Gee, I wish we had one of them doomsday machines.
June 29, 2015 10:38 AM   Subscribe

How World War III became possible: A nuclear conflict with Russia is likelier than you think (SLVox).
posted by Cash4Lead (107 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well that's just fucking great - the only thing making the 2000s tolerable for me was the fact that I didn't have to worry about global warming and nuclear war simultaneously.
posted by ryanshepard at 10:48 AM on June 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


Well, be happy, you don't, it's one or the other!
posted by Spanner Nic at 10:51 AM on June 29, 2015 [13 favorites]


I didn't have to worry about global warming and nuclear war simultaneously.
ryanshepard

Maybe nuclear winter will offset global warming, creating an irradiated paradise of super beings.
posted by Sangermaine at 10:53 AM on June 29, 2015 [33 favorites]


The Grexit is also making things very unpredictable. The EU and NATO are both weak in that neither are flexible in the event of even the smallest challenge. And this is being exploited by Russia. To be sure, a cold war has existed for some time now between Russia and the West (ie, Russia has also felt threatened) but at the moment there does not seem to be a way to walk back from war. And the Grexit is going to weaken Europe politically, and expect Russia to capitalize on this weakness in some way. Too bad that the chess game of cold war does not merely end with a checkmate, at which point the game can be restarted.
posted by Nevin at 10:54 AM on June 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Nuclear winter + global warming = problem solved. (The problem, of course, is people.)
posted by entropicamericana at 10:57 AM on June 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


Only a few people were aware of it at the time, but thanks to Petrov, the world had only barely avoided World War III and, potentially, total nuclear annihilation.

Believe I'd be looking for early retirement after a night like that guy had.
posted by jquinby at 10:59 AM on June 29, 2015


Global Nuclear Warming: Is your existence killing you? Find out tonight at 11.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:01 AM on June 29, 2015


Nuclear winter + global warming

"How is Screenplay formed?"
posted by snuffleupagus at 11:02 AM on June 29, 2015 [15 favorites]


Did Petrov get a carriage clock stuck at four to midnight?
posted by The River Ivel at 11:03 AM on June 29, 2015


Maybe nuclear winter will offset global warming, creating an irradiated paradise of super beings.

Might want a Fallout 4 spoiler alert on that.
posted by Celsius1414 at 11:04 AM on June 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


Ehh... It seems pretty obvious that Putin's real goal is to control as much of the interface between Europe and the Middle East as possible.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:04 AM on June 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


On a serious note, this really scares me. Like keeps me up at night sometimes. I'm too young to have experienced the Cold War, but from what I gather this is how people felt. We could all just die at any time if things went really bad and the nukes launched, and I don't really see how this defuses. Putin does not seem anywhere near backing down.
posted by Sangermaine at 11:04 AM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


The flowchart in the sidebar, which describes all the various ways the game could be played out once started, is fascinating (in a horrifying sort of way).
posted by vverse23 at 11:05 AM on June 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm too young to have experienced the Cold War, but from what I gather this is how people felt.

I'm not, and the 80s were a period of protracted dread for me as a result - especially after "Threads", "When the Wind Blows" and "The Day After" gave me fodder for a seemingly endless series of nightmares and awful daydreams. I'm not sure I can bear to go back to worrying about that and add drought, end-times level tropical storms, and ice sheet collapse.
posted by ryanshepard at 11:10 AM on June 29, 2015 [16 favorites]


Sangermaine, that was probably my least favorite thing about growing up in the 80s as a wee one, worrying about nuclear war and being scared to go to sleep.
posted by Kitteh at 11:10 AM on June 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Not sure what was worse: worrying that I'd be killed in a nuclear attack, or worrying that I wouldn't be killed in an attack (War Day was a formative book for me in that regard).
posted by jquinby at 11:13 AM on June 29, 2015 [10 favorites]


Two things that are irritating about the Vox piece: there is not a lot of analysis of the weaknesses and inconsistencies of NATO, especially leading up to Ukraine and the Crimea, and there is not a lot of analysis of how NATO is also playing brinksmanship games with Russia, notably when NATO ignores long-standing conventions and sends large numbers of ships on patrol in the Black Sea (similar to Russian incursions in the Baltic).
posted by Nevin at 11:16 AM on June 29, 2015 [13 favorites]


Back in the heady days of the cold war (for me, that was the 60's), there was this really bizarre and somewhat psychopathic thing people in communities across the country did. People would brag to each other that Russia had x-number of nukes pointed at our very town! I think it was a way of telling each other that their town or small city was actually important enough to be nuked. Civic pride, and all that, y'know.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:20 AM on June 29, 2015 [29 favorites]


I'm 48. I think in my life the United States has had about 5 years or so where they were not at war. At some point you just have to shrug and get on with however much life you get to have.
posted by srboisvert at 11:21 AM on June 29, 2015 [10 favorites]


Close Military Encounters Between Russia and the West in 2014.
Guardian article Nov. 2014
posted by adamvasco at 11:21 AM on June 29, 2015


Too depressing, did not read past the first couple hundred words.

Ignorance is bliss.

Plus, websites that stubbornly refuse to link to a printable version piss me off, not as much say as an unending nuclear winter pisses me off, but still.
posted by Keith Talent at 11:25 AM on June 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm afraid I don't believe in a "limited nuclear exchange." Once a tactical nuke goes off in anger, I suspect its a matter of minutes before the strategic missiles fly, and the first we'll know of it is the EMP that starts the new Dark Age.
posted by Blackanvil at 11:26 AM on June 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


The US already spends more on military than the next 15 nations combined. The clear answer is to spend MORE. (Wait, that's how we bankrupted the Soviets, isn't it?)
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 11:26 AM on June 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Ignorance is bliss.

Well, no. As citizens we have the responsibility to let our leaders know that we do not want war. For example, I have been pretty dismayed at how much of a bellicose asshole Canada (a relative pipsqueak) has become under the Conservatives, banging the drum for war (all in the name of "ethnic votes" and domestic politics). Check out the Twitter feed of the Canadian NATO delegation. Bunch of assholes. The chief asshole, John Baird, has left politics, but I guess I am going to have to write a letter to my (Opposition) MP.
posted by Nevin at 11:28 AM on June 29, 2015 [10 favorites]


*sigh*

not this shit again
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 11:29 AM on June 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


The clear answer is to spend MORE. (Wait, that's how we bankrupted the Soviets, isn't it?)

Unfortunately, the last decade or so has constituted a master class in how to fight a technologically superior army on the cheap.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:31 AM on June 29, 2015 [11 favorites]


Given the construction prowess demonstrated in Sochi, can't wait to see the battles of drones vs tarp.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 11:35 AM on June 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Incentive No. 6,341 to choose our next president wisely.
posted by Iridic at 11:36 AM on June 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


As citizens we have the responsibility to let our leaders know that we do not want war.

I've been protesting against war since my parents took me to anti-Gulf War rallies as a little kid, and if there's one thing that's been made clear to me it's that protest doesn't change anything. Absolutely nobody in power cares if someone like me doesn't want war. Nobody. I wish I was wrong, but I'm pretty sure that writing all the letters in the world would just get me put on a list.

Serious question: is there anything that individuals or activist groups can do that would have even a minuscule effect?
posted by OverlappingElvis at 11:36 AM on June 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


Very interesting article. I expected to skim it, but once I started I couldn't stop reading.

While I understand the focus on NATO vs Russia, there wasn't a single reference to how China, or even India would respond to such an escalation. Does anyone know of any good analyses that might discuss that?
posted by mayonnaises at 11:36 AM on June 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


"... worrying about nuclear war and being scared to go to sleep."

Then, whatever you do, don't read anything about Pakistan's nukes and their ISI.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 11:38 AM on June 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


> The flowchart in the sidebar

Can we single-step that in the IDE first? Just to make sure there aren't any endless loops we're trapped in forever?
posted by jfuller at 11:38 AM on June 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


For our younger MeFites—or the masochists among the older crowd—if you really want to relive what the magic was like to grow up under the shadow of nuclear conflict, I can't recommend Schlosser's Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety enough.

That last paragraph WILL keep you up at night.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 11:38 AM on June 29, 2015 [16 favorites]


The US already spends more on military than the next 15 nations combined.

Is that number PPP adjusted? Are US military procurement projects noticeably more wasteful and inefficient than those in other countries? What are military wages like between the countries under comparison?
posted by cosmic.osmo at 11:38 AM on June 29, 2015


Does anyone have any recommendations for further reading? Preferably from an informed left standpoint?

The trouble with all of this stuff is that we have not one but two, two evil empires crouching toad-like on the world, so a piece like this, which is about Putin-as-megalomaniac-nutter and Russian escalation, seems like only half the story. Every time they were all "it's so crazy that the Russians are afraid of US aggression", I kept thinking "no, they're quite right, it's just that Russia's quite as bad in the other direction".

Honestly, I preferred the eighties, because there was global opposition to nuclear war and there was informed, progressive opinion in the US and the USSR - and youth opinion, and arts opinion - that really wanted detente. It seemed like everyone who mattered understood how crazy it was to even think about having a nuclear war, and it was all the decent people in the world against Reagan and the various Soviet generals. Now it's just this awful mess of post-Soviet nationalism. We were, frankly, better countries during the Cold War than we are now, even though neither was any great shakes.
posted by Frowner at 11:39 AM on June 29, 2015 [17 favorites]


I never worried about nuclear war in the 80's and I'm not about to start now. I have as much likelihood of controlling the outcome as I do earthquakes, so I see no reason to live in constant anxiety. Worrying about nuclear war just seems like drama for drama's sake. I can vote against proposals for armament, but that's all I can do. And I certainly can't control Russia's latest madman, who really bears the responsibility for all of this.
posted by smidgen at 11:40 AM on June 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


For example, I have been pretty dismayed at how much of a bellicose asshole Canada (a relative pipsqueak) has become under the Conservatives, banging the drum for war (all in the name of "ethnic votes" and domestic politics).

Here's hoping we soon go back to being a toothless piece of crap, failing to speak out when our own citizens get murdered by dictatorial regimes (Zahra Kazemi, anyone?), when Russian intelligence agents use our passports, or maybe when Putin decides to protect ethnic Russians living on top of potentially valuable Arctic resources. By all means, let us go back to appeasing and enabling.
posted by Behemoth at 11:45 AM on June 29, 2015


While I understand the focus on NATO vs Russia, there wasn't a single reference to how China, or even India would respond to such an escalation. Does anyone know of any good analyses that might discuss that?

Does anyone have any recommendations for further reading? Preferably from an informed left standpoint?

George Soros: A Partnership with China to Avoid World War, New York Review Of Books
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:48 AM on June 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Another thing - this article spends so much time on nuclear war, but it seems like a land war would be bad enough, and I am not enough of an expert to understand whether this is mostly scare-mongering or not. It might be that even Putin wouldn't want to start with the nuclear exchanges, but it seems pretty obvious that he's willing to fight as much war as Russia can manage, whatever that turns out to be. I would prioritize worrying about an old fashioned war over nuclear.
posted by Frowner at 11:53 AM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Putin's Russia is far scarier than the Soviet Union. In the 1980s, the Soviet Union was the bad guy, but we had at least fooled ourselves into thinking we understood this bad guy to an extent. Putin, meanwhile, seems ready to sacrifice his nation (and the world at large) on an altar of heroic ashes than to consider the consequences of his actions. Even if I'm completely wrong, the fact that I'm prepared to consider this kind of lends credence to the unpredictability of his actions.

That said, I quickly grew tired of the comparisons to the First World War. There isn't a entanglement of treaties to flip off a war. It's one nation, Russia, willing to provoke one military alliance, NATO, into a war. Modern Russia isn't Imperial Russia, nor is it even Imperial Germany - a rising military and economic power. There aren't a number of nations lined up to either side of the line. It's one nation on one side, everyone else generally on the other.

Instead, it's simply a case of a diminished power with a near dictatorial leader who sees his last chance of remaining in power to create comforting lies of national strength at the expense of the reaction of the generally rational actors that surround him nation-wise. The big problem are the big bombs. Not for once, I wish we had some means to simply nullify nuclear weapons, which granted, would probably lead to the development of even scarier biological weapons...humanity sure is awesome.
posted by Atreides at 11:59 AM on June 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


Can we single-step that in the IDE first? Just to make sure there aren't any endless loops we're trapped in forever?

Simple: increment $STALEMATE counter then call THEONLYWAYTOWIN when it gets to, like, 1000 or something.
posted by jquinby at 12:00 PM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Time to get those launch codes ready.. you know the ones that go "0000" :-)
posted by smidgen at 12:04 PM on June 29, 2015


Wait, does this mean Gamma World is coming back into print?
posted by GuyZero at 12:05 PM on June 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


There isn't a entanglement of treaties to flip off a war. It's one nation, Russia, willing to provoke one military alliance, NATO, into a war.

I disagree. There is NATO, and ever since Crimea and the Malaysian airlines flight, the alliance is facing an existential crisis. No one believers the US and other members of the alliance will go to war over one of the Baltic republics. The alliance is internally divided and "brittle". There is not the flexibility to deal proportionally with a small challenge at the moment. It's all or nothing.
posted by Nevin at 12:19 PM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Does anyone have any recommendations for further reading? Preferably from an informed left standpoint?

Stephen F. Cohen (professor emeritus of Russian studies New York University and Princeton University, husband of the Nation's Katrina vanden Heuvel) has been warning about the possibilities of war since the very beginnings of the Ukrainian crisis, and things have been playing out largely as he feared. He's been ostracized, demonized and largely ignored in the Western mainstream media in the months since, but I think he has one of the best reads on what is going on. He has an hour-long discussion with John Batchelor every Tuesday night discussing Ukraine, Russia, and the ongoing crisis on the John Batchelor Show, which is posted as a podcast an hour or two after airing. It's worth listening to.
Here's a link to the June 23rd discussion.
posted by Auden at 1:12 PM on June 29, 2015 [11 favorites]


Here is Threads if anyone would like to watch it. It was an influence on the last Simon Pegg/Edgar Wright movie and it is also a touching kitchen sink drama about regular folks trying to get by in Northern England.
posted by johngoren at 1:15 PM on June 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Vox is not a great source, but there is some really worrisome shit happening. For example this is Reuters from Sunday 14 June:

Lithuania close to ready to accept heavy U.S. arms

Don't these people ever read about the end of the Roman Empire and the end of the Spanish Empire and the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the end of the Ottoman Empire?
posted by bukvich at 1:27 PM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'll really be disappointed if this story ends with President Trump giving the final launch order. Back in the 80s I'd have guessed it would be President Stallone.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 1:29 PM on June 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


Been there, done that, got the FRANKIE SAY WAR! HIDE YOURSELF T-shirt.
posted by kirkaracha at 1:31 PM on June 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Stephen F. Cohen (professor emeritus of Russian studies New York University and Princeton University, husband of the Nation's Katrina vanden Heuvel)

This guy's analysis of the Baltics in this interview is total and absolute bull-shit. I would expect he buys into the entire "spheres of influence" worldview, as opposed to "national self-determination."
posted by Nevin at 1:31 PM on June 29, 2015




...it is also a touching kitchen sink drama about regular folks trying to get by in Northern England.

That's ... an interesting interpretation. Spoiler: not as funny as you think/hope it will be.
posted by Wordshore at 1:34 PM on June 29, 2015 [8 favorites]


He also says that the Baltics have to treat the Russian-speaking minorities "more fairly." It's as though he's unaware of how the minorities got there in the first place, or the fact that the Russians attempted to wipe out, for example, the entire Estonian language and culture following 1945. What a jackass.
posted by Nevin at 1:34 PM on June 29, 2015 [9 favorites]


Every time they were all "it's so crazy that the Russians are afraid of US aggression", I kept thinking "no, they're quite right, it's just that Russia's quite as bad in the other direction".
Frowner

I don't know, it's hard to see why you'd think they are "quite right". It sounds a lot like the propaganda Russia is putting out, that they had to invade Crimea and now have to conduct a crypto-war in the Ukraine.

It seems to take a lot of mental gymnastics to say that the country that actually invaded one neighbor and is currently involved in a war with another was forced into doing so by external powers.

The Russians are right to think the US wants to curtail its power, but what makes you think they're right in viewing the US as an existential threat? I can't think of anything that would support the idea that US wants to wipe Russia off the map.
posted by Sangermaine at 1:35 PM on June 29, 2015 [11 favorites]


Here is Threads if anyone would like to watch it. It was an influence on the last Simon Pegg/Edgar Wright movie and it is also a touching kitchen sink drama about regular folks trying to get by in Northern England.

Do not watch uness you have someone to deliver an immediate hug afterwards.
posted by Artw at 1:35 PM on June 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


Not for once, I wish we had some means to simply nullify nuclear weapons -- posted by Atreides at 1:59 PM

Yeah, I read Nth Man... You wanna talk nuclear nullification? And conventional ground war? And bio-weapons?

Those Moots at the Mink Farm, they really are something fierce. Then it's all about waiting for M'gubgub after that.
posted by symbioid at 1:36 PM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


My best friend from college looooved to talk about Nth Man.
posted by snuffleupagus at 1:40 PM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Not for once, I wish we had some means to simply nullify nuclear weapons, which granted, would probably lead to the development of even scarier biological weapons...

Aw, c'mon, why pick when you can have both! And chemical weapons too! :D
posted by sexyrobot at 1:51 PM on June 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Meanwhile in Syria, Russia is still backing Assad, just as our anonymous government officials claim he's a crazy cornered madman with chemical weapons. Turkey might send troops into Syria.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 1:59 PM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


“How America and Russia Could Start a Nuclear War,” Tom Nichols, The National Interest, 07 May 2015
posted by ob1quixote at 2:03 PM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Having marathon-listened to the Hardcore History series on WWI, "Blueprint for Armageddon," gives an even more depressing backdrop to this article.
posted by edheil at 2:14 PM on June 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


Another excellent piece from The National Interest:

Russia and America: Stumbling to War
Could a U.S. response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine provoke a confrontation that leads to a U.S.-Russian war? [April 20, 2015]
posted by Auden at 2:20 PM on June 29, 2015


chomsky offers some perspective on the situation regarding american hypocrisy
posted by p3on at 2:24 PM on June 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


The Russians are right to think the US wants to curtail its power, but what makes you think they're right in viewing the US as an existential threat? I can't think of anything that would support the idea that US wants to wipe Russia off the map.

I don't know about a real desire to wipe them off the map, but there are some Republicans crazy enough to get into another proxy war with them if they were President. If such a war was somewhere as close as Ukraine it could expand beyond proxy war and then all bets are off. Nobody knows how that would end. I think anybody who deals with America has to account for our crazification factor and the constant threat of major changes in foreign policy thinking depending on the party in power.
posted by Drinky Die at 2:47 PM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sangermaine: Remember that the Russians invited US advisers in after the Soviet Union collapsed to help them reshape their economy. The result was the looting of the mid-90's, a massive drop in the average Russian's life expectancy, and damage that they still haven't quite recovered from. Vladimir Putin's political career was built on bringing these oligarchs to heel. Russia's fear is not that they're going to be wiped out, but that the US's ultimate goal is a 'color revolution' in Russia itself, and a repeat of the 90's looting.

I'd also say that whatever you think of them, there is nothing unpredictable about Russia's actions. Crimea was Russian territory ceded to Ukraine as an anniversary present under the Soviet Union. It's kind of blackly amusing to see the US insisting that the actions of the Soviet union are sacrosanct. Particularly given that the Crimeans themselves had previously voted, twice, for independence.

This is before we get to the fact that having Ukraine join NATO would, from the Russian perspective, be like Canada joining the Warsaw Pact during the cold war. So Putin breaks Crimea away and provides just enough support to the eastern rebels to keep them from loosing, effectively scotching any prospective Ukrainian NATO or EU membership, both of which would require territorial disputes to be settled prior to membership.

The irrational actor in all this, sad to say, is the US and her allies. Why is it in the US's national interest that a Ukrainian speaking oligarch from the west rules Ukraine vs. a Russian speaking oligarch from the east? To borrow a phrase: Why is it worth the bones of a single American soldier? Why is it worth risking a nuclear war?
posted by Grimgrin at 3:39 PM on June 29, 2015 [16 favorites]


I don't know, it's hard to see why you'd think they are "quite right". It sounds a lot like the propaganda Russia is putting out, that they had to invade Crimea and now have to conduct a crypto-war in the Ukraine

I'm not sure what is meant here--you don't have to look very far back for examples of the US claiming they had no choice but to invade a country. US aggression was a pretty big part of the last decade. Also in the last decade the US was trying to build a missile shield near Russia, ostensibly for missiles from Iran, but still. Not hard to see why Russia would object to that and maybe suspect Iran wasn't the real reason.
posted by Hoopo at 3:40 PM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


I follow former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul on both Twitter and Facebook and he regularly posts things on Russia. I think he has also engaged with commenters in the past. He is very, very smart.

A recent tweet: NATO will never invade Russia
posted by triggerfinger at 4:13 PM on June 29, 2015


None of these things make any state able to overcome the very huge problem that nuclear wars are simply too costly to fight. There's a reason that nuclear armed states do not engage in total war.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 4:45 PM on June 29, 2015


Other than voting for progressives, what else can we do? Why fear monger? For clicks? Despicable.
posted by Beholder at 4:51 PM on June 29, 2015


We should never have stopped worrying about a nuclear war. Even a limited nuclear exchange between any two nuclear powers would create an environmental and humanitarian disaster. Nuclear weapons are useless.

The U.S. should commit to unilateral nuclear disarmerment. Deterrence is a poor long term strategy which has failed to work in other contexts. Accidental use of the weapons is a near certainty over time. The weapons cost billions of dollars a year.
posted by humanfont at 4:58 PM on June 29, 2015 [8 favorites]


The irrational actor in all this, sad to say, is the US and her allies. Why is it in the US's national interest that a Ukrainian speaking oligarch from the west rules Ukraine vs. a Russian speaking oligarch from the east? To borrow a phrase: Why is it worth the bones of a single American soldier? Why is it worth risking a nuclear war?

The national interest isn't what oligarch is in charge (although you'd probably find very few people in Washington that would prefer a Russian guy in charge) but in the integrity of NATO as a united front against an apparently new wave of (Russian?) imperialism. This cannot be accomplished if NATO members become tolerant, or worse, complicit in the piecemeal annexation of land from small Baltic states in the name of bogus security concerns for ethnic Russians that Putin dreams up.

But I also wrestle with the notion that areas with a majority of ethnic Russians (i.e. Crimea) they should be free to choose which horse they hitch their wagon to. We could say "just let the baby [Putin] have his bottle" to the Baltics and give up Russian majority territory. But then again it all stinks of appeasement and Czechoslovakia all over again and we all know how that turned out.
posted by Talez at 5:19 PM on June 29, 2015 [3 favorites]




I think McFaul is very smart, but how did he help the United States realize that country's political aims during his tenure?

That's a good article, thanks. It led me to look up former Ambassador (before McFaul) John Beyrle, who was by all accounts very well-liked amongst Russians. There doesn't seem to be much on the internet that I can find with his take on things, but I did find this (from 2014): Is the West At a Breaking Point With Russia?
posted by triggerfinger at 6:46 PM on June 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think this analysis suffers from the kind of bias you tend to see when the writer is more familiar with one party than he is with the other.

So in this case the weakness and disadvantage is all on the side of NATO/Europe/the USA because that's the milieu the writer is familiar with. Not so much Russia, and therefore Russia stronk.

But Russia not stronk. Russia actually weak. Russia under sanctions, and running out of money. Russia has a bunch of internal tensions that make military adventures unlikely to succeed. Russia risks more by losing to NATO than NATO does.

Putin does what he does because it plays well to an internal audience. He can mess with Ukraine because Ukraine is not a member of NATO, so the risk is low. He cannot escalate beyond that because the economic repercussions will rapidly overwhelm his government.

In short, I think this analysis is well-meant, but it is very one-sided and ends up alarmist.
posted by um at 6:52 PM on June 29, 2015 [10 favorites]


I grew up in the Chicago burbs, and I remember trying to figure out by using the encyclopedia whether we'd be killed immediately in an attack on downtown Chicago. Those were scary times. And Reagan made it scarier. Throw in John Wayne Gacy and the government's response to AIDS, and I'm surprised I ever left the basement.
posted by persona au gratin at 6:53 PM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


And Reagan made it scarier.

Seeing Reagan and Thatcher's smug, scowling, constipated faces on the nightly news every evening convinced me, in an inarticulate way, that I wouldn't live to be an adult. Coming of age at the terminal end of the Cold War led to a deep-seated, reflexive assumption that anyone in a position of power was very likely a ghoul - I've never been able to let go of it, either.
posted by ryanshepard at 7:06 PM on June 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


Talez: In my lifetime, first Slobodan Milošević was Hitler and doing nothing would be like Chamberlain and Munich; then Saddam Hussein was Hitler doing nothing would be like Chamberlain and Munich; then Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was Hitler doing nothing would be like Chamberlain and Munich; and now Vladimir Putin is Hitler and doing nothing would be like Chamberlain and Munich. You will forgive me if I'm a wee bit Hitlered out. Particularly given that Kosovo is now run by people implicated in human organ harvesting; ISIS; and I will admit that they were right about Ahmadinejad though, Hitler announced he was going to set up university after leaving office as well.
posted by Grimgrin at 7:30 PM on June 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


The Chamberlain / Hitler analogy is a false dichotomy. Estonia is part of NATO. NATO has a legal obligation to defend Estonia. I don't know what the mechanism would be to say to Russia "hey, you can have Estonia."

The more troubling scenario is what happens if Russia attacks non-aligned states like Finland (which is part of the EU) or Sweden.
posted by Nevin at 7:38 PM on June 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Russia actually weak. Russia under sanctions, and running out of money.

Weak, or cornered?
posted by acb at 7:51 PM on June 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Estonia is part of NATO. NATO has a legal obligation to defend Estonia. I don't know what the mechanism would be to say to Russia "hey, you can have Estonia."

But the article addresses that exact thing, and there seems to be some doubt on whether NATO member nations would risk a full-blown war to defend Estonia, especially if, due to technology ("hybrid war"), it can't even be decided whether or not Russia had even crossed the line into war. I don't know what the mechanism would be either, but I don't know how solid that framework really is.

"To destroy NATO, to demonstrate that Article V does not work, the Baltic republics of Estonia and Latvia are the best place for this," he said. "It's happening now, every day. Intrusions into the airspace, psychological pressure, the propaganda on TV."

He suggested that Putin, rather than rolling Russian tanks across the border, would perhaps seed unmarked Russian special forces into, say, the Russian-majority city of Narva in Estonia, where they would organize localized violence or a phony independence referendum.

A handful of such unacknowledged forces, whom Putin referred to as "little green men" after they appeared in Crimea, would perhaps be dressed as local volunteers or a far-right gang; they might be joined by vigilantes, as they were in eastern Ukraine. They would almost certainly be aided by a wave of Russian propaganda, making it harder for outsiders to differentiate unmarked Russian troops from civilian volunteers, to determine who was fighting where and had started what.

Such an intervention would force NATO into an impossible choice: Are you really going to open fire on some hoodlums stirring up trouble in Estonia, knowing they might actually be unmarked Russian troops? Would you risk the first major European war since 1945, all to eject some unmarked Russian troops from the Estonian town of Narva?

Putin, Piontkovsky believes, is gambling that the answer is no. That NATO would not intervene, thus effectively abandoning its commitment to defend its Eastern European member states.

Piontkovsky's scenario, once considered extreme, is now widely seen by Western security experts and policymakers as plausible.

posted by triggerfinger at 8:08 PM on June 29, 2015


"you don't have to look very far back for examples of the Russia claiming they had no choice but to invade a country. Russian aggression was a pretty big part of the last decade."
posted by clavdivs at 8:09 PM on June 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Weak, or cornered?

Think of it this way: how does fighting, and inevitably losing, a war against NATO serve Putin? The sanctions will one day be lifted, and Putin can come out of it with his image intact. His image cannot survive losing a war against the effete, decadent, possibly homosexual armies of Europe.

As long as he doesn't actually fight, he can project an image of strength. Once he goes to war the Russian people get to see how weak the Putin government really is. The posturing is first and foremost for domestic consumption. The fact that Western analysts think it indicates real belligerence is just gravy.
posted by um at 8:39 PM on June 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


> Perhaps most drastically, [Putin] appears to have undone the 1987 INF Treaty, reintroducing the long-banned nuclear weapons.

Hey, remember that time we unilaterally backed out of the ABM treaty just so we could deploy the fuck out of an experimental weapon all along the Russian border? Turns out that idea doesn't look any less shit 13 years later!
posted by 7segment at 10:15 PM on June 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


But the article addresses that exact thing, and there seems to be some doubt on whether NATO member nations would risk a full-blown war to defend Estonia, especially if, due to technology ("hybrid war"), it can't even be decided whether or not Russia had even crossed the line into war. I don't know what the mechanism would be either, but I don't know how solid that framework really is.

Well, yeah, that's the thing - everything is so unpredictable. Officially at least, NATO must protect Estonia. Unofficially, it's hard to say what the European members of NATO might do, besides Poland and Britain. That's why US "leadership" is so key. But the ambiguity of NATO's commitment to Estonia is what could cause a war.

Still, I don't see NATO ever saying to Russia: you win, Estonia belongs in your sphere. But if Russia did invade, then I think NATO would have no choice to retaliate.
posted by Nevin at 10:30 PM on June 29, 2015


The national interest isn't what oligarch is in charge (although you'd probably find very few people in Washington that would prefer a Russian guy in charge) but in the integrity of NATO as a united front against an apparently new wave of (Russian?) imperialism.

Please. The "new wave of Russian imperialism" is essentially a reaction to US moves in Europe.

The USA, like every other Great Power, does not wish its allies to be too secure or too independent. NATO is therefore a two-edged sword: it protects Europe from Russian adventurism, but it also threatens Europe by making that adventurism more likely. A disinterested foreign policy would keep NATO in its current state: Europe is certainly not as vulnerable as it was during the Cold War, so why stir things up? Instead the USA has used NATO deployments as a way to tease Russia, both by further deployments and by hinting that it would extend its reach to Russia's most direct neighbours. Russia reacts and then Presto! Europe is vulnerable again, Europe needs the USA again.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:47 PM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


I really don't see the Baltic situation playing out at all, tbh.

Yes, there's a fuckton of muscle in Kaliningrad, enough to be very nervous about, but it seems to me that it's mostly just there to ensure Saint Petersburg remains a viable port; it's massively important to the Russian economy. As much as I love to slag on Putin at every opportunity, his dick-swinging in the Baltic, while certainly overkill in the form it's taken if reports are accurate, seems like a relatively reasonable and necessary precaution. Any transgression beyond mere bluster and intimidation, however, would be forcing NATO's hand, and would very much defeat the purpose.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:28 PM on June 29, 2015


I haven't read the article, but I saw that flowchart yesterday. And I think the other scenarios discussed in the article - the ones involving accidents or military exercises taken for an attack - are, at this point, far more likely than a scenario involving popular unrest in Narva. They look at population numbers and conclude that north east Estonia is ripe for picking by Putin, just like Crimea, but what they ignore is the differences in social cohesion. I think they grossly overestimate the well-being of the Ukrainian society and underestimate that of the Estonian society. To find enough people to start a popular revolt (be it with or without scare quotes) the way it happened in Ukraine, you need a significant number of folks driven to the point where where they have nothing to lose or where they're apathetic enough towards the situation that those few who think they've got something to gain from breaking their ties with the rest of the society are allowed to operate freely. And I think we're pretty far from a situation like this.
posted by daniel_charms at 11:36 PM on June 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


From what I gather from my conversations with Russians, they seem to think that a war with China is more likely (in the long run).
posted by nicolin at 11:44 PM on June 29, 2015


China is very well placed right now; the last thing it wants is a war. It's literally constructing territory in the South China Sea; it has major resource projects going in Africa; and there's a mooted project to create a competitor for the Suez Canal, passing through Israel.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:52 AM on June 30, 2015


Vox is not a great source

Could someone please elaborate on this? I see this notion thrown around, but don't really understand the basis for it.
posted by jbickers at 4:11 AM on June 30, 2015


Vladimir Putin's political career was built on bringing these oligarchs to heel.

Goodness me what an unorthodox and patchy revision of history. Putin is one of the oligarchs, and most of his friends are, too. The only ones who got locked up were the ones opposing him. Goodness I'm open to some nuance on this topic, but your comment was like something off Russia Today.
posted by smoke at 4:41 AM on June 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


And BBC had this in April:

Estonia President Toomas Ilves seeks permanent Nato force
posted by bukvich at 5:12 AM on June 30, 2015


Yes, Estonia is a lot more peaceful and a lot more prosperous than Ukraine, there's little chance of a major separatist movement. Still, it's worth keeping in mind that the Russian minority is little-to-not-at-all integrated - a lot didn't even bother getting citizenship, and Estonian-speaking Estonians consider them foreign for all practical purposes. The government is keeping a close eye on them and making sure there's nothing happening that could give Putin a shadow of an excuse to intervene.

On the good side, I think the Russian minority heavily skews towards advanced age, except maybe on the Eastern border. I have met a lot of Russian-only speakers in Tallinn, but they were all well into their 60s. The younger and non-Russians consider themselves Western, not even Scandinavian. That prevents internal support from any fighting-age population, so there wouldn't be much ground for hidden-flag operations like in Ukraine.
posted by Spanner Nic at 5:27 AM on June 30, 2015


"you don't have to look very far back for examples of the Russia claiming they had no choice but to invade a country. Russian aggression was a pretty big part of the last decade."

I thought it was pretty clear I was responding to the notion expressed above that Russia has no reason to be at all concerned wth US aggression as a threat to their interests. "Yeah but Russia does it too" is not really germane to looking at what Putin might see as a threat to whatever batshit plans he has in mind.
posted by Hoopo at 6:47 AM on June 30, 2015


I have no particular love for mother Russia, as I was a nervous child in the 1980s west, but surely North Americans can see that Russia has a strong interest in the Ukrainian/Balkan neighbourhood.
How would the US react if Russia orchestrated an election victory in Mexico of a leadership opposed to the US and open to Russian co-operation?
Probably not by invading Baja, admittedly, but there would be a very strong feeling within the US that Russia should butt-the-hell-out from countries that are none of its business.
posted by bystander at 6:51 AM on June 30, 2015


How would the US react if Russia orchestrated an election victory in Mexico of a leadership opposed to the US and open to Russian co-operation?

Swap Russia out with China and Mexico with Central America and that's slowly happening right now.
posted by Atreides at 7:18 AM on June 30, 2015


But I also wrestle with the notion that areas with a majority of ethnic Russians (i.e. Crimea) they should be free to choose which horse they hitch their wagon to. We could say "just let the baby [Putin] have his bottle" to the Baltics and give up Russian majority territory.

I totally agree with this and don't understand why this thinking doesn't have more traction. Get NATO or the EU to come up with a generous resettlement offer - US $500,000 to every ethnic Russian in Estonia that will renounce their Baltic citizenship and "go home". Cede Narva. Georgia unilaterally recognizing South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Ukraine ceding everything east of the Dnipro to the rebels. Fuck it, as long as Russia has these fifth columnists in place there is not going to be real independence for the ex-Soviet states. Russian colonization happened for a clear reason. If this issue isn't resolved in some way the problem will never go away. It isn't appeasement, it is rational self interest to reject the poison pill.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:30 AM on June 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have no particular love for mother Russia, as I was a nervous child in the 1980s west, but surely North Americans can see that Russia has a strong interest in the Ukrainian/Balkan neighbourhood.

I just don't understand this line of thinking (and I'm not exactly sire how the Balkans is relevant in this discussion). It's as if "self-determination" is unimportant, and instead one should believe in imperial or colonial "spheres of influence."

It just reminds me of what Tom Nichols said in the podcast which is, frankly, offensive.
posted by Nevin at 10:04 AM on June 30, 2015


Vox is not a great source
I just think it's a case of haters gotta hate / your favourite band sucks sort of thing. I started to notice their stories more towards the later half of 2014 and they seem (to me) to be coming up with interesting stuff. Of course all the cool kids in first world countries might disagee. Fuck em.
posted by adamvasco at 11:01 AM on June 30, 2015


Eh, I wouldn't (and I don't) rely on Vox for nuanced foreign policy analysis. It wasn't a bad article, though, but was more soft serve yogurt than actual ice cream.

I guess not embracing Vox makes me a hater :)
posted by Nevin at 11:21 AM on June 30, 2015


And USA Today had this in may:

Biden cracks door to lethal aid to Ukraine
posted by bukvich at 12:50 PM on June 30, 2015


FFFFUUUUUUUUUU...
posted by Wordshore at 1:55 PM on June 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


Seconding "command and control" for those who lived though any of the cold war. It was like ... returning to a nightmare with a tour guide to point out the stuff that didn't terrify you quite thoroughly enough the first time around.
posted by ead at 9:38 PM on June 30, 2015


Also the fall 2014 issue of foreign affairs has some good discussion of the escalation patterns on Russia/NATO relations. It's ... somewhat unflattering to NATO.
posted by ead at 9:43 PM on June 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


FFFFUUUUUUUUUU...

I think the funniest part of the original piece of news, unfortunately left out of the BBC piece, was how the source cautioned the MPs making such requests that a) there was no legal basis for the annexation of Crimea, either, even though he considered it a "moot point by now", and b) if they keep digging at this, they'll eventually have to concede that the formation of the Soviet Union also wasn't exactly legal.
posted by daniel_charms at 1:19 AM on July 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Can we at least get, like, another space race out of this? No?
posted by Sokka shot first at 4:26 AM on July 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


We do, it is paying the Russians before they give us ride into space
posted by clavdivs at 8:09 PM on July 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


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