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May 22, 2008


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There's a reason why those Topol-ICBMs were on such a prominent display in the last Victory Day parade. One doesn't have to be a genius to notice that it was an obvious signal provoked by the U.S. plans for a missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.

I take it that the American media failed to notice the message that Russia was sending abroad on May 9th, but since I don't follow the trans-Atlantic newspapers as closely as I could, I may also be wrong.

Anyway. Russia has already used the suspension of the CFE as a political weapon in the past; so, it doesn't seem implausible for the Kremlin to do the same also with the SORT in the future, if necessary.

And of course, in the meantime, the hot topic in the U. S. presidential contest is Iran, with two of the glorious threesome issuing gratuitous threats to wipe the Islamic republic off the map. The fact that Russia will have the American balls in a vise very soon [1] is manifestly ignored.

When compared to the increasing likelihood that one permanent member of the nuclear club may once again start extending its arsenal, I'd say that the possibility of a few small countries obtaining a few small kiloton-sized blockbusters just to satisfy their desire for prestige is probably not the biggest concern in the world.

So, apologies in advance for the cynicism, but the answer to those last two questions would probably be "not much" and "no one".


J. J.

[1]... which may actually be a good thing, depending on how you look at the world.

"Then Russia got the bomb, but that's okay, the balance of power is preserved that way!"

(1) Right now, the U.S. has the ability to wipe out the entire Russian arsenal in a first strike. That won't change even if the Russians start expanding their stockpile again. I'm not seeing the vise and balls things from growth in the Russian arsenal. Could you explain what you're referring to?

(2) The U.S. has not been serious about arms reduction these past seven years. If that changed, why would Moscow refuse to participate? After all ...

(3) It seems as though the existing Russian stockpile is already a deterrent against Western meddling within the Russian Federation. In fact, they seem to have enough bombs to annex Belarus, scarf off parts of Georgia, and (who knows?) knock off the Kazakh government without fear of a Western military response. Whom would they be able to deter or destroy with more weapons that they can't already?

Middle Eastern nations almost certainly wouldn't use weapons against the United States, but might easily choose to use them against each other. The idea of a multi-sided nuclear standoff in the Middle East is a bit nerve-wracking. Strikes me as something that it is in the world's interest to prevent, no?

Plus, I've been to Alabama. Several times. Don't trust 'em.

"Right now, the U.S. has the ability to wipe out the entire Russian arsenal in a first strike"

Just curious, but how are we defining "wipe out?" 95%? 99%? 99.9999%? I've heard of the estimate, and I'm skeptical. It doesn't take many nukes after all to seriously spoil ones day.

Does it factor in the Russians getting a fair degree of advance warning? I mean, it's not like we haven't been giving the Iranians a heads up for about 2-3 years now.



1. Agreed.

2. Russian internal politics. The need to appear strong (or stronger than actulity) is really a big, big deal. In fact, the weaker you are, it seems to be based on my interactions with all things and people Russian, the stronger you need to appear to be.

3. "Strikes me as something that it is in the world's interest to prevent, no?"

I don't think there's a thing we can do to stop this. Really.

The short answer to your question is, yes, 99.9999%, the whole damn thing.

A popular version of the argument about American first strike capability can be found at:


A slightly more detailed version is available at:


Finally, the main article in all its glory can be had in: Keir Lieber and Daryl Press, "The End of MAD? The Nuclear Dimension of U.S. Primacy," International Security 30, no. 4 (Spring 2006).

Even if you doubt the authors' arguments --- the rebuttal in Foreign Affairs is distinctly unconvincing, boiling down mostly to, "We love peace and motherhood" --- the probability that the U.S. would be able to get the entire Russian deterrent is large enough to insure that Moscow would be remiss in ignoring the possibility.

And that's all it takes to make the authors' /real/ argument, which is that the Bush Administration has pursued a uniquely irresponsible nuclear policy.

"Bush Administration has pursued a uniquely irresponsible nuclear policy."


We do have a lot more than we need.

BTW, I have to wonder about those stealth cruise missiles, carbon filament warheads, and early warning radars...

I still don't understand why the Russians are going to have some sort of painful leverage over the United States if they choose to expand their nuclear arsenal.

Which isn't to say that would be a good thing. Better than launch-on-warning for what they've got, but not good. Yet I just don't see how you got from rolling Topols through Red Square to displacing America's strategic position.

(Posted via blackberry, let's see if this works)

I'm not Jussi; I assumed that the leverage that he was referring to was something like "Russia has the precious, precious hydrocarbons" rather than something directly related to the military.

Here's some more on American nuclear primacy:


I am a bit stonkered that the (sadly few) readers of this blog seem to believe that there is nothing that can be done to slow nuclear proliferation ... and some have even suggested that nothing should be done.

Can that really be true?

Huh. I was unaware of just how much Russian nuclear capacities had declined.

On a certain level, this makes me vaguely uneasy - I mean, I don't find it very likely that the US is going to turn into an Eeevil Dictatorship, or at least the sort of Republic that engages in nuclear first-strike solutions to moderate annoyances, but I just don't like the idea of any country having the capacity to destroy any other nation on the planet with low risk to itself, even if it's my country. I mean, you you trust even a really nice guy with St**ling's Kill Every Muslim Male button?

On the main point - nuclear non-proliferation - it strikes me that the incentives to build bombs aren't really _that_ great. We managed to get through the first 45 years of the nuclear era with only 7 countries developing weapons, and India was the only NPT violator. That's not too bad, recalling that when "On the Beach" was written, every one and their demented uncle was expected to have the bomb in the future.

Given an appropriate balance of carrots and sticks [1], it hardly seems impossible that we can keep the number of nuclear powers from expanding greatly.


[1] Unlike Bush's "all stick, and usually imaginary stick to boot" methods.

Hi Noel,

Thanks for the links. Provocative reading. Once I read the phrase 'nuclear supremacy' I guessed at some of the risks that the authors pointed out.

Hi Bruce,

Like you, I'm uneasy. Not vaguely uneasy, just uneasy.

I realise that in the last century we've had many Great Powers and that lead to the Great War. We've also had two Super Powers and that nearly led to WWIII on at least three occasions. And now, it seems, we have an Absolute Power.

Optimistically, this could lead to an updated version of the Pax Imperium that the Romans were reputed to enjoy. But the many historians among this blog's readership will recall that even the old Imperium didn't enjoy that much peace.

As Benjamin Schwarz and the others point out having a first-strike smack-down power will cause other nuclear powers to seek to frustrate the Absolute Power's first-strike power by distributing and localising launch authorisations.

In extreme cases nuclear powers might seek to, in rugby terms, "get their retaliation in first". Knowledge that this could happen could drive the Absolute Power herself to preemption. The possible iterations of all this will be obvious to game theorists. It could mean that any conflict between the USA and another nuclear power - and here conflict could be anything from a dispute about the negotiation of a trade treaty upwards - could result in a nuclear launch.

Here's the thing. This asymmetry hasn't just emerged as a result of the Russian Federation being slack and letting their arsenal decline. The USA, despite scrapping her MX missiles, has improved her arsenal, in terms of both stealth and accuracy. She has been running an arms race against no opposition, going for gold without a clearly stated intent.

So what is to be done? I'd suggestion unilateral disarmament - not complete disarmament - that retains both a relative (not absolute) supremacy and MAD against each of the other nuclear powers. [Not that there's any credible near-future scenario that would see the USA want to nuke either Britain or Israel.]

Failing this, confidence building. There's a number of ways this could be done. F'rex is it really in America's interest for Russia to have, "holes in its missile-warning networks that render it blind to attacks from U.S. submarines in launch areas in the Pacific"?



Hi, Nich,

Great commentary. Thank you.

BTW, just to check my historical logic, are you thinking of 1948 (Berlin), 1962 (Cuba),and 1983 (Able Archer) as the three close-runs to WW3?

If so, I might add 1973 (Yom Kippur War) which required two successful coin flips to avoid a wider conflict: Israeli acquiescence to American pressure to halt its offensives and a Soviet dismissal of Egypt's request for aid under (not-entirely-credible) American threats. That is, not one but two parties had to act prudently in a situation in which gambling might not have been completely irrational.

More specifically, a situation in which gambling by a risk-neutral protagonist --- meaning a completely amoral asshole --- might not have been irrational. History shows plenty of the latter. In 1973, U.S. foreign policy was in fact run by not one but two of them.

Speaking of nuclear deterrence, I noticed at http://talheres.livejournal.com/

this little bit of crazy


Just posturing, I'm sure - if this article isn't just pure rumor - but one wonders if anyone has brought Leiber and Press's article to the attention of Czar Putin.


Actually, the risk of an actual nuclear exchange was relatively low even during the tight spots of the Cold War.

The reason? Well, the generation that held power all through the Cold War consisted, especially in the USSR, mostly of the people who had personally experienced the destruction of the last World War in their youth or in their childhood. They were familiar with the consequences of going too far, and they knew when to stop.

Likewise, it's not surprising that those Cold War leaders who were occasionally eager to rattle their nuclear sabers hailed mostly from the United States, a country where both the civilian population and the national territory had avoided the excesses of the Second World War.

Now, in this context, consider what it means that in today's world, the generation that's in charge consists mostly of people _who have absolutely no personal experience of the reality of war whatsoever_.

As you can see, the fact that Iran might develop a nuclear bomb doesn't trouble me. The people and the leaders of Iran have been in the receiving end of weapons of mass destruction in the not-so-distant past. In spite of all the blustering rhetoric, they are personally familiar with the worst possible consequences, and are unlikely to embark on any fatal adventures.

The same can't be said of Hillary Clinton, for example.


Will, the Russians don't brandish their weapons openly just for the show. That's actually what the _Americans_ might do.

The display of Topols was, I think, exactly what I said; a countersignal to the American plans for a missile shield in East Europe.


Noel, you already said it in your message. The Russians are already in a position where they're able to exercise a decisive and serious initiative in the international politics, _in spite_ of the American nuclear superiority.

And, as Dennis said, they have various other advantages. Hey, Medvedeev doesn't have to travel to Riyadh to beg the Saudis to raise their oil quotas.

So, the Russians are maintaining an active role, and increasing their momentum. The role of the United States has, in contrast, become passive, and with the debacle of Iraq, it will remain passive for a long time.

The first-strike capability against Russia means little when everyone knows that the United States has not the stomach to use it, and is not going to use it. And what would be the interest among the general American populace for increasing the defence expenditure still further, instead of repairing the various cracks in the society?

Thus, if the Russian Federation wants to embark on a new arms race, the Americans have no other choice but to stand and watch passively, until their supremacy is lost. This time, the United States will lose the contest; which is probably for the better, at least as far as the interests of the average American are considered.

The unipolar world order was starting to deteriorate already before Bush II assumed the presidency, but the complete destruction of the said world order is a legacy that has to be definitely considered as his personal achievement.


J. J.

Erm? The Russians do indeed have the power to act in their backyard without fear of /military/ retaliation. That's not new ... what's new is that their backyard is much smaller than it used to be.

So what is new? This isn't international politics, this is the near abroad. Moscow's consistently managed to botch up its own interests even worse than the U.S. everytime it's poked its nose outside. Its posturing with a broken nuclear force is interesting. It's also pointless, and rightfully ignored by the rest of the world, like a petulant child waving a stick.

Do you fear the Russians marching into Finland?

Your prediction that the Russians will gain nuclear supremacy while the Americans sit back is, well, interesting. Assertion isn't argument, however.

I'll wager you. 10 to 1 odds, I pay $10,000 (inflation adjusted), you name the year in which the Russian Federation gains supremacy.

Now, I do fear that Moscow isn't as sanguine about America's intentions as you are, and I do fear that Moscow may do stupid things that could make a war more likely. (See Nich, above.) I also worry about a pointless arms race starting up again.

But Russian nuclear supremacy? Over the /United States/? Jussi, I'm dead serious about that bet. Please take it.

Hi Noel,

You've nearly deciphered my unclear words with 100% accuracy. When I wrote, "nearly led to WWIII on at least three occasions" I was thinking of a thermonuclear WWIII. So those three occasions were Cuba, Yom Kippur and Able Archer.

Your point about risk-neutral protagonists is well made.

Hi Jussi,

Agree absolutely that the Soviet Union's post-Great Patriotic War leadership was risk averse, as a consequence of the tremendous devastation the USSR suffered during the War.

Agree also that politicians of Hillary Clinton's vintage were not alive during the GPW. [Or the Continuation War or the Fenno-Australian War of 1941-44 or WWII or whatever we choose to call it.] This includes, f'rex, Russian politicians of that vintage. [This adds a whole new meaning to the phrase 'baby boomers'.]

If your point is that the further we recede from the last big war the more politicians (of any vintage) are likely to embrace the next big war then I will - sorrowfully - agree with you.

"If your point is that the further we recede from the last big war the more politicians (of any vintage) are likely to embrace the next big war then I will - sorrowfully - agree with you."

I'm not so sure, Nich. There is evidence to the contrary, that history doesn't simply repeat itself.

Consider two books, very worth reading, if only to get a handle on the opposing argument:

John Mueller, "The Remnants of War," and James Sheehan, "Where Have All the Soldiers Gone?"

Compare the policies of the current crop of Western politicians with the ones in charge during the 1950s and 1960s. Which one had closer memories of war, and which ones were more likely to become pointlessly embroiled in them?

On a more individual basis, compare John McCain against ... anybody. And take solace in the facts that Clinton would have probably won the primary if only she'd been able to admit that invading Iraq was a mistake, and that her "obliteration" comments won her little support.

In short, while there is nothing clear either way, there isn't a lot of evidence to support the supposition. You probably shouldn't agree with it yet.

That's a /good/ thing.

Hi Noel,

I hear what you're saying. Recent POTUSes - Bush pere et fils et Clinton homme - haven't waged particularly bloody wars if compared with the post-War presidents Truman, Johnson and Nixon. [Eisenhower avoided bloody wars. How did _he_ escape the zeitgeist?]

But there seems a pattern in world history - 30 Years War, the wars against Louis XIV, the 7 Years War, the Napoleonic wars, the Taiping Rebellion, the Great War - the world seems to have a major war about 50 years after the last one; just enough time for the generation which remembers how horrid war is to leave power.

That US leaders during the Cold War were, in general, less risk averse than their Soviet counterparts was, I would argue, a consequence of the lesser devastation inflicted on the USA during the two world wars.

I agree that McCain is a special case. He strikes me as someone who has not been humbled by the vicissitudes of war so much as a guy who is after revenge. In Shakespearean terms this makes him a tragic figure, not unlike a Hamlet or an Othello.

Not just Americans --- Western European politcoes were also a little battle-happy by modern standards. Of course, the direction of change there was also towards less combat.

My only caveat is to keep in mind that history doesn't blindly repeat itself. Sometimes the underlying drivers change radically, and there is a lot of evidence to support the idea that such is exactly what's happening with regard to interstate war.

After all, democracy really is new, as is mass prosperity.

Of course, I wouldn't bet the farm on it. And I do support universal conscription in part because I wouldn't bet the farm on politicians with no skin in the game.

OTOH, Andrew J. Bacevich "The New American Militarism", which I've just started. The US may not be a genuine "warrior culture", but we do seem to have come a long way back towards war as a Good Thing since Vietnam.

To respond to Jussi's comment re
"And what would be the interest among the general American populace for increasing the defence expenditure still further, instead of repairing the various cracks in the society?"

Jussi, are you expecting the American people to be rational about balancing their social and military needs? I'm flattered by your expression of good faith in the common sense of my countrymen, but since 2001, how many prominent politicians are claiming that the military is too big already and needs to be cut back?

For todays US military, superiority isn't enough - it's supremacy all the way, baby. And if the Russians actually make an effort to seriously upgrade their nuclear striking capability [1], I have a great deal of trouble seeing anyone denying the military the billions they'll need to counter this Clear And Present Danger To National Security.

(Of course, how effective this would be is another question. Thought: is there a minimum level of "nuclear war preparedness" - a certain level of quality of satellite observation, radar systems, and missile subs kept at sea, beyond which it rapidly gets a lot harder achieve first-strike capacity? The Russians are apparently below this, but I wonder if they can achieve effective MAD again by an input of $X, would it then take rather a large multiple of $X for the US to get back it's current first-strike capacity?).

[1] Which I doubt they will - arms races are expensive, and Putin does indeed know that the US isn't likely to make much use of it's superiority - because he isn't going to "increase his momentum" much beyond the bullying-Georgia level. If he was planning to invade the Ukraine, he might have to worry about a US response - but he isn't, so he doesn't have to.

"Rightfully ignored"? Tsk, tsk.

So, when the Russian Federation visibly involves itself in, say, the orchestration of a small-scale intifada over a bronze statue in a NATO member state, the very "rightful" response is... to ignore it?

It doesn't take a genius to figure out what that sort of inaction and passive behaviour does to the reputation of the NATO and the United States in the Russian eyes.

The reappearance of the Russian strategic overflights on the Arctic is taken seriously by the neighbouring countries, by the way. As for the size of the Russian "backyard", these days it's already stretching all the way down to Venezuela.

And no, I don't fear the possibility of the Russians marching to this country. In fact, I believe that it's one of the least likely things to happen in the future. They don't need to march across the borders; the mere shadow of the Russian power is already having a visible impact on the serving executive in this country.

But let's just say that I pay attention.

Other than that, I notice that you've also recognized the possibility of a new arms race as a possible threat. Your long-term predictions merely seem to be different from mine - in the sense that you don't seem to share my belief that the future belongs to the stronger eastern peoples - but that's another thing.

I've noted Bruce's counterargument, however.

On the question of whether politicians who have personally experienced war are perhaps less likely to pursue bellicose policies, and the American counterexamples to this argument... well, I did mention that the United States could be considered a special case, given that the country in question has fought all of its wars more or less outside its national territory.

I notice that Nich restated this already. That explains why Khrushchev was willing to back down, but Kennedy wasn't.

I'll repost the question stated upthread here: "Compare the policies of the current crop of Western politicians with the ones in charge during the 1950s and 1960s. Which one had closer memories of war, and which ones were more likely to become pointlessly embroiled in them?"

... we-ell, as noted, Eisenhower avoided pointless military entanglements, whereas Bush II jumped at the first opportunity to do so. Adenauer never once sent German combat troops abroad, but Schröder did. Anthony Eden did manage to provide a role model for Blair, granted, but in the meantime, de Gaulle quite succesfully terminated one pointless conflict.

Of the Western [European] politicians of the '50s and the '60s who were "battle-happy by modern standards", what were the examples that you had in mind?

I have probably more sympathy for McCain than the rest of you, but then again, I just wrote a biography of another fellow who also had a serious PTSD, from which he recovered.


J. J.

I'm having trouble wrapping my head around the fear of Putin. He's a piece of work, yes. But he runs a shambolic nation that appears to have done little other than patch over its long-term weaknesses with oil money. His army is a wreck. His nuclear deterrent isn't enough to squeeze the U.S. out of Central Asia or keep Ukraine allied. His achievable territorial ambitions, as much as he seems to have any, are limited to Belarus, parts of Georgia, and keeping a Crimean naval base. His attempts at petro-bullying have systematically served to weaken Russian interests and influence. And his country's population is dying off.

"Stronger eastern peoples"? Surely you jest. Right?

In conclusion, yes, the right response to a tantrum from a weaker party is often to ignore it.

As for battle-happy Western politicos: Winston Churchill, Harold Macmillan, almost every leader of the Fourth Republic (with the exception of Pierre Mendès France), Louis Beel, and Gaston Eyskens, just off the top of my head.

There were a /lot/ of small wars in the 1950s and 1960s.

Of course, don't assume that I would have disapproved of all of those small wars; just most of them. I'm sure there's at least one colonial fight (besides the oft-cited Malayan conflict) that proved worth the carnage.

In addition, Kennedy did, in fact, also back down over Cuba. You're simply wrong there. Of course, given that Kennedy was in combat and was part of a generation marked by WW2, that proves nothing either way.

I, however, am still strongly unconvinced. The world continues to get more peaceful and military establishments continue to shrink, even as the memory of the last great European war fades away. To paraphrase Bruce, I don't see the Russians marching into Tashkent or Crimea anytime soon.

The U.S. should, of course, do what's necessary to avoid an arms race with the Russians. If that proves impossible, it would be a sad thing, but mostly because it would make counterproliferation elsewhere much more difficult if the U.S. needed to continue to develop new weapons in order to counter a Russian build-up. Better to avoid the whole unnecessary mess, and I see no reason not to make a serious effort at another START treaty designed to take our arsenals down to, say, 500 warheads.

Some more questions:

How did Venezuela get into the Russian backyard? You must be referring to more than the licensing of a rifle factory, nor could it possibly be the loan to Belarus --- that wouldn't make any sense --- so what is it? I don't follow.

I'd also like to know how Finland has become, well, Finlandized in recent years. What is the executive doing differently under Russian pressure? Unfortunately, I am woefully ignorant of Finnish politics, and I'd like to know the specifics.

Finally, why are other Arctic countries worried about Russian overflights? I know it's made the news, and I know it annoyed the U.K., but could you explain why it should be taken as anything other than yet another quiet Russian tantrum, best ignored? I'm not following.


I had a long post here on Canada's post-war military history before my browser hiccuped. Anyhow.

The Korean War (1951-1953 by Canadian reckoning) was the bloodiest, with a bloodless involvement in the Persian Gulf War and involvement in Afghanistan since 2001. Most of the Canadian military's experience in my lifetime has been in United Nations or other multilateral peacekeeping missions. One reason that Canada's involvement in Afghanistan is so controversial is that people are shooting at Canadian soldiers in an organized campaign. I don't know how this fits in Jussi's schema.

"Thus, if the Russian Federation wants to embark on a new arms race, the Americans have no other choice but to stand and watch passively, until their supremacy is lost. This time, the United States will lose the contest; which is probably for the better, at least as far as the interests of the average American are considered."

I find that difficult to believe considering the large discrepancies between the United States and Russia. China would be more plausible, "more plausible" not meaning "particularly likely."

As for the Arctic, my impression is that in Canada a lot has to do with simple nationalism, aggravated in part by the lack of very much Canadian government presence at all in the area.

Precisely. There were _small_ wars, several low-profile conflicts in the 1950s and the 1960s. But there was no World War.

As for Cuba, I'd still maintain that in the end, Khrushchev backed down before Kennedy, but that's just a detail which isn't really important to the broader discussion.

And, again, because apparently I have failed to make things clear: I don't _fear_ Putin, nor do I _fear_ Russia. "Taking something seriously" and "recognizing the potential" is not equal to "being afraid".

Now, Russia today. Russia is firmly among the ten largest economies in the world, and continues its steady advance. The productive investments are still rising, and so is the real income of the Russian citizens. The central administration is able to make investments on education and public health, as well as on the necessary restructuring of the said sectors. And it's already showing results.

Russia is also a country that has paid its debts, and their credit rating is good. The liquidity is excellent, and the financial reserves are now the third-largest in the world. Considering that the reserves were completely obliterated in the 1998 crisis, I'd regard that as a good achievement.

The inflation is once again rising its head, but then again, that's happening everywhere. Strengthening the ruble at a quicker pace would mostly solve that problem.

And, last but not least; the current system is based on firm political continuity. When the central administration in the Kremlin drafts a "national program for the year 2020", it really is a national program for the year 2020. And the regime is actually reasonably _popular_, and the society and the economy are no longer based on the intellectual illusions of the Soviet era.

Russia has every possibility of becoming a first-rank innovation economy of the future, and at that point, they are in a position where they can and where they will challenge the United States.

Unlike, say, China, they don't suffer from any international ostracism, and neither do they have any serious separatist problems, which was one of the positive sides of the breakup of the USSR and the secession of the neighbouring Soviet Republics.

(As you may see, I sort of disagree with Randy.)

So, my apologies, Noel, but when I read your comments of "shambolic nation", I'm reminded of the American opinions of the Soviet Union right before the launching of the Sputnik. Granted, that is not the best possible analogy, given that those opinions weren't entirely without foundation, and that the event in question was more of a propaganda feat; these days, things have changed.

I freely admit that I don't have any kind of an academic degree in the international politics or economics; I merely read BOFIT, and draw my conclusions from the information they've procured.

My opinion is that the days of the American hegemony are over, that the world has ceased to be unipolar, and that of those countries currently in the ascendancy, Russia has the potential and the power to become the most serious competitor to the United States.

Of course this prophecy can be neither proven nor disproven. But just to make things clear, I'd like to know what exactly is the counterargument? That the United States _really is_ an Enduring Empire, and that its supremacy will be everlasting? And even if it isn't, well, at least Russia cannot surpass the United States!

Or something else?

The small questions; I'm pretty sure that you're aware of the Russian arms sales to Venezuela. These don't include just rifles, but also attack helicopters and submarines. Chavez's visit to Moscow and his flirting with Putin is a matter of record. I'm not a wingnut; I don't regard that as a sign of a nefarious "anti-American alliance", but it's definitely a sign that Russia is once again taking an active role beyond its traditional sphere of influence. Of course, one could also say that they're just making a quick buck on Hugo, and that simultaneously intruding on the western hemisphere and potentially irritating some of the crazier American politicians who still go nuts over the connection between Russia and Central America is merely an added bonus. But still, the fact that Russia is actually _willing_ to get involved over there is something to be considered; it's a part of a bigger picture.

In this country, the self-imposed silence of the serving chief executive was painfully obvious during the Bronze Warrior riots, when the President tried to evade the questions of the media in an squeamish and embarrassing manner. The political elite in itself is not "finlandized" altogether, but the fact is that the strengthening position of Russia has once again _polarized_ the Finnish political field. On the other side are the self-made champions of the Atlantic Alliance who regard Russia as a "security challenge", and who criticize the previous governments of not joining the NATO "when it would have still been easy to do so"; on the other side are the conciliators who also recognize that we have an Elephant in the living room once again, but who think that the best course of action is just not to do anything, because otherwise it might perhaps start, you know, make loud, high-pitch noises through its trunk.

And why are the other Arctic countries worried about Russian overflights? Well, wouldn't _you_ be worried about continuous airspace violations by a neighbouring Great Power? The Norwegians started to prop up their own air surveillance immediately; and they also stated openly that under the present circumstances, the reliance on the NATO is no longer a suitable alternative, but instead an independent solution is required.

The analogy between the Finnish-Russian border and the American-Mexican border that you drew a while back wasn't really on the mark, by the way. A more proper comparison, both in the political and in the economic sense, would have perhaps been between the Finnish-Russian border and the Canadian-American border.

Again; I have no fear. There's no need to fear. But it might not be a bad idea to recognize that the writing is on the wall already, and why yes, it's in Cyrillic.


J. J.

The counterargument is that, yes, Russia's problems are so severe that they are going to well to pace Brazil over the next few decades, let alone catch up to the United States in terms of any metric you care to name.

You know me well enough to know that I am making no arguments about the continuation of American primacy.

But, Jussi, I have no response. I can't parse for the life of me what you're trying to tell me, because you're asserting your argument rather than providing evidence for it.

Except for Finnish nervousness about upsetting the bear. That is unsurprising. I had honestly thought that Russia was somehow influencing your country's internal, economic, or defense policies, the way, you know, the U.S. does with its neighbors.

"They don't suffer from any international ostracism, and neither do they have any serious separatist problems."

Huh? That is an odd assertion. I really don't know what to say when I'm told that black really is white and everything I read is untrue.

"Russia is also a country that has paid its debts, and their credit rating is good. The liquidity is excellent, and the financial reserves are now the third-largest in the world. Considering that the reserves were completely obliterated in the 1998 crisis, I'd regard that as a good achievement."

This is the same as most emerging markets. Nice, but not much of an achievement in the current economic climate.

I read the Bank of Finland precis: it says nothing other than, "If oil prices stay high, Russia will grow at 6% for the next two years. But watch for shortages of skilled labor."

That's not exactly the image you portray.


"The fact that Russia is actually _willing_ to get involved over there [Venezuela] is something to be considered; it's a part of a bigger picture."

I can't figure that out, since you preceeded with all the reasons that make Russian arms sales to Venezuela a no-brainer. We already knew that the country likes to annoy the U.S., and all that Russia gets out of the deal is (a) an annoyed U.S., and (b) cash.

It sounds a little wingnutty. What's the greater picture? The Russians moving back into Cuba? Russian Navy patrols around Trinidad to pressure it into an OPEC for gas? Tanks to Ortega? A new, Russian-financed Nicaragua Canal?

No, no, no, no, and no. The greater picture is that the current Russian government likes to annoy the United States.

I get that Russia also does stupid things with gas and overflights and invading Georgia (or whatever the hell it is that they're doing), but we knew that already.

Unlike many less-informed Americans, I'm not worried, though, and here's why.


Besides which, 73% of Russian arms sales go to India, which would like to break that relationship for obvious reasons having to do with the remarkably low quality of Russian weapons systems.

So let's recap.

(1) An petro boom that's still managed to underpace other ex-Soviet states;

(2) A population that continues to shrink due to high mortality;

(3) An army that that still suffers from low morale, poor equipment, and a dysfunctional culture;

(4) Growing skills shortages;


(5) An economy that was $1290 bn in 2007, against $262 bn for Argentina, $893 bn for Mexico, and $1314 bn for Brazil.

This does not add up to a country that shows any sign of challenging the United States. Your conclusion, quite simply, does not follow from the evidence.

So let us take a bet. Russia will not outpace Brazil by 2020. Or 2030. Or 2040. You set the terms.

Of course, Russia may cause the world no end of problems. It certainly makes me nervous. And it should be handled gingerly. It does have the precious precious hydrocarbons, and I am beginning to change my mind about the permanence of today's high prices. (Damn evidence.)

But there's no writing on the wall. I call you on that. If you still believe your argument, let's wager. Your terms, your amount, your payoff year.

Hi Jussi,

When you wrote, "Russia has every possibility of becoming a first-rank innovation economy of the future, and at that point, they are in a position where they can and where they will challenge the United States," it struck me you were changing the terms of the argument on this thread.

This thread started with a discussion of how the Russian Federation, by economic incapacity or willful neglect, allowed their nuclear arsenal to decay to the point where the United States enjoys a first strike capability.

You seem to be saying that Russia can become an economic powerhouse that can equal or exceed Germany or Japan. Fair enough. But I don't see the contradiction in having the economic power of a Germany and the lack of thermonuclear power of a Germany.

We are moving further towards a multi-polar financial world, which is good. But we are also moving, or have moved, to a unipolar nuclear world which, for reasons noted upthread, is in the direction of badness.

"Black is white"? Really, Noel, the plain fact is exactly what I said; that today's Russia does not suffer from international ostracism, at least not on the same level as China, which was the comparison that I was making in that paragraph. And they really, really, do not have serious separatist problems. Emphasis on the word "serious"; Caucasus has seen its fair share of insurgencies for the past two centuries.

The "greater picture" is that Russia is back in business, of course, and that Russia is already a country that is best to be taken seriously. I don't know why exactly is this so difficult to admit? Some stuff in Algeria is not evidence to the contrary, either.

Challenging the United States is my personal opinion and prediction; I regard it merely as a matter of time. I know that people from the English-speaking countries like to bet, but well, the fact is that I don't plan to be around in 2040.

I don't know what paper from the BOFIT you checked out, but apparently you interpreted it in a different light than I did. The comment of the "growing skill shortages" would suggest that this was the case. Yes, Russia has shortages; partly, those are due to emigration, but partly also due to the fact that an expanding economy needs more educated people and more labour, and their education system has not caught up just yet.

Both of these are already changing. On the grass-roots level, there's the interesting phenomenon of those Russians who have now decided to turn back and return; and on the high top, the restructuring of the Russian education system is taking place.

(For people who require cites, the paper that I read was "Challenges of the Medvedeev Era", by Iikka Korhonen, Seija Lainela, Heli Simola, Laura Solanko and Pekka Sutela; the hard economic data that I quoted was basically from that paper, and their analysis went beyond the energy issues that Noel mentioned.)

Nich, in the case of Russia, the reinvigorated economy is also very likely to translate into reinvigorated military capability. And, since they have nuclear capability already, it also means that they're likely to increase that capability once they can afford to do so.

And it's pretty clear that they can afford it.

Anyway. As I mentioned, I just managed to get a book published. Even though it's finished, it's still sort of keeping me busy:


Plus, I have new deadlines to meet.

Incidentally, Noel, I did send an e-mail to the weblog address a long time ago when you asked me to, but apparently no one checks that mailbox. The fact is that I have misplaced your personal e-mail address a long time ago, and as you may have noticed, addresses don't show up on this forum, or at least not in my browser.


J. J.

I'm sticking with the analysis, Jussi. You're not arguing, you're asserting things. And putting arguments into my mouth that I haven't made, like Russia isn't worth taking seriously. Dude.

Black ain't white, Russia has very serious problems that the current government shows little sign of getting much of a handle on, China ain't particularly ostracized ("Free Tibet" signs in Takoma Park aside), the country's weapons systems suck, and this discussion is weird.

Definitions keep shifting, timescales altering, "wills" morphing into "coulds." This sort of thing drives me nuts, so I'm bowing out.

Can't find that paper on the Bank of Finland website. Found something that looked like it in Finnish. URL to the English version would be appreciated.

Changing tracks ... congratulations on the book! That's great news. Tell us more about it! Unforunately, I don't read Finnish.

My email is nmaurer@hbs.edu. Since it pops up in the first google entry under my name, there's no reason not to post it here.

The US is almost certainly going to remain top dog by a substantial margin for a couple generations yet - as I believe Adam Smith said, there's a lot of ruin in a nation (I'd estimate at least 4 more terms of George Bush to finish us off as a superpower).

The US isn't an empire, it's a nation - which often are pretty enduring. (Ask any Pole). It's inevitable that it will decline relatively from it's current elevated position, yes, but there's no reason to believe that this will be particularly _quick_.

Of course, our ability to get people to do stuff we want them to do has eroded badly, but coercing other nations has never been as easy as lovers of Empire make it out to be, and exactly what does it mean if most of the world ignores fulminations coming out of Washington if at the end of the day we remain the worlds leading economic, technological, and military giant? So it's rather more trouble than it's worth to try to coerce Russia on the subject of Georgian border disputes. Oh woe is me! Bring the smelling salts! ME IZ NO LNGR HYPRPWR! Big deal.

And, short of a "perfect storm" of worse-than-expected global warming, incoherent post-oil strategies, amazingly stupid politics, and the Red-Blue Civil War bringing about an actual implosion of US society, Russia isn't going to be catching up and surpassing us in any time scale less than centuries (and in the preceding scenario, the Russians are probably mostly under water from the global warming anyway.)

And enough off-topicness.


"Now, Russia today. Russia is firmly among the ten largest economies in the world, and continues its steady advance. The productive investments are still rising, and so is the real income of the Russian citizens. The central administration is able to make investments on education and public health, as well as on the necessary restructuring of the said sectors. And it's already showing results."

Russia's recent economic growth is undeniable, but the boom in oil growth is producing yet another instance of the Dutch disease with productivity trends in Russian industry and agriculture looking poorly. The situation is made worse by a growing labour shortage that is pushing up wages and not only aggravating inflation but encouraging the import of foreign goods and worsening the situation for Russian industry, et cetera.

Russia is going to be a power of note for some time to come, but I'd argue that the past two decades' declining strength relative to world powers of comparable size and even relative to other neighbours of significant size isn't going to be reversed any time soon. I don't see it as being a peer of the United States in most significant regards, not least in an arms race where the US could outspend Russia if it wanted to do so.

All IMO.

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