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More on Treaties . . .

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

A guest post from Mark Wilcox

Speaking of treaties and agreements governing the Black Sea Fleet, a couple more obscure ones are worth a glance. The first is the Document on confidence- and security-building measures in the naval field in the Black Sea, adopted 25 April 2002 by the Black Sea littoral states. This politically-binding agreement established a voluntary regime of, among other things, information exchanges, visits to naval bases, annual exercises, and consultations pertaining to naval forces and operations in the Black Sea. Russia’s recent conduct in Crimea appear to be inconsistent with a couple of provisions, albeit voluntary ones, of this agreement. The Preamble, point (4), for example, reiterates that the parties to the agreement are “Determined strictly to abide in their relations by the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter regarding, inter alia, the sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability of borders of states.” Further, according to Section I, Cooperation in the Naval Field, point (12.10): “To improve further their mutual relations in the interest of strengthening the process of confidence- and security-building in the Black Sea, the Participating States will, on a voluntary basis and as appropriate, promote and facilitate, inter alia…avoiding actions which may be seen as threatening, posing risk or be hazardous for the ships or personnel of the other Participating States or hamper their activities.” The well-documented positioning of a Russian naval vessel to block the movement of two Ukrainian vessels from their mooring would seem to be inconsistent with this provision of the agreement.

On an even more wonkish note (yes, I am an arms control wonk), the Agreement between the Government of the Russian Federation and the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine on Cooperation in Carrying Out Inspection Measures in Places of the Stationing of Military Formations of the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation on the Territory of Ukraine Under the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe of 19 November 1990, the Vienna Document 1999 on the Negotiations of Confidence- and Security-Building Measures in Europe, and the Treaty on Open Skies of 24 March 1992 – that’s a mouthful – contains provisions for notification between Russia and Ukraine and cooperation in facilitating inspections under the three aforementioned agreements (bearing in mind, as specifically noted in the agreement, Russia’s suspension in 2007 of participation in the CFE Treaty). Why is this agreement relevant in the current situation? On 3 March, the Russian Ministry of Defense announced that the United States and France would conduct observation flights under the Open Skies Treaty over the territory of the Russian Federation during the period 3-8 March 2014. Although these overflights are not slated to cover Ukraine, it’s not inconceivable that this agreement between Russia and Ukraine might be tested should the United States or another state declare, for example, an inspection or evaluation visit under the terms of the Vienna Document 2011 (formerly 1999) to check on military activities in either Russia or Crimea. The Russians should be well aware of this possibility, having used inspections under the CFE Treaty and the Vienna Document to poke around NATO installations and deployed forces during the air campaign against Yugoslavia in 1999. It bears mention that Russia did provide the required notification to other states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) of the large-scale unannounced exercise that concluded on 3 March (although the United States raised questions about the notification and the exercise as early as 27 February.
While none of these treaties and agreements seems to have constrained Putin’s behavior vis-à-vis Ukraine, they nonetheless warrant our attention if for no other reason than Moscow’s own routine and rather dogmatic invocation of international legal principles when they see fit.

A Paragon of Openness and Transparency? Russia and Reporting

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

A guest post from Mark Wilcox . . .

A Paragon of Openness and Transparency?
When one thinks of the armed forces of the Russian Federation, it’s a safe bet that “openness and transparency” are not the first words that comesto mind. Over the past months, however, the Russians have displayed sensitivity to the concept and have even staged a campaign in one forum to demonstrate that they’re good citizens when it comes to providing information about their armed forces.

The large-scale unannounced exercise the Russian armed forces staged in and around the Black Sea at the end of March highlights the issue. The lack of prior notification caused angst on the part of some neighboring states. Quoting Russian television network RT, one source reported that the exercise was a surprise to the Russian armed forces and “for neighboring countries’ militaries as well, which were forced to rub sleep from their eyes and rush to their duties as up to 30 Russian battleships [sic] left port.” (29 March 2013). While the Russians might not have been particularly concerned about how some countries viewed the exercise, they took pains to point out their awareness of existing obligations to provide advance notification of certain exercises. According to a translation by the Open Source Center, a spokesman from the Russian Ministry of Defense originally reported that more than 7,100 troops were participating in the exercise. In a later report carried by Interfax, also translated by the Open Source Center, the Ministry of Defense reported that the exercise involved “about 7,000” troops. Of particular note, President Putin’s spokesman Dmitriy Peskov explained that the exercise was not subject to notification to other countries, since only up to 7,000 personnel were involved.

Why the revision of the number of troops involved in an exercise? And why would the president’s spokesman take pains to send the message that Russia was meeting its commitments with reference to the prior notification of military activities (which, by the way, are set out in the Vienna Document 2011 on Confidence- and Security-Building Measures in Europe and the Document on Confidence- and Security-Building Measures in the Naval Field in the Black Sea)?

Going back to January 2013, one finds a pattern of Russian attempts at good citizenship in this area. In a series of statements and a presentation to the Forum for Security Cooperation (FSC) of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Russians have aimed to set the bar for openness and transparency in military affairs. On 30 January, for example, “in keeping with…established good practice,” the Russian delegation described the results of the armed forces’ 2012 training year and outlined the goals and major training events for 2013. A week later, “[i]n line with the established tradition and as a sign of goodwill,” the Russians, to borrow an expression from Soviet times, overfulfilled the plan (the plan, in this case, was the Vienna Document 2011, which contains no provision for reporting on naval activities) by reporting to the FSC about the activities of the Russian Navy during an exercise in January 2013 and throughout 2012. The Russians continued this pattern of reporting on military activity that fell below the threshold for reporting under the Vienna Document 2011 on 20 February, when “on the basis of information from the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation and as a sign of goodwill” they described a series of exercises in 2013 in which the Russian armed forces and foreign forces participated. On 13 March, again based on information from the Ministry of Defense and “as a sign of goodwill,” the Russians offered a lengthy account of the expanded meeting of the Collegium of the Ministry of Defense that had occurred on 27 February. The Russians really went over the top, however, on 15 May, when “as a sign of good will, our delegation [continued] to inform our distinguished colleagues about the day-to-day activities of the Russian armed forces.” In addition to informing the FSC about a joint naval exercise with the Norwegians and reorganization within the Airborne Forces, the Russians provided a report – by military district – on the participation of the armed forces in parades commemorating Victory Day. By the Russians’ reckoning, “More than 38,000 military personnel, around 850 pieces of military equipment and 68 planes and helicopters were involved in the parades.”

What’s going on? Why the charm offensive with regard to openness and transparency on military affairs? Several complementary explanations come to mind. First, the Russians have been pushing for years to expand the regime of confidence- and security-building measures (CSBMs) beyond what is already captured in the Vienna Document 2011, for example, to apply specifically to so-called rapid-reaction forces. Given the deadlock over the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) and conventional arms control in general, Moscow likely views CSBMs as a way to push for greater transparency –perhaps leading to new limitations – regarding the forces of the United States and NATO nations. Second, the deliberate highlighting of the activities of naval forces supports a long-standing Russian quest to include such forces in arms control regimes and CSBMs–a campaign the United States has consistently resisted. While this effort goes back many years, the Russians have tried over time to ratchet up the pressure on naval measures, for instance by circulating a food-for-thought paper at the 2008 OSCE Annual Security Review Conference that laid out the specifics of “fairly simple measures that would encompass the largest-scale planned naval activities conducted within the limited area of waters around Europe.” Third, the Russians might be conducting a strategic communications offensive to convey two messages: the Russian armed forces are serious about military reform, especially in light of the shortcomings that were apparent in the war against Georgia in 2008; and no one should doubt the ability of the Russian armed forces to carry out their tasks in defense of the country.

Notwithstanding the Russians’ eagerness to share their story in a diplomatic forum in Vienna, however, it remains to be seen whether they’ve overcome old habits on the ground back home. In September 2012, during the conduct of exercise Kavkaz-2012 in the Russian Southern Military District (one of the exercises the Russian delegation so proudly described to the FSC on 30 January 2013), a team led by the United States, acting under the provisions of the Vienna Document 2011, was stymied in their effort to carry out an inspection of the Kapustin Yar training area, this despite the fact that the Russians had notified the OSCE states that Kavkaz-2012 would be taking place there. Perhaps, then, good citizenship has its limits. It remains to be seen whether Russia’s wave of openness and transparency will spread beyond the halls of the Hofburg Palace in Vienna to the territory of the Russian Federation.
Note: For those interested, the aforementioned statements by the Delegation of the Russian Federation to the OSCE can be found on the website of the OSCE Forum for Security Cooperation.

Mr. Mark Wilcox is a PhD student in the Security Studies Program at Kansas State University and an Assistant Professor at the United States Army Command and General Staff College. Mr. Wilcox’s views are his alone and do not reflect those of the Command and General Staff College, the United States Army Combined Arms Center, or the United States Army.

Remarkably Dumb Journalism

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

While my post has little to do with Soviet military history, this does touch on Poland and on Harvard, so I can claim some relevance to the region and to higher education.

CNN Money this morning had the latest example of a remarkably stupid journalistic trope that never seems to die: that “Company X is worth more than Country Y.” In this particular case, it’s the claim that Apple is worth more than Poland, based on the idea that Apple’s market capitalization is greater than Poland’s Gross National Product. Both come to about $500 billion at the current Polish exchange rate, though Poland’s almost 50% better off if we use purchasing power parity.

Gregg Easterbook of ESPN likes doing the same thing for higher education, noting that Harvard, or rather Harvard’s endowment, is worth more than Kenya, or more than Iceland and Honduras combined.

Here’s the basic problem: comparing GDP to market capitalization or to endowment confuses what a what a country PRODUCES, the goods and services it makes, with what a company is WORTH, or what it would cost to buy it. Those are two entirely different concepts: comparing GDP to market capitalization or endowment is like comparing apples and apple trees. Take a bond: it might produce $5 in income a year, but cost $100 to buy.

The stock market says Apple is worth about $500 billion. So let’s see what we think Poland might actually be worth. Put another way, what would it cost to buy Poland? All these calculations are rough, back-of-the-envelope figures, but I think they illustrate the point.

Why don’t we start with industrial plant? An IMF working paper by Doyle, Kuijs, and Jiang puts Poland’s capital stock as of 2000 at about 200% of GDP, which would suggest that buying all the capital goods of Polish businesses would cost us about $1000billion.

Now agriculture. Poland’s largely agricultural: 40-50% of its land is farmland. Let’s say 40% of Poland’s 300,000 square kilometers is productive farmland, in order to be conservative. That makes 120,000 square kilometers, or 12,000,000 hectares. Let’s go with a conservative valuation of $4000 per hectare. That gives us $50billion for Polish farmland. That’s a substantial bargain, the result of legal obstacles to foreign ownership.

What about real estate? Poland’s got about 12 million households. Let’s take conservative estimates of a value of $1000 per square meter for residential real estate, and average property size of 60 square meters. That gives us $720billion for housing stock alone, not counting commercial property.

So leaving out all the malls and office buildings going up in Warsaw, and all those cows and pigs in the Polish countryside, we find it would cost at least $1770 billion to buy Poland, making it worth at least three times as much as Apple.

My question is why professional financial journalists make basic mistakes like this.

Whew! It’s not about us!

Monday, February 14th, 2011

Woo-hoo! A story about scientific ignorance NOT starring American students!

The well-respected All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (hat tip to via Johnson’s Russia List) has found that
46% of Russians think antibiotics kill viruses (I’d hate to see the US figures on that one).
32% think the sun orbits the earth.
29% think human beings coexisted with dinosaurs.
26% think lasers work via sound waves
17% think contemporary humans did not evolve from earlier types (I’d wager one or two limbs that percentage would be significantly higher in the US).

The headline figure was the number of Russians (55%) who thought radiation was a human creation. I’m not willing to read so much into that particular question–it’s easy to misunderstand. James Oberg, speaking with AOL, quite sensibly said that he’d want to see the Russian text. That text is “Vsia radioaktivnost’–delo ruk chelovecheskikh?” More or less, “Do you agree that all radioactivity is the work of human hands?” Of course, the correct answer is no, but given Chernobyl, widespread use of radiation for medical purposes, debates over the implications of nuclear testing, and widespread and legitimate public health concerns about the legacy of Soviet pollution, that doesn’t strike me as quite as ridiculous as believing in an earth-centered solar system.

The biggest point, it seems to me, is not that the Russian public is particularly ignorant of science. It’s that the sorts of things we see in the United States about popular ignorance of history or science need to be put in perspective. Things are bad everywhere. As Schiller said, “Against ignorance, the gods themselves contend in vain.”

Soviet Industrial Safety

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

The good folks at have lots of great photo galleries on life in today’s Russia. Here’s one that’s more historical: a wonderful collection of Soviet work safety posters. The style of art and text is identical to posters covering more familiar political and propaganda themes, but without any sort of political content. Their gruesome explicitness is quite striking, and they offer a nice look at the physical processes of Soviet industrial production.