28 April 2014
26 April 2014
Kiev’s Difficult Task
Organizing Ukraine’s ElectionsWhy are Putin and Russia supporting Eastern Ukrainian separatists by having self-evidently well-trained and well-disciplined paramilitary groups take over provincial and city government buildings and establish unathorized checkpoints? Isn’t that a key question? Before you can deal or even bargain sensibly with the Kremlin, shouldn’t you try to understand its motives? Many Western commentators think the Kremlin is purposely destabilizing Ukraine in order to make it weak. There is precedent for that. Three-quarters of a century ago, Stalin robbed, starved and trampled Ukraine in his forced collectivization and the run-up to Russia’s Great Patriotic War (known to us Yanks as World War II). What Stalin did to Ukraine was close to genocide. But what were the results? Ukraine fell easy prey to the Nazi blitzkrieg. Despite Ukraine’s having been Russia’s mother country, most Ukrainians hated the Soviet Union, Russia, Russians and Communism. (Ukraine had far fewer ethnic Russians and far fewer intermarriages in those days.) Many Ukrainians fought tragically, and to no avail, on the side of the Nazis, as the lesser of two evils. Their doing so has vestiges today, in Ukraine’s neo-Nazi extremists. Stalin’s policy of pounding neighbors into abject weakness was hardly a stunning success. So I don’t believe for a moment that the Kremlin’s goal is destabilization, if only because Putin is far less brutal and far smarter than Stalin. Destabilization is a means to an end. But what’s the end? In my view, only four possible answers make sense. First and most likely, the Kremlin wants to effect “regime change” in Donetsk and Luhansk and absorb them as it did Crimea. Maybe Odessa, too. Second, but less likely, the Kremlin sincerely sees what happened on the Maidan as a putsch by extremists organized by the West. So it is now doing what it thinks is tit for tat in Eastern Ukraine. Having no real understanding of democracy and bottom-up movements, except for their catastrophic Bolshevik Revolution, Russian leaders have hardly been original, or even remotely clever, in “managing” the Baltics and Eastern Europe during the Cold War, in playing energy blackmail in Ukraine and Eastern Europe, and now in trying to intimidate Kiev. The smartest thing they have done in a century is letting their vassal states go (by dissolving the Soviet Union) and trying to build a peaceful, more loosely affiliated commonwealth, with ties of common interest in economics and security. Now Putin is having seller’s remorse. Apparently he wants the vassal states back, or at least the Russian-speaking parts of them, as vassals again, not as independent and friendly neighbors. But annexing territories with foreign majorities is no easy thing to do peacefully. Putin may ken democracy little, but he is familiar with intercultural conflict, what Russians call “the nationalities problem.” And he has no solution to the unsolvable problem of peacefully annexing foreign-majority cultures against their will. So he apes what he thinks the West has been doing. Is it possible he is starting to believe his own propaganda? Third, the Putin and the Kremlin may have some dim understanding of popular movements and may be trying to jump-start one among Russophiles in Donetsk and Luhansk. Having trained in the KGB, Putin is doing so in the only way he knows: from the top down, using trained and experienced often-secret operatives, including paramilitary groups. There is a big problem with this approach. Russian speakers are a minority in Donetsk and Luhansk, and perhaps also in Odessa. Apparently, to put it mildly, Putin hasn’t thought through what to do about the recalcitrant majority. And so we come to the last of the four possibilities, which jumps out of order in probability. Putin wants to influence or thwart the upcoming elections and convince the world, including ethnic Russians everywhere, that a majority of the people of Donetsk, Luhansk (and maybe even Odessa) love Russia and want to join it. If, as is likely, he can’t make the elections come out his way, he wants to destabilize and delegitimize them. That’s precisely why all Ukrainian patriots should be thinking, planning, organizing and acting, in every waking moment for the next month, how best to make the elections legitimate and effective. There are three key issues. 1. Getting the ballot right. Remember how the Russians organized their “referendum” in Crimea? In essence, the ballot had only two choices: (1) become independent or (2) join Russia. Crimeans couldn’t vote to stay part of Ukraine. That kind of “election” was reminiscent of the moment, now close to a century ago, when the Devil captured Russia’s history. Stalin stuffed the ballot box, “defeated” the talented General Kirov, and had him shot the next day. Crimea’s slanted election wasn’t nearly as consequential as that disastrous moment in Russian history because demographics foreordained the outcome. Ethnic Russians are nearly a two-thirds majority throughout Crimea and close to three quarters in Sevastopol, the home of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. So no harm, no foul. Crimea probably would have voted as it did even in a fair election. But in Donetsk, Luhansk, and perhaps Odessa, the demographics are not so self-evidently decisive. Ethnic Russians are a minority there. So a real election is both possible and necessary. It is unlikely, if the election is fair, that a majority would vote to join Russia. But a majority might vote to secede from Ukraine and establish an independent, neutral state, if there are credible guarantees that it would remain neutral and independent. It all depends on how free and fair are the elections and what choices are given the voters. Isn’t that what democracy is all about? So Ukraine can’t do what happened in Crimea. It can’t offer voters a false choice. It must offer them a real choice. In my view, the ballot should have, in addition to the names of candidates for office, three broad choices for a general form of government. The first should be a centralized form of government, ruled from Kiev. The second should be a federal system in which Kiev controls foreign policy, trade, monetary policy, and national defense, and the provinces (including Donetsk, Luhansk and Odessa) control everything else. The third choice would give each province the chance to become an independent nation, perhaps oriented toward (but not absorbed by) Russia. A fourth choice is also possible: joining Russia, province by province. But I think that the self-evident duress of Russia’s border-kissing tanks and troops makes such a choice unwise. Even in the unlikely event that annexation drew a majority of voters in any province, Russophobes in Ukraine (and worldwide) would argue that the majority had voted only to avoid an invasion. So Russia’s military blackmail already has de-legitimized any “choice” to join Russia. The best that Russophiles in Ukraine can now hope to win in a truly free election is province-by-province independence—an outcome consistent with vast intermarriage among, and intertwining of, the national cultures of Ukraine’s Eastern provinces. Only by offering real choices like these to every voter can the election resolve peacefully the question that Russia’s tanks and troops are now trying to decide by duress: what do the Eastern provinces really want to do? And by offering such real alternatives, Kiev can undermine attempts to boycott the elections. Real choices refute claims of illegitimacy. 2. Getting out the vote. That brings us to the most important electoral task of all: making sure that as many people who can vote do, especially in the disputed provinces. The Kremlin may try to organize election boycotts by Russophiles in order to de-legitimize the elections. But that didn’t work out so well for the Sunnis in Iraq, the Islamists in Egypt, or the Taliban in Afghanistan, did it? Elections are Von Clausewitz standing on his head: they are the moral equivalent of war, but without bloodshed. Even if the Kremlin loses, it would do far better to wage a good electoral campaign—as it has done several times in Russia itself—than to turn Eastern Ukraine into Syria. There’s not much Kiev can do about boycotts except try to persuade citizens not to join them. Kiev might pay people to vote. The payments would provide a small income supplement in a turbulent, dangerous and insecure time for all Ukrainians. But there should be no punitive measures for not voting; they would only de-legitimatize the elections. Russia and its partisans may try to stop voting by persuasion, intimidation, and disruption. Indeed, this may be one purpose of taking over local government buildings and setting up illegal checkpoints. But this is the Internet age. Ukrainians should be able to vote from anywhere, even abroad, by mail, over the Internet and with mobile phones. Kiev should arrange everything about the elections to make it as easy to vote as possible. Ukraine’s leaders should devote all their thinking and acting for the next month to that end. Russian paramilitary groups may block the roads and take over local government buildings where local records, including voter registration rolls, reside. But Ukraine’s leaders can make an end run around the occupied buildings and checkpoints with voting by mail, over the Internet, or with mobile phones. There is no need for military assaults or war: the analogy to the Berlin Airlift is a good one here. 3. Insuring legitimacy. The other side of the coin of making it easy to vote is avoiding fraud, ballot-box stuffing and double-counting. That task involves three steps. First, every vote should be recorded on paper before being counted, to aid investigation in case of a later dispute. Electronic voting records should be printed out before being counted, whether by machine or by hand. Second, every voting record (whether electronic or on paper) should have a unique identification number which is given to the voter immediately after voting, but which is otherwise kept secret to insure secret ballots. In the case of electronic records, the number should be encrypted with a private key known only to top election officials. If disputes or questions arise, these numbers can be used to investigate after the fact. Finally, every voting place, including electronic voting operations, should be supervised by a group of observers with representatives of every political party and faction, especially including both Russophobes and Russofiles in Donetsk, Luhansk and Odessa.
18 April 2014
Understanding Vladimir Putin
As for Neo-Nazis, they do exist inside Ukraine. But the notion that they formed (or stole) the heart of the Maidan revolution, or that we Yanks knowingly and willingly support them, is (to quote Mark Twain on reports of his premature death) greatly exaggerated. Putin is a smart and practical man. Sooner or later, he will understand that he’s been played, by Assad, who claims everyone opposing him is a terrorist, and by Yanukovych, who claims everyone opposing him is a Nazi, anarchist, or hooligan. Sooner or later, Putin will understand that the local spooks on whom he naturally relies (as an ex-KGB agent) have divided loyalties. Sooner or later, he will remember that we Yanks and his Russians fought on the same side in World War II, and that neither of our two cultures has much love for fascism. We can help speed his process of awakening by opening our intelligence files to Putin. Insofar as we know it, we can give him hard evidence of what is happening in Ukraine, and of initiatives in Ukraine itself toward even-handed government and autonomy for the provinces. We can work with him toward a common end of peace, harmony and security. But to do that, we must first convince him that our aim is not to stymie, “contain” or defeat Russia, as long as its motives are benign. Our aim must be to serve genuinely as the “American partners” that Putin and his colleagues continue to call us, despite their rising doubt and disappointment in recent years. One promising option is to make Ukraine neutral, like Switzerland. Already it’s practically neutral from a military standpoint: it gave up its nuclear arsenal, and it doesn’t have much of a conventional army. All we have to do is convince Putin that Ukraine will never become a NATO member, even if it joins the EU, but will remain a neutral bridge between Europea and Russia, as has been its traditional role. With military alliances set aside, Russia and the West can compete to see which parts of Ukraine, over which they each have influence, they can bring into modernity, peace and prosperity quickest. That’s a productive, peaceful competition that Putin, the consummate competitor, ought to enjoy. permalink
10 April 2014
Lack of Imagination V: Accurate Weapons
“A weapon is ‘accurate’ if it’s capable of being used to achieve a reasonable political objective with a reasonable minimum of collateral damage.”In simple terms, a weapon is accurate if it mostly gets the bad guys, or changes their behavior, and leaves others alone. In the simplest possible terms, an accurate weapon is one that achieves a political objective with minimal unintended consequences. Are nuclear weapons “accurate”? If we accept this definition, we come to some conclusions that may, at first, seem counterintuitive. Nuclear weapons are accurate, but only if they are never used. Used at the end of World War II, they massacred over 200,000 mostly innocent people, although they did bring a brutal war to an earlier end than expert observers thought possible otherwise. But unused, as deterrents to attack and invasion (as they have been since World War II), nuclear weapons have produced a minor miracle. They have turned off wars of imperialism between major powers fighting each other on their own territory, as if by some celestial switch. They have given us the Pax Atomica, which will be 70 years old next year. But if nuclear weapons are ever used again, they will be the ultimate in inaccuracy. They will kill hundreds of thousands or millions of mostly innocent people, destroy whole cities or regions, and render the land radioactive and uninhabitable for victor and vanquished alike. Far from changing behavior, they will invite retaliation in kind, resulting in a risk of species self-extinction (in the case of big powers like the US and USSR) or mutual annihilation in the case of small ones like Israel and Iran. We’ve been there and done that. We nearly extinguished our own species in October 1962. But for the cool and sober judgment and action of two Russians and one American, we might have. Now our task as a species is to walk back from the disastrous concept of “total war” that made the last century such a miserable one and develop more accurate weapons that change behavior without multiplying self-imposed human misery. How do we do that? Individual Responsibility Before diving into the details of modern weapons and their accuracy, we first have to explore an even more vital social question: who’s responsible for bad behavior that needs changing? It goes without saying that, in nearly every case, leaders are. But social norms and customs—including universal respect for sovereign immunity—have made most leaders completely immune from responsibility for their bad acts. Much of the agony of history repeating itself derives from this simple fact. People, including leaders, don’t change bad behavior unless there’s a price for it. In the Age of Monarchy, from which we are just about two centuries removed, the monarchs and nobles lived in a different world from the ordinary people who fought and died for them. When taken prisoner by an enemy, they were given the best medical care, food, and housing, plus gentle treatment befitting their royal or noble status. Except when kept as hostages, they were often returned to their homes in a high-level prisoner exchange. It was the ordinary people, whose lot was only to follow their leaders, who not only did the bulk of the suffering and dying during the war. It was also they who suffered the consequences, while the king and nobles went back to their opulent castles and plotted new adventures, chastened only in the abstract and by their waste of gold and men. That simple fact was what made the victorious Allies’ decision to punish Germany collectively after its loss in World War I so unfair, stupid and disastrous. The common people of any vanquished nation already suffered mightily, in the very nature of things. Now the Allies wanted to add national reparations, trade sanctions, and trade isolation to their woes, resulting in the Weimar Hyperinflation, the worst in modern history. It was heaping insult upon injury upon injury upon the German people. We all know the consequences: the rise of Hitler and Nazism, the most terrible war of aggression in human history, the Holocaust, and the premature deaths of some 50 million people. All that changed after World War II, with the Nuremberg Trials. The whole point of the Trials was to hold the leaders, not the German people, responsible for the pathological behavior with which Nazis had prosecuted the war and perpetrated the Holocaust. In so doing, the Trials did little more than better Germans themslves had tried to do. Leaders of the German army, including several from old, noble families, had tried to kill Hitler and his key staff several times. The attempts culminated in the nearly-successful 1944 bombing chronicled in the American film “Valkyrie.” The bomb in the briefcase would have been an extremely accurate weapon, but it missed its target and Hitler survived. Germans themselves had not balked at trying to assassinate a leader who had brought such misery upon their people, let alone their neighbors and national minorities. Modern accurate weapons With this background, we can begin to answer the question “what weapons are ‘accurate’ in the twenty-first century”? As we do so, we must keep in mind two basic principles. First, accurate weapons don’t kill innocent people. At least they try to avoid killing large numbers of innocent people as did the Zeppelin and V-2 attacks on London, the fire-bombing of Dresden and Tokyo, and the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Second, the aim of accurate weapons is to change political behavior, which mostly means changing the behavior of leaders. Sometime this goal requires killing them. Sometimes it means making their undesirable acts costly, to themselves or to people they care about, if only as pawns. With these principles in mind, we can analyze some modern candidates for accurate weapons. In a few cases, we can do so against the background of recent events. an earlier post, we Yanks have a whole regiment of ninjas. We trained them for use primarily on the battlefield, or in fluid areas of insurgency like Taliban-infiltrated parts of Afghanistan. In those contexts, our ninjas carried out many missions, sometimes nightly, killing designated bad guys more accurately than drones, and with less collateral damage. Their killing bin Laden was a special mission—one of their few outside the battlefield/insurgency context. Ninjas are perhaps the most accurate weapon we have. They killed bin Laden with only a single reported casualty: a woman in bin Laden’s compound was injured, not killed. Not only that. The ninjas provided unambiguous and convincing proof of bin Laden’s death and left the buildings and their contents standing, so they could extract computers and media with invaluable intelligence. The ninjas’ training and human minds made possible maximum benefit with minimal unintended consequences, of which the helicopter’s loss and the single injury were the sole reported examples. The bin Laden mission was the height of “accuracy” as defined here. Conclusion: Japan, a closing circle Japan’s history reveals deep irony that bears careful study. That nation first developed the concept of ninjas: highly trained assassins whose skill and care kept most conflict confined to leaders within the elite clans. These experts in assassination spared the general population the agony of war. While ordinary people were no more valued in medieval Japan than in medieval Europe, Japan’s custom of using ninjas rather than waging full-scale war spared them much needless suffering. It was therefore cruelly ironic that Japan, of all nations, is the only one to have suffered so horribly from the most inaccurate weapons we humans have ever devised. Japan has memorialized that irony in its Peace Museum in Hiroshima, which every person who aspires to leadership anywhere should visit. I don’t mean to idealize Japan’s Tokugawa Period, in which ninjas played an important role. During his long reign, Emperor Tokugawa forbade all innovation as socially destabilizing. He left Japan an isolated, stagnant and weaker nation, ready prey to Admiral Perry’s Black Ships. Japan today is stronger because it innovates; it no longer suppresses the universal human impulse to explore, invent and create. But the notion of ninjas as accurate weapons with minimal unintended consequences still makes sense. It makes special sense after the alternative—“total war” with nuclear weapons—nearly extinguished our species in October 1962. The horribly bloody last century was the consequence of our fatal attraction to inaccurate weapons, to destruction for the sake of seemingly godlike power. But a god with brains and finesse would pick his or her targets carefully, not destroy a whole nation or city just to punish a few. As we begin to apply the seminal notion of individual responsibility more broadly in politics and on the shifting battlefields of modern conflict, we will find much greater uses for accurate weapons like ninjas, snipers and the mechanical devices analyzed above.