fact, a scene on page 37 in which a Venezuelan refugee accidentally infects U.S. defense systems in a realistic way. (Although I have to admit I have some doubts that you could actually copy malware onto a security badge — the article cited in their footnotes does not describe anything like the scene.) But there are much more serious problems with the way the cyberwar develops in Ghost Fleet, which we will get to in later installments.
Comments and criticisms very welcome!
On page 55-56, the Chinese attack the Panama Canal by smashing a giant container ship into the locks. “Two ships ahead, the Xianghumen, a Chinese-flagged freighter, had turned on its engines. This was craziness. What was Xianghumen’s captain thinking, speeding up inside the transit zone? The canal master was screaming over the radio for the Xianghumen to acknowledge and stop. But there was no reply.”
After the Chinese freighter crashes into the locks, “crushing the doors inward,” a Filipino sailor watching it happen thinks : “[He] wasn’t sure how long it would take the Chinese companies that ran the Panama Canal Zone to fix this mess, but their investment had clearly gone down the tubes.”
This was the second moment where I was yanked out of the book, because the scenario is impossible on multiple levels.
The first problem is that ships are not allowed to enter Panama Canal waters under the control of their captains. A Panamanian pilot takes full control. The Xianghumen would have to start its kamikaze run several miles away from the locks, which would making smashing into them a pretty impressive feat of navigation. Moreover, it would give the game away hours before it crashed. The Canal Authority would mobilize tugboats to push the ship away.
Now, the story is set in 2024. So maybe the Chinese ship has some sort of ghost computer system that can seize control back from the pilot and start its run close to the locks. Still, there will be plenty of warning; ships do not accelerate quickly.
But that brings us to the second problem: it is goddamned hard to get to the locks. Look at the above picture. Better still, look at this video, which shows a ship clonking into the side of the canal as it approaches the locks:
How in the name of God is a kamikaze vessel supposed to navigate that entrance? Even now, ships cannot safely transit without being hooked up to those locomotives that you can see in the video.
Finally, we should point out that the Panama Canal has three separate lock systems. You would need three kamikaze vessels to crash simultaneously. That kills your robot scenario, since the Panama Canal Authority does the scheduling. Be hard to make sure that you have three ships in the right places at the right time.
The scene is just fantastically silly.
If the Chinese really want to knock the Panama Canal out of action, then they should send a commando team to blow the Gatún dam. (Or just hit the damn thing with cruise missiles, as was pointed out in comments.)
And it gets worse, because there is no reason to take out the Panama Canal in a hypothetical war. The Canal cuts the transit time from the Atlantic to the Pacific, but presumably the U.S. Navy will have the initiative in any counterattack. As Carlos Yu and I showed in our book, the Panama Canal had no substantive effect on anything in World War 2 other than the the marginal campaigns in the Aleutians and the timing of the Doolittle Raid. If the Canal had no strategic benefit in World War 2, why would it have one in World War 3?
The final nail in the coffin of my suspended disbelief was at the end, where the Filipino sailor wonders “how long it would take the Chinese companies that ran the Panama Canal Zone to fix this mess.” Chinese companies do not run the Canal. The Panama Canal Authority runs the Canal. Chinese companies do run some of the port facilities on either side the Canal. But those ports are a different thing.
Ghost Fleet admirably has footnotes, so I checked the ones for this passage. They footnoted “Chinese companies that ran the Panama Canal Zone” to an article in the Economist. Go read the article. Now come back. You will note that the Chinese interest the article cites is about the possibility of financing a fourth set of locks or building a competing canal in Nicaragua. How did they turn that into Chinese management of the existing canal?
It is a minor plot point, but it planted the skepticism that will blossom in this space over the next few days.
Novels about great power war have long held fascination, particularly since the world hasn’t really seen one since the Korean War ended in 1953. Red Storm Rising is well known, as is Red Army and the Third World War. All three dealt with a conventional European war against the Soviet Union during the 1980s. All wrestled with the specter of nuclear weapons and all got most of the technical stuff right. The best of the bunch is Red Army, in part for the characters, and in part because the author dared to have the United States lose.
All of those books, however, took place in what was more-or-less the present at the time they were written. Today, unlike the 1980s, the United States holds near-absolute military superiority. War is still possible, of course ... see, for example, Eric Harry’s Arc Light. It portrays an accidental war between the United States and the Russian Federation in the early 1990s. What makes Arc Light unique is twofold: it gets the politics and economics absolutely and it lets nuclear weapons out of the bottle without destroying the world. (I won’t spoil it by saying how; the book is worth reading. James should take a look at it for this series.) The war depicted was a great power war, of course, but it was accidental and it was not between peers.
So to consider what a modern great power war between peers might be like we need to move into the future. On this blog, Martin Skold discussed what a near-future great power war might be like. But that excellent discussion was heuristic and only tangentially touched upon operational or technological issues, let alone the politics. (Go read!)
And now we have Ghost Fleet, by P.W. Singer and August Cole! In it, China and the United States go to war in 2024. (The authors give away the exact year on page 48.) A real, genuine great power war. Both sides refrain from using nuclear weapons (for reasons I find plausible) and the conflict plays out over land, sea and space. It has gotten good reviews and it is a book that we really wanted to like.
But we have read it, and while it is a good gripping read ... we just cannot give it a thumbs up. The reasons are basically technical. The authors appear to get enough issues seriously wrong to make it impossible to keep our disbelief suspended.
Over the next few days and weeks Will Baird and Noel Maurer will be collaborating on a series of short posts pointing out the problems with the scenario laid out by the authors. We are doing this for three reasons. First, it is a fun bit of procrastination. (The book is well-written and fun to read!) Second, the book has gotten a lot of attention in policy circles ... and if we are right about the flaws, then that is a problem. Finally, we think we might be able to learn something. These posts aren’t intended to pan or fisk the book; rather, we think of them as opening up a conversation. Are we missing something? Do the authors know something we don’t?
We have divided the apparent errors into three types:
“That’s Not How It Works” technical problems that affect verisimilitude, but not the main plot.
“That’s Not How It Works” problems that don’t affect the plot, but are so major that they yank you out of the book completely. “WTF moments” is another good term.
Serious screw-ups that make whole sections of the book impossible as portrayed.
Watch this space.
It is not easy to make sense of the Russian buildup in Syria, but here is what we think needs to be watched.
If the buildup stops soon, then this was some weird propaganda play on the not-so-cheap. But if it does not, then it would seem that the Russians have decided one of three things:
Assad’s regime is about to collapse. Since the Russians are not willing to see Assad fall, they are starting to throw Hail Marys.
Russian planners have convinced themselves that with a little bit of backing the front lines can be stabilized, after which they can go back to their barracks and broker a peace agreement. The Vietnam analogy here is with McNamara’s March 1964 memorandum. Obviously, there is no direct Syrian analogy for what McNamara proposed in Vietnam, but a rough parallel would involve a Russian buildup of a 10,700+ man intervention force and increasing direct involvement in SAA and NDF operations. (The SAA is the Syrian Arab Army; the NDF is an acronym used for state-financed defense forces.)
How to distinguish? Options (1) and (3) should show a sharper logistical ramp-up than option (2). And option (1) would, in the words of one analyst, “include militia units and a bunch of other high stakes risks that the others wouldn’t. A Berlin Airlift of crazy.” How would the armed forces of the Russian Federation sustain a Berlin Airlift of crazy? Not a lot of countries can do that at such distance; maybe only one these days. So a very large-scale intervention on the scale of the 1965 entry of U.S. combat forces in Vietnam seems unlikely.
Right now, then, it looks like the Russians are going with option (2). Which assumes, of course, that they believe that public opinion at home will accept some small level of casualties and that the lines can be stabilized with relatively little effort.
The problem, as pointed out by that same analyst, is that Americans are already deep in the field. If the Russians aren’t careful, they could wind up killing a bunch of American special forces. But that same analyst thinks they will be careful.
Shades of 1964. But not 1965.
Here is a question for you: why aren’t flights from the Middle East to South America crowded with Syrian refugees?
On paper, most of the Southern Cone countries have remarkably liberal immigration regimes. Start with Argentina. Refugees are automatically accorded two years of residency and receive legal representation. (See the 2010 Migration Act.) Now, the law is not as liberal as American activists would have you believe: undocumented migrants can still be deported (page 17), but the Argentine government has explicitly opened its doors to Syrian migration. Uruguayan immigration law is even more liberal than Argentine. All you need to do to migrate to Uruguay is demonstrate an income stream of $500 per month. After that, naturalization comes within a few years. Brazil has a liberal new refugee law.
The problem isn’t cost. A ticket costs around $800, rather less than the monetary cost of making it overseas to Europe.
But in practice, all three countries are pretty much closed.
Start with the official Argentine program for Syrian refugees. The refugees need to have links to an Argentine sponsor either through family ties (out the fourth generation) or via a “pre-existing personal relationship based on whatever legal, reasonable, and justifiable reason: family, social, educational, work, etcetera.”
Unless a Syrian in a camp somewhere can demonstrate a tangible documented link with somebody in the Argentine Republic, then they do not get a visa. This policy lets Buenos Aires claim that the doors are open while actually keeping them firmly shut.
The policy may change, depending on how seriously Argentine authorities take the definition of a family link. Supposedly, 4 million Argentines trace some ancestry to Syria. In reality, no. In the peak years of 1897-1913, net migration from Syria came to about 103,000. To get from that to 4 million you have to assume almost total exogamy, which is not likely. (For the pedantic: if you assume the same birthrates as the general Argentine population, a generation of 35 years, and total exogamy, then about 3.4 million Argentines should have some “Syrian” ancestry by now.)
Moreover, a 1936 census registered only 11.2% of the Syrian-born residents of Buenos Aires as Muslim. (Page 17, once again.) Some of that is surely conversion, but it also implies that the “Syrians” came much more from Lebanon than from Syria.
Nor is this policy in violation of Argentine refugee law. Article 10 exempts anyone under U.N. protection. Article 11 exempts anyone who has “voluntarily settled inside or outside the country which he left owing to fear of persecution.” Depending on the definition of “voluntarily settled,” that could include precisely every Syrian refugee. It certainly includes anyone in a UNHCR camp. Only a few hundred people have escaped under this not-so-generous regime.
Uruguay is worse. After the country took in a whopping 42 refugee families, a counterreaction set in, and the door are now firmly shut. In theory, the country has pledged to admit ... wait for it ... 120. Now, Uruguayan law opens up an interesting way from European countries to send their unwanted refugees to Uruguay: give them an airplane ticket and a $500 per month stipend. That said, given what happened with the 42 refugees the law would be changed right quick if a European government tried to take advantage of it.
Chile, meanwhile, has a liberal refugee law that only considers people who manage to make it to Chilean territory. So no visa for that plane ticket from Dubai.
And then there is Brazil, which had settled 1,740 Syrian refugees as of March, and 2,077 as of this month. That is nice, but still a very small number. The Brazilian issue is that the bureaucracy is slow, so even without formal quotas few applications get processed. (The Brazilians also exempt anyone under U.N. protection.) It is probably the most open, but still not enough for a mass exodus.
The Brazilian case shows how much bureaucracy can turn an ostensibly open process into a closed one. The Mexican government is coming under a surprising amount of domestic pressure to accept 10,000 refugees. I bet there will even be a bill. And it will sound good.
But the devil will be in the details. Do not wait for Latin America to open its doors in any serious way.
Courtesy of J.H. in comments, it looks like the Russian casualty data is probably fake. They were surprisingly high, but as Will Baird pointed out, quite plausible considering what we know about the number of high-intensity engagements so far.
The problem is that even if 2,000 combat deaths so far is plausible, a rather lower number is more probable. That is why I was surprised when the report first surfaced.
Best to assume for the time being that the report is fake. That said, Forbes has not yet retracted the report. But Forbes may never retract it: the story showed up in one of their blogs and was sourced to a Russian news aggregator. Until they do, some doubt about the report will remain ... but as of now, the evidence is that Russia did not inadvertently (or advertently) publish an estimate of its casualties in Ukraine.
UPDATE: What a difference a year makes! At 14%, yes, yes it does. I started my analysis in 2014, which if you think about it, makes no sense since it is already 2015. The following has been rewritten to take that basic error into account. It has a big impact, as you will see.
So I get asked a question about the recent debt relief granted the Ukrainian republic. Is it a lot? A little? Since I was just in California enjoying the weather (or not, it is beautiful back east right now) I will attach a photo to set the mood. I hope I look properly contemplative.
So after about an hour of contemplation, the short answer is ... it is a fairly good restructuring, but it is not great. Kudos to the Ukrainians! Although they need more.
The Ukrainian finance ministry says that the value of the debt will be cut by 20% with no prinicipal payments until 2019. The coupon on the new bonds is increased from 7.25% to 7.75%. There is no break in interest payments.
The right way to calculate the full amount of the “haircut” taken to creditors is to compute the change in the net present value of the debt. That depends, of course, on how long payments are extended for and at what interest rate. Without that, we can’t calculate the correct value of debt relief.
I got a rough idea of the principal payment schedule from Barclay’s. (You can find the key data in graphical form here.) I then calculated the country’s total payments through 2027 under the old deal and the new deal, assuming average coupon payments of 7.25% under the old deal and 7.75% under the new one. Total mickey-mouse, but enough to get some idea of the payment stream under the two deals.
The upshot? Ukrainian sovereign debt is currently yielding around 11.4%. It was yielding around 14% before the deal. If you use 14% as a benchmark, then the new deal is the equivalent of a 33% 44% haircut.
How much is that? Christoph Trebesch of the University of Munich has put together an amazing database of every sovereign debt restructuring since 1970. The average haircut is 38%. The median is 33%. In 2004, Serbia got 71%. Greece recently got (an insufficient) 65%. The Russians got 51% back in 2000. Mexico got 31% back in 1990, at the end of the Latin American debt crisis.
In short, this is about average pretty good! Ukraine does not look to be coming out much ahead.
The deal looks a little even better if we restrict ourselves to the 17 restructurings that involved $18 billion or more. The average haircut on those was 30% with a median of 25%. Ukraine comes out between Venezuela in 1990 and Argentina in 1993. Ukraine does better than all the Latin American restructurings that came out of the 1982 debt crisis. It is bested only by Russia in 2000, Greece in 2012, Argentina in 2005, and Iraq in 2006. (The latter is not really comparable, since it involved odious debt.)
Unless I am using bum data (entirely possible!) the point is made: Bloomberg is probably wrong when it calls the restructuring a wash for creditors, but no extraordinary concessions have been made given the scale of Ukraine’s problems. This deal looks pretty good.
I should add here that creditors will have the option to exchange their debt for receive GDP-linked warrants! (The link goes an earlier discussion of similar instruments on this blog.) The warrants, it seems, will be granted to all creditors in addition to the restructured notes. Or at least that is my current understanding!
The warrants essentially give investors an equity stake in Ukrainian economic performance. On the surface, they look incredibly attractive. As long as Ukraine has a nominal GDP over $125.4 billion, investors will get 15% of all real economic growth between 3 and 4% and 40% of all growth above 4%.
But who would take that deal? First, the payments will not start until 2021. Second, the World Bank estimates that Ukraine’s nominal GDP this year will come to about $94 billion at current exchange rates. Who knows when (or if) its economy will get back above $125 billion? Ukraine may come to regret including the warrants, but I doubt it ... and they are a nice sweetener for the creditors. After all, who knows? Maybe Ukraine will boom beyond dreams of avarice in the 2020s.
In short, this deal looks about average for debt restructurings. this is a good deal, but considering the problems Ukraine is facing, it strikes me as small beans.
Finally, for those who want it, here are my guesstimates of the annual payments in billions of USD that Ukraine faces under the two deals. If anyone can correct them, I would be delighted!
|New deal||Old deal|
|2015||$ 14.4||$ 1.1||$ 1.1||$ 18.0||$ 1.5||$ 1.3||$ 2.8|
|2016||$ 14.4||$ 1.1||$ 1.1||$ 15.8||$ 2.3||$ 1.2||$ 3.5|
|2017||$ 14.4||$ 1.1||$ 1.1||$ 12.3||$ 3.5||$ 1.0||$ 4.5|
|2018||$ 14.4||$ 1.1||$ 1.1||$ 12.3||$ 0.0||$ 0.9||$ 0.9|
|2019||$ 12.8||$ 1.6||$ 1.1||$ 2.7||$ 12.3||$ 0.0||$ 0.9||$ 0.9|
|2020||$ 11.2||$ 1.6||$ 0.9||$ 2.5||$ 10.8||$ 1.5||$ 0.8||$ 2.3|
|2021||$ 9.6||$ 1.6||$ 0.8||$ 2.4||$ 9.3||$ 1.5||$ 0.7||$ 2.2|
|2022||$ 8.0||$ 1.6||$ 0.7||$ 2.3||$ 6.8||$ 2.5||$ 0.6||$ 3.1|
|2023||$ 6.4||$ 1.6||$ 0.6||$ 2.2||$ 5.8||$ 1.0||$ 0.5||$ 1.5|
|2024||$ 4.8||$ 1.6||$ 0.4||$ 2.0||$ 0.0||$ 5.8||$ 0.2||$ 6.0|
|2025||$ 3.2||$ 1.6||$ 0.3||$ 1.9|
|2026||$ 1.6||$ 1.6||$ 0.2||$ 1.8|
|2027||$ 0.0||$ 1.6||$ 0.1||$ 1.7|
The Russian authorities mistakenly released an estimate of the number of Russian soldiers killed in action in Ukraine, as of February 1, 2015. It came to roughly 2,000. That is a larger number than I would have expected.
How intense is the fighting? In part, that depends on when the bulk of the troops arrived. If we date the start of the fighting from the first armed clashes on April 7, 2014, then the Russian armed forces have suffered a casualty rate around 7 per day. If, on the other, we date involvement from the first known large-scale Russian troop movements on August 22, 2014, then Russian soldiers have been dying at a rate around 12 soldiers per day.
How intense is that compared to other wars? Well, it depends on our point of reference. The Correlates of War database classifies war into three types: interstate, intrastate, and extra-state. Interstate wars are wars between states. Intrastate wars are (basically) civil wars. Civil wars in which foreign governments send forces become internationalized intrastate wars. Extrastate wars are wars between a state and a non-state actor fought outside the metropolitan territory of the state.
Wars can and do shift categories. For example, a civil war can start off as an internationalized intrastate war. But if a foreign government takes over the bulk of the fighting from local forces, it switches to an extrastate war. The Soviet intervention in Afghanistan provides an example. Similarly, if a foreign government takes over the bulk of the fighting from an insurgency, an intrastate war will switch to an interstate war.
So far so good? The Donbass War, then, looks like an interstate war. (Is there is a political component to the choice of the number of “s’s” to put at the end of Donbass?)
How does it stack up to other post-1945 interstate wars in terms of Russian battle deaths?
Short answer: A battle-death rate between 7 and 12 per day is surprisingly intense.
Longer answer: Israel lost 3 soldiers per day during the 146 days of the First Lebanon War (1982); their Syrian opponents suffered around 8. The United States lost 4 soldiers per day in Gulf War 1 (considering all 86 days, not just the 100 hours of intense combat) and 3 per day in Gulf War 2 (over the 44 days of the 2003 invasion). Vietnam took 6 losses per day over 471 days of fighting during the 1977-79 pacification of Cambodia. The Second Ogaden War of 1977-78 may be almost forgotten outside Cuba and the Horn of Africa, but it was not low-intensity by any measure: Ethiopia lost 8 soldiers per day and their Cuban allies lost 6. India lost 7 soldiers per day over 70 days of fighting in the 1999 Kargil War; Pakistan lost 10. Argentina suffered 9 battle deaths per day over the 81 days of the Falklands War. Ecuador took 11 deaths per day over the short 48-day Cenepa War in ‘95; Armenia suffered 12 per day during the (rather longer) 463-day Azeri-Armenian War of 1993.
Putin can take some solace that the fighting is less intense than the 20 battle-deaths per day inflicted on American soldiers during the 2,912 days of the Vietnam War. (Which was an interstate war, by the way.) But it is in the range of the 12 per day suffered by Soviet forces during the 3,280 days of its fighting in Afghanistan. (Which was a classic extrastate war.) And it is at least as bad as the 7 deaths per day that France suffered over the 2,695 days of the Algerian War of independence.
As bad as the French in Algeria!
On the other hand, France fought for a long time in Algeria, and an annual average conceals a lot: by 1960 its battle-deaths were almost nil. And we need not mention the Russians in Afghanistan or America in Vietnam. These casualty levels can be tolerated for a long time with enough political will.
Does the relative intensity of the fighting say anything about the ultimate result in Ukraine? Probably not. Considering only the three wars listed in the above paragraph, the foreign government only lost one of the three.
By 1959, France had pacified Algeria to a level of violence below that which many nations have endured for decades and then (wisely) decided over the next three years that the game was not worth the candle. The context for that decision does not apply to the Donbass, where continuing inter-ethnic violence after the end of the war appears unlikely.
In Afghanistan, the Soviets turned the fighting over to a client state which was capable of staying in power as long as it received continuing financial and logistical assistance. I do not know if the People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk will ever reach that point, but it is not inconceivable. That would be a victory unless the Russian Federation suffers a USSR-like collapse.
Only the United States can be clearly said to have lost its war against North Vietnam. The U.S. could no longer politically sustain a troop presence after 1973, but had no credible local force over to which to turn the effort. SVN forces started to crumble almost immediately after 1973. By the time Congress pulled the plug, South Vietnam was doomed.
Perhaps that could happen in Ukraine ... but consider how long the United States tried to win a war fought thousands of miles away amid a people to which we had no historical ties. The Donbass is right next door and populated by Russian speakers. No comparison.
To sum up: the Russians are surprisingly taking it on the chin in Ukraine, but that says very little about the ultimate outcome of the war. Even if the Ukrainians keep up the good fight, success is not guaranteed. If I had to bet, I would say the Donbass is lost ... and it is a tragedy that Ukrainian internal politics makes that outcome impossible to accept.
No probably not. But this is funny:
The graffiti says, “Alaska, ask Crimea the way home!”
(Hat tip: Will Baird.)
Actually, I’m reminded of this NBC miniseries from 1982. We all watched it. I remember it being pretty good, which is why I remain sure not to re-watch it as an adult.
We also all watched this other miniseries a few years later, which I would love to see again if I could find it in a modern format. I don’t remember it being good at all, which is why I think seeing it again would be a hoot.
At some point, we need to go through this blog and mark all its beliefs to market. But right now, let us just say that this prediction from December 2014 is looking good. In fact, the prediction is actually from July 2012, where we ran the numbers and predicted that the Assad regime would eventually run out of manpower reserves.
Now it seems that Assad is publicly admitting that he is running out of manpower. Speculation is that this presages serious peace offerings. I would agree with such speculation. What I am less sure of is that any significant portion of the rebel forces, in their current form, will agree.
First, Brent is retired and the relatives do not live in affected areas. Thank you for the concern!
Second, Paraguay. While I await the coming storm of comments and questions (hah!) here is the population pyramid for the 1870 data with the estimated undercounts from 1899 added in:
Devastation among males (55%!), but little sign of a generalized crisis. Which is actually somewhat surprised: I would have expected blowing that big a whole in the labor force would have led to severe general famine.
Note that these adjusted figures are a clear undercount. First, the 1899 figures include only those who survived to 1899; some people who were not counted in 1870 passed away in the interim. Since males have shorter lifespans than females, this will also increase our projections of missing males. The 47% figure from the 1886 census is a more reasonable upper bound.
Second, the total number is too low. It comes to about 176,000. That implies an annual growth rate of 3.8% between then and 1886, which is impossible unless there were lots of Paraguayan refugees in Argentina and Brazil in 1870. There almost certainly were ... but that means that the 1870 census cannot be used to impute total deaths.
Here is a table of plausible populations given an 1886 population of 325,000:
|1870 pop at||3.0%||201,067|
|1870 pop at||2.5%||217,813|
|1870 pop at||2.0%||235,954|
|1870 pop at||1.6%||251,549|
The irony? The War of the Triple Alliance was still devastating. It was on the same scale as the Greek War of Independence, the French conquest of Algeria, World War I in Serbia, and the Great Patriotic War. It was more destructive than the Carlist Wars, the Ten Years War, the Russian Civil War, and the two Congo Wars. It was more than twice as bad as the Napoleonic Wars were for France, inflicted over half as much time. It was a horrible event.
What it was not was singular or unprecedented. Which says terrible things about human beings.
Here is my final word on the demographic impact of the War of the Triple Alliance. Let’s start with the 1899 population pyramid. There is some guess work here, because Asunción accounted for 10% of country’s enumerated population of 480,000 but provided no age breakdown. These figures heroically assume that the capital had the same distribution as the rest of the country, which is almost certainly wrong. (Cities skew older in general; more so in the age before modern urban sanitation.) But the numbers are what we have.
What do they show? Unfortunately, the age groupings make it hard to see whether there are any signs of a general demographic disaster (that is, one affecting both sexes) during or right after the war, but there is nothing particularly obvious. With two exceptions, each cohort looks more or less the size you would expect in a growing mostly-rural population.
The exceptions are the 1854-63 and the 1882-84 birth cohorts. The number of females in the first cohort is slightly smaller than you would expect given the size the cohorts around it. That population was aged 1-10 at the start of the war, so it is possible that we are seeing some effect of disease and malnutrition. The problem is that the cohort after that includes everyone born between 1864 and 1881: war-related mortality among those born in 1864-70 would be swamped by those born in the postwar decade.
The other exception is the 1882-84 birth cohort, which is much bigger than you would expect for both sexes. I suspect that the reason is a head tax on adults or some sort of labor draft that affected both sexes: children who were actually aged older than 18 in 1899 were reported as aged 15-17 instead. (There may be an alternate explanation, but it is unlikely to involve the war.)
What I’ve done here is add back the missing birth cohorts from the 1899 census. The categories did not easily overlap, so I have divided up the cohorts from the 1899 census equally among all the years inside that cohort. (This introduces biases, although I think they run against the hypothesis that the war had no effect.)
Why were the undercounts so large? Well, one possibility is evasion. Another is a sloppy census. But commentator Thomas Masterson hits on a third hypothesis: temporary migration to Argentina. Argentina was booming during the 1880s and getting their from Paraguay was easy. Paraguayan migrants, however, had to compete with the waves of Spaniards and Italians pouring into that country. The Paraguayans would face racial and language discrimination (Guaraní the primary language of most locals at the time), which would not be conducive to permanent settlement. Finally, the 1899 census identified Paraguayans by nationality, not place of birth, and so Paraguayans born in Argentina but who moved back would be counted in the 1899 census as local.
What about the impact of the war? There are clear signs of mass casualties among males: the 1886 male population is a full 41,000 less than might have otherwise been expected ... although that calculation does not account for the fact that male mortality is generally higher than female. Excess male mortality comes to 47% of the population of the relevant age group, which is consistent with the idea that about one out of every two Paraguayan males perished as a result of the war. (It also implies that almost the entire male population served, but that is consistent with Paraguayan records and the overwhelming reports of children and elderly being pressed into service.)
That said, it is a little perplexing that there is also excess male mortality among children born during the war ,i.e., too young to have been child soldiers. There are reasons to think that male children might have been more susceptible to famine and disease, but that smacks a little of post hoc reasoning to me.
Looking at the female half of the distribution, there are some signs of higher-than-expected mortality among the cohorts born during and immediately after the war, but they are not pronounced. Paraguay experienced disease and famine (the latter partially as a result of a huge diminution of the agricultural labor force for military service) but not outside the realm of the historical experience of 19th-century wars.
Finally, it should be noted that even with my adjustments the 1886 number is still an undercount. To be fully consistent with the 1899 number the population would need to grow by 3.0% per year. That is really outside historical experience in the latter 19th century: Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic were the highest (without mass immigration) at around 2.6%. Most countries were around 1.5% or less.
Criticisms, suggestions, new information and additional questions, please! (I know that Randy is interested in why Paraguay survived as an independent nation ...)
Commentator J.H. asks what I think of the Whigham-Potthast methodology for estimating Paraguayan deaths in the War of the Triple Alliance. Coincidentally, the Whigham-Potthast article was exactly what I planned to be the subject of this post!
But first, let me say that I agree with J.H.’s point that had the country really lost 90% of its male population, then we would have seen bigger effects on its culture and literature than we do. Let me also say that careful researchers (like Reber) have tried to adjust for Paraguay’s territorial losses, but regardless those losses affected very little populated territory.
Which brings us to the work of Thomas Whigham (U-Georgia) and Barbara Potthast (Bielefeld). They uncovered an 1870 population survey taken at the tail end of the war. The survey was the work of the Provisional Government established by the Allied countries, who were not yet prepared to simply partition Paraguay between them. It isn’t entirely clear why the Provisional Government wanted the survey, but the answer is likely taxation: the government asked that information be gathered on the acreage sown with various crops in addition to the population data.
Now, the survey wasn’t really a census: rather, the government asked the political chiefs and justices of the peace in the various counties to report the data. Age groups were divided into children, adults and elderly, with no further elaboration. In addition, the survey omitted the cities of Asunción and Pilar. But it was data, and data are always useful! Consider what we were able to do with the highly flawed 1886 census.
So what did Whigham and Potthast do with their data? First they added estimates for Asunción and Pilar. The Asunción data came from an 1872 British diplomatic report; the Pilar data came from an 1871 newspaper article. Then they added up all the reported numbers of people.
And ... uh ... well, that is what they did. They got a total of 116,351. To that they added a guess of 50,000 people in non-reporting districts. That made a high estimate of 166,351. They then divided that number by their estimate of a prewar population of 389,000 to 457,000. Ergo, a population decline between 57% and 69%.
Do I have to explain why this is unlikely?
Oh, all right. The 1870 numbers do not jibe with other data. First, the 1870 survey reports 39,334 children. Whigham and Potthast take “children” to mean age 12 and below; which would place them as born between 1858 and 1870. In 1886, the number of the children born between 1856 and 1871 was 78,605. That is a difference of more than 39,000 people. A simple adjustment to remove 1856, 1857 and 1871 would cut that difference to 32,000, but it would still mean that more than 60% of the Whigham-Potthast upward adjustment of 50,000 would have to consist of uncounted children for their results to match 1886.
It is harder to match other cohorts. In 1870, adults were defined as anyone born between 1820 and 1857. They totaled 29,310. In 1886, people born between 1816 and 1855 totaled 52,584. Even people born just between 1836 and 1855 totaled 40,648. That is an additional 11,000 people at minimum, which would when combined with the missing children just about eat up their 50,000 fudge factor.
The Whigham-Potthast numbers are still remotely possible but ...
... the second problem is that we know that the 1886 census was also an undercount. How do we know that? Well, the 1886 census reported 28,113 people born between 1882 and 1884. By 1899, that cohort had grown to 43,907 people, all Paraguayan-born. That is, shall we say, not possible unless the 1886 count was too low. The same applies to later cohorts. The 1886 census found 80,476 people born between 1866 and 1881; the 1899 census reported 122,955 people born between 1864 and 1881. Unless 1864 and 1865 were rather astounding fertile years (which would be odd, considering as they were the first two years of the war) then the 1886 count once again has to be too low. (This problem does not apply to older cohorts; it seems that 1886 was particularly bad at recording children and young adults.)
In other words, 1886 suffered a minimum undercount of 58,000 relative to 1899; and 1870 suffered a minimum undercount of 43,000 relative to 1886. That is a total minimum undercount of 101,000. Lopping off the 50,000 fudge factor leaves us with an additional 51,000 missing people ... for a new minimum 1870 population estimate of 217,000.
To double-check, let’s adjust the 1886 numbers using the 1899 data for the undercounted cohorts. That would give us a minimum population of 290,061. (I feel ridiculous using more than two significant digits to report these numbers, but whatever.) That implies a growth rate of 3.5% per year between 1870 and 1886, which is really not possible in the age before antibiotics. In fact, Paraguay never mustered growth much above 1.7% per year; the figure of 3.1% between 1886 and 1899 is an artifact of the 1886 undercount.
To triple check, let’s match the 1870 data to the 1873 data. (Which actually reported numbers for 1872.) Now, we do not have original manuscripts for 1873, but I am not clear as to why we should discount its existence given that it was reported in British consular reports and Argentine newspapers. I am certain that the 1873 data are terrible, but that also applies to 1870. Anyway, the 1873 data report 86,079 people born between 1858 and 1872, which about 46,000 more than the 39,334 reported born in 1858-70 in the 1870 survey. (Jan Kleinpenning of the University of Nijmegen got to this point first.)
Finally, their 1864 baseline is almost certainly too high. It ignores the 1864-67 survey data. (That would be point #4 at the link.) The lowest estimate that they have is barely possible, but still not that likely.
I hate to make the calculation, but if we combine the high estimate of the 1864 population (370,000, assuming an average household size of seven people) with the low estimate of the 1870 population (217,000) we get a roughly 41% decline over the six years. Not all of that will be excess mortality, of course. Some will be international refugees, others away from their homes in Paraguay (for example, men still in the field who have not returned home), others undercounted, and some normal deaths that were not compensated for due to low fertility during the war. In other words, 41% is a meaningless figure ... but it does at least serve as a bracket.
A more realistic 1864 estimate uses an average household size of 5.5, which was typical for Chile and Mexico at the time. That would give a prewar population of 292,000. A population size of 292,000 implies 1.8% growth between 1864 and 1899 (and 2.2% growth from 1870 to 1899). Combining that figure with an 1870 population pf 217,000 pushes the total population fall to 22%. That is still, of course, a meaningless figure ... but it is the equivalent calculation to the more dramatic claims.
In short, the Whigham-Potthast method is a good one, but in this case it relies on bum data. The war was clearly catastrophic, but a 57%+ genocidal massacre it was not.
After I finished the legwork that went into the last two posts, I discovered two other scholars had gotten there first. In 1988, Vera Blinn Reber took on the idea that Paraguay had lost more than half its population. Her evidence fell into four buckets:
While she effectively debunked the genocidal claims, her conclusion that Paraguay lost most likely 8% of its population is still largely conjecture. For example, roughly 80,000 Paraguayan men cycled through the armed forces during the war. She posited that it was unlikely that casualty rates could have been much higher than 24,000; roughly 30% of everyone who served.
I am not so sure. For example, the standard figures for Confederate military mortality (including disease) in the U.S. Civil War ranged from 23% to 38%. But when J. David Hacker (Binghampton) used census records to estimate excess male mortality for the 1860s, he found numbers that were more in line with mortality rates of 33% to 54%. Considering the sex imbalances in the 1886 census, I do not find 50% mortality among Paraguayan soldiers to be inherently unbelievable.
Her doubt comes from the fact that the size of the Allied forces arrayed against Paraguay has been greatly exaggerated. For example, there are claims that Brazil fielded an expeditionary force of 100,000. The problem is that we know that it took the Brazilians a full 49 steamships to move a single brigade consisting of 5,445 enlisted men up the Paraná river and the Brazilians never possessed that sort of logistical capability. That said, however, even if Allied forces never much exceeded 43,500, they could have caused much higher casualties upon the Paraguayan defenders through disease and malnutrition inflicted via the astute use of strategic interdiction.
Given the evidence from 1872 and 1886, I would lean towards her high estimate of 18% total losses (including a net refugee outmigration around 3% of the prewar population), simply because the military mortality rates that she considered too high for a 19th century war are not in fact outside the bounds of historical reality. Disease made many 19th century wars more dangerous for soldiers than their early 20th century equivalent; in the second half of the 20th century advances in body armor, medevac technology, and trauma medicine produced a second prolonged decline. Consider, as evidence, the below graph of the wounded-to-killed ratios in various wars (from the amazing work of Tanisha Fazal of Notre Dame, available here):
An 18% loss, however large, is still a far cry from over half.
In 1999, two scholars attempted to resurrect the vision of a devastated Paraguay using evidence from an 1870 population survey. Their attempt was terrible. So terrible that it is almost not worth discussing. But I will! So stay tuned.
Meanwhile, any thoughts before we turn to the political implications of the conflict?
Paraguay appears to have attempted a desultory census on January 1, 1873, three years after the end of the war. What we have available is not as comprehensive as from 1886, but there are some age data. The resulting population pyramid both confirms and contradicts the data from 1886:
It confirms the data from 1886 because it also shows a giant skew in the sex ratio for the population born between 1848 and 1857; that is to say, the population aged 7 to 16 at the start of the war and 13 to 22 at its end. So far, so good.
The problem? Well, consider this table:
|1848-57 in 1872||15,083||45,567|
|1846-55 in 1886||6,420||18,697|
That is a whole lot of decline over 14 years! (57% for males, 59% for females, although the cohorts are not exactly comparable.) Is that an indication of the terrible coverage of the 1886 census? If it is, other age cohorts should experience similar declines.
|1858-72 in 1872||39,507||46,572|
|1856-76 in 1886||43,202||55,447|
|Pre-1847 in 1872||13,663||60,678|
|Pre-1846 in 1886||13,125||42,395|
They do not. In fact, given expected mortality, measurement errors and the fact that the cohorts are not equal, the 1848-57 and 1846-55 cohorts stack up remarkably well between the censuses. (The implication is that the 1886 count was a little better for that cohort.) The fit for the pre-1847 and pre-1846 cohorts is worse but still decent; it implies that men aged 25 and above were undercounted in 1872 relative to other groups because it is not possible for their numbers to have declined so little over 14 years.
The weirdness of the first cohort poses a problem. At face value, these numbers imply that something in 1872-1886 dramatically reduced the measurable population aged 15-38 while leaving other groups untouched. (15 is the youngest member of the cohort in 1872; 38 is the age of the oldest member in 1886.)
I have no idea what that could possibly be. Something that disproportionately kills prime-age adults? Unlikely. Something that makes prime age adults more desirous of avoiding the census in 1886 than they were in 1872? Paraguay was still under foreign occupation in 1872, so its possible that they distrusted their own government more than the occupation authorities. But it seems unlikely.
In short, its a mystery. It seems as though the war ripped a chunk in the fighting age male population of the country. And there is (weaker) evidence that epidemics in the late stages of the war reduced the overall population. But as for everything else the numbers seem far too unreliable to make an estimate.
As you might expect, some scholars have been there before us. A review of their evidence will be forthcoming.
Apologies for the absence. Work and travel, which may generate some future posting. But right now, some promised history.
The War of the Triple Alliance (1864-70), in which Paraguay went to war with Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, could fairly be considered one of the world’s most obscure conflicts. But it nonetheless comes up in the most unexpected quarters, usually as an example of the futility of war. The claim to fame is the loss of 90% of Paraguay’s male population (and some unknown but significant portion of its female population as well) making it one of the first genocidal conflicts of the modern age.
So what do we know? We will be looking at this in a series of posts, but let’s start with the Census of 1886. As censuses go, it is completely unreliable in its count. For example, the only way to jibe it with the 1899 census is to assume natural population growth of 8% per year (page 10 here) which is, to put it mildly, not possible.
That said, a population pyramid may start to shed light on the question of wartime population loss. If one assumes that either (1) the undercount was equal across ages and sexes; or (2) the undercount was randomly distributed across ages and sexes, then sudden shifts in the relative size or sex ratio of various cohorts may contain useful information. And so, we present to you the 1886 population pyramid for Paraguay, broken down by birth cohorts:
Something appears to be going on. First, the size of the 1866-1876 cohort is unusually small. This could be a random undercount ... or it could indicate very high mortality among that cohort. The first four years of the cohort coincided with the end of the war and large-scale cholera outbreaks; mortality could have been unusually high.
Still, high child mortality due to war-related disease is not what people commonly think of when they discuss the mortality of the War of the Triple Alliance. Rather, what they think of is massive male mortality from combat. (That would include disease, of course, but disease caused by terrible field conditions rather than a general epidemic.) Is there evidence for that?
Yes. As shown above, sex ratios reported in the 1886 census declined monotonically with age. It is of course likely that heads of household (e.g., males above the age of 30) disproportionately avoided census takers. (Widows were rather less likely to be taxed or drafted.) But that applies to other censuses in other countries as well, and those censuses do not show these sorts of extreme skews in their adult sex ratios.
In short, the 1886 census cannot tell us how badly the war impacted the Paraguayan population, but it can tell us that the violence was significant. More to come.
Minsk II is on the edge of outright collapse. There has been no progress on almost any of the provisions since our last post. Fighting continues in and around Shyrokyne and Donetsk. The Donetsk fighting remains a distraction, with sides doing just enough to prevent the other from withdrawing. The main theater is in Shyrokyne, down by the coastal city of Mariupol.
The fighting in Shyrokyne has intensified. Reports that the Ukrainians had been pushed out of Shyrokyne proper seem to have been correct; Ukrainian forces are holding the high ground above the village. In the last 24 hours, the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) has started using multiple rocket launcher systems, a clear violation of Minsk II. This has been verified by the OSCE. The Ukrainians have claimed the DNR is also using big gun artillery, but that remains unverified. The Ukrainians supposedly are retaliating.
The OSCE spotted over 25 tanks on the DNR side of Shyrokyne. I would bet that this is actually a full battalion. The OSCE has only a handful of observers; moving the tanks out of view would not be terribly hard. There are reports that another 22 tanks have crossed the border at Novoazovsk in the last few days.
Additionally, General Lentsov has moved down to Mariupol. Lentsov appeared at the Donetsk Airport before it was overrun and outside Debaltseve: he took command in both and pushed out the Ukrainians. Take note here. The tone Lentsov takes is not very aggressive for a Russian. At one point he states the Ukrainians are the problem, not his people and he will take care of the problem.
There is some evidence that the Ukrainian chain of command is breaking down. The volunteer Donbas Battalion refused an order to withdraw. The Ukrainian army claims they need to be rotated out for a bit. The Donbas Battalion is claiming that someone is attempting to weaken the Shyrokyne’s defenses. This is a worrying development, considering that three other territorial defense battalions (Aidar, Dnpro and Azov) are defending Shyrokyne alongside the regular army.
The Russians appear to be waiting for two things: the end of the spring rains and more political and economic deterioration on the Ukrainian side. At that point, Lentsov is going to try to take Mariupol some time in the next four weeks. My guess is no sooner than the Orthodox Easter (April 12) and no later than May 10.
As we pointed out here, Russian forces were at the forefront of taking Debaltseve. They have now stopped pretending that they they don’t have regular troops in Ukraine. The linked interview would not have been allowed unless the Russians were testing to see how the West reacts. A damning quote from a Russian volunteer soldier: “If the E.U. and the USA wanted to prove that Russia’s forces are located here, I think it would be easy to do. They would just go and photograph the armor and everything. But they’re not doing that, they’re closing their eyes.”
Russia followed the same pattern with Crimea: denying the presence of soldiers while sending up small test balloons to see how the West would react. They are a step away from confirming the Russian forces are fighting in the Donbas.
It’s pretty much time to call a duck a duck: Russia invaded Ukraine.
We have now passed a month since the Minsk II ceasefire was supposed to go into effect. The agreement was supposed to end the war in the Donbas. On the plus side, the fighting has died away save for two long-standing sores and one new nonviolent provocation. On the minus side, there are also indications that the Russo-rebels are preparing a bigger push thanwe thought before, but like everything the tea leaves are hardly definitive: after all, Russians invented the game of Maskirovka.
As noted before the fighting has been reduced to the outskirts of Donetsk and the town Shyrokyne. Depending on who you believe, the Ukrainians are being pushed back or the Ukrainians have repulsed attack after attack. The shooting involves mostly 120mm mortars (not popguns despite being “only” mortars), RPGs and small arms fire. Neither side seems be using long range artillery or rockets.
The provocation, which did not turn into a fire fight was up north in the Lugansk Oblast. Rebels crossed the Seversky Donets River and set up defensive positions. The Ukrainian army told them to evacuate. They ended up screaming at each other. Neither side fired a shot; the Ukrainians did not have authorization to engage. The rebels appear to have kept their position though. Not a good precedent that.
In Gorlovka, the rebels have been massing heavy combat equipment. For what purpose? Is this the signal they are going to start an offensive from Gorlovka? Or is it a distraction? We don’t know.
An unfortunate tragedy took place in Konstantinovka: a Ukrainian APC ran over some kids. There was a near riot over the incident, but the soldiers were arrested and their commander dismissed. The situation has calmed down, but it was really touch and go there for a while.
The Ukrainians have been trying to honor the terms of Minsk II. Much to my surprise, they even voted to grant autonomy to the Donbas. The new law stipulated the elections must be overseen by international monitors and follow Ukrainian law. It also allowed the east to use Russian as an official language. However, the rebels and Moscow have reacted badly to the legislation, stating it breaks the Minsk II agreement. Their reasons are unclear, to say the least.
Worryingly, Russia just signed an “association agreement” (annexation in all but name) with South Ossetia. NATO has reacted badly. The Ukrainian and Russian-speaking internet is lit up with speculation that this is what Putin has planned for rebel-controlled Ukraine.
The Europeans sure like their saucepan.
(A quick run down on the Minsk II implementation below the fold.)
The Bolivarian Republic had a “Georgia moment” in 2008. I’m referring to the Russo-Georgian War of that year, when the Russians discovered just how severe were their training and mobilization problems. The result was a sustained modernization program. The Russian armed forces are not a par with the United States, of course, but they have improved markedly. The Russian Federation will not become a peer competitor with the United States because of its long-term economic and demographic problems, not because its military institutions are irredeemably broken.
In 2008, Venezuela almost went to war with Colombia. On March 2, President Chávez ordered ten battalions to the Colombian border. 48 hours later the U.S. embassy reported that “less than 12 light tanks or armored fighting vehicles have been seen preparing for movement at Carora in the western state of Lara and at Fuerte Mara in the border state of Zulia.” The embassy went on to say, “A lack of training, rehearsal and failure to invest in unglamorous military equipment like trailers and cargo planes has slowed the Venezuelan military's mobilization. This may explain the lack of patriotic visuals, from this otherwise propaganda savvy leader, of troops marching to the front.”
Six days later, not much had happened. Five heavy equipment transports, capable of carrying five main battle tanks or two light tanks, finally made it to a military base in Valencia. There was also the first evidence of desultory helicopter movements. The military was apparently buying fuel on the spot from commercial vendors. The U.S. believed that the AK-103 assault rifles purchased from Russia had been issued to Army units, so that was something. But generally, the mobilization was a complete disaster.
Chávez was a political genius and rarely averse to recognizing reality ... so on March 9th he pivoted to peacemaker after it became clear that only a third of his troops had made it to the border. (And those were operating beyond their logistical tail.) The deterioration in capabilities was a little ironic considering that the logistical and aviation branches had remained loyal during the 2002 putsch.
How did President Chávez react to the Georgia moment? Not by modernizing. Rather, in December 2009 a new law gave the President the authority to declare military districts that could be used to undercut recalcitrant state governors; it also further pushed resources towards the militia and allowed foreigners to serve in the military. (Our 2009 post on the subject is here.) Presumably the relaxation on the citizenship requirement was made to allow Cubans to take up posts in the service.
The result has not, shall we say, been an increase in operational capabilities.
In other words, Guyana can breathe easy. So can Aruba, for that matter. Seriously, stop worrying. This stuff stopped around the same time that Caracas realized its military was useless for interstate war.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker recently called for a unified European Army. Jane’s then pointed out that the real efficiencies would come from a single European Air Force. An official U.K. spokesperson then predictably said no, even though London really can’t stop other countries from going ahead: “Our position is crystal clear that defence is a national, not an E.U., responsibility and that there is no prospect of that position changing and no prospect of a European army.”
There are many fine arguments against a united European military. But, perhaps predictably, a British analyst advanced what is quite possibly the stupidest. “There’s no point in talking about an army unless you're talking about a federal state.”
Oh, for f--k’s sake. Back in 1952, six governments wrote 86 goddamned pages explaining exactly how you could build a single army without a federal state. It would be useful to explain why it would be a bad idea to take the 1952 treaty off the shelf and apply it today. (Article 10, for example, would need extensive rewriting.) It would be useful to explain why the treaty creates a federal state by stealth. (AFAICT it doesn’t, but if Mr. Keohane thinks it does I would be fascinated to hear why.) It would be useful to explain why the idea is a political nonstarter in 2015. (It is, but I do not understand the reasons.)
But we just get some handwaving. The fellow doesn’t even seem to realize that Europe came within a few French votes of a single military 63 years ago.
The ignorance of history is breathtaking.
Anyway, a call to our friends at AFOE: why does a resurrection of the EDC appear to be off the table?
It has been more than three weeks since the Minsk II ceasefire was supposed to go into effect.* The agreement was supposed to create a 100 km wide corridor where no heavy weapons — artillery, tanks, etcetera — would be allowed. The corridor ran from the Russian border through Lugansk all the way along the long of contact down to the Black Sea. The OSCE is supposed to to verify the ceasefire.
Most artillery has been pulled back and fighting along the line of contact has ceased, other than small sporadic clashes along the line. There are, however, two notable exceptions.
The first is the city of Donetsk. Fighting continues, albeit at a lower level than before. Both sides have used tanks and artillery despite the ostensible pullback. In theory, Donetsk is the primary prize in the fighting. In practice, it’s a distraction. The Ukrainians are trying to keep the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and the Russians tied down, since the Russians know that the town could fall if they shift forces elsewhere. Meanwhile, the Russians want to keep the Ukrainians tied up in the north should they decide to focus elsewhere. (Spoiler alert: the Russians want to focus elsewhere.) The result is a relatively intense level of conflict about which neither side is serious.
Which brings us to the other, more serious fight: Shyrokyne, on the road to Mariupol. The squicky Azov Battalion and Ukrainian army has been trying to hold back the DNR and Russians. The road to Mariupol has seen battles back and forth since January, some involving heavy weapons. Right now, the fighting could best be characterized as probing or scouting. However, that is probably about to change.
After capturing Debaltseve and taking a moment to organize, the DNR and the Russians are massing in the south, near Novoazovsk. Their intent appears to be to push on to Mariupol and possibly beyond. But why?
The somewhat infamous Stratfor wargamed out Russia’s different military options in Ukraine. Their point was not to state what Russia would do, but rather examne what it could do and at what cost. They laid out three different goals. In the first, the Russians try to carve out a land bridge to Crimea. In the second, they try to take all of southern Ukraine to the Romanian border, including Odessa. In the third, they occupy eastern Ukraine to the river Dniepr.
Right now the DNR is getting ready for scenario 1. The question is whether they will move before the rains stop. It’s pretty crappy between now and mid May as Ukraine gets all the rain that California wishes it had. The rain turns everything into sticky mud. This gets overplayed a lot by wargamers and whatnot, because of WW2, but it does favor the defender. That said, the muck can be overcome. The real reason that the Russians probably want to wait is to let Ukraine melt down a little more economically. It isn’t that Ukraine’s economic slide will materially affect its ability to mobilize men and machines. It is that it will help show that the West isn’t interested in helping. Hearts and minds: fscking Poroshenko! damn America! Left us to rot! Russia /has/ to be better than this.
Unless the DNR et al is really lucky, the land bridge scenario will be where they stop. Crossing the Dnieper is not trivial. The DNR would need to capture bridges and bring up engineering battalions — the retreating Ukrainians would pound with artillery the bridges they didn’t blow. This is, of course, assuming the Russians do not overtly intervene. Odessa has a “place in their hearts” too.
Why would Putin want to let the separatists push south? For one, Crimea has been suffering. By taking the land bridge, Russia would gain control of the utilities. Additionally, supplying day-to-day necessities becomes a lot easier: right now, food must come across the Kerch Straits. A bridge is years away.
But more importantly, I don’t think Putin currently wants a frozen conflict. I think his ideal goal is to sheer off the South and East to add to Crimea and leave the rest: it’ll make for a convenient dumping ground for those who oppose Russian rule and a buffer zone which the Europeans will never let into NATO or the E.U. Even without the east, he’ll have secured that goal by taking the land bridge. It would take a much more rigorous response, stronger sanctions and more military aid for Ukraine, to stop him.
Putin is boiling a frog here: ever increasing the heat and seeing if Europe hops out. So far, the rate of the rising temperature has not made the Europeans willing to leave the sauce pan.
Or designed something similar?
My understanding is that close air support is a mission, not an aircraft. It is useful to have pilots close to the action, of course. But precision munitions were in their early stages back in 1984, when we stopped building A-10s. And drones operated by pilots wearing excellent VR helmets and aided by artificial intelligence are on the way, even if I do not like it.
I understand the counterarguments, but I cannot help thinking that if the A-10 were so effective in terms of cost and combat, somebody else would be building it. Or at least fielding an imitation. (France and Russia the U.K. come to mind; Russia has the Su-25.) Why don’t they?
ADDENDUM: Apparently the Iraqi government has purchased Su-25s from the Russian Federation. Iran also fields them and the Ivoirian air force idiotically used them to attack French troops in 2004. (Idiotic because although the attack succeeded, the French proceeded to destroy the entire Ivoirian air force on the ground.) So I may have answered part of my question: there is a market for an A-10 equivalent! Still, why is there no A-10 export market and why haven’t other Western countries with expeditionary militaries picked it up?
But a foreshadowing: I do not agree with Mr. Drum that Senator Rubio gave that bad an answer to the question of what U.S. strategy against the Islamic State should be. The Islamic State also control Syrian territory, so Baghdad’s opposition is not a deal-breaker. Moreover, it might be worth trying to persuade the Iraqis to cooperate if a suitable Sunni force can be raised. It is hard to see which countries could put up the troops, but Bangladesh certainly has a long-standing tradition of hiring out their armed services. So does Pakistan. And it is not crazy to try to persuade Jordan and Saudi Arabia, even if I doubt that it would work.
I am not saying that I agree with Senator Rubio. To be honest, I think it would be impossible to persuade Sunni nations to put up the forces. And if it were, I would worry about Phase V operations: can a combination of Arab Sunni forces and Muslim peacekeepers from South Asia establish order? Would their governments be willing to bear to cost in blood of a prolonged operation, even if the United States paid the cost in treasure? I do not think that I would try to set up such an operation, were I somehow elected president.
But it is not crazy on its face. Even if Senator Rubio thinks the effort to raise such a force will fail, it is not unreasonable for him to suggest it.
I agree with Steve Benen that the Senator is trying too hard to distinguish himself from the President, but Mr. Benen is being completely disingenuous. He knows exactly why the Senator has to do that. The weird Iran flub is more disconcerting, but it does not strike me as dealbreaking or a sign that Senator Rubio is clueless. Rather, it strikes me as a simple gaffe, understandable in the heat of a CPAC conference, where Iran policy is a separating issue for the gathered faithful.
Messrs Benen and Drum strike me as bringing up small potatoes in a (gulp) slightly partisan way. Go ahead, talk me into why I should disrespect the good Senator from the great state of Florida regarding his Levantine policy. Because right now I don’t.
1. Immediate and total ceasefire in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions from February 15.
This did not happen.
The most dramatic evidence of this is the dramatic loss of Debaltseve. The Ukrainians were pummeled and were forced to withdraw. In fact, it was a rout. This should not be a surprise: Putin argued in Minsk that Debaltseve should be exempt from the ceasefire. On paper, Putin lost that argument.
In practice, not so much. Debaltseve sits on the road and rail junction between the rebel territories in Lugansk and Donetsk. Without it, the rebels are logistically divided. Additionally, Debaltseve is a knife pointed at both halves of “Novorossiya” from which the Ukrainians could, if rearmed and reorganized, launch an offensive. The rebels could not leave the town in Ukrainian hands.
Attacking Debaltseve, however, ran the risk that it could become the next battle of Donetsk airport. As folks who have been following the conflict know, the Ukrainians held the airport until very recently. It took the rebels four months to dislodge them. In fact, the fighting grew so fierce that the a young rebel soldier said in an interview that the only way the Ukrainians could hold out for so long is because they were “cyborgs like Schwarzenegger.” The “cyborg” monicker stuck and the Ukrainian defenders became national heroes. The rebel victory ultimately turned pyrrhic: by the time the Ukrainians withdrew there was nothing left to defend.
In short, the last thing the rebels and the Russians wanted was another fight which would boost enemy morale, turn into a bleeding humiliating sore, and end with the complete destruction of the local infrastructure.
The Russians appear to have intervened directly in order to avoid such a debacle. There is credible evidence large formations of the Russian army participated: the 136th Motor Rifle Brigade from the North Caucasus was identified based on vehicle markings. (In general, the source of the second link should be approached with some caution.) In addition, the Russian Spetznaz appear to have made little effort to hide. Weapons not operated by the Ukrainians (frex, SA-22s) continue to appear in rebel territory. Moreover, Russian opsec is pretty lax: Russian soldiers’ posts from eastern Ukraine continue to show up on social media.
Fighting continues outside of Donetsk and, especially, Mariupol.
2. Withdrawal of all heavy weapons to create a buffer zone at least 50 kilometers (30 miles) for artillery with a caliber of 100 mm or more, 70 kilometers for multiple rocket launch systems, or 140 kilometers for Tornado multiple rocket launch systems and others. The withdrawal of heavy weapons must begin on the second day after the ceasefire, i.e. February 17, and take no more than 14 days.
This also did not happen.
3. The OSCE will check the ceasefire and heavy weaponry withdrawal from day one, and can use satellites and drones.
The Ukrainians have impeded the OSCE at least once and the rebels have done so repeatedly.
4. On the first day after withdrawal of heavy weapons, dialogue must start on holding local elections in Lugansk and Donetsk as well as the future “regime” in the rebel-held areas, based on Ukrainian legislation giving them temporary self-rule. Ukraine’s parliament must within 30 days pass a decree defining the geographical area that will have self-rule, based on the September agreement. The separatist regions have the right to decide which language they use.
Well. We were skeptical, but now the leader of the DNR has stated the no pro-Ukrainian parties will be allowed to take part.
5. A law must enter force ensuring pardons and amnesty for those involved in the conflict in Donetsk and Lugansk, who will have immunity from prosecution and punishment.
No word yet. Pretty sure this is DOA.
6. Release and exchange all hostages and illegally detained prisoners on an “all-for-all” basis, starting five days after withdrawal of heavy weapons.
Exchanges in or near Debaltseve have taken place. Note: the Russians hold an Ukrainian soldier (Nadya Savchenko), captured earlier in the war. She is accused of having killed two Russian journalists and is currently on trial. The Russians have made it plain that she is not covered by the ceasefire and will not be returned.
7. Ensure distribution and access to humanitarian aid.
More Donbas factories have been stripped down and moved east. After the Soviet Union broke up, most Russian weapon system continued to require components built in Ukraine. Torpedoes, the gas turbine engines for Russia’s new frigates, the Dnepr rocket, etcetera. Thus the Russians have sent in aid in very large but lightly loaded convoys which return with the contents of the Donbas factories.
Points 8 through 13 of the Minsk II plan have made no progress, so we will not dwell on them.
The only possible way this can be spun as a victory for Europe is if the point of the exercise was to demonstrate Russia was never going to give peace a chance, even when Russia gets almost all of its public demands. We shall see. The test will be whether European governments, particularly Germany’s, reverse their stand against arming the Ukrainian forces.
There is a long literature stating that war contributed to state building. Here, for example, you can find a paper by Nicola Gennaioli (Bocconi) and Hans-Joachim Voth (Zurich). It argues that European states needed money to win wars. Thus, states got better at raising money or resigned themselves to irrelevance.
It a powerful thesis, so much that even Paul Collier alluded to the possibility that Africa might be better off if the post-1945 world allowed for violent border changes. Let Rwanda expand! In extremis, you might even want to create institutions (like the ones in the pre-1914 West) that would encourage cohesive states like Rwanda to expand.
Or perhaps not. Did war encourage state-building in Africa before the Europeans invaded? If so, then it might be true that the continent would be better off had that process been allowed to continue. If not, however, then the implication is that European conquest did not abort local state building ... and unless something has changed radically, there would be little reason to believe that allowing that process to restart today would result in anything other than more death and destruction.
Mark Dincecco (Michigan), James Fenske (Oxford), and Massimiliano Gaetano Onorato (IMT Lucca) have done the work. They coded up 1,750 conflicts in Africa, Asia, and Europe between 1400 and 1799. In Europe and Asia, more war in the past predicted stronger and richer states in the present. But not in Africa! In Africa, more war before 1799 has no effect on economic development today ... and is in fact associated with more civil war.
The result is strong and intriguing. Go read the paper! Africa is different. Past war does not improve present results on that continent. The unanswered question is why. Section 6, where they try to address that question, is the weakest part of the paper.