Chapter 6: Realpolitik Turns on Itself

A long time ago, Metternich pointed me to Henry Kissinger's Diplomacy.

I read the following passage today, the conclusion of chapter six, and was inspired to write. About what? I'm not sure yet. But in the meantime, I include it in full for your consumption. Any thoughts on the subject are, as always, appreciated.

If a Metternich-type system based on legitimacy is not possible, America will have to learn to operate in a balance-of-power system, however uncongenial it may find such a course. In the nineteenth century, there were two models for balance-of-power systems: the British model exemplified by the Palmerston/Disraeli approach; and Bismarck’s model. The British approach was to wait for the balance of power to be threatened directly before engaging itself, and then almost always on the weaker side; Bismarck’s approach sought to prevent challenges from arising by establishing close relations with as many parties as possible, by building overlapping alliance systems, and by using the resulting influence to moderate the claims of the contenders.

Strange as it may seem in light of America’s experiences with Germany in the course of two world wars, the Bismarck style of operating a balance of power is probably more attuned to the traditional American approach to international relations. The Palmerston/Disraeli method would require a disciplined aloofness from disputes and a ruthless commitment to the equilibrium in the face of threats. Both the disputes and the threats would have to be assessed almost entirely in terms of balance of power. America would find it quite difficult to marshal either the aloofness or the ruthlessness, not to mention the willingness to interpret international affairs strictly in terms of power.

Bismarck’s later policy sought to restrain power in advance by some consensus on shared objectives with various groups of countries. In an interdependent world, America will find it difficult to practice Great Britain’s splendid isolation. But it is also unlikely that it will be able to establish a comprehensive system of security equally applicable to all parts of the world. The most likely – and constructive – solution would be partially overlapping alliance systems, some focusing on security, others on economic relations. The challenge for America will be to generate objectives growing out of American values that can hold together these various groupings.


Logistics and Afghanistan

There is an old military adage: amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics. For an occupying power seven thousand miles from home, logistical problems can be especially acute. Currently, America has two re-supply routes for its forces in Afghanistan, both of which transit Pakistan. The most heavily used route goes through the heart of Taliban power in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and across the Khyber Pass.

Over the past few months, Taliban attacks on NATO supply convoys have markedly increased. The Pakistani government has repeatedly been forced to close the Khyber Pass temporarily while they attempt (and fail) to crack down on militants in the area. While this began as a minor headache, the problem has grown. Meanwhile, America's forces in Afghanistan are set to increase under Barack Obama.

One option for a new supply route is through Iran. Hard as it is to believe, a reconciliation with Iran is hardly out of the question, and Iran materially supported our overthrow of the Taliban. Nevertheless, Iran would not be a short-term solution and America would be hesitant to give Tehran such a great degree of leverage before negotiations over Iraq and Iran's nuclear program have been settled.

Another option is a northern route, through Central Asian territory and perhaps Russia. However, with Moscow flexing her muscles in her near abroad, and America supporting resistance in a wide arc from Estonia to Georgia and beyond, the price for a re-supply route would not be cheap: likely Ukraine. As Stratfor correctly notes: "there is too much at stake, and the window of opportunity is too narrow for Moscow to simply play nice with the new American administration without a much broader strategic agreement and very real concessions."

And yet, what comes across my desk today? The headline U.S. Secures New Supply Routes to Afghanistan
“There have been agreements reached, and there are transit lines now and transit agreements for commercial goods and services in particular that include several countries in the Central Asian states and also Russia,” [Petraeus] said.
What was the price? Are the new supply routes worth the cost? I don't know. I'll update once Stratfor publishes an analysis.


The Devolution of Al-Qaeda

Osama saw himself as an inspirer of jihad, not a cult leader or a dictator.
I read that line last night and was immediately reminded of the following passage:
Al Qaeda [changed] from a smaller core group of professional operatives into an operational model that encourages independent "grassroots" jihadists to conduct attacks, or into a model in which al Qaeda provides the operational commanders who organize grassroots cells. We referred to this shift as devolution because it signified a return to al Qaeda's pre-9/11 mode. - Stratfor
The line from The Bin Ladens refers to the late 1980s after the jihad in Afghanistan was winding down. Salem Bin Laden, Osama's eldest brother and patriach of the fifty-four Bin Laden siblings, had just died in a plane crash. Osama was increasingly drifting away from his original mentor, Abdullah Azzam, and the Muslim Brotherhood, and towards the more militant Ayman al-Zawahiri. Through his family's money and connections to the Saudi royal family, he had been an influential financier of Afghanistan jihad, and through his family's business, he had been particularly useful constructing a complex network of caves and tunnels along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. With another super power occupying Afghanistan, and the mujaheddin once again forced to fight an insurgency along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border, there has been a devolution of tactics. Fortunately, it appears this has the effect of making Western attacks less frequent. On the other hand, it makes America's strategic interests in South Asia more difficult to accomplish. I asked Metternich:
If America killed Osama Bin Laden, or captured him, would this strengthen this new 'grass roots' al Qaeda by giving them a martyr, have no effect because he's been hiding for so long anyway, or weaken al Qaeda by depriving them of a key figure?
This is a question worth considering. Osama is not likely to stay alive and free forever. Obama has promised to step up efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan. General Petraeus is Commander, U.S. Central Command. America will likely bring renewed focus and resources to the region. So what would be the effects of his capture? What would be the effects of his death? Put on trial, he would have a platform to speak to the world. Killed, I agree with the Prince's assessment that "
al-Qaida would use [Osama] to inspire a generation of jihadists." Between a rock and a hard place. But what if there were a third way? Osama would be silent publicly but still alive. Meanwhile, the integrity of his brand would decline. In other words, the current situation today. Osama hasn't appeared in a video in over a year. He is less relevant and less influential than eight years ago. They've killed many more fellow Muslims than Americans. My correspondent notes that "as events have borne out in Iraq, al-Qaida's senseless brutality and complete lack of ecumenicalism ensures that" they lose credibility in Muslim eyes. On purpose? Not likely. That's okay. The effect is the same.


Republic or Empire

That's a great question as Solzhenitsyn wanted an ethnic Russia which occupied Belarus, half the Ukraine and the northern chunk of Kazakhstan. - Sometimes Metternich, Comment #5
Response by Stratfor:
Russia — modern, medieval or otherwise — cannot count on natural features to protect it.... That leaves buffers. So long as a country controls territory separating itself from its foes — even if it is territory that is easy for a hostile military to transit — it can bleed out any invasion via attrition and attacks on supply lines. Such buffers, however, contain a poison pill. They have populations not necessarily willing to serve as buffers. Maintaining control of such buffers requires not only a sizable standing military for defense but also a huge internal security and intelligence network to enforce central control. And any institution so key to the state’s survival must be very tightly controlled as well. Establishing and maintaining buffers not only makes Russia seem aggressive to its neighbors but also forces it to conduct purges and terrors against its own institutions in order to maintain the empire. - George Friedman, Stratfor
Solzhenitsyn's borders never happened. They would have left Russia vulnerable from the South - through the Caucasus Mountains and up the Steppes - and from the West - along the Northern European plain. Russia's solution, as noted by Dr. Friedman, is control of buffer zones in the West, East, and South, with hostile populations. In Why Chechnya First?, Metternich and I concluded that Putin was trying to re-establish the buffers lost in 1990, beginning with a region both important and within the Russian Federation's borders.

Was this necessary? Were they following a strategy that had become obsolete? The buffer strategy contains an unstated assumption that the benefit of the buffers outweighs the cost of the hostile populations. When French cavalry or German tanks come marching East, that assumption was correct. I do not think this holds true today.

Technology has changed the equation, both the costs and the benefits.

On the one hand, the cost of controlling a hostile population has risen considerably. While technology does aid the suppression of dissent, it has a much greater effect in increasing the capabilities of an insurgency to do greater damage, further from home.

On the other hand, the benefit of a buffer zone has decreased in two ways. First, a nuclear state cannot currently be conquered. Second, a modern army would have a much easier time crossing the buffers than either the First French Empire or the Third Reich. Both the necessity and the utility of the buffers has decreased.

So could the Russian Federation retreat to Solzhenitsyn's borders? Would that have been a smarter move for Putin? Rather than an attempt at the ressurection of a Russian Empire, should he have pursued an ethnic Russian Republic? Perhaps. SIM.


Why Chechnya First?

Russia’s defining characteristic is its indefensibility. Unlike the core of most states that are relatively defensible, core Russia is limited to the region of the medieval Grand Principality of Muscovy. It counts no rivers, oceans, swamps or mountains marking its borders — it relies solely on the relatively inhospitable climate and its forests for defense. Russian history is a chronicle of the agony of surviving invasion after invasion.

Traditionally these invasions have come from two directions. The first is from the steppes — wide open grasslands that connect Russia to Central Asia and beyond — the path that the Mongols used. The second is from the North European Plain, which brought to Russia everything from the Teutonic Knights to the Nazi war machine. -George Friedman, Stratfor

I was talking with a friend about the Second Chechen War. This is a personal issue for me. I asked my friend, why Chechnya? Why was that his first priority?

Firstly, it's growing rapidly and the demographic bulge pushes against Eastern European Russia at the Urals.

Secondly, the energy in the region is rich and important (the Caspian, Azerbaijan and the pipelines to the Black Sea).

He has a point. Checnya is on the wrong side of the Caucasus Mountains. Russia could hardly expect to project power outside it's borders without stability and control inside them. And control of the regions energy resources has certainly proved to be useful. Brrr. SIM.