In response to my post on Obama’s unilateral termination of the Eastern European BMD program, several commentors suggested that the quid pro quo was Russian logistical support (i.e., transit rights) for American/NATO efforts in Afghanistan. To which I commented:
I see. Russia extracts favors from those who are fighting and dying to protect its southern flank. Very nice. No wonder Russia is so admired around the world.
To which AK/DR/SO/PFG replied:
And another thought in relation to thisâ€¦ The US is not fighting there FOR Russia (though it aids both Russia and Iran inadvertently by doing so, ironically), but because it stepped / was forced into that quagmire. So Russia has nothing to lose by doing this, because NATO’s (increasingly the US) decision to stay in or leave Afghanistan does not depend on Russia, but on their judgments of when the mission has been accomplished.
I agree that the US’s motive in Afghanistan is not to help Russia. But, thinking about it from an economic perspective, as even the-commentor-of-many-names notes, Russia is the beneficiary of an positive externality. And, one should subsidize positive externalities, not tax them. A/K argues, perhaps too cleverly, that Russia is inframarginal to the US decision; that is, the Russian tax will not affect the US decision on whether to stay in Afghanistan or not. Maybe. Maybe not. But by raising the price of logistical support, Russia will induce the US to use less efficient and effective alternatives, thereby, for instance, weakening the US efforts against the heroin trade that Medvedev has expressed such concern about. And Russia should not believe that it can be so delicate in its attempt to extract surplus from the US that it will not, in the end, leave.
And, what’s more, it reflects Russia’s extreme short-sightedness. Taking advantage of current circumstances in Afghanistan may fill the denizens of the Kremlin with glee, looking backwards as they tend to do rather than forward, but unless the world ends tomorrow, or soon thereafter, they might find reason to regret extracting their pound of flesh today. For the possible effects on Russian emanating from Afghanistan, or from the bad will it engenders going forward. Not exactly the smartest move for a dying nation with tenuous economic and social prospects.