Streetwise Professor

September 24, 2009

Externalities

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 9:14 pm

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 this… 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.

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9 Comments »

  1. That’s a good reflection of my thinking. Some other points I’d make:

    a) Russia needs to balance this issue in such a way as to continue extracting surplus (the reputational costs are negligible considering that Russia is in more or less open geopolitical conflict with the US), but without making it so onerous that it kills the cow.
    b) That is roughly the situation today. Ultimately, Russia’s actions have in net terms benefited the US. Allowing transport of non-military equipment trumps the tussle over Manas.
    c) Russia has other interests in Central Asia other than just keeping Afghan drugs and Islamism contained. One of them is influence over the C. Asian states, in particular their energy export routes. If inconveniencing the US is the price, it calculates it is one well worth paying.
    d) The withdrawal of ABM is a very, very minor concession considering that 1) the US continues arming Poland and 2) refuses to recognize Russia’s sphere of influence. Russia also knows that as soon as the US winds down the war in Iraq and deals with Iran it will focus more energies on containing Russia. As such, it is not in Russia’s national interests to reciprocate with real concessions of their own, such as turning against Iran.
    e) This assumes that the view of Russia as a “dying nation with tenuous economic and social prospects” is justified, the corollary being that Russia should submit to the tender embrace (lol) of the West. That is your subjective opinion, which is not shared by some Russia watchers such as S/O and presumably by the Kremlin too:
    Kremlin Dreams Sometimes Come True
    Through the Looking Glass at Russia’s Demography
    f) Ultimately Afghanistan is a weak (quasi-)nation and does not represent a real threat to Russia. That is not the case for the US (or China, etc).

    Comment by poluchi fashist granatu — September 24, 2009 @ 11:30 pm

  2. “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.”

    “Americans have always cared only about their interests, and all other [countries] have been used for their purposes.” It took a while for this truth to dawn upon the speaker, but he put it very well. Once operations in Afghanistan end, for reasons of domestic politics, the US will regain strategic flexibility, and the RF government would be wise to expect about as much gratitude as the Tsar got for saving Franz Joseph’s throne.

    “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.”

    The Taliban managed that bit much better than NATO has.

    “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.”

    Considering that public opinion on the war has already soured in both Great Britain and the US, I’d say that the Russian government would be wise not to plan on NATO being there long. Pluck the fruit while it is ripe, because it will spoil quickly.

    Comment by rkka — September 25, 2009 @ 3:54 am

  3. Some might consider this as an example of going forward:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/09/24/AR2009092400889.html

    ****

    Is it wise for a “dying nation” (Ukraine) to have an unpopular government continuously and unnecessarily tweaking a country which isn’t viewed so badly in the former mentioned country?

    Comment by Cutie Pie — September 25, 2009 @ 3:54 am

  4. Why quarrel? Kill Americans.

    It is curious that the Taliban, which was fighting Russian-supported forces in Northern Afghanistan, does not think to declare war against Russia. After all, it was the Russians who killed a million Afghans in the 1980s. It was the Russians who devastated the country and its infrastructure. In fact, it was the Americans who helped the Afghans in their struggle. But no, Russia somehow escapes the wrath of these curious agents of fanatical misdirection — men with fishy backgrounds and unreal objectives.

    http://www.jrnyquist.com/sept17/jrn_essay.htm

    According to a secret KGB history cited by Bagley: “set up false organizations and, using them as bait, begin operational games with enemy intelligence agents and foreign anti-Soviet centers.” In Afghanistan the Soviets elevated future mujahideen commanders like Gen. Rashid Dostum and promoted the legend of Gen. Ahmad Shah Massoud. Meanwhile, Mohammed bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahri nested indiscreetly inside the Taliban. Throughout the period of Soviet occupation, through the bloody battles of attrition organized by Najibullah’s Communist regime, independent rebel groups were decimated while KGB-controlled groups were allowed to grow and advance under a false Muslim banner. Islam always posed a threat to the Soviet Union. What better strategy than to infiltrate and hijack the Islamic cause in order to direct it away from Russia, to attack the United States and Western Europe? And this is exactly what happened. Twenty years after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan we find NATO troops battling Islamic tribesmen instead of Russian troops. We find the World Trade Center reduced to rubble instead of the Kremlin. At the same time we find Grozny, a Muslim city in European Russia, bombarded into moonscape.

    The fool who reckons the U.S. has deceived the Russians, that NATO’s advance to the borders of Russia is a proof of American wickedness, fails to see that Moscow’s double agents in Eastern Europe (disguised as pro-Western democrats) sought membership in NATO on Kremlin orders; knowing full well that the KGB’s secret structures in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary would thereby gain access to NATO’s secrets and a veto power over NATO actions. Despite the weakness of the Atlantic alliance, despite its bloated enfeeblement, the Kremlin has used the occasion to cry “foul” and warn darkly of NATO’s aggressive intentions – of Washington’s secret plan to destroy Russia utterly. They point to NATO’s misguided bombing campaign against Serbia. (Not an aggrandizement of NATO, but an ill-advised humanitarian interference provoked by very real atrocities.)
    The West does not hate Russia, but seeks to make Russia into a constructive partner. In London, in Washington, there is no agenda to destroy Russia. The Democrats would never endorse such a program and the Republicans are too busy supporting business interests eager to extend aid and trade. There is no party, cabal or group in America that actively seeks the dismemberment of Russia. The CIA itself – made impotent by the treason of Aldrich Ames in the 1990s – had nothing to do with the fall of the Soviet Union, which was effected by Kremlin policies outlined by Gorbachev and Shevardnadze at the Malta summit in 1989.

    The public, however, is easily misled. Thousands of lies, dozens of conspiracy theories, linked with an envious rhetoric transforms public opinion as it divides and conquers. Under the present information regime, lies and distortions continuously overwhelm the truth. Those few witnesses to the truth, competing for attention against the entertainment media and the inanities of television news, face the additional hurtle of surviving the KGB’s assassins.

    Comment by Oleg — September 25, 2009 @ 5:26 pm

  5. And further on “dying” Russia – Russia demographic update for Jan-Jul 2009

    Comment by poluchi fashist granatu — September 26, 2009 @ 9:56 pm

  6. “The most likely reason for Russia’s objections to US missile defense is not that it degrades their vast and unstoppable arsenal, which remains effective in any case, but it reduces the effectiveness of sock puppet proxies who threaten the US. Russia is not about to threaten the US directly. But wouldn’t it be convenient if others would? And wouldn’t it be even more convenient if the US could not defend against them”

    …….from a long commentary by Richard Fernandez at PajamasMedia

    http://pajamasmedia.com/richardfernandez/2009/09/21/choices/

    Comment by penny — September 27, 2009 @ 8:06 am

  7. Some “sock puppet” neocon/neolib reared people within the former Communist bloc and elsewhere have the potential for causing a good deal of trouble.

    Comment by Cutie Pie — September 30, 2009 @ 3:16 am

  8. The progressiv Cutie Pie is scared of polonium tea ?

    Some “sock puppet” neo-Stalinist/mafia reared people within the former Communist bloc .

    Look at history, Poland was invaded once before and the west did almost nothing about it, until it came to world war. Putting a missile defence in Poland was a great move, it ties their defence in with the rest of us and so any one messing with Poland would have to consider first if they want to mess with the US. Also its a great deterrence to Iran from developing ICBMs and is another defence against Russian aggression both indirectly and direct. You would have to be a blind fool not to see the advantages of maintaining a superior military position vs, giving it up for a token remedy, because it is truly naive to say that the spectre of world war or worse is never going to visit man kind again.

    The first person to get robbed and murdered is the one that throws away his defences, because we have finally attained world peace. Just look at history, evil exists in the world and it is a foolish thinking otherwise.

    Obama and the progressives want to repudiate America’s role as the lone Superpower to gain political popularity with common European and Middle Eastern man and woman . Being liked is their overriding need and withdrawing from “interfering” with their lives is seen as one way to succeed.

    However, abandoning the role of enforcer in Europe will not make the world a safer or more enjoyable place. The U.S. historically has promulgated values that have benefited the world (freedom, rule of law). But the rest of the world does not necessarily share these values. Removing America’s influence along these lines in Europe and the Middle East will allow spreading conflict and totalitarian regimes.

    Ultimately, pulling back our force projection to our borders will bring the battles to our borders. This is a high cost to pay for being liked.

    Comment by Oleg — September 30, 2009 @ 6:06 am

  9. On the matter of invading, Poland has prvooked matters over the course of time, in a way that gets downplayed by some.

    The MSD costs mega $$$ and had a good potential for problems, in terms of actual effectiveness. The Czech and Polish populations didn’t show great enthusiasm for its implementation as well.

    Like other powers, America’s foreign policy advocacy hasn’t always been so beneficial.

    Comment by Cutie Pie — September 30, 2009 @ 1:29 pm

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