Monday, September 15, 2008

The Caucasian Test Case

Today, the first more comprehensive analysis of the Russo-Georgian war in August 2008 was published, less than a month after hostilities ended. In its report Det kaukasiska lackmustestet (The Caucasian Test Case), the Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI) summarises its findings.

The war between Georgia and Russia in August 2008 has fundamentally changed the playing field of international relations and the aftermath of the war will have profound consequences.

The purpose of this study is to analyze some central issues and implications of the war. The aim is to, shortly after the war and based on open sources material, draw some tentative conclusions regarding the consequences for the region and the world.

The primary conclusion is that Russia’s actions have triggered a far-reachingreassessment of the present world order. This will in turn lead to extensive policy changes at different levels as the actors adapt and try to influence the formation of the new world order. The war has laid bare the challenges and problems of the present international system. Responses to Russia’s actions will give an early
indication of the character and modus operandi of the coming world order.
My own contribution is a chapter on the information and cyberwar aspects (pp. 45-52).

Bibliographical information is as follows:
Det kaukasiska lackmustestet: Konsekvenser och lärdomar av det rysk-georgiska kriget i augusti 2008

[The Caucasian Test Case: Consequences and lessons Learned of the Russian-Georgian War in August 2008].

Robert L. Larsson (ed.), Alexander Atarodi, Eva Hagström Frisell, Jakob Hedenskog, Jerker Hellström, Jan Knoph, Vilhelm Konnander, Jan Leijonhielm, David Lindahl, Fredrik Lindvall, Johannes Malminen, Ingmar Oldberg, Fredrik Westerlund, Mike Winnerstig

The report in full [SWE] is available for download or purchase at the FOI website.
"Ryssen valde väg i Georgien. Fel väg!", Svenska Dagbladet, 15 September 2008.
"Analysts Call Russia-Georgia Conflict a 'Litmus Test'", Deutsche Welle, 16 September 2008.
"Ryssland ett växande hot mot sina grannar", Hufvudstadsbladet, 16 september 2008.
"Ny FOI-rapport speglar säkerhetspolitiska läget", Västerbottenskuriren, 17 september 2008.
"Säkerhetspolitiken i Europa är försämrad", Världen idag, 17 september 2008.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sex & the City Dizz Putin

Has Putin - Time Magazine Man of the Year 2007 - been dethroned? Has virile Volodya finally lost his powerful sex appeal and magic with the ladies? So it would seem, judging from a recent toplist of the sexiest politicians in Russia, made by Russian Sex & the City magazine. Moreover, Putin was beaten by a has-been liberal politician, vegetating on the sidelines of Russia's weak and squeamish democratic opposition.

So, is this really the time for such jibberish and nonsense as the power and sex pendulum, when the world is set ablaze and sales of books declaring "The New Cold War" soar to become bestsellers overnight? Actually, it obviously is, because it tells a lot of how primitive our emotions may be when confronted with realities we do not want to face - and in some cases have spent years running away from.

Why is it that an article in a rather obscure Russian ladies' magazine - with a blog rather than a website fronting its business - gets such attention by international media at this very point in time? Good journalism? A story with potential Pullitzer prize qualities? I think not...

The simple reason is probably the psychological need for negative power projection - a primitive urge to make Putin look impotent at a time when "barbarious Russia" stands at the gates of our "imaginary western world of values." One need not be Freudian to understand both how deeply set and closely related power and sexuality are in the human psyche. Paradoxically, portraying Putin this way may simply be a projection of one's own feelings of impotence.

Still, Putin is an easy target. Examples are plenty. Only the other week, the victorious warrior saved a terrified TV-team out of the jaws of a ferocious Siberian tiger, thus hitting the headlines both in Russia and internationally for subduing this pinnacle of virility - the tiger. Even The Washington Post ran an article, linking it to no other story than - yes, Putin's precious potence in peril, when illustrious Russian Sex & the City magazine gets over and done with him. In power and sex, there can only be one first person, seems to be the message that media wants to get across. When did we stoop to such levels? Did we ever stop to think of where we were heading?

At a time when the world grasps for simplified truths, one should perhaps stop to think for a moment whether this is a story worthy the victims of a war with no meaning - hitting Georgians, Ossetians, and Russians alike. Values are vital for western society, they tell us. Our intrinsic values set us apart from authoritarianism and dictatorship - civilization and culture instead of brutish force. So, when portraying "an enemy leader" - as Putin is increasingly made out to be - is it the differences and divides of values that come to the forefront? Hopefully, but this story shows a small piece of the opposite - when the calamity of conflict is reduced to primal power and sex.

What does it tell us about ourselves and the world we live in? That is perhaps a question we should ask ourselves when we look to our politicians - presidents and prime ministers - for wise and enlightened leadership at a time when the tide of history is turning. Let us but hope that theirs is the wisdom to be guided by the values and ideals of western society rather than the primitive logics of power politics.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Analysing the Russo-Georgian War

What have we learnt from the war in Georgia? That is the question addressed in one of the first more comprehensive reports of the recent war between Russia and Georgia. As the war gives credibility to those claiming that we are on the verge of a New Cold War, there is also a time for analysis. The pursuit of knowledge is preferrable to a mere show of arms and empty rhetorics. The stakes may simply be too high to risk such a gamble at this point.

On Monday morning, the Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI) will present one of the first more comprehensive analyses of the recent war in Georgia at a press seminar in Stockholm. With contributions from 14 analysts of different specialities, the report offers a variety of approaches to the conflict, and how it affects the European security order.
To what extent does the war set the framework for future security policy? What are the challenges for the EU? To what extent will it cause changes in the European security structure? What effects on world economy can we expect? Which are the lessons learnt from the Russian military offensive? These are but a few questions addressed by the study.
As a contributor myself, I deal with - what is loosely called - the information war or rather "cyberwar", viz. the alleged coincidence of an armed conflict with a massive attack over the Internet. Some of the views presented in this part, will hopefully be interesting to and put things in a wider perspective for prospective readers. I thus welcome any feedback, though access is limited to a Swedish readership.
The report in full will be accessible for purchase or download from the FOI website as of noon (GMT+1) on Monday. I hope it will contribute to a nuanced picture of the war and present perspectives that may guide political decision-makers, the media, and an interested general public in their views of the war and its real and potential consequences.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Economist Debate on Russia vs. the West

"The West must be bolder in its response to a newly assertive Russia." This is the proposition made for the upcoming The Economist debate series, setting off on 9 September. The opposite argument holds that this position erroneous by Western misperceptions of Russia, based on renewed reminiscences of an increasingly distant Cold War era.

Speaking for the pro side is Anne-Marie Slaughter, Dean of the Princeton University Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Representing the con argument is Dmitri V. Trenin, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment Moscow Centre.

Thus, Slaughter initiates the debate by the following argument:
The West should be bolder in confronting a newly assertive Russia, but bolder in a way that understands and manipulates the realities of 21st-century politics rather than plunging us back into a 20th-century stalemate.
In his rebuttal, Trenin starts out opposing this statement accordingly:

Those who argue that the West should be bolder in its response to a newly assertive Russia are trying to use their memories of the past to deal with a very different present and a highly uncertain future.
The debate will span over the period 9-19 September with rebuttals on the 12th and closing arguments on the 17th. The winner will be announced on the 19th, and topics covered be open for discussion and comments until 26 September.

Registered users will be able to vote surrepetisiously for either alternative during the ten day debate. Following the Oxonian tradition, "members of the House will be thus allowed to "cross the floor" by such vote if arguments are convinving enough to turn their opinion. Questions to the contrahents may be sent in via the Chairman, viz. moderator, who will act as arbiter in selecting those of relevance for further dissection in debate.

The Economist presents the following background for the debate:

Russia’s incursion into neighboring Georgia has Western governments worried about renewed Russian assertiveness. The diplomatic frost between America and Russia remains at a level not seen since the cold war, leading to predictable results: Russian/NATO joint military exercises cancelled, private energy co-operation agreements withdrawn, foreign ministers returned home. Is Russia’s intention to upset the current international order, or is it responding directly to the widening sphere of American influence in former Soviet countries (for example, the promise of eventual NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia)? Can the European Union speak with one voice and take the diplomatic lead? Or must America protect the world order by standing up to Russia to prove that any form of aggression comes at a cost? Finally, are we witnessing the dawn of a second cold war, in which the West should resist the lure of appeasement?

So, are we in for a heated debate, as East and West seem juxtaposed in a renewed wrestle for right and wrong, power and glory, or simply for the petty interests of their own pockets in a fight for survival spanning ever greater tracts of the world?

That is certainly one purpose of debate, in attracting interest to a sensitive and precarious situation in world affairs. Still, choosing a softy like dear Dmitri to stand for the Russian side and not a heavy-hitter better representative of currrent moods in Moscow may not be the best approach in the pursuit of any profounder realities. Still, it warrants for an interesting and nuanced debate of a character not widely found in these days. I for one will certainly follow the debate with great interest and also invite others to join in the conversation.