Streetwise Professor

September 14, 2015

You May Not Be Interested In a Clash of Civilizations, But A Clash of Civilizations Is Interested In You

Filed under: China,History,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 6:25 pm

Cast your eyes around the world, and they are likely to land on a scene of conflict and chaos. In the Middle East, obviously, from pillar (Libya) to post (the Persian Gulf). In the center of Eurasia (Ukraine). In the South China Sea and the DMZ. The world situation has not been this fraught since the 1930s.

If you are like me, you crave an explanation. You could do far worse than start with Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations. Huntington’s article and subsequent book of the same title unleashed a storm of furious criticism when it came out in 1993. But standing 22 years later, Huntington looks prescient, and many of his critics look like utter fools.

The best evidence of this is to look at the antagonists in the most important cockpits of conflicts.

Start with Ukraine. Putin has explicitly invoked the idea of “a Russian world” and has justified his actions in Ukraine and elsewhere as a legitimate defense of Russian people, language, and culture from the assaults of his enemies, especially in the West. Putin and other Russians tirelessly invoke contrasts between Russian civilization and European civilization in particular.

Putin and Russians generally think they are in a Clash of Civilizations.

Next consider China. China’s leadership too views China as a great civilization that was oppressed by others (Westerners, Japanese), and which is now assuming its proper place in the world. They express a clear cultural-civilizational-chauvinism. If anything, the Chinese people are even more aggressively chauvinistic than their leaders.

The Chinese leadership and people think they are in a Clash of Civilizations.

And of course, there is Islam. That Islam believes that it is in a civilizational war with just about everybody, but in particular the West, needs no explication. Yes, there is an intramural civil war within Islam, between Sunnis and Shia, but (a) this is complicated by a civilizational clash between Arab and Persian, and (b) this conflict is in no small part a battle over who will lead the clash of Islam with the infidels.

The jihadis and the mullahs and vast numbers of Muslims generally believe they are in a Clash of Civilizations.

Who doesn’t believe it? The skeptics and doubters reside mainly in one civilization: the Western.

Indeed, Huntington’s harshest critics resided (and reside) in the West. They are, in the main, progressives, which, like top quarks, come in left-handed (mainly those who self-identify as progressives) and right-handed (e.g., neocons as epitomized by Francis Fukuyama) varieties. Despite their differences in specific policies, they share a dialectical view that history progresses in one direction, and that it is relentlessly moving to a final state, and that in the end, humanity as a whole will converge to this state. The left progs’ final state is socialist/statist: the right progs’ final state is liberal and democratic.

Obama is clearly a progressive, so understood. His most consistent trope in responding to conflict, with Putin or the Islamists, is to say that history will leave them behind; that they are swimming against the tide of history. Obama said this to Putin about Ukraine: he just said it about Syria: he has said it about Isis. His policy towards Iran is predicated on the belief that once Iran is readmitted in into the community of nations, it will become a Normal Country, and discard its Islamist civilizational mission.

So part of the failure of many of those in the West to believe in the Clash of Civilizations is rooted in a worldview that such conflicts are an atavism that will disappear as the world converges to-progresses to-some homogenous end state in which all existing differences are dissolved.

But that’s not the only part. Another part is a paradox of Western civilization. The West’s distinguishing characteristics include skepticism, criticism and doubt. That very skepticism, criticism and doubt have led many (especially on the left, but also many on the right) to conclude that Western civilization is flawed, corrupt, defective, and certainly not superior to any other civilization, and hence not worth fighting for. Thus, the self-criticism that defines Western civilization prevents many in it from fighting for it. In this respect too, Obama is an exemplar.

A big part of the reason the past few years have seen a waxing of the Clash is precisely that the leader of the leader of Western civilization has declined to fight for it, due to a rather strange combination of fatalism (history will progress and nations will converge due to fundamental historical forces) and a belief that its civilization has no right to assert itself, because of its inherent flaws. This is in contrast to the American role post-1945, which self-confidently (on the whole, with exceptions like post-Vietnam) believed in the superiority of Western (and specifically American) civilization, and exerted its power (economic, social, cultural, and often military) to create and maintain a rough order even at the fault lines of civilizational conflict (notably the Middle East, but also between Europe and Russia, and between China and the rest of Asia).

So one way to understand the mess that the world is in now is to take Huntington’s idea of enduring antagonisms and frictions between competing and incompatible civilizations, and add the retreat of the one power that largely kept those antagonisms and frictions under control.

We are arguably in the midst of a new world war, though one that is fortunately, for now anyways, not as cataclysmic as the two that preceded it. But it is a different type of world war not only because of its lower intensity, but because it is not a war between two dominant blocs. Instead, it is a multipolar war with at least four major civilizations jostling at various points around the globe. This multipolarity makes the struggle less predictable, and far more confusing. It will only become more so unless the West, and in particular the US, realizes the nature of the ongoing conflict, and reengages accordingly.

A phrase often attributed to Trotsky (probably wrongly) seems apt here: “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.” Rephrased: you may not be interested in a Clash of Civilizations, but a Clash of Civilizations is interested in you. If we don’t awaken to that reality, we are destined to be the losers in that clash.

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33 Comments »

  1. hi Professor

    what r the rules and tools of engagement that might have prevented intensification of these risks? Obama’s pullout from Iraq looks bad, now. what criteria for pullout would have been better? what should they have done?

    it seems like he ought to have engaged less in Syria, rather than more. our clients have been busts and/or nuts

    I can’t tell what might have cooled E. Asia. more generous removal of non-tariff barriers in TPP?

    he might have hired Summers and Romer as Fed governors and inflated the economy to recovery more quickly. he might have done Clinton/Reagan style structural reforms or immigration reform to admit hi quality migrants, rather than Obamacare. faster, fuller recovery might have chilled out the Arab Spring

    why does this moment seem so intense? is it the simultaneity of the beefs? I was born in the late 20th century, so I’m ignorant. Times like the 1950s seem scarier, to me

    I don’t feel that unsafe

    Comment by Dots — September 14, 2015 @ 7:07 pm

  2. The bumbling of the western elites is probably, nay certainly, luring (unintentionally) these other forces into a false sense of security. The rabble outside the gates look at the hand-wringing, cowardly leadership and their supporters and assume the whole population is like that. This would not be the first time countries have underestimated how ruthless, barbaric, and murderous the developed western nations can be once our patience has run out, our backs are up, and we believe we have had our hand forced. We obliterated two Japanese cities with atomic bombs because our patience had run out and the gloves had come off – and slept well that night. The Russians, Islamists, and Chinese might want to consider that, before picking a fight, if they push us too far and they lose, their civilisation will likely cease to exist. Sure, ISIS and their backers want a showdown war with the West, but they’d probably pause for a second if they were to believe that Mecca would be bulldozed and the rubble used for land reclaimation if they lost. If Russia loses a shooting war, or suffers the same collapse that it did in post-Soviet era, it could well lose its territorial integrity forever. If they think they will be saved by hand-wringing effeminates holding political office, they are sorely mistaken.

    Comment by Tim Newman — September 15, 2015 @ 12:54 am

  3. Thanks for the book recommendation.

    It seems to me that democracies currently are tending toward negative feedback loops due to population dynamics (including migration), multiculturalism (lack of assimilation), and increasingly pessimistic expectations of the future. Democracies are becoming a soup line for the electorates with the cultural and individual bases required for their strength weakening.

    Comment by pahoben — September 15, 2015 @ 3:13 am

  4. “Divide and rule” is rather redundant advice since mankind is naturally divided. But you do have to refrain from uniting your disparate enemies. So the USA’s antics in driving Russia into the arms of its natural enemy China is a textbook example of bad statesmanship, especially since Russia could be a natural ally for the US against the moslems. Stirring up China’s moslems might be an attractive idea for the US, but rather risky. The China/US division needn’t be the end of the world since a huge ocean divides them and they have no common border.

    So, my recipe: stop rattling the bear’s cage and cultivate the brute; truce with China. That leaves just the one which will need to be dealt with using more intelligence, judgement, and patience that the US seems capable of, and perhaps the employment of a vastly greater and more precise violence than during the fannying about in Iraq and Afghanistan. If it becomes a matter of the life and death of a civilisation, don’t annoy your enemy, kill him.

    Comment by dearieme — September 15, 2015 @ 5:26 am

  5. What I meant was that standing in line for voting now is like standing in a soup line. Cast your vote to get more free stuff from the government.

    Comment by pahoben — September 15, 2015 @ 10:11 am

  6. dearieme, good points. The U.S.’s apparent compulsion to remain in ideological conflict with Russia has baffled me since the early 1990s. We ‘won’ the cold war, for God’s sake, now let’s move on. The communist dragon is dead. Isn’t China proof of enough? The only people who quote Karl Marx anymore are Bernie Sanders groupies & other smelly hippies. The rest of us want to engage in production, trade, and good business.

    The only remaining ‘enemy’ are sociopathic ISIS followers and other like-minded fanatics. If we aligned ourselves a little more closely with Russia & China, those dudes would be toast inside of 3 weeks.

    Comment by SD3 — September 15, 2015 @ 11:11 am

  7. Dearieme and SD3, you have no idea what you are talking about. The “communist dragon” is not dead – it just has changed its scales. A KGB officer is not in jail where he belongs, not shot in the back of his head and not in a convent trying to pray his sins off – he is a President of Russia, possibly for life. And now he has decided to change the world order, no less.

    A different Russia, with a different government might be a good ally against the Islamist monster. This one is not and will never be – at least not until it leans to respect the international law and to comply with the direct demands of the United States. Treating Russia as if it was an equal sovereign power is the biggest mistale the US diplomacy is making these days.

    Comment by LL — September 15, 2015 @ 11:35 am

  8. And of course there should be no communications with Russia on any topic until Crimea is returned under Ukrainian control. I hope Obama and the leaders of the Western countries at least find the guts to leave the room when Putin takes the lectern at the UN. Even being in the same room with a KGB oficcer should be beneath the dignity of the office of the President of the United States.

    Comment by LL — September 15, 2015 @ 11:38 am

  9. Huntington’s book is very good and has basically been a foreign policy primer for the last 20 years. After the 9/11 attacks, a lot of people were criticizing Huntington because of the Clash of Civilizations. However, they didn’t seem to have actually read the book. None bothered to criticize Huntington’s theories of civilizational core states, cleft or torn countries, why conflict was transitioning from within civilizations to outside of it, and what to do about it. Instead, they seemed to think Huntington was advocating war against other civilizations – which was not something found in the text itself. In no way did Huntington advocate that. In actuality Hintington was talking about the threat of intercivilizational conflict because the means of peaceful mediation that worked for intracivilizational conflicts would not work for conflicts between civilization, and that new policies would be needed.

    All his critics (primarily on the left, but some on the right as you noted) seemed to have read only the title of his book, and extrapolated what they thought the book was about because of it. If they had read it and followed it, the world would likely be in a much better place today.

    Huntington’s predictions have been eerily prescient. Not only the sections on Russia and China, which were fairly obvious, but he was spot on about Ukraine and the Middle East. Of all the points he made, I was least convinced about his description of Turkey, but he seems to have predicted the rise of Erdogan perfectly.

    Comment by Chris — September 15, 2015 @ 12:37 pm

  10. “A KGB officer is not in jail where he belongs, not shot in the back of his head and not in a convent trying to pray his sins off – he is a President of Russia, possibly for life.”

    LL, who are you to dictate the terms of Putin’s presidency to the Russian people, or anyone else? He may be a rat-bastard, but he’s THEIR rat-bastard, not yours. And Russia is not the Soviet Union. It’s a quasi-dictatorial, bankrupt, shell of its former self, like many others in the world – what compels you to keep poking it with a sharpened stick?

    “Even being in the same room with a KGB oficcer should be beneath the dignity of the office of the President of the United States.”
    Really? Last time I checked, presidents meet with all manner despots, kings, & dictators. Is Putin worse than King Salman or President Xi? They’re just politicians. Do yourself a favor & let it go.

    Comment by SD3 — September 15, 2015 @ 1:45 pm

  11. “at least not until it leans to … comply with the direct demands of the United States. Treating Russia as if it was an equal sovereign power is the biggest mistale the US diplomacy is making these days.”

    Your sarcasm has not gone undetected.

    Comment by dearieme — September 15, 2015 @ 1:56 pm

  12. I see not everyone here gets the idea of the American exceptionalism and what it actually means. Too bad.

    Comment by LL — September 15, 2015 @ 2:55 pm

  13. it seems like the US owns a shrinking portion of global GDP, while Russia has several valuable commodities, strong ground forces, strong domestic food production and thousands of nukes. they still have a lot of catching up to do, in terms of productivity, and it seems that catchup is a lot easier than grand improvements at the cutting edge

    the US is a lot stronger, but it’s not obvious, to me, that we can push them around very decisively

    could u explain American exceptionalism’s actual meaning? I see us as exceptional for our having a unique dominance over our hemisphere, and a tremendously strong military and economy

    Comment by Dots — September 15, 2015 @ 3:44 pm

  14. Demographics.

    The population explosion going on in the third world makes everything you are saying much, much, MUCH scarier.

    Demographics. Virtually no one is talking about it. And this makes the danger exponentially more scary

    Demographics.

    Comment by Tancred — September 15, 2015 @ 7:40 pm

  15. I do beleive that freedom is the highest human value, higer than country, religion, race and anything else. Therefore the United States, being the country most dedicated to the concept and idea of freedom, democracy and capitalism has the moral right and moral obligation to be the supreme judge, policeman and executioner in the world. There are rules that everyone, every country must follow – or face severe punishment.

    With those who share the idea of supremacy of freedom, there is npo need to enforce the rules; others must know that the compliance will be enforced and that the status of a souvereign state is not absolute and does not infer the right to do whatever they want.

    Comment by LL — September 15, 2015 @ 7:49 pm

  16. The majority of Ukrainian troops in Donbass are Russian-Speaking Ukrainian. They and the the fact that Russians in the other Eastern provinces remained loyal to Ukraine challenges the claim of a civilization war on that front. The existence and loyalty of Taiwan to the US challenges it on the issue of Sinic vs Western. The existence of millions of loyal Muslims in America and Canada, with a lower proportion of criminality than whites and especially blacks challenges it on that front as well.

    For someone so skeptical of claims by ISIS or Putin or the Chinese for some reason you accept at face value that their claim that they speak for their respective civilization.

    Comment by d — September 15, 2015 @ 11:42 pm

  17. @ Tancred good point

    @ d I agree. Pacific Rim tensions seem to demo Mearshimer, more than Huntington. SWP and Huntington r right to reject liberal IR theory, and to b skeptical of a civilization to export its positive priorities, but lots of IR priorities r negative, with “we don’t want China to squash us” drafting the US into an important role

    Comment by Dots — September 16, 2015 @ 12:25 am

  18. Interesting essay, Prof.

    For me the unavoidable answer to this question can be found in a 1986 movie that explored the conflict between two civilizations (loosely used) whose values and goals were at unreconcilable odds, and wherein there was no real room for compromise.

    The answer was thus:

    “I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.”

    I’m sure you are familiar withe the source text.

    Comment by Green as Grass — September 16, 2015 @ 5:34 am

  19. d – it doesn’t sound like you have read Huntington’s book if you don’t see a “civilizational conflict” under Huntington’s terms. He has a section where he specifically talks about Ukraine, and while not predicting the specific situation we are in, analyzes the country in a way that completely explains what has been happening in Ukraine for the past twenty years. The major points of Huntington’s analysis are:

    1) Russian Orthodox civilization is separate from the Latin Christian West. It’s border is basically the old Russian and Byzantine/Ottoman border.
    2) Russia is the “core state” of this civilization, and has been since the fall of Byzantium. It defines the cultural parameters, and defends the lesser states of its religious brothers.
    3) For Russia to regain its great power status, as opposed to a regional power, it needs Ukraine in a strongly allied position. That could be mean incorporating it into Russia, a satellite state, or a willing ally. Ukraine’s geography, resources, and people are that important.
    4) Ukraine itself is a “cleft state”. Western part of the country was ruled by Latin powers (Poland, Hapsburgs) and very nationalist. Eastern part is Russian and looks towards Moscow, not very nationalist. These two forces struggle for control of the country, and power often changes hands (Kravchuk to Kuchma, Kuchma to Orange Revolution, Orange to Yanukovych, Yanukovych to Maidan – although at time book was written, only Kravchuk to Kuchma was known).
    5) Huntington explains there are several possible futures for Ukraine based on this.
    a) Conflict between Ukraine and Russia as Ukraine joins a Western orientation. At the time, Huntington dismissed this as the least likely choice. Ukraine had chosen pro-Moscow Kuchma, agreed to surrender its nuclear weapons, and had too many cultural connections. He thought Ukraine would remain in the Russian orbit, and thus avoid any conflict.
    b) Ukraine splits into two as the two sides of Ukraine can’t agree. Russia reoccupies eastern Ukraine – which at the time meant not only Donbas and Crimea, but all of what we would now call Novarossiya. Western Ukraine would be a rump state that would not be viable unless given massive Western support. At the time, only several years into Ukrainian independence, Huntington thought this was a realistic scenario.
    c) A status quo where Ukraine remains cleft, but united and independent, and cooperating with Russia. Huntington considered this to be the most likely scenario.

    In reality since the book was published, Ukraine was adopting the first path in retrospect (although this was never a “destined” option). The successful transition of Poland, the Baltics, and other former Communist states stood in contrast to the corruption of the Ukrainian state under the pro-Russian Kuchma. The legal transition of power through elections in Ukraine, unlike Russia which had fraudulent elections or the use of force against opposition – in both Yeltsin and Putin governments – prevented the possibility of a Putin-dictatorship scenario. The Orange Revolution failed to eliminate corruption in Ukraine, but it cemented democratic norms, temporarily reoriented political leadership to the West, and succeeded in making alignment with the EU as a common goal for all Ukrainians. In addition, the vote for more nationalist/western candidates was slowly expanding east. Nationalist votes were now majority on the north part of Left Bank Ukraine, and slowly growing south along the Dnieper. Odessa, Crimea and further eastern areas were still strongly pro-Russian though. When Yanukovych was elected, he had to do so in a way that made him seem more pro-Western, less corrupt, and in favor of a deal with the EU.

    At this point, Ukraine was still a cleft country and generally cooperative to Moscow (option c), but its goal of aligning with the EU put it onto the path of conflict with Moscow.

    In contrast, Russia developed a different political order and norms under Putin. Putin decided that a Eurasian Economic Union was the vehicle to restore the Russian Empire, and he needed Ukraine to be in it. If Ukraine signed trade agreement with the EU, this would block his strategy to dominate Ukraine. He threatened Yanukovych to not sign the agreement. Yanukovych agreed. However, this sudden turn infuriated many Ukrainians had either voted for him or tolerated his rule because they thought Ukraine was going to align with the EU (and hence future prosperity, and perhaps the rule of law).

    At that point, the cleft nature of Ukraine was evident. Maidan was dominated by western Ukrainians. The west was in favor of the protests, and the east was not. However, there was enough support in the east to show the civilization differences were declining in the long term. The twenty plus years of independence had made more of the Russian speaking east “nationalists” in certain regards. At this point, Maidan was clearly a struggle within the cleft country. It might have lead to a civil war and splitting the country in two (option b), but it didn’t. Nor did it result in a pro-Russian government (option c). Instead, the nationalists took over and signed the EU agreement. Option “a” had won.

    In response, Putin attempted to put option b back on the table by force. He was able to seize Crimea through strategic surprise. Not seeing organized opposition, he now encouraged the rest of Novorossiya to do the same. It briefly looked like it would work. The Donbas fell without much effort, but elsewhere this was resisted by a combination of self-serving oligarchs who thought Kiev was better guarantee of their fortunes and powers than Putin’s Moscow, established politicians who thought the same, and Russian-speaking nationalists who acted where local security services would not. The rest of Ukraine held, and Poroshenko made the decision to retake the Donbas which failed only when Russia increased its support of the rebels. The prolonged conflict and shooting down of the Dutch airliner finally provoked the West into supporting Ukraine more, and Putin accepted a stalemate in the Donbas. However, Putin sought to use international agreements to create a frozen crisis he could manipulate Kiev into one of his preferred options (b or c). At this time however, it appears Putin has failed.

    At this point in time, we are definitely in option “a” as Huntington predicted could happen and for the reasons he outlined. Ukraine is pursuing a pro-Western, or at least nationalist, policy at least for now. However, it is important to note that this is not guaranteed to continue. The Ukrainian nationalists have greatly grown in support than they were in 1993-6. However, there are still divisions. Current support for Poroshenko is low. Reforms will be painful in the short term. Missteps in international politics could strengthen Putin’s hand. Domestic failure could discredit the nationalist movement and erode support. There is no guarantee Ukraine could not revert to its previous state or break apart.

    In other words, Ukraine has not yet decisively reoriented itself to the West. All the point of Huntington’s thesis still applies. It is just that the nationalists and westernizers have grown in the past twenty years. They also have allies in this struggle by those people who are naturally sympathetic to Russia, but whose interests would not be served to be ruled by Putin in Moscow. Given that choice, they have reluctantly supported Kiev, but this cannot be taken for granted. While at this point in time it appears Ukraine is on the path to reorienting itself to Western civilization, it has not yet done so. This is likely a process that will continue for another 30-60 years – Crimea though will likely never return, and the Donbas is very much in doubt. Option “b” will have won out, although with far less lands than Huntington and Putin originally believed.

    If you look at Huntington’s actual arguments, I don’t see where his analysis was wrong.

    Comment by Chris — September 16, 2015 @ 12:51 pm

  20. @Chris

    a few observations:

    1) Yanukonvikt supporters became severely disillusioned with him – he had promised to “take care of his own” in Donbas, but that never developed. Instead, Yanukonvikt’s only goal became to enrich himself and “the family” – he was convinced that the “president” of the country should be the wealthiest man. Hence, loss of support even among the zombies who had voted for him, which was mainly in the eastern parts of Ukraine. The people everywhere got sick and tired of Yanukonvikt’s HUGE corruption. People from everywhere throughout Ukraine supported EuroMaidan.

    2) Kuchma used a “triangulation” to squeeze money from the West and from The Rasha. It was the “Ukrainian Third Way” – and it worked for a long time. Ukraine got money to give up its nukes, for example. US foreign policy was to keep nukes out of the hands of crazies – looks like they should have worked on The Rasha instead of Ukraine.

    3) Putler was forced to accept a current stalemate, in large part, because he miscalculated – he never got the widespread support that he counted on, and Ukraine, through its army and volunteer battalions, built up considerably and turned into a formidable foe, notwithstanding poor equipment, etc.

    4) All of Putler’s “non-war” is costing The Rasha a ton of money – plus Cargo 200, which Putler and his Kremlinoids strive mightily to keep secret. But the word is getting out nevertheless, and Russians are not happy.

    5) People are impatient with Poroshenko because he is not moving fast enough to get rid of corruption.

    6) I would not so easily discount the return of Crimea. Putler Khuylo has turned it into a wasteland, and it is costing him tons of money to keep it afloat.

    A couple of jokes:

    Kuchma wrote a book – “Ukraine Is Not Russia,” to which Putler responded with a book titled “Russia Is Not Ukraine.”

    Ukraine has been a nation in search of a state – Yanukonvikt and Putler Khuylo have vastly united Ukrainians. Russia is a state in search of a nation.

    Comment by elmer — September 16, 2015 @ 10:09 pm

  21. it seems like the US owns a shrinking portion of global GDP, while Russia has several valuable commodities…strong domestic food production…

    Jeez, have you eaten Russian domestic food production? I lived there between 2006-10 and you couldn’t buy fresh milk in a town of 250,000 people. Sure, it was pretty remote but I bet you can buy fresh milk in Alaska. I survived for 4 years on UHT milk (and then for another 3 when I moved to Nigeria).

    Comment by Tim Newman — September 17, 2015 @ 4:08 am

  22. “I survived for 4 years on UHT milk”: we had a schoolgirl on exchange once who thought fresh milk was wonderful; she insisted on taking some home. She had known only UHT. She was from Normandy.

    Comment by dearieme — September 17, 2015 @ 7:01 am

  23. The clash of civilizations has a cost attached to it.

    Here is a pretty interesting analysis by Stratfor – an estimate of what it’s costing Putler Khuylo to establish his little “statelets” and keep his “non-wars” or “hybrid wars” going:

    https://www.stratfor.com/weekly/logic-and-risks-behind-russias-statelet-sponsorship

    Share
    The Logic and Risks Behind Russia’s Statelet Sponsorship
    Geopolitical Weekly
    September 15, 2015 | 08:00 GMT Print
    Text Size

    By Reva Bhalla

    Mother Russia can be quite generous when it comes to her collection of statelets. In the early 1990s, when a broken Russia had no choice but to suck in her borders, a severely distracted Kremlin still found the time and money to promote and sponsor the fledgling breakaway territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia and Transdniestria in Moldova. And as Russia became more economically coherent over the years, the number of Russian troops in these territories grew, and a bigger slice of the Russian budget was cut out to keep the quasi-states afloat.

    These post-Soviet statelets have a good deal in common. They are all tiny — South Ossetia is roughly 3,900 square kilometers (1,500 square miles) and has about 40,000 inhabitants, Abkhazia covers 8,500 square kilometers and its population is about 240,000, and Transdniestria is 4,100 square kilometers and has a population of 555,000. They are also all economically isolated, effectively run on black and gray economies, and are largely dependent on Russia’s financial largesse for survival. Most important, from Russia’s point of view, they each occupy strategic spaces in the post-Soviet sphere where Russian troops and thus the potential for further intervention can apply acute pressure on Georgia and Moldova should they draw too close to the West. The presence of Russian troops in these breakaway territories forms the tripwire that any Western patron will be wary to cross when it comes to defending those countries in their time of need. This, after all, is the true deterrent value of statelet sponsorship.

    But Russia’s strategy has also gotten to be a lot more burdensome and much more complicated in recent years. In addition to readopting Crimea (covering 26,000 square kilometers with a population of 2 million), Russia has added to its basket of statelets the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic (16,000 square kilometers collectively with a population of 1.5 million and 2 million, respectively) in eastern Ukraine. Though exact figures are hard to come by, various compiled estimates show Russia has annually been injecting about $300 million into Abkhazia and at least $100 million into South Ossetia and Transdniestria each to finance their annual budgets, provide cheap fuel, pay pensions and so on. In addition, Russia has allocated at least $2.42 billion in 2015 to support Crimea (not including military costs) and, according to a report written by Higher School of Economics analyst Sergei Aleksashenko, Russia has allocated at least $2 billion in the federal 2015 budget to sustain its military support in eastern Ukraine, a figure that continues to grow.

    And the list is only getting longer.

    …….

    Operating from a low and still rough estimate, we can assume that Russia is spending at least $5 billion annually on these quasi-states, which is still less than 3 percent of Russia’s 2015 federal budget of $206 billion. This amount does not include the large amount of pre-allocated defense budget that goes into the Ukraine and Syria operations. There is also an opportunity cost to bear in mind. Pre-allocated military resources cannot be redirected to other purposes, such as procurement, training, and research and development unless the defense budget as a whole continues to increase.

    Comment by elmer — September 17, 2015 @ 7:27 am

  24. I suppose one comparison would be to how much the US pays to own its colony Puerto Rico, for the purpose of denying access to the Panama Canal to the Kaiser’s navy. Or whatever the original purpose was.

    Comment by dearieme — September 17, 2015 @ 1:46 pm

  25. Panama Canal:
    Another giveaway poorly appreciated.

    Comment by pahoben — September 18, 2015 @ 3:03 am

  26. Prof.,

    West is actively participating in the Clash of Civilizations also – through export of capitalism, democracy, free speech, etc.

    I am not saying Western model isn’t the way to go, but why is it our business to tell others how to run their countries. History has proven that some countries may have been best off if left developing on their own – I’m sure we all can name a few in Middle East or South America.

    Comment by Mikhail — September 18, 2015 @ 10:35 am

  27. “Exporting capitalism and democracy” is something the US might have done while fighting the Cold War, but certainly does not since it deluded itself into believing the KGBland was now a normal country. And that is the root cause of the sbit we see happening in Eurasia.

    As there bas never been a deficit of exporters in the area since at least the times of Persian empires, a deacrease in high quality Amerian exports can only mean an increase in the shoddy exports from Russia and other similarly dreary places, at great detriment to welfare.

    Comment by Ivan — September 18, 2015 @ 3:19 pm

  28. The notion that America is not an active participant in clashing civilizations is risible. We recently invaded and occupied a sovereign country to impose our preferred form of government on it (the casus belli which was retroactively applied after it became obvious that Iraqi WMD programs did not exist). More recently, President Obama has been a forceful and eloquent advocate for Anerican values, in both word and deed.

    The dominance which America exerts over the rest of the world comes not only from its unmatched economic and military power, but from the cultural hegemony which comes from Hollywood movies, American television, iPhones, Google, Facebook, and the myriad other ways in which foreign cultures are being subsumed into what Joseph Stalin referred to as American exceptionalism. The world is getting latter, and it is gravitating towards us.

    There is a strain of right wing thought (pardon the contradiction) which posits that America is in terminal decline and the rest of the world is in ascent, and it is asserted with the same fervor as those voices who assured us in the 1980’s that Japan would soon be the world’s dominant power. This eschatology is part of the unceasing gloominess consuming what passes for conservatism, along with its dyspepsia, perpetual aggrievement, and floccinaucinihilipilification. Rejoice, conservatives! Things are not nearly as bad as you think they are.

    Comment by Ratiocination — September 18, 2015 @ 3:28 pm

  29. American, not Anerican, Flatter, not latter.

    Comment by Ratiocination — September 18, 2015 @ 3:30 pm

  30. Great topic and discussion, worthy of many comments.

    Western civilization like others has had it’s ups and downs. Greece fell, Rome fell, Byzantium fell, Christianity, rule of law, private property and privacy are some of the main common threads of our civilization, there are other threads running thru it that I hope others might add. We now have a post modern, that is relativistic any thing goes disintegration. (Sorry, that includes certain music). And not just in the western world. Are we a victim of our success? Had we maintained our character, we would be much better able to handle the Clash. But in spite of the communist socialist subversion, foreign and domestic, our weakness which probably is similar to the time of the fall of Rome, has progressed to the point that without a clash from the outside we may clash from the inside, to our own destruction.

    Comment by traveler — September 18, 2015 @ 4:03 pm

  31. >>Hollywood movies, American television, iPhones, Google, Facebook

    In otber words, America threatens the savage regimes by the fact of its existence. The sovok solution to this “problem” was forcible isolation of enslaved peoples from America, effectively making it non-existent for them. The preferred prog solution seems to be to make America non-existent, period.

    Comment by Ivan — September 18, 2015 @ 4:14 pm

  32. The most shameful treatment of deserving migrants in history was the denial of entry for the passengers of the St Louis by that great hero of the American left.

    Comment by pahoben — September 19, 2015 @ 3:35 am

  33. The service of thought is to provide reasonable expectations of the future. A measure of the quality of thought can be made by comparing those expectations with actualities. When measuring the quality of Prog thought in this way the conclusion must be that the quality is very poor. It is bad because it is ideologically based. If by right wing thought you mean all thought that is not typically Progressive then your assertion of a contradiction is not supported.

    Comment by pahoben — September 19, 2015 @ 4:46 am

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