Friday, March 04, 2022

On Ukraine: the return of Multipolarity and Hard Power

I've had numerous requests to comment on the conflict in Ukraine, but have been too busy to write anything. 

For background on the situation, I highly recommend the discussion in the video below, released March 3 2022.

To save time, just listen to the presentations by Mearsheimer and McGovern, and their final comments at the end of the video. Both present historical details from the last decade or so that will shock people who only pay attention to mainstream Western media. (Also in the discussion: Jack Matlock, former US Ambassador to the Soviet Union, and Ted Postol, MIT professor and missile expert.)

Ray McGovern is a retired CIA analyst who served as Chief of the Soviet Foreign Policy Branch and preparer/briefer of the President’s Daily Brief. I featured another interview with him in an earlier post on the US catastrophe in Afghanistan: Tragedy of Empire / Mostly Sociopaths at the Top.

Corey Washington and I interviewed John Mearsheimer for the original Manifold, but the episode was not released. It's possible that I might release it some time in the future. 

Mearsheimer has appeared in many posts on this blog. See this March 1 2022 interview in The New Yorker: Why John Mearsheimer Blames the U.S. for the Crisis in Ukraine.

While military and diplomatic aspects of the conflict in Ukraine are worthy of attention, far more important are the long term consequences of Western hysteria and economic war on Russia. Tacit support for Russia from China, India, Brazil, Turkey, OPEC states, indeed perhaps the majority of the world population, may presage a new era of multipolarity and hard power confrontation between great powers.

Why do educated citizens of the countries listed above understand the situation better than the typical American or European? Because they are familiar with Western media propaganda and the history of US imperialism. They are much more likely to understand the facts described by Mearsheimer and McGovern about the recent history of NATO, Ukraine, and Russia leading up to this conflict.

PS I'm surprised there isn't more discussion of systemic risks from defaults of highly networked financial entities that are affected by sanctions on Russia.

This looks dangerous -- like the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy in 2008. Or am I missing some structural reforms that prevent that from happening again? (Maybe the earlier round of sanctions have already decoupled Russia enough...) Or will the central banks that effectively run our economies now simply issue a blanket put, allowing all of our clever money men to go back to sleep? People used to complain about "zombie companies" in some countries with excessive state intervention in their economies. It looks to me like we've had zombie financial markets for some time now...

Added from Comments

Of course I think individuals in TW and UKR have every right to vote / fight for the government they want. 

But they are not likely to get their way as the issue is much more important to their giant neighbor (RUS, PRC) than to the USA or soft Europeans in Brussels. 

They are probably better off negotiating a peaceful coexistence with the nearby great power. Finland "Finlandized" itself and that was probably the best it could do... 

What you are seeing right now in UKR is what great power realists like Mearsheimer *predicted* would happen IF the West gave too much hope to UKR without being willing to actually back it up. 

Now, you may say that Joe Smith in Iowa *should* want to back up UKR or TW, send his son to fight on the front lines there. But it is not the case and we know that. We also knew it 10-15y ago when NATO expansion mischief got started and Mearsheimer made his early cautionary statements on this, as did Kennan, Nitze, Perry, Sam Nunn -- all the old cold warriors who ACTUALLY DEFEATED USSR and understood things better than today's leaders. 

US won't even sanction RUS energy imports to this country... How much pain are we willing to endure for UKR? 

We're going to fight this war to the last Ukrainian... If there isn't a negotiated settlement soon UKR will end up like Iraq and Afghanistan -- abandoned by the US and destroyed. 

I can predict something very similar for TW, even though I have extended family living there right now. Does that count towards emotional commitment / empathy? I'm descended from KMT military officers on both sides of my family tree! 

TW should negotiate for the best deal it can get from PRC and not count on the US to protect it. 


US war hawks want to see PRC blow itself up fighting for TW. The conflict will destroy Asian economies and leave USA largely unscathed (just as WWII did). They don't care about the well-being of ~2-3 billion Asians.  

Some of them just can't help themselves and want to see RUS blow itself up fighting in a UKR trap. But this group is very stupid as they are driving RUS into the arms of PRC and that is going to be very bad for USA. 

Some US war hawks are smarter than others...


US to Ukraine, pointing at Russia: "Let's you and him fight."


William Burns is Biden's CIA Director, and was Ambassador to the Russian Federation. What did he write about Ukraine and NATO expansion? From Peter Beinart's substack:
Two years ago, Burns wrote a memoir entitled, The Back Channel. It directly contradicts the argument being proffered by the administration he now serves. In his book, Burns says over and over that Russians of all ideological stripes—not just Putin—loathed and feared NATO expansion. He quotes a memo he wrote while serving as counselor for political affairs at the US embassy in Moscow in 1995. ‘Hostility to early NATO expansion,” it declares, “is almost universally felt across the domestic political spectrum here.” On the question of extending NATO membership to Ukraine, Burns’ warnings about the breadth of Russian opposition are even more emphatic. “Ukrainian entry into NATO is the brightest of all redlines for the Russian elite (not just Putin),” he wrote in a 2008 memo to then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. “In more than two and a half years of conversations with key Russian players, from knuckle-draggers in the dark recesses of the Kremlin to Putin’s sharpest liberal critics, I have yet to find anyone who views Ukraine in NATO as anything other than a direct challenge to Russian interests.” 
While the Biden administration claims that Putin bears all the blame for the current Ukraine crisis, Burns makes clear that the US helped lay its foundations. By taking advantage of Russian weakness, he argues, Washington fueled the nationalist resentment that Putin exploits today. Burns calls the Clinton administration’s decision to expand NATO to include Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic “premature at best, and needlessly provocative at worst.” And he describes the appetite for revenge it fostered among many in Moscow during Boris Yeltsin’s final years as Russia’s president. “As Russians stewed in their grievance and sense of disadvantage,” Burns writes, “a gathering storm of ‘stab in the back’ theories slowly swirled, leaving a mark on Russia’s relations with the West that would linger for decades.” 
As the Bush administration moved toward opening NATO’s doors to Ukraine, Burns’ warnings about a Russian backlash grew even starker. He told Rice it was “hard to overstate the strategic consequences” of offering NATO membership to Ukraine and predicted that “it will create fertile soil for Russian meddling in Crimea and eastern Ukraine.” Although Burns couldn’t have predicted the specific kind of meddling Putin would employ—either in 2014 when he seized Crimea and fomented a rebellion in Ukraine’s east or today—he warned that the US was helping set in motion the kind of crisis that America faces today. Promise Ukraine membership in NATO, he wrote, and “There could be no doubt that Putin would fight back hard.” 
Were a reporter to read Burns’ quotes to White House press secretary Jen Psaki today, she’d likely accuse them of “parroting Russian talking points.” But Burns is hardly alone. From inside the US government, many officials warned that US policy toward Russia might bring disaster. William Perry, Bill Clinton’s Defense Secretary from 1994 to 1997, almost resigned because of his opposition to NATO expansion. He has since declared that because of its policies in the 1990s, “the United States deserves much of the blame” for the deterioration in relations with Moscow. Steven Pifer, who from 1998 to 2000 served as US ambassador to Ukraine, has called Bush’s 2008 decision to declare that Ukraine would eventually join NATO “a real mistake.” Fiona Hill, who gained fame during the Trump impeachment saga, says that as national intelligence officers for Russia and Eurasia she and her colleagues “warned” Bush that “Putin would view steps to bring Ukraine and Georgia closer to NATO as a provocative move that would likely provoke pre-emptive Russian military action.”
Oh, there's some historical background to all this? Some context? Wait I'm told every day this crisis just happened because Putin went crazy and wants to rebuild the USSR / Russian Empire. 

Who is full of crap? Western governments and media today, or our CIA Director and former Ambassadors and Secretaries of Defense? The whole world ex-USA/EU can see this. It's only Westerners who are brainwashed.

Added March 7 2022: This is a long Chinese analysis of the military aspects of the war so far. They also cite Oryx estimates. Note comparisons near the end of Russian and PLA capabilities.

More from comments:

I certainly sympathize with "Putin bad", "Russia bad place for me to live", "democracy good" sentiments. 

But suppose the realistic possible outcomes are: 

1. Ukr is dominated by Russia but not destroyed in a war 
2. Ukr is dominated by Russia after a brutal war, with its economy destroyed 
3. (Low probability) Ukr escapes Russian domination thanks to strong US support (avoiding WWIII).  
4. (Low probability) US strongly supports Ukr, leading to MAD, WWIII 

To be very definite, suppose that 

I. Given actual past US policies of ~2010-2022 probabilities are P(#1) = P(#2) = 45% and P(#3) = 9% and P(#4) = 1% 

II. Following advice of Mearsheimer, frmr SecDefs Perry and McNamara, CIA director Burns, etc. etc. we have P(#1) = 95% P(#2) = 4%, others much less than 1%. [ i.e., this is a counterfactual scenario that, in my opinion, turns out better! ]
I think this is a REALISTIC characterization. You may disagree. Under my assumptions II is better than I. 

But this is not primarily a normative or moral discussion... we don't disgree there.

Note, in a standard utilitarian framework P(#4) dominates everything else!

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