Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘War’ Category

Russia is not doing well at all

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As the video points out, it would be foolish to trust Putin’s statements (and statements from the government he controls) regarding how well the Russian economy is doing under the sanctions. Interesting video, worth watching. The official picture is a Potemkin-village view of the Russian economy and GDP. 

Written by Leisureguy

28 August 2022 at 1:02 pm

Why the US Army is worried about TikTok

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Watch this.

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27 August 2022 at 10:51 am

“Slavery and war are tightly connected – but we had no idea just how much until we crunched the data.”

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Monti Datta, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Richmond; Angharad Smith, Modern Slavery Programme Officer, United Nations University; and Kevin Bales, Prof. of Contemporary Slavery, Research Director – The Rights Lab, University of Nottingham write in The Conversation:

Some 40 million people are enslaved around the world today, though estimates vary. Modern slavery takes many different forms, including child soldiers, sex trafficking and forced labor, and no country is immune. From cases of family controlled sex trafficking in the United States to the enslavement of fishermen in Southeast Asia’s seafood industry and forced labor in the global electronics supply chain, enslavement knows no bounds.

As scholars of modern slavery, we seek to understand how and why human beings are still bought, owned and sold in the 21st century, in hopes of shaping policies to eradicate these crimes.

Many of the answers trace back to causes like poverty, corruption and inequality. But they also stem from something less discussed: war.

In 2016, the United Nations Security Council named modern slavery a serious concern in areas affected by armed conflict. But researchers still know little about the specifics of how slavery and war are intertwined.

We recently published research analyzing data on armed conflicts around the world to better understand this relationship.

What we found was staggering: The vast majority of armed conflict between 1989 and 2016 used some kind of slavery.

Later in the article:

Alarming numbers

In our recently published analysis, we found that contemporary slavery is a regular feature of armed conflict. Among the 1,113 cases we analyzed, 87% contained child soldiers – meaning fighters age 15 and younger – 34% included sexual exploitation and forced marriage, about 24% included forced labor and almost 17% included human trafficking.

Read the whole thing.

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23 August 2022 at 12:51 pm

Good brief survey of the state of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

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23 August 2022 at 10:54 am

Russia’s spies misread Ukraine and misled Kremlin as war loomed

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Greg Miller and Catherine Belton have a very interesting report (gift link, no paywall) in the Washinton Post. It begins:

KYIV, Ukraine — In the final days before the invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s security service began sending cryptic instructions to informants in Kyiv. Pack up and get out of the capital, the Kremlin collaborators were told, but leave behind the keys to your homes.

The directions came from senior officers in a unit of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) with a prosaic name — the Department of Operational Information — but an ominous assignment: ensure the decapitation of the Ukrainian government and oversee the installation of a pro-Russian regime.

The messages were a measure of the confidence in that audacious plan. So certain were FSB operatives that they would soon control the levers of power in Kyiv, according to Ukrainian and Western security officials, that they spent the waning days before the war arranging safe houses or accommodations in informants’ apartments and other locations for the planned influx of personnel.

“Have a successful trip!” one FSB officer told another who was being sent to oversee the expected occupation, according to intercepted communications. There is no indication that the recipient ever made it to the capital, as the FSB’s plans collapsed amid the retreat of Russian forces in the early months of the war.

The communications exposing these preparations are part of a larger trove of sensitive materials obtained by Ukrainian and other security services and reviewed by The Washington Post. They offer rare insight into the activities of the FSB — a sprawling service that bears enormous responsibility for the failed Russian war plan and the hubris that propelled it.

An agency whose domain includes internal security in Russia as well as espionage in the former Soviet states, the FSB has spent decades spying on Ukraine, attempting to co-opt its institutions, paying off officials and working to impede any perceived drift toward the West. No aspect of the FSB’s intelligence mission outside Russia was more important than burrowing into all levels of Ukrainian society.

And yet, the agency failed to incapacitate Ukraine’s government, foment any semblance of a pro-Russian groundswell or interrupt President Volodymyr Zelensky’s hold on power. Its analysts either did not fathom how forcefully Ukraine would respond, Ukrainian and Western officials said, or did understand but couldn’t or wouldn’t convey such sober assessments to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The humiliations of Russia’s military have largely overshadowed the failures of the FSB and other intelligence agencies. But in some ways, these have been even more incomprehensible and consequential, officials said, underpinning nearly every Kremlin war decision.

“The Russians were wrong by a mile,” said a senior U.S. official with regular access to classified intelligence on Russia and its security services. “They set up an entire war effort to seize strategic objectives that were beyond their means,” the official said. “Russia’s mistake was really fundamental and strategic.”

Ukraine’s security services have . . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

Later in the article:

The FSB did not respond to requests for comment.

🙂

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19 August 2022 at 2:43 pm

Behind Enemy Lines, Ukrainians Tell Russians ‘You Are Never Safe’

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Andrew E. Kramer has an interesting report (gift link, no paywall) in the NY Times. The report begins:

They sneak down darkened alleys to set explosives. They identify Russian targets for Ukrainian artillery and long-range rockets provided by the United States. They blow up rail lines and assassinate officials they consider collaborators with the Russians.

Slipping back and forth across the front lines, the guerrilla fighters are known in Ukraine as partisans, and in recent weeks they have taken an ever more prominent role in the war, rattling Russian forces by helping deliver humiliating blows in occupied areas they thought were safe.

Increasingly, Ukraine is taking the fight against Russian forces into Russian-controlled areas, whether with elite military units, like the one credited on Tuesday with a huge explosion at a Russian ammunition depot in the occupied Crimean Peninsula, or an underground network of the guerrillas.

Last week, Ukrainian officials said, the partisans had a hand in a successful strike on a Russian air base, also in Crimea, which Moscow annexed eight years ago. It destroyed eight fighter jets.

“The goal is to show the occupiers that they are not at home, that they should not settle in, that they should not sleep comfortably,” said one guerrilla fighter, who spoke on condition that, for security reasons, he only be identified by his code name, Svarog, after a pagan Slavic god of fire.

In recent days the Ukrainian military made Svarog and several other of the operatives available for interviews in person or online, hoping to highlight the partisans’ widening threat to Russian forces and signal to Western donors that Ukraine is successfully rallying local resources in the war, now nearly six months old. A senior Ukrainian military official familiar with the program also described the workings of the resistance.

Their accounts of attacks could not be verified completely but aligned with reports in the Ukrainian media and with descriptions from Ukrainians who had recently fled Russian-occupied areas.

Svarog and I met over lemonade and cheese pastries at a Georgian restaurant in Zaporizhzhia, a city under Ukrainian control about 65 miles north of the occupied town of Melitopol.

He spoke with intimate knowledge of partisan activities, providing a rare glimpse into one of the most hidden aspects of the war.

The Ukrainian military began training partisans in the months before the invasion, as Russia massed troops near the borders. The effort has paid off in recent weeks as . . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

17 August 2022 at 2:19 pm

Road to war: U.S. struggled to convince allies, and Zelensky, of risk of invasion

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I don’t believe that Donald Trump as President was even capable of the kind of leadership President Biden has shown in responding to Russian’s invasion of Ukraine. I understand that Trump would not want to lead our allies; my point is that, even if he did want to, he is incapable of doing it.

Shane Harris, Karen DeYoung, Isabelle Khurshudyan, Ashley Parker, and Liz Sly have a remarkable report (gift link, no paywall) in the Washington Post. The report begins:

On a sunny October morning, the nation’s top intelligence, military, and diplomatic leaders filed into the Oval Office for an urgent meeting with President Biden. They arrived bearing a highly classified intelligence analysis, compiled from newly obtained satellite images, intercepted communications, and human sources, that amounted to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war plans for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

For months, Biden administration officials had watched warily as Putin massed tens of thousands of troops and lined up tanks and missiles along Ukraine’s borders. As summer waned, Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, had focused on the increasing volume of intelligence related to Russia and Ukraine. He had set up the Oval Office meeting after his own thinking had gone from uncertainty about Russia’s intentions, to concern he was being too skeptical about the prospects of military action, to alarm.

The session was one of several meetings that officials had about Ukraine that autumn — sometimes gathering in smaller groups — but was notable for the detailed intelligence picture that was presented. Biden and Vice President Harris took their places in armchairs before the fireplace, while Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, joined the directors of national intelligence and the CIA on sofas around the coffee table.

Tasked by Sullivan with putting together a comprehensive overview of Russia’s intentions, they told Biden that the intelligence on Putin’s operational plans, added to ongoing deployments along the border with Ukraine, showed that all the pieces were now in place for a massive assault.

The U.S. intelligence community had penetrated multiple points of Russia’s political leadership, spying apparatus and military, from senior levels to the front lines, according to U.S. officials.

Much more radical than Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and instigation of a separatist movement in eastern Ukraine, Putin’s war plans envisioned a takeover of most of the country.

Using mounted maps on easels in front of the Resolute Desk, Milley showed Russian troop positions and the Ukrainian terrain they intended to conquer. It was a plan of staggering audacity, one that could pose a direct threat to NATO’s eastern flank, or even destroy the post-World War II security architecture of Europe.

As he absorbed the briefing, Biden, who had taken office promising to keep the country out of new wars, was determined that Putin must either be deterred or confronted, and that the United States must not act alone. Yet NATO was far from unified on how to deal with Moscow, and U.S. credibility was weak. After a disastrous occupation of Iraq, the chaos that followed the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, and four years of President Donald Trump seeking to undermine the alliance, it was far from certain that Biden could effectively lead a Western response to an expansionist Russia.

Ukraine was a troubled former Soviet republic with a history of corruption, and the U.S. and allied answer to earlier Russian aggression there had been uncertain and divided. When the invasion came, the Ukrainians would need significant new weaponry to defend themselves. Too little could guarantee a Russian victory. But too much might provoke a direct NATO conflict with nuclear-armed Russia.

This account, in previously unreported detail, shines new light on the uphill climb to restore U.S. credibility, the attempt to balance secrecy around intelligence with the need to persuade others of its truth, and the challenge of determining how the world’s most powerful military alliance would help a less-than-perfect democracy on Russia’s border defy an attack without NATO firing a shot.

The first in a series of articles examining the road to war and the military campaign in Ukraine, it is drawn from in-depth interviews with more than three dozen senior U.S., Ukrainian, European and NATO officials about a global crisis whose end is yet to be determined. Some spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence and internal deliberations.

The Kremlin did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

As Milley laid out the array of forces on that October morning, he and the others summed up Putin’s intentions. “We assess that they plan to conduct a significant strategic attack on Ukraine from multiple directions simultaneously,” Milley told the president. “Their version of ‘shock and awe.’ ”

According to the intelligence, the Russians would . . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall) This is a gripping account.

Written by Leisureguy

16 August 2022 at 6:12 pm

The Psychology of Killing

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Perhaps it’s an artefact of the algorithms of the streaming services I watch, but TV series involving murder seem to be amazingly easy to fine — not perhaps so common as grass, but maybe as common as roses. In fact, just last night I watched a movie based on a George V. Higgins novel, Cogan’s Trade (which was a sequel to his first novel, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, both eminently worth reading). The 2012 movie, Killing Them Softly, starred Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins, Ray Liotta, and James Gandolfini, and it was a good watch. (It’s on Primevideo.com up here; apparently not available right now in the US.)

So what causes killing to be so common? FiveBooks.com has an interesting interview with Gwen Adshead, a forensic psychiatrist and psychotherapist who works in prisons and secure psychiatric hospital providing therapy to violence perpetrators who have mental health problems. In the course of the interview Dr. Adshead recommends five books, as the site name suggests. The interview begins:

Let’s start by looking at the topic you’ve chosen: the psychology of killing. How did you become interested in this area?

I’m a forensic psychiatrist and psychotherapist. A forensic psychiatrist is someone who specialises in the assessment and treatment of people who have offended while they were in some kind of abnormal mental state. There are two questions there: first, the legal question—does this abnormal state affect their legal responsibility?—and secondly, if the offender is mentally ill, do they need to be treated in secure hospital rather than go to prison?. That treatment will be designed to look not only at their mental health, but also their risk to the public.

Mental health problems are rarely a risk factor for crime generally, so a forensic psychiatrist won’t be dealing with people who are committing minor crimes, like shoplifting . We tend only to get involved in crimes of violence, and usually where that violence has been fatal. So most of my working life has involved assessing people who have committed serious acts of violence, or who are threatening to do so. For a long time I ran a therapy group for people who had killed a family member while they were mentally ill. I’ve also been involved in assessing mothers who have been abusive, or are considered at risk of abusing their children.

So this has been my bread and butter for about thirty years—an interest in the mental states that give rise to killing.

The obvious question, to me, is: if one commits murder, does that not indicate that, almost by definition, that the assailant is undergoing an abnormal mental state?

That question has always been of great significance, and one that humans have asked themselves for thousands of years. What is fascinating about humans is the many ways in which we do kill each other. We are one of the few animals that kill each other in different ways. Chimpanzees, for example, do have very serious fights, competitions over power, which can be fatal. And chimpanzee tribes can wage war on other chimpanzee tribes, killing in the process. But killing in the way that we kill appears to be pretty unique. Killing over territory is one thing, but we also kill over money, over politics and in the context of relationship disturbance; and that last context is quite unusual.

For as long as we have had recorded data about humans, we’ve written about the impact of murder. I don’t think there’s legislation in any culture in any age which hasn’t set aside some kind of law or ruling about how and when you can kill somebody, and what should happen to people who kill.

Take the Old Testament. There are rules in there about killing that are very specific. The Ten Commandments separate killing from murder, for example. Traditionally, in many cultures, if you killed somebody, you had to make restitution to their family. That didn’t always mean being killed yourself. Different countries and ethnic groups have had different rules, but all human societies have developed rules about killing, in what circumstances it might be legitimate to kill, and what punishments and sanctions there should be for the different kinds of killing.

The first thing to say about homicide is that it is not all the same. I think that’s one of the things I didn’t understand when I started out. Like anybody else, I thought that all killers must be really odd or mad. That if you killed once, you must be permanently in a homicidal state of mind. But once I began to spend time with people who had killed, I learned that killing is often highly contextual and arises from a specific set factors that are present at that time; which may never occur again. Someone who’s killed their wife in a jealous rage is not likely to be a threat to the general public; although they might be dangerous to future wives, of course.

So does that mean that everyone has the capacity for murder? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

9 August 2022 at 3:10 pm

Excellent movie: “The Last Full Measure”

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The Last Full Measure on Netflix now is an excellent movie with an excellent cast. Based on a true story.

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29 July 2022 at 2:19 pm

How long can the Russian economy hold out amid crippling sanctions?

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Kevin Drum’s post has five interesting charts. Here’s one of them:

This graph shows how the price of Urals crude oil compares to the benchmark Brent crude oil price.

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28 July 2022 at 7:59 am

A Russian sociologist talks about the current situation in Russia

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Loren Balhorn interviewed Boris Kagarlitsky,a professor of sociology at the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences and an editor at Rabkor, for the Jacobin. The whole interview is interesting and very much worth reading. It begins:

As the Russian attack on Ukraine drags into its fifth month, the war risks losing international public attention, replaced — in Europe at least — by rising food and gas prices, spiraling inflation, and another summer of record-breaking temperatures. Like wars from Afghanistan to Yemen, the longer it lasts the more it becomes normalized and accepted. For the people of Ukraine, however, the invasion remains an inescapable reality, with Russian troops pushing further into the country’s east and civilian casualties mounting.

The news from Russia, by contrast, has grown noticeably quieter since the beginning of the invasion. Initial reports of antiwar protests, jingoistic pro-government rallies and shuttered McDonald’s franchises have long since disappeared from the headlines. Support for the war might be muted, but few signs of public opposition have emerged in recent months, either. Have Russians resigned themselves to their fate? Loren Balhorn spoke with Boris Kagarlitsky, a Moscow-based sociologist and host of the popular Russian YouTube talk show Rabkor, to learn more about the impact of the war and how strong Vladimir Putin’s grip on power really is.

LOREN BALHORN — At the start of the invasion of Ukraine, there were lots of reports of antiwar protests across Russia. Things seem to have grown quiet since then, with more and more media outlets claiming that most Russians back Putin. You live in Moscow — what’s the mood like?

BORIS KAGARLITSKY — Initially there were quite a lot of protests, but they were crushed in a very brutal way. At least on the surface, the movement was physically suppressed. People are going to jail almost daily — Alexei Gorinov, for example, was just sentenced to seven years in prison for making an antiwar statement during a session of the Krasnoselsky municipal council in Moscow.

This is a way to make people afraid, and to some extent it works. No less than four million people have left the country since the so-called “special operation” began. Ukraine reported that about seven to eight million people left the country, but about half of them have already returned. In that sense, the number of people who emigrated from Russia is approximately the same as the number of people who fled Ukraine. Given that nobody is being bombed here, it gives you an idea of the public’s attitude.

LOREN BALHORN — So, you don’t think the majority supports the war?

BORIS KAGARLITSKY — That’s the most interesting sociological and political problem: Russian people are neither for the war nor against it. They do not react to the war.

Of course, there are opinion polls published by pro-Kremlin media which are enthusiastically quoted by Western and some pro-Ukrainian sources, trying to prove that all Russians support Putin and are fascists. But that has nothing to do with reality. As a sociologist, I can confirm that since the war, the number of people who agree to respond to opinion polls has collapsed to a level that is totally unrepresentative. Before the war it was below 30 percent, which is already very low. Now, it’s considered a big success when 10 percent agree to respond. Usually it’s 5 to 7 percent.

Of those 5 percent, about 65 to 70 percent support the war. There are two interpretations of this data. One, mostly shared by the liberal opposition, is that people are simply afraid to answer. I think that’s not exactly the case. Among those 95 percent who refuse to respond, there could be a considerable number who are against the war but don’t dare say so. My suspicion, however — which of course I cannot prove — is that most people don’t have any opinion at all.

LOREN BALHORN — No opinion at all? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2022 at 10:38 am

The Scientist Who Killed Millions and Saved Billions

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A life with a bad wrong turn. And watch to the end for an interesting way of treating CO2.

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24 July 2022 at 6:08 pm

Dave Troy on the idea of civilizational conflict

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I find Dave Troy”s insights to be interesting. Here is one of his recent posts on Facebook:

Let’s talk about the end of the world, and what Russia thinks it’s doing. First, it’s necessary to zoom out and discard notions of nation-states, institutions, and politics, and think with a civilizational lens. By now, it’s clear that Putin is following the Dugin playbook.

Aleksandr Dugin (warning: woo alert) believes that all of human history is the product of conflict between two major networks: Eurasianists and Atlanticists. Eurasianists are bound to rule from Dublin to Tokyo (at least); Atlanticists are bound to North + South America.

According to Jean Pârvelescu, a Franco-Romanian writer who worked with Dugin, Putin is a historical character predestined to bring about a final conflict between the Eurasianist and Atlanticist networks. There is no real notion of a rules based order or which side is “right”; this conflict is simply necessary for the course of history to proceed and for evolution of civilization.

It is Putin’s job to be a historical character and advance history; there can be no other way. This conflict also addresses the fact that “liberalism” inverts the traditional hierarchical order of the world. As Dugin said in 1992:

• Order of Eurasia against Order of Atlantic (Atlantides).
• Eternal Rome against Eternal Carthago.
• Occult punic war invisibly continuing during millennia.
• Planetary conspiracy of Land against the Sea, Earth against Water
• Authoritarianism and Idea against Democracy and Matter.

René Guénon described a “Hyperborean” northern culture home to a pure Aryan race, with two outposts: Shambhala in the East, and Atlantis in the West. From this division, the conflicting networks were born.

Occultists like Madame Blavatsky suggest Atlantis collapsed because its people became “wicked magicians;” they also believe Shambhala perhaps survived. Nicholas Roerich traveled to Asia in the 1930’s to locate Shambhala (perhaps a “Shangri-La”) that may still have existed.

So when we evaluate Putin’s actions, we need to look at them as being predestined, inevitable, and civilizational in scope. This is, at root, what they think they’re doing, and other details and pressures aren’t particularly relevant to that framework.

They believe hierarchy will prevail over any kind of collectivism. Now, it should be noted that Russia itself has not hidden this information; any of you can go look this up and see this is true. Whether this is “real,” or merely what Russia wishes to project as “real” is open to serious, reasoned debate.

I believe we should hedge against both possibilities, because as they run out of options, fantasy will increasingly dominate, just as it did with Hitler’s regime. But we shouldn’t underestimate the gravity of this situation, or the apocalyptic narrative that lies just under the surface. We have some people here flirting with the end of the world, and who have a story to justify it.

We should take that seriously and figure out a real way to end this; the established order of nation states and rules-based order has nearly no bearing on how we might do that. This situation calls for creativity, will, and force.

If the US and Europe wish to counter it, we need to start preparing our populations now for significant and sustained hardships. Because they will not give up unless forced to do so, and they will not be constrained by institutions. Only raw power and a clear sign that the Eurasianists have lost will put out the fire that’s raging in the hearts of this network. What that looks like? Not sure, but it likely doesn’t look like this.

I should also point out that Dugin has mapped this Eurasianist conflict onto “Gog and Magog” from the Book of Revelations, which has helped draw in Christian dominionists anticipating (and desiring) the end of the world, which just amplifies the scope of the conflict.

Many are understandably drawn to make American references to this conflict; I’d encourage zooming out. 330 million people out of ~8 billion is a rounding error in the context of this framework and their idea is that America is dispensable.

What concerns me is we are so wedded to the post-war international order of nation-states and institutions that we have no effective language to communicate about something civilizational in scope. I want to hear leaders talk about their understanding of this dilemma.

To be clear, this does not mean we should be afraid or cowed by Putin. To the contrary, we need to figure out a way to end Russia’s ability to end the world without triggering global catastrophe. That’s a tall challenge but we need the right frameworks in order to conceive it.

Troy notes that the above Facebook post is from a Twitter thread, and for comments from others, check the thread:

There are a great many comments to that Twitter thread, so it’s definitely worthwhile taking a look.

Troy also notes:

With respect to our current pursuits in the democratic realm, I offer some cautions; meanwhile the Russian duma has introduced a law to replace Putin’s title with of “president” with “ruler.”

We are starting to get a clearer picture of the extensive planning and deep involvement of President Trump in the coup plot, which will help in shaping public opinion in support of indictments and undermine support for Republicans going into the midterm elections. But with short news cycles and accelerating instability around the world, the timing of the release of the findings, along with any actions taken by the Department of Justice, will be critically important in determining what impact they may have.

From a threat assessment perspective, it is also likely that events will overtake us and render any retrospective analysis moot. Political strategists should expect and prepare for more violence and chaos proportionate to any political points the committee may expect to score. While anti-democratic forces cannot control the outcome of the committee’s work, they can always add more chaos and violence in hopes of altering the conflict terrain and public perception, and we should expect such attacks.

Written by Leisureguy

12 July 2022 at 6:51 am

‘They are preparing for war’: An expert on civil wars discusses where political extremists are taking this country

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I came across the Washington Post interview below (gift link, no paywall) via a Facebook post by Rebecca Solnit, who extracted some of the article:

The CIA also has a manual on insurgency. You can Google it and find it online.

[See “Guide to the Analysis of Insurgency” (PDF), which seems to be the manual she has in mind. See also:  “Estimating State Instability” (PDF). See also this page on the Wilson Center website: “Political Instability Task Force: New Findings” (2004) – LG]

Most of it is not redacted. And it’s absolutely fascinating to read. It’s not a big manual. And it was written, I’m sure, to help the U.S. government identify very, very early stages of insurgency. So if something’s happening in the Philippines, or something’s happening in Indonesia. You know, what are signs that we should be looking out for?

And the manual talks about three stages. And the first stage is . . .

The Washinton Post interview is from March 8, 2022, and was done by KK Ottesen (and again: that’s a gift link). The quoted passage above is taken from the interview, which begins:

Barbara F. Walter, 57, is a political science professor at the University of California at San Diego and the author of “How Civil Wars Start: And How to Stop Them,” which was released in January. She lives in San Diego with her husband.

Having studied civil wars all over the world, and the conditions that give rise to them, you argue in your book, somewhat chillingly, that the United States is coming dangerously close to those conditions. Can you explain that?

So we actually know a lot about civil wars — how they start, how long they last, why they’re so hard to resolve, how you end them. And we know a lot because since 1946, there have been over 200 major armed conflicts. And for the last 30 years, people have been collecting a lot of data, analyzing the data, looking at patterns. I’ve been one of those people.

We went from thinking, even as late as the 1980s, that every one of these was unique. And the way people studied it is they would be a Somalia expert, a Yugoslavia expert, a Tajikistan expert. And everybody thought their case was unique and that you could draw no parallels. Then methods and computers got better, and people like me came and could collect data and analyze it. And what we saw is that there are lots of patterns at the macro level.

In 1994, the U.S. government put together this Political Instability Task Force. They were interested in trying to predict what countries around the world were going to become unstable, potentially fall apart, experience political violence and civil war.

Was that out of the State Department?

That was done through the CIA. And the task force was a mix of academics, experts on conflict, and data analysts. And basically what they wanted was: In all of your research, tell us what you think seems to be important. What should we be considering when we’re thinking about the lead-up to civil wars?

Originally the model included over 30 different factors, like poverty, income inequality, how diverse religiously or ethnically a country was. But only two factors came out again and again as highly predictive. And it wasn’t what people were expecting, even on the task force. We were surprised. The first was this variable called anocracy. There’s this nonprofit based in Virginia called the Center for Systemic Peace. And every year it measures all sorts of things related to the quality of the governments around the world. How autocratic or how democratic a country is. And it has this scale that goes from negative 10 to positive 10. Negative 10 is the most authoritarian, so think about North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain. Positive 10 are the most democratic. This, of course, is where you want to be. This would be Denmark, Switzerland, Canada. The U.S. was a positive 10 for many, many years. It’s no longer a positive 10. And then it has this middle zone between positive 5 and negative 5, which was you had features of both. If you’re a positive 5, you have more democratic features, but definitely have a few authoritarian elements. And, of course, if you’re negative 5, you have more authoritarian features and a few democratic elements. The U.S. was briefly downgraded to a 5 and is now an 8.

And what scholars found was that this anocracy variable was really predictive of a risk for civil war. That full democracies almost never have civil wars. Full autocracies rarely have civil wars. All of the instability and violence is happening in this middle zone. And there’s all sorts of theories why this middle zone is unstable, but one of the big ones is that these governments tend to be weaker. They’re transitioning to either actually becoming more democratic, and so some of the authoritarian features are loosening up. The military is giving up control. And so it’s easier to organize a challenge. Or, these are democracies that are backsliding, and there’s a sense that these governments are not that legitimate, people are unhappy with these governments. There’s infighting. There’s jockeying for power. And so they’re weak in their own ways. Anyway, that turned out to be highly predictive.

And then the second factor was whether populations in these partial democracies began to organize politically, not around ideology — so, not based on whether you’re a communist or not a communist, or you’re a liberal or a conservative — but where the parties themselves were based almost exclusively around identity: ethnic, religious or racial identity. The quintessential example of this is what happened in the former Yugoslavia.

So for you, personally, what was the moment the ideas began to connect, and you thought: Wait a minute, I see these patterns in my country right now?

My dad is from Germany. He was born in 1932 and lived through the war there, and he emigrated here in 1958. He had been a Republican his whole life, you know; we had the Reagan calendar in the kitchen every year.

And starting in early 2016, I would go home to visit, and my dad — he doesn’t agitate easily, but he was so agitated. All he wanted to do was talk about Trump and what he was seeing happening. He was really nervous. It was almost visceral — like, he was reliving the past. Every time I’d go home, he was just, like, “Please tell me Trump’s not going to win.” And I would tell him, “Dad, Trump is not going to win.” And he’s just, like, “I don’t believe you; I saw this once before. And I’m seeing it again, and the Republicans, they’re just falling in lockstep behind him.” He was so nervous.

I remember saying: “Dad, what’s really different about America today from Germany in the 1930s is that our democracy is really strong. Our institutions are strong. So, even if you had a Trump come into power, the institutions would hold strong.” Of course, then Trump won. We would have these conversations where my dad would draw all these parallels. The brownshirts and the attacks on the media and the attacks on education and on books. And he’s just, like, I’m seeing it. I’m seeing it all again here. And that’s really what shook me out of my complacency, that here was this man who is very well educated and astute, and he was shaking with fear. And I was like, Am I being naive to think that we’re different?

That’s when I started to follow the data. And then, watching what happened to the Republican Party really was the bigger surprise — that, wow, they’re doubling down on this almost white supremacist strategy. That’s a losing strategy in a democracy. So why would they do that? Okay, it’s worked for them since the ’60s and ’70s, but you can’t turn back demographics. And then I was like, Oh my gosh. The only way this is a winning strategy is if you begin to weaken the institutions; this is the pattern we see in other countries. And, as an American citizen I’m like, These two factors are emerging here, and people don’t know.

So I gave a talk at UCSD about this — and it was a complete bomb. Not . . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

7 July 2022 at 9:11 pm

Unraveling the tangled network of history: The Fateful Lovers’ Suicide that put the World at War

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Perhaps the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand was not the triggering event that made the Great War inevitable, but an event that occurred decades before. Mary Kay McBrayer explains in her article in Messy Nessy, which begins:

On the morning of January 30, 1889, three friends of Rudolf, the Crown Prince of Austria, broke down the bedroom door at his hunting lodge to find him dead, sitting by the naked corpse of his teenage mistress. For more than a hundred years, people have speculated wildly at the events surrounding this double suicide – or murder suicide, depending on whom you ask. One thing seems to be consistent, though: through the butterfly effect, these untimely deaths not only symbolized the destabilization of European monarchies, but they had global repercussions. This tragic romance directly triggered the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which led to the subsequent start of the First World War, ending in a peace agreement that would ignite the embers for a Second World War just two decades later, and finally, set in motion a 45-year long Cold War between East and West that arguably continues to this day. Our world would be completely different had they lived.

The progression of global events is indisputable, but the facts of that night are messy. To understand the story, we have to understand the characters, and perhaps even more importantly, we have to understand the setting. A few key things to know:

Franz Joseph was the reigning Emperor of Austria-Hungary in 1889, an empire of myriad ethnic and national groups, many of whom wanted their own nation-states. Franz Joseph would not give them independence, instead allying the empire with Germany.

Before his death, the Crown Prince Rudolph, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, sympathized with those wanting . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

30 June 2022 at 1:25 pm

Three Blind Kings: Q&A with geostrategist and Pentagon guru Edward Luttwak

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A fascinating conversation about the three blind kings who rule China, Russia, and the USA. Written by David Samuels and appearing in Tablet, the conversation begins with an introduction:

Being an enfant terrible at the age of 79 is not a task that can be undertaken lightly. Most men are simple conformists from childhood on. For those with more adventuresome temperaments, a flurry of rebellion in their teens or 20s is usually the prelude to a failure of imagination or will that in turn precedes some kind of domestic establishment. There are children and careers to consider. Who has time to go running off to Ladakh to get shot at? A desk job, with perhaps some rock climbing or motor boating on weekends, isn’t a bad life, compared to many of the alternatives. Better to be led blindfolded to the edge of the pit than to take the entire weight of your existence on your shoulders, and collapse before you ever get there. On the way there will be songs and dances, and the voices of children at play. The fall will come, and then winter, followed by spring. Then it will be summer again.

The truly independent of mind and spirit never listen to these voices. They can’t. They will carve their own paths, which will end up in sorrow and tears most likely. Sometimes madness. Not because it is wrong to have adventures but because that is the human fate, against which they determined long ago to take up arms. They are monsters. Lovable monsters, sometimes, but always monsters. Rebel angels. Reprobates. Rock stars. You name it. We admire them, and hope that they fail, not because of who they are, primarily, but because of how their success or failure makes our own ambitions look petty. In its thirst for order and control, our society today has a special bone to pick with these people, who are mostly though not always male—meaning that they are racist, sexist, white supremacist, egocentric, narcissistic transphobes. To which I answer, is the world really better off without monsters? I don’t think so.

Edward Luttwak is an enfant terrible at 79 because he is gifted, and because he has played the role all his life. He skyrocketed to international attention at the age of 26 with the publication of his first book, Coup d’Etat: A Practical Handbook, a title that pretty well encapsulates the esprit of a long and distinguished career spent pingponging between various battlefields, the pages of the TLS, and the halls of the Pentagon. In a different country, in a different age, a self-made polyglot expert in military history and geostrategy who could speak half a dozen languages and had a thirst for adventure and occasional bloodshed would be running Indochina, and would then retire to the countryside to write a memoir of his campaigns and fuck the servants.

In America, which takes its uneasy and often forgetful relationship to its own empire as a mark of virtue, Luttwak’s fate was otherwise. Unlike, say, Henry Kissinger, whose chilly Germanic brain made him an influential courtier in six or eight administrations, not to mention incredibly rich—Luttwak would remain a gadfly in the corridors of power. Where Kissinger was cold, Luttwak was hot. Where Kissinger flattered, Luttwak was abrasive, and delighted in puncturing authority. Where Kissinger was cerebral, and talked about systems, Luttwak was hot-blooded, and wanted to touch and feel the stuff that the world is made of. He was too unruly and unflattering and independent-minded to be given any real responsibility for anything. No one wants a bona fide monster as secretary of defense.

On the other hand, Luttwak was too smart, with his big 16-cylinder brain, and too energetic, and too often right, to be banished to some provincial university to teach Byzantine military history to the children of accountants and dentists. Better to keep him in Chevy Chase, and give him contracts to chase after narco-terrorists or to study Chinese expansionism to his heart’s content until he suffered a heart attack.

Well, good luck with that. With the God of Israel firmly on his side, Edward Luttwak will live until he is 120 years old, and continue to delight in skewering his enemies, and baffling D.C. policymakers who prefer more orderly arrangements of dominoes on the table to the messy stuff that the world is actually made of. Long may he thrive.

What follows is a transcript of a recent three-hour-long conversation at Luttwak’s home in Maryland, accompanied by glasses of chilled vodka, from which Luttwak himself notably refrained. The conversation has been edited and condensed for ease of reading, with all the controversial parts left in.

THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A D.C. WIZARD

David Samuels: Edward, you are a Washington fixture, surrounded by a flourishing mythology that suggests among other things that you are a Romanian vampire who was raised by the Mafia. So let’s get it straight.

Edward Luttwak: I was brought up by parents who, at no point, believed that they were Romanian. They were living in Romania, and quite happily. The part of the world that I came from is the only province in the whole of Europe where there was no Holocaust. In Banat, where we lived, nothing happened.

My parents were international people. In 1938, they went on honeymoon to Bali because KLM introduced service to Bali, so they went. My mother’s family’s house, in Timisoara, is a main tourist attraction. It’s called the Baruch Palace. So my mother’s family were people who had palaces. My father had rented the house where we lived. He didn’t own it. He owned warehouses and railway wagons. I actually saw one in Yugoslavia, in 1963.

My father lost everything, and he arrived in December 1947 to Naples. He then went to Palermo, Sicily, because he figured that Palermo is the only place in the world where he, as an international trader, would be able to become a millionaire in three years, which happened. The reason is that he was well-informed. He read that the British had created the National Health Service and the National Health Service distributed orange juice to pregnant women. They’d been to London. He knew there weren’t too many orange trees there.

So they went to Palermo and bought the green oranges on the tree. When they were ripe, they shipped them to London. He became very rich, very fast. Then, unfortunately, he developed an insane passion for a new technology called polyvinyl chloride, PVC. He went to Milan to set up a factory to electronically meld PVC.

He was not wrong.

I know. But he was very wrong for me because I loved Palermo. The Milanese children would make fun of me. I would break their noses.

Dalya Luttwak (Edward’s wife, an artist, who grew up on a kibbutz in Israel): Edward, Edward.

David Samuels: Tell me for three minutes about your upbringing in Palermo, who your classmates were.

Edward Luttwak: We lived in the best part of Palermo because my parents, being Central Europeans, had a total need for opera and classical music. There’s an opera house and a concert hall. They brought over the world famous violinist Yehudi Menuhin and other such people. We lived right there.

Many families around us were all aristocratic but they sent their children to boarding school in Tuscany, so they wouldn’t speak the Sicilian dialect. But my parents loved Palermo and they were not going to send me away. The only people who were both rich and nonaristocratic were the Mafia bosses. So I grew up with the Mafia bosses’ children.

Already, by the age of 6, we knew that we couldn’t fight each other because if one wins, then the older brother comes. If the older brother comes, then fathers, then eventually guns might come out. So we already knew all about deterrence and power politics.

Did you make the mistake of assaulting any of the Mafia bosses’ children? . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

17 June 2022 at 5:28 pm

40 Years On – The Lessons of the Falklands War

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Interesting post on the importance of preserving institutional knowledge and experience, by “Sir Humphrey” (of Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister fame, in which Sir Humphrey was the prototypical civil servant) in The Thin Pin-Striped Line:

40 years have elapsed since the Falkland Islands were liberated, and the local population were freed from dictatorship to choose their destiny again. This short, bloody and wholly unnecessary war was started by dictators, and finished by the British Armed Forces. Even now, four decades later, its lessons continue to resonate and must be considered.

In a series of tweets, the French Navy Chief of Staff has set out thoughts on the enduring lessons of the war, and why it still matters. Many others have done likewise – it has been a period to reflect on why, even many years later, the war still has something to teach us. This article is a short reflection on what the author believes are five enduring lessons we must continue to reflect on.

The first and most simple lesson is that time and again we end up fighting the war we didn’t expect to fight, but we succeed because we keep the skills alive to do so. In 1982 we planned to conduct high intensity armoured warfare in Central Europe for 7 days before the literal end of the world was nigh. Little thought was given to expeditionary warfare at long distance, beyond the amphibious reinforcement of Norway. Naturally we ended up fighting an amphibious war many thousands of miles from home with no anticipation. In 1991 we still expected (just) to fight in Europe, and we ended up fighting the desert, just in time for expeditionary operations to become central to our doctrine, only for deterrence in Europe to come into vogue again in 2022 – in short, we prepare for one, and often end up doing another.

While this may sound familiar ground, what we fail to take into account all too often is that . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

16 June 2022 at 1:44 pm

Posted in Government, Military, War

Why We Must Cultivate Imagination to Fight the Rise of Fascism

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Dave Troy (his website) is worth listening to. Here’s a recent article he published on Medium:

This week I was in the beautiful city of Brussels, Belgium meeting up with friends and colleagues — many of whom I hadn’t seen in over two years. It was a great opportunity to reset, gain some wisdom, and also learn more about what’s going on in information warfare globally. I attended the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Lab 360/Open Summit event, which included a wide range of experts including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Maria Ressa.

I was able to synthesize an assessment of where things might go, in combination with my own views and research, and, well… it’s not pretty. But there are things we can do, and reasons to have hope. Here’s a rough overview of what we might expect:

  • Putin will weaponize food shortages, inflation, fuel prices, and refugee flows. As fuel prices rise, so will food prices. This will cause widespread starvation in Africa, which will launch a flow of refugees from Africa into Europe, similar to what happened in 2015 but at a larger scale. This will trigger all manner of xenophobia in Europe and help weaken resolve. Germany, France, Italy, Turkey, and Hungary are already wobbly with respect to Ukraine support, for a variety of historical reasons. (Remnants of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, Italian north-south rivalries, and a longing for the restoration of the Austro-Hungarian empire loom large, and just beneath the surface). Ukraine and Europe are also running out of ammunition, making the conflict entirely dependent on US supplies against Russia and China supplies.
  • It never was about NATO, and there is no off-ramp. Yesterday, Putin made a speech wherein he likened himself to Peter the Great, and suggested that Russia’s action in Ukraine was merely a case of Russia reclaiming what was rightfully theirs. He is a Tsarist, and aims to recapture or colonize any territory that suits his imagination.
  • The United States may descend into civil unrest, or revolution. Oil and gas cartels may push fuel prices as high as $10 per gallon in the US. This would clearly signify a new high-water mark and could usher in a wave of civil unrest. Biden will be blamed for this, even though fuel prices will rise globally, and it has nothing to do with him. Food prices will likewise go up dramatically, as there is little practical difference between food and fuel (both are energy). Banks are predicting that middle class Americans may have trouble paying for essentials like food and fuel, and are planning for ‘imminent’ and unprecedented civil unrest, according to a report obtained by The Byline Times. Given that this would help fulfill goals of the fascist international, we should expect that Republicans and their allies will be pushing this forward at every opportunity.
  • Ukraine war will become a years-long war of attrition. Putin will use chaos in Europe and the US to undermine support for Ukraine and continue to throw raw resources and personnel, despite lack of training, at wearing down the situation there. A low-yield nuclear strike against targets in Western Ukraine is a distinct possibility — perhaps Lviv, which would limit easterly fallout affecting Russia — and would have the effect of activating “anti-war” activists in Europe and the US. This “Fifth Column” could be very effective given this new demonstration of force (and lack of judgment) in eroding continued support for Ukraine.
  • If Ukraine falls, the Baltics, Poland, and Balkans will be the next targets. Russia can only be stopped if it is unequivocally defeated. If it is not, it will regroup (with its allies China and India) and resume information warfare then kinetic warfare against all its adjacent territories. The Baltics are very clearly in its sights already and will be attacked without question, unless stopped. Poland and much of the Balkan states are not far behind. While this may sound implausible because of how weak Russia seems right now, it is thinking in terms of the ~3 billion people represented by Russia, China, India, Brazil (et al) vs. the ~1 billion people represented by NATO. While that’s an apples to oranges comparison, the overall scales involved make the matching more even than it might seem on the surface.
  • China may become more aggressive as it faces internal threats. China faces a demographic bomb as its population ages. Its single child policy means an elderly population will soon be gone, and it will face a shrinking population. China’s GDP is heavily dependent (around 30%) on overhyped real-estate schemes, many of which will never be occupied. The conflict with Taiwan continues to simmer and will eventually come to a head, creating a strategic threat against global production of integrated circuit chips. China is beginning to become more aggressive with its information warfare, and starting to threaten Australia. The historic Kuomintang network which seems to be associated with Guo Wengui and Steve Bannon is preparing itself as “shock troops” to take over when the CCP falls. While that may be fantasy, the situation definitely has elements of instability that should be closely monitored.
  • Russia is increasing its aggression towards Japan over the Kuril Islands. The islands in Northern Japan, an important fishing ground, have been contested since World War II. Russia is threatening Japan, suggesting that it will return the islands to their control if Tokyo distances itself from the United States and the West. So far, this play has not been working, but they are continuing to become ever more aggressive in pushing Japan in this direction. Aleksandr Dugin sees Japan as part of the Russian sphere of influence and wishes to drive Japan apart from Western influence.
  • We are dealing with a resurgence of individualism and propertarianism. Whether talking about “sovereign citizen” lunacy, or “sovereign individual” bitcoin fantasies, the propertarian legacy of slave ownership, or gold fetishists in Vienna longing for the restoration of the Austro-Hungarian empire, we are dealing with a resurgence of interest in hierarchy and its very close cousins, white supremacy and eugenics. The idea that money confers reproductive fitness is a recurring theme, even as it is nonsense, and we should be prepared, once again, to combat it.
  • In the end, this resolves to one key conflict: carbon fuels. Carbon fuel producers really don’t want to stop producing carbon fuel; they have massive, long term investments they wish to productively amortize over a decades or centuries. Pesky democracies that want to shut down the party now are ultimately a minor annoyance. Converting energy flows into influence — by purchasing politicians, organizations, and capturing government — is straightforward enough, and simply a matter of positioning the right marketing campaigns, politicians, and cults in service of the task. Influence is 20th century technology perfected by the marriage with 21st century finance and technology. And the kicker? The best way to capture a government is to eliminate it. Obviously, the need to address anthropogenic climate change is real, and is impeded by the capture or elimination of government.
  • Some have already decided that . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

11 June 2022 at 9:41 am

Comparing causes of deaths worldwide

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Written by Leisureguy

23 May 2022 at 11:52 am

At some level, George W. Bush recognizes what he did in Iraq

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Written by Leisureguy

19 May 2022 at 1:10 pm

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