Russia violates the INF Treaty

(AP Photo/Bob Daugherty, File)For some time now, I’ve been saying it’s not a big deal that Russia is yanking our chain on the INF Treaty. I still don’t think it’s a big deal in military terms; Russia isn’t suddenly going to reemerge as a first-rank power because it tested a ground-launched cruise missile. And I also don’t think that we should do anything about it, not least because there’s nothing to do about it.

I explored this over the weekend at more length in The National Interest. You can read the full version here.

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Why a Korean pullout is a very bad idea

OB-WV665_dmz_F_20130327002745Head over to War On the Rocks, where the editors generously took up my presumptuous self-invitation to respond to MAJ Christopher Lee’s argument that the U.S. should simply pull out of South Korea. (Lee, for some reason, thinks we can save a lot of money and maybe fix the Veteran’s Administration with it. That’s not how it works.)

Here’s an excerpt:

Perhaps we ought to think about the historical record before simply pulling out of Korea. Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung approached Soviet leader Josef Stalin repeatedly after World War II to seek permission for an invasion of the South. Stalin, fearing a greater war, refused him, and later only relented when the eldest Kim pointed out that the Americans, by treaty, had finally quit the Peninsula in 1949 and returned home. This, for both Stalin and Kim, was an indication that an invasion would not provoke a U.S. response. This was a terrible miscalculation, and it was grounded in a U.S. troop withdrawal.

The North Koreans, particularly the old marshals of the Korean military for whom the Korean War is still a sacred memory, would no doubt love to see a replay of 1949, and would consider it a great victory. They would be able to gloat that they had achieved what even their big brothers in China had been unable to do for over 60 years: a Korea whose soil is completely untainted by American boots. Moreover, removing American troops from Korea will signal to the Chinese that we want no further U.S. presence in their region, and remove one more complication in any Chinese strategy of expansion or intimidation.

In sum, a pullout would raise North Korea’s stature, reduce China’s dwindling influence over its client, and leave Pyongyang – in its own eyes – a peer to Beijing, Seoul, and Tokyo. How is any of this a good idea?

You can read the full version here, and Major Lee’s original article here.


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The Panic in Red Square

Do I look worried? I do?

The one emotion most of us who study Russia never associate with the men of the Kremlin is panic. They’re not the type. They’re more like mobsters, prone to say “we have a problem,” rather than to freak out. They think everything has a solution, although sometimes that solution might mean someone has to take nine grams of lead behind the ear. They do not raise their voices — my experience is that most Russian tough-guys are mumblers, not yellers — and they get things done, even if the final outcome might lack a certain, say, elegance.

That’s why it’s unusual to see the government of Vladimir Putin, and maybe even Putin himself, panicking over the downing of Malaysian Airline Flight 17. For the first time in a long time, maybe even since Putin’s first election to power, the Russian regime has a problem it cannot solve, one that will cost the Kremlin in both money and reputation. Continue reading →

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