zenpundit.com » 2009 » July

Archive for July, 2009

Gunnar Peterson interviews Thomas P.M. Barnett

Friday, July 31st, 2009

Cybersecurity expert and blogfriend Gunnar Peterson of 1 Raindrop snagged a multi-part interview with grand strategist and blogfriend Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett, author of Great Powers. Peterson is doing a superb job at elicitation with his questions:

Tom Barnett Interview

GP: ….It seems that the emerging middle class is the main factor that separates the developing countries’ past and future, they always had some very rich people and many very poor people, but now depending on how you measure it, India’s middle class is 200 million people. What trends should we watch as the global middle class emerges? What milestones will mark key events along the progression?

TB: The one of greatest interest is when per capita income gets in the range of $5,000 per year.  Somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000 is where you see previously authoritarian, single-party-dominated states move into the process of increasingly pluralism, typically started when a reformist faction breaks off from, and begins to challenge, the dominant party.Obviously, India is already blessed in that regard, so China is the one to watch there.  Until China reaches such a level of development, all talk about authoritarian capitalism being superior to democratic capitalism is historically premature.  Authoritarian regimes do well with extensive growth (simply adding in more resources) but then tap out when it comes to shifting into innovation-based, intensive growth….

Tom Barnett Interview Part 2 »

TB:….At initial glance, China’s route has higher risks concerning its political system (all those unruly and increasingly assertive urban laborers can go all Marxist on Beijing’s allegedly “communist” ruling party), but India has higher risks concerning its economic trajectory (you point about scaling out badly).  It’s just easier to imagine-for me at least-China having to change politically than India somehow avoiding industrialization and the social tumult/reformatting it will cause the country’s rural life.  China’s got a lot of that already under its belt (although its rural impoverished population remains vast, there are plenty of opportunities for village employment or migration to the cities), and its government seems willing to do whatever it takes to encourage and accommodate the migration from rural areas to cities.  But India moving far more tepidly in this direction, the result being that, what rural-to-urban migration does occur, often results in rather scary urbanization scenarios (more slumdog than millionaire).  

Tom Barnett Interview Part 3

GP: Many security writers and thinkers are obsessed with threats, they throw a dart a connected systems, extrapolate worse case scenario and everything goes “boom!”; your work is different, it accounts for system perturbation from threats but has more focus on the system resiliency to deal with events over the long haul. I find this system thinking lacking in many of your peers, and have never understood how worst case threat extrapolation can automatically lead to a parasite that takes over its host. Can you explain why its different to think of security in terms of resiliency rather than simply threats? What insights fall out of this distinction?

TB: Worst-case thinking obviously has its uses in the national security realm.  I just think we got into very odd, extreme tendencies during the Cold War, when the threat of nuclear conflict distorted our thinking unduly.  We’re just beginning to see thinkers and analysts and strategists emerge from a post-Cold War educational environment, like my nephew Brendan who’s studying Russian and International Relations (as I once did) at my alma mater, Wisconsin.  The problem is, the field of international relations, as Brendan will attest, is still obsessed with game theory and all sorts of artificial schools and still tends to be way too insular (economics still needs to embraced far more, not in some antiseptic academic sense but more in a keen understanding of how international business works).  But the key thing is, Brendan and others of his generation won’t be held to the extreme fears that my generation was, despite the constant hyping of the threat of nuclear proliferation, so they’re forced to cast their nets wider and that’s a good thing.

Tom is pointing to the “higher level of play” that leaders need to operate at if their foreign policies and national security strategies are to be based upon sound assumptions ( I would also throw in accounting for greater systemic instability or probability of Black Swan   system perturbations)

An old saw is that amateurs study tactics while professionals study logistics. Strategists study geoeconomics because the structural economic shifts within and between countries and regions are not only predictive of where strife is likely to occur or never materialize but they set the framework or parameters on how effectively states are able to exercise “hard” forms of power. Interdependence wrought by globalization multiplies your leverage but it also constrains it’s uses.

For a great power, it’s a very short step in statecraft these days between “zen master” or as a “pitiful, helpless, giant”.

Book Review: The Bloody White Baron

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

The Bloody White Baron: The Extraordinary Story of the Russian Nobleman Who Became the Last Khan of Mongolia by James Palmer

The 20th Century was remarkable for its voluminous bloodshed and civilizational upheaval yet for inhuman cruelty and sheer weirdness, Baron Roman Nikolai Maximilian Ungern von Sternberg manages to stand out in a historical field crowded with dictators, terrorists, guerillas, revolutionaries, fascists and warlords of the worst description. Biographer James Palmer has brought to life in The Bloody White Baron an enigmatic, elusive, monster of the Russian Civil War who is more easily compared to great villains of fiction than real life war criminals. Palmer’s bloodthirsty Mad Baron comes across like a militaristic version of Judge Holden from Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian or perhaps more like Hannibal Lecter with a Mongol Horde.

Ill-tempered, impulsively violent, insubordinate and socially isolated even among fellow aristocratic officers, Baron Ungern was, as Palmer admits, without much wit or charm, a complete failure in Tsarist society and the Imperial Army until the coming of the Great War. As with many “warlord personalities“, the chaos and ruin of the battlefield was the Baron’s natural element and for the first time in his life, he experienced great success, his maniacal bravery under fire winning Ungern promotions and the highly coveted St. George’s Cross. This is an eerie parallel with the life of Adolf Hitler, and numerous times in the text, Palmer alludes to similarities between the Baron’s apocalyptic views on Communists and Jews, and that of Baltic-German refugees like Alfred Rosenberg and Max Scheubner-Richter who contributed eliminationist anti-semitism and theories about “Jewish- Bolshevism” to Nazi ideology.

A fanatical monarchist and philo-Buddhist fascinated with far-off Mongolia and Tibet, the Baron regarded the Russian Revolution as the greatest of calamities and joined the Whites under the leadership of the gangster-like Ataman Semenov to rape, loot, torture and murder with a hodgepodge Cossack horde across the Transbaikal region of Siberia. The Baron’s fiefdom under Semenov was a macabre, bone-littered, execution ground ruled by reactionary mysticism and ghoulish exercises in medieval torture visited upon the Baron’s own soldiers scarcely less often than on hapless peasants or captive Reds.

Dismayed by Semenov’s corruption and dependence on the Japanese and the collapsing fortunes of Russia’s White armies, Palmer recounts how the Baron fled with a ragtag band of followers to Chinese occupied Mongolia, where, in a series of bizarre circumstances, the Baron managed to destroy a sizable Chinese army (charging on horseback straight into enemy machine gun fire and emerging unscathed), seized the fortified capital, restored the “living Buddha” the Bogd Khan to the throne and become celebrated the eyes of the Mongolians, variously as the reincarnation of Ghengis Khan and/or the prophesied coming of the “God of War”. Naturally, to further his dream of building a pan-Asian Buddhist Empire, Baron Ungern unleashed a nightmarish reign of terror in Mongolia, taking especial and personal delight in the executions of Jews and captured commissars.

Ungern’s final foray in battle, before his capture, trial and execution at the hands of the Bolsheviks, is like something out of the Dark Ages:

With this final defeat, Ungern shed any trace of civilization. He rode silently with bowed head in front of the column. he had lost his hat and most of his clothes. On his naked chest numerous Mongolian talismans and charms hung on a bright yellow cord. He looked like a prehistoric ape-man. People were afraid to look at him.

Despite the best efforts of the Bolshevik prosecutor to focus upon political motives, even the Soviet revolutionary tribunal that condemned him to death on Lenin’s orders, considered the Baron to be a dangerous madman.

James Palmer has shed a great deal of light on one of the darkest corners of the Russian Civil War, Baron Ungern von Sternberg, a subject that largely eluded prominent historians like W. Bruce Lincoln, Orlando Figes and Richard Pipes. The Bloody White Baron is a fascinating read and a window into the life of the 20th century’s strangest warlord.

COINdinista Andrew Exum on Charlie Rose

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

Abu Muqawama on the small screen discussing Afghanistan last night.

(Tried to embed but shockwave was problematic)

Xenophon Roundtable – An Update

Monday, July 27th, 2009

Courtesy of our moderator, Lexington Green.

Xenophon Roundtable: Revised Schedule

The revised schedule is for our roundtable on Xenophon’s Anabasis of Cyrus is as follows:

Week of September 13, 2009: Posts re: Books I, II, III and IV
Week of September 20, 2009: Posts re: Books V, VI and VII
Week of September 27, 2009: “Wrap up” Posts: Opinions, Analysis, Conclusions.

Late in August I will post the list of contributors.

I am starting to think about what I am going to write, having recently finished my first read-through of the Anabasis.

I have been looking at two books on background, which I am finding of interest: Xenophon’s Retreat: Greece, Persia, and the End of the Golden Age by Robin Waterfield, and Xenophon and the Art of Command by Godfrey Hutchinson. I also hope to read at least some portions of Xenophon’s The Education of Cyrus, also translated by Prof. Wayne Ambler.

(I linked earlier to this review of the Anabasis from Military Review.)

ALSO: A “distant early warning” for our readers. The current thinking is that we will have roundtable discussion of The Federalist Papers in the Winter of 2010, and we will have a roundtable discussion of selections from the Arthashastra of Kautilya (The Clausewitz, Sun Tzu and Machiavelli of India all in one) in the Fall of 2010.

Two good articles about Kautilya’s Arthashastra.

As with the last event, we will have a strong group of roundtable participants. The list is not finalized but it is already looking good so if you have an interest in participating and have not yet contacted Lex, please do so at Chicago Boyz or leave a comment here.

Winning “The Blago”

Saturday, July 25th, 2009


“The Blago…it’s Effing Golden!”

I had not intended to blog but I was struck by a news article on political corruption in New Jersey – so much so that I am instituting an award for politicians or other public figures who get caught making damning statements regarding their own political corruption. I am calling the award “the Blago“, in honor of the impeached and indicted ex-Governor of Illinois.

Our first nominee for this prestigious award is Peter Cammarano IIIMayor of Hoboken New Jersey, now facing Federal charges:

Among those ensnared by the informant was Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano III, prosecutors said. The 32-year-old Cammarano, who won a runoff election last month, was accused of accepting money from the developer at a Hoboken diner.

“There’s the people who were with us, and that’s you guys,” the complaint quotes Cammarano saying. “There’s the people who climbed on board in the runoff. They can get in line. … And then there are the people who were against us the whole way. … They get ground into powder.”

I suspect that time will deliver us no shortage of contenders for the Blago.

“I seen my opportunities and I took’em”

 – George Washington Plunkett.

Switch to our mobile site