Miscellaneous thoughts on Ukraine . . .
Nuclear strategy podcast
I recommend this podcast on nuclear strategy and Ukraine from 538.
Why caution about escalation?
It appears that President Biden and his team have done a masterful job rallying our allies and Americans to the Ukrainian cause, countering Putin’s propaganda efforts, putting in place a strong sanctions regime, etc. He also (rightly) resisted actions he viewed as potentially dangerous escalation, especially calls for a no-fly zone and the Polish MiG deal.
But what’s the logic behind the caution about escalation? I can think of three theories, but I’m wondering if there are others.
One is a marginal deterrence theory. If we impose maximal sanctions now, we have no room to escalate sanctions in response to intransigence or escalation from Putin. This is one reason not to execute people for unarmed robbery – more robbers would decide to use weapons.
Another reason to hold off on maximal sanctions is to avoid creating a situation where Putin feels so trapped that nuclear escalation becomes an appealing (or less unappealing) option.
Finally, avoiding direct military conflict with Russia is a strong reason to reject a no-fly zone.
But I don’t know anything about war strategy. What am I missing?
Is face-saving important for Putin? If so, why?
People understandably talk about the importance of giving Putin an “off-ramp” from conflict. But what is an off-ramp? If an off-ramp is just an outcome that is better than continued war in Ukraine, giving Putin an off-ramp doesn’t seem so difficult. We can always agree to lift sanctions, to restrict NATO expansion, etc. (Making these commitments credible might be difficult, and they may not be popular with western publics, but that’s life.)
But when people talk about an off-ramp, they seem to have in mind face-saving for Russia/Putin as well as a willingness to negotiate an end to the conflict. Why is face-saving important to Putin? I can imagine face-saving being very important to Trump for personal psychological reasons. He just needs the adulation. Is this true of Putin? Or is face-saving important just to help Putin maintain power?
If maintaining power is Putin’s main goal, negotiating an end to an unpopular war might be in his interest even if it’s not face-saving in some absolute sense (and it could be more face-saving than continuing a quagmire). And Putin can always claim victory and suppress countervailing narratives domestically. If he gets sanctions lifted and controls the popular narrative, what else does he need? Crimea and eastern Ukraine? Ukrainian neutrality? How much do ordinary Russians care about these things? What else can we give him? What control do we have over domestic opinion in Russia, anyway? It seems like public opinion will be more of a constraint on President Biden and NATO leaders, especially when it comes to lifting economic sanctions.
Besides negotiating an end to the conflict – and being willing to lift economic sanctions – what else do we need to do? Does it matter if Biden and NATO leaders say face-saving things in public?
How does our negotiating strategy change if Putin is strongly motivated by a desire to restore Russian empire? Does that mean that we – and Ukraine – need to be willing to put Ukrainian neutrality and territorial concessions on the table?
Updating my (uninformed) priors
I still think the war will continue to be a catastrophe for Ukrainians, but I am a bit less pessimistic than I was a few days ago. The case for pessimism: Logistical and supply problems for the Ukrainians will get worse as the Russians advance; they may lose large numbers of troops. The Russians will overcome their logistical problems or just destroy Ukrainian cities from a distance or starve people into submission. The case for (not optimism but) somewhat less pessimism: The Russian military continues to underperform, there are faint glimmers of discontent on the Russian home front and interest in a negotiated end to the conflict.
To be clear, I don’t put much stock in my thoughts on Ukraine, and neither should anyone else. I’m just putting this out there.
“… I don’t put much stock in my thoughts on Ukraine, and neither should anyone else…”
[Although I find it easy to agree with what Eric Kramer wrote here in general, then I must say that last part was indeed brilliant. The combination of tragedy, uncertainty, and profound enduring consequences of Putin’s war against Ukraine should humble any mind. War is hell, but nuclear could be the end of days.]
It only grows more horrible every day.
Are we being set up for Trump’s reelection?
Are such further horrors in store?
Maybe that’s what it will take for Putin to back off.
Eventually Trump will tell us so.
It seems to me that NATO as a practical matter has told the world that Ukraine is not under protection. They are not a member and if agreeing that they never will be helps end this, then it is a “sleeves-from-the-vest” kind of sacrifice. Adding Ukraine does nothing to improve collective security for NATO members since it seriously complicates relations with the only military power that the alliance is set up to deter. Possibly should have been done years earlier but doing it now might be exactly the step from which a rapid end to hostilities might spring. Yes, Putin “wins” at least partially, but is that a serious problem?
It is a matter of time and fortitude. Does Putin have the time and does the Russian army have the fortitude to keep up the attack on Ukraine? Something will give here and I suspect Ukraine will capitulate. Ukraine has mediocre support. It needs more planes and or higher altitude missiles. Neither are forth coming from its cheerleaders, the West.
The Ukraine would be a buffer to the rest of Europe if they win.
I misspoke awhile back when I said the Russian air force was not active in Ukraine.
Evidently it is, even if they don’t show air strikes on video from the region. I assumed from the video and news photos I’ve seen that damage was from artillery. Not so.
Russian offensive widens
Boston Globe – March 11
Friday that the toll of people killed during the now 12-day siege had risen to 1,582. …
And the USofA had 1272 people killed yesterday by covid. A single day. where is the outrage?
There has been too much dissension over masking to consistently enforce a no-fly zone for Covid-19.
oh, but the sanctions! an immediate and total withdrawal of Federal money to red states might learn them something about patriotism.
a person i know thinks NATO (US) strategy is to lure Russia into a war they cannot win and bleed them (financially) until they have no hope of becoming a world power.
just cynical enough for me to believe.
as to somehow leave Ukraine as a “neutral” buffer state… no way. Putin has shown he knows how to get what he wants using the nuclear bluff.
As good a take on it as any. The only thing that we know for sure is that this sucks incredibly bad for Ukraine already, no matter what happens from here.
Earlier I compared the Ukraine situation to US history & the War Between the States.
Lately, it’s turned into Sherman’s march through Georgia. At least Russia should be heartily ashamed to the horrors that they are doing to citizens of what they consider part of Russia.
Most likely Sherman’s drinking problem was a matter of him trying to drown his shame. Also, he was chummier and more permissive with subordinates than the average general, which I attribute to him placing a higher value on loyalty than discipline. Of course Grant was no teetotaler either and also looked the other way when his soldiers looted et al.
Indeed, anecdotal info about the proclivities of Union generals in the Civil War are most informative. Presumably those Ukrainian descendants who remember tales of what are now current events will think most unkindly of the Russian military of today, what drunks & bastards they were. Those will be the days.
Soldiers and generals are more likely to feel shame about the killing than the politicians. Nations do not have a unique consciousness. Consciousness is a personal attribute just like conscience is a personal matter. The shame of war is indirectly proportional to ones distance from the blood spatter. OTOH, sociopaths are immune to shame and lacking in conscience although they have fully functional consciousness.
(Cross posted from the Open Thread.)
I have a friend, originally a Texan, who seems to still be a ‘son of the South’ in many ways, although he claims otherwise. It seems if you come from ‘way down South’ you retain a variety of what to Northerners are very strange, unpleasant ideas & attitudes.
And considerable pride in doing so. I still remember the discomfort I felt from spending several months in Georgia back in my Army days, when I first had close contact with ‘Southern gentlemen’.
On ‘Nuclear Strategy’…
I hope this doesn’t come as a surprise to anybody.
the US missile defense system is no match for a Russian nuclear attack
Boston Globe – March 12
The US only has a limited ability to destroy an incoming nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile, a study released last month by the American Physical Society concluded. It said that “the current capabilities are low and will likely continue to be low for the next 15 years” to protect the US against a strike from North Korea, which has an estimated 20 nuclear warheads and relatively unsophisticated missiles. The Pentagon disputes the findings and says the most recent tests show the system can handle a North Korean attack. …
(The US and Russia, in so far as each other are concerned, are more or less entirely dependent on the principles of Mutual Assured Destruction, vintage ‘Dr Strangelove’.
We each have about 5000 thermonuclear warheads mounted on long-range missiles, aimed at each other’s country, ready to launch at a moment’s notice. What could go wrong with that?)
BTW, the term ‘thermonuclear’ refers to hydrogen-fusion, as opposed to now obsolete ‘nuclear-fission’. The problem with the latter is that the most powerful atomic bombs maxed out at about 100 kilotons of TNT. They are now mainly of use as triggers for hydrogen bombs, which are thousands of times more powerful – no limit really, but 50 megatons is perhaps the practical limit – about 2500 times more powerful than the bombs dropped on Japan. But realistically, more like 250 times more powerful than those.
Also, BTW, I noticed the other day that the table-salt we have in the house is the more trendy version these days: sea salt.
Go out and buy some old-fashioned iodized table salt if you can find it. (Better yet, buy some iodine tablets.)
Sea salt has no iodine in it. You’re going to need that to avoid radiation sickness from the fall-out.
Putin is likely a sociopath, but definitely not a paranoid schizophrenic. Among other things, he is a survivalist. He does not have a death wish. He is cunning, calculating, deceptive, vain, and greedy. I read the articles for all those links that I posted on an earlier thread about the national security profiles that were prepared on him and nothing suggests that he has self-destructive tendencies or even a shred of self-doubt, much less compassion or conscience. OTOH, I would not want to back him into a corner where he had nothing left to lose. No telling what he might do if he thought it was all over for him. So far though, I doubt that he can even imagine that he will lose and not get his own way.
Research Suggests Politicians are More Likely to Be Psychopaths
Smithsonian – August 2012
A psychological evaluation of a certain megalomaniacal narcissistic paranoid demagogic leader from recent world history
Duluth Reader – October 2020
A sociopath is a person whose behavior is antisocial, often criminally greedy, who lacks a sense of moral responsibility, empathy or social conscience. Sociopaths never sincerely apologize nor are they capable of exhibiting remorse for wrongs that they have committed. …
A paranoid person or group exhibits excessive or irrational suspiciousness and distrustfulness of other individuals or groups. …
Could this be due to excessive salt intake?
Often told as a joke “Just because you are paranoid that does not mean that everyone is not out to get you.” So, paranoia can be rational, but schizophrenia adds a whole new dimension to paranoia, sometimes several.
Society has conspired with Hollywood to put two seemingly-sexy psychology terms into our collective consciousness — psychopath and sociopath. Psychopath and sociopath are pop psychology terms for what psychiatry calls antisocial personality disorder. These two terms are not well-defined in the psychology research literature — hence the confusion about them.
Nonetheless, there are some general similarities as well as differences between these two personality types. Both sociopaths and psychopaths have a pervasive pattern of disregard for the safety and rights of others. Deceit and manipulation are central features to both types of personality. Contrary to popular belief, a psychopath or sociopath is not necessarily violent.
The common features of a psychopath and sociopath lie in their shared diagnosis: antisocial personality disorder. The DSM-5 defines antisocial personality as someone having three or more of the following traits:
I believe it is often said that politicians tend to be ‘sociopathic’.
That it’s a trait which is useful in their chosen profession.
I don’t think schizophrenia falls into this category.
The antisocial personality disorder spectrum is also referred to as narcissistic personality disorder. OTOH, schizophrenia is really just freaking crazy and biological in origin. Antisocial personality is a widely distributed spectrum disorder thereby unlikely of biological origin, although still somewhat disputed and not necessarily an either/or condition either individually or across the entire spectrum population. It that one respect it is like autism. BTW, I read a study that estimated the frequency of antisocial personality disorder among CEOs was 2 and 1/2 times that of the general population.
Ron et al
you won’t understand sociopath, psychopath, paranoid… from a book. but once you have dealt with them you will have no trouble recognizing them.
“narcissist” however is just what lady counselors call “husband.”
at the risk of adding my useless diagnoses to the tray: Ron is right about “freaking weird;” selfishness..unconsious or deliberate… is the default condition of humanity, paranoia comes in degrees from “reasonable” to extravagant and entrenched.
in other words, deal with the person in front of you. avoid labels or “label-think.”
China Sees at Least One Winner Emerging From Ukraine War: China
NY Times – March 14
good news! the United Nations will soon provide Ukrainians with an extra 90 cents per person to help heal their wounds: