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Entries in Russia (71)

9:44AM

WPR's The New Rules: U.S. Defense Cuts a Step in the Right Direction

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates unveiled his much-anticipated budget cuts last Thursday, signaling the beginning of the end of the decade-long splurge in military spending triggered by Sept. 11. Gates presented the package of cuts as being the biggest possible given the current international security landscape, warning that any deeper reductions could prove "potentially calamitous." Frankly, I find that statement hard to swallow.

REad the entire column at World Politics Review.

12:02AM

Esquire's Politics Blog: Obama's Afghanistan Review, Decoded

So the White House just released its much-anticipated review of our ongoing military efforts in Afghanistan (and Pakistan, mind you). And while President Obama, Bob Gates, and Hillary Clinton took pains to explain in a press conference on Thursday that "this continues to be a very difficult endeavor," it can also be very difficult to parse propaganda from, you know, the actual end of a modern war. But since this is a reasonably well-written document that the president's talking about here — and since it more or less outlines the past, present, and future of our troops' presence in region in a still-untidy five pages — it seems worthwhile to deconstruct the review line-by-line... and (white) lie-by-lie. Here goes.

Read the entire post at Esquire's The Politics Blog.

8:21AM

Whither Russia: the latest tilt to the West

Couple of stories from WSJ and Spiegel on Russia's latest mini-bout of Westernizing fever.

It used to be that these tilts, one way or the other, went on for decades--centuries!  But since Cold War's end, it seems, like everything else in this networked world, to come and go so much faster.

Yeltsin's time was an age of aping the West, then Putin led the return back to Russian-ness.  Now Medvedev and others sound the age-old alarm about "falling behind the West/world" and needing to modernize once again.  It's the same old Westernizers versus Slavophiles debate:  Russia is a failure in its isolation and backwardness and must adopt the ways of the West versus Russia is not a failure but unique and wonderful and the champion of Slavs everywhere and we must stand up to the West and protect our brothers . . . by sucking them into our empire and putting a big wall around them!

If the last bit sounds like some modern-day Islamic radical fundamentalist impulse, it's because it is very similar.  It's just an earlier version of rejecting the capitalist west.

From "Blueprint":

Last year I took my kids up to Boston, and during that trip we visited the Museum of Science. It’s a kid-oriented place, and my job was mostly to make sure my youngest son, Jerome, didn’t run off into some crowd. Near the end of the day, after the lightning show and the planetarium, we stopped by an exhibition on archaeology, where the kids got to mess around with various assembled skeletons. So while they were stacking bones in one corner, I found myself scanning the room for something to look at. I was drawn to a world map hung on a nearby wall. On it was displayed the migration of humans from our earliest origins in sub-Saharan Africa, roughly 100,000 years ago.

Now, the first thought that hit me is one that I’ve heard many times in the past: the spread of humanity around the planet was the first form of globalization. But as I stared at the timeline legend, another thought occurred to me: the spread of the current model of economic globalization is really the reverse track of that original spread of humanity. Humanity first spread from Africa to the Middle East; then to Eurasia; then to Europe, Japan, and Australia; and finally into the New World of the Western Hemisphere about 10,000 years ago. So if you were going to date civilizations, the age ranking would roughly correspond to the spread of humanity, with Africa and the Middle East being the oldest and the Western Hemisphere being the youngest.

But today’s version of globalization really began in the Western Hemisphere (the United States), then spread outward to include the West (Japan, Australia, Europe), finally conquering the Eurasian socialist bloc in the last generation, and now finding itself fundamentally stuck (no pun intended) on the oldest and least globalized parts of the world—namely, the Muslim world and Africa. In effect, modern globalization can be described as roughly a 150-year trek from the “youngest” parts of the world to the “oldest,” which is why it’s gotten harder and not easier with time, because it’s had more and more tradition and custom and history to overcome at each stage of its spread.

Admittedly, this thought didn’t come to me in a flash right then and there, because, as always, I was pretty tired from chasing my kids around that huge museum all day. What happened right there was that a different thought that had been crystallizing in my head for several days finally made sense when I saw the map. For that one, I have to take you to my nightly exercise on the treadmill, where I like to watch documentaries on my laptop.

Turns out a few days earlier I was watching Ken Burns’s masterful The Civil War, and listening to the descriptions of the conflict and what was at stake for both sides, I couldn’t help but think that the American Civil War was really the first Core-Gap war of the modern era. The North was the land of great cities, railroads, and factories, bristling with connectivity to the outside world in all forms, but especially in terms of immigrants streaming in from Europe. In contrast, the South was the bucolic, agrarian, and far more homogeneous landscape, largely disconnected from the outside world except for the narrow but voluminous trade in cotton, and distinguishable fundamentally for its heavy reliance on slave labor, which further isolated it from the rest of the world.

I know what you’re thinking: substitute oil for cotton and Asian guest workers for slaves and you’ve got some interesting parallels with a United States–led Core coalition of states seeking to transform the Middle East in another bloody war of conquest and occupation. The Union didn’t exactly invade the Confederacy to “secure” the cotton, now, did it? And the reality today is that we don’t need to invade the Persian Gulf to “secure” its oil, either. Hell, given the region’s great dependency on oil revenue, the regimes there have far fewer choices about selling their oil than the rest of the world has about buying it.

Well, it was following America’s Civil War that you really saw the second industrial revolution begin to flower in the United States, helping to speed up the westward expansion of the Union. Once the country became effectively networked with railroads, most of the movement of raw materials in our land fed the giant industrial beast rising in the northeastern quadrant of the continent. It was roughly in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, then, that the United States finally began to resemble the multinational economic and political union that it is today, with its amazingly free and efficient movement of goods, services, people, and information across dozens of states all bound together under a federal government made significantly more powerful through civil war.

Meanwhile, of course, while America was rising “peacefully” in the Western Hemisphere, Europe spent the nineteenth century expanding its vast network of colonial possessions around the world in a great race among imperial powers, giving rise to the first great modern phase of globalization (Globalization I), running roughly from 1870 through 1914. This globalization, though, was largely based on the uncompetitive movement of raw materials from the periphery (colonies) to the home world (Europe), and it was enforced primarily by the occupation of foreign lands by European nationals augmented by extensive military networks (primarily defined by navies). When that system of global economy self-destructed in two great world wars (1914–18 and 1939–45), Europe was divided between the two victorious external powers: the United States and the Soviet Union.

At that point, Western Europe was connected, along with Japan and Australia, to America’s new version of globalization (Globalization II, from 1945–80), one not based on colonialism but on free markets, free trade, transparency, democracy, and collective security. On the other side of the Yalta line, Eastern Europe was disconnected from the rest of the world and fell under the isolating control of the Soviet Union for almost half a century. When China subsequently fell to the Communists and South Asia broke free from Europe’s colonial grip, basically the rest of the Eurasian landmass was lost to the socialist mind-set, remaining largely disconnected from the West’s embryonic global economy for roughly a couple of generations.

After that period of blocked expansion, the Western-defined globalization process renewed its march eastward with the collapse of the Communist bloc in 1989, with China actually predating that conversion by several years, thanks to Deng Xiaoping’s “four modernizations” push in the early 1980s, which marked the beginning of the third great age of modern globalization (Globalization III, from 1980 to 2001). At the end of the Cold War, only the former colonial regions of the Gap, which had overwhelmingly fallen victim to homegrown authoritarian regimes after the collapse of the European empires following the Second World War, remained fundamentally outside the global economy, with the two most disconnected regions being the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa. Not surprisingly, the Middle East now defines the battlefront in the grand historical struggle between the Core’s forces of connectedness and the Gap’s most bloodthirsty foes of that integration process (Globalization IV, from 2001), and once it likewise falls to globalization’s embrace, only deepest Africa will remain—that first cradle of humanity.

Realizing that modern globalization’s advance essentially traces backward the earlier spread of humanity is important on another level: Modern globalization’s advance has met with consistently violent resistance throughout most of its history from rejectionists armed with exclusionary ideologies. These rejectionists, starting with the slaveholding South and extending right on through to our current enemies, have always pleaded that mankind must be saved from the machine-driven logic and exploitation of the industrial world. Typically, these rejectionists not only have sought to resist integration into this industrialized world but also have proposed competing systems of government and economics that would both avoid this outcome and do it one better by leapfrogging humanity into some idealized alternative universe of near-utopian self-fulfillment.

The odd thing is that as globalization has progressively advanced in its technology and modernization, the rejectionist ideologies have been forced to retreat farther back in time to attempt to build their alternate universes. When Marxism began in the mid-nineteenth century, the assumption was that socialism would naturally be achieved at capitalism’s pinnacle of development, or at the point of the superabundance of goods. This ideology actually sought to extend the capitalist model of development beyond what were perceived as its logical limits. But since that ideology proved wrong in its diagnosis of capitalism’s weaknesses, it fell to Vladimir Lenin to turn Marx on his head at the start of the twentieth century and argue that socialist revolution was far more likely to succeed in a largely precapitalist society, meaning not industrial Germany but Russia just as it was approaching what would have been its industrial phase of development.

Later in the same century, Lenin’s great ideological successor, Mao Zedong, took his theory farther back in time, arguing that socialist revolutions made even more sense in largely agrarian societies like China, meaning a revolution led by rural peasants and not by an urban proletariat. Cambodia’s subsequent Khmer Rouge Communist movement later took Mao’s ideology to its logical extreme, not just engaging in “cultural revolution” against largely city-based “enemies of the state” but literally emptying the cities and forcing millions to endure “reeducation” (marking the revolutionary Year Zero that would reboot the system completely) and eventual genocide in the most backward rural areas of the country.

Meanwhile, with the fall of the Portuguese empire in sub-Saharan Africa in the mid-1970s, the Soviet Union’s leadership, despite the complete lack of revolutionary spirit back home, nonetheless deluded itself into thinking that successful socialist states could be constructed in some of Africa’s most backward economies, generating Moscow’s brief but ultimately failed ideological fling with the so-called Countries of Socialist Orientation (e.g., Angola, Mozambique, Ethiopia). When the bankruptcy of that approach was made apparent in the failure of the Soviet puppet regime in Afghanistan at the beginning of the 1980s, the great collapse of the socialist bloc began in earnest, fueled in Asia by China’s rapid turn toward market economics under Deng.

It was at this point in history that many political theorists began speaking of the “end of history,” a phrase made famous by philosopher Francis Fukuyama, who, not accidentally, began his career as an expert on the Soviet bloc and its relations with the Third World (the subject of my Ph.D. dissertation as well). What was meant by that was the notion that no feasible alternative to democracies and capitalism seemed to exist anymore, signaling the historical supremacy of each in combination. As a great wave of democratization swept the planet in the wake of the socialist bloc’s retreat and collapse, the judgment appeared warranted.

And in many ways this historical judgment does remain valid, for what has arisen in the years since the Cold War cannot be described as a full-fledged alternative model of development, since the Salafi jihadist movement promises no economic development whatsoever, but rather a strange sort of retreat into the past, with the utopian promise of somehow not only getting it right this time (i.e., returning to the golden age of the first several centuries following Muhammad’s life), but doing so in such a way as to become far superior to the current perceived alternative (“Westoxification” at the hands of a corrupt capitalist world system). Indeed, the world witnessed this back-to-the-future outcome in the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan across the late 1990s, right down to its pointless destruction of all symbols of foreign religions, the banning of television and music, and severe restrictions on the education of females (the quintessential disconnect). In all, the Taliban’s definition of the “good life” was almost prehistorical in its quality, demonstrating the absurd lengths to which the violent resistance to globalization has traveled in the current age.

Yet, despite this retreat into the past, which corresponds to globalization’s progressive encroachment into the world’s most ancient civilizations, the Salafi jihadist movement of today is, in the words of economist Brink Lindsey, “strikingly similar to its defunct, secular cousins.” For like all the Lenins and Maos before it, al Qaeda’s antiglobalization movement, while feeding off its adherents’ sense of alienation from, and resentment of, the Western-fueled globalization process, is still nothing more than a naked grab for power over others, or what Lindsey calls “the millennial fantasy of a totalitarian state that is the fundamental feature and common thread that unites all the radical movements of the Industrial Counterrevolution.”

But, unlike previous versions of ideological resistance to this expanding model of global economic connectivity such as socialism or fascism, which offered a marriage of conservative social values with modern technology, the Salafi jihadists promise simply the rejection of modernity—which, as Lindsey points out, effectively kills any sort of global appeal beyond their most like-minded coreligionists. So how can bin Laden and al Qaeda still maintain their widespread popularity in the Islamic world? Easy. Their main competition is the rigid, unimaginative authoritarianism that grips so much of the Middle East. With history “ended,” where else can young Muslims turn in their anger over the lack of both freedom and development in their countries?

You know, one of the things I like about the Wikistrat globalization model that we're building right now, is that we're using bits and pieces from the books like this to illustrate points and aspects of the model, so we're doing exactly what this Civil Affairs officer at Monterey asked if I could someday do:  create an online space where people could come and really immerse themselves in the ideas but have them framed and accessible around an ongoing exploration of globalization.

Anyway, I give you the clip there to illustrate:  Bolshevism & Marxism-Leninism was just a time-phase variant of the anti-capitalist/anti-globalization response that's existed throughout history (the clip, if I had extended it, would have gone into Occidentalism, or hatred of the West/modernity), but it was also a natural variant of the Russian relationship with the wider world.  

Russia, not unlike big chunks of the Middle East, is a tough place to live with the harsh winters and such.  So the code and rule sets there were strict about conformity, collectivism, and so on.  And outsiders were largely shunned in the early formative days of that civilization.  

When the West begins to make itself known, it is, by comparison, an opportunity for enrichment--if Russians are willing to change themselves and integrate.  This is a huge choice, and a frightening one.  To do it means to abandon a lot of the past rules and identity and that usually only is possible when you feel those rules and traditions have been radically trumped.  So it feels like surrender to the alien outsiders:  me bad, you good, me want to be like you!

Not easy stuff to swallow.  Naturally, such perceived self-abasement triggers an opposing emotion:  me not bad, you really bad, me actually unique and better and I need to act on that and make my world that much bigger and stronger and secure to keep you and your bad influences out!

That's basically the inner dialogue of the Westernizers and Slavophiles, and it's been going on for centuries, with the first great turn West coming under Peter the Great.

Well, Russia, after its bout with "restoration of power" under Putin, now suddenly feels like it's a commodities producer with nothing else to offer the world.  Maybe not Upper Volta with nukes but not much better than Iran--soon enough.  So, when Medvedev and Putin do their little dance about who gets to be president next, the old debate resurfaces, with Medvedev as the latest Westernizing siren.  

Medvedev has said, in effect:  we are not a modern country and we need to become one in this globalized age. We need to get closer to Europe--not pull away or be nasty over natural gas.  And we need to use these contacts to learn better their ways and make ourselves more like them.  

The underlying current of the Westernizers has always been, "Because going the other route and becoming more Asian really sucks!"

Putin had his time to emulate the Chinese, but the Russians, deep down, feel more European than Asia--always have and always will.  They admire and hate Europe, but they despise the Chinese.   Chalk it up to whatever, but that undercurrent is always there, by my estimation.

So the WSJ story talks about a big privatization plan the Russians are pursuing ($59B) "as the Kremlin seeks to cut the state's role in the economy and raise money to balance the budget."

Doesn't mean their version of state-dominated big-firm capitalism goes away tomorrow; just means they know it's not the future.  Living as a commodities producer just isn't a way to grow yourself, so the effort is back on to convince Western (and Eastern) investors that Russia can be made safe--once again--for investment.  

Second story from Spiegel speaks to a subject near to my heart for almost two decades:  Russia should join NATO.  Not just have close or better relations; it should join NATO.

Putin by contrast had attacked the "almost uncontained hyper-use of military force" by NATO and the US in his famous speech to the Munich Security Conference in 2007 in which he warned that Russia had weapons systems that could get through Washington's planned missile shield, designed primarily to intercept missiles from Iran.

 

Under Medvedev, by contrast, the Kremlin appears ready even to contemplate Russia joining NATO one day. The Institute for Contemporary Development, whose board of trustees is headed by Medvedev, called in a strategy paper for Russia to integrate itself into NATO.

Now, everybody says that would "destroy" NATO's identity, but that's a past identity.  What NATO is today is undersubscribed (a point I made yesterday in the Global Political Trends on the Wikistrat model):  it's the closest thing we have to a Core-wide military alliance and it has too few members for its legacy sense of responsibility.  It simply needs to grow, and Russia's an obvious next target.  Not the Ukraine or Georgia BEFORE Russia, but Russia and perhaps those to soon follow.

As always, this kind of forward thinking is considered too naive, too out there, too whatever.  But compared to NATO's efforts to make Afghanistan work without Russian (and other) help, I think the idea is pretty sane.

We'll keep doing it the hard way because that's what our "wise men" know from their past--along with their trained next-generation acolytes.  But eventually, new minds come along and what is "inconceivable!" (in that Princess Bride way) suddenly becomes reasonable.

Is this the last go-around on the Westernizer-Slavophile merry-go-round?  I would never say never on that.  

But eventually, yeah, it will stick--if Europe is smart enough to make the deal.

10:26AM

This week in globalization

 

Clearing out my files for the week:

 

  • Martin Wolf on why the US is going to win the global currency battle:  "To put it crudely, the US wants to inflate the rest of the world, while the latter is trying to deflate the US."  We win because we have infinite ammo.  But better that we come, per my Monday column, to some agreement at the G-20. 
  • Sebastian Mallaby, also in FT, says that, despite the current currency struggles, the "genie of global finance is out of the bottle" and not to be stuffed back in.  Wolf had noted $800B capital inflows to emerging markets 2010-2011, which is gargantuan, thus the crazy struggle of some places to keep their currencies low.  As for America stopping China from buying US bonds in retaliation for our not being able to buy Chinese assets?  China holds only about one-third of the US T-bonds abroad ($3T total), so it can buy all its wants from others in the system.  There is no turning back, he says.
  • Meanwhile, the Pentagon makes plans to turn back the clock on the globalization of defense manufacturing.  A new spending bill provision--inserted at DoD's request--includes the power to exclude foreign parts suppliers (read China). Just about every US-based defense firm uses offshore suppliers, so this is going to get very expensive very fast.  It'll be a lot harder to find that $100B in savings over five years. This is almost a fifth generation warfare version of shooting yourself in the foot--first, before the other guy can.  China does nothing here, that frankly we shouldn't be able to handle, but we move down a path that instantly adds a significant tax to everything we buy in the growing-by-leaps-and-bounds IT realm.  One hopes there's a half-billion for that American rare earths mining co. that's looking for a new investor.  Interesting how China's becoming vulnerable to, and dependent on, so many unstable parts of the world for resources, and we're going to cut off the tip of our IT nose to spite our face.  I can imagine a cheaper way, but that would be so naive in comparison to spending all this extra money.
  • China continues to buy low, as a ruthless capitalist should. Giving us a taste of what it could be like if we don't get too protectionist, it's buying up Greece's "toxic government bonds."--and plenty more in Europe. All of the EU is getting a taste, says Newsweek, as Chinese investors are snapping up bankrupt enterprises and--apparently--putting people back to work.  China also, like a ruthless capitalist, seeks to make bilats reduce the chance of EU-wide restrictions on its trade. Old American trick.
  • Another sign of globalization on the march:  emerging economies buying up food and beverage companies in the West that would otherwise naturally be targeting them for future expansion. Bankers expect the trend to continue.  Gotta feed and water that global middle class that keeps emerging at 70-75m a year.  Emerging economies are buying up the companies from equity firms that had previously bought them during down times.
  • Great FT story on how Turkey has the Iranian middle class in its sights.  Long history of smuggling inTurkey dips a toe in, would like to drink entire tub eastern Turkey.  Sanctions hold up what could be a major trade, so the black-marketing local Turks mostly smuggle gasoline--and a certain amount of heroin.  But the official goal is clear enough:  be ready to take advantage whenever Iran opens up.  A local Turkish chamber of commerce official floats the notion of a free trade zone at the border. Those 70m underserved Iranian consumers beckon.
  • India's airline industry can't keep up with demand generated by itsGet me planes and pilots--now! booming middle class. Boeing says Indian airlines will buy over 1,000 jets in the next two decades. Already they're forced to have one-in-five pilots be foreigners.
  • Fascinating WSJ story on how China's car economy is going wild, with ordinary Chinese exploring the freedom of the road.  Drive-in service is taking off, weekend jaunts mean hotel business, etc. In past visits I saw a lot of this coming down the pike.  Just like when America's car culture went crazy after WWII, this is a serious social revolution.


Don't forget your meal of eternal happiness!

  • Funny thing about all this South China Sea hubbub: "Corporate ties linking China and Japan have never been stronger," says the WSJ.  Serious driver?  Japan is exporting its mania for golf to China--the fastest growing market for the sport.  It's what middle-class guys do.


Coming soon: the "golf wars"

 

  • WSJ story on Vietnam creating its own Facebook to keep a closer eye on its netizens.  Defeat the anti-capitalist insurgents!What caught my attention: "The team has added online English tests and several state-approved video games, including a violent multi-player contest featuring a band of militants bent on stopping the spread of global capitalism."  I would say we finally won the Vietnam War.

 

8:53AM

WPR's The New Rules: Global Warming Shifts Focus to Friendly North

 

From the Arctic Council's website.

According to virtually all global warming projections, humanity faces significantly more conflict in the decades ahead as we fight over dwindling resources in climate-stressed lands. However, those reports typically overlook one likely outcome that could counterbalance the more negative impacts of global warming -- that of northern territories becoming significantly milder, more accessible, and, most intriguingly, more hospitable to immigration. This is the essential good news to be found in Laurence C. Smith's fascinating new book, "The World in 2050."

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

Read about the book because of Smith's piece in the WSJ, which I blogged.  Asked Putnam for the book and got it pronto.  Like I hint at in the piece, Smith's survey of futurism was only average and didn't really add anything to the book.  I have no idea why he or his editors felt the need to promise "the world in 2050," because the text simply doesn't deliver. But the book-within-the-book on the "New North" was eye-popping. I would have loved to hear more about that and skip all the surveying.

12:02AM

The Great North as globalization's future economic hot zone

WSJ weekend full-pager by Laurence Smith, prof of geography at UCLA, and it's pulled from an upcoming book, "The World in 2050."  Get used to seeing such analysis: exploring global warming's upside--geographically speaking.

A lot of good, fertile land sitting with technologically advanced and relatively wealthy populations will come into play, along with a lot of transportation connectivity made possible or kicked into year-old exploitation.  

This article focuses on the Arctic (above the Circle), and flips Jared Diamond on his head, asking not what makes civilizations perish but what allows them to grow?   His answer:  

First and foremost will be economic incentive, followed by willing settlers, stable rule of law, viable trading partners, friendly neighbors and beneficial climate change.

Point being, you toss in the beneficial climate change and the northern states have all the mixings.

Now, the guy does rightfully call out Russia an an outlier, but my expectation is, Russia will see this as a godsend and fall into the misguided notion of having to dominate to flourish because its geography and experience base will put it in good stead.

Right now the Arctic is a welfare state of sorts: deeply subsidized economic activity that centers on extractive industries (the Core's version of the Gap sans the violence).

Will these wastelands get settled?  Did the barren desert of America's southwest?

The close:

I imagine the high Arctic, in particular, will be rather like Nevada--a landscape nearly empty but with fast-growing towns. Its prime socioeconomic role in the 21st century will not be homestead haven but economic engine, shoveling gas, oil, minerals and fish into the gaping global maw.

Sidenote:  here's another slew of countries China will need to be friends with due to its extreme resource dependencies.

Just thank God we bought Alaska while we could.

While not exactly on topic WRT this piece, it raises the question of whether or not buyers of certain ag commodities could exploit global warming to shift production from current locations to better ones--as in, safer, more stable, easier to control, etc.

12:05AM

You there! Innovate!  Now!

 

Moscow Times op-ed by a biz strategist consultant (via WPR's Media Roundup).

Great rundown here that encapsulates a lot of Russian history:

Eminent Western speakers put forward seemingly logical ideas on modernization and what Russia needs to do to modernize at the Global Policy Forum, which was held in Yaroslavl on Thursday and Friday. But most of them were not Russia experts as such and were thus naively overoptimistic on the country’s willingness and ability to implement change.

Applying Western logic to Russia is a risky business since things here are often the opposite of how things happen in the West. Will this modernization effort be any different from numerous others in Russia’s history?

The problem has always been implementation. Russia has been modernizing on and off since Peter the Great founded St. Petersburg in 1703. Periodically aware of the huge developmental gap with the West, it has never caught up.

As Russian history has shown, Western-style reforms invariably get blown off course by exogenous or endogenous shocks that necessitate short-term crisis management. After that, a conservative reaction sets in because of the fear of losing power after reform attempts fail and are discredited by the people.

Most Russian reform efforts are reactive and short-term, rather than proactive and structural. The result is a country that for centuries has been scraping along the bottom and failing to fulfill its colossal potential.

The government’s strong modernization campaign is concentrating on high technology, and yet it has not even plucked the low-

hanging fruit that would do so much to improve the country’s low productivity, such as radically cutting the number of bureaucrats and amount of red tape.

The Kremlin also has a poor understanding of science, technology and innovation, hence its piecemeal policies on modernization. “Innovation by decree” is one of the least effective models for modernization.

Now try remembering that when it comes to China's much vaunted state capitalism.  The author ends the piece by noting that China's authoritarianism is much more flexible, but the point remains the same: you cannot innovate by decree and if you let real innovation happen, you cannot control it by decree either--and still reap its economic rewards.

12:02AM

China confronts the green-eyed monster abroad

I've been preaching this one directly to the Chinese on trips going back to 2004: as you become the face of globalization, you will run into all the same hatreds that America has long endured--and then you'll want a different military than the one you've been wasting your money on.

From a WAPO piece earlier this month via reader David Emery:

In a spasm of violence this spring, an angry mob toppled the Kyrgyzstan president, torched his office and ransacked other buildings associated with his hated authoritarian regime. The crowd then turned on a less obvious target: a popular Chinese-owned shopping mall stuffed with cheap clothes and electronics from China.

An easy dynamic to spot, and even easier for me to have predicted years ago:

As China pushes beyond its borders in search of markets, jobs and a bigger voice in world affairs, a nation that once boasted of "having friends everywhere" increasingly confronts a problem long faced by the United States: Its wealth and clout might inspire awe and wary respect, but they also generate envy and, at times, violent hostility.

The "ugly Chinese" will compete, side by side, with the "China model"--bet on it.

Yes, no question that Central Asia's future is a whole lot more Chinese than Russian.  Just don't expect it to be a cake walk for anybody.

With great power comes great responsibility--and great envy.

12:05AM

Obama to Russia: Bring it on! . . . to Afghanistan

Putin and Karzai in 2002, so why did it take so long?

NYT story on Russians coming back to Afghanistan, economic connectivity in tow.

Twenty years after the last Russian soldier walked out ofAfghanistan, Moscow is gingerly pushing its way back into the country with business deals and diplomacy, and promises of closer ties to come.

Russia is eager to cooperate on economic matters in part by reviving Soviet-era public works, its president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, said Wednesday during a summit meeting with the leaders of Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Pakistan, the second such four-way meeting organized by Russia in the past year.

In fact, Russia has already begun a broad push into Afghan deal-making, negotiating to refurbish more than 140 Soviet-era installations, like hydroelectric stations, bridges, wells and irrigation systems, in deals that could be worth more than $1 billion. A Russian helicopter company, Vertikal-T, has contracts with NATO and the Afghan government to fly Mi-26 heavy-lift helicopters throughout the country.

The Kremlin is also looking to blunt Islamic extremism in Central Asia, which poses a threat to Russia’s security, particularly in the Caucasus, and to exploit opportunities in the promising Afghan mining and energy industries.

The Kremlin’s return to Afghanistan comes with the support of the Obama administration, which in retooling its war strategy has asked Afghanistan’s neighbors — including Russia, whose forces the United States helped oust — to carry a greater share of the burden of stabilizing the country.

As someone who's complained about the lack of this in our foreign policy, credit must be given to Team Obama. All I can say is, we need a whole lot more of the same, to include the encouragement of efforts by India, China, Turkey and Iran.  Otherwise we get the bed (Pakistan) we made for ourselves.

12:08AM

Russian farmers double-down on the wheat bet

WSJ story on Russian farmers taking the gamble of planting their winter wheat crop absent clear signs that the drought will abate.  Given the lack of slack in global food production chains, everyone will be tracking this planting.

Russia not only needs rain, but well-timed rain.

Elsewhere, Australia faces some locust problems and Argentina comes under the impact of La Nina, so a lot of uncertainty plaguing the system.

American farmers have been making the same calculation that the Russians are doing now:  get in another planting to take advantage of Russia's woes or not, understanding that if the Russian winter wheat crop succeeds, the market could go from too little to too much overnight.

Thrilling days to be in ag futures, one supposes.

12:07AM

More in the "weakened Russia turns to Europe for help" vein

Where are all my "resurgent Russia" guys now?

The severe blow dealt to Russia by the West's financial crisis is prompting a recalibration of Russia's foreign policy. Among the ideas now surfacing in Moscow: a much closer relationship between Russia and the European Union.

After years of rapid economic growth, Russia was hit hard by the crisis. Last year, its economy shrank by 7.9%. That put its economic performance in 206th place out of 213 countries, according to the Central Intelligence Agency.

"What became clear from the financial crisis is that Russia is not a sustainable BRIC," said Mark Leonard, director of the European Council on Foreign Relations . . .

I mean, weren't we supposed to wage another Cold War with Russia because of Georgia?  

Gotta wonder how George Friedman is swallowing all this.

The enthusiastic "Russia is Back" slogans being bandied about two or three years ago have been replaced by growing fears of further decline.

Duh!

This is why the freak-out artists are always good entertainment but bad guides for action: they don't see the feedback loops that increasingly define globalization's connectedness.  They still see the world in 20th (or even 19th) century terms, especially in the primacy of "pow-waaah!" as my friend Hank Gaffney likes to say.  That romantic view of global affairs is quaint all right, but useless.

12:06AM

An India-Iran-Russia package on Afghanistan stability: sounds smarter to me than relying on NATO's staying power

WSJ op-ed via WPR's Media Roundup.  Shanthie Mariet D'Souza is an Indian academic.

The gist of the tripartite vision, as seen from India:

At the moment it's tough to discern what the details of this tripartite cooperation might look like. The overarching goal is to prevent the return of the Taliban to any position of influence in Afghanistan. India would of course welcome any initiative to inhibit the political legitimization of the Taliban and, by extension, Pakistan's influence in Afghanistan. One example is the Indian government's construction of the Zaranj Delaram road, which connects landlocked Afghanistan to Central Asia and Iran, reducing the country's dependence on Pakistan for trade.

India's vision shouldn't be surprising. The country has historically been allied with Iran and Russia, so in some respects Delhi is simply reverting to form. But since the Clinton administration, India has drawn closer to the U.S., both economically and militarily, as a response to the rise of China. Given the Obama administration's strained relationship with Russia and Iran, Delhi will have to proceed cautiously to avoid a rift with its U.S. partner.

This isn't an impossible mission. Even Washington must agree that in the long run, Afghanistan will be better off if all of its neighbors have a stake in the country's stability. When President Obama visits Delhi in November, India should present its roadmap for how it can contribute to this vision, either as a direct participant or as a bridge between the U.S., Russia and Iran.

For years, India pursued a "soft power" approach to Afghanistan that focused on economic aid and development. Its reinvigorated regional diplomacy shows how its role in the region is changing. Unlike in the past, India is a key power that needs to be involved, consulted and heard in discussions on Afghanistan. Washington should take note.

I couldn't agree more.  The lack of this sort of wider regional involvement to date in Obama Administration efforts is very frustrating.

I know, I know.  Admin officials will say, "We've broached this subject with the X's!"  But I would like a bit more than the usual box checking.  Didn't we get enough of that empty gesture from Condi "talking-points" Rice?

12:04AM

The Russian brain drain--very Blade Runner-ish

Anybody still watching?

Newsweek blurb (Newsweek is just columns and blurbs now, and virtually no reporting) on how Russia's professional class is fleeing the country.

So who gets left behind?  Not the get-up-and-go types, because--increasingly--they've gotten up and gone, boding very badly for Russia's business DNA pool. 

Reminds me of the death-and-dying vibe of Earthicans (Futurama term) left behind in "Blade Runner."  A very negative sign.

And once gone, Russian businessmen do not return out of fear of being jailed by policy, who are "colluding with organized criminals to seize control of legitimate businesses."

Putin started this whole trend; now Medvedev tries to reverse by decrying "legal nihilism."

Until the regime gets serious about this, Russia has only a present--no future.

12:05AM

Russians to fuel Iranian reactor: out-of-the-blue shock at 11!

WSJ front-pager.

Russia saying it's going to help start up the Bushehr reactor, a stance the US now supports as quid pro quo for gaining Moscow's agreement to the recent--and fourth--round of UN sanctions.

And so the Obama admin spins positively on the development, even as many experts do the exact opposite. The White House hopes and prays the sanctions work new wonders, but this train continues to roll . . ..

12:02AM

Chart of the Day (part duh!): NATO-Russia convergence of a different sort

Finally read George Friedman's The Next 100 Years and came away thoroughly disappointed.  I think he got some of the ancillaries right, like women's rights, demographics (albeit selectively) and emerging energy technologies, but the scenario?  A thinly-veiled reworking of the 20th century (Russia and China fragmenting, then crisis in the 30s, then world war (Japan again! Turks subbing for Nazis, Poland subbing for Stalinist Russia), America triumphs while discovering new energy technologies and a golden age ensues, only to be threatening by too damn many Mexicans showing up in the 90s.

Whew!

The part that really lost me was Russia having to launch a second cold war this decade because of its extremely exposed northwestern flank (you know, the terrain both Hitler and Napoleon used to invade), as if anybody wants to invade that place!

This Economist piece is about such remnants of the first Cold War. What caught my eye was the Russian military's declining share of GDP.

Seems the Putinesque economic miracle, for as long as it lasted, didn't equate to more attention being shown on the military, especially when the US splurged big time across the decade.

Again, the Russians disappoint.  (Sigh!)

Give Moscow enough time, and I'm sure we'll finally achieve the fabled convergence.

12:05AM

MC Pushkin lives!

Neat WSJ weekend piece on the “surprise” that is Russian rap!

Anybody who’s traveled this world in the last decade can attest to how pervasively rap/hip hop have spread, with even greater impact, I would argue, than rock ‘n roll in decades previous.

Rock was more about cutting loose, but rap and hip hop tend to have a more critical tone regarding the powers that be, and since the main purveyors tend to come from underprivileged urban youth, that’s a more potent signaling function in this day of superempowered individuals pissed off enough to turn to terror.  Not to insinuate a link—anything but, just a powerful association (both terror and jihadism tap into a lot of the same anger and pool of individuals).  

But my sense has always been that rap and hip hop are more of a venting than a mobilization—by far.  Also more of a stirring for progressive political action, so by and large a very positive impact and, in many ways, a counterbalancing medium.

From the story:

To the surprise of many, Russian rap has emerged as an outlet for social protest, with rappers producing songs on such hot-button issues as drugs, police brutality and the immense power of the Kremlin-backed elite.  Although most mainstream, TV-friendly rappers stick to familiar topics, like bling and babes, the Internet has fueled the growth of a vibrant rap underground with socially  conscious songs too provocative for the state-dominated media.

Not all that unfamiliar, yes?  And hardly that much of a surprise for a Russian society that has loved its dissident poets over the centuries, going all the way to Pushkin.

12:09AM

Score one for Obama's talking strategy?

 

Moscow Times op-ed by way of WPR's Media Roundup.

The argument is simple enough: Obama spoke and Moscow actually listened.

During his visit to Moscow one year ago, U.S. President Barack Obama announced what was essentially a new policy toward Russia. After listening to his speech at the New Economic School, the Russian elite, who are accustomed to viewing the world in black-and-white terms, were at a loss. What did Obama propose? A deep and lasting friendship or another Cold War? It seemed obvious that he was offering neither. The most common reaction to Obama’s speech was bewilderment.

Nonetheless, now that one year has passed it is possible to state with some caution that Russia’s political leadership has not only listened to Obama’s suggestions for a new relationship but also accepted some of them in practice.

Above all, Obama gave a broad description of the U.S. position regarding such questions as NATO, international terrorism and economic cooperation. He also said Washington would choose its course independently of Moscow, and that if Russia desired closer relations with the United States, it would get them. If, however, it wanted a new Cold War, it would get that instead. Everything, Obama said, depends on Russia.

That is why it was so difficult for the Russian elite to formulate a reaction to Obama’s speech. They are not accustomed to assuming so much responsibility. Russian policy toward the United States has always been purely reactive. The United States sets the course, and Russia responds to it. Now Washington has offered Moscow a full menu of options, along with full responsibility for its choice.

It was no great surprise that Obama took that position. His choice of Michael McFaul as his top Russia adviser was a sign that there would be neither warm hugs nor a new Cold War. The greatest surprise for me was that the Russian leadership apparently took Obama’s message seriously.

Credit where credit is due, yes?

Old point of mine:  no one acts responsibly until you give them responsibility.

12:05AM

Old acquaintance/colleague Igor Sutyagin freed in "spy swap"

Igor Sutyagin was an arms control researcher at the USA and Canada Institute, which has had a close relationship to my old employer, the Center for Naval Analyses, since Cold War's end. As a result, when I was sent over to Moscow in 1995 to consult with Russian naval flags on the future of U.S.-Russian naval cooperation, Igor was my handler/guide to facilitate meetings.  I found him to be a most excellent fellow and diligent researcher. He was later accused of spying for the US and was clearly railroaded into a conviction in 2004. Word was he suffered mightily in prison, health-wise, so I know everybody who cared about him is ecstatic to hear about his release and wish him well in his new life.

12:03AM

A funny thing happened on the way to rising China

pics here

WSJ story on how Russian oil previously thought destined for China is ending up in US oil refineries stretching from Puget Sound down to LA.  Imports have gone from zero to 100k bpd (barrels per day) overnight, leading to downward price pressure in usually high-priced CA.

Experts expect Russia to become a serious source of oil for the US, which seeks to diversify and recover lost flow from declining Mexico.

Soon enough, some of the flow of the multibillion-dollar Eastern Siberia-Pacific Ocean pipeline will be diverted to China in a spur yet to be completed.  By 2013, Russia's flow to China is expected to rival that of Saudi Arabia's, or roughly 1m bpd.

9:30AM

WPR's The New Rules: U.S. Must Expand its Pool of Allies in Afghanistan

 

With his recent selections of Gens. David Petraeus and James Mattis for command in Afghanistan and Central Command respectively, President Barack Obama signals his understanding that his previously established deadline of mid-2011 to begin drawing down combat troops in the “good war” cannot be met.  The two were co-architects of the military’s renewed embrace of both counterinsurgency operations and the associated nation-building project that by necessity goes along with it. Neither flag officer can be expected to preside over a Vietnam-like exit that once again puts troubled and untrustworthy Pakistan in charge of Afghanistan’s fate.

Read the rest of the column at World Politics Review.