This post, on the prospect for Russian military reform, is absolutely fabulous. A taste:
These reforms amount to the complete destruction of Russia’s mass-mobilization military, a legacy of the Soviet army. Such a change was completely anathema to the previous generation of Russian generals, who continued to believe that the Russian military had to be configured to protect the country from a massive invasion from either Europe or China. This perception explains the military leaders’ reluctance, for two decades, to dismantle key aspects of the old Soviet army and, most especially, its vast caches of outdated and unneeded weapons overseen by an equally vast number of officers with very little battlefield training and no combat experience. These officers and weapons are the remains of an army designed to fight NATO on the European plains and have served no functional purpose since the end of the Cold War.
Via FP, a new independent Russian report indicates that three of the six Russian aircraft lost during the South Ossetia War were shot down by friendly fire. The report also suggests that cooperation between Russian ground and air forces was less than fruitful. While the Russian Army has denied the friendly fire allegations, I don’t find them particularly surprising. It wasn’t outside the realm of possibility that the uncoordinated Georgian air defense “network” could shoot down six Russian aircraft, but it was certainly the most impressive element of Georgia’s military performance. That both the Georgians and Russians were less effective than advertised seems entirely plausible.
And here’s one thing that I don’t really understand about journalism:
But the BBC’s Rupert Wingfield-Hayes says losses sustained by the Russian side in just five days have led analysts here to question how Russian troops would fare against a bigger, better-equipped and better-trained enemy.
No shit? Did the BBC need to pay someone to come to the conclusion that the Russians would do less well against a “bigger, better-equipped, and better-trained enemy”?
Via Chet, the coolest submarines ever built may be returning to service:
A week ago, Admiral Vladimir Vysotskiy, the Navy Commander-in-Chief, told journalists that the Navy intends to keep Project 941 Typhoon submarines in service. These submarines were waiting for some kind of decision about their future since at least 2004, then the Navy disbanded the division that held them.
It appears that the Navy plan is to keep the Project 941 submarines, but without ballistic missiles – as cruise missile carriers or in some other role (these options were mentioned some time ago). I’m not sure why the Navy would want to get into the trouble of converting the submarines, but this definitely can be done. Especially since the conversion would not have to involve cutting out the missile compartment as it is required by the START treaty.
Speculative and vague? Yes, but conversion of the surviving Typhoons to SSGN status would certainly be possible, and would be roughly similar to what the USN has done with four of the Ohios. As to why the Russians would do it… well, why do they ever do anything?
I almost feel dirty after watching that.
Russia’s energy giant Gazprom has signed a $2.5bn (£1.53bn) deal with Nigeria’s state operated NNPC, to invest in a new joint venture.
The new firm, to be called Nigaz, is set to build refineries, pipelines and gas power stations in Nigeria.
H/t Chet, via TPM.
…the gods of blogging would strike me down if I failed to include this:
This is kind of old, but I still have to acknowledge the fabulous theater of it all:
Moving quickly to stamp out growing unrest, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin flew to the small town of Pikalyovo on Thursday to demand that angry workers receive wage arrears and rebuke their delinquent employers.
Putin told the owners of the town’s three factories that the government had transferred 41.24 million rubles ($1.34 million) to their Sberbank accounts on Wednesday and they had until the end of the day to pay their workers.
“All wage arrears must be settled,” Putin said at a meeting with owners and government officials. “The deadline is today.”
Turning to the owners, including tycoon Oleg Deripaska, owner of one of the plants, Putin offered a stinging rebuke of their business practices.
“You have made thousands of people hostages to your ambitions, your lack of professionalism — or maybe simply your trivial greed,” Putin said in remarks shown on state television. “Why was everyone running around like cockroaches before my arrival? Why was no one capable of making decisions?”
He threw a pen at a contract and told Deripaska to sign it.
Fox News is reporting this morning that North Korea has declared the existence of its uranium program, and is threatening the weaponize its remaining plutonium. The New York Times confirms the latter, but not the former, and I can’t seem to find the text of the North Korean declaration (although CNN confirms the Fox account). The suspected existence of the uranium program helped derail the Agreed Framework that held between 1994 and 2002 (US intransigence also helped), which eventually led to the restart of the plutonium program at Yongbyon. The North Korean declaration is in response to the tighter sanctions regime established by yesterday’s UN resolution. It also looks as if North Korea may be preparing a third nuclear test; the general consensus is now that the device in the first test failed completely and the device in the second failed partially. North Korea is suspected to have enough plutonium for about half a dozen bombs (with perhaps one or two more if the rest of the plutonium at Yongbyon is weaponized), but I haven’t seen a good estimate of how much uranium it could have enriched.
Galrahn has a brief discussion of what the UN resolution means; China and Russia have committed, in word if not yet in action, to a regime which allows the interception and inspection of North Korean ships carrying prohibited weapons. As the resolution bars North Korea from exporting any arms at all (and from importing most arms), this is fairly wide-ranging authority. Even if China and Russia aren’t fully on board with implementation, the resolution makes any effort to export very risky for the North Koreans.
All of this seems to me to be the right way to go. It’s fair enough to suggest that we should tread lightly where North Korea is concerned, but that doesn’t obviate the international community of the responsibility to establish boundaries of appropriate conduct. North Korean breaches of these lines have made China, Russia, and South Korea willing to engage in more assertive diplomatic action than they had previously been prepared for. If additional tests are simply a negotiating tactic on the part of the North Koreans, then additional UN sanctions are the diplomatic counter-tactic of the US, Russia, China, and South Korea. I’m not too worried about additional North Korean nuclear tests (each test expends plutonium while unifying the international community), but the concern is that the next negotiating tactic the North Koreans will employ will involve military skirmishes along the DMZ, or near offshore islands.
I’m sure that the Chinese just arrived independently at the idea of having a folding-wing version of the Su-27:
Russia is eyeing China following media reports that an unlicensed variant of the Sukhoi Su-33 carrier-borne multirole fighter has been developed. Sukhoi officials are “closely monitoring that situation but have not said any official position yet,” said Sukhoi spokesman Aleksey Poveshchenko.
Ever since Beijing announced plans earlier this year to build its first aircraft carrier, speculation has been rampant over how the People’s Liberation Army Navy would acquire carrier-borne fighters. Sukhoi’s Su-33, with its folding wings, is the only choice because of the U.S. and European arms embargo to China.
Russian officials, who say China is already illegally copying their Su-27SK fighter jet, have halted negotiations to sell the Su-33. Beijing has not confirmed that it is working on a clone of the Su-27SK – dubbed Flanker by NATO.
“China will not acknowledge to the Russians that these are copies,” said Andrei Chang, a China military analyst at Kanway Information Center. “They say it is an independent domestic production designed solely by themselves.”
China owns an Su-33 prototype, which it obtained from the Ukrainian Research Test and Flying Training Center at Nitka, Chang said.
There’s a lot going on here. For one, it indicates that China’s IP policy remains ad hoc; the PRC will respect IP rights when it is bribed sufficiently to do so, or when it fears retaliation. On this second point, it seems that the Chinese do not fear Russian retaliation, given that they have also been accused of stealing Russian submarine designs. I’m guessing that the Chinese anticipate that in the future purchasing advanced weapon systems from Russia will no longer be a preferred option, in no small part because the next generation of Chinese designs will be more capable than the next generation of Russian.
There are also some interesting IR theory puzzles here. By a standard crude realist account, the Chinese shouldn’t care a whit for Russian licensing rights. By a somewhat more sophisticated realist account, the Chinese leadership will abide by international intellectual property norms to the extent that such norms benefit China. In this account, the PRC would be willing to forego short term gains from IP defection in defense of the larger structure of international IP law if China benefitted sufficiently from that structure. I think that we’re moving in that direction; I suspect that the PRC will become a beneficiary of strict IP interpretation in the short to medium term, if it isn’t already.
In this case, I think you could argue that the Chinese simply don’t see much of a downside from violating Russian IP rights. First, Russia is not considered to be an ideal IP citizen, and so there’s less downside to violating Russian IP rights than to violating French or American. Chinese behavior towards Russia isn’t necessarily understood to be predictive of Chinese behavior towards anyone else. Second, apart from weapons Chinese trade with Russia doesn’t seem to heavily involve the kinds of goods that are dependent on a strict IP regime, although that could change as the mix of Chinese exports increases. Finally, most realists would argue that legal concerns would have the lowest weight in the security sphere; in a straight up cost-benefit calculation, paying the Russians a license fee for the Su-33 just doesn’t pay off, so to speak.
Two final thoughts; there are a myriad of reasons why the Chinese aren’t copying F/A-18s or Rafale’s, but I’m guessing that the PRC would be much more nervous about violating French or US law than Russian, even if they had the capability to build such aicraft. Second, in 10-15 years I suspect that the Chinese are going to become vigorous, assertive enforcers of defense related intellectual property, even as the unlicensed Su-33s start flying off the first Chinese aircraft carriers.
In the fabulous piracy-oriented South Park of two weeks ago, a French yacht surrenders to Fatbeard the Pirate without a shot being fired. When someone brings the issue up at the UN, a bureaucrat explains “Being French, they surrendered immediately.” This brought some thoughts of mine on piracy and reputation into focus. The French have responded to piracy more aggressively than anyone, taking the early initiative on pursuing pirates onto land, and on launching rescue operations. In spite of this, at least in the world of Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the French continue to have a reputation for irresolution. Indeed, they amount to the stand-in for an irresolute Western response to Somali piracy.
Along similar lines, Galrahn last week published a long post on potential piracy solutions, arguing at the end that the US might suffer a reputational effect if it didn’t take the lead in anti-piracy operations. This was a relatively small part of a very good post, but again it got me thinking; would the US suffer damage to its reputation from failing to vigorously pursue anti-piracy efforts, and if so what would that damage consist of? Dan Drezner and I discussed this a bit in our bloggingheads of a couple weeks ago, more or less settling around the idea that it would be hard for US competitors to draw any conclusions about US resolve in the absence of any ideas of their own on opposing piracy. Galrahn suggests, however, that the US reputation in maritime matters may be structured a bit differently than the Russian or Chinese; the US has implictly taken on the responsibility for maintaining maritime security in a way that the Russians and Chinese have not, and thus could be more likely to take a hit from the failure to address piracy vigorously.
Long time readers of this blog will know that I’m deeply skeptical of the independent effect of resolve and reputation on international relations. Given my graduate training, this is unsurprising; reputations for resolve don’t form in the manner expected by policymakers and traditional scholars of IR, and as such efforts to reinforce a reputation for resolve rarely yield much of a return. Actors tend to interpret behavior in light of the previous expectations, meaning that aberrant behavior is excused as situational. If the French are acting resolutely in response to piracy now, then it’s probably just to cover up their inherent weakness. Similarly, if the Russians (who are understood to be resolute, if nothing else) have a tepid response to piracy, then it must be because they don’t care. That both of these things may be true isn’t the point; reputation doesn’t change either way. I’m not convinced that reputation can’t change, just that it doesn’t update in response to rational assessment of evidence. For many Americans, including Parker and Stone, the French surrender to Germany in 1940 remains the critical symbolic marker for French reputation. Had the French backed the US in 2003 in Iraq this might have changed, although I doubt it.
So that said, back to the original question: How many pirates do the French have to kill in order to earn a reputation for toughness? I think it’s fair to say that certain behaviors in regard to piracy can earn the description “weak,” such as the recent Dutch release of captured pirates. Is there anything, though, that could have a lasting effect on reputation such that even Stone and Parker began to view the French as resolute, dangerous, or even aggressive? What if French destroyers started gunning down every fisherman they could find off the Somali coast? What if the French attacked pirate havens on land, and deployed troops to Somalia long term? You could argue, I suppose, that focusing on South Park isn’t helpful, that Parker and Stone are relatively low information actors, and that policymakers have a more accurate assessment of reputation. I’m utterly unconvinced of this; the South Park episode in question demonstrated a substantial knowledge about the issue of Somali piracy, and I’m guessing that Stone and Parker depicted the French as weak because it played into stereotype, rather than out of ignorance. Moreover, I think it was fairly clear in the run up to the Iraq War that officials within the administration and in Congress had substantially the same, unsophisticated understanding of French reputation.
The question works the other way, too; how many pirates would the Russians have to release in order to earn a reputation for weakness? A couple weeks ago, I spoke with a conservative friend about piracy, and found that he was under the impression that the Russians had been dealing brutally with pirates off Somalia. It’s true enough that the Russians have been participating in anti-piracy operations, but as far as I know they haven’t acted with any brutality, and their general performance has been altogether less assertive than that of the French. Nevertheless, the Russians get credit (and my friend spoke admiringly of the Russian brutality; shades of a Tom Clancy novel) for aggressive action that they don’t take, while in the popular imagination the French either remain cheese-eating surrender monkeys, or they become fodder for political attack (“See!? Even the feckless French can fight pirates!”)
So, again; how many pirates would the French have to kill to become tough? And how many would the Russians have to coddle to become borscht eating surrender bears?
Let’s hope this doesn’t happen. It seems highly unlikely, but then I can’t say for sure just how far Russia would go to keep Georgia out of NATO. The idea of serious Russian interference in Georgian domestic politics also seems plausible to me, although how that would be distinguishable from discontent produced by Saakashvili’s blustering ineptitude isn’t 100% clear.
I have some musings on the latest US-Russia spat at the Guardian:CIF. While doing a bit of “research” for the piece, I read the wiki entry on A Taste of Armageddon, the Star Trek episode where two planets have agreed to wage nuclear war without nuclear weapons. Kirk “saves” them from this by essentially breaking the mechanism, and forcing them to talk. I found it interesting that, in the expanded literature, one planet shortly thereafter annihilated the other, losing a third of its population in the process. We have the Prime Directive for a reason, people.
By the way, here’s “Mad” Matt Duss, in yet another of what seems to be an endless string of high profile media appearances: