Category Archives: Political Theory

Russian Troops Ukraine

Periodic World Craziness Update # 29

The latest month’s wackiness in the world of international relations, politics, and  brinkmanship.

 Crimea referendum: Voters ‘back Russia union’:  Yep, That had to be a fair election.  It’s not like the Russians don’t have armed troops all over the place there.  I stand by my prediction that the US and EU will meekly submit to whatever Russia wants and go no farther than sanctions despite the Western Guarantee of Ukrainian sovereignty from the 90′s.  Ukraine will probably continue to dominate the news this month as well.

NATO general warns of further Russian aggression:  So, what led NATO’s commander to just now acknowledge the danger that the Crimea will not be enough for Putin?  I would be very curious to see one of his daily intel updates.

Turkish PM defiant after Syrian plane shot down:  We should not forget that the Syrian civil war has not ended.  It is not in the news but the fighting continues and as far as i can tell the government forces are winning.

NATO’s Military Decline:  This is an opinion piece but it brings up a very valid point about some of the main reasons behind the tepid Western response to Russian actions in the Crimea.  The West is largely incapable of mounting an effective military response to Russian aggression if one were required.  Shades of 1938 anyone?

Russian military holds exercises in breakaway Moldova region: Personally, I don’t think Russia will go after Trans-Dnistria next.  I see Russia agitating for the amalgamation of the majority ethnic Russia eastern Ukraine and then seeking Anschluss with Belorussian before they look farther afield.  I also assume the endgame is a reconstitution of Greater Russia along the lines of the pre-Bolshevik borders.

Armed pro-govt militias roil Venezuela protests:  How long until the demonstrators in Venezuela resort to shooting back?  Venezuela is just as volatile, if not more so, than Ukraine was in November when the demonstrations started.  Civil war could start here too as the people begin to feel they have no other choice to better there lot.

Road_RunnerRussian Buildup Stokes Worries & Fighting Words: Schäuble Says Putin’s Crimea Plans Reminiscent of Hitler:  I think the Russian buildup along the border with Ukraine is ominous to say the least.  I also find it ironic that the only political figure in the West willing to call a duck a duck and point out the historical parallels in recent events is the German Finance Minister.  It is also amazing the speed with which other German politicians are running away from his remarks.  I almost expect to see a Roadrunner like rooster tail of dust behind Merkel.

Korea’s Trade Fire; Island Residents in Shelters:  Just when we needed more tension in the world, North Korea starts getting froggy again.  I guess Kim Jong Un is feeling neglected because he has not been in the news lately.

Putin Defies Obama in Syria as Arms Fuel Assad Resurgence:  I just wonder why the writer of this news story thinks Putin should listen to Obama in the first place.  Does anybody on the world stage listen to Obama?  Certainly not North Korea, Iran, Assad, or the Muslim Brotherhood.  At best Obama is treated with fake respect and then ignored.  Russia has interests in keeping Assad in power if for nothing else then to ensure they keep their naval base.

Russia cannot afford ‘collapsing state’ in its backyard: In a display of unparalleled cluelessness the German FM announces what is obviously untrue.  Russia has no problem with a collapsing state in their backyard because Russia is busy encouraging the collapse.  It is the states of the EU that cannot afford Ukraine to collapse and the loss of the strategic buffer that state represents.  European statesmen seem to not realize that Russia is an enemy, or at least is choosing to act as one and really, what is the difference?

Japan to intercept any North Korea missile deemed a threat:  Let us not forget that all is not calm in Asia either.  The North Koreans are still pursuing their own agenda that is at odds with the interests of every nation in the region except China.

Pro-Russians seize eastern Ukraine government buildings:  Stage two of the russian dismantling of Ukraine begins.  I would guess that if Putin can keep his agitators busy he will let the unrest in eastern ukraine simmer until early June sometime after the snap elections. That is of course,  unless he wants to use the agitation as a pretext for military action.  I would guess that is not the case though and the next major Russian move will not come until autumn when he can use Russian control of western European energy supplies as a lever to discourage western intervention.

U.S. accuses Russian agents of stirring eastern Ukraine unrest:  I wonder if Putin is losing control of the agitators in Ukraine.  It would appear that now is a poor time to increase the agitation given that outside nuclear weapons Russia’s biggest strategic threat is cutting off the flow of natural gas to western europe and that is a card that has much less sting at this time of year.  I would guess that Putin just wanted to keep the pot at a low boil until the early fall and the ethnic Russians in Ukraine are forcing his hand.  It just gets more interesting all the time.

Kiev gives pro-Russian protesters 48 hours to end their occupation:  The plot thickens.  I am still convinced that events are moving out of Purin’s control as current events in Eastern Ukraine are sure to alarm the West when alarming the Western powers if the last thing Putin wants right now.  I expect Putin to stand by as Kiev puts down te protest for now but to use the quelling of incipient rebellion later on as rhetorical ammunition to argue in favor of Russian annexation of Eastern Ukraine.  A Sudeten Strategy if you will.

Kiev Government to Deploy Troops in Ukraine’s East‘Russia is waging war against Ukraine’:  It would appear that Ukraine is stealing a march on the separatists and Russia and attempting to seize the initiative as they should have done a month ago.  The question now is a two-parter; will the West support Ukraine to the hilt and will Russia escalate.  If the West supports Ukraine’s efforts to quash the separatists and affirms the sovereignty of Ukraine with concrete measures Russia has no choice but to de-escalate.  If however, the West does not support Ukraine then Russia has nothing to lose by tossing around threats and escalating the war of words and perhaps adding in undeniable military measures inside the territory of a sovereign neighboring state.  I think we are entering a new phase of the Black Sea Crisis.

How History Repeats Itself

I apologize in advance for the blatantly political tone of this piece but I am flabbergasted by what I see happening on the eastern periphery of Europe and the anemic reaction to state on state aggression by the rest of the world.

I read this piece by Justin Logan from the Cato Institute this morning and was struck immediately on how similar in tone this piece is to the rhetoric of the pre-WWII America Firsters.  Is Estonia Worth a War?

I just ask myself are people so blind or so willing to seek peace at any cost that they will not stand up to tyranny until the cost of stopping it is orders of magnitude greater than if they had stood up for principle at the beginning?  The same kinds of arguments against involvement in WWII were made by isolationists in the US and appeasers abroad as Hitler’s Germany slowly re-armed and swallowed its neighbors in the years prior to WWII.

Largely the same process is in action in Russia today.  Whereas Germany felt slighted and unjustly treated after WWI modern Russia feels slighted and mistreated after the unsatisfactory (from their perspective) end to the Cold War.  It is interesting that roughly a generation passed between 1918 and 1939 and roughly a generation has passed between 1989 and 2014.  Russia was stripped of large swaths of territory in the wake of the fall of communism and Germany was stripped of territory, actually split into two separate blocks by the Danzig Corridor, in the wake of Versailles.  The German people felt they were not defeated, (hence the popularity of the stab in the back myth), while many Russians today feel that they were betrayed from within by Gorbachev and Co.  Hitler was an ideologue that fed on and amplified public perceptions of being unjustly handled by the Allies and Putin has done the same in Russia.  As Germany expanded it was only weakly opposed by the Allied powers and we are seeing the same sort of reaction in the West to Putin’s actions.

History seems to be repeating itself before our eyes as yet another European ideologue and dictator forges ahead towards war and an attempt to dominate its neighbors.  Is the West going to stand idly by and allow it to happen again until the cost of stopping it is immeasurably higher?  The stakes are higher this time around because Russia is a nuclear power.  The time to stop Putin and Russia is now and a serious demonstration of Western resolve would achieve without bloodshed what will costs thousands, if not millions of lives later on.

Has the West learned nothing from history other than that War is bad?  There are things worse than war, and if the Western leadership does not find their spine soon they will see what those things are.

 

Ukraine

Periodic World Craziness Update # 28

The latest month’s wackiness in the world of international relations, politics, and  brinkmanship.

 Ukraine crisis: Police storm main Kiev ‘Maidan’ protest camp:  The question on everyone’s mind: Is this the start of the Ukrainian Civil War?  I would guess no but still put the likelihood of Ukraine descending into civil war around 50%.  It would appear that the president is hoping he can wait the protesters out.  A hope that appears misplaced since the coldest part of the winter is about over and warmer weather is on the horizon.  The return of warm weather will actually bring out more protesters and if eh fails to dislodge the protesters now he appears weak, which will just make more people willing to protest the pro-Russia policies.  Ukraine bears watching.  There has not been a truly violent civil war in Europe since 1796 and we might be watching the first clashes of the next.  If civil war happens it will be interesting to see how the rest of the world aligns.

What Happens Next in Venezuela Will Depend on the Military (Opinion):  This story is also worth watching and if anything the potential for civil war is higher in Venezuela than Ukraine because the people have had a longer time to get truly fed up with the incompetent regime and it’s blatant corruption.

Egyptian militants warn tourists to leave or face attack:  Lest we forget, Egypt has not settled down so much as had a lid clamped on it by the Egyptian Army.  I fully expect to see some spectacular attacks in Cairo this year by the Sinai insurgents.

Fears grow that Ukraine’s military could be called into the fray:  I would guess that any attempt to use the troops for domestic policing would definitely provoke a civil war.  The interesting question to me is what would be the EU response if the situation in Ukraine devolves into civil war?  I have suspicions on what it would be but they could surprise me.

Ukraine sets European course after ouster of Yanukovich:  It would appear that a peaceful settlement of the sectional differences in Ukraine is in the offing.  I am not convinced that the issue is settled yet though.  Russia has put a lot of prestige on the table and is quite capable of fomenting trouble with a Ukrainean turn towards Europe.  The country is also split fairly evenly aver the relative advantages of EU integration.  This is not over yet but the signs for an end to the bloodshed and an avoidance of full-fledged civil war are promising.

Pentagon Plans to Shrink Army to Pre-World War II Level:  Who among us did not see the military being drastically cut as the Terror Wars wind down?  Cutting the military fits the pattern and we will once again be aught flat-footed if the country goes to war.  However, we should all take note that while there is plenty of talk about cutting the military budget there is absolutely ZERO discussion about reining in entitlement spending such as welfare and medicaid.  That lets you know where the Admin’s priorities are.  The mob clamors for bread and circuses and the Emperor cuts the Legions to pay for more bread from Egypt.

Government Buildings Seized in Ukraine’s Crimea: The political problems in the Ukraine are not over by a long shot.  The talking heads started patting themselves on the back thinking this thing was over, it is not.  The two sides in the country are split, the main sides are themselves unsure of where to go and the danger is that the radicals on both sides will lead everyone else along as the radicals escalate the violence.  Russia is also a wild card, Russian prestige is at stake in the Ukraine as it has not been for 100 years.

Russian moves raise stakes in Ukraine conflict:  It just keeps on getting better.  Does Russia want a civil war?  The West is going to threaten Moscow with the loss of their lunch money if Putin doesn’t back down and disengage.  Now why would Russia back down?  Western Europe needs Russian gas more than Russia needs Western money.

Crimea votes to join Russia, Obama orders sanctions:  Heck at this rate, I might not even make it to the 15th before war breaks out in the Ukraine.  The West is playing a continual game of catch-up and letting the pro-Russian faction in Ukraine and Putin himself set the agenda.  That is a losing strategy.  The West needs to force Putin to react to them for a change and I don’t think visa restrictions and asset freezing is going to do it.  From where he is sitting right now, Putin can see no credible threat to stop him from annexing both the Crimea and the other ethnically Russian parts of Ukraine.  I just wonder when he is going to start calling that section of the Ukraine the Sudetenland.

Cyber Snake plagues Ukraine networks:  Is his the next stage in Russia’s attempts to separate the Crimea by hampering any military/civilian response on the part of the Ukraine?

Interpol probes more suspect passports from missing flight:  Now this is interesting.  I had no inkling that there would be something fishy other than run of the mill maintenance problems from a third world airline when i read about this plane going down.  The apparent crowd of passengers with bogus or stolen passports is an interesting development and makes me wonder what did cause this plane to go down.  I would expect that if it were terrorism some group would have claimed responsibility by now.  The outcome of the investigation and search for this aircraft bears watching.

Putin mocks the West and threatens to turn off gas supplies:  In another development, I wondered how long it would take Putin to get around to threatening to cut off the energy spigot in a bid to deter Western responses to the Russian aggression against Ukraine.  that question is now answered.  I bet he wished for better timing and a worse winter for Western Europe though.  There is now a good 8 month period until next winter when that threat rings somewhat hollow and allows the West to seek alternate energy supplies.  I would not be surprised to see the UK and Norway frantically trying to up production in the North Sea this summer.

Russian troops seize hospital, missile base in Ukraine’s Crimea:  When is the West and Ukraine going to call the Russian acts in Crimea what they are, Acts of War?  If Russian activities so far don;t amount to aggression what will it take?

Remains of a prematurely detonated Car Bomb (VCIED) outside of Ad-Daw, Iraq in January 2005

Periodic World Craziness Update # 27

The latest month’s wackiness in the world of international relations, politics, and  brinkmanship.

Suicide Bomb Instructor Accidentally Detonates, Kills 21 Students In Iraq:  I just about fell out of my chair laughing when I read this story.  I was reminded of the moron one afternoon in January 2005 who came out of a side road racing towards me and my wingman’s Bradley’s as we were driving into Ad Dawr, Iraq.  As he got to about 300m from our two vehicles his car suddenly disintegrated.  Stuff like this is why Arabs make horrible fighters.

Remains of a prematurely detonated Car Bomb (VCIED) outside of Ad-Daw, Iraq in January 2005

Remains of a prematurely detonated Car Bomb (VCIED) outside of Ad-Daw, Iraq in January 2005

 

North Korea warns South and U.S. over “provocative” drills:  I start to get the feeling that at some point either the US or more likely, South Korea is going to call North Korea’s bluff.

Ukraine protests turn into fiery street battles:  The brewing conflict in Ukraine bears watching.  Ever since the Orange Revolution and the 2010-2011 politically charged ouster and criminal prosecution of former president Yulia Tymoshenko I have been convinced that a day of reckoning is coming in Ukraine between the pro-Western and pro-Russian factions.  It appears that day is here.  The question now is whether the violence will escalate or if a peaceful solution will be found.  I am not sure enough to make a call one way or the other.

Iranian official on nuke deal: ‘We did not agree to dismantle anything’:  I am pretty sure that in the end we will fin out that the only people who benefited from this deal with Iran is Iran.  They probably already have enough enriched Uranium for their needs.  Thus any ‘deal’ with the West is a win-win for them.

Kiev Truce Falls Apart, and Unrest Resurges:  The question I have now is not if but when the situation in the Ukraine will degenerate into civil war and if Russia will send troops to “assist” the regime.  If Russia sends troops will the EU sit idly by and watch the rebellion be crushed is the next question at the top of my list and I am afraid the answer to that one will probably be yes.  I simply cannot envision any European country being willing to risk soldiers lives to help themselves much less the Ukraine.  The only countries I can see helping Ukraine are Poland, Czech, and maybe France or Britain.

North Korea envoy warns on US-South Korea military exercise:  The DPRK begin pounding on the war drums yet again loudly screeching that they are relevant.  The war scares NK generates are rapidly becoming the modern version of the “boy who cried wolf.”

Iraqi army clashes with militants near Fallujah:  based on my personal experience daling with what Iraqis call soldiers I expect that any Iraqi Army attempt to recapture Fallujah and Ramadi will turn into bloody failures.  Arabs in particular are the stereotype of incompetent soldiers as the history of Arab Wars against Israel show.

Germany preparing third financial rescue for Greece:  On the geopolitical front the EU is apparently preparing to get Greece to triple down on the so-far failed policies of their efforts to save the Greeks from themselves.  I just wonder if the EU power brokers seriously think they will ever really get their money back or if they are just playing sops to the northern tier of EU countries.  The continual support to Greece shows that the Eu is in fact a suicide pact, at least as far as Greece is concerned.

Book Review Featured Image

Book Review: A Mad Catastrophe by Geoffrey Wawro

[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the author. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own]

A Mad Catastrophe: The Outbreak of World War I and the Collapse of the Habsburg Empire by Dr. Geoffrey Wawro is the first book I have read about WWI that does not treat Austro-Hungary as an afterthought after the outbreak of the fighting in August 1914.  In fact, Austria-Hungary and the course of the fighting in Serbia and Galicia in the first year of the war is the central theme of the book.  Dr. Wawro applies his usual exhaustive research methods to exploring the course and cause of the Austro-Hungarian demarche to war in 1914.  Given that World War I is also one of my areas of specialty in historical study I won’t say that I agree with him 100%, I rarely do.  However, he provides an insightful look into the reasons why the Austro-Hungarian army failed so miserably in 1914 despite being considered one of the more powerful armies in Europe.

The book itself consists of 385 pages of text with illustrations and maps scattered throughout.  There are 40 pages of notes, a four page bibliography and an extensive index.  The body of the text is divided into 14 chronological chapters that run from the pre-war years to the end of the war.

The main focus of the book is the months leading up to the outbreak of war, the pre-war  diplomatic maneuvering, and the disastrous performance of the Austro-Hungarian army against both the Serbs in Serbia and Russians in Galicia.  He describes the tactical and structural reasons for Austrian failure quite well.

I don’t subscribe to the theory that the Austrians or Germans were at fault for the outbreak of the war.  That is quibbling however, as an argument can certainly be made that the Central Powers bear the lion’s share of the blame.  I just happen to disagree with that interpretation.  Dr. Wawro however, makes a powerful case that Austria is to blame for the war  by the way they frittered away the opportunity for a localized war with Serbia because of internal and external political considerations.

I found it odd that he excoriates the Austrian Army for clinging to outmoded notions of the utility of the bayonet charge in the face of machine guns and quick-firing artillery.  He almost makes out as though the Austrians were the only army to have this idea, which is false.  No European army had anticipated the destructive and defensive potential of these developments prior to 1914.  The Austrians were not the only ones.  The French in particular are notable for their “cult of the offensive” in 1914 which caused the French to suffer massive casualties in the opening months of the war as they launched fruitless mass infantry attacks into the teeth of German machine guns only to be mown down like hay for the harvest.

French Tirailleurs of 1914

French Tirailleurs of 1914

He criticizes the Austrian Army for their choice of a blue-gray uniform that did not provide much in the way of camouflage in the forests of Serbia or the Galician plain.  Blue-gray is actually much better than the sky blue greatcoat and bright red pantaloons that French troops wore without even mentioning the bright fez and baggy pants of the French Tirailleurs Sénégalais of 1914.  The Austrians were not alone in doing stupid things.

Perhaps the biggest failure the Austrian’s can be accused of is their lack of equipment, especially artillery given the way the rest of Europe was armed and their poor efforts at making their multi-ethnic army effective.  Dr. Wawro is absolutely correct that Austrian Army had apparently learned nothing from their drubbing at the hands of Prussian in 1866.  The Austrians had done little to improve integration of ethnicities in the army.  The efforts at integration were also hamstrung by the internal politics of the empire and Franz Joseph’s continual capitulations to the Hungarians after the founding of the dual monarchy.

All in all this is an excellent book that belongs on the shelf of every World War I scholar.  It provides a look at the major belligerent that is largely ignored in most English language scholarship and that played the central role in how, why, and when the war began.

A Mad Catastrophe: The Outbreak of World War I and the Collapse of the Habsburg Empire is a long overdue look at an important facet of World War I.  Dr. Wawro is the scholar to give that facet the treatment it deserve and he does so outstandingly.  I highly recommend this book.  If you only buy one of the flood of World War I books that appear in this year of the Centenary Commemoration of the outbreak of war, this should be it.