Thursday, 24 April 2014

Russia's Strategy: Putin's actions in Ukraine predate his inception to power

A solider precides over the annual Victory Day parade on Red Square, Moscow. (EPA/Sergei Chirikov)

On April 23, Ukrainian security forces resumed operations against separatists in the regions of Kramatorsk, Slovyansk and other cities in the regions of Luhandsk and Donetsk. The response is largely due to the occupation of pro-Russian activists who have occupied key administration buildings in over a dozen Ukrainian cities. Once more, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Kiev is not doing enough to disarm illegal groups in Eastern Ukraine. While the illegal armed activity in Eastern Ukraine indicates to Moscow-leaning, the pushes made by Lavrov indicate that Moscow is not entirely sympathetic.

For Russia, Ukraine is a strategic necessity. It has been a necessary entity of Russian foreign policy as far back as the 17th century, when the Russian Empire aimed to integrate Eastern Europe, the Caucuses, Central Asia and Siberia. Under the Tsardom of Russia, the core principality of Muscovy possessed little resources -- it was through pursuing eastward, the conquest of Siberia, for the conquest of fur that it became the overarching Eurasia giant that it is today.

The origins

The St.Petersburg-Moscow axis was the core of this growing empire. With it, Russia, Ukraine and Belorussia occupied the centre of mass of the empire, possessing important agricultural settlements and crucially a buffer to foreign entities on the road to Moscow.

The vast geographical territory that Russia occupies on a glance of an Atlas is intimidating. Once more, it has done so without having been the prosperous nation. The Russian empire was powerful – but it wasn’t prosperous. The Soviet Union was powerful, but it wasn’t prosperous either; whilst military and economic constitute power, Russia has never exceeded its opponents in either. Yet, Russia remains undefeated in the face of invasion – Napoleon and Hitler tried and failed, partly due to failure on the invaders end and partly due to the defender’s strategy.

In order to explore this, it is important to examine the crucial factor as to why Russia is not as prosperous. Firstly, the regions occupying Ukraine and Russia enjoy some of the finest agricultural land in Europe. The Russian Empire made it a priority to economically integrate the farmlands of Ukraine into the Russian economy and reap the harvest that the lands produced. Moreover, it wished to supply the rest of the empire from the Ukrainian source of harvest. However, this came with a caveat.
The caveat lies predominately in Russia’s geography. From the North European Plain, it is navigable. However, from the more southern-eastern regions of Russia, upon the borderlands of the empire, the geography is difficult and establishing infrastructure was troublesome. The struggle to redistribute agricultural goods across the economy lies in the fact that transportation was difficult.

For other regions such as the United States and Germany, these nations benefited profusely by having an interconnected river network that allowed fast, cheap redistribution of goods and trade across the region. Economic integration relied primarily on the investment and construction of railways during the 18th and 19th centuries in order to economically integrate the vast territory.

Adapting to geographical constraints

The inherent weakness of economic integration led principally to the underdevelopment of the Empire and the Soviet Union, there relative weaknesses and constraints meant they were unable to compete with Western Europe. More so, the emphasis on lower-development between regions was the source of economic motivation to integrate with one another. This was achieved concurrently with the main aim of Russia to maintain and incorporate the greater regions into the core of Moscow. Whilst economics may have been one main reason for amalgamation of various nationalities, regions and provinces under one empire and union, another main reason is security and Moscow’s institutions.

Geopolitics has the inherent trait of being ubiquitous throughout history, wielding the ability to constrain and empower nations. Geography cannot be moulded – a state must mould and adapt to geographical constraints and advantages it has bequeathed. In 2005, Vladimir Putin stated that the greatest “geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century” was the dissolution of the Soviet Union. What Putin is referring to are the institutions and practices that allowed the Soviet Union to remain unified. Namely, this was the security apparatus that provided the arc for which Moscow was able to craft policy and suppress internal power struggles, both in the capital and in the greater regions.

This was not unique to the Soviet Union – Russian Empire possessed a vast counterintelligence network anchored to suppress political dissidents and opposition to the Tsar rule. For over two centuries, the Russian intelligence network remained the most efficient, actionable and modern institution. The claim by Moscow for it to be the core of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union consistently had an underbelly of opposition. Whether it is through religious, ethnic or national grounds, there was a rationale to challenge the core. Moscow had created and maintained a state inherently artificial in retrospect to its Western European counterparts.

An overarching ideology has been a defining feature of the empire and the union. In the Russian Empire, the Russian Orthodox Church provided the framework and supplemented the security apparatus which provided the justification for the structure. Together, the Russian Orthodox Church and the security apparatus sought to identify political and religious dissidents, which they did to great success.

The transformation from the Russian Empire to the Soviet Union concurrently transformed the ideological narrative for which enhanced the security apparatus. Marxist-Leninism, theoretically, was more efficient for the Soviet Union. Firstly, it was hostile to all religions – where the Russian Orthodox Church may create rift between competition religious factions, Marxist-Leninism was hostile to them all. Secondly, it was indifferent to many various ethnicities and nations that populated the state.
The security apparatus was and is instrumental for systematically maintaining power in Moscow. A persistent threat for Moscow has always been internal and external. Internally, it does not enjoy the fruits of nation-state building. It consistently must monitor and react to separatist movements which wish to break away from the control of Moscow. Externally, it is geographically indefensible. Russia possesses no geographical natural barriers to preclude it from invasion. The road to Moscow is the North European Plain, a favourable invasion highway of fertile and relatively flat land that can aid standing armies and battalions at brisk pace upon the march to the capital.

Security considerations

To navigate the internal and external security discrepancies, power in Russia has traditionally been autocratic. The security of Russia is inherently fragile; autocracy, repression and control are of paramount importance to sustain Russian national security. The political agility that an autocracy provides stems Russia’s historical acquisition of this style of governance. It is rooted in the Russian psychological fear of insecurity whereby the weaknesses are recognized and only manageable – they are inherently unfixable.

The Soviet Union managed the internal and external challenges with success. It achieved great territorial gains in the Second World War and its reach expanded westward to Central Europe, installing a government moulded by the Kremlin’s vision in East Germany. The creation of the Warsaw Pact is arguably the first instance where Russia’s strategic necessity had been fully successful. Where the Russian Empire could not fully control and project power over Eastern Europe, Napoleon sought to invade and conquer. Once more, Operation Barbarossa aimed to exploit the geographical weaknesses of the road to Moscow to conquer the Soviet Union. Both invasions ran into difficulty by the elaborate use of buffer zones that were instrumental in Moscow’s defence.

By 1945, the Soviet Union had achieved total defence of its frontiers with the creation of interlaying buffer zones matched with an offensive posture on Western Europe. While there were plans, to invade the Soviet Union would have been tremendously difficult and categorically pyrrhic if such an invasion was to occur by any angle.

Therefore, it is easy to understand why the fall of the Soviet Union was seen as a geopolitical disaster for Russia. It had lost its former borders which solidified and provided security for the core of Russia. Once more, the security apparatus which held the regions together ultimately imploded. The fall of the Soviet Union damaged and questioned the traditional institutions that preceded Russia for centuries.
It was then when political commentators such as Francis Fukuyama envisaged an “End of History” scenario in which the wars of ideology were a thing of the past and that liberal democracy would preserve without resistance. In hindsight, we see that the Russian system, whether Marxist-Leninist or monarchic, the ideology perpetrated was subservient to geopolitical interest.  

Russia’s former-self

After 1991, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation under Yeltsin travelled into what was known as “The chaos”. From 1991-2000, the Russian Federation underwent a period of great difficulty. It had lost its former frontiers in Ukraine and Central Asia, it had engulfed itself into a failing counterinsurgency in Chechnya in 1995, oligarchs began to monopolize the energy and services sectors of the economy, it had been humiliated in Kosovo by having its opposition to the war ignored and poverty increased coupled with economic inequality and unemployment rose to dangerous levels.

It is clear that the liberal experiment under Yeltsin has failed. In 2000, Vladimir Putin came into office with a clear objective of resuming the working institutions that allowed the weaknesses of Russia’s geopolitical position to be managed. During the 00s, Putin systematically restored power back to the core of Moscow through judicial and executive reform, revitalizing the security apparatus. Furthermore, using the aforementioned security apparatus, he was able to pull the oligarchs under the Kremlin’s control and has taken steps to bolster Russia’s power in the international stage, both to regional neighbours and greater rivals.

However, a great challenge to Putin in the 21st century is internal legitimacy. Nationalist drives may win the support in the regions surrounding Moscow but Russia inhabits an incredibly diverse spectrum of ethnicities, driven by different historical traditions and contrasting political destinies. Internal legitimacy comes from the promise of security and prosperity. The latter more contentious but this promise is fuelled by the premise of a strong Russia that is able to project power in Eurasia. To do this, Putin has adopted a framework of using Russia as an industrial power – an exporter of raw materials, namely natural gas, to systematically entrench influence and dependence with Central and Eastern Europe.

Ukraine, an artificial nation, is polarized. For Russia to be able to project power in Eurasia and for it to be a regional power, let alone a global one, it must have Ukraine. Ukraine has been the traditional hub and centre of mass for the preceding Russian empire and union. It is also the transport hub for Russia’s exportation of natural gas into Central Europe. Once more, Ukraine possesses a heavily integrated economic industrial base which Russia benefits, particularly in Eastern Ukraine.
Therefore, a challenge to Ukraine is a challenge to Russian national security. In 2004, the Orange Revolution, in the eyes of Moscow, represented a challenge to Russia’s national security. It was seen that the United States was intending to segment the Russian Federation through the use of nongovernmental organizations to promote pro-Western governments with the objective of joining the EU and NATO.

For Putin, this was unacceptable and it challenged his internal legitimacy. Therefore, Putin had to show regions such as Ukraine that Russia was a major regional power while exposing the United States’ lack of commitment to integrating Eastern Europe into the United States’ umbrella. Georgia, a client-state of the United States, was invaded in 2008. The Russo-Georgian was executed at a time where the United States had engaged its state and military forces and services in the Middle East – Eastern Europe was not part of its periphery.

The 2014 Ukrainian uprisings have represented similar challenges to Putin’s leadership. However, Putin has responded forcefully, on the tail of a defensive strategy to consolidate Ukraine. The invasion of Crimea and annexation is a testament to Russia’s commitment to maintaining its frontiers by applying pressure on Kiev. In some ways, it’s undermined itself by taking a vast portion of pro-Russian voters in Crimea out of the Kiev central government electoral pool, weakening a pro-Russian opposition. However, inaction is more costly for Putin. Inaction leaves a vacuum of speculation and room to challenge Putin’s neo-Czarist rule – where the Kremlin is in continuous battle with internal strife, any challenges to the core of Russia is extremely detrimental. Putin must utilize the tools of his autocratic predecessors in order to navigate Russia’s geopolitical struggle and execute its strategic imperatives.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

The root of human condition and state behavior: Forecasting and the fear of miscalculation

What is forecasting? Forecasting is built into the human psyche as each action an individual takes is intended to have a certain outcome. To assume how each action works, a certain amount of knowledge is required on how things work.  Indeed, in order to identify how things work one must analyse the aspects of the world that are eternal. Things that are eternal serve as the basis for most decision-making as this lends hand to predictability and a proper foresighted outcome.

However, knowledge carries a caveat. It is rarely perfect. Many actions have unintended consequences despite their best intentions. Sometimes, the understanding of methodology as to how an outcome has derived is unimportant – for example, if I turn on a light switch,  I expect the room to illuminate – yet, the prerequisite for understanding such an action does not require an understanding of why the room illuminates.
In my understanding and exploration of geopolitics, there are components in the union of geography and power that allow the ability to forecast.

In essence, geography is the largest limitation to how a country, state, group can conduct itself. Napoleon succeeded in conquering Western Europe because the geography of France complimented the formation of a nation-state. The geography of Western Europe complimented his conquest, through Belgium, Germany and beyond until he reached his limitations on the road to Moscow.

As a student, I have made a forecast in the choosing an education that gives me the platform to choose a career that will please me in the next ten years, what would be useful & enriching and be able to make money for the indulgence of many of life’s pleasures. From such a macro-level of life decision making, to micro decision-making of crossing the road - forecasting is eternal.

What must happen and what might happen

Forecasting and intelligence are the most important components of defence. Many would say the opposite, that forecasting and intelligence are more important for offensive operations but forecasting allows dealing with the enemy of tomorrow. By analysing geopolitical trends, historical analysis and the elements of process-tracing, one is able to formulate a strategy of must happen rather than what might happen.

The distinction between must and might is important. How does one distinguish what must happen and what might happen? It is difficult to answer such a question positively. Instead, analysing what can’t happen and limiting the options give the most fruitful answer. To find out what can’t happen, analysing the forces that act enable one to predict what cannot happen. Once you predict what cannot happen, you are left with the options that must happen given the cocktail of constraints and limitations people, groups and states go through. 

Forecasting has become a growing service and an important component of business operations. Forecasting varies in difficult. Nature is the easiest because it does not have conviction or the ability to make choices – its choices are dictated by the forces, climate and environment that formulate it. Human beings are the most difficult, but not impossible, to predict.

Human beings have choices. They make individual choices shaped by a variety of reasons. Their family, their upbringing, their cultural identity, their education, their experiences and their enlightened destiny are the source and derivations of many of individual choices.

A reasonable assumption to make when forecasting human behavior is that an individual will make a decision that gives maximum happiness and security. Happiness and security are two subjective concepts. Happiness takes itself in variety of forms with varying wave lengths – it also fickle. Security varies from environment and context – it is never absolute but always requires a threshold to be labelled “secure”.

Source of miscalculation 

The idea of happiness has evolved since the late 17th century. The age of enlightenment sown the construct of “enlightened happiness”, that humans make choices rationally for their own pre-conceived definition of happiness. The idea that you were not limited by your religion, community or financial situation has been a recurring and evolving theme for the past three hundred years in the pursuit of happiness.

Secondly, the humans forecasting themselves whereby their own vices, wishes and preconceptions colour their view of how other humans will behave – and the source of miscalculation.

The fear of miscalculation arises from another neighbour. It is difficult to predict, on the surface, your neighbours motives, wishes and ambitions without looking into what shapes their individuality. The same occurs on a community level and on a state level. Natural scepticism of the unknown has been the largest source of fear in humanity.

The reason for the fear is that the fundamentally related to protection. Humans will protect what is important to 1) their survival 2) their needs and security assurances 3) their quest of self-actualization. Survival is rooted in the family. A new-born cannot survive without care until at least the age of five otherwise it dies. Needs and security assurances are rooted in the community. A family itself will be inadequate to protect itself from the forces that be; the environment, nature and other communities complicate security assurances.

The quest for self-actualization is a tertiary concept, not as important as survival and needs and security assurances but important nonetheless. Particularly in post-industrial, advanced societies, education and nurture has been designed in such a way to maximize each individual’s opportunity to achieve self-actualization.

"Worse case scenario" 

This lends hand to what the fear of miscalculation entails. The unknown intention of another naturally evokes fear because it can be detrimental and contrasting to the interests you have at heart. In casual relationships, you are able to have a wide threshold in assuming the best in people purely because the cost of miscalculation is trivial. When that evolves into the fear of miscalculation is your own happiness, freedom, life or dignity to that of your family, spouse or children the consequences of miscalculation dramatically decrease your right and ability to assume the best and the worst case scenario takes an antecedence.

For a state, a defined territorial entity expelling sovereignty over that geographic space, the matrix of human interactions in the paradigms of emotion, the love of one’s own people, self-interest and destiny and therefore community, the fear of miscalculation forces a state to assume the worst case scenario. An ally of today maybe the enemy of tomorrow – the human security and national security takes precedence in all forms of policy making.

This is all done under the guise of the “worst-case scenario” - this fundamental assumption allows preparation and the formulation of adequate strategic preparation. Of course, it is impossible to fully predict the future – this predominately because social forecasting systems are built on a statistical model consisting of many individuals trying to unify the wide aspects of the human condition under the same assumptions. 

This is a difficult to quantify because the human condition always has an aura of unpredictability and irrationality. Given such models lay on the fact that humans are rational beings, they are often make irrational choices. Take for instance, Hitler’s acquisition of strategic planning in Operation Barabossa where he ignored the far more qualified opinion of Heinz Guderian.

It is hard to remedy such a decision and it inevitably cost the Third Reich the war. Such behavior is unpredictable and has always been part of decision-making. States are commanded by individuals and because of that, geopolitical forecasting may be able to call 80-90% forecasted predictions but the 10% is the mystique and unexplainable component of human behaviour that cannot be quantified or explained rationally, it is just a constituent that must be dealt with and anticipated, rather than forecasted. 

Follow more on:

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Clarity and vision: Geopolitical Compass' future

GPC's new logo (Oct. 2013)
By Bradley Cole

When I first created this blog in 2013, it was primarily to exercise and read deeper into international affairs that I wouldn't have otherwise done throughout the summer. In addition, it gave a platform for others to discuss, endorse and connect with ideas and philosophies.

One of the defining moments for the creation of the blog was the Edward Snowden case which acclaimed a lot of media and social comment. When such an event dominates the news wire for weeks on end, information and misinformation become abundant.

As news companies try to establish their niché in the media ecosystem, many will  try to appeal to what the reader wants to hear. This has a danger - the human mind is fascinated by outrageous and anti-conventional literature - and as a consequence, rhetoric and hyperbole come to dominate certain news outlets.

It was shortly after this blog's first post that a key geopolitical event occurred. On July 3rd 2013, the former President of Egypt, Mohammad Morsi, was expelled from his position as President of Egypt. Geopolitical Compass seeked to analyse, condense and predict the following events.

In the article, "What now after Morsi?", it was predicted that the expulsion of the Muslim Brotherhood from mainstream politics would turn extremist elements of Islamist salafism to armed conflict. The relative destabilization of the Sinai region proved this. As a consequence, this set the direction of Geopolitical Compass - going from a piece of opinion to a place to condense world affairs.

Along the summer, I had been in the process of recruiting talented, skilled writers with an infectious interest into International Relations. David Stanton has produced consistent, high-quality articles that adhere to the very nature of how international politics be addressed. These are to be clear, concise, informative and above all - objective - giving true clarity and vision on complex issues.

Another dimension to achieve this is through Geopolitical Snapshot. The very nature of this feature is to condense in bite-size chunks the more important states and nations at a specific point in time and for them to be a point of focus.

The spread of the blog and the feedback received by various readers and followers spurred on the development of the blog and fueled the foundation for greater and more ambitious ideas.

Once more, the proliferation of the blog and reaching readers across all continents, from New Zealand to Iceland, from Japan to Brazil, was a particular highlight and encapsulated the grand idea of Geopolitical Compass.

The evolution of these ideas to cover world affairs mean that a blog, as it stands, is insufficient to satisfy the ambitious ideas that are in motion. As a result, Geopolitical Compass will be moving from a blog to a website, with its own registered domain.

This is one of many steps that Geopolitical Compass will take and is a transitionary period. With change, comes motivation and the reorganization of Geopolitical Compass will see better and higher quality articles on our new website.

With that, we also hope to gather more writers who share the same vision as us, to comprehensively filter the noise of the world into a single, tangible note that can be understood and related to.

The details of the new website will be posted on this blog shortly, once beta-testing for the new website has finished.

Monday, 21 October 2013

United Kingdom: The question of Scottish independence

Since winning assembly elections in 2011, First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond pledged the promise of a Scottish referendum
Photo: Alamy 

It is unlikely that full independence will be achieved but political history and recent trends gravitate toward a Union based on autonomy away from Westminster.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Geopolitical Snapshot - 20.10.13

Geopolitical Snapshot seeks to condense world affairs by focussing its lens on regions and countries of relative strategic value. The world continuously changes on a daily basis so in order to properly manage and assess the geopolitical landscape, analysis must be condensed on the prominent pillars of international politics at any given time. In this installment, Geopolitical Snapshot will focus on the United States, Italy, Angola/Congo, Syria, Somalia, Iran, China and Russia.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Saudi Arabia: Consolidating regional uncertainty

Saudi Arabia finds itself in strategic complexities amid US-Iran rapprochement
Photo: AP 

On Oct 18, the Saudi government rejected a rotating seat on the U.N. Security Council. The government was cited as saying that the Security Council was incapable of ending wars and resolving conflicts. However, this diplomatic maneuver illustrates the difficult position Saudi Arabia finds itself in the region.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Korean Peninsula - North Korea aims to expand Special Economic Zones

The North Korean regime will aim to attract foreign investors to help in its depleting economy
NASA/Satellite Images 

North Korea's ambition of establishing new special economic zones in order to facilitate foreign investment highlights subtle desperation of Pyongyang.