28 December 2019

This is what I get for wanting to wait to post a book announcement

There's various comments flying around about "Russia has a hypersonic missile" and so on, and it makes me kinda tear my hair.

Putin is a product of late Soviet strategic thinking, which is fundamentally defensive.  (A country that gets invaded a lot tends to think that way.)

The issue of being surrounded with missile defenses and not able to maintain MAD is absolutely critical, because Putin knows what happens then, and it's the 90s, from which Russia hasn't (and likely never shall) recover.  US missiles in Ukraine are too close to defend against.  Same with Finland, the Baltics, the whole old Soviet periphery is too close to Moscow.  Anything based there is too close to recognize and stop in time.  So priority zero is restoring MAD.

Putin's core -- and, really, only -- strategic problem is "who has enough nukes to destroy Russia?" 

Israel doesn't, quite.  (Hurt, badly, yes; meet the old Cold War criteria for "could destroy", no, especially as all of Israel is one bomb wide and two bombs long.)

France does.

The UK does.

China does.

The US does.

Putin does not give the proverbial rodent hindquarters about opposing democracy, manipulating the economy, or any other such thing.  Putin cares about removing the ability to nuke Russia.  Once that problem is solved -- and ONLY once that problem is solved -- does he have the strategic freedom to address his periphery, his cash flow issues, and the migration problem out of Central Asia.

So; Brexit has nothing to do with destabilizing the EU.  It has to do with getting the UK's nuclear arsenal under proxy control.  Same with Trump.  (Damaging the US' world standing is nice, but it's not necessary.  Getting the nukes under proxy control is necessary.)

China?  China's completely doomed by climate change, isn't inclined to pick fights, is going to have the same Central Asia migration problem, and may not have as many nukes as they say they do.  China is not in an aggressive posture; China is in a resource panic. Putin's perfectly capable of looking at where those graphs cross and not worrying about China.

France?  Well, France is next.  We can see France being next; asymmetric information warfare is something to which the French have a lot of vulnerability.  It's still not about the EU; it's about getting a hard-right satrap in place who will guarantee the Force de Frappe won't be used on Russia.


orc said...

"China's completely doomed by climate change"

??? China's *neighbors* might be completely doomed by climate change, but China itself?

Graydon said...

No monsoons. No Himalayan glaciers feeding rivers. (same thing, or two consequences of the same thing.)

Pretty much the entire coastal industrial belt is in (at best!) the 20+ lethal heat excursion days per year zone under the best-case 2.5 C by 2100 scenario. (Same as the entire eastern US.) "Enough spare parts for tractors" stops happening; there is no way to maintain equivalent production, and the long supply chain structures of the modern world do not degrade gracefully.

Current best sea level rise data for today's current atmospheric carbon loading is from a cave in Mallorca; it has big error bars, but the absolute best-case minimum is five-something metres and the expected value is fifteen. This takes out pretty much all the heavy industry on earth; China is no exception.

They've already got dustbowl issues. They've already got major issues with agricultural production, civil control, and food security. It's impossible to get accurate stats on anybody's agricultural variability -- it looks like a policy to not publish in Canada -- and China's published stats are close to fiction. Like everybody else, it's not the average; it's the swings. "2012, but worse" or "2012, twice" present truly severe problems to social order. (1848, only with a majority urban population already significantly dependent on food imports.)

The solar push and the efforts to install a sufficient control system -- all the facial recognition and the gamified social norms -- can't work if the food security doesn't hold, and the food security is looking awful. Once the industry goes, revert to pre-industrial carrying capacity of the supportable agriculture, which is pretty much zero in the lethal-heat-excursion zones. Which is where three-fifths of the Chinese population lives, and the support infrastructure for the entire population exists.

It's possible Putin thinks he's going to pivot to a northern coast, northern coastal trade, and adequate food stocks in a world where Russia is the last power standing. This isn't especially sensible of him but it's the sort of thing a Cold Warrior could think was a potentially worthwhile long term outcome. (It's also possible he's basically innumerate and/or anyone able to explain the risk analysis can't get to him.)

orc said...

tl/dr: Putin isn't that smart and doesn't believe that China will attempt to annex eastern Siberia to improve their food supplies and have a place to settle their climate refugees?

Graydon said...

Eastern Siberia is all cryosols; there was, twenty years ago, some hope those would transition gracefully and you could go from this remnant mammoth steppe (which does support horse-herding....) to something you could farm.

Today we know that what happens when a cryosol melts is you get glop, flowing downhill; the active topsoil layer does not survive. So the agricultural potential of Eastern Siberia (or the Alaska-Yukon Beringia refugium region) is nothing on "six inches of dirt" grounds. It's also nothing on "rains at predictable times in predictable amounts" grounds, just like everywhere else.

So there's no food there.

Hypothetical smart-Putin figures he has inland uphill heavy manufacturing; Magnitogorsk and Chelyabinsk aren't much, but they're there, and they work. There's internal oil supplies. Russia is very likely to lose the ability to field armored formations into Siberia after China does.

(Plus the whole relative nuclear arsenal size thing. As long as Russia keeps that longer than everyone else, they're fine, at least by Cold War logic.)

sergeyr said...

Putin's defencive mindset can explain Crimea, but it cannot explain their military support of Donbass separatism; that inevitably push Ukraine onto EU/NATO, so it is not defencive action from Russian perspective at all.
So Putin's mindset is gangland, not defencive.

Graydon said...

+sergeyr Somewhere there's a comprehensive justification for the defensive necessity of controlling your national perimeter, and if you can't do that, at least make the inherently hostile -- if you don't control it, it's hostile -- nations on your border weak.

This isn't sensible; if you really want to guarantee no one rolls tanks, you go for the Heineken Map to the Urals -- but it's surely there and the people with it think it's a defensive mindset.

Whether Putin is trying for Last PetroState Standing or Control of the Oil Empire, it just isn't a sensible objective. Same with having a fundamentally defensive mindset that's about crippling everybody else, so there's not capability for an attack. It's not especially sensible.

dilbert dogbert said...

How does one maintain "proxy control" of nukes past the era of one's grandchildren?
I guess Putin's thinking is "Après nous, le déluge"?

Graydon said...

+dilbert dogbert
Putin's backing the Confederacy faction. If they succeed in their goals, the US becomes aligned with Putin's aristocratic, overt-theological-control, per-enlightenment social norms faction.

From there, a formalized condominium seems like the logical next step. The actual handling of fissionables gets close to that already, at least in principle. (E.g., decommissioning the Ukraine's arsenal.)

heron61 said...

Your arguments make vast amounts of sense to me, except for China - the problems that will hit China won't be hitting hard for another 15-20 years, and while Putin is clearly thinking and planing on a longer time-scale than US politicians' 2-4 years, I'm not seeing much evidence of him thinking about 20+ years in the future. What I see with Putin and China is that the US is an obvious expansionist threat, and historically both the UK and portions of Western Europe also have been (although notably less recently), but China isn't. Instead, it's less vulnerable to the sorts of pressure Putin is good at, and more prone to both isolationism and (more recently) expansion into areas it can (in theory at least) more easily dominate, like it's current efforts in Africa. However, I think the biggest issue is simply the lack of ability to affect China. I'm sure he'd love to seriously weaken China and increase internal turmoil, but its a notably harder target than the US, the UK, or the EU. It's also not a nation that has ever invaded or actively threatened Russia in anything like the way the US, France, or Germany has, and I suspect that, at least unconsciously, this is fairly important.