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Tag: "russia"

Libyan Uranium

[ 8 ] November 27, 2010 |

One lesson I take from this is the US-Russian cooperation on nuclear non-proliferation is altogether a good thing:

In November 2009, six years after the government of Libya first agreed to disarm its nuclear weapons program, Libyan nuclear workers wheeled the last of their country’s highly enriched uranium out in front of the Tajoura nuclear facility, just east of Tripoli. U.S. and Russian officials overseeing Libya’s disarmament began preparations to ship this final batch of weapons-grade nuclear material to Russia, where it would be treated and destroyed.

The plan was to load the uranium onto a massive Russian cargo plane, one of the few in the world specially equipped to fly nuclear materials. On November 20, the day before the plane was to leave for a nuclear facility in Russia, Libyan officials unexpectedly halted the shipment. Without explanation, they declared that the uranium would not be permitted to leave Libya. They left the seven five-ton casks out in the open and under light guard, vulnerable to theft by the al-Qaeda factions that still operate in the region or by any rogue government that learned of their presence.

For one month and one day, U.S. and Russian diplomats negotiated with Libya for the uranium to be released and flown out of the country. At the same time, engineers from both countries worked to secure the nuclear material from theft or leakage, two serious dangers that became more likely the longer the casks sat exposed. On December 21, Libya finally allowed a Russian plane to remove the casks, ending Libya’s nuclear weapons program and with it the low-grade game of nuclear blackmail they had been playing.

Read the rest. The downside of letting the hacks at the Heritage Foundation call the tune on GOP nuclear policy is that relatively small, little known moments like this become precarious. Pretending that we can dictate to Russia, and that Moscow’s preferences matter for naught, is extraordinarily dangerous.

Annexation

[ 17 ] November 4, 2010 |

In light of growing disquiet about Chinese intentions and capabilities in the Pacific among US security types, it’s worth taking note of this fairly alarmist Russian analysis:

This brings [Aleksandr] Khramchikhin back to China.  He has previously written some fairly alarmist pieces about the potential Chinese threat to Russia, so this time he focuses on the possibility that China would attack Kazakhstan. This seems to be a sufficiently fantastic scenario that it could be dismissed out of hand, but instead he argues that China would easily win such a conflict while absorbing Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan with minimal effort. This means that Russia would have to come to Kazakhstan’s assistance or face the prospect of a 12,000km border with China stretching from Astrakhan to Vladivostok. (I’m not sure what happens to Mongolia in this scenario, but I assume it’s nothing good.) And at this point, Khramchikhin argues that Russia might as well capitulate on the spot.

A couple of thoughts:
1. This scenario is fascinating in that it very nearly mirror-images US concerns about Chinese expansion into the Pacific. It doesn’t include any nonsense about reputation and resolve (“If we allow the Chinese to seize Taiwan, then the Japanese and Indians will be forced to accommodate themselves to the reality of Chinese hegemony etc. etc.”) but otherwise it’s quite similar in tone. I guess that everybody has to come up with a reason why they should get paid.

2. In mild, brief defense of US analysts on the subject, I do think that a move to the Pacific is more likely than the conquest and annexation of Kazahkstan.  I’m pretty sure that the PRC does actually kind of want Taiwan, and I’m not certain at all that it would want Kazahkstan even if someone were selling at bargain basement prices.  I would also think that as a future grand strategy the Athenian sea-focused empire makes more sense in the modern context than the Spartan land-focused; nationalism and the expanding material and intellectual tools available to insurgency have made land based empire prohibitively expensive, which the Soviet Union discovered to its dismay.

On Post-War Settlements

[ 12 ] October 9, 2010 |

Quiggin on the end of the Great War:

Despite the emergence of the ever-present nuclear menace, 1945 marked the low point of the 20th century in many ways. At least on the Western side, the peace settlement was far less draconian, and far more successful, than that of 1919. And, for several decades after the end of war, there was fairly steady progress towards a version (scaled-down in important respects, but more ambitious in some others) of those pre-1914 aspirations.

Really? Aren’t several of these propositions at least debatable? First, can we meaningfully use a term such as “on the Western side” when talking about the 1945 settlement? The division of Germany into two political units, and the distribution of significant portions of Germany to Poland and other Eastern European countries is the key element of the 1945 settlement. I don’t see how we can profitably make an analytical division between a “Western” and an “Eastern” response; the relatively light-handed approach of the occupying powers in the West was entirely dependent on the character of Soviet policy in the East.

More importantly, it seems to me that the real lesson that the Allied powers learned from 1919 was that the treatment of Germany was not nearly draconian enough. In 1945, in contrast to 1919, Germany was occupied by four armies, and its political institutions were formally restructured by the occupying powers. It was informally, then formally, divided into two parts. It lost more territory in 1945 than it had lost in 1919. While the German military was severely restricted post-Versailles, after 1945 Germany entirely lost its right to maintain military organizations, and would only partially regain that right in 1955. German political and military officials were put on trial, politically neutralized, and in many cases imprisoned or executed by the occupying powers. The military occupation of Germany by foreign powers continued until, well, now. Moreover, the actual process of winning the war wreaked far more draconian consequences on Germany than the process of Allied victory in World War I, with most German cities, industry, and infrastructure subjected to destructive air and land attack.

In short, I’d reiterate that Allied policy in 1945 was draconian, if appropriately so. I’m also not sure that the postwar settlement should be described as “successful”; while it certainly prevented the emergence of another German effort at European hegemony, this came at the cost of a Europe bitterly divided along military and social lines, an American and British military presence in many Western European states, and Russian political domination of the entirety of Eastern Europe. We can say, at best, that things sort of worked out in the end, but the peaceful collapse of the Soviet Union wasn’t the predictable outcome of a set of policies enacted by responsible leaders in 1945.

Russian Narco Subs

[ 17 ] October 3, 2010 |

This is genuinely fascinating:

When police found a russian-engineered submarine under construction on the outskirts of landlocked Bogota last week, one senior officer swore they had stumbled on “irrefutable proof of the presence of the Russian mafia” in Colombia.

Before the 100ft vessel could be bolted together in order to “run silent, run deep” with cargos of cocaine and heroin, the shipbuilders managed to run away, leaving behind incriminating blueprints labeled with Cyrillic letters.

No arrests have been made, although officials said they also found the names and telephone numbers of two American suspects at this dry-dock high in the Andes. Three former Soviet naval engineers are believed to have been involved. A closed-circuit video camera on top of a brick warehouse in rural Facatativa, 18 miles west of Bogota, tipped off workers to the raid by drug enforcement squads, and they made a hasty escape through cow pastures and fields of carnations….

The half-built submarine was about a fifth the scale of the doomed Kursk, and one-third smaller than the second-hand Soviet navy submarine with which a Russian immigrant in Miami tried to secure a $35m (£24.5m) deal between the Russian mafia and a Colombian cocaine baron back in 1995.

Fidel Azula, a former submarine captain, said: “It was unmistakably of superb naval construction, superior to anything in the Colombian navy.”

Obviously, it’s not surprising that there’s collaboration between the Russian mafia and Columbian drug cartels. Moreover, as the cartels have turned towards submersibles and semi-submersibles as a way of smuggling drugs into the United States, it’s not completely surprising that they’d take advantage of former Soviet know-how in this area. Nevertheless, it still has a scent of the Clancy about it; rogue naval submarine architects selling their services to the highest bidder could easily constitute the plot of a Jack Ryan novel.

On the policy level, there’s been a lot of attention paid to the security risk posed by unemployed, underpaid Soviet nuclear scientists. This article suggests that the nuclear issues is only one small facet of a much larger phenomenon; the detritus of the Soviet national security state finds its way into every nook and cranny. I’m not sure that there’s any productive policy that could counter this problem. Soviet scientists are few enough in number that they can be monitored and given gainful employment. The rest of one of the two largest national security states to ever exist, not so much.

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The Bear is Always Resurgent, Even When He’s Napping

[ 10 ] June 19, 2010 |

An alternative title to this article might have been “Russia’s arms industry a pathetic shambles.”

Russia is to embark on the biggest overseas arms shopping spree in its modern history with up to £8 billion earmarked for state-of-the art foreign military hardware, it has been claimed.

The forecast, made in a report from an influential military think tank close to the Russian Defence Ministry, came as Russian President Dmitry Medvedev launched what the Kremlin said was the world’s quietest attack submarine. “Most great powers heavily invest in the newest offensive and defensive systems,” he said at a shipyard ceremony in northern Russia on Tuesday. “We should do the same.”

The report, from the Moscow-based Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, said Russia was looking to spend up to £8 billion in the next five or six years on foreign military purchases. The unprecedented overseas shopping spree has been made possible after the Kremlin abandoned its traditional “buy Russian” policy with defence chiefs conceding that domestic arms manufacturers are not always able to compete with their Western rivals on quality…

The news is likely to alarm Georgia against whom Russia fought a short sharp war in 2008. It will also unnerve Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia who remain wary of their former imperial master despite being safely inside NATO.

Yasen, the “world’s quietest attack sub” was laid down in 1993. The second sub in the class is expected to be ready for delivery in 2016. To make the comparison with the US a touch more explicit, by the time Yasen enters service the United States will have built eight Virginia SSNs, a class which was largely designed after Yasen was laid down. Under the optimistic assumption that the second Yasen actually enters service in 2016, the United States will have thirteen Virginias to two Yasens.

None of this should surprise anyone who has followed the decline of the Russian defense industry. In response to the South Ossetia War and the new START Treaty, however, wingnuts have stepped up their dire rhetoric about the threat of a resurgent Russia, operating hundreds of PAK-FAs that will sweep our measly 187 F-22s from the sky, etc. The fact remains, however, that the Russian defense industry is a disaster, and that Russia has not demonstrated a capability since the end of the Cold War to build any kind of sophisticated defense equipment in any significant numbers. Russia is simply not a peer competitor to the United States, and given the fact that the Russian economy is 9% the size of the US, it won’t be anytime soon.

VE Day, Moscow Style

[ 22 ] May 8, 2010 |

Nice slideshow of the 65th anniversary celebration of the end of the Great Patriotic War. Love the T-34s:

But especially dig Medvedev’s handshake with Death:

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Prompt Global Strike: Still Not Actually Dead. Kind of Alive, in Fact

[ 15 ] April 23, 2010 |

Noah Shachtman notices what I noticed two weeks ago:

The Obama administration is poised to take up one of the more dangerous and hare-brained schemes of the Rumsfeld-era Pentagon. The New York Times is reporting that the Defense Department is once again looking to equip intercontinental ballistic missiles with conventional warheads. The missiles could then, in theory, destroy fleeing targets a half a world away — a no-notice “bolt from the blue,” striking in a matter of hours. There’s just one teeny-tiny problem: the launches could very well start World War III.

Over and over again, the Bush administration tried to push the idea of these conventional ICBMs. Over and over again, Congress refused to provide the funds for it. The reason was pretty simple: those anti-terror missiles look and fly exactly like the nuclear missiles we’d launch at Russia or China, in the event of Armageddon. “For many minutes during their flight patterns, these missiles might appear to be headed towards targets in these nations,” a congressional study notes. That could have world-changing consequences. “The launch of such a missile,” then-Russian president Vladimir Putin said in a state of the nation address after the announcement of the Bush-era plan, “could provoke a full-scale counterattack using strategic nuclear forces.”

The Pentagon mumbled all kinds of assurances that Beijing or Moscow would never, ever, never misinterpret one kind of ICBM for the other. But the core of their argument essentially came down to this: Trust us, Vlad Putin! That ballistic missile we just launched in your direction isn’t nuclear. We swear!

Yeah, I’m really not sure that changing to an atmospheric quasi-ballistic missile from SLBMs really helps. For one, the shift would somewhat reduce the promptness of the global strike (although probably not by much). More importantly, it doesn’t really solve the dilemma. If Putin/Medvedev/Hu/Whomever are inclined to worry that a detected launch was the prelude to an all-out nuclear attack, they’ll likely not be reassured by the news that it comes from some “special” location in the US. If the US decided to launch a preventive nuclear assault on Russia or China, wouldn’t we initiate the attack in the most deceptive way possible?

This isn’t to say that we should eschew research of any weapon that can decrease the time between order and KABOOM. Questions of strategic stability, however, need to be taken very seriously. How willing would we be to use these weapons in a war over the Taiwan Straits? In response to another Russia-Georgia War? Or, perhaps even more disconcerting, what if we decided we needed to kill Osama Bin Laden with 30 minutes notice during the midst of a Russia-Georgia War that we were otherwise uninterested in?

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More on the Mistrals

[ 10 ] April 15, 2010 |

Michael Cecire responds to my article about the sale of four Mistral class amphibious assault ships to Russia, but unfortunately misses most of the point:

Certainly, there is no question that the Russian navy has qualitatively declined since the demise of the Soviet Union. And to be sure, even the comparatively advanced Mistrals do little to address the imminent shortfall in Russian surface warfare assets, such as cruisers, destroyers, frigates and corvettes. From this perspective, the Mistral does little to shift the balance of power.

But the question remains, Why would Russia seek to acquire amphibious vessels instead of filling the other glaring gaps in its naval forces? The answer is not just a function of rehabilitating the Russian shipbuilding industry or engaging in far-flung humanitarian operations, but rather lies in Russia’s great-power aspirations: Moscow cannot hope to reacquire its long-sought return to global power without first securing dominance throughout the Eurasian space, and particularly in its so-called “near abroad.”

Cecire gets two points wrong. First, he misinterprets the relevance of the Mistrals to Russia’s long term naval plan, and more generally of amphibs to the modern naval force construction. The Mistrals aren’t simply part of a Russian reconstruction of Soviet naval power; they are elements of a new configuration of naval power, a configuration that has become very common across the international system. Amphibs, as I have argued elsewhere, are the new dreadnought; they are the new currency by which naval power is measured. Russia, like New Zealand, South Korea, Turkey, Malaysia, and Italy, wants the ability to project power and influence in multilateral operations, and amphibious warships buy that capacity.

The second and more important point is that Russia does not need amphibs in order to intimidate Georgia. Let’s be as clear about this as possible: The single factor that prevented a Russian conquest of Georgia and a consequent deposition of Saakashvili’s regime was Russian forbearance. Georgian military capability proved utterly incapable of resisting the Russian Army. There is no indication whatsoever that the Georgian military will be able to resist Russia more capably in the future. Indeed, Russian ownership of South Ossetia means that Georgia is geographically vulnerable to any concerted Russian land assault. Cecire argues that a Black Sea based Mistral would enable Russia to conquer Georgia in the winter months as well as the summer, but this is unconvincing; any scenario in which Russia could intervene in Georgia would require substantial land forces, and the Russian Army has significant, longstanding winter and mountain warfare capabilities. The only thing that could possibly change this equation is a NATO political commitment to Georgia’s defense, the wisdom of which I’ll decline to discuss at the moment. Four things that do not change the power equation between Russia and Georgia are the four Mistrals that Russia will be buying from France.

Militarily, the Mistrals are irrelevant to Russia’s relationship with Georgia or with any other part of its near abroad. The Mistrals might briefly hasten Russian conquest of Georgia or one of the Baltics, but the outcome of such a conflict would depend entirely upon factors other than the presence of the warships. Politically, the Mistrals are significant to Russia’s relationship with its near abroad insofar as they suggest that at least one major Western power is interested in pursuing good military and political relations with Russia. This isn’t irrelevant, but it does suggest that the focus on the ships themselves is misplaced. Moreover, the fact that the Mistrals aren’t important to the military relationship between Russia and Georgia doesn’t mean that the Russians are good people interested only in sunshine, flowers, and puppies. It means merely that these specific concerns about Russian behavior are overblown.

Who Do We Need to Torture to Get to the Bottom of This?

[ 3 ] April 12, 2010 |

Thiessen explains why the Smolensk crash sucks for Poland, but REALLY sucks for America:

This weekend, in that same forest, much of Poland’s 21st century intelligentsia was wiped out as well—particularly, its pro-American, conservative intelligentsia, those who stood up to Russia, reached out to Ukraine and Georgia, and looked to the United States and NATO before the European Union. The effect of their loss will be felt long after the tears dry—in Poland and in the United States as well.

Don’t worry, Marc; I guarantee that if you torture enough people, pretty soon you’ll “find out” that Obama and Putin planned the whole thing…

H/t Duss.

The Mistral Sale

[ 1 ] April 8, 2010 |

I have a short article up at World Politics Review about the sale of the French Mistrals to Russia:

France’s decision to negotiate the sale of four Mistral-class Amphibious Transport Docks to Russia has been met with harsh criticism in the United States and among some NATO allies. Georgian Foreign Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili was particularly brutal, declaring of the sale, “It’s not even appeasement of Russia. It’s a reward for Russia.” There is no question that the acquisition of the four amphibious warships will substantially enhance Russia’s power-projection capabilities. However, Russia is not the only state to have committed to the construction of large-deck amphibious warships. In fact, Moscow’s purchase of the Mistrals comes in the context of a global “amphib” splurge. Big “amphibs” are trendy, and the Russians have simply decided to join the club.

Tanker Competition Enters the Realm of the Absurd

[ 11 ] March 19, 2010 |

Thank you, Russia:

Russian state-owned aerospace group United Aircraft Corp. plans to bid for a U.S. Air Force tanker contract, teaming up with a U.S. partner, a lawyer representing UAC said March 19.

“They’re going to announce Monday [March 22] a joint venture with an American company to bid on the tanker program,” attorney John Kirkland said. Kirkland said the bid would be based on the Ilyushin Il-96, a four-engine airliner.

Asked about the UAC announcement, DoD spokewoman Cheryl Irwin said, “We welcome all qualified bidders.” Asked whether the Russian firm was qualified, she said, “I don’t know.”

Boeing is the only company that has announced it will bid for the $35 billion contract to supply the Air Force with 179 aerial refueling tankers.

There’s obviously zero chance that the Russian bid will win, but damn, I hope that it’s strong enough to further embarrass Boeing. I suggest, by the way, that everyone check out the comment thread on this WSJ story about the Russian bid; it reaffirms my faith in security of America’s strategic crazy reserves.

Thus Because We Make it Thus

[ 0 ] February 6, 2010 |

To be a bit more sympathetic than Yglesias, I think that Krugman’s argument on Poland might most profitably be put into this form:

A Poland with sensible institutions wouldn’t have suffered from the dilemma of being stuck between Russia and Prussia; rather, Russia and Germany might have been at the mercy of Poland.

It was by no means necessary that the dominant state of north central Europe would be Prussia, or later a Prussia-centric Germany. Similarly, there’s no reason that the continent-spanning Russian Empire had to stop at the borders of Prussia, rather than a few hundred miles farther east. A Poland with more sensible institutions could have played an active role in structuring its institutions, rather than falling victim to circumstance.

That said, I haven’t the faintest real grasp of Polish history, can’t explain why Poland settled on the institutions it had, and can’t confirm that they had the impact that they’re reputed to have. Thus, this observation concerns only the structure of the argument, rather than its historical substance. Finally, I have no idea why people never mention the role of the Habsburg Empire in dissolving Poland; it would be better to say “stuck between Germany, Russia, and Austria.”

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