Like in the United States, the political and military elite of the Soviet Union disagreed on the likelihood of war, and on the predisposition of the new administration in Washington. Soviet hawks took the exercises as evidence of American aggression,focusing on the parallels between the German attack in 1941 and NATO preparations in 1983. It didn’t help that US-Soviet relations were already at a low in the wake of the September 1983 shoot down of KAL 007.
According to Nate Jones, the editor of the series, the documents indicate that Able Archer included several non-routine elements that could have alarmed the Soviets (or at least given ammunition to the most hawkish elements in the Kremlin). These included a massive, silent air-lift of U.S. soldiers to Europe, the shuffling of headquarters command assignments, the practice of “new nuclear weapons release procedures,” and various references to B-52 sorties as nuclear “strikes.” It wasn’t entirely clear to the U.S. policymakers how the Soviets were interpreting the exercises; Robert Gates, among others, argued that the Russians were taking them very seriously indeed, while Reagan wondered whether ” Soviet leaders really fear us, or is all the huffing and puffing just part of their propaganda?”
Interesting (slightly old) piece on Isoruku Yamamoto in Japanese historical memory:
Unlike the Yushukan museum at the controversial Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, the Yamamoto museum does not appear to re-write or glorify Japan’s war history. A small exhibit notes Yamamoto’s role in the attack on Pearl Harbor and the devastating defeat at Midway. The main hall is dominated by a mangled wing from the aircraft Yamamoto was flying in when he was shot down in the Solomon Islands.
Yamamoto’s legacy may be evolving, at least in the popular media. Several generally sympathetic books have been published in recent years and a well-received movie was released in 2011. The film deals largely with Yamamoto’s clashes with the Imperial Army, which initiated the war in China and pressed for a wider conflict. Indeed, Japan’s small but vocal nationalist fringe has little use for Yamamoto today, considering his lack of greater support for Japan’s war aims to be nearly treasonous.
The degree to which Yamamoto supported Japan’s expansionist policies and colonial ambitions in Asia has not been closely examined in public. Nor is it clear that the architect of the pre-emptive strike on Pearl Harbor would have been spared charges of war crimes had he lived longer.
I suspect that Yamamoto would have been tried for war crimes, although how such a prosecution would have measured up legally and historically is a different question. While some of the senior operational commanders of the IJN (Kurita, for example) avoided prosecution, many of those involved with strategic planning (Nagano) did go through the procedure. Given how well known Yamamoto was in the United States, it would have been very curious indeed if he hadn’t wound up on trial. And while Yamamoto certainly believed that war against the United States was a mistake, it’s not so clear that he was opposed to the war in China, or to the rest of the Japanese imperial project.
There’s an interesting compare and contrast to be done with historical memory of Robert E. Lee in the American South; efforts to distance Lee from the cause of slavery (as opposed to Southern secession) began almost immediately, but serious questions about Lee’s strategic and operational choices emerged in the years after the war, and have periodically re-emerged as Lee’s reputation has evolved over a century and a half. Given that there are grave questions about the wisdom of the Pearl Harbor and Midway operations, and about the strategic wisdom of the Guadalcanal campaign, I also wonder about Yamamoto’s reputation in Japan as strategic and operational commander. The debate over Lee has proceeded under far more open conditions that discussion of Yamamoto, although it’s not obvious that the openness has really helped.
“Do you think Soviet leaders really fear us, or is all the huffing and puffing just part of their propaganda?” President Reagan asked his Ambassador to the Soviet Union, Arthur Hartman in early 1984, according to declassified talking points from the Reagan Presidential Library. President Reagan had pinpointed the question central to the 1983 War Scare. That question was key to the real-time intelligence reporting, the retroactive intelligence estimates and analyses of the danger, and it remains the focus of today’s continuing debate over the danger and lessons of the so-called “Able Archer” War Scare.
Some, such as Robert Gates, who was the CIA’s deputy director for intelligence during the War Scare, have concluded, “After going through the experience at the time, then through the postmortems, and now through the documents, I don’t think the Soviets were crying wolf. They may not have believed a NATO attack was imminent in November 1983, but they did seem to believe that the situation was very dangerous.” Others, such as the CIA’s national intelligence officer for the Soviet Union, Fritz Ermarth, wrote in the CIA’s first analysis of the War Scare, and still believes today, that because the CIA had “many [Soviet] military cook books” it could “judge confidently the difference between when they might be brewing up for a real military confrontation or … just rattling their pots and pans.”
“Huffing and puffing?” “Crying wolf?” “Just rattling their pots and pans?” While real-time analysts, retroactive re-inspectors, and the historical community may be at odds as to how dangerous the War Scare was, all agree that the dearth of available evidence has made conclusions harder to deduce. Some historians have even characterized the study of the War Scare as “an echo chamber of inadequate research and misguided analysis” and “circle reference dependency,” with an overreliance upon “the same scanty evidence.”
To mark the 30th anniversary of the War Scare, the National Security Archive is posting, over three installments, the most complete online collection of declassified U.S. documents, material no longer accessible from the Russian archives, and contemporary interviews, which suggest that the answer to President Reagan’s question — were the Soviets “huffing and puffing” or genuinely afraid? — was both, not either or.
On Sunday evening, Dr. Kenneth Waltz passed away at the age of 88. Waltz is best known for his books Man, the State, and War and Theory of International Politics. The first book set the terms on which researchers would approach the study of international relations, dividing theories between first image (individuals and human nature), second image (regime type, such as communist or democratic), and third image (systemic effects). Waltz himself preferred the third; Theory of International Politics formed the basis of Waltz’ answer to what he believed was the most important question of international relations: “Why do balances recur?” His answer: states in anarchy, whether communist, capitalist, or monarchist, sought security, and most readily found that security through balancing behavior.
Waltz hardly believed that states and individuals didn’t matter, as he regularly engaged in policy recommendation. Rather, he believed that systemic factors, largely beyond the reach of states and statesmen, explained the most important international phenomena. In part because of his belief in the robustness of balancing tendencies, Waltz had little patience with what he regarded as unnecessary military interventions. The United States would not lose the Cold War because it lost Vietnam; rather, we would expect that other states in the neighborhood would balance against Soviet, Chinese and Vietnamese power, and even that the three communist states would balance against one another. The developing relationship between Washington and Hanoi, based on concerns about China, vindicates this belief. Similarly, Waltz warned against America’s pointless war in Iraq.
America’s leading Islamic organization took to the airwaves today in outrage after a local news station confirmed rumors that the deceased Boston Marathon bomber had accidentally been interred in a Confederate military cemetery…
As part of the error, Private Jesse Wilson of the 27 Virginia Volunteer Infantry Regiment is now buried in Tsarnaev’s grave at Al-Barzakh cemetary, oriented southeast towards Mecca. Though annoyed, his descendants also said they were willing to leave him where he is. “As long he’s not facing north, we’re fine,” said great-great grandson John Wilson.
Reactions by Tsarnaev’s family were equally indignant. “We don’t see why Tamerlan should have to be buried with these men,” a family spokesman complained. “He did something very stupid, but because of his burial location the Tsarnaev name will now be forever linked with militant treason,” he said.
In a related story, the United Daughters of the Confederacy has put out a press release welcoming Tsarnaev as “another fine outstanding young man who fought the tyranny of the federal government.”
It is with great sadness that I note that Kenneth Waltz, author of Man, the State, and War and Theory of International Politics, has passed away. Waltz’ importance to the discipline of international relations is immeasurable; MSW and TIP helped establish the frameworks under which political scientists would study IR for nearly four decades, even for those who bitterly disagreed with his perspective. Even now, Waltz’ work remains a crucial touchstone. While I never met Waltz, his work had an enormous amount of influence on how I think about international relations.
A couple days ago I sat down with Dr. Paul Mitchell of the Canadian Forces College to talk Canadian military and procurement policy. We went on a bit about general issues of Canadian strategy, followed that up with a long discussion of Canada’s relationship to the F-35 project, moved on to a discussion of the future of naval aviation, and concluded with a few words about Canadian perspectives on the “Pacific Pivot.”
But Hugh’s question is an interesting one to consider. I suspect that even in the bleakest, Children of Men-style population scenarios, most countries would fight to the bitter end before surrendering their sovereignty. The exception might be places like Ukraine that have a relatively recent experience as part of a larger geopolitical entity and a large ethnic population with ties to a neighboring country.
A country couldn’t be liquidated quite as neatly as a company — even if the state goes away, there’s still a chunk of land and some people living on it to deal with. The main obstacle to countries being “dissolved” may be that other countries may not want to take on the responsibility of dealing with them — what country really wants to take on a new sparsely populated, economically stagnant region?
States can survive with remarkably low population densities, especially with modern transportation and communications technology. However, social institutions designed around the concept of stable or increasing populations got troubles. A relatively free immigration/emigration regime can resolve these issues for some countries while at the same time exacerbating them for others.
There are certainly upsides to living in a continent-spanning state. The prairie and the rust belt can depopulate themselves (although some of the aforementioned institutional problems crop up) without fundamentally unsettling the social contract.
But what if even the leaders of states don’t know how they’ll react to certain events? A recent International Organization article by Jonathan Mercer investigated the role of emotion in decision-making. Although the theory is somewhat complicated, the argument boils down to the idea that we use our own emotional reactions to events as evidence of our interests and preferences. A classic experiment along these lines involves a coin flip, with heads deciding one course of action and tails the other. By flipping a coin, you determine whether you’re happy or sad about the outcome; accordingly, you know which path you really prefer.
Mercer argues that the leadership of the United States sent costly signals of disinterest in the fate of South Korea, withdrawing all forces and de-emphasizing the possibility of intervention in case of a North Korean attack in 1950. When the attack came, however, U.S. leaders had an unexpected emotional reaction of alarm, which led to concern about how the rest of the world would interpret inaction. As Mercer points out, U.S. policymakers used their own sense of shock and alarm as evidence that the world would see the United States as weak. Consequently, the United States intervened in contravention of its own expectations.
Disclosure: Mercer was my dissertation advisor at UW. It’s interesting work, and I recommend reading the full article.