Shifting Winds: The End Of Pax Americana

Every once in a while, there occurs a major shift in the international arena. The First World War and its consequences were the seminal change of the last century, collapsing ancient empires and ushering in a new era of ethno-nationalist clashes, political radicalism and emerging powers challenging the established order of Versailles, forces that were fully unleashed in the aftermath of the Great Depression. From the middle of the Second World War, it became clear that the new world order would be defined by a bipolar competition between the USSR and the US. The next major shift occurred with the oil shocks of the 1970’s, when growth throughout the industrialized world, capitalist and socialist alike, declined, and they were beset with increasing social problems, while the beginning of the rise of China and the economic re-emergence of Western Europe and Japan heralded a new, globalizing multipolarity that was confirmed by the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the USSR.

The next two decades saw the triumph of “Western liberal democracy as the final form of government” and the spread of the neoliberal consensus, all underwritten by American military dominance and the new resources unlocked by the opening of formerly autarkic economies. Generally speaking, this was a rather peaceful and prosperous time. Though wars continued and there was the occasional genocide in Rwanda or Darfur, the overall incidence of violence declined sharply in all categories, the sole exception being terrorism. Similarly, the opening up of world trade sharply increased consumer power in the US and Europe as China’s reserve armies of labor set about producing cheap goods, a process lubricated by cheap oil, gargantuan freighters and developments in supply-chain management. And though its flowers still bloom and the politicians smile and exude the air that nothing’s much amiss, the winds of time are shifting, the sun is already setting on this world, and darkness is about to creep in.

Quite literally. The cheap oil that underpins industrial civilization is ending, as the world approaches peak oil production – the point when about half of recoverable reserves have been taken out of the ground. The remaining half lies in remoter places and will be much harder to extract, especially taking into account that the resources for doing so will be significantly more limited due to the collapse of the world credit system, a system that should have died a free-market death in late 2008, but which limps on, zombie-like, sustained by governments whose solvency now hangs by a thread only maintained by investors still naive enough to believe in their credibility.

This is because the defining feature of this crisis is not so much even the collapse of world industrial output and trade, which was by itself unprecedented in its magnitude this century except by the Great Depression, but the sheer burden of bad debts and fiscal obligations accumulated by  governments in the developed world, especially in the Anglo-Saxon world. First, they are running unprecedented peacetime budgets – both as a consequence of their disastrous pro-cyclical spending during the fat years, and to fund the stimuluses with which they hope to get their economies out of the rut. Second, they printed lots of money under the euphemism of “quantitative easing”. Third, they carried over private losses and bad debts onto the public account – socialism for the rich, capitalism for the rest.

In the next few years, according to commentators like Willem Buiter, these reckless policies are going to lead to classic emerging-market currency crises in the Anglosphere, or “submerging markets” as he calls them. This is not surprising. Taking the United States as the most significant and typical example, to run the kind of deficits projected – 13% of GDP this year, over 10% again in 2010, and red into the rest of Obama’s term even under the rosiest projections – requires a very credible commitment to returning to a balanced budget within a limited timeframe.

First, this requires a rapid economic recovery. However, all the monetary and fiscal tools for accomplishing this have already been used at and beyond their limits. In the 1980’s, once the task of breaking inflation was accomplished, interest rates were eased back and the economy recovered rapidly. Today, interest rates have already been cut to minimal levels and the economy seems to have bottomed, but even so it remains extremely feeble, with the real unemployment rate (“U-6”) currently at 16.8% and rising. Recovery is likely to be slow as households begin to pay off their debts instead of increasing consumption, the linchpin of the US economy. If it is politically feasible (uncertain) and should there be high inflation brought on by the recent monetary splurge and once-again soaring oil prices (almost certain), interest rates will have to be raised, which risks short-circuiting a feeble recovery.

Second, even during the mis-named “Bush boom” growth was large jobless and inequality-enhancing, with half coming from distribution (the “Wal-Mart effect) and the other half from better productivity from financial services!, as measured by the number of transactions undertaken. These are not going to be repeated, the first because rising energy prices are increasingly making the JIT distribution model untenable, the second because the financial system, outside of a few well-connected insiders like Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan, now lives on government guarantees.

Third, the next years are going to see rising demands for social spending as younger Americans make themselves heard, whose worldviews are relatively more socialist and European-like. The rising number of retiring baby boomers will necessitate far more Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid spending, out of funds that will simply not be there because the cookie jars were looted a long time ago. Then there’s the whole chimera about greencollar jobs. In principle, as a convinced peakist with serious concerns about the consequences of anthropogenic global warming, I support subsidizing green industries like renewable energy and hybrid automobiles. But these are luxuries only a more prudent economy could afford, like China. In the US, it will result in very few jobs being created and will constitute further drains on its fiscal credibility – and hence the means of sustaining this very program. More spending on healthcare? The sector is already horrifically bloated, and should if anything be reduced and rationalized.

So in conclusion, the US faces years of relative stagnation, and no credible way of paying back its metastasizing public debt. As long as investors stick it out and rates remain low, this remains a sustainable, albeit unsatisfactory, state of affairs. The reason the US Treasury rates fell so low and the country even tipped over into deflation was that the global equity collapse had investors fleeing to the perceived haven of last resort – US Treasury bonds. Yet as I pointed out in Decoupling from the Unwinding, one of the effects of this crisis will be to decisively sever the links between the West and the Rest (emerging markets). In a few more years, investors will realize that whereas China has real long-term growth prospects, they are unlikely to ever see positive returns on their US bond investments, as the US gradually monetizes its debt. They will jump ship, resulting in rising rates on US debt and making it increasingly unaffordable to service. Unless they inflate it away, of course. Would you like to die by ice or fire?

Let’s whimsically set the date for this collapse for August 2012. The liberal international order, Pax Americana, will collapse with it. However, there will be numerous signs of its slow demise well beforehand, which will be reflected in geopolitical events.

The focal point is the Middle East, that great intersection of energy, power, instability and hatred. Iran is continuing in its efforts to build a nuclear bomb to consolidate the new Persian empire. It is currently strong, demographically, but destined to get weaker as the younger, sub-replacement level generations become adults. The regime is also increasingly ideologically insecure. The nation is currently at around where the Soviet Union was in the early-1980’s on its belief matrix – the egalitarian, totalitarian ideals of the Islamic Revolution are now a distant memory, clouded over by the drugs, lasciviousness, and Westernization now typical of its larger cities. Part of the population yearns for the West, disillusioned with their own society and skeptical of the clear evidence of clerical corruption. Yet the most influential clerical elites have retrenched around the hardline Ahmadinejad and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRCG), who want to return to a future of austere Islamic government. Thus there is currently a revival of radicalism in the Islamic Republic, less potent than in the 1980’s, yet now married to its greater technological capabilities. This revival is almost certainly destined to be short-lived, but has the potential to go out with a bang.

This possibility must be considered especially seriously given that Israel is now ruled by Benjamin Netanyahu, a man who in 2007 opined: “It’s 1938, and Iran is Germany, and Iran is racing to arm itself with atomic bombs”. It is likely that were it not for US restraint, the Israelis would have long since bombed Iranian nuclear and military facilities. They have received permission from Saudi Arabia, via backdoor diplomatic channels, to fly over their territory to do so. This is unsurprising, because the Gulf monarchies face a significant challenge from Iran, which foments Shi’ite unrest in Bahrain and parts of Saudi Arabia, and is suspected of funding a Shi’ite insurgency in northwest Yemen that threatens to spill over the borders. Though moderate Arab rulers pay lip service to Islamism, they certainly have no intention of allowing it to infringe on their political power. Iran’s other lever is its control of Hezbollah, an impressively disciplined organization that managed to (arguably) win a war against Israel in 2006. Though they do not pose an existential threat to Israel, they can create an serious political and strategic problem through massed rocket attacks, to counter which Israel is now assembling a multi-layered, world-class ABM system.

If Iran gets the bomb, it will unleash a Middle Eastern arms race, in which Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey will feel compelled to build up arsenals of their own. Iran will become much more confident about sponsoring Shi’ite separatism and drawing Iraq closer into its fold. In the endgame, the US cannot allow this challenge to its hegemony in the oil-rich Middle East to go unanswered, in particular the dependence of the Gulf States and now Iraq on its military tutelage, no matter the cost of meeting the call. It will strike Iran, or give Israel the go-ahead, well before Iran comes close to testing its bomb.

The pressure will be ratcheted up gradually. If talks scheduled for 1st October 2009 fail to achieve any Iranian compromises on its nuclear program, as usual, then the US will probably activate what it calls “crippling” sanctions on Iran with the connivance of Britain and France, especially targeting the 40% of gasoline it imports. In practice, this is unlikely to achieve much, especially since Russia – having received no firm guarantees from Washington recognizing its desired sphere of influence over the post-Soviet space – will likely help Iran shrug off sanctions by allowing Iran to satisfy its shortages through imports from Russia’s Caspian ports.

This talk of Russia’s role brings us to another point. The US is currently in a profound strategic dilemma, having to choose three areas in which to exert its strength – in particular its limited manpower: a) Afghanistan / Pakistan and the “war on terror”, b) blocking the arrival of a new Persian Empire with nukes and c) containing a resurgent Russia possibly intent on rebuilding its own old empire.

The recent American successes in Iraq have generally stabilized the country, though smaller-scale violence lingers on and might well flare up again should pressure be loosened up. This necessitates that the bulk of US military manpower remains locked up in Iraq, which gives nations like Russia, which desires to reverse its post-1991 geopolitical losses, a “window of opportunity” to make its challenge. And although the US presence in Iraq is winding down, it is simultaneously becoming pressured by requirements elsewhere – as of today, counting contractors, there are more Americans fighting in Afghanistan today than the Soviets deployed at their peak. (A common counter-argument is that of the 120,000 armed US personnel stationed there, some 68,000 are contractors who mainly do things like fixing electrical lines or washing pots and pans; however, the comparison remains valid because these would be the functional equivalent of Soviet “Class C” divisions mostly concerned with logistical issues).

The Afghanistan quagmire will likely be seen by future historians as an American strategic blunder of the first magnitude. First, it developed as a simple reaction to al-Qaeda’s use of Afghanistan as a base to plot out the 9/11 attacks, yet apart from that, the expansionist Taleban were a much bigger problem for Iran and Russia than for the US (even as the US oil corporation Unocal, with the backing of the CIA, was negotiating with the Taleban over the construction of a Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline to carry natural gas from Turkmenistan to the Indian subcontinent in 1998, Iran was seriously threatening war with the Taleban for the murder of Iranian diplomats). By keeping Afghanistan and the Central Asian jihadi threat suppressed, the US uses its own resources to spare Russia’s and Iran’s from the necessary work of patrolling Afghanistan’s borders, aiding the Northern Alliance and other anti-Taleban insurgents, intercepting jihadi aid to their domestic Islamic militants and maintaining the stability of the Central Asian republics. Hence Russia’s generally quiescent attitude towards allowing the US to transport non-military supplies to Afghanistan and usage of Central Asian bases.

Second, and more importantly, the US is not fighting to win. Afghanistan is not Serbia, and it is not even Iraq. It is a proud tribal society with a total fertility rate of nearly 7 children per woman. Trying to instill “liberal democracy” is a quixotic endeavor. Preaching, let alone practicing, “human rights” is (correctly) interpreted as a sign of moral weakness, and an incentive to up the pressure. The only way to actually win in Afghanistan is through burned-earth like brutality and ruthlessness, like Cromwell’s pacification of Ireland. Anything else is a waste of time and money. As it is, the US is pouring its resources like water into the sands of the “graveyard of empires”, and taking NATO along for the ride – a strain that threatens the very survival of the alliance. This would not be nearly as critical if the jihadi threat was the only storm-on-the-horizon the US-centered world order faced; yet in combination with Iranian brinkmanship, the Russian resurgence, the Chinese mercantile challenge and the increasing reflection of the limits to growth onto the world economy, the days of Pax Americana may well be numbered. Let’s return to Iran.

From this year, the countdown will be really on as Iran reaches for the bomb, Israeli hysteria (understandably) rises and the US becomes ever more desperate for a radical solution. By 2011-12, Obama will be coming under increasing conservative pressure – an again worsening economic position and a “patriotic-reactionary” movement to counter the perceived intrusion of government onto an ever expanding array of economic and social activities – which will if anything make his administration more conductive to the thought of a foreign adventure to take the population’s mind of economic stagnation, rising poverty and perhaps by that point, capital flight. The Israelis will receive the signal to strike. Since this would draw in the US anyway, it will decide that it might as well strike Iran itself, and degrade the Iranian military as much as possible so as to circumscribe the Islamic Republic’s retaliation capabilities.

The US will have no problem in gaining air superiority and destroying a vast array of fixed Iranian targets, because the Iranian integrated air defense system is relatively obsolete and can be eluded by stealth, defeated by electronic countermeasures and neutralized. However, given the dispersed nature of Iran’s military forces it will retain a significant amount of retaliatory capacity – in particular, the ability to mine the Strait of Hormuz using fast attack craft and harass shipping with coastal shore batteries, diesel submarines in the shallow waters of the Strait, and perhaps suicide attacks from civilian-appearing vessels armed with explosives. Iran’s development of an indigenous UAV capability, by enabling it to scout out the presence of oil tankers, represents a significant force multiplier, especially if Iran also has the technological capacity to network its findings with its other military assets.

This is not to say that the War Nerd is correct when he says that any US naval assets off the coast of Iran will be blown to smithereens, which referred to a rather artificial and improbable scenario. In all likelihood the Iranian threat will be contained within weeks, the country will be thoroughly bombed into submission and perhaps the regime will be overthrown. But in its death throes, it could also kill the world economy:

Most importantly, it would not have to be effective. The mere possibility of mines — the uncertainty factor — would not only slow down the movement of tankers in the Gulf, but also spike insurance rates. Tankers cost a lot of money and their cargoes these days are incredibly expensive. Risking both ship and cargo is not something tanker owners like to do. They buy insurance. If the possibility of mines in the Gulf existed, insurance rates would not only rise, but might become altogether unavailable. Insurance and re-insurance companies these days do not have enormous appetites for unpredictable risk involving large amounts of money. And without insurance, as we saw during the tanker wars in the 1980s, owners won’t take the risk themselves.

Iran’s counter could be to increase the potential risk to the point where insurers back off. At that point, governments would have the option of insuring tankers themselves. Given how quickly governments move, particularly in what would have to be an international undertaking, oil supplies could be disrupted for days or even weeks. At this point, speculators and psychology aside, prices would spike dramatically. The creaking sound would turn into a cracking sound for the world economy.

Ergo, oil prices spike well north of 200$ per barrel in a time of global economic weakness and all-round instability. The psychological effects cannot be anything but extremely negative, and such a scenario may constitute the signal for global investors to finally throw in the towel on the US.

The third key element in near-future geopolitics, in addition to the Afghanistan imbroglio and the Iranian Question, is the continuing resurgence of Russian power across Eurasia. Far from being weakened by the economic crisis, it has used it to build up its relative strength, from politically-motivated loans to Belarus, to its decision to only enter the WTO as part of an economic bloc encompassing Belarus and Kazakhstan, to continuing pressure against Ukraine. It has also consolidated its military position in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and the state has reinforced its control over the commanding heights of the economy, suborning the last of the independent-minded oligarchs to its will. Driven by a belated recognition of its immutable geographic and climatic disadvantages that doom it to eternal backwardness and submission within the context of Westernization, it is slowly but inexorably returning to its “steady state”, its past-and-future as a Eurasian empire defined by political sovereignty, economic autarky and spiritual sobornost. The only thing still missing is an ideology, but that can be re-invented. The collapse of liberal globalization can only accelerate these trends.

As long as Washington stands in the way of this reassertion – which it has, from its unleashing of an infowar against Russia following the Yukos Affair in 2003 to its persistent championing of NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia – it will remain Russia’s “prime enemy”, at least in the minds of those who matter. As such, Russia will do absolutely nothing to help the US maintain the current world order, which is not favorable to Russia’s interests. Expect a tense, uneasy game of give-and-take and tit-for-tat involving Russian arms sales to Iran and Venezuela, covert American support for colored revolutions across the post-Soviet space, intrigues over Central Asian allegiances and the placing of natural gas pipelines, Russian revanchism in the post-Soviet space, Russian and Chinese stalling of Western-promoted sanctions in the UN, etc… Above all, bear in mind that the Western view on Russia is fundamentally wrong, since Russia’s leaders distrust the “liberal interventionists”, “end of history” ideologues of the Clintonian era at least as much as they dislike the neocon “New Cold Warriors”.

Herein lies the gulf between the West and the Russians. The West divides the world between the Cold War and the post-Cold War world. It clearly prefers the post-Cold War world, not so much because of the social condition of Russia, but because the post-Cold War world lacked the geopolitical challenge posed by the Soviet Union — everything from wars of national liberation to the threat of nuclear war was gone. From the Russian point of view, the social chaos of the post-Cold War world was unbearable. Meanwhile, the end of a Russian challenge to the West meant from the Russian point of view that Moscow was helpless in the face of Western plans for reordering the institutions and power arrangements of the region without regard to Russian interests.

… Russians saw their efforts as a deliberate attempt to destroy Russia and the degree to which Russians are committed never to return to that time. It is hard to imagine anything as infuriating for the Russians as the reset button the Clinton administration’s Russia experts — who now dominate Obama’s Russia policy — presented the Russian leadership in all seriousness. The Russians simply do not intend to return to the Post-Cold War era Western experts recall so fondly. …

While Russia’s concerns with Georgia are the noisiest, it is not the key Russian concern in its near abroad — Ukraine is. So long as the United States is serious about including Ukraine in NATO, the United States represents a direct threat to Russian national security. A glance at a map shows why the Russians think this.

Russia remains interested in Central Europe as well. It is not seeking hegemony, but a neutral buffer zone between Germany in particular and the former Soviet Union, with former satellite states like Poland of crucial importance to Moscow.

… As the United States causes discomfort for the Russians, Russia will in turn cause discomfort for the United States. The U.S. sore spot is the Middle East, and Iran in particular. Therefore, the Russians will respond to American pressure on them where it hurts Washington the most.

The Cold Warriors don’t understand the limits of Russian power. The post-Cold Warriors don’t understand the degree to which they are distrusted by Russia, and the logic behind that distrust. The post-Cold Warriors confuse this distrust with a hangover from the Cold War rather than a direct Russian response to the post-Cold War policies they nurtured.

Finally, there’s China. Over the last decade, the world economy came to be powered by a powerful global symbiosis termed “Chimerica”, a state of affairs in which Americans spent and lent China money to build up the industrial capacity to produce ever more goods for Americans to spend on. Now as long as the limits to this unsustainable, imbalanced growth kept put – limits as in affordable oil and other commodities, access to credit, etc – the party continued.

This is no longer the case. The world economy has crashed. Chinese students laughed in the Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner’s face when he tried to assure them the US would keep the US dollar strong and that the trillions of dollars of Chinese investments are safe in the US. The Chinese leadership seems to agree and has started to massively step up its acquisitions of natural resource companies, farmland and foreign elites (via politically-motivated loans at preferential rates). Though there is little overt evidence of a ditching of the dollar, this is to be expected – given that China has so much invested in the US, trying to get out visible would provoke a catastrophic scramble in which it will lose more than it gains. That said, the signals of retreat are certainly visible, especially when set against the typical opacity of China’s rulers.

Globalization allowed China to build up a massive industrial base – as of 2008, it produced 48% of the world’s steel and 50% of its cement – and it has already bought up, or stolen, the majority of key technologies needed to build an advanced industrial system. They can now afford to gradually stop subsidizing American purchases of their products and concentrate on the development of a consumer consciousness among their own, 1.3 billion strong population. This decision to reorient their political economy will complement current rhetoric about building the “harmonious society“, with its emphasis on reconciling socialism, regional and internal inequalities, democracy and environmentalism. From now on, growth will be slower as it is curbed by stagnant world demand, accumulating bad loans, diminishing returns, etc, – it will likely be around 5-7% a year in the 2010’s, rather than the 10% typical of the 1980’s to 2000’s. Nonetheless, it should continue at a fast enough rate to soak up the new landless labor, ease social tensions and enable it to launch a geopolitical breakout. The inevitable transition from a centrally-weak, disbalanced and commercialized nation to a centralized, internally-peaceful hegemonic empire will not be smooth, but China’s forward momentum is simply too large to derail its rise to superpower status.

Externally, China will use its rapidly growing relative strength to create a new geopolitical reality, especially as the retreat of American power becomes ever more evident in the early to mid-2010’s. As the only major industrial nation still enjoying rapid growth, it will now be the main setter of world demand for oil and other strategic commodities, putting a floor on most commodity prices in the years ahead – especially since the state is now taking advantage of low prices to diversify itself from US Treasuries and lock in or accumulate the reserves needed to power its industrialization in the decades ahead. (A related recent story is China’s plans to restrict rare earth metal exports, which if rapidly implemented could create a hi-tech crunch in the decade before mines elsewhere could reopen and ramp up production to meet global demand). China’s influence in South-East Asia, East Asia, East Africa and the Middle East will rise in counter-balance to the US, but the process is unlikely to lead to military clashes because both nations will be much more preoccupied with managing internal tensions.

In conclusion, the geopolitical winds are shifting. There is a gathering storm that will sweep away the current liberal globalized order, and a new reality of econo-political blocs competing for markets, land and resources will take its place. The root cause is the accelerating fiscal and economic collapse of the system’s underwriter, the United States. (The even deeper reason would be that limited oil and energy reserves would be more efficiently used in China to make things than spent on American gas-guzzlers).

However, these changes will appear to observers as an incomprehensible cascade of failings of the international system and spreading chaos: jihadi successes (mounting losses in Afghanistan, continuing terrorist attacks carried out by al-Qaeda’s “franchises”, the possible collapse –  or radicalization (Turkey?) – of moderate Muslim governments); state collapses (peak in world food prices, out-of-control insurgencies, falling revenues from energy exports and climatic catastrophes like drought – watch Pakistan, Mexico); the confrontation with Iran (whether or not it ends with a Middle Eastern war, this saga is only beginning to get played out); the Russian resurgence (may be manifested in renewed expansionism in the post-Soviet space – Georgia, Crimea and the Baltics are potential flashpoints – and the race of countries like Germany, Finland, Turkey and / or Japan to reach some kind of accommodation with Russia, contrary to US interests) and the continuing secular ascent of China (due to its gradual nature, this is unlikely to result in any “big events” (although a flareup over Taiwan or the South China Sea is always a possibility) – that said, in the longer run this is going to be one of the most significant geopolitical trends).

By 2019, we will look out upon a new world as different from 1989, as 1944 was from 1914, or 1991 was from 1961. A partially revived American superpower will face a real “peer competitor” in China, though their competition will be restrained by domestic troubles and a shared concern for global stability and the future of industrial civilization. Many of the world’s least developed regions will have begun to fall apart, forsaking the torturing lights of civilization for the comforting darkness of simplistic barbarism. The European Union will have fallen apart under the stresses of its contradictions and its constituent nations will have reverted to their traditional balance-of-power rivalries, while Japan decides it would be better off band wagoning with China. A more insular, nationalist and powerful Russia is a wildcard, either in the throes of demographic and economic stagnation – or enjoying new, unprecedented power accruing from its energy wealth and warming landmass. By then, the clouds will be gathering for an even greater storm – the point sometime in 2030-2050 when the limits to growth make themselves really felt, and industrial civilization falls into its moment of greatest peril. The shifting winds will have become a gale.


  1. Excellent article Anatoly. Just a few quick points

    1) Whilst you focus on Russia and Iran as areas of conflict, it is interesting that both Netanyahu and many Central/ East European politicians have criticised Obama for ignoring them. In his own foreign policy document he has ominously given priority to ‘Restoring American Leadership in Latin America’:

    For Obama, this could be more fruitful ground from a Machiavellian viewpoint. As is common in deeply inequal societies, the wealthy seem to feel tangible pain at having to share their money with poor people. This is largely because to feel ‘comfortable’ about being wealthy they have to dehumanise the poor. Whilst I’m not an uncritical supporter of Chavez, the frequent comparisons to Hitler demonstrate this hysterical mindset.

    If Obama does adopt a Nixon/ Reagan approach to Latin America, there will no doubt be thousands of wealthy Latinos to visit America and gush gratitude for his saving them from whatever ‘Hitlerstalin’ was forcing progressive taxation upon them.

    In Northern Latin America however, things are different. There is a risk that the Mexican state could collapse. This may also use up America’s resources.

    2) The Lebanon-Israel war was an odd one, and the election of Netanyahu was strange in itself. It seems that like the Apartheid South Africans, the Israelis are like hedgehogs: knowing one big thing. As the Apartheid South Africans were oblivious to growing unpopularity as long as they could be seen as warriors against communism (and now it is easy to forget how many Western politicians supported their regime), so the Israelis are dependent on their ‘democracy’ and the war on terrorism to get Western support even as European populations are increasingly unsympathetic and they have no long term plans for East Asian/Middle Eastern/East European alliances. Of course, of practically equal importance is the Jewish vote, though as the number of Arab Americans increases, this may come to be less of a factor.

    Related to this area of conflict, it seems that military technology has stagnated. Here in Britain the army has a comparatively modern and complex rifle: which by all accounts is a piece of crap. The M16 and Kalashnikov are simple and old but the simplicity is an advantage: especially in deserts.

    Whoever ‘won’ the war in Lebanon, it is perhaps more significant that Hezbollah did not decisively lose militarily: almost all the casualties that they inflicted on the Israelis were by rocket launchers which could demonstrate that the weaponry is broadly similar. Also they did not lose morally: the Israeli bombing of the entire nation (Orthodox, Catholic, Sunni, Shi’ite) was an extremely savage response to a Shi’ite militia which even the Israeli army could not crush.

    3) I’d rather disagree with you about resurgent Russia. Conscription is very unpopular and whilst the wars in Chechnya were legalistically ‘justified’ in both cases, they were deeply unpopular due to the massive waste of life caused by poor supplies, brutal military culture, endemic corruption and abysmal leadership. I suspect that conscription may end in Russia, and it’s aging population will try to live in peace.

    • 1. Mexico is indeed a nation to watch closely. It’s oil production is dropping precipitously, along with the revenues the government depends on, and it is going to be very hard-hit by global warming very soon. Some kind of collapse and overspill into the US will become a real possibility by the mid-2010’s.

      Mexico: A Nation-State Dissolves?
      Mexico: A Collapse Update

      2. Israel could have crushed Hezbollah if it really wanted to by committing more ground forces. However, it was concerned over the political effects of higher casualties and stuck to massive air bombardment and very limited ground intervention, which Hezbollah had built up the capability to counter. My impression is that though Israel has built up a massive military lead over its neighbors since the 1960’s, its will and sense of national confidence have declined, which bodes ill for its longer-term survival.

      I disagree that military technology is stagnating. It’s expanding very rapidly, at least in some spheres like ABM and C4ISR. Personal arms are a poor example since the rate of progress there is indeed very slow relative to other spheres.

      3. The Second Chechen War had popular support, and it was conducted significantly better than the first (which admittedly is faint praise). Conscription isn’t going out any time soon – current plans call for retaining a 1-year draft up until at least 2020.

      • Thanks for the links on Mexico. I suspect it is more volatile than many media outlets would imply.

        Whilst Western military organisations have often been at the forefront of technology (often leading non-military organisations), the failure in Iraq and Afghanistan indicates that these may be of limited practical importance.

        Secondly, I am prepared to be convinced over Russian attitudes towards conscription and the second Chechen war, but I have read surveys stating that both are unpopular. My limited personal knowledge of Russians would also indicate dislike of both conscription and this conflict.

        Elsewhere I have read that Russian casualties towards the end of the second Chechen war and during the Georgian war were comparatively low because it was mainly the professional army that was used.

        Sorry I do not have links for these statements: I am not asking anyone to rely on stuff I half-remember and know that surveys are often extremely inaccurate. Russian-speakers especially may know of more relevant links. Still, at any rate, both Chechen conflicts demonstrated major weaknesses in the Russian army.

        Psychologically it would also make sense if they abolished conscription: it seems that the upcoming generation mainly consists of only children.

        • 1. The failures in Afghanistan are mostly to do with the fact that US troops there are under burdensome engagement restrictions (they win practically every open battle with the Taleban). If that were not the case, it would have already won. Heck, the 1940’s Wehrmacht could – and would – have crushed the Taleban if it was ordered to. Partisans kill one of your soldiers? Execute 10 hostages from the nearest village under the pretext of punishment for fighting outside the laws of war. Soon enough, the insurgency will be suppressed. Obviously, this kind of warfare is no longer morally accepted in the US and the developed world in general, but this wins it no gratitude. It instead dooms it to defeat in places like Afghanistan, whose warriors aren’t subject to any debilitating humanitarian complexes.

          Otherwise, the US military is extremely well positioned for a traditional Great Power war and there isn’t much doubt that as of today, it would quickly win an aeronaval confrontation with the likes of Iran or even China.

          2. You’d be surprised, but the polls indicate that opinions on conscriptions are about evenly split. There’s not only the disillusioned / anti-“hurrah Russia!” half, but also the Soviet-nostalgic / patriotic / military-supporting half (the labeling is crude, but should give you the idea).

          I agree that in the current circumstances conscription is unnecessary, given that it is unlikely Russia will have to fight a total war any time soon. However, the bigger and more urgent task now is cleaning up morale and ethics in the armed forces.

          • ‘Heck, the 1940’s Wehrmacht could – and would – have crushed the Taleban if it was ordered to. Partisans kill one of your soldiers? Execute 10 hostages from the nearest village under the pretext of punishment for fighting outside the laws of war. Soon enough, the insurgency will be suppressed.’

            The Afghan civilian -coalition soldier deathtoll is probably far more than 10-1 Anatoly.

            Even then, you seem to be missing my wider point. I don’t deny that America could beat almost any army very quickly. But winning the peace does depend on a vast number of factors: one of which is Western humanitarianism. For this reason, I think Western Imperialism has had its day.

            Admittedly, I was surprised by the conscription figures. Though this could change in future. It would be interesting to know how many of those in favour are of the younger generation.

            • Gregor, you’re speaking like a 21st century limp-wristed liberal. 😉

              “Winning the peace” is an oxymoron in Third World high-fertility tribal societies with a strong sense of self-confidence, identity and access to cheap weapons. You have to impose YOUR peace, with the unrepentant ruthlessness of a traditional empire. “Western imperialism” (of early-era colonial vintage) has a far better chance of pacifying Afghanistan than its latter-day incarnation as “Western humanitarianism”, which is a dead end.

              Why? Because humanitarianism is weakness, and treated as such by traditional peoples. The very fact of what NATO is doing in Afghanistan, trying to instill the accouterments of modern civilization onto a profoundly pre-modern culture, sets Afghans against it – far more so than any number of accidental air strikes on wedding parties.

              From the evidence, it appears the US doesn’t understand this (or doesn’t want to understand this) and the corollary that withdrawal is the least bad strategic option. Instead, the generals are demanding more and more troops without setting out any limits or goals, going down the same road General Westmoreland took in Vietnam.

              Though this could change in future. It would be interesting to know how many of those in favour are of the younger generation.

              That would indeed be interesting. On the one hand, one of the key reasons middle-aged and older men think conscription is good is that they served (and in most cases turned out fine), and so should younger men. Enthusiasm amongst younger people who have to serve will no doubt be longer, but might be counter-balanced by their greater sense of nationalism.

          • “Heck, the 1940’s Wehrmacht could – and would – have crushed the Taleban if it was ordered to. Partisans kill one of your soldiers? Execute 10 hostages from the nearest village under the pretext of punishment for fighting outside the laws of war.”

            Sure, that worked well for the Wehrmacht…

            By the way, I don’t think Soviets in Afghanistan had the same “burdensome restrictions” on firing, and they still losed. And what about the French in Algeria?

            Sure, you could wipe out every one of them, and turn the country and its “terrorists” in a radiactive wasteland. But in that case, you win nothing.

            • So basically however you look at it trying to conquer Afghanistan is a bad idea. Which is really the main point.

  2. Nice and long as always, you are prophet

    I have three comments to make…

    1) There are also Shi’a in North-Western Saudi Arabia on the borders with Iraq who are unhappy with Riyad and allegedly get support from Iran. But I am still not sure if that is a reason enough for the Saudis to let Israelis fly over their territory. I think the Saudis can suppress the rebels on their own, even with nuclear armed Iran. Dealing with the Zionists is politically much more dangerous in this part of the world even if the intended target are the Shi’a. They are muslims, albeit considered heretics by the Wahhabi Saudis whereas the Jews are infidel occupiers of the Holy Land.

    2)Iran can also inflict damage on American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq where Shi’a communities live (they even make up majority of Iraqis and Herat is much a Persian city) and Iran enjoys some influence. This could become very problematic for American war endeavors and might in the end evict them from these countries altogether.

    3)I don’t see Turkey streaming towards Islamic radicalism but perhaps mild Islamic rennaisance as a component of Turkish identity. The countries that are more likely to see Islamic radicalism triumph are Egypt and more importantly Pakistan. I however see Turkey’s estrangement from the West which however does not mean heading towards some Islamic state.

    • Thanks Leos, you make very good points. My thoughts on them:

      1. So ultimately, the Saudi decision will come down to balancing: a) being seen as Zionist-friendly by Muslims abroad, especially their domestic radicals, and b) succumbing to Iranian strategic preponderance in the Gulf.

      At the moment, b) seems unlikely. But many things can change in a decade. In particular, the American collapse that I posit would make it hard for the US to continue underwriting Saudi Arabia’s security, at the same time its own resources are going to come under ever more strain because of overpopulation. Unless China moves to fill in the place of the US – not really a very realistic prospect because it still doesn’t have a proper blue-water navy and it’s much more friendly with Iran anyway – then SA will be left on its own.

      In short, I would not want to be Saudi rulers’ shoes.

      2. That is another excellent point. However, supercharging an insurgency is a relatively lengthy process. The very immediate and more potent threat is the (credible) Iranian threat to mine the Strait of Hormuz.

      3. I agree with you, on further thought Egypt and especially Pakistan are indeed far more vulnerable than Turkey. The latter is somewhat industrialized / educated and Islamism is counterbalanced by a tradition of secular nationalism. These do not apply anywhere near as much to Egypt or Pakistan, which in addition are vulnerable to food / gasoline price increases and drying rivers / coastal inundation. Their governments may be overthrown in the near future. Turkey is likely to become more of a free agent and traditional Great Power.

  3. An extraordinarily interesting and relevant article. I will need some time to absorb it all. You are a very thoughtful observer.

  4. Re-the nexus between the US, Russia, Iran and Israel, see The BMD Decision and the Global System by George Friedman. I’ve quoted large parts of this incisive article.

    Polish despair (and Warsaw seemed far more upset than Prague) and Russian satisfaction … The planned BMD system did not in and of itself enhance Polish national security in any way even if missiles had actually targeted Warsaw, since the long-range interceptors in Poland were positioned there to protect the continental United States; missiles falling on Poland would likely be outside the engagement envelope of the original Ground-based Midcourse Defense interceptors. The system was designed to handle very few missiles originating from the Middle East, and the Russians obviously have more than a few missiles.

    For Poland, the BMD system was of little importance. What was important was that in placing the system in Poland, the United States obviously was prepared to defend the system from all threats. Since the system could not be protected without also protecting Poland, the BMD installation — and the troops and defensive systems that would accompany it — was seen as a U.S. guarantee on Polish national security even though the system itself was irrelevant to Polish security.

    The Russians took the same view. They cared little about the BMD system itself; what they objected to was the presence of a U.S. strategic capability in Poland because this represented an American assertion that Poland was actively under the defense of the United States. Of particular note from the Russian point of view was that such a guarantee would be independent of NATO. …

    Overall, the Russians desire a new map of the region, one with two layers. First, Russia must be recognized as the dominant power in the former Soviet Union. The United States and Europe must shape bilateral relations with other former Soviet states within the framework of this understanding. Second, Central Europe — and particularly Poland — must not become a base for U.S. power. The United States and Europe must accept that Russia has no aggressive intent, but more to the point, Poland in particular must become a neutral buffer zone between Russia and Germany. …

    From the standpoint of the Bush administration and the Obama administration early on, the Russian claims to great power status, rights in the former Soviet Union and interests in Poland represented a massive overreach. The perception of both administrations derived from an image developed in the 1990s of Russia as crippled. The idea of Russia as a robust regional power, albeit with significant economic problems, simply didn’t register. There were two generations at work. The older Cold War generation did not trust Russian intentions and wanted to create a cordon around Russia — including countries like Georgia, Ukraine and, most important, Poland — because Russia could become a global threat again. The newer post-Cold War generation — which cut its teeth in the 1990s — wanted to ignore Russia and do what it wished both in Central Europe and the former Soviet Union because Russia was no longer a significant power, and the generation saw the need to develop a new system of relationships. In the end, all this congealed in the deployments in Poland and the Czech Republic.

    First, a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would be no one-day affair. Intelligence on precise locations had uncertainty built into it, and any strike would consist of multiple phases: destroying Iran’s air force and navy, destroying Iran’s anti-aircraft capability to guarantee total command of the skies, the attacks on the nuclear facilities themselves, analysis of the damage, perhaps a second wave, and of course additional attacks to deal with any attempted Iranian retaliation. …

    Second, Iran has the ability to respond in a number of ways. One is unleashing terrorist attacks worldwide via Hezbollah. But the most significant response would be blocking the Strait of Hormuz using either anti-ship missiles or naval mines. The latter are more threatening largely because the clearing operation could take a considerable period and it would be difficult to know when you had cleared all of the mines. …

    The country most concerned with all of this is Israel. The Iranians had given every indication that they plan to build a nuclear capability and use it against Israel. … Israel could unilaterally draw the United States into an airstrike on Iran. … Apart from the political consequences, the U.S. Navy would be drawn into the suppression of Iranian naval capabilities in the Persian Gulf whether it wanted to or not simply to keep the Strait of Hormuz open. …

    The crippling sanctions foreseen were some sort of interruption of the flow of gasoline into Iran, which imports 40% of its supply despite being a net exporter of crude. … Russia has the capacity to produce and transport all of Iran’s needs, not just its import requirements. If the Russians don’t participate, there are no sanctions.

    The Russians announced weeks ago that they opposed new sanctions on Iran and would not participate in them. Moreover, they seemed to flout the ineffectiveness of any U.S. sanctions. With that, the diplomatic option on Iran was off the table. Russia is not eager to see Iran develop nuclear weapons, but it sees the United States as the greater threat at the moment. Moscow’s fundamental fear is that the United States — and Israel — will dramatically strengthen Ukraine, Georgia and other states in the FSU and on its periphery, and that Russia’s strategic goal of national security through pre-eminence in the region will be lost.

    From the Russian point of view, the U.S. desire for Russian help with Iran is incompatible with the U.S. desire to pursue its own course in the FSU and countries like Poland. … The Russians faced what they saw as an existential threat, believing that the U.S. strategy threatened the long-term survival of the Russian Federation. The Russians were not prepared to support a U.S. solution for Iran without American support on Russian concerns. The Americans ultimately did not understand that the Russians had shifted out of the era in which the United States could simply dictate to them. Now, the United States had to negotiate with the Russians on terms Moscow set, or the United States would have to become more directly threatening to Russia. Becoming more threatening was not an option with U.S. forces scattered all over the Middle East. Therefore, the United States had to decide what it wanted.

    … Since Iran was a critical threat to Israel, and since Israel might not have a better chance to strike than now, the Obama administration began to realize that its diplomatic option had failed, and that the decision on war and peace with Iran was not in its hands but in Israel’s, since Israel was prepared to act unilaterally and draw the United States into a war. Given that the Obama diplomatic initiative had failed and that the administration’s pressure on Israel had created a sense of isolation in Israel, the situation could now well spiral out of control. … Uncertain what leverage it had over Israel, the United States decided to reach out to the Russians. Washington sought a way to indicate to the Russians that it was prepared to deal with Russia in a different way while simultaneously giving away as little as possible. That little was the redeployment of BMD components originally planned for Poland and the Czech Republic to ships. (Money already has been allocated to upgrade additional Atlantic-based Aegis warships to BMD capability.) … From the Russian point of view, the gesture is welcome but insufficient. They are not going to solve a major strategic problem for the United States simply in return for moving the BMD.

    Obama now has three choices.

    1. He can make the deal with Russia. But every day that passes, Russia is creating the reality of domination in the FSU, so its price for a deal will continue to rise from simply recognizing their sphere of influence to extending it to neutralizing Poland.
    2. He can select the military option of an air campaign against Iran. But this means accepting the risk to maritime traffic in the Persian Gulf and the potentially devastating impact on the global economy if oil exports through the Strait of Hormuz are impacted significantly.
    3. He can wait to see how things unfold, and place overwhelming pressure on Israel not to attack. But this means finding a way to place the pressure: Israel in 2009 does not have the dependence on the United States it had in 1973.

    The United States has already completed delivery of 48 late-model F-16C/Ds with advanced offensive capabilities to Poland. That matters far more to Polish national security than BMD. In the U.S. tradition with allies — particularly allies with strong lobbies in the United States, where the Polish lobby is immense — disappointment on one weapon system usually results in generosity with other, more important systems (something the Poles must learn).

    As the United States has a strong military option in Iran, redrawing the map of Europe to avoid using that option — regardless of Polish fears at the moment — is unlikely. Moreover, Washington also could decide to live with an Iranian nuclear capability without redrawing the map of Europe. Ultimately, the United States has made a gesture with little content and great symbolic meaning. It is hoping that the Russians are overwhelmed by the symbolism. They won’t be.

    For their part, the Russians are hoping the Americans panic over Iran. The fact is that while Russia is a great regional power, it is not that great, and its region is not that critical. The Russians may be betting that Obama will fold. They made the same bet on John F. Kennedy. Obama reads the same reports that we do about how the Russians believe him to be weak and indecisive. And that is a formula for decisive — if imprudent — action.

  5. AK, you are writing very interesting forecasts and provide good reasoning to support these.

    Base on your posts one can learn, how to understand some prerogatives of Russian policy a bit better.

    Nevertheless, I would like to make 2 comments regarding your analysis.

    1. It seems that you are overestimating a bit an importance of Poland in US-Russian dominance games.
    You are probably aware that Polish army is not in the best shape and in itself it does not pose any realistic threat to Russia.
    You have presented recent Polish acquisition of 48 American F16 C/D aircraft as a sort of game changer from the point of view of local security, but I don’t think that this move actually changed much.
    After all F16 is becoming to be an obsolete aircraft and it would not be a huge challenge for Russian military.
    Poles have many problems with operating these aircraft and that is because of relatively high rate of technical failures of various sub-systems installed on said F16-s.
    Polish F16-s are also not equipped with decent weaponry systems and as such are of very limited use in case of conflict with Russia.
    At the moment they are perhaps good for training purposes.

    You are also talking about powerful Polish lobbies in the US.
    Are you aware of recent failure by US to send some higher rank official to their commemorations of beginning of WW II?
    Are you aware that their highest profile guests there were highest rank officials from Germany and Russia (countries incidentally responsible for starting WWII with Ribbentrop – Molotov pact)?
    I doubt that discussed move by US was reassuring there…

    It seems that Poland is not so important at the moment for American policymakers and it may at best enjoy a status of auxiliary ally.

    I would suggest that countries like Georgia are at the moment much more important in US strategy for example because of oil pipelines etc.

    You have also mentioned Ukraine as prospective US ally, but that is not so.
    This country is hardly governable at the moment, their eastern part is under practical control of Russian “fifth column” and most of citizens are against membership in NATO.
    Pro-Western Yustchenko is completely discredited and alternatives are only eager to show, how much pro-Russian they are.
    All this may well lead to collapse of this country (you should also take possible Polish and also Turkish fiddling, which may facilitate these ends).

    2. It seems that you are accepting military attack on Iran either by US, Israel or both as something close to a foregone conclusion.
    However you are not taking into account likely impact of such attack on global economy and in particular American economy itself.
    It would be in all probabilities disastrous.
    Perhaps bad enough to make an attack not really feasible.
    US (and also Israel) are nuclear weapon states, Iran understands well that an attack on Israel would be a suicidal undertaking, so I doubt that ayatollahs would order it.
    Perhaps no war on Iran will be launched and US and Israel will have to learn, how to accommodate for nuclear armed Iran after all?

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Martin.

      1) a) First, I wouldn’t so lightly dismiss the F-16 – it is only a few years older than the MiG-29, a very capable fighter – and one should bear in mind US military aerospace technology was usually around a decade ahead of the Soviet. In its upgraded form, I would imagine it is a match for similarly upgraded Flankers.

      Second, the far more consequential delivery are Patriot missile batteries, slated for 2010. Washington’s military aid to Poland will probably rise along with its perception of the Russian threat.

      Third, I agree that is it stands today Poland cannot pose an impossible challenge to the Russian military – that is true. But the modern fighter & ABM phalanx will make it an exceeding costly nut to crack, especially since Russia will not be able to concentrate all its military assets against it alone, and because Poland will have access to superior intelligence & surveillance from the US, as well as outright NATO commitments (which as of today will be fulfilled in its case, if perhaps not in a decade),

      This is not, of course, to say that Poland and Russia will fight a war anytime soon. However, this does mean that Russia will not be able to use the fact of its military superiority as easily to pressure Poland on other areas (e.g. economic), that it would otherwise; and it would also mean that Poland will have more of a security buffer to revive Prometheism and undermine Russia from within by supporting separatist movements within it if relations were to become acrimonious enough.

      b) I agree Poland is not a priority for the US right now (neither is Georgia, I think, which I believe they consider a lost cause). But that is because the perception of threats other than Russia appears much more immediate to American policy-makers. For instance, there have been huge arms sales to the Gulf states in the past year, including Patriots, which I imagine is to protect their oil and other assets from Iranian missile attacks should there be a war.

      c) Re-Ukraine. The only times I mentioned it is a prospective US ally was in the context of the US itself trying to make it an ally. Considering the ideological bankruptcy of the Orange movement and the much stronger support for closer ties with Russia, that is a highly unrealistic prospect – despite the wishes of the Western-leaning Ukrainian elites.

      2) Israel is extremely unlikely to accept an Iranian nuclear capability – even a few nuclear strikes on its small, highly-urbanized territory will permanently cripple it – and as such will strike Iran when it gets to the nuclear threshold, even without US consent. Iran’s retaliation will almost certainly bring in the US to a war, for which the US will be immediately ready. As such, the rational thing for the US to do would be to plan out the strike with Israel in such a way as to immediately destroy Iran’s capability to close the Strait of Hormuz and destroy its nuclear sites. Whether they can pull this off is very much open to question.

  6. Thanks for your comments regarding prospective arming of Poland by US and few other remarks, including those concerning Iran.

    I think, you are a bit overplaying amount of military aid which Poles are going to get.
    Surely a single Patriot battery mentioned in article which you are referring to will not constitute a significant improvement of Polish air defenses.
    At best it may defend Warsaw area or so.
    About a dozen of two of such installations would be needed for a viable air defenses there.
    Somehow I do not see it coming, at least until 2015 and possibly not at all due to pending American economic collapse.

    In any case Poland (even if armed with best American weapons) does not constitute any realistic existential threat to Russia.
    At worst one might see some competition to gain influence in the buffer zone between Russia and Poland and this would affect lets say Baltic states, where Russians are sincerely hated but Poles are not loved either, may be on Belarus and certainly on Ukraine which is politically disintegrating as we speak right now.

    However with the exception of Ukraine all these areas are strategically irrelevant and quite retarded, so it is not of critical importance, who would be more influential in which particular spot.
    Ukraine is more tricky.
    Turks would very likely join any Russian-Polish dispute and all that would in all probabilities result in Russians seizing east part, Poles west and Turks south.
    Some permanent state of low level war could well develop, but all 3 nations in question are used to war there, they don’t really care about conclusive victory and somehow various groups of Ukrainians and Cossacks are ending up incorporated into these 3 competing armies and as a result they are actually fighting between themselves.

    This is from moral point of view a very sad state of affairs, but nevertheless history shows that it is a natural situation on Ukraine.

    So in general I do not see much dangers for Russia on the west of it.

    However I can see such threats on far east and these are related to IMHO inevitable ecological collapse of China.
    You was trying to dismiss a risk from “yellow peril” in one of your article, but I think that some part of your argumentation is flawed.

    I can certainly agree that it is not true that millions of Chinese are settling on Russian far east right now, however once their ability to feed themselves is exhausted (and that may come true as fast as within 10 years and surely within 20-30 years at the latest), they will have to do something about it.
    I disagree with your argumentation that Chinese will try to exploit Africa in preference to Russia.
    I am aware of large Chinese investments, say in Sudan, but nevertheless I am sure that climate change will destroy carrying capacity in Africa even more than in China.
    Because Chinese South will also suffer a lot, Russian far east seems to be one of very few options available left.
    That area will actually [i]benefit[/i] from GW as well.

    So you might except massive migration into Russian territory.
    Atomic arsenals may prove not to be as useful for Russian defense as much as one might initially believe.
    Chinese are nuclear weapon state as well and they are bound to substantially scale up their arsenals in next decade or so.
    This alone may discourage use of nukes on both sides but even if Russia resorted at the end to nuclear strikes, it would merely assist Chinese with their population control projects.

    Race specific weapons which you have mentioned as an alternative are in SF domain at the moment (and use of smallpox or measles against some secluded tribes is of little relevance here).
    It is not clear that they could be developed at all and even if they could then in all probabilities Chinese would possess Russian specific weapons as well.
    Any biological agents released to environment are subjected to mutation and natural selection, so in all probabilities after only a short while they would kill Chinese as easy as Russians.
    Another problem is that Russians are to some degree genetically related to Chinese, perhaps as a legacy of Mongol conquest – Ogedei Khan or Batu Khan (batiin) and their empire comes to mind.

    Chinese migration into Russian Far East territories might also take a form of massive and yet completely chaotic movement of substantial numbers of Chinese ecological refugees.
    Such situation may be impossible to control by military means at all.
    On the other hand there is no significant Russian population in areas of question to provide resistance at grassroots level.

    So here I can see perhaps biggest threat to Russia in near future.

    Re. Israel/US war on Iran:
    Still I do not see it as a foregone conclusion that such a war will proceed (it of course can, but doesn’t have to).
    Iran was recently armed by Russian Tor-M1 air defenses, may soon get (or already got) SA-300 and that should allow for successful defense of critical nuclear installations.
    Part of their centrifuges facilities is also hidden deep in the rock formation, so perhaps nuclear strike would be needed to disable it.
    I doubt that Israel or US have appetite for that at the moment.

    Rapid proliferation of nukes in countries like Japan, S. Korea or even in few South American nations would result as a fallout from such attack with possible further uncontrollable proliferation across the world.
    Not the best development from US perspective.

    • The problem with conquering the Far East is that there isn’t as much carrying capacity there as one might think. Today, the only somewhat populated part is the Amur River valley; all other settlements are tied to resource extraction sites. The entire territory is a net food importer.

      Of course, things will change with global warming, but the magnitude shouldn’t be overestimated:

      Though growing seasons in the High North increase, their thin, rocky and acidic soils are unlikely to compensate for the desiccating breadbaskets.

      Furthermore, there’s the whole issue of trying to build a massive human infrastructure while beset by numerous other problems.

      Re-Africa. 2-3C of warming, which is the maximum we can expect in a few decades even taking into account the runaway effects, will dessicate the north and south, but equatorial regions will hold, and rainfall with increase in highland areas and East Africa.

      However, for the Chinese to force themselves into the habitable areas of Africa is child’s play relative to fighting Russia.

      Re-Iran. This reinforces the fundamental point that the US is in a real predicament as to what to do with Iran. Do nothing, and they get a bomb (assuming Israel doesn’t drag the US into a war by itself, which is likely). Bomb bomb Iran, and there’s a harvest of other bad consequences.

  7. An interesting article; I’ll have to read more of your stuff.
    What I would like to bring to your attention is your throw away line about the EU. I think that you are wrong. The EU will gradually become stronger, financially and militarily, in the years to come. Prior to the Lisbon treaty being ratified I might have agreed with your assesment but this treaty will be the thin edge of a wedge which will produce a US of E, and when that happens the EU would, and could, rival any bloc in the world.
    I fail to understand your view about Russia’s fear of Germany. Germany is locked into the EU, economically and leaglly; it will never be a threat as it used to in the past. Those old days of German imperialistic expansionism have now gone.
    As to Russia’s fear of invasion from the countries of the EU I can’t see that being of importance to them. Russia knows that the EU have no intentions of invading Russia. It is not only impracticle, from the EU point of view, but not desirable.
    As to your Poland and Ukraine being used as a buffer by Russia, as I have stated above, it doesn’t need them as buffer because of the EU’s disinterest in anything military against Russia. There is uncertainty in the relations between Russia and Ukraine just now, and this is not only to do with the Ukrainians being bad debtors, but also to do with the historical homeland of Russia, which, as you may know, Russia actually started off in what is now the Ukraine in Kiev. It was the Rurik Kievan princes who founded Moscow. There are still many Ukrainians who see themselves as ethnically Russian (if there is such a thing) and wish to have closer ties with Russia than with the EU. Whereas, there are still a sizable amount of pro EU Ukrainians who long to attach themselves to the west out of fear of the old USSR. You can also add to this balancing of ideas the amount of older people who still long for the stability of the USSR. Strangely enough, the Ukrainians that I have met and have as friends have a greater dislike for the Poles than they have of the Germans. This dislike stems from their occupation during the Lithuanian/Polish empire.
    As to the Russians being a military threat to the EU, if you ignore the huge nuclear arsenal, then their military is incapable of sustaining a long term conflict against a potential Russian/EU war (which is so highly unlikely that it shouldn’t even be thought of in this equation). The Russian military is a rusting, ill trained, under equipped farce of an army/navy/air force. It may be powerful against weak opposition like the Georgians but when you put it up against the more modern armies of the majority of the EU countries (I’m ignoring the USA here as everyone knows that the US armed forces in an all out war is unbeatable) then the Russians, at the moment, don’t have a look in.
    I think you ignore the growing strength of the EU at your peril. It is not going to collapse and it is not going to go away.
    One last thing: I have always been suspicious of global warming caused by man. There is no irrefutable evidence to back this claim. The hockey stick effect is just a manipulation of statistics to meet the needs of those who wish to see a scenario where they can tax people for a global effect that is not happening, at least, according to their ideas.
    Stll, a very interesting piece.

  8. passing through says:

    Makes you want to die. I wish I was born in the 40’s and nearing death’s door now.