Russian views on U.S. plans to withdraw from the INF Treaty

I have an explainer article about Russian perceptions of U.S. plans to withdraw from the INF Treaty on the Washington Post Monkey Cage blog today. Here’s a sampler…


Despite Russian urgings, national security adviser John Bolton is insisting that the United States will withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The treaty prohibits all short-range and intermediate-range ground-launched missiles, both nuclear and conventional, as well as systems that can be used to launch such missiles. As a result of the treaty, neither Russia nor the United States can deploy missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers, or 310 to 3,420 miles. Since this is a bilateral treaty, other countries are not bound by these constraints.

Since the U.S. government announced its withdrawal plans, Russian officials and experts have weighed in on what this means for Russia and how to respond. Here are five things to know.

1. Russians see the INF treaty as giving unfair advantages to the U.S.

Russian experts and officials have long argued that the treaty that Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev signed with President Ronald Reagan in 1987 was disadvantageous — first to the Soviet Union and then to Russia. Russia gave up its ground-launched intermediate-range ballistic and cruise missiles without extracting any restrictions on U.S. sea- and air-launched missiles. That’s significant, because the vast majority of Russia’s nuclear weapons are land-based, whereas the U.S. bases much of its nuclear force on submarines. The Kremlin believes this has allowed the U.S. to dominate the world’s oceans with its Tomahawk cruise missiles, and has left Russia vulnerable to a U.S. sea-launched attack.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

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Ukrainian protests: A tale of two maps

I have a post on the Ukrainian protests on The Monkey Cage. Washington Post rules don’t allow the entire text to be published here, but here’s a teaser: 

As the situation in Ukraine’s eastern regions deteriorates, with more and more administration buildings in eastern cities and towns being occupied by separatist activists, it is worth remembering some parallel events that took place in late January. In the immediate aftermath of the passage of a set of repressive anti-protest laws by the Viktor Yanukovych government, anti-Yanukovych activists took over local administration buildings in a host of western and some central Ukrainian regions. The map below, posted on Facebook by Sergii Gorbachov, shows the extent of these protests as of Jan. 25. Regions with occupied administrative buildings are marked in blue and yellow, while regions where seizures were attempted but had been unsuccessful are marked in red. The southeast is largely quiet.

Source: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=850763154938797&set=pb.100000153610067.-2207520000.1398887460.&type=3&theater

It’s worth comparing this map to a map produced on Wednesday, based on information provided by the Ukrainian Information Resistance group…. [To read the rest, click here]

How to understand Russia’s Arctic strategy

I have a post on Russia’s Arctic strategy up on the Monkey Cage. Washington Post rules don’t allow the entire text to be published here, but here’s a teaser: 

During most of the late 20th century, the Arctic region was primarily a zone of military interests, used by both NATO and Soviet strategic forces as bases for their nuclear submarines and as testing grounds for intercontinental ballistic missiles. With the end of the Cold War, the Arctic initially lost its strategic significance. In the last decade, however, thanks to a combination of accelerating climate change and a rapid increase in energy prices, it has become a key zone of strategic competition among a range of regional actors and outside powers. Russia has become heavily involved in these fledgling efforts to develop the Arctic. Russian leaders now primarily see the Arctic as a potential source of economic growth for the country, both as a strategic resource base for the future and a potential maritime trade route.

Russian actions in the Arctic are governed by a combination of factors. The highest priority is undoubtedly economic development of Russia’s Arctic region…. [To read the rest, click here]

The pros and cons of Wikileaks disclosures

In a post on The Monkey Cage, Josh Tucker invites colleagues to debate the pros and cons of using the classified documents posted on Wikileaks in their research. For various reasons, I’ve been thinking a lot about this issue over the last few days, as well as in the aftermath of previous releases of documents over the last few months.

While I was initially torn about the extent to which the first two sets of leaks (the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs) actually harmed US national security, I firmly believe that the leaking of the diplomatic cables is a horrible act that will damage not just US policy but will actually harm international relations and increase the likelihood of conflict in the world in the future. There are two obvious harms: 1) US diplomats will fear that their cables will be leaked in the future and will be less forthright in their assessments. 2) Leaders and diplomats around the world will fear future leaks and will be less candid in their private conversations — preventing potential future diplomatic breakthroughs.

Having said this, I think it would be silly to avoid using the data now that it has been released. This would be kind of like the official position of the Defense Department, which states that the material found on Wikileaks is still considered classified and therefore should not be accessed from an unclassified computer by anyone with a US security clearance. It seems to me that this puts such people, all of whom can freely access these documents (and many others just like them) on their classified computers,  in the slightly silly position of being the only people around who cannot actually look at the documents. I wonder if they should also skip reading the front page of the New York Times for the next two weeks….

One might argue that there is a moral hazard issue — if one uses the data, it would encourage Wikileaks to release more data. But I think that the extent to which the data is used is irrelevant to the motivations of Assange and Co. They believe that the  “US is essentially an authoritarian conspiracy and … that the practical strategy for combating that conspiracy is to degrade its ability to conspire, to hinder its ability to “think” as a conspiratorial mind.” Given this mentality, they are going to post anything they can get their hands on, regardless of whether academics use it in their analysis or not. So we might as well make the best of it.

One excellent example of the kind of work that can be done with this data can be found in a recent article by the political geographer John O’Laughlin using the Afghanistan war logs data to perform a geo-spatial analysis of where violence has occurred. It seems to me that this type of analysis will benefit not just scholarship, but also the US military operation itself, allowing it to better understand trends in violence, etc.

Perhaps there would be benefit from the government releasing this type of information in a controlled format — a database of events, without the sensitive personal information that puts people in danger or has a negative effect on various diplomatic efforts. This would address the argument of many critics of the US government’s tendency toward excessive secrecy and over-classification of documents whose release, many argue, would not actually harm US security. Of course, this seems highly unlikely in the current political environment, where the Wikileaks disclosures are likely to prompt more secrecy on the government’s part. Of course, greater secrecy will likely make it more difficult for those who have a legitimate reason to access classified documents in the course of their work to do their jobs, thus potentially making the US less secure….