Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Friday, August 15, 2008

Where Does Iran Fit?

In all of this back and forth over the Russian-Georgian situation, I have been asking myself where nations like Iran sit on the matter.

LTG says that Russia is not trying to re-establish 19th century borders. He may be correct. But that doesn't mean the Cold War is dead. In fact, I am beginning to wonder if it ever really defrosted. The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs has an interesting take. Now there are several interesting things in this report, but the part that inspired this post was the following:

At the same time, in March 2009, Russia is likely to deploy modern S-300 long-range anti-aircraft missiles in Iran. By June 2009 they will become fully operational, as Iranian teams finish training provided by their Russian instructors, according to a high-level Russian source who requested anonymity.


While the Russians cry about the US wanting to install a missile shield in Poland, they are doing the same in Iran. Pair that with constant Russian vetoes against sanctions for Iran, and it looks like it's back to "That 70's Show".

21 comments:

Raised By Republicans said...

I think LTG is right that Russia isn't interested in the 19th century empire. But not because they aren't interested in empire building. It's just that much of the territory the Tsars conquered really isn't worth holding.

But there are bits that they want back - the bits with oil and the bits that sit between the oil and the markets. Georgia is one of those bits.

So while the borders they want to establish won't be like the 19th century exactly the motives for their behavior is very 19th century - they are out to gain control of fixed natural resources by force.

Russia is becoming a single commodity export dependent country - and like the others in this category they will probably descend in a dark pit of nationalism, tyranny and militarism. Currently the Russian GDP is $1.286 Trillion (not adjusted for purchasing power - according to the CIA world fact book). Russia exports (again according the CIA world fact book), 5.08 million barrels per day. At a price of $112/barrel, that translate into $207,670,400,000 per year. That's about 16% of their total GDP coming from the export of a single commodity. That's not on the level of what we see in places like Saudi Arabia or Venezuela but it enormous. It's enough to make the health of the economy completely dependent on the price of oil and quantity of oil being exported.

People have argued that Putin has made the Russians better off than they can remember. But it's not Putin's leadership, he's just taking credit for high oil prices.

And that's where Iran comes in. Iran's government faces the same problem but they're even more dependent on oil Iran and Russia both want access to whatever oil reserves there may be in Central Asia. They won't see eye to eye on much.

And while we're talking about Central Asia, lets not forget China. China wants a piece of that pie too.

Bert Q. Slushbrow, Sr. said...

Is it fair to compare the missile shield situation re: Poland with Russia supplying Iran with advanced anti-aircraft missiles? The situations are rather different different to my mind.

1. Poland does not face imminent attack (though I'm sure they are nervous about Russia's future intentions and goals in the region) while Iran is staring down the barrel of a US/Israeli gun.

2. The missile situation in Poland is part of a containment plan to counter anticipated future Russian bad intentions while the one in Iran is arguably more two part... first, to solidify Russia's partnership with a valuable neighbor; second, to defend Iran from aggressive attack (well, from Russia's point of view it's more to counter US actions in the area but still).

RBR's points about Russia's single commodity export dependent economy are spot on and are sowing the seeds of future major conflict I fear. A major drop in oil prices or a major move to alternative energies in the coming century would be quite the match to Russia's fuel soaked kindling.

Regarding China. They may want a piece of the pie but I seriously doubt you will see anything like Russia's belligerence from them. Historically China has been less about forceful foreign intervention than most other countries and with the exception of some small border areas near India, Vietnam and Mongolia/Russia and some small island claims their borders are well established. I don't see them creating military trouble in the region. Certainly they are nothing like the potential threat posed by Russia. Add the fact that their economy is more robustly diversified than the likes of Russia and I see them as a more regional stabilizing factor than anything else.

As a side note, in spite of my relatively pro-China positions I'm not blind to the situation but I do prefer to play devil's advocate on the subject (partly because of my own knowledge of it and partly because most discussions regarding it are one-sided... you should see me arguing with Chinese people. I've been called out as being too pro-China by westerners and too pro-West by Chinese. I must be on the right path...LOL.

USwest said...

Let's not forget natural gas. I know that Iran is trying to form a cartel forn natural gas, a sort of "natural gas" OPEC. Russia and Iran have been in on that together.

Russia controls over a quarter of the world's gas reserves -- more than any other country. Iran has the number 2 spot. However, there is concern in Russia that this resource may be running out as both the rate of discovery of new fields and the output from exisiting fields is slowing. Gazprom, back in Feburary and March, sharply increased the cost to Ukraine and Belrus of natural gas. And they doubled the price over the next 2 years to Moldova.
Gazprom controls all the transport infrastructure for gas so there are no competitors. Gazprom is in trouble. If Russia is smart, it will use the oil money to shore up its failing natrual gas industry.

Russia and the US are both on the same course. We took Iraq for the oil.

The Law Talking Guy said...

I think the Cold War died in 1989. We buried it, along with the USSR, in 1991. There may be some contest between the USA and Russia again, and neither side denuclearized, but it's not even in the same galaxy as before. It's important to keep in mind the tremendous atmosphere of fear, even hysteria, that accompanied the cold war.

I bet that Iran is reconsidering how close to get to Russia in the wake of Russian troops pouring over the Caucasus. Iran would prefer American friendship, on balance, because we are far away. As is said to be Mexico's lament: "So far from God, so close to the United States." Bears make poor neighbors, even if they're not after your pic-a-nic basket.

USWest said...

I don't know, LTG. It would be like Iran to make friendly motions toward Russia just to piss off America. I think that they are also helping Iran with nuke stuff.

Raised By Republicans said...

I think the Russian missile sales to Iran are a nothing more than a convenient commercial opportunity. Russia knows that selling Iran some (frankly, 2nd rate) anti-aircraft technology might slow down the US bombing threat but won't do anything to help Iran assert itself outside its borders.

The US missiles in Poland are similarly defensive. Poland won't be able to use those anti-aircraft and ABM systems against Russia unless Russia attacks Poland (which is both an EU and NATO member). So why are the Russian's freaking out? I think its just bluster. They are freaking out about Poland to send us a signal about how they'd REALLY freak out if we sold the same stuff to Ukraine or Georgia or something.

As for China's supposed historical reluctance to intervene abroad...That's demonstrable nonsense. China's military support is the major reason the regimes in Sudan, Burma and North Korea are still in power despite either significant domestic opposition or a complete failure of the government in those countries to meet the basic needs of their people. In the 1970s, China were the major military backers of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia - part of China's non-trivial militarized conflict with Vietnam.

The historical facts are that China has invaded or threatened with invasion every country it shares a border with. Given that China doesn't have a serious Navy, we can only assume that the reason countries like Malaysia haven't been attacked yet is because the Chinese have no way of getting PLA troops there. Indeed, as the Chinese government has improved their Naval forces, Chinese tensions with countries like Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippine, and Vietnam have increased over competing claims over the uninhabited, but possibly oil rich, Spratly Islands which are off the coast of Borneo.

This myth that China is inherently less aggressive is just Chinese propaganda with absolutely no empirical support for it. The facts point to the opposite argument. Not only is it likely that China is just as prone to military adventures in those areas they can actually deploy military force (their immediate neighbors), but China is increasingly a major arms exporter and they export to the nastiest regimes in the world.

It is also nonsense to say that China only concerns itself with matters that directly effect its own territory or territory its government claims for some reason. For example, China is a major arms supplier to Venezuela and several countries in Africa (like Sudan but also Kenya and a few others).

Bottom line: China's government is no better than any other major power in terms of its propensity to use force or the threat of force to coerce or induce other countries to do what they want. And indeed, when one looks at the close ties between China and governments like those in Burma, North Korea and Sudan, it's not unreasonable to make the case that China's government is behaving quite badly these days.

Raised By Republicans said...

By the way, it's also reasonable to argue that China is no worse than any other major power. But it is not reasonable that there is something inherently non-interventionist about Chinese culture. That is just nonsense for any number of reasons.

Bert Q. Slushbrow, Sr. said...

Sudan would be in power regardless of China's assistance. I don't like what China has done there with supplying material and money but the current regime in Sudan is not there because of China.

North Korea and Burma are both old school fellow travelers for whom military support in recent years has waned. More importantly they are also bordering countries and thus China naturally has a more direct interest. China's support of the Khmer Rouge, while deplorable, is no different from any number of adventures the USA had engaged in. Also, consider the times when that support occurred and consider the tensions that existed between China and Vietnam at the time.

That China may have, historically, had conflict at it's borders is kind of a no brainer isn't it? Haven't all countries? In the history of foreign military adventure and interventionism, however, China has almost no track record at all. Certainly when compared to the like of the United States they come off particularly well.

The Spratly's are an issue but it's not like China has no conceivable claim to them. So, no surprise there.

China has long supplied arms but that has a strong economic component to it. I'm not claiming that China "only concerns itself with matters that directly affect its own territory..." so don't go there... not my words.

Bottom line: China's government is less interventionist than the the likes of the United States (by a long shot) and promises a more hands off role as a world power. I think it would be reasonable to argue that China is not only no worse than any other major power, they are better than the United States in this regard.

Raised By Republicans said...

Leaving aside the obvious excuse making about Sudan, Burma and N. Korea (won't put buy from Russophiles, won't buy it from Sinophiles either) for the moment. You can't make the argument that China is less interventionist out of some kind of inherent superiority of Chinese culture. It is a ridiculous argument. And it is, like all cultural arguments, fundamentally a racist position.

China has invaded or threatened to invade every country they could deploy troops to. The US has intervened in more instances because we have a navy (and so can reach more countries) and we have been a big power for a lot longer.

China's interventions are getting bigger and more frequent as they get more powerful. And China is developing a stronger navy that will enable them to deploy troops abroad.

I don't have a problem with saying that getting hysterical about China is silly because they aren't behaving any differently than any other major power.

What just makes my jaw drop in disbelief is when an otherwise intelligent person makes a ridiculous prediction about how benevolent Chinese foreign policy is. It's just absurd.

Bert Q. Slushbrow, Sr. said...

"Leaving aside the obvious excuse making about Sudan, Burma and N. Korea" The facts are what they are... call it an excuse but it is the truth.

"You can't make the argument that China is less interventionist out of some kind of inherent superiority of Chinese culture." But I'm not. You are inferring that. I'm making the argument that China is less interventionist because China has intervened less than the U.S. Pretty cut and dried, really.

"... ridiculous prediction about how benevolent Chinese foreign policy is" Again, I said nothing of the sort. Benevolence has nothing to do with it.

Read what I wrote and take it at face value. I'm not making the rather extreme claims you are assigning to me. You are creating a classic straw man fallacy here and that isn't a good way to argue your point.

Raised By Republicans said...

You're excusing interventions or support for some pretty nasty regimes by China that you would condemn if any other government did it. That's why I'm trying to call you out on it. You're showing a pro-China bias that departs from your usual principals.

I took your statements "Historically China has been less about forceful foreign intervention than most other countries and with the exception of some small border areas near India, Vietnam and Mongolia/Russia and some small island claims their borders are well established. I don't see them creating military trouble in the region. Certainly they are nothing like the potential threat posed by Russia." and "...promises a more hands off role as a world power." to indicate that there is something inherent in the nature of China that leads to this. If I mistakenly assumed you were implying that Chinese culture is that special mechanism that prevents interventionist foreign policy, please explain what you do think the mechanism is.

The Law Talking Guy said...

I wonder how China would behave if its empire were suddenly gone (as Russia is suddenly facing). If Tibet, Hong Kong, Macao, Formosa (Taiwan) were suddenly independent, and it faced separatism in Sinkiang. Oh, wait... We know how they behaved. Crunched down on Tibet, demanded the return of the seaports, and threaten Taiwan constantly. China has also fought wars with Vietnam, India, and squared off against China, invaded S. Korea, meddled in Laos, supports a nasty regime in Burma. I don't think China is being too nice to its neighbors. It just happens to have already absorbed more of its neighbors than some. When China gets more powerful, it will challenge US naval power in the Pacific. It will take Taiwan one way or another. It will even menace Russia and start talking about defending the Manchurian-related peoples in Siberia. Just you watch.

Bert Q. Slushbrow, Sr. said...

"... please explain what you do think the mechanism is." Well that is the $64,000 question. I'm not entirely sure what the reason is but I do know what the facts are and the facts are as I stated them.

Bert Q. Slushbrow, Sr. said...

LTG, your question is presumptuous. To couch what you say in nearly identical terms lets try applying it to the United States: I wonder how the U.S. would behave if its empire were suddenly gone. If Hawaii, Texas, Alaska were suddenly independent, and it faced separatism in Native American areas. etc., etc. Can you imagine how Americans would laugh derisively if such a question were posed by a Chinese?

1. Tibet is part of China.

2. The seaports they demanded were their own to begin with... how can you possibly say they are somehow in the wrong to demand their return (note they did not attack or carry out military operations to get them back either)?!

3. Are you aware of how Taiwan came to be? That the losers in the not so distant civil war retreated to an established province of China and declared themselves a new country and were able to do this with the intervention of the U.S.?

4. They fought a border dispute with Vietnam, not an aggressive imperialist invasion... big difference. It was a two way antagonism that needed to be resolved and the same applies to India.

5. Invaded South Korea?! Are you kidding? Let's look at the facts: North Korea invades South, the U.S. moves in to help the South (correctly so in my opinion). The U.S. pushes north eventually going all the way to the Yalu... a.k.a., the border of China. Meanwhile MacArthur is spouting off about nuking China. China is faced with an aggressive imperialist power whose top general is threatening to nuke them and has driven right to their doorstep. The respond and you call this "invading South Korea"? You either don't know the facts or you are simply being deliberately provocative. Either way... you are way off base.

5. Might China challenge the US naval power in the Pacific? Well why the heck not? The US has naval forces right in their backyard. Imagine what the US would think of a Chinese naval fleet in the Gulf of Mexico and then expect nothing less from China. Sounds fair to me.

All of the arguments you guys are presenting involve one-sided and rather closed-minded assumptions (with the odd straw man thrown in to make a point easier to justify). I suppose it is no surprise as anti-China sentiment is the norm here in the West I just wish people were less deliberately antagonistic and a little more informed.

When Chinese express an uninformed opinion that smacks of ignorant propaganda I can understand it as they perhaps just don't know any better. When Americans do the same it just pisses me off as you have access to more and better information but are choosing not to use it.

Bert Q. Slushbrow, Sr. said...

Here is a good story for the "China isn't fair to Tibet" crowd (by the way, I do NOT approve of much of what China has done in Tibet... what I take exception with is all of the people who don't understand the situation taking strong positions on it):
Hawaiian Activists Arrested

Raised By Republicans said...

Frankly Bert,

I'm not seeing a lot of substance to your defense of Chinese foreign policy. Sure you can rattle off "facts" like "1. Tibet is part of China" or make diversionary statements like "Apply that to the US" but these aren't really arguments about why China does what it does. Saying Tibet is part of China is apparently something most Tibetans disagree with so you really can't just state it as an undeniable fact and move on - it is deniable and lots of people on the ground in disputed territory deny it. As for comparing Tibet to Texas or Hawaii...that's fine but it's really a different subject. I don't think anyone on this blog would dispute that the Mexican-American war was a war of conquest. And indeed, when it occurred there were wide spread protests against it in the US, complete with the first civil disobedience movement in the country. Same with the coup d'etat we pulled against the Hawaiian monarchy.

At the same time, you assert you are correct on the "facts" of China's supposed non-interventionism thus far but when confronted with references to China's many military adventures and manipulation of governments with neighboring countries you explain them away by saying they are so close to China that they are important to Chinese interests and so should not count as interventionism somehow.

You admit that you really don't know or have an idea about WHY China will be less interventionist in the future - you simply "know" the facts.

So far, you haven't revealed a single "fact" about China that is really that new. We all know about things like the origins of Taiwan and MacArthur's drive to the Yalu (I'm with you on the reasonable fear China's government would have had about it's self-defense when MacArthur showed up at the Yalu with an army, a tendency to ignore civilian command of the military, and a bad attitude). We're also aware that various Chinese dynasties have claimed suzerainty over Tibet.

The difference between us all is largely wrapped up in the political significance we attach to these historical facts. That's something that is very subjective and really this argument we're having underscores my objections to using historical "facts" to explain current political conflicts.

Really, I don't think anyone here is singling out China as something like our Idiot and Chief's "Axis of Evil" or anything like that. What we are saying is that China is just as interventionist and prone to military adventures - especially in its "near abroad" as any other major power. And since China's government isn't terribly concerned with democracy, they tend to back some really nasty regimes. How nasty those regimes compared to the various dictators that US governments have supported might be an interesting discussion for another thread. I would suspect that US clients have become a much nicer crowd since 1989.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Why wasn't the proper path for Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Tibet independence? Why is Tibet different from Georgia or Ukraine? The answer is not that some are "part of China" and others are "not part of Russia." Countries don't have metaphysical boundaries of this kind. Those statements have no content.

The problem with answering these questions can be seen in a similar question: what should determine the political fate of Northern Ireland? It is all well and good to say "democratic vote." I think that is in general a fine idea. But it has problems. Namely, gerrymandering and legitimizing of ethnic cleansing. If all of northern Ireland is majority protestant, why not just have a vote in the western portions of the county that are majority Catholic? You can go on subdividing and gerrymandering indefinitely. Why not take the vote at the island-of-Ireland level where the protestants will lose?

Arguments about size, population, or self-sufficiency also only get you so far. Exceptions swallow the rules. At the end of the day, there is no simple set of principles we can apply to both approve of self-determination and disapprove of secession.

USwest said...

Well, I think another consideration is how useful it is to the larger, stronger powers to have an area be separate. China makes it pretty clear that a separate Taiwan is not to its benefit of that of the world. Russia wants to make it clear that an independent Ukraine or Georgia isn't to anyone's benefit. But turning these places into failed states isn't really very smart either. If, Russia, rather than acting belligerent and supporting the ethnic cleansing of 275K Georgians from Abkhazia and South Ossetia back in 1992-1993, had worked in a more amiable manner with the Georgians, then maybe this issue of independence would have been solved more peacefully.

I'm sometimes a bit of a simpleton. And I say to myself that if you let places be independent and then work with them to form constructive relationships and agreements, you will get more out of them than if you try to dominate them. Maybe it is a bad analogy, but the US has these far flung, autonomous territories like Guam or the Marshall Islands and Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and there are no problems there. If they want to be independent from us, why not let them try it? If it doesn't work, then give them option of re-entering the fold. Of course, I know that there are practical reasons why such arrangements wouldn't always work.

In a similar vein, I was listening to something on NPR last night about a POW camp where the Americans housed Germans. They made friends with these German prisoners, many were scientists. They played sports with them, took them out to dinner, etc. And they got a lot of information from these guys without hurting them in any way. Well, why can't we use that as a principle? Make friends with these separatist parts rather than using them as pawns.

But that is the idealist in me wanting to get out!

The Law Talking Guy said...

USWest, I am also in favor of making friends with our former enemies by first putting them in prison camps. =)

Bert Q. Slushbrow, Sr. said...

OK RBR, let's see...
The Tibet as part of China argument can get hairy. My understanding of Tibet's place comes from a combination of historical factors. These include the written record which has Tibet as paying tribute to the Emperor going back many hundreds of years, the Dalai Lama's (not the current Dalai Lama but the previous one) own words that describe the relationship between the two as one of confessor priest to patron, the fact that Tibet was traditionally dependent on China for military defense and that there is a great intermingling of peoples in the areas around the border. You say "... apparently something most Tibetans disagree with". Are you sure about that? The current Dalai Lama says that he does not seek independence from China and if he doesn't represent the majority Tibetan opinion then who does? What are your arguments that Tibet is not a part of China or should have independence from China?

The fact that China's only military actions in other countries are related to border disputes or threats at their border matters quite a bit in my opinion. Countries have to defend their borders, obviously, so while I will agree that it may be no indication of a lack propensity to intervene once China's military might is better able to project its power I'd ask you do you think they WILL be more interventionist at least when compared to the United States? If you do, what do you base that assumption on?

"We all know about things like..." apparently we don't all know about these things because the person who brought those issues up seems unaware of the history around them.

"What we are saying is that China is just as interventionist and prone to military adventures" Prove it (really, I'm open to reason).

"How nasty those regimes compared to the various dictators that US governments have supported might be an interesting discussion for another thread." Indeed. When Americans criticize China on so many fronts it really is the pot calling the kettle black (not that most Americans are aware of this).

Bert Q. Slushbrow, Sr. said...

On the whole I find people in the West are very eager to criticize China and to point out the slightest perceived flaw. Their arguments usually come across as being without merit, extravagantly hypocritical or simply ignorant. Seriously, it is liking watching a Fox news panel of "experts" discuss why McCain is better than Obama (saying China invaded South Korea is a spectacular example of this, by the way). There is plenty of criticism but almost no backing up the claim. You ask me for proof or evidence of my claims while never providing any yourselves. You have plenty of criticism but almost nothing to back it up... it makes many of your comments (on China anyway) seem pretty hollow.