“The Medvedev Doctrine and American Strategy”, by George Friedman

Here is another brilliant strategic analysis by George Friedman of Stratfor, about a major geopolitical issue.  While I disagree with many of his specifics (e.g., the state of the Iraq War, the odds of a master settlement with Iran), the reasoning looks sound to me.  But, as is so often the case in American geopolitical thinking today, the grand strategic machinery of his analysis has a few missing cogs.  That is, the broader context is defective.

Most importantly, he never explains why the rise of Russia — reasserting its historic sphere of influence — threatens America or our interests.  Rather he adopts the consensus view that  American global hegemony is a goal — not a means to protect our vital interests — and therefore any threat to our hegemony becomes a cause for war (see his terrifying comments about blockading Russia, an act of war).   Reading this reminds me of what a great American once said:

We have met the enemy… and he is us.

For more on this thinking, please read “America’s Most Dangerous Enemy.” — about our paranoia and hubris.

The Medvedev Doctrine and American Strategy“, by George Friedman, Stratfor, 2 September 2008 — Reprinted in full.  The underlined headings are mine, not in his text.  It starts slowly, but rapidly picks up speed.

The United States has been fighting a war in the Islamic world since 2001. Its main theaters of operation are in Afghanistan and Iraq, but its politico-military focus spreads throughout the Islamic world, from Mindanao to Morocco. The situation on Aug. 7, 2008, was as follows:

The war in Iraq was moving toward an acceptable but not optimal solution. The government in Baghdad was not pro-American, but neither was it an Iranian puppet, and that was the best that could be hoped for. The United States anticipated pulling out troops, but not in a disorderly fashion.

(1)  The war in Afghanistan was deteriorating for the United States and NATO forces. The Taliban was increasingly effective, and large areas of the country were falling to its control. Force in Afghanistan was insufficient, and any troops withdrawn from Iraq would have to be deployed to Afghanistan to stabilize the situation. Political conditions in neighboring Pakistan were deteriorating, and that deterioration inevitably affected Afghanistan.

(2)  The United States had been locked in a confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program, demanding that Tehran halt enrichment of uranium or face U.S. action. The United States had assembled a group of six countries (the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany) that agreed with the U.S. goal, was engaged in negotiations with Iran, and had agreed at some point to impose sanctions on Iran if Tehran failed to comply. The United States was also leaking stories about impending air attacks on Iran by Israel or the United States if Tehran didn’t abandon its enrichment program. The United States had the implicit agreement of the group of six not to sell arms to Tehran, creating a real sense of isolation in Iran.

(3)  In short, the United States remained heavily committed to a region stretching from Iraq to Pakistan, with main force committed to Iraq and Afghanistan, and the possibility of commitments to Pakistan (and above all to Iran) on the table. U.S. ground forces were stretched to the limit, and U.S. airpower, naval and land-based forces had to stand by for the possibility of an air campaign in Iran – regardless of whether the U.S. planned an attack, since the credibility of a bluff depended on the availability of force.

The situation in this region actually was improving, but the United States had to remain committed there. It was therefore no accident that the Russians invaded Georgia on Aug. 8 following a Georgian attack on South Ossetia. Forgetting the details of who did what to whom, the United States had created a massive window of opportunity for the Russians: For the foreseeable future, the United States had no significant forces to spare to deploy elsewhere in the world, nor the ability to sustain them in extended combat. Moreover, the United States was relying on Russian cooperation both against Iran and potentially in Afghanistan, where Moscow’s influence with some factions remains substantial. The United States needed the Russians and couldn’t block the Russians. Therefore, the Russians inevitably chose this moment to strike.

The Medvedev Doctrine

On Sunday, Russian President Dmitri Medvedevin in effect ran up the Jolly Roger. Whatever the United States thought it was dealing with in Russia, Medvedev made the Russian position very clear. He stated Russian foreign policy in five succinct points, which we can think of as the Medvedev Doctrine (and which we see fit to quote here):

First, Russia recognizes the primacy of the fundamental principles of international law, which define the relations between civilized peoples. We will build our relations with other countries within the framework of these principles and this concept of international law.

Second, the world should be multipolar. A single-pole world is unacceptable. Domination is something we cannot allow. We cannot accept a world order in which one country makes all the decisions, even as serious and influential a country as the United States of America. Such a world is unstable and threatened by conflict.

Third, Russia does not want confrontation with any other country. Russia has no intention of isolating itself. We will develop friendly relations with Europe, the United States, and other countries, as much as is possible.

Fourth, protecting the lives and dignity of our citizens, wherever they may be, is an unquestionable priority for our country. Our foreign policy decisions will be based on this need. We will also protect the interests of our business community abroad. It should be clear to all that we will respond to any aggressive acts committed against us.

Finally, fifth, as is the case of other countries, there are regions in which Russia has privileged interests. These regions are home to countries with which we share special historical relations and are bound together as friends and good neighbors. We will pay particular attention to our work in these regions and build friendly ties with these countries, our close neighbors.
Medvedev concluded, “These are the principles I will follow in carrying out our foreign policy. As for the future, it depends not only on us but also on our friends and partners in the international community. They have a choice.”

The second point in this doctrine states that Russia does not accept the primacy of the United States in the international system. According to the third point, while Russia wants good relations with the United States and Europe, this depends on their behavior toward Russia and not just on Russia’s behavior. The fourth point states that Russia will protect the interests of Russians wherever they are – even if they live in the Baltic states or in Georgia, for example. This provides a doctrinal basis for intervention in such countries if Russia finds it necessary.

The fifth point is the critical one: “As is the case of other countries, there are regions in which Russia has privileged interests.” In other words, the Russians have special interests in the former Soviet Union and in friendly relations with these states. Intrusions by others into these regions that undermine pro-Russian regimes will be regarded as a threat to Russia’s “special interests.”

Thus, the Georgian conflict was not an isolated event – rather, Medvedevis saying that Russia is engaged in a general redefinition of the regional and global system. Locally, it would not be correct to say that Russia is trying to resurrect the Soviet Union or the Russian empire. It would be correct to say that Russia is creating a new structure of relations in the geography of its predecessors, with a new institutional structure with Moscow at its center. Globally, the Russians want to use this new regional power – and substantial Russian nuclear assets – to be part of a global system in which the United States loses its primacy.

These are ambitious goals, to say the least. But the Russians believe that the United States is off balance in the Islamic world and that there is an opportunity here, if they move quickly, to create a new reality before the United States is ready to respond. Europe has neither the military weight nor the will to actively resist Russia. Moreover, the Europeans are heavily dependent on Russian natural gas supplies over the coming years, and Russia can survive without selling it to them far better than the Europeans can survive without buying it. The Europeans are not a substantial factor in the equation, nor are they likely to become substantial.

What does this mean for America?

This leaves the United States in an extremely difficult strategic position. The United States opposed the Soviet Union after 1945 not only for ideological reasons but also for geopolitical ones. If the Soviet Union had broken out of its encirclement and dominated all of Europe, the total economic power at its disposal, coupled with its population, would have allowed the Soviets to construct a navy that could challenge U.S. maritime hegemony and put the continental United States in jeopardy. It was U.S. policy during World Wars I and II and the Cold War to act militarily to prevent any power from dominating the Eurasian landmass. For the United States, this was the most important task throughout the 20th century.

The U.S.-jihadis war was waged in a strategic framework that assumed that the question of hegemony over Eurasia was closed. Germany’s defeat in World War II and the Soviet Union’s defeat in the Cold War meant that there was no claimant to Eurasia, and the United States was free to focus on what appeared to be the current priority – the defeat of radical Islamism. It appeared that the main threat to this strategy was the patience of the American public, not an attempt to resurrect a major Eurasian power.

The United States now faces a massive strategic dilemma, and it has limited military options against the Russians. It could choose a naval option, in which it would block the four Russian maritime outlets, the Sea of Japan and the Black, Baltic and Barents seas. The United States has ample military force with which to do this and could potentially do so without allied cooperation, which it would lack. It is extremely unlikely that the NATO council would unanimously support a blockade of Russia, which would be an act of war.

But while a blockade like this would certainly hurt the Russians, Russia is ultimately a land power. It is also capable of shipping and importing through third parties, meaning it could potentially acquire and ship key goods through European or Turkish ports (or Iranian ports, for that matter). The blockade option is thus more attractive on first glance than on deeper analysis.

More important, any overt U.S. action against Russia would result in counteractions. During the Cold War, the Soviets attacked American global interest not by sending Soviet troops, but by supporting regimes and factions with weapons and economic aid. Vietnam was the classic example: The Russians tied down 500,000 U.S. troops without placing major Russian forces at risk. Throughout the world, the Soviets implemented programs of subversion and aid to friendly regimes, forcing the United States either to accept pro-Soviet regimes, as with Cuba, or fight them at disproportionate cost.

In the present situation, the Russian response would strike at the heart of American strategy in the Islamic world. In the long run, the Russians have little interest in strengthening the Islamic world – but for the moment, they have substantial interest in maintaining American imbalance and sapping U.S. forces. The Russians have a long history of supporting Middle Eastern regimes with weapons shipments, and it is no accident that the first world leader they met with after invading Georgia was Syrian President Bashar al Assad. This was a clear signal that if the U.S. responded aggressively to Russia’s actions in Georgia, Moscow would ship a range of weapons to Syria – and far worse, to Iran. Indeed, Russia could conceivably send weapons to factions in Iraq that do not support the current regime, as well as to groups like Hezbollah. Moscow also could encourage the Iranians to withdraw their support for the Iraqi government and plunge Iraq back into conflict. Finally, Russia could ship weapons to the Taliban and work to further destabilize Pakistan.

At the moment, the United States faces the strategic problem that the Russians have options while the United States does not. Not only does the U.S. commitment of ground forces in the Islamic world leave the United States without strategic reserve, but the political arrangements under which these troops operate make them highly vulnerable to Russian manipulation – with few satisfactory U.S. counters.

The U.S. government is trying to think through how it can maintain its commitment in the Islamic world and resist the Russian reassertion of hegemony in the former Soviet Union. If the United States could very rapidly win its wars in the region, this would be possible. But the Russians are in a position to prolong these wars, and even without such agitation, the American ability to close off the conflicts is severely limited. The United States could massively increase the size of its army and make deployments into the Baltics, Ukraine and Central Asia to thwart Russian plans, but it would take years to build up these forces and the active cooperation of Europe to deploy them. Logistically, European support would be essential- but the Europeans in general, and the Germans in particular, have no appetite for this war. Expanding the U.S. Army is necessary, but it does not affect the current strategic reality.

This logistical issue might be manageable, but the real heart of this problem is not merely the deployment of U.S. forces in the Islamic world – it is the Russians’ ability to use weapons sales and covert means to deteriorate conditions dramatically. With active Russian hostility added to the current reality, the strategic situation in the Islamic world could rapidly spin out of control.

The United States is therefore trapped by its commitment to the Islamic world. It does not have sufficient forces to block Russian hegemony in the former Soviet Union, and if it tries to block the Russians with naval or air forces, it faces a dangerous riposte from the Russians in the Islamic world. If it does nothing, it creates a strategic threat that potentially towers over the threat in the Islamic world.

The United States now has to make a fundamental strategic decision. If it remains committed to its current strategy, it cannot respond to the Russians. If it does not respond to the Russians for five or 10 years, the world will look very much like it did from 1945 to 1992. There will be another Cold War at the very least, with a peer power much poorer than the United States but prepared to devote huge amounts of money to national defense.

Four options for America

There are four broad U.S. options:

(1)  Attempt to make a settlement with Iran that would guarantee the neutral stability of Iraq and permit the rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces there. Iran is the key here. The Iranians might also mistrust a re-emergent Russia, and while Tehran might be tempted to work withthe Russians against the Americans, Iran might consider an arrangement withthe United States – particularly if the United States refocuses its attentions elsewhere. On the upside, this would free the U.S. from Iraq. On the downside, the Iranians might not want -or honor – such a deal.

(2)  Enter into negotiations with the Russians, granting them the sphere of influence they want in the former Soviet Union in return for guarantees not to project Russian power into Europe proper. The Russians will be busy consolidating their position for years, giving the U.S. time to re-energize NATO. On the upside, this would free the United States to continue its war in the Islamic world. On the downside, it would create a framework for the re-emergence of a powerful Russian empire that would be as difficult to contain as the Soviet Union.

(3)  Refuse to engage the Russians and leave the problem to the Europeans. On the upside, this would allow the United States to continue war in the Islamic world and force the Europeans to act. On the downside, the Europeans are too divided, dependent on Russia and dispirited to resist the Russians. This strategy could speed up Russia’s re-emergence.

(4)  Rapidly disengage from Iraq, leaving a residual force there and in Afghanistan. The upside is that this creates a reserve force to reinforce the Baltics and Ukraine that might restrain Russia in the former Soviet Union. The downside is that it would create chaos in the Islamic world, threatening regimes that have sided with the United States and potentially reviving effective intercontinental terrorism. The trade-off is between a hegemonic threat from Eurasia and instability and a terror threat from the Islamic world.

We are pointing to very stark strategic choices. Continuing the war in the Islamic world has a much higher cost now than it did when it began, and Russia potentially poses a far greater threat to the United States than the Islamic world does. What might have been a rational policy in 2001 or 2003 has now turned into a very dangerous enterprise, because a hostile major power now has the option of making the U.S. position in the Middle East enormously more difficult.

If a U.S. settlement with Iran is impossible, and a diplomatic solution with the Russians that would keep them from taking a hegemonic position in the former Soviet Union cannot be reached, then the United States must consider rapidly abandoning its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and redeploying its forces to block Russian expansion. The threat posed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War was far graver than the threat posed now by the fragmented Islamic world. In the end, the nations there will cancel each other out, and militant organizations will be something the United States simply has to deal with. This is not an ideal solution by any means, but the clock appears to have run out on the American war in the Islamic world.

We do not expect the United States to take this option. It is difficult to abandon a conflict that has gone on this long when it is not yet crystal clear that the Russians will actually be a threat later. (It is far easier for an analyst to make such suggestions than it is for a president to act on them.) Instead, the United States will attempt to bridge the Russian situation with gestures and half measures.

Conclusion:  the crisis of American national strategy

Nevertheless, American national strategy is in crisis. The United States has insufficient power to cope with two threats and must choose between the two. Continuing the current strategy means choosing to deal with the Islamic threat rather than the Russian one, and that is reasonable only if the Islamic threat represents a greater danger to American interests than the Russian threat does. It is difficult to see how the chaos of the Islamic world will cohere to form a global threat. But it is not difficult to imagine a Russia guided by the Medvedev Doctrine rapidly becoming a global threat and a direct danger to American interests.

We expect no immediate change in American strategic deployments – and we expect this to be regretted later. However, given U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney’s trip to the Caucasus region, now would be the time to see some movement in U.S. foreign policy. If Cheney isn’t going to be talking to the Russians, he needs to be talking to the Iranians. Otherwise, he will be writing checks in the region that the U.S. is in no position to cash.

Reprinted with permission.

Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

My posts about Grand Strategy and National Security

Does America need a grand strategy?  If so, what should it be?  Answers to these questions illuminate many of the questions hotly debated about foreign policy and national security.

  1. The Myth of Grand Strategy (31 January 2006)
  2. America’s Most Dangerous Enemy (1 March 2006)
  3. The Fate of Israel (28 July 2006)
  4. Why We Lose at 4GW (4 January 2007)
  5. America takes another step towards the “Long War” (24 July 2007)
  6. One step beyond Lind: What is America’s geopolitical strategy? (28 October 2007)
  7. ABCDs for today: About Blitzkrieg, COIN, and Diplomacy (21 February 2008)
  8. One telling similarity between the the Wehrmacht and the US Military (10 March 2008)
  9. America needs a Foreign Legion (18 April 2008)
  10. Militia – the ultimate defense against 4GW (original September 2005; revised 30 May 2008)
  11. How America can survive and even prosper in the 21st Century – part I (19 March 2007; revised 7 June 2008)
  12. How America can survive and even prosper in the 21st Century – part II (14 June 2008)
  13. America’s grand strategy: lessons from our past (30 June 2008)  – chapter 1 in a series of notes
  14. President Grant warns us about the dangers of national hubris (1 July 2008) – chapter 2
  15. America’s grand strategy, now in shambles (2 July 2008) — chapter 3
  16. America’s grand strategy, insanity at work (7 July 2008) — chapter 4
  17. Justifying the use of force, a key to success in 4GW (8 July 2008) – chapter 5
  18. A lesson in war-mongering: “Maritime Strategy in an Age of Blood and Belief” (8 July 2008) — chapter 6
  19. Geopolitical analysis need not be war-mongering (9 July 2008) — chapter 7
  20. The world seen through the lens of 4GW (this gives a clearer picture) (10 July 2008) — chapter 8
  21. Thoughts on fixing America’s national security apparatus (11 August 2008)

21 thoughts on ““The Medvedev Doctrine and American Strategy”, by George Friedman

  1. This is my reply to FM’s comment to my post about this subject in “Is the War on Terror over (because there are no longer two sides)? Part 1”. I am posting my reply here because it would be more topical here.

    What exactly do “irregulars” do? I assume not uniformed soldiers marching like the Redcoats. Do they destroy civilan inftrastructure? Kill civilians? Are they sometimes terrorists? Usually terrorists?

    I am being deliberately vague in my use of the word “irregular,” meaning only guerrillas or partisans of some sort. Whether this would entail 4th Generation Warfare, 5th Generation Warfare, Robb’s Global Guerrillas, or some other sort should be an open one – to be determined by what works.

    In like manner, when I advocate “energy independence” I am being deliberately vague – solar, coal liquification, wind, you name it. Let’s see what works.

    But, yes, I am advocating that the United States promote activity that many – particularly FOX News types – might characterize as “terrorist.” Hezbollah probably provides a good model for what we should encourage.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: That is very clear. That’s the way these things go throughout history. See part 2 for more on this. (I have cross-posted this comment on both threads, as it is appropriate on both}

  2. “We expect no immediate change in American strategic deployments – and we expect this to be regretted later. However, given U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney’s trip to the Caucasus region, now would be the time to see some movement in U.S. foreign policy. If Cheney isn’t going to be talking to the Russians, he needs to be talking to the Iranians. Otherwise, he will be writing checks in the region that the U.S. is in no position to cash.”

    Well, now there’s this: “Ukraine Government Near Collapse“, New York Times, 3 September 2008.

    with this segue from the previous piece that stands out:

    “The instability erupted on the eve of a visit to Ukraine by Vice President Dick Cheney, who arrived in the region to show his support for American allies in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Georgia last month”

    Mr. Cheney might have been better off trying to play the surrogate for Senator McCain after all…

  3. Medvedev’s 5th point sounds a lot like the Monroe doctrine. I wonder whether there would be more ambitious 6th and 7th points if Russia was in a better shape.

    This is odd:

    “The United States could massively increase the size of its army and make deployments into the Baltics, Ukraine and Central Asia to thwart Russian plans, but it would take years to build up these forces and the active cooperation of Europe to deploy them. Logistically, European support would be essential- but the Europeans in general, and the Germans in particular, have no appetite for this war. Expanding the U.S. Army is necessary, but it does not affect the current strategic reality.”

    To secure Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia is an obvious NATO task. It hasn’t much to do with “war” and wasn’t discussed publicly. Reinforcing the Baltic defenses (even if only for successful delaying ops) would be an almost aggressive move and is probably kept in reserve just in case that the diplomacy makes no advances in the next months.

    This seems to be illogical:

    “The United States now has to make a fundamental strategic decision. If it remains committed to its current strategy, it cannot respond to the Russians. If it does not respond to the Russians for five or 10 years, the world will look very much like it did from 1945 to 1992. There will be another Cold War at the very least, with a peer power much poorer than the United States but prepared to devote huge amounts of money to national defense.”

    NOT to confront would exactly not provoke ‘Cold War II’.

    The questions here are not so much how America shifts its troops, but
    – what the Europeans do, especially in the framework of NATO
    – whether the Russians react to pressure with an alliance with PRC (and possibly Iran & Pakistan)
    – what happens in the Ukraine (the government just broke up about the West/East issue)
    – how the raw material world prices change (relevant for Russia’s state finances)
    – whether Russia addresses its domestic economic challenges and becomes fit for a major competition
    – whether the Russians have room to negotiate left

    About the Baltic defense issue: “Aftermath of the South Ossetian War(‘s hottest phase so far)“, Defense and Freedom, 15 August 2008.

  4. It’s interesting that Friedman only mentioned weapon sales to the Middle East as a Russian response to a blockade. I think it’s obvious the Russians would use nuclear weapons in that situation. A blockade would clearly be an act of war and the Russians would then have the advantage of a clear moral right to retaliate. Plus, naval forces are probably the only military targets you could hit with nukes without fear of massive civilian casualties. This would leave the US with the choice of a humiliating retreat or retaliation that would cause huge numbers of civilian deaths.

    For me personally, I hope the US does continue to focus on the Islamic world since I don’t believe Russia is going to be the huge threat Friedman warns it might become. Remember, the Soviets never launched an attack on the US during the Cold War but Islamic terrorists have several times.

  5. The bear is very big and powerful, there is no way to counter that, let’s focus on making it a friendly, cuddly one instead of some irritable thing everyone needs to be afraid of. Friedman is talking about forceful action, how does bears usually respond to such things, by being submissive? The guy sounds like a stupid war monger stuck in 20th century thinking.

  6. Complicated geopolitical analyses of the Russian incursion into Georgia that border on psychobable serve no purpose. Russia invaded Georgia not for one grand ideological purpose but because an opportunity presented itself to achieve something of many possible positive effects and little chance of weighty negative effects. Think of it as part of a national business plan.
    Pros/Cons from Russias view:
    Pros
    1. They prevented serious consideration for use of Georgia in the future as a resource conduit competitive with Russia
    2.They didn’t interrupt enough supply to cause negative market reactions or volatility(infact one wonders why a pipeline went down before they invaded therefore making the markets adjust before the war not because of the war)
    3.They laid an obstacle down before their competition which forced a change in their competitors business plan while reinforcing their own business plan
    4.The action was likely to be zero balance or positive with their own stockholders(Russian oil/gas businessmen and Russian citizens)
    5. They eliminated a potential source of business instability by bringing 2 unstable Regions near product origination under their control
    6.They Wal-marted some of their suppliers(Oil/gas rich caucasus countries; sell it to us on our terms or sell it to no one)
    7.They potentially gained influence over future resources passing through the area(water, electricity, etc.)
    8.Their competitors representative is an easily doubted rash hot head(Sakashvili)
    9.The task can be accomplished in minimal time with minimal loss
    10.There is a window of opportunity we can exploit
    11.We have the competitors chairman of the board (Bush)bedazzled with our competitive cooperation and his fine relationship with our CEO (Putin)
    12.Its in our town so we can spin it our way to the people who matter to us, and lately the competition’s PR operation has been weak
    13.our competition is also our customer and we’re their biggest supplier so what can they do?
    14.The biggest division of the competition is otherwise distracted(the US in Iraq/Afganistan)
    15.We have many ways to help keep them distracted if needed(support for Iran, flying some bombers hither and yon, subs and ships here and there, bluster about this and that, complete weapons deal to whoever, signals to various parties that make them take attention grabbing actions(Chavez))
    16.If we do it now we have enough time to manage the situation against the competitors leadership we know and can predict instead of new and unknown leadership
    17. We push the competition out of our marketplace
    18. We can’t lose price control to the competition
    19. The act of responding to our actions may stress their weaker divisions far enough to make them go out of business or falter(Ukraine)then we can buy into them cheap
    Cons:
    1.PR
    2.We’ll wake them out of their competitive slumber so this might be tough again for a while until they get distracted again
    3.They might cut off a few things we need and tighten our capital
    4.They might take marginal military action but are not in a position to apply any effective damage to our plant.
    5.Our sales force will have a hard time for a while

    Why as the CEO of a giant petrobusiness wouldn’t you take this action?
    We in the US continue to view all conflicts through the lense of WW2 and the subsequent cold war. We have only recently come up to speed on the true nature of the global fundamentalist insurgency(we’re still calling it GWOT) But all these conflicts are morphing to something else as we remain distracted. They are all morphing into resource competitions.The Sunni and Shia and Kurds now compete for oil control in Iraq in lieu of ethnic control(Oil control might allow resumption of ethnic control) The Taliban funds with drugs, African fundamentalist insurgents with piracy, Russia funds with petroleum, Iran the same, Chavez the same, Etc. And all these parties are moving to positions to claim or defend the chokepoints they depend on by conventional(Russia) unconventional(the Taliban) or hybrid means(Iran.)There no longer is bipolar source funding for geopolitical ambitions like during the cold war.(US or USSR)You have to self fund your ambitions and you need a resource stream to tap to do it. And once you have it you need to protect it or you wither.
    To those who have constricted resources this is a natural action. To us Americans with our current abundance and diverse access to resources this is alien.

    The key to prevent future Russian actions like Georgia is not to think in cold war ideology, but to adapt to the cold realities of resource competition. Sure they have pride, but pride is easy to turn into agression when your competition allows a pro/con list like the one above to fall in your lap. Russia doesn’t want a cold war they want to protect their resource value. Look at the items in the Medvedev doctrine and they all conform not to an idealogical goal but to things important to a global petrobusiness. They even sound more like a corporate construct than a political ideology. Substitute “Putin/Medvedev Petroleum, Inc.” for “Russia” and it works.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: This violates the comment policy: “comments should be brief”. At aprox 900 words it is the length of a long post; words is a reasonable max for a comment. I will not edit it down this time, but please follow the policy in the future.

  7. Mr. Friedman’s analysis is based on the assumption that Europe will remain, in the next five – ten years, just as it is today (i.e., lacking political will, and political/spiritual/cultural independence). Maybe he is right. But maybe, when faced with the resurgence of a traditional balance of powers policy on its own continent, and faced, too, with an economical and political crisis stemming from a) American foreign debt b) transformation of NATO after 1989, Europe – or better: France and Germany – will open their eyes, and see the proverbial elephant in the drawing-room: American military bases on its territory, more than 60 years after 1945.
    When a country is militarily occupied, of course it lack any qualification to be called “independent”, or “democratic”, too.
    And for Europe, the window of opportunity to open her eyes is precisely now that the U.S. of A. are entagled in their attempt to “end history”.

  8. This leaves the United States in an extremely difficult strategic position. The United States opposed the Soviet Union after 1945 not only for ideological reasons but also for geopolitical ones. If the Soviet Union had broken out of its encirclement and dominated all of Europe, the total economic power at its disposal, coupled with its population, would have allowed the Soviets to construct a navy that could challenge U.S. maritime hegemony and put the continental United States in jeopardy. It was U.S. policy during World Wars I and II and the Cold War to act militarily to prevent any power from dominating the Eurasian landmass. For the United States, this was the most important task throughout the 20th century.

    This sounds like a redux of Sir Halford Mackinder’s Heartland Theory

    According to Mackinder, the earth’s land surface was divisible into:

    * The World-Island, comprising the interlinked continents of Europe, Asia, and Africa. This was the largest, most populous, and richest of all possible land combinations.
    * The offshore islands, including the British Isles and the islands of Japan.
    * The outlying islands, including the continents of North America, South America, and Australia.

    The Heartland lay at the centre of the world island, stretching from the Volga to the Yangtze and from the Himalayas to the Arctic. Mackinder’s Heartland was the area ruled by the Russian Empire and then by the Soviet Union, minus the area around Vladivostok.

    [edit] Strategic importance of Eastern Europe

    Mackinder summarised his theory as:

    “Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland;
    who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island;
    who rules the World-Island controls the world.”

    Any power which controlled the World-Island would control well over 50% of the world’s resources. The Heartland’s size and central position made it the key to controlling the World-Island.

    The vital question was how to secure control of the Heartland. This question may seem pointless, since in 1904 the Russian Empire had ruled most of the area from the Volga to Eastern Siberia for centuries. But throughout the 19th century:

    * The West European powers had combined, usually successfully, in the Great Game to prevent Russian expansion.
    * The Russian Empire was huge but socially, politically and technologically backward – i.e inferior in “virility, equipment and organization”

    Whatever the merits of MacKinder’s analysis, the situation he describes would take decades to manifest itself. It is not as if we are now on trigger alert regarding Russian expansionism.

    It would further posit that the heartland be dominated by a coherent entity. That it shall be a later day Czarist Russia or Soviet Union and not a later day Balkans.

    And insofar at the United States responds with what I have loosely referred to as “irregular” tactics, that should serve to disrupt and inhibit any later day Czar.

  9. Friedman’s analysis is clear and complex. It seems to offer a sound, clear-headed framework for thinking about US foreign policy probably for years to come. However, it depends on the premise that an emergening Russia is a threat comparable to that of post WW II Soviet Union. As I’ve said earlier, I think Cold Wars and Wars on Terror are mainly in the eyes of the beholders.

    The most remarkable material in this post is the Medvedev doctrine itself. Friedman seems to distrust it. I think it’s a model of sanity and realism, and wish any American leader could speak like that!
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    Fabius Maximus replies: We should sue Medvedev for royalties. As many have noted, this is the Monroe Doctrine. Which makes the hostile response of Friedman and others quite odd…

  10. To all : great analysis!, gentlemen. Especially the comments by hsarvell & Al L. I’ve nothing to offer as of now. Apresto.

  11. George Friedman is not brilliant, but,rather, blinkered in his geopolitical views on the the position in the world of the US.

    I subscribed to Stratfor for a year recently but didn’t renew because it was about as useful in understanding events unfolding in the world as the NYT, i.e. not very.

    Pravda lives!
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    Fabius Maximus replies: In addition to the information and analysis it provides, I believe Stratfor provides a view into the geopolitical thinking of America’s ruling elites, both corporate and government. This is invaluable, as Stratfor expresses it with greater clarity than one finds elsewhere. Although sometimes terrifying, this alone is worth the cost of subscription IMO.

  12. I think the presumption that America is, and should continue to be, the sole dominant force in the world, is both wrong-headed and delusional. It is funny to me that on one hand we seem to laud the idea of the spread of democracy and freedom, yet on the other hand when a country like Russia adopts/adapts something like the Monroe doctrine, it is viewed as a threat. A threat to what? A threat to us doing as we please everywhere (i.e., what is good for the US must be good for the world)?
    I think it is important to rethink our foreign policies and admit that the world is too big for the US to dominate single-handed, and maybe even admit that doing so, if we could, just isn’t all that good a thing. We need to be more responsible at home, and encourage Russia and China to be responsible in their spheres of influence. Putting missiles in Poland to protect against rogue nations frankly should be Moscow’s job. And they should pledge to do it in a way that will not threaten the Poles with domination, any more than we believed our missiles would.
    I am not saying this as some believer in sugar-plum fairies. But what we are doing, and what they are doing in reaction, are just ratcheting up the distrust again. To me the most important thing geopolitically is multiple nations convincing Iran that threatening Israel (or any X threatens Y) is just not acceptable behavior, and is not profitable (leads to negative consequences). We can’t do that by going around threatening others ourselves. We can only do that by building what I will call one-issue coalitions of countries great and small. We don’t need to agree on every issue with Russia, China, India, etc. But there are some we can agree on, and taking our ball home if we don’t get our way ultimately solves nothing. Even if we are the strongest, being a bully, in the end, is a loser strategy.

  13. The really important question is the one that wasn’t asked: What do our creditors want us to do? We have to borrow $2-3 billion/day to balance the books. Doesn’t some of that money come from Russia? Doesn’t some come from China, Japan, and Saudi Arabia? What do they want us to do? Doesn’t Russia hold a lot of Freddie, Fannie and Treasuries?
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I absolutely agree. This is the key question, and one we ignore.

  14. In a little noticed story reported today, Russia strengthened its ties with Nigeria:

    LAGOS, Sept. 4 (Xinhua) — Nigeria and Russia have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to facilitate a relevant joint venture agreement that will allow the gas firm Gazprom to exploit the huge natural gas resources in Nigeria, local media reported on Thursday.

    The Lagos-based Guardian newspaper reported that Gazprom and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) signed the MoU on Wednesday for consideration of various joint projects to be developed by the two firms.

    … According to a statement issued after the signing, the pact has paved the way for joint projects execution in exploration, production and transportation of hydrocarbons, processing of associated gas and construction of power plants in Nigeria.

    “It is planned that a joint Nigerian company will be formed,” Gazprom said. It was reported that Gazprom has listed Nigeria as one of its new investment zones to grow the potential of the company. In January this year, Gazprom proposed a multi billion-dollar investment package for Nigeria, thus preparing itself to play a bigger role in the nation’s oil and gas sector.

    Certainly this suggests that Russia is less isolated than some would prefer and that its geopolitical strategies are more complex than a mere expansion within Eurasia. Rather, combined with recent reports of Russian links with various Mideastern states as well as with Venezuela, it seems that Russia is seeking to forge alliances with other energy exporters.

    The obvious counter to this would be to develop alternative energy – although that should have been an obvious priority since the 1970’s.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: If we started intense alt energy programs, we would have them today. Unfortunately it takes decades to develop and rollout these on a large scale. The first post of a series on that is up today: “An urban legend to comfort America: crash programs will solve Peak Oil.

  15. FM: “I believe Stratfor provides a view into the geopolitical thinking of America’s ruling elites, both corporate and government. ”

    I use the phrase “ruling elites” as much as anyone, but is there such a thing? Is there not instead a lot of disparate interests, both American and European, vying with each other for the help of the state? Does any organization like Stratfor, or like AEI, reflect a consensus, or rather just a group of individuals trying to make sense of current practice, or lobby for new directions?
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Admittedly that was an imprecise term, but I suspect 99% of those reading it understood the sense in which I used it. That is, the rough consensus or viewpoint governing American foreign policy, held by senior elements of the government and big business. While I cannot prove it, in my experience there is a rough consensus at that level. Not tight, not held by everyone in this nebulous group, but like any governing consensus it seems adequate to allow smooth running of America’s foreign policy by the major government, corporate, and non-government groups.

    Note that Stratfor’s viewpoint is congenial to this group. Very top-down analysis, on the assumption that elites determine events. For example, the Iraq War is in their view largely a chess game between senior elements of the US government vs. those of Iran’s governments. The folks in Iraq are largely seen as puppets or relatively powerless agents.

  16. The Medvedev doctrine is no more Monroe doctrine than “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony” is what Coke wanted to do in that famous ad us boomers remember.

    Again I wish to view the world from others view not from our own. In this analogy Russia is not the bear, the United States is the bear. The bear moves through the woods at his will with no natural enemies, but many concerns, for it takes great energy to maintain his vast wanderings across territory, his curious and productive life and his need for slumber. No other creature in the forest can match him when waked to conflict nor in his complete domination of the berry patch nor for the acute nature of his senses nor for his curiosity of the forest. But what the Bear lacks is numbers and presence. He is not on all trails at all times, he cannot and does not want to eat all berries, and he always telegraphs his intentions by his confident demeanor(or appears to; the bear eats creatures too and is also able to feint when he really wants or has to). In the forest many other creatures wander. All need to survive. All are in some way acquiescent to the Bear. Some watch the bear closely as he wanders through the forest and eat his leavings. Some anticipate the Bears movements and pick off others that panic ahead of him. Some eat his parasites. Some are his parasites. Some are smart enough to observe the Bear, mimic his prior actions and use the Bear’s actions toward their own ends. Some become sharp enough by observing the Bear to modify his behavior and steal a morsel while he is distracted. Etc. Etc. Eventually one of the creatures figures out how to bait the Bear and put a bullet through his skull.

    In this analogy Russia is somewhere between the creature who mimiced the bear and the one who steals the morsel. The mimicry is the doctrine, the morsel is Georgian territories. Put yourself honestly in the bear’s place and ask what should I do?

    (Fabius: your blog is excellent, very inspiring, but 250 words may be too short for me, noted your prior warning and trust your judgement to edit or kick me off)
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I will let you know. Certainly this could have been shorter. I suspect everyone got the bear analogy early in your comment; probably many stopped reading somewhere amidst the berrys and parasites.

  17. Russia did no more than what it said it would if the West made (Islamic) Kosavo independent. Russia has unmotivated, badly led and technologicaly inferior forces, their army seems to be shrinking if anything.

    The US is quite happy to be a friend of (Islamic) Turkey despite them crossing the border into Iraq; Turkey is a ally of Israel and the US policy in the middle east US revolves around Israel.

    It is deceptive nonsense to talk of fighting the Islamic world; Iraq is an Arab country.

  18. I’ve always liked asking ‘why?’.

    US opposition to USSR during cold war had a clear reason: the ruling ideology in USSR stated the eventual worlwide (including US) adoption of communism as a long term goal and the US considered that an unacceptable outcome.

    So why the current warlike stance? The Medvedev doctrine is not a threat to USA in itself – a free, prosperous America with an implicit sphere of influence in the western hemisphere would be an accepted ‘pole’ in the multipolar order Russia suggests. And the idea that US elites seek global hegemony for the sake of having it, while good propaganda, seems too simplistic to me.

    I believe that a large part of the “ruling elites” has become globalised. They have switched their primary loyalty from the nation to the global economic order, the so called “free market”. The US/NATO is the main political and military enforcer of this economic order which is why they need US/NATO to be the global hegemon. And Putin’s (there is of course a team behind him) Russia defined itself as their enemy by their oil (and other stuff) re-nationalization in the early 00’s.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I agree. For more on this I recommend reading “The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy” by Christopher Lasch (1995, the last book before his death). About the political aspect of our ills. A powerful polemic for change. Its hostile reception by both conservatives and liberals suggests that it struck too close to home for their comfortable self-assurance. Such a subtle, complex work defies attempts to summarize it, but this excerpt will do as well as any:

    “The new elites are in revolt against ‘Middle America,’ as they imagine it, a nation technologically backwards, politically reactionary, repressive in its sexual morality, middlebrow in its tastes, smug and complacent, dull and dowdy. Those who covet membership in the new aristocracy of brains tend to congregate on the coasts, turning their back on the heartland and cultivating ties with the international market in fast-moving money, glamour, fashion, and popular culture. It is a question whether they think of themselves as Americans at all. Patriotism, certainly, does not rank very high in their hierarchy of virtues.

    “’Multiculturalism,’ on the other hand, suits them to perfection, conjuring up the agreeable image of a global bazaar in which exotic cuisines, exotic styles of dress, exotic music, exotic tribal customs can be savored indiscriminately, with no questions asked and no commitments required.

    “The new elites are at home only in transit, en route to a high-level conference, to the grand opening of a new franchise, to an international film festival, or to an undiscovered resort. Theirs is essentially a tourist’s view of the world — not a perspective likely to encourage a passionate devotion to democracy.”

  19. (esd29a) “And the idea that US elites seek global hegemony for the sake of having it, while good propaganda, seems too simplistic to me. . .I believe that a large part of the “ruling elites” has become globalised. They have switched their primary loyalty from the nation to the global economic order, the so called “free market.”

    Well said! This still leaves the question of what they want and how they plan to operate in the current world scene. The original Stratfor writer posed an interesting dilemma: we can either try to block Russia’s resurgence, or deal with the “Islamic” world, but not both. Valid or not, the logic of this viewpoint is that we have limited resources, and our competitors are gaining on us. The globalized world that you mention, managed not by nation states but by unelected international organizations like the WTO, IMF, GATT, NATO, etc., implies some kind of cooperation and market sharing. What are the specifics of that evolution? Do you think China shares our view, and plans to just blend in congenially with a multi-polar world? Ecologists say that there’s no possibility that all the worlds’ people can reach western standards of living with the earth’s limited resources. Who will resolve the conflict of growth with limited resources?

  20. I’m Russian, and I was dead stroked by pattern of thinking, demonstrated by Mr.Fridman.

    Mongo put it clearly:

    «It’s interesting that Friedman only mentioned weapon sales to the Middle East as a Russian response to a blockade. I think it’s obvious the Russians would use nuclear weapons in that situation. A blockade would clearly be an act of war and the Russians would then have the advantage of a clear moral right to retaliate. Plus, naval forces are probably the only military targets you could hit with nukes without fear of massive civilian casualties. This would leave the US with the choice of a humiliating retreat or retaliation that would cause huge numbers of civilian deaths»

    But I must add it isn’t so hard to predict scale of Russia military response on act of war, conducted by sole military superpower. We have an official document, a Military Doctrine, renewed in 21 April 2000, signed by then president Putin. This is excerpt from this Doctrine:

    «The Russian Federation reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in response to the use of nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction against itself or its allies and also in response to large-scale aggression involving conventional weapons in situations that are critical for the national security of the Russian Federation and its allies.” {FM note: see page 31 of “Russia’s Tactical Nuclear Weapons“, Gunnar Arbman, Charles Thornton, November 2003}

    You shouldn’t be nor a strategic forecaster neither a rainmaker to predict that naval blockade by America will be regarded as critical to the national security situation. And, in case if it is not obvious. We won’t be sitting still, while USA bomb us, or starve us in the Middle Age.

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