Posted on 08-07-2011
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

It appears the uniformed thugs of Europe’s last dictatorship (the authoritarian regime in Moscow deserves a bold asterisk on its classification as a democracy) are capable of medical miracles.  The regime of Alexander Lukashenko is struggling to contain public protests over the collapsing (and already impoverished) economy.  So the security services have started hauling in perceived dissenters.  And therein lies the miracle – one armed men have been convicted of clapping and deaf-mutes have been convicted of shouting.

Lukashenko has survived so far due to the tacit support of Moscow, which likes pliant states in its “near abroad.”  Yet last year Vladimir Putin sent out signals that the Kremlin’s patience for Lukashenko was not unlimited.  Russia’s favorite foreign policy bludgeon – cutting of gas supplies – was used to bring Belarus to heel.  Going forward Russia has denied Lukashenko’s bankrupt regime needed loans, focusing instead on (in competition with China – another regime used to dealing with nasty despots) buying up Belarusian assets at cut rate prices.

It is hard to see a clean solution to this crisis.  Lukashenko is unlikely to go without a fight.  Putin’s Russia is terrified of the “color revolutions” in its neighborhood planting subversive thoughts in the heads of its serfs…I mean citizens.  Russia can be counted on to sabotage any independent minded popular government that emerges from any such revolution (see Ukraine).

Unfortunately for Belarus, its past probably gives some hint of its future.  The frustration of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine has already shown Little Russia how hard it is to escape the suffocating embrace of Great Russia.  Poor White Russia which spent most of the last 800 years shuttling from the imperial domination of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth to the Empire of the Czar of All the Russias is well on its way to repeating history.  Impoverished, with no functioning government structures or tradition of democratic rule and fatally dependent of the Kremlin for gas and oil, Belarus will likely end up in tighter Russian thralldom.  The West will probably lose interest after Lukashenko leaves, and in any case will not pick a fight with Russia over Belarus.

Yet another example of the perils of being a midget in a giant’s backyard.

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Posted on 09-04-2010
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

The United States and Russia signed a new treaty designed to slash nuclear warheads of each country by 30%.  See link.   This leaves  each with about 1,550 warheads, more than enough to create nuclear Armageddon many times over and each will still have more nuclear warheads than those of all the other nuclear powers combined.  This will ratchet up the pressure on other nuclear powers to trim their own stockpiles, which are not cheap to maintain in any case.

The treaty also explicitly gives the countries a free hand with violators of the NPT (Iran and North Korea).  The most controversial part of the treaty is a commitment not to threaten non-nuclear states in compliance with the NPT with with nuclear strikes even in response to chemical and biological attacks.  However, there remains sufficient wiggle room as the treaty does not specify who defines compliance with the NPT and provides the United States the ability to modify its commitment as the chemical and biological threat evolves.  See link.   The biggest importance in the treaty is likely a reduction in the chill in United States and Russian relations over the last couple of years.  See here.

The bellicose John Bolton has not surprisingly already starting barking disapproval on the odd grounds of sovereignty (See here) but one hopes that the party of no (whose support will be needed for ratification) understands the limited scope of the deal.  See here.

It does not help that Fox “News” in its inimitable fashion started characterizing the treaty (and some legitimate concerns) like this:

Former half-term governor Sarah Palin and Mr. 9/11 have started singing praises of Ronald Reagan in marking their opposition to the treaty (ignoring the fact that Reagan signed a similar treaty for a 30% reduction of the nuclear stockpile during the Cold War and (like Obama) set a Utopian goal of a nuclear weapons free world…but why let facts interfere with the random invocation of the GOP’s Reagan mythos).  It brought on the unusually sharp slap down below by the President on the “policy wonk” Palin:

This does raise the question whether the fairly pragmatic Reagan who was not averse to raising taxes if needed or was willing to (gasp) negotiate with the Evil Empire and thru back channels with Iran would have any place in today’s Republican party.  The mythology of the man grew in comparison with George Herbert Walker Bush and when the Republicans lost the White House to Bill Clinton and is now quoted as gospel by empty suits like Giuliani or Palin with little regard for whether their invocation comports to reality.  In today’s radicalized GOP rump, it is not impossible to think that Reagan would run the risk of being labeled a RINO (Republican in Name Only).  It is hard to see how Nixon with his far more moderate social stances and much greater willingness to have the government interfere in the economy would not earn the derisive label.

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The liberium veto is attracting some more attention.  Yglesias disputes Krugman’s contention that the liberium veto and the resulting government nightmare led to the disappearance of Poland as an independent nation.  See link; Also see previous blog articles here and here.  I disagree.  While the decline of Poland-Lithuania had commenced before its invention, the liberium veto made it impossible to reform Poland while its neighbors on east and west were awakening from their slumber.  It is true that the great plains of Eastern Europe do not provide Poland with many barriers from invasion.  However, unlike some other countries Poland had sufficient manpower and geographic depth to overcome this defect.

An example to the contrary would be the coastal strip of Israel-Palestine-Lebanon.  In recent years some opponents of a Palestinan state have used the absence of any Muslim state since the Arab conquest of the region to argue that the Palestinans were not a national entity.  That ignores the unfortunate reality that Christians and Jews have struggled to establish viable independent states in the same region.  Sandwiched between Egypt and Syria (and occassional erruptions from Babylon-Mesepotamia), each with significantly greater resources of manpower and wealth, independent states in the region have historically had to rely on weakness of its neighbors or significant assistance from abroad.  A survey of the four independent states to rule the region shows why.

The biblical kingdom of David and Solomon flourished at a time when Pharaonic  Egypt was in deep decline and the Hittite Empire on the other flank had long since dissolved.  The weakness became evident shortly after Solomon’s death when a revived Egypt under Sheshonk I would humble Solomon’s successors.  The twin Kingdoms of Judea and Israel would survive, but would have to pay tribute to the Egyptians, Assyrians and Babylonians until their destruction.

The second independent Jewish state of the Hasmoneans emerged as the Hellenistic successor states of Ptolemaic Egypt and Seleucid Syria were in decline.  Even then, the Hasmoneans would not obtain independence until the Seleucid state dissolved into civil war after the death of Antiochus VII.  Independence would be extinguished by the Romans a century later.

The third independent states in the region were the Crusader states of Outremer formed after the First Crusade conquered Jerusalem.  The First Crusade was aided my the tumult in Islamic Syria following the Seljuk invasion and the weakened state of Fatimid Egypt.  Outremer was extremely reliant on continued immigration from Western Europe, particularly landless younger sons of the nobility to provide a manpower for its army.  Once Syria started to consolidate under Zengi and Egypt and Syria were united under Saladin, Outremer was doomed.  Understanding this inherent defect, many of the crusades following the Third Crusade were targeted at Egypt (which had a large native Christian population).

Which brings up the current states of Israel and Lebanon.  Israel has benefited from superior organization in its early years, heavy immigration of European Jewry and immense amounts of American military aid.  This has helped it overcome its exposed strategic situation.  In contrast Lebanon has been for most of its history a Syrian satellite.

Poland never faced similar issues of viability.  Its wounds were self inflicted.  For example Poland disappeared as a single entity for about 200 years when Boleslaw III Wrymouth chose to divide the country among his four sons after his death in 1138 (a succession policy similar to the one that contributed to the fragmentation of the German principalities next door).  Yet the concept of a Polish nation and the title “Duke/King of Poland” would survive until the reconstitution of the Polish state 200 years later.  After its union with Lithuania, during the reign of Casimir IV Poland-Lithuania stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea.  Hardly the mark of an inherently doomed state.

If Poland had an exposed geographical frontier, so did every other European state except England. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted on 07-12-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Sports) by Rashtrakut
  • Just how bad are the Chicago Bulls?  Opposing player with the ball ties his shoes in live play and no Bulls player even tries to take the ball.  See link (includes video).
  • Not a shocker.  Vladimir Putin hints that he may run for President and take back his previous office in 2012.  Meanwhile legal institutions and the rule of law in his country atrophy.
  • Nicolas Sarkozy shoots off his mouth, ticks off the United Kingdom.
  • Former Pakistani dictator’s graft amnesty challenged in court.  It could affect the ability of President Zardari formerly known as Mr. Ten Percent to stay in power.
  • Iraq may have finally got a deal to hold its elections.  Previous blogs here and here.  The electoral deal staves off a potential civil war over sharing power and oil revenues.  Here’s hoping it holds.  Maybe we can finally start satisfying some of the other benchmarks George Bush talked about.

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    Posted on 22-10-2009
    Filed Under (Accident of History, History) by Rashtrakut

    It is a debate academics often engage in. Do individuals shape history or do they flow with the tide of events. As a true middle of the road moderate, I vote for both. Individuals often shape the contours of history and the pace at which things happen. Russia without Peter the Great was already slowly westernizing.  But he significantly accelerated the process and the nature of the transformation.

    But every once in a while an isolated event can set off a chain reaction that alters the ebbs and flows of history.  One of the most famous such events was triggered by the death of a middle aged woman in St. Petersburg – the so called “Miracle of the House of Brandenburg.”  In 1762 towards the end of the Seven Years War, Prussia was on the verge of collapse.  Having lost his last Baltic port and with his army almost annihilated, Frederick the Great seriously contemplated suicide.  The consequences for Prussia were dire.  Starting with the Great Elector, over the previous 100 years the Electors of Brandenburg had established one of the finest armies in Europe, acquired the royal crown in Prussia and seized the rich province of Silesia from the Hapsburgs.  Now the Ferederick’s implacable foe the Tsarina Elizabeth (daughter of Peter the Great) was on the verge of humbling the Prussian upstart.  In addition to the loss of Silesia, Frederick also faced the prospect of the loss of his royal title and the prestige his house had accumulated.  And then the miracle occurred.   The Tsarina died unexpectedly.  Her notoriously pro-Prussian successor Peter III promptly removed Russia from the war giving a gasping Prussia time to catch its breath and drive the Austrians from Silesia.  Even though Peter III was deposed by his wife Catherine II a few months later and Russia reentered the war, the interval had changed the strategic position on the ground.

    In the resulting peace treaty Prussia retained Silesia and gained the prestige of having fought off the far larger states of France, Austria and Russia.  Prussia had forced itself into the ranks of the major powers of Europe and would expand further during the partitions of Poland.  The Congress of Vienna would lead to further expansion by giving it a slice of Saxony, the Rhineland and Westphalia.  This enhanced Prussian state would be the focus of nationalistic German aspirations.  The unification of Germany under the militaristic Prussian state would have additional consequences in the 20th century. Read the rest of this entry »

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    Posted on 21-10-2009
    Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

    The BRICs other than India have aggressively used the Olympics as a marketing ploy to announce their emergence (or re-emergence).  The Beijing Olympics were a grand showcase for the Chinese regime to erase the images of Tiananmen.   In the midst of its descent into Corporatism, Russia will hose the 2014 Winter Olympics at Sochi, not far from the Caucasus flash points of Chechnya and Georgia.  In contrast Brazil under President Lula da Silva seeks to project a different image while hosting the 2016 Summer Olympics, of a progressive democratic emerging power that has broken from its history of economic turmoil and military involvement.  But the endemic violence in its shantytowns could turn the dream into a nightmare.  It was only a year ago that soccer legend Pele was mugged on his way home.  One hopes that the first Olympics in Latin America are not marred  by images of an overbearing police presence and a heavily fortified Olympic Village to protect athletes.  China was embarrassed when athletes dropped out of the Olympics citing pollution.  It will not be surprising to see an athlete choose security over Rio.

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