# Calibrating your probability estimates of world events: Russia vs Ukraine, 6 months later.

post by shminux · 2014-08-28T23:37:06.430Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 165 comments

Some of the comments on the link by James_Miller exactly six months ago provided very specific estimates of how the events might turn out:

James_Miller:

• The odds of Russian intervening militarily = 40%.
• The odds of the Russians losing the conventional battle (perhaps because of NATO intervention) conditional on them entering = 30%.
• The odds of the Russians resorting to nuclear weapons conditional on them losing the conventional battle = 20%.

Me:

"Russians intervening militarily" could be anything from posturing to weapon shipments to a surgical strike to a Czechoslovakia-style tank-roll or Afghanistan invasion. My guess that the odds of the latter is below 5%.

A bet between James_Miller and solipsist:

I will bet you \$20 U.S. (mine) vs \$100 (yours) that Russian tanks will be involved in combat in the Ukraine within 60 days. So in 60 days I will pay you \$20 if I lose the bet, but you pay me \$100 if I win.

While it is hard to do any meaningful calibration based on a single event, there must be lessons to learn from it. Given that Russian armored columns are said to capture key Ukrainian towns today, the first part of James_Miller's prediction has come true, even if it took 3 times longer than he estimated.

Note that even the most pessimistic person in that conversation (James) was probably too optimistic. My estimate of 5% appears way too low in retrospect, and I would probably bump it to 50% for a similar event in the future.

Now, given that the first prediction came true, how would one reevaluate the odds of the two further escalations he listed? I still feel that there is no way there will be a "conventional battle" between Russia and NATO, but having just been proven wrong makes me doubt my assumptions. If anything, maybe I should give more weight to what James_Miller (or at least Dan Carlin) has to say on the issue. And if I had any skin in the game, I would probably be even more cautious.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-08-29T06:14:43.841Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I estimate the chances of NATO getting involved militarily in the Ukraine to be less than 1%. Ukraine is not a NATO member and the US has zero appetite for a war with Russia over some former Soviet territory. Russia has already detached pieces from Georgia and pretty much no one noticed or cared. For grabbing Crimea Russia got a gentle slap on the wrist and that was it.

The situation would be different in the Baltics, but the West will not intervene over Ukraine.

Replies from: James_Miller, shminux
comment by James_Miller · 2014-08-29T13:34:02.454Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why will the Baltics be different? Do you think that the dead hand of the past (in the form of the NATO treaty) will compel Obama to act to protect nations that most Americans have never heard of? If yes keep this in mind

By 1996, Ukraine voluntarily gave up all of its nuclear arms and acceded to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In exchange for making the world a safer place, it received security assurances from Britain, the United States and Russia in the form of the Budapest Memorandum, signed by Bill Clinton, Boris Yeltsin, and John Major, with pledges to “respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine” and the “refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine.”

Do Baltic members spend lots of time and money building their political support among American politicians like Israel and Taiwan do? If not why will these politicians care if Russia retakes the Baltics?

Replies from: Lumifer, gwern, ChristianKl, cameroncowan
comment by Lumifer · 2014-08-29T14:40:48.879Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why will the Baltics be different?

Because they are members of NATO.

If NATO doesn't react to the Russian invasion, it will be clearly and very publicly dead. And that would radically change the power equation in Europe and may e.g. lead to Western Europe rearming itself.

I am not saying that if Putin, say, starts grabbing chunks of Estonia, NATO will necessarily intervene. It might decide to die instead. But the odds are very different from the Ukraine case.

And, of course, NATO's original purpose and whole reason for existence is precisely to contain the Russian/Soviet expansion to the west.

Replies from: DanArmak
comment by DanArmak · 2014-08-29T22:50:02.520Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And, of course, NATO's original purpose and whole reason for existence is precisely to contain the Russian/Soviet expansion to the west.

I don't think the reasons for forming NATO in 1949 are, or should be, relevant today. Upholding treaties is a legitimate concern, but what people cared about two generations ago when they formed them isn't.

Replies from: simplicio
comment by simplicio · 2014-09-11T22:46:08.224Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

East Europeans wanted into NATO for protection both from Communism and from Russian domination simpliciter. The latter consideration has not fundamentally changed.

comment by gwern · 2014-08-29T19:35:22.709Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

the United States and Russia in the form of the Budapest Memorandum, signed by Bill Clinton, Boris Yeltsin, and John Major, with pledges to “respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine” and the “refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine.”

Memorandums are non-binding and do not, for example, pass Congress, and certainly are not the 'supreme law of the land' like treaties with mutual self-defense clauses. That memorandum bound the US to nothing and whatever it meant expired with the president who signed it. It is no more surprising that the USA has not invaded Russia over its violation of the memorandum than it is surprising that the USA did not invade Japan in 1905 or 1910 for colonizing Korea despite the letters of assurance to the Korean king and (some interpretations of) the previous treaty. With NATO, everyone understands that an attack on a NATO country will involve American reprisals; in contrast, I've never even heard of this memorandum until the past year where suddenly everyone is invoking it as an example of how hollow American treaties are.

Replies from: James_Miller
comment by James_Miller · 2014-08-29T20:03:30.855Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Memorandums have less prominence than treaties so the public relations cost to ignoring them is indeed smaller.

With NATO, everyone understands that an attack on a NATO country will involve American reprisals

Only if President Obama wanted to initiate reprisals, and does everyone know that he would? Yes, he would certainly do something symbolic, but would he take military action against Russia if Russia, say, decided to take back Estonia? I would give it less than a 50% chance. If Ukraine were a NATO member and Russia still did what she did, do you think that the U.S. would have taken military action against Russia?

Replies from: gwern, ChristianKl
comment by gwern · 2014-08-29T22:47:44.128Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Memorandums have less prominence than treaties so the public relations cost to ignoring them is indeed smaller.

When something doesn't oblige one to do something, and everyone understands that well in advance, then yes, the PR hit from not doing that something is indeed small... You gain a reputation as a promise-breaker by breaking promises.

Yes, he would certainly do something symbolic, but would he take military action against Russia if Russia, say, decided to take back Estonia?

He has to, or else the US empire collapses worldwide: the US holds very few territories outright, it depends on host countries like Germany, Japan, and South Korea, who generally have defense clauses just like NATO and allow & subsidize the US bases in part to benefit from mutual defense clauses. If a NATO country is invaded without a real defense, then America's credibility goes up in smoke. The day after the invasion, just in East Asia: SK restarts its nuke program, NK begins extorting more from SK under the threat of invasion, Japan begins a covert nuke program and begins the process of expelling the US from Okinawa (a long-running sore in their domestic politics justifiable only as part of the US nuclear umbrella, and a solution which costs the US much of its capabilities against China), and so on and so forth.

If Ukraine were a NATO member and Russia still did what she did, do you think that the U.S. would have taken military action against Russia?

Oh yes. And that's in part why Ukraine was never allowed to join NATO: too close to Russia.

Replies from: James_Miller
comment by James_Miller · 2014-08-29T23:15:08.684Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

He has to, or else the US empire collapses worldwide:

Lots of leftwing intellectuals would love to see the U.S. empire collapse. We don't know Obama's opinion on the topic because he would be smart enough to hide any such anti-patriotic views.

But I doubt that letting Russia take a small NATO country would cause the collapse of U.S. power abroad. Paradoxically, it might increase our power as nations put more effort into pleasing us and begging us to station troops on their soil to act as tripwires.

You are right that Russia taking Estonia would cause lots of countries to acquire nuclear weapons. No doubt high tech countries like Japan, Germany, and South Korea have plans in place to very quickly get them.

Replies from: gwern, shminux, Viliam_Bur, Lumifer, V_V
comment by gwern · 2014-08-30T00:22:59.020Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Lots of leftwing intellectuals would love to see the U.S. empire collapse. We don't know Obama's opinion on the topic because he would be smart enough to hide any such anti-patriotic views.

We may judge him by his actions: infuriating many left-wing intellectuals by now-6 years of straight-line continuation and expansion of Bush-era policies with regard to national security and empire-building.

But I doubt that letting Russia take a small NATO country would cause the collapse of U.S. power abroad. Paradoxically, it might increase our power as nations put more effort into pleasing us and begging us to station troops on their soil to act as tripwires.

'But I doubt that letting Russia take the Ukraine would cause any collapse of US credibility abroad. Paradoxically, it might increase our power as nations put more effort into pleasing us and begging us to station troops on their soil to act as tripwires.'

Replies from: James_Miller
comment by James_Miller · 2014-08-30T01:50:16.626Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think the last paragraph is true, although I recognize that you probably do not.

comment by shminux · 2014-08-30T07:46:51.919Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Lots of leftwing intellectuals would love to see the U.S. empire collapse. We don't know Obama's opinion on the topic because he would be smart enough to hide any such anti-patriotic views.

I like your posts and comments a lot more when you refrain from the unfortunate rhetoric. It also would be nice to step away from the politics proper and get back to the topic of calibrating one's certainties.

Replies from: James_Miller
comment by James_Miller · 2014-08-30T14:55:42.807Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I like your posts and comments a lot more when you refrain from the unfortunate rhetoric.

Our estimate of Putin's estimate of Obama's view on the U.S. empire is critical to calibrating our beliefs. Lots of leftwing intellectuals really, really do think that the U.S. empire is an evil, imperialist force (do you doubt that they believe this?). To calibrate our beliefs we need to figure out with what probability Putin thinks Obama has this view.

Replies from: Randaly, shminux, HalMorris
comment by Randaly · 2014-08-31T00:21:24.029Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I, and presumably shminux as well, though that you were claiming that there's actually a good chance that Obama actually does want to see the American 'empire' collapse, not that Putin thought that he would.

comment by shminux · 2014-08-31T01:48:38.649Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

To calibrate our beliefs we need to figure out with what probability Putin thinks Obama has this view.

Yes, assuming it's one of the many issues Putin pays any attention to. What are the odds of Putin even considering the possibility that Obama might be a hidden left-wing anti-patriotic conspirator whose main agenda is to break the evil US empire? This is an easy question to answer. Presumably Putin is to the left of the "left-wing intellectuals" with his views on the evilness of the US empire, right? And actual US "anti-patriotic" left-wingers certainly don't consider Obama one of them, judging by the amount of criticism they fling at him. So Putin almost surely sees Obama as the current symbol of US imperialism trying to prevent Russia from exercising its rights to protect Russian citizens in formerly Russian territories. He may well think that he is weak and try to take advantage of it, but he certainly does not think that Obama is secretly anti-american, no more than he thinks that Obama is secretly Kenyan. My guess is that you think this is an option worth considering because of your own political views, which are obviously anti-Obama. This leads to a selection bias where you exaggerate the likelihood of negligible-probability alternatives related to the views you disagree with.

Replies from: James_Miller
comment by James_Miller · 2014-08-31T02:12:33.191Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Obama clearly wants to pull the U.S. out of Iraq and Afghanistan, which under Bush were big parts of the U.S. empire. Lots of Republicans think that Obama wants to greatly reduce U.S. military power, so why is it silly to think that Putin might think that Obama wants to do so?

but he certainly does not think that Obama is secretly anti-american,

I take it you don't have much experience talking with leftwing college professors. It's far from implausible to think that deep down Obama believes that U.S. military power has, with the exception of WWII, been a force for evil.

Putin is former KGB and the KGB had a long history of getting leftwing intellectuals to spy for them because the intellectuals disliked the West. (I do not believe that Obama is or ever has been a spy.)

Replies from: shminux, HalMorris
comment by shminux · 2014-08-31T03:06:28.990Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Obama clearly wants to pull the U.S. out of Iraq and Afghanistan, which under Bush were big parts of the U.S. empire.

Clearly. And for a good reason, given how Afghanistan has always been resistant to external aggression and Iraq was Bush and Cheney's pet project, unrelated to 9/11.

Lots of Republicans think that Obama wants to greatly reduce U.S. military power

What do they think his motivation would be, other than possibly financial?

I take it you don't have much experience talking with leftwing college professors.

Some. The ex-hippie Berkeley types are rather annoying. Krugman is annoying. But to me any ideologically-motivated argument is annoying, because of its anti-rationality.

It's far from implausible to think that deep down Obama believes that U.S. military power has, with the exception of WWII, been a force for evil.

Eh, I don't see the connection. The leftwingers rarely hide their views. Obama has never expressed anything close to what you are describing and hasn't worked for any radical leftwing organizations (beyond a tenants' rights organization during his college years). He certainly supported left-leaning causes, like healthcare and welfare reforms, in the past, but he still does so, pretty openly. I grant you that his expressed views and actions have shifted rightward, and his actual views might be closer to what he held 15 years ago, but still solidly within the spectrum of DNC views. The odds of him considering the US military power being (a force for evil), given that he never expressed views like that, are pretty slim. Not that I personally approve of his policies and actions, the man has been a disappointment in terms of his competence level. But inept does not mean malicious.

comment by HalMorris · 2014-09-01T02:43:34.274Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Obama clearly wants to pull the U.S. out of Iraq and Afghanistan, which under Bush were big parts of the U.S. empire.

If Iraq was ever part of the U.S. empire, we might have done what it took to govern it, and would be getting cheap oil from Iraq, which I thought was just a fantasy of the left. Maybe you'd like the U.S. to act as an old fashioned Empire, but nobody except maybe Dick Cheney wants to do that. It might work but I doubt it, but most important it has no chance of happening and if part of your critique of Obama is that he's not an old fashioned imperialist, I think Teddy Roosevelt might have been the last American one.

Putin is former KGB and the KGB had a long history of getting leftwing intellectuals to spy for them because the intellectuals disliked the West.

Today's "left wing" intellectuals are blatherers. Postmodernism is anti-Enlightenment and views Marxism as an unfortunate result of the Enlightenment the same as capitalism. Noam Chomsky calls himself an anarchist. They tend to be anti-everything when it comes to actually doing something. And Obama is certainly nothing like that crowd. There is no international Communist movement, and there's been virtually none since Brezhnev, though the USSR ran around trying to buy a lot of countries. If you want a clear picture of the era of "Red Intellectuals", read Witness by Whittaker Chambers, and then I suggest Reds: McCarthyism in Twentieth-Century America by Ted Morgan (despite the subtitle, McCarthyism is less than half of what the book covers). Chambers was the star witness for Nixon's "pumpkin papers" trial. Both cover a lot of just how deep the international Communist movement got into America, and Chambers writes beautifully and helps you to see why that was. He also speaks for the many who became deeply disillusioned by the Hitler-Stalin pact. I used to think that was odd because in my view it was a very natural reaction to Chamberlain's Munich, but the Communists really did put up a very good show of defining and opposing the Fascists (I say "a good show" for a reason but it's too complicated to say more), and for as long as that was true, a lot of people put a halo on them for that, then many of them because naively heartbroken.

comment by HalMorris · 2014-09-01T02:44:50.516Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Our estimate of Putin's estimate of Obama's view on the U.S. empire is critical to calibrating our beliefs.

That is true, and how much of Putin's estimate of Obama is due to relentless right-wing propaganda saying he's weak on everything?

I'm not convinced he's failed to do anything useful that say GWB would have done (or any up and coming GOP leader). I think a big problem we have now is we're in umpteen situations in which there's hardly any clear cut winning move.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-08-30T11:29:59.532Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

But I doubt that letting Russia take a small NATO country would cause the collapse of U.S. power abroad. Paradoxically, it might increase our power

In Eastern Europe, the pro-Russian people would be like: "See? The West is toothless; Russia will regain her former sphere of influence soon (which includes us)." And people have an instinct to side with the winner, so the people who don't have strong political opinions would be likely to join what seems like a winning side.

The map drawn at Yalta Conference was a Schelling point for decades. People still remember it.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-08-30T01:15:18.414Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Lots of leftwing intellectuals would love to see the U.S. empire collapse.

I don't think their views on the subject are terribly coherent. The calls to stop being the world's policeman are intertwined with calls to intervene for "appropriate" humanitarian causes. Hard isolationism is a rarity nowadays, I think.

comment by V_V · 2014-08-31T09:19:24.150Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

But I doubt that letting Russia take a small NATO country would cause the collapse of U.S. power abroad. Paradoxically, it might increase our power as nations put more effort into pleasing us and begging us to station troops on their soil to act as tripwires.

If Russia takes a NATO country and the US doesn't intervene then US troops obviously don't act as tripwires. This implies that the US is an unreliable ally, which would prompt the other NATO members to say a big "fuck you" to the US and take defense on their own hands, which would include turning Europe into the Fourth Reich, rebuilding the Japanese Empire, some countries preemptively siding with Russia, and so on.

Replies from: James_Miller
comment by James_Miller · 2014-08-31T14:15:10.990Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Consider two reasons the U.S. has for protecting a country from Russia or China. (1) Because of some document signed a long time ago. (2) Because we would lose a lot if that country fell under the control of Russia or China.

(2) has always been a lot more important than (1). The dead hand of the past is a lot weaker than it seems in international relations.

Having the Germans and Japanese spend more money on their military would benefit the United States. If I were Putin I would consider the main downside of taking Estonia being that German would respond by militarizing.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-08-29T20:30:17.873Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Part of the EU constitution is about mutual self defense. The EU almost certainly would defend their own territory. Staying out of the conflict wouldn't be only a betrayal of Estonia but a betrayal of every EU country.

If Ukraine were a NATO member and Russia still did what she did, do you think that the U.S. would have taken military action against Russia?

If Ukraine would be in NATO game then attacking the "rebels" in Ukraine would be fair game just as the US attacks ISIS via airstrikes in Iraq.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-08-29T17:46:33.832Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Even without the US the EU has more than double the defense budget of Russia. European willingness to defend one of the countries of the EU is by a magnitude higher than the willingness to defend Ukraine or Georgia.

There are open borders in the EU and that means people from the baltic states are free to travel around. As a result many EU citizens have interacted with people from the baltic states

Latvia has a per capita GDP (PPP) of 20,000 while Ukraine has one of 7,500. Latvia has a functioning democracy and is not ruled by a bunch of oligarchs. It's from an European perspective worth protecting in a way that Ukraine simply isn't. Or Moldova, Georgia, Belarus or Azerbaijan for that matter.

I would also expect that Latvia gives it's minorities certain rights because it's legally obliged to do so under EU law that Ukraine didn't.

The contract that you linked to doesn't specify that the US has a legal duty to protect the Ukraine.

Replies from: Sarunas
comment by Sarunas · 2014-08-29T22:11:59.913Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would also expect that Latvia gives it's minorities certain rights because it's legally obliged to do so under EU law that Ukraine didn't.

This isn't directly relevant to the discussion, but if Russia were ever to attack Latvia, their excuse would probably precisely be the treatment of ethnic Russians. It is, in fact, a recurring theme in Russian media.

The reason for this is that in order to be eligible for a full citizenship one is required to pass Latvian language competency and Latvian history exams. What is more, Latvia allows dual citizenship, but only if the other citizenship is of a country that belongs to the list that is specified by a law. Russia is not on the list.

Citizens of the former USSR who possess neither Latvian nor other citizenship who live in Latvia are eligible for a non-citizen passport. They are allowed to naturalize provided they pass the aforementioned exams. However, for various reasons many are unwilling (few are unable) to do so. For example, traveling to Russia is easier for a non-citizen than a citizen of Latvia. However, it is easier to work and travel in the Schengen Area if one is a non-citizen of Latvia than a citizen of Russia. Thus some people might find it disadvantageous to choose one citizenship (in their day-to-day lives traveling is more important than having the right to vote).

How such an unusual situation came into existence? If I understand correctly, in early 1990s Latvia desperately tried to avoid breakaway regions, because in 1989 only 49% of the non-Latvian population supported the idea of the independence of Latvia (the number of Latvians supporting the idea made up 93%). It should be noted that, according to wikipedia, such situation is not without a precedent:

Peter Van Elsuwege, a scholar in European law at Ghent University, states that the Latvian law is grounded upon the established legal principle that persons who settle under the rule of an occupying power gain no automatic right to nationality. A number of historic precedents support this, according to Van Elsuwege, most notably the case of Alsace-Lorraine when the French on recovering the territory in 1918 did not grant citizenship to German settlers despite Germany having annexed the territory 47 years earlier in 1871.

However, as you can imagine, the fact that these non-citizens (mostly Russians) do not have voting rights is a target of outrage in Russian media. Furthermore, many ethnic Russians in Latvia watch a lot of it and this results in them having different opinions (about e.g. situation in Ukraine) than ethnic Latvians. However, it is not clear whether they would actually support Russia in the case of armed conflict.

Please note that I'm neither Latvian, nor an expert on Latvian law, therefore the story above may contain some inaccuracies. Still, LW readers might find it helpful for their probability estimates of potential wars and/or other events.

Replies from: NancyLebovitz, ChristianKl
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2014-08-31T16:15:56.576Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you. I'd wondered about whether ethnic Russians were actually being mistreated, though this doesn't answer the question of whether they were being mistreated in Ukraine.

The next question is whether they've being treated differently now that Russia is doing some invading.

Replies from: Sarunas
comment by Sarunas · 2014-08-31T20:06:08.634Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In the 2001 Ukrainian census 17.3% of the population of Ukraine identied as ethnic Russians (58.3% in Crimea) while 77.8% as Ukrainians. However, in 2012, only 50% of respondents consider Ukrainian their native language, 29% - Russian. Moreover, 20% consider both Ukrainian and Russian their mother tongue and 45% usually speak Ukrainian at home, 39% - Russian and 15% - both Ukrainian and Russian (equally).

Russian language seems to have high informal status, since, according to wikipedia

A 2012 study showed that: on the radio, 3.4% of songs are in Ukrainian while 60% are in Russian over 60% of newspapers, 83% of journals and 87% of books are in Russian 28% of TV programs are in Ukrainian, even on state-owned channels.

and business affairs are still mainly dealt with in Russian. Some people even claim that

“There is an established Russian-speaking environment in big cities and it exerts pressure on people,” she claims. “They think that they will not belong to it if they speak Ukrainian.”

and, according to the same article

Sociological surveys show a huge gap between the number of those who speak Ukrainian at home and those who also use it at work and in public. For Kyiv, this is about 50% and 20% accordingly.

At the same time, according to the Constitution, the state language of Ukraine is the Ukrainian language. However, in 2012 the new law gave Russian status of regional language and approved its use in courts and other government institutions in areas where the percentage of Russians exceeds 10%.

As you can see, we can observe the gap between formal status and informal status of Russian in Ukraine. Thus for any language related event there are at least two different interpretations. For example, on February 2014, the new Ukrainian government tried to repeal 2012 language law. While many Ukrainian-speaking Ukrainians saw it as an attempt to finally curtail Russification (in the informal sphere), many Russian speakers "saw the move as more evidence that the antigovernment protests in Kiev that toppled Yanukovich's government were intent on pressing for a nationalistic agenda." Obviously, back in 2012 it was Ukrainian speakers who saw the new law as unfairly "narrowing the sphere of use of Ukrainian language" and on February 2014 they thought that it was their chance to reverse it. However, they were far too much in haste, and, even though the acting president vetoed the bill, a backlash among Russian speakers probably made Russia's military takeover of Crimea much easier.

Although the language isn't everything, but, according to an opinion poll

among respondents who support Ukraine's entry into the Customs Union, the vast majority (72%) speak in favor of granting Russian the status of the state language. However, among respondents who support the signing of the free trade zone agreement with the EU, the vast majority (72%) are against bilingualism

Another point made by the same poll shows that it is, at least partially, a matter of personal identity beyond language:

Despite the fact that Ukrainian is mostly spoken by elderly people, young people oppose bilingualism more.

(indeed, it seems that for many Ukrainians this whole EU vs.Customs Union dilemma is more about identity than economics).

But I digress. In short, it seems to me that if Russians were actually being mistreated, their language would not have such a high informal status in Ukraine, which is disproportionate to the share of actual ethnic Russians in Ukrainian population. However, due to the differences between formal, informal public and informal private spheres certain actions (e.g. by the government) can be perceived as unfair by a certain segment of population.

(Disclaimer: I am not a Ukrainian; the story above may contain some inaccuracies. In addition, an actual Ukrainian would be able to tell what exactly are prevailing sentiments now)

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-08-30T00:42:58.448Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's interesting. I would have estimated more pressure from the EU on that issue. From a quick googling it seemed that nobody sued in the European Court of Human Rights about the issue.

Replies from: lmm
comment by lmm · 2014-08-31T10:37:57.199Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I understand it's something the EU does criticise them for. I suspect we don't see that kind of lawsuit because the people who care most about the issue also don't want to legitimise EU power in Latvia.

comment by cameroncowan · 2014-08-29T19:09:36.767Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The Baltics would also be different because of their access to Northern Europe and the strategic value militarily. These countries are also democratic and EU/Nato members which also factor in of course.

comment by shminux · 2014-08-29T07:12:45.942Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

6 months ago, I would have agreed with you.

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2014-08-29T14:31:11.729Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I interpret the last six months as more evidence that the West will do nothing.

I also see large, um, practical problems with the idea. Who will be intervening? You can't think it would be a good idea to send German soldiers into Ukraine to fight Russians. And will the US execute airstrikes against Russia given that Russia is likely to retaliate with airstrikes against, say, Alaska?

In any case anything resembling an intervention will be a colossal political gift for Putin.

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-08-29T04:49:43.881Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My guesses for the next 6 months:

The odds of Ukraine reclaiming complete political control over ALL areas of the country: 10%

The odds of Ukraine reclaiming complete political control over ALL areas of the country EXCEPT Crimea: 30%

The odds of Russia de facto annexing some chunk of Eastern Ukraine then setting up a new border: 20%

The odds of invasion of the rest of Ukraine by Russia: 5%

Other situations, especially one where Russia retains Crimea and some parts of Eastern Ukraine but the situation is still in flux: 35%

Why? I think that the situation will escalate further, but not THAT much further. Diplomacy and a firmer NATO attitude will stop Russia from committing to full-scale invasion, but won't prompt it to give any land back.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2014-08-29T07:27:26.010Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

#1415: Will there be a **lethal confrontation involving Russian **national military forces in Ukraine **before 1 October 2014?

Note the "*" refer to very precisely defined terms.

I will update my prediction based on this LW info.

Are there any comparable bets related to the South Chinese Sea dispute?

comment by James_Miller · 2014-08-29T00:38:13.900Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Garry Kasparov has made the following Tweets:

The reason to take difficult & dangerous steps to stop Putin today is simple. It will get more difficult and more dangerous tomorrow

The Russian commanders think Putin is crazy but he keeps being right, keeps winning without resistance. So they follow. It's 1938-39 again.

The most dangerous element is Putin & his followers' sense of invincibility. The longer they go unopposed the harder will be to stop them.

Obama & EU kept looking for easy & safe ways to fight Putin. They refused to make tough decisions and the price always keeps going up.

Putin is probably trying to calculate what's the most he can take consistent with keeping the probability of a major war with the United States below some level. If the U.S. is unwilling to fight, Putin will take all of the territory of the Soviet Empire + perhaps Finland, a country that used to belong to Russia.

Putin probably knows he might have a limited time to act because the U.S. might get a hawkish President (Hillary Clinton, any Republican but Rand Paul) or Germany might re-militarize.

Replies from: V_V, Kawoomba, ChristianKl, IlyaShpitser, knb, cameroncowan
comment by V_V · 2014-08-29T07:49:58.521Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Putin is probably trying to calculate what's the most he can take consistent with keeping the probability of a major war with the United States below some level. If the U.S. is unwilling to fight, Putin will take all of the territory of the Soviet Empire + perhaps Finland, a country that used to belong to Russia.

Currently, he only seems interested in territories inhabited by ethnic Russians, who are happy to be (re-)annexed to the country they consider they homeland.
I doubt he is much interested in taking, say, the Baltic republics or cis-Dniestr Moldova, as he would have to rule there with an iron fist on an uncooperative population.

Replies from: Viliam_Bur, RichardKennaway
comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-08-29T12:30:20.995Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

ethnic Russians, who are happy to be (re-)annexed to the country they consider they homeland.

Are they, or is this a part of military propaganda? (I ask seriously, I don't know.)

Replies from: V_V
comment by V_V · 2014-08-29T14:06:34.435Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, they are certainly Russophone. Whether they do indeed have a preference for being annexed to Russia, I can't say for sure, but it seems plausible, at least given the evidence available on Western media:

The Crimean status referendum showed overwhelming support for joining Russia, but this referendum occurred under military occupation and there are credible allegations of fraud, thus it is not very strong evidence.
Less controversially, the former president Viktor Yanukovych, who had a pro-Russian platform and whose removal sparked Russian intervention, had his electoral base in the Donetsk oblast, where he previously served as governor.

Replies from: Lumifer, IlyaShpitser
comment by Lumifer · 2014-08-29T15:02:10.891Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Whether they do indeed have a preference for being annexed to Russia

The population in question is not homogenous. Some would like to be annexed, some would not, some care much, some little.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2014-08-30T09:01:16.304Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Seems like a correct, though absolutely useless remark.

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2014-08-29T22:41:10.281Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Love that broad brush you have. --- But whether the locals do or do not prefer to be annexed is besides the point, isn't it. Unless you think it should be a new standard in international relations that 50%+1 preference for annexation is a valid casus belli. What a beautiful world that would be to live in.

Replies from: gwern, V_V
comment by gwern · 2014-08-30T00:24:31.150Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Unless you think it should be a new standard in international relations that 50%+1 preference for annexation is a valid casus belli.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-determination

Replies from: IlyaShpitser
comment by IlyaShpitser · 2014-08-30T00:31:05.039Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

From your link (sans references): However, there are far more self-identified nations than there are existing states and there is no legal process to redraw state boundaries according to the will of these peoples.[43] According to the Helsinki Final Act of 1975, the UN, ICJ and international law experts, there is no contradiction between the principles of self-determination and territorial integrity, with the latter taking precedence. --- But again, that's not even my point. My point is a Kantian point: do you want to live in a world where self-determination of [group] in [country] is sufficient grounds for boots on the ground? This is not even a question about what the US or Russia had been or is doing, but about our preferences.

Replies from: gwern
comment by gwern · 2014-08-30T03:14:58.829Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm saying we live in a world where a right to self-determination has been recognized for something like a century now, even if it does not come with an automatic invasion authorization from the UN Security Council. So far, I'm not sure if it's been all that bad although as an American, I cannot sympathize with those who might want to exercise said right inasmuch as there is no other country to which people like me might want to form.

Replies from: DanArmak, Kawoomba
comment by DanArmak · 2014-08-30T09:51:57.062Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The right to self-determination seems to me to have been "recognized" as propaganda, but practically never practiced.

It was used post WW1, but only because there were two big multi-ethnic empires to be broken up. No-one proposed treating the victors similarly; their constituent nations which wanted independence had to fight for it, like Ireland did in 1920-1922.

Very few significant new nations have claimed statehood in the century since then on the basis of this principle without armed struggle. And when there's a civil war or rebellion and one side wins independence by military and political means, I don't give much credence to abstract principles.

Using Wikipedia's list of sovereign states by date of independence for the last century, the only states in the first half of the list (from 1973 to the present) that were established peacefully along ethnic lines are Czech and Slovak republics in the post-USSR breakup of Czechoslovakia. Most other Soviet states became nations despite being multi-ethnic, or fought bloody civil wars as in Yugoslavia. So did almost all African and Asian colonies post decolonization.

I admit I didn't have the patience to read all the linked articles on that list, and its older half (1914-1972), but at least its first half doesn't contain a single example of a part of sovereign nation breaking away on the basis of self determination without a major war. The older half probably might have some examples, but I expect them to be very few.

Replies from: satt, ChristianKl, gwern
comment by satt · 2014-08-30T14:58:53.423Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

significant group of states peacefully established along ethnic lines [...] in the post-USSR breakup of [...] Yugoslavia

?!

Replies from: DanArmak
comment by DanArmak · 2014-08-30T15:59:35.064Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're right. I don't know what came over me :-( Amended, and thanks.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-08-30T10:37:22.767Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Very few significant new nations have claimed statehood in the century since then on the basis of this principle without armed struggle.

A lot of former colonies are now self-governed and a lot of them became independent without armed struggle. That was what the principle of self-determination was about. The British lost their empire over the principle.

It wasn't really about giving the Scottish or the Basques a right to hold a referendum to get independence.

On the other hand the principle of immutability of borders as written down in the Hague Conventions isn't that well respect either. The borders of Ukraine changed frequently since the Hague Conventions was made and I don't see a real reason why they should now be immutable when a majority of Crimeans doesn't want to belong to Ukraine.

The Soviet states also did became nations in a way that did violate the territorial integrity of the Soviet Union without a war.

Replies from: DanArmak
comment by DanArmak · 2014-08-30T14:42:03.922Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A lot of former colonies are now self-governed and a lot of them became independent without armed struggle. That was what the principle of self-determination was about. The British lost their empire over the principle.

Those colonies became independent states with borders decided by the accidents of previous colonial conquest, or drawn arbitrarily post-conquest without regard to local interests or ethnic, economic and cultural divisions (e.g. India and Pakistan).

Similarly, in the British-administrated post-WW1 mandate territories (which they divested during the same general political era when they lost their empire), they drew arbitrary borders and deliberately installed rulers who were foreign to the local population or represented minorities, because they knew these rulers would have to oppress the locals and so would depend on foreign support (e.g. Jordan, Iraq).

Local people were not consulted by a referendum or plebiscite, and in no case that I'm aware of did previously multi-ethnic or multi-cultural states peacefully divide into nation states. There is certainly a principle of decolonization and de-imperialization, but I'm not seeing any self-determination.

The borders of Ukraine changed frequently since the Hague Conventions was made

When the Hague Conventions were signed, Ukraine didn't exist as a sovereign state and hadn't done so since the 17th century. Its borders changed a lot after that, but always as a result of war and conquest, apart from Russia's gift of Crimea in 1954. It was partitioned and partially annexed many times over the 20th century by its more powerful neighbors. This history did not follow self-determination at any point.

I don't see a real reason why they should now be immutable when a majority of Crimeans doesn't want to belong to Ukraine.

Even if you accept it as a valid moral principle, the devil is in the details. How large a majority do you require before supporting separatism against a minority's wishes? How much gerrymandering in the geographical boundaries do you allow? What is the minimum size of a group that may secede (since no-one will recognize family or tribe-sized states in practice)? If people who secede take their privately-owned land with them to form their new state, what happens when the owners of the mine or oil field providing 10% of your GDP secede and then sell their resources back to you at a 500% markup? If the richest and best-educated 10% of your population all happen to live in the same few cities, and they secede to stop wealth redistribution to the other 90%, is that alright? If a group of people wants to secede and implement an fundamentalist state with no freedom for women, gays, or atheists, do you try to stop them as you would non-state actors in your country, or do you shrug and say "eh, we don't declare war on Saudi Arabia, either"?

The Soviet states also did became nations in a way that did violate the territorial integrity of the Soviet Union without a war.

The USSR (and the Warsaw Pact) was a union of separate republics to begin with; it chose to dissolve itself and they resumed their sovereignity. More importantly, I don't think anyone would argue that a state has no right to break itself up if a large majority of its citizens agree. It's a different matter if only the citizens in a particular region want to break away, and the rest want them to stay.

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2014-08-30T16:11:20.366Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Local people were not consulted by a referendum or plebiscite, and in no case that I'm aware of did previously multi-ethnic or multi-cultural states peacefully divide into nation states.

The notion of self-determination is not primarily about referendums and plebiscites. A government that's backed by a home grown military coup doesn't violate the principle.

What is the minimum size of a group that may secede (since no-one will recognize family or tribe-sized states in practice)?

Not every group of people is an ethnic group with the corresponding rights.

In this case you have a majority of Crimeas who speak Russian. You had the the government in Kiev who came to power as the president fled the city because armed Ukrainian nationals took power over the city. They continued to destroy buildings of communist party. Then they passed laws to remove the status of minority languages.

In that climate Crimeans have a valid interest to secede.

How much gerrymandering in the geographical boundaries do you allow?

That a question about who sets the boundaries. In the case of Crimea the natural boundaries work quite well. In the case of Scotland the boundaries are also obvious.

In the case of the Basque country or Padania I'm sure that you could find a way to set reasonable boundaries.

Replies from: DanArmak
comment by DanArmak · 2014-08-30T17:57:07.416Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The notion of self-determination is not primarily about referendums and plebiscites. A government that's backed by a home grown military coup doesn't violate the principle.

Then I'm confused. If the government of a breakaway region isn't backed by its population but relies on military force, is it self-determination? If nation A conquers half of nation B and sets up a state where a minority rules by force, is that self-determination? I thought the answer was clearly no in both cases, but if a government backed only by a military coup (i.e. force majeure) counts as "self-determination" then I'm totally confused as to what you mean by those words.

Not every group of people is an ethnic group with the corresponding rights.

In this case you have a majority of Crimeas who speak Russian. You had the the government in Kiev who came to power as the president fled the city because armed Ukrainian nationals took power over the city. They continued to destroy buildings of communist party. Then they passed laws to remove the status of minority languages.

In that climate Crimeans have a valid interest to secede.

(Your comment doesn't seem to be a response to my question about minimum size)

Since their "referendum" passed under Russian commando control I have no idea what percentage of the population might be opposed to independence, let alone opposed to Russian rule. 58.5% of the population of Crimea are Russians, but 24% are Ukrainians and 10.2% are Crimean Tatars many of whom only recently returned from a decades-long exile originally imposed by Stalin. No matter how this plays out there is going to be a severely oppressed minority maybe as large as 34%. (Do you think Ukrainian is going to have minority language status in Russian-occupied Crimea?)

That a question about who sets the boundaries. In the case of Crimea the natural boundaries work quite well. In the case of Scotland the boundaries are also obvious.

For Crimea and Scotland this may be true. I was talking about generalizing the principle of self-determination.

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2014-08-30T19:33:33.801Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If the government of a breakaway region isn't backed by its population but relies on military force, is it self-determination?

The notion of self determination is that every people can govern themselves. It's a group right. Not one of individual persons. Party of self-determination means that a country can't remove a king of another country even if 60% of the population dislikes the king and would prefer another kind of political system then monarchy.

(Do you think Ukrainian is going to have minority language status in Russian-occupied Crimea?)

That depends very much about how the conflict plays out. I do believe that if things go according to Putins plan, that's the outcome. Neither the EU nor Russia wants to wage war against each other, so sooner or later they have to negotiate a settlement. Russia wants a settlement that gives Crimea international recognition and is probably willing to give the Ukrainians and Tatars in Crimea minority rights in exchange.

Putin makes moves so that he will have a settlement which is overall beneficial for Russia. Winter is coming and the EU needs gas. As long as the West doesn't want to settle Putin is going to take more territory in Ukraine. I don't completely understand what game plan Obama follows and what his goal happens to be in the conflict.

(Your comment doesn't seem to be a response to my question about minimum size)

A bunch of smaller groups of native Americans got some form of autonomy that allowed them to start casinos in the desert and do a bunch of things that are otherwise illegal in the US. I'm okay with handling it like that.

Replies from: DanArmak
comment by DanArmak · 2014-08-30T19:50:16.195Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The notion of self determination is that every people can govern themselves. It's a group right. Not one of individual persons.

I don't see how to reconcile this with your statement that:

The notion of self-determination is not primarily about referendums and plebiscites. A government that's backed by a home grown military coup doesn't violate the principle.

If a government doesn't have popular majority support, and so it would not win a referendum, but keeps power anyway through military force, how does this uphold a group right for self-governance? Wouldn't the group right argue in favor of anyone who doesn't support the government being self-governing and uncoerced by their military powre?

Party of self-determination means that a country can't remove a king of another country even if 60% of the population dislikes the king and would prefer another kind of political system then monarchy.

On that view, Russia was wrong in supporting Crimean separatism.

A bunch of smaller groups of native Americans got some form of autonomy that allowed them to start casinos in the desert and do a bunch of things that are otherwise illegal in the US. I'm okay with handling it like that.

I don't know anything about Native American rights and politics in the USA, but I expect that this autonomy is granted because the majority feels guilty over past conquest and oppression and is trying to make amends. A different group of comparable size (say, people of Chinese descend) would not be allowed to "do a bunch of things that are otherwise illegal" merely because they had a minority ethnic status and wanted self-determination.

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2014-08-31T08:22:15.681Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If a government doesn't have popular majority support, and so it would not win a referendum, but keeps power anyway through military force, how does this uphold a group right for self-governance?

The will of government is the will of the group. After Egypt had their revolution the new government still had to pay the debts of the old dictator because they old dictator was recognised to be able to make contracts in the name of the nation. How a dictator comes to power isn't that important for determining whether he's accepted as representing a group.

On that view, Russia was wrong in supporting Crimean separatism.

The democratically elected government of Crimea went through separating on their own. Russia claimed that it acted according to the new principle of "responsibility to protect (R2P)" which means that it's okay to use military to prevent violence against a minority. Without the Russian soliders Kiev likely would have used violence to stop the Crimean government from holding a referendum.

Kiev also didn't go through the impeachment process to remove the status of the old president so it's not clear why a dejure president shouldn't be allowed to ask an outside country for military assistance.

Russia also argues that without Western interference the protest movement wouldn't have managed to make the president flee Kiev.

A different group of comparable size (say, people of Chinese descend) would not be allowed to "do a bunch of things that are otherwise illegal" merely because they had a minority ethnic status and wanted self-determination.

Chinese people in the US don't have a claim to land in the same way that native Americans, Basque, Scottish or the various people in Crimea have.

In Germany our native Sorbic minority gets minority rights that we don't give to Turkish immigrants. YOu can't immigrate and then claim that you then should get the land into with you immigrated.

Replies from: DanArmak, lmm
comment by DanArmak · 2014-08-31T17:11:43.001Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The will of government is the will of the group. After Egypt had their revolution the new government still had to pay the debts of the old dictator because they old dictator was recognised to be able to make contracts in the name of the nation. How a dictator comes to power isn't that important for determining whether he's accepted as representing a group.

You seem to be saying it's OK for there to be military dictators as long as sub-groups of the country can secede. But no military dictator ever lets anyone secede. I am confused by your position.

The democratically elected government of Crimea went through separating on their own.

The government of Crimea was not democratically elected; it was put in place by the occupying Russian army who didn't leave the locals much freedom to vote.

Russia claimed that it acted according to the new principle of "responsibility to protect (R2P)" which means that it's okay to use military to prevent violence against a minority. Without the Russian soliders Kiev likely would have used violence to stop the Crimean government from holding a referendum.

Preventing a referendum hardly rises to the level of violence that should justify an invasion. Is holding a referendum a legally assured right?

Kiev also didn't go through the impeachment process to remove the status of the old president so it's not clear why a dejure president shouldn't be allowed to ask an outside country for military assistance.

Russia also argues that without Western interference the protest movement wouldn't have managed to make the president flee Kiev.

That seems true.

YOu can't immigrate and then claim that you then should get the land into with you immigrated.

By that logic, nobody except Native Americans should have any land rights in the USA. In practice nobody follows that rule after a successful conquest. Making exceptions like those for Native Americans is done on a guilt / recompense basis, but it's not a general legal principle because you could never get it to apply outside a very few minor cases.

comment by lmm · 2014-08-31T11:00:27.172Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Without the Russian soliders Kiev likely would have used violence to stop the Crimean government from holding a referendum.

Did they have any right to hold such a referendum? If they do, how come the Basques don't?

Kiev also didn't go through the impeachment process to remove the status of the old president so it's not clear why a dejure president shouldn't be allowed to ask an outside country for military assistance.

Whose law? Can the government of Taiwan authorize an invasion of China? Can Franz, Duke of Bavaria authorize an invasion of the UK? If I declare that under the lmmian constitution I am and always have been ruler of the US, does that grant me the right to invade?

I don't think the concept of a de jure president is coherent - the only way a constitution got written in the first place is when the de facto rulers chose so.

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2014-08-31T12:00:13.337Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Did they have any right to hold such a referendum? If they do, how come the Basques don't?

As far as I'm concerned the Basque should have the right to hold a referendum.

I don't think the concept of a de jure president is coherent - the only way a constitution got written in the first place is when the de facto rulers chose so.

In what sense do you consider the Kiev government the de facto rulers of the whole of Ukraine including Crimea? The government got control over Kiev through the thread of using violence. It might have also got control of Crimea through the threat of violence if Russia wouldn't have protected the Crimean government from being violently coerced to follow the dictates of Kiev.

I don't see that when I president loses control over the capital because of threats of violence but that president still controls other parts of the country he automatically stops being president.

Protecting a minority in a country from being violently coerced is what responsibility to protect is about.

Whose law?

The new government in Kiev didn't change the part of the constitution that declares that you need an impeachment process to impeach a president and they didn't go through the process of impeaching the president that's outlined in the Ukrainian constitution.

Can the government of Taiwan authorize an invasion of China?

The Taiwanese government can certainly allow Chinese soldiers to do whatever they want within the borders of Taiwan.

Can Franz, Duke of Bavaria authorize an invasion of the UK?

The ruler of Bavaria had never authority over the UK and according to the German constitution he doesn't have any authority over Bavaria either. The president of the Ukraine on the other hand has authority over the territory of the Ukraine and at the time of the Crimea referendum he wasn't impeached via the the legal process of impeachment that's described in the Ukrainian constitution.

If you treating a coup on the capital on a country and the president leaves the capital I don't think that means that the president "resigned" or loses his claim on being the president.

A more fitting comparison would be if the Dalai Lama can authorize military actions of foreign troops within the territory of Tibet. But the Dalai Lama doesn't control any of the territory in Tibet while the Ukrainian president still had some backing in parts of the country, so the Dalai Lama has a weaker claim.

Let's say you would have a few US military generals who threaten a coup if Obama doesn't resign. Then Obama leaves Washington and a majority of the US congress makes a vote that John Boehner is the new president. Do you think that would mean that Obama loses his claim to being the president of the US?

Replies from: None, lmm
comment by [deleted] · 2014-09-01T13:41:53.376Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The Taiwanese government can certainly allow Chinese soldiers to do whatever they want within the borders of Taiwan.

There are no de jure borders of Taiwan. Both the PRC (which currently governs mainland China) and the RoC (which currently governs Taiwan) (officially) claim that both mainland China and Taiwan are part of one nation and each (officially) claims to be the sole legitimate government of the whole nation. Also, the RoC used to control mainland China and was expelled from it in a way (IIUC) not completely unlike the former Ukrainian government or Obama in your hypothetical.

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2014-09-01T15:21:15.332Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As far as my hypothetical goes, I think Taiwan has the right to ask the US to have US military stationed within Taiwanese borders and that the US can accept such a request from Taiwan.

I don't think that would violate Chinese self-determination in a meaningful extend.

comment by lmm · 2014-08-31T20:24:35.852Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In what sense do you consider the Kiev government the de facto rulers of the whole of Ukraine including Crimea? The government got control over Kiev through the thread of using violence. It might have also got control of Crimea through the threat of violence if Russia wouldn't have protected the Crimean government from being violently coerced to follow the dictates of Kiev.

The uprising in Kiev was of course violent, but it was a popular one; the President had lost whatever legitimacy he once had (and given the allegations of electoral fraud, I'm not sure how much that is). Government is by the consent of the governed.

If you consider it legitimate for the popular ruler of a subset of a country to invite a foreign invasion then surely that makes the notion of self-determination meaningless. Any country X wanting to invade country Y can simply find the small region of country Y that supports them and get them to ask for an invasion.

(FWIW I don't think the new government in Kiev would have had the authority to invite a foreign intervention either, unless and until said government was widely recognized across the country. I would have argued for a UN peacekeeping force or similar international coalition, and referenda when people were secure enough to make it a free vote. But I think the Russian incursion makes it reasonable for Kiev to respond in kind)

Protecting a minority in a country from being violently coerced is what responsibility to protect is about.

But R2P is a novel theory with no basis in international law, right? Again, I suspect that in any case where country X wants to invade country Y they could find some reasonable-sounding principle that supports that invasion.

The ruler of Bavaria had never authority over the UK and according to the German constitution he doesn't have any authority over Bavaria either.

My point was that the Republic of China government claims legal authority over all of China. And that, although he renounces any claim to it, Duke Franz is the rightful heir to the British throne.

Let's say you would have a few US military generals who threaten a coup if Obama doesn't resign. Then Obama leaves Washington and a majority of the US congress makes a vote that John Boehner is the new president. Do you think that would mean that Obama loses his claim to being the president of the US?

I think it means Obama isn't ruler of the US until the two sides sort this mess out. And I think it means neither side has the right to invite foreign troops into the US. Again, isn't that the whole point of self-determination?

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2014-09-01T00:02:16.982Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The uprising in Kiev was of course violent, but it was a popular one; the President had lost whatever legitimacy he once had

A lot of the parties agreed to a compromise before they pressured the president to flee. I don't think that if you don't like a compromise that was negotiated and with was accepted by most stakeholder you have legitimacy in removing the president via the thread of a coup.

They also didn't just pressured the president to flee but also destroyed infrastructure of the communist party via force. That's no good basis for peaceful democracy.

The uprising wasn't completely self-determined either. The extend isn't quite clear but over the years the US invested 5 billion into producing pro-Western thought in Ukraine. Feeding a bunch of protesters to stay at a central place is expensive.

But R2P is a novel theory with no basis in international law, right?

People came up with R2P after pure self-determination didn't work that well in Rwanda. Then the Kosovo conflict was fought on the basis of R2P. Kosovo sets a precedent.

I would have argued for a UN peacekeeping force or similar international coalition, and referenda when people were secure enough to make it a free vote.

That's not possible because the UK and the US would have certainly vetoed such an UN resolution. France probably as well. If Putin could have a UN recognised voted that gives a Crimean referendum authority he would have gone for that choice. Putin wants that when the conflict is over the world recognises Crimea as part of Russia and a UN backed referendum would have been a good way to get there.

And that, although he renounces any claim to it, Duke Franz is the rightful heir to the British throne.

Renouncing a claim means that you lose a right.

I think it means Obama isn't ruler of the US until the two sides sort this mess out.

Do you think that for similar reasons the US has no business helping the Iraqi government or the Kurdish to push back ISIS?

Not to forget that the US used military in the last decade for worse reasons.

comment by gwern · 2014-08-30T19:30:55.339Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The right to self-determination seems to me to have been "recognized" as propaganda, but practically never practiced.

If it has not been practiced, then it cannot be harmful as Ilya claims. So which is it: do international abstractions have no force and no consequences, in which case it doesn't matter at all, Kantian or otherwise, which abstractions are mouthed? Or do they matter at least a little bit? In which case you don't seem to have demonstrated any harm from the abstraction - fighting bloody civil wars is not a new phenomenon.

Replies from: DanArmak
comment by DanArmak · 2014-08-30T19:55:25.855Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It hasn't been practiced. If it starts being practiced, however, it may be as harmful as Ilya claims, so his argument deserves a response. But saying:

I'm saying we live in a world where a right to self-determination has been recognized for something like a century now, even if it does not come with an automatic invasion authorization from the UN Security Council. So far, I'm not sure if it's been all that bad

Is not evidence because it hasn't been really practiced so far.

Also:

do international abstractions have no force and no consequences

I'm not claiming anything about other abstractions, some of which definitely have force, just this one.

comment by Kawoomba · 2014-08-31T14:08:51.367Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

One also hears the claim that Ukraine has the right to determine whom it wants to ally with and the Russians have no right to prevent Kiev from joining the West. This is a dangerous way for Ukraine to think about its foreign policy choices. The sad truth is that might often makes right when great-power politics are at play. Abstract rights such as self-determination are largely meaningless when powerful states get into brawls with weaker states. Did Cuba have the right to form a military alliance with the Soviet Union during the Cold War? The United States certainly did not think so, and the Russians think the same way about Ukraine joining the West.

comment by V_V · 2014-08-30T08:20:19.678Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Unless you think it should be a new standard in international relations that 50%+1 preference for annexation is a valid casus belli. What a beautiful world that would be to live in.

We live in a world where might makes right. This said, I was mentioning the fact that the annexed populations are ethnic Russians presumibly willing to join Russia as evidence for the hypothesis that Putin is probably not going to try and reconquer former Soviet Union.

Yes, I know that Hitler also started by annexing Germanophones and then went for a full scale conquest of all Europe, but I think that Putin is unlikely to pull something like that:
Should Russia attack a NATO/EU country, it would at the very least be financially crippled by loss of trade with Western European countries, the conflict would likely excalate to a full scale conventional war with the US, which would have a very real chance of further excalating to a nuclear war. Putin may not be exactly a nice guy, but, unlike Hitler, he doesn't seem to be crazy.
Also, even if he was crazy, Russia, while not being exactly a paragon of democracy, is not a dictatorship. The people who keep him in power would depose him if they saw him as a threat to their material interests and safety.

Replies from: IlyaShpitser, DanArmak
comment by IlyaShpitser · 2014-08-30T09:27:26.454Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

> evidence for the hypothesis that Putin is probably not going to Well, that's a load off my mind! For a second there I thought he was rebuilding an empire using completely transparent Soviet-era pretexts in small enough steps that the West is unable to overcome its paralysis. Look, it's very simple. Putin is a predator, and Europe would rather have warm homes in winter than stand on principle. That is their right of course, but let us call a spade a spade. > is not a dictatorship If Putin's Russia is not a dictatorship, there are no dictatorships on Earth.

Replies from: V_V
comment by V_V · 2014-08-30T19:09:35.613Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, that's a load off my mind! For a second there I thought he was rebuilding an empire using completely transparent Soviet-era pretexts in small enough steps that the West is unable to overcome its paralysis.

Does he want to annex another Chechnya or two?

Look, it's very simple. Putin is a predator, and Europe would rather have warm homes in winter than stand on principle.

What principle? Why should Europeans give up their warm homes and cheap electricity to defend the territorial integrity of countries which aren't even part of the EU or the NATO?

Replies from: IlyaShpitser
comment by IlyaShpitser · 2014-08-30T19:31:38.664Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The principle that we should not be moral cowards, and defend shelling points even if they do not involve us directly yet, encapsulated in the famous "First they came for..." poem.

Replies from: V_V
comment by V_V · 2014-08-30T20:04:34.684Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The principle that we should not be moral cowards

I don't see this as a moral issue.

encapsulated in the famous "First they came for..." poem.

https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/slippery-slope

Replies from: IlyaShpitser
comment by IlyaShpitser · 2014-08-30T22:20:35.891Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

http://lesswrong.com/lw/ase/schelling_fences_on_slippery_slopes/ You are quite right, there is a slippery slope here! --- > I don't see this as a moral issue. Indeed, you demonstrated that quite clearly.

comment by DanArmak · 2014-08-30T09:19:42.268Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Compare with this statement made in 1938:

Hitler has started by annexing Germanophones, but I think he is unlikely to then go for a full scale conquest of all Europe.

Should Germany attack a country formally allied with the major powers of France and Britain, like Czechoslovakia, it would at the very least be financially crippled by loss of trade with Western European countries, the conflict would likely excalate to a full scale conventional war with the US. Hitler may not be exactly a nice guy, but in 1938 he certainly doesn't seem crazy.

Also, even if he was crazy, Germany, while not being exactly a paragon of democracy, is not a dictatorship. The people who keep him in power would depose him if they saw him as a threat to their material interests and safety.

Replies from: lmm, V_V
comment by lmm · 2014-08-31T10:46:24.866Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Parts of Czechoslovakia and Poland were parts of what had been Germany and populated by German-speaking people. Britain (and later the US) declared war on Germany, not the other way around; my understanding is that Germany at that time did not want war with Britain and had not expected the declaration.

Given Hitler's views on the slavic peoples, Nazi Germany was always going to go to war with the USSR and Yugoslavia sooner or later, but I don't find it implausible that Western Europe (and the US) could have stayed out of that war, had that been how we wanted to play it.

Replies from: DanArmak
comment by DanArmak · 2014-08-31T17:17:51.653Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Technically Germany declared war on the US, not the other way around.

As for war with Britain (and France), they had formally committed to it in the event that Germany invaded Poland. In retrospect it was odd that Hitler seriously thought they might not attack him; it looks more like hope than rational expectation.

Replies from: lmm
comment by lmm · 2014-08-31T20:08:43.333Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Human precommitment is pretty weak, and national precommitment more so (cf Budapest Memorandum elsewhere in the thread).

comment by V_V · 2014-08-30T19:23:24.875Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

it would at the very least be financially crippled by loss of trade with Western European countries

Maintaining trade relationships with other European countries wasn't really much beneficial for 1938-era Germany, and in fact it could be argued that it was actively harmful, given the huge foreign debt from WW1 reparations.

the conflict would likely excalate to a full scale conventional war with the US

The US wasn't that much interested in European affairs back then. Certainly there wasn't anything comparable to the NATO.
Also, nuclear weapons didn't exist in 1938.

Hitler may not be exactly a nice guy, but in 1938 he certainly doesn't seem crazy.

Except that he had written a book detailing his deranged political plan that he had then been following to the letter.

Replies from: DanArmak, IlyaShpitser
comment by DanArmak · 2014-08-30T20:18:23.088Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Maintaining trade relationships with other European countries wasn't really much beneficial for 1938-era Germany, and in fact it could be argued that it was actively harmful, given the huge foreign debt from WW1 reparations.

All remaining German WW1 reparations were cancelled in 1932, and were under moratorium since before then. They had nothing to do with the beginning of the war in 1938.

The German economy through the 1930s was suffering from a foreign trade imbalance - it relied on crucial imports while not having enough exports to earn the trade balance to pay for them. This remained true even after the annexation of Austria and parts of Czechoslovakia. If Germany had not conquered such a large territory in 1938-1940, if the war had merely become another stalemate with trenches and mostly stable fronts (as many military thinkers predicted), Germany would have run out of supplies in less than half a year and collapse. (This was why much of the German army leadership quietly opposed Hitler's plans until the Battle of France.)

Expanding trade and avoiding a French-British blockade and a US embargo seemed to be top economic priorities for Germany in 1938-1939. It turned out that making war was a bigger one.

My source: The Wages Of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy, Adam Tooze.

The US wasn't that much interested in European affairs back then. Certainly there wasn't anything comparable to the NATO.

The US withdrew from European affairs during the Great Depression. But by 1938 it was back and it was clear that in another European war, while it may not participate, it would supply Britain and France with arms, loans and everything else it could, if only to make sure they could repay their remaining loans from WW1.

I agree it was less clear that the US would enter the war. In fact Hitler declared war on the US for a reason that looks laughably trivial in retrospect. Then again, he believed war with the US was inevitable anyway; I don't remember right now what his reasons were for believing that.

Also, nuclear weapons didn't exist in 1938.

I don't think that makes such a big difference. Today several actors have nuclear weapons, which balances things out. In 1938 nobody did, but the US still had the biggest economy in the world (although it would take a few years to get up to speed for war) and could decisively tilt the balance in any war it intervened in at full capacity.

Except that he had written a book detailing his deranged political plan that he had then been following to the letter.

Could you point out what was deranged about it, exactly? (Parenthetically: It's hard to have a discussion when you use an emotionally charged term like deranged without making any actual descriptive statements.)

Replies from: V_V
comment by V_V · 2014-08-30T20:45:15.573Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

All remaining German WW1 reparations were cancelled in 1932, and were under moratorium since before then.

Didn't know that, thanks.

Could you point out what was deranged about it, exactly?

"The stronger must dominate and not mate with the weaker, which would signify the sacrifice of its own higher nature. Only the born weakling can look upon this principle as cruel, and if he does so it is merely because he is of a feebler nature and narrower mind; for if such a law did not direct the process of evolution then the higher development of organic life would not be conceivable at all."
"the personification of the devil as the symbol of all evil assumes the living shape of the Jew."
"For how shall we fill people with blind faith in the correctness of a doctrine, if we ourselves spread uncertainty and doubt by constant changes in its outward structure? ...Here, too, we can learn by the example of the Catholic Church. Though its doctrinal edifice, and in part quite superfluously, comes into collision with exact science and research, it is none the less unwilling to sacrifice so much as one little syllable of its dogmas... it is only such dogmas which lend to the whole body the character of a faith."

And so on.

Replies from: DanArmak
comment by DanArmak · 2014-08-30T22:28:28.528Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"The stronger must dominate and not mate with the weaker, which would signify the sacrifice of its own higher nature. Only the born weakling can look upon this principle as cruel, and if he does so it is merely because he is of a feebler nature and narrower mind; for if such a law did not direct the process of evolution then the higher development of organic life would not be conceivable at all."

Strip away the slightly overblown rhetoric, and you're left with Social Darwinism: the idea that desirable traits, or "fitness", is strongly heritable on the individual and therefore also the societal level. And racism: the idea that humans can be grouped into discrete categories the differences between which are much greater than the differences between individuals within each group.

Hitler and other Nazi thinkers made a lot of factual errors: mixing genetic/biological and memetic/cultural evolution together and even declaring them inseparable, greatly overstating the discreteness of races, and going against psychometric facts in declaring Jews to be vastly intellectually inferior. But scientific errors, which were not all that glaring given the 1920s state of knowledge and its popularization, and committed by a poorly educated non-scientist, do not make one "deranged" (i.e. crazy in some sense). And very many people in all nations in the 1920s, including some very smart ones, would have agreed with most of his statements, if not necessarily with the specific racial hierarchy he proposed.

The elevation of social Darwinism and racism into an ethical code was also not really unique and certainly I wouldn't call it "deranged", when contrasted with some other popular ideologies and ethical theories of the time (e.g. Communism through revolution, or Anarchism by Propaganda of the Deed, or even the divine right of kings, which only really died in Europe in WW1).

"the personification of the devil as the symbol of all evil assumes the living shape of the Jew."

I don't know whether to call it "deranged" or not. We would need to taboo the word. I do know it is far from original and was a common sentiment among many Christians.

"For how shall we fill people with blind faith in the correctness of a doctrine, if we ourselves spread uncertainty and doubt by constant changes in its outward structure? ...Here, too, we can learn by the example of the Catholic Church. Though its doctrinal edifice, and in part quite superfluously, comes into collision with exact science and research, it is none the less unwilling to sacrifice so much as one little syllable of its dogmas... it is only such dogmas which lend to the whole body the character of a faith."

I really don't see what's wrong here; it's a sound instrumental prescription. Is the entire Catholic Church "deranged" for following this rule?

Replies from: V_V, NancyLebovitz
comment by V_V · 2014-08-31T08:30:42.584Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Strip away the slightly overblown rhetoric, and you're left with Social Darwinism: the idea that desirable traits, or "fitness", is strongly heritable on the individual and therefore also the societal level. And racism: the idea that humans can be grouped into discrete categories the differences between which are much greater than the differences between individuals within each group.

The factual claims are empirically falsifiable, at least in principle. The most contentious point is deriving ought from is.

The elevation of social Darwinism and racism into an ethical code was also not really unique and certainly I wouldn't call it "deranged", when contrasted with some other popular ideologies and ethical theories of the time (e.g. Communism through revolution, or Anarchism by Propaganda of the Deed, or even the divine right of kings, which only really died in Europe in WW1).

There was also classical liberal democracy, but I concede that early 20th century Europe had lots of ideologies which we would consider weird by modern standards. In this cultural environment, Hitler may not have looked as weird as he does now, but I'm under the impression that he was a loose cannon even by the standards of his time.

I don't know whether to call it "deranged" or not. We would need to taboo the word. I do know it is far from original and was a common sentiment among many Christians.

Historically, yes. But the 20th centuries it was unusual to publicily express these opinions, especially for a politician. Jews were well integrated in Western Europe. There were Jewish academics, politicians, judges, etc., though obviously there was an antisemitic undercurrent that Hitler pandered to.

I think I should concede that the word "deranged" was not very appropriate. My point is that Hitler had an unusually aggressive ideology. One could have been tempted to write it off as rethorics, as many people of that time indeed did, but by 1938 it should have been fairly clear that he was interested in implementing it for real.

Replies from: DanArmak
comment by DanArmak · 2014-08-31T16:57:28.011Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Historically, yes. But the 20th centuries it was unusual to publicily express these opinions, especially for a politician. Jews were well integrated in Western Europe. There were Jewish academics, politicians, judges, etc., though obviously there was an antisemitic undercurrent that Hitler pandered to.

Maybe. My impression was that antisemitism was alive and well among the non-highly-educated majority of the population. But I'm not very sure about it. (In countries other than Germany, like Poland, Ukraine and Russia, antisemitism was definitely as bad as Hitler's.)

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2014-08-31T21:13:09.884Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Your observation and V_V's don't actually contradict each other: for example in parts of the present-day western world homophobia is alive and well among the non-highly-educated majority of the population but it's unusual to publicily express these opinions.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2014-08-31T16:06:04.853Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Strip away the slightly overblown rhetoric, and you're left with Social Darwinism: the idea that desirable traits, or "fitness", is strongly heritable on the individual and therefore also the societal level.

There's at least one more error-- the idea that you can tell in advance what "fitness" is going to be, so that you can select among human traits to optimize for the future.

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2014-08-30T19:36:51.897Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

> Except that he had written a book detailing his deranged political plan that he had then been > following to the letter. "Above all, we should acknowledge that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster of the century. As for the Russian nation, it became a genuine drama. Tens of millions of our co-citizens and co-patriots found themselves outside Russian territory. Moreover, the epidemic of disintegration infected Russia itself." -- the famous 2005 speech.

Replies from: V_V
comment by V_V · 2014-08-30T20:31:20.274Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Above all, we should acknowledge that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster of the century. As for the Russian nation, it became a genuine drama. Tens of millions of our co-citizens and co-patriots found themselves outside Russian territory.

Without condoning, I think I understand his point: Soviet Union was a multi-ethinic country dominated by a Russian ethnic majority (partially due to deliberate ethnic cleansing and genocide).
When Soviet Union collapsed, it was precipitously broken up along administrative or historical internal borders, without giving much thought to the ethnic compositions of the countries that were formed. Russians who found themselves cut off from Russia went overnight from being the dominant ethnicity to being an ethnical minority. I guess they didn't like it.

Putin has a platform based on Russian nationalism, hence catering to the plight of the "co-citizens and co-patriots found themselves outside Russian territory" is natural to him. It panders to his electorate and, should he indeed succeed to annex them, he could probably count them as his supporters.

All of this seems consistent with Putin wanting to annex Russophones, as I said in my comment upthread. He certainly isn't ranting about a divine mission to destroy "the Jew" and reclaim the Lebensraum for a Thousand-Year Empire.

Replies from: Azathoth123, IlyaShpitser
comment by Azathoth123 · 2014-08-31T03:13:01.483Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

When Soviet Union collapsed, it was precipitously broken up along administrative or historical internal borders, without giving much thought to the ethnic compositions of the countries that were formed. Russians who found themselves cut off from Russia went overnight from being the dominant ethnicity to being an ethnical minority. I guess they didn't like it.

Replace "Soviet Union" with "Austro-Hungarian Empire" and "Russians" with "Germans" and you have a decent description of the ethnic situation before WWII.

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2014-08-30T22:17:27.708Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ok, but his platform then logically includes taking the former Baltic republics, probably big chunks out of central asian republics, and depending on the reading parts of Brooklyn also. There are lots of Han Chinese in all sorts of places. There are lots of mexicans in California. > I guess they didn't like it. You treat the local opinion as monolithic, your analysis is superficial.

Replies from: V_V
comment by V_V · 2014-08-31T08:55:32.717Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ok, but his platform then logically includes taking the former Baltic republics, probably big chunks out of central asian republics, and depending on the reading parts of Brooklyn also.

So what? He certaily can't take parts of Brooklyn, most likely he can't take even parts of the Baltic republics, which are members of the NATO, EU, Schengen Area, Eurozone, etc. Taking them would cause much greater disruption to Western European and American interests than taking Crimea or Donetsk.

He may indeed take parts of the central asian republics, if China lets him.

There are lots of Han Chinese in all sorts of places.

Which makes this an issue between Russia and China, not Western Europe.

There are lots of mexicans in California.

I'm not exactly expecting columns of Mexican tanks rolling into California any time soon, do you?

You treat the local opinion as monolithic, your analysis is superficial.

It's a first-order approximation. Do the Scottish people want independence from the UK? Well some do and some don't, no true Scotsman in its literal form. And yet, they will soon have a referendum and if the majority votes for indepdendence, Scotland will be an independent country.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-08-31T11:34:50.810Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Currently, he only seems interested in territories inhabited by ethnic Russians

Currently that is all he is openly or semi-openly taking action on. As for what he is interested in, he is on record as calling the collapse of the Soviet Union "a major geopolitical disaster of the century". It seems clear that he wants to restore all of that territory. All else is tactics.

I doubt he is much interested in taking, say, the Baltic republics or cis-Dniestr Moldova, as he would have to rule there with an iron fist on an uncooperative population.

Ruling with an iron fist on an "uncooperative" population (if they don't actively fight, what will their "uncooperation" get them?) is what Russia does. It did that through the years of the Soviet Union, and before that under the Tsars, when it was described (by the Soviets, no less) as "the prison of nations". Plus ça change, plus c'est le même chose.

Prediction: within five years, there will be separatist unrest in all of the places you mentioned, fanned (but not openly) by Putin.

comment by Kawoomba · 2014-08-31T14:07:09.654Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I find the opposing interpretation to be more credible, good write-up of it here.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-08-29T09:57:53.377Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Putin probably knows he might have a limited time to act because the U.S. might get a hawkish President (Hillary Clinton, any Republican but Rand Paul) or Germany might re-militarize.

In this conflict Germany wants negotiate a deal that accepts a Russian Crimea in exchange for Ukrainian control of the rest of Russia and the US oppose such a deal. Germany has a stronger interest in keeping the Russian gas pipelines active than it has in whether or not Russia controls Crimea.

Defending an EU country like Finland would have a completely different priority. I doubt that Germany would have a huge problem with Russia taking over Belarus either. Minsk is anyway badly governed.

Bismark might be a better comparison then 1938-39.

I don't think the key problem is US unwillingness to fight but the unwillingness to engage in diplomacy make a deal that gives Russia officially Crimea in exchange for keeping the rest of Ukraine under the control of Kiev.

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2014-08-29T02:39:37.696Z · LW(p) · GW(p) Yup, should have erected a fence vs misbehavior early. The West did not because the West cannot coordinate. Oh and Obama is sadly an empty suit, and didn't lead at all. I don't have a particular axe to grind vs Obama, I really wish he wasn't what he turned out to be. Replies from: ChristianKl, Lumifer
comment by ChristianKl · 2014-08-29T10:08:43.578Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yup, should have erected a fence vs misbehavior early. The West did not because the West cannot coordinate.

No. Bluffing is a key part of US foreign policy. If you frequently bluff than you don't have fences.

Obama also gets something from the conflict. EU nations who are angry at the US for NSA spying don't act on that anger because the have to show strength in the conflict with Russia and an EU US conflict would produce weakness. It increases the chances of getting an EU-US free trade agreement.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-08-29T05:52:28.523Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The West did not because the West cannot coordinate.

I really don't think it's a coordination problem. I think it's a will problem.

Replies from: Viliam_Bur, cameroncowan
comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-08-29T08:48:28.670Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The Cold War ended with economical victory of the West, and memetic victory of the Soviets. The economical defeat led to collapse of the Soviet empire. The memetic defeat results in the lack of will we see today.

It was a huge strategic mistake after the fall of communism not to use the opportunity to expose the crimes of the regime, and to remove the important people from power, just like it was done with Nazis. For example in Slovakia, the communists still have the power; they have to compete for it in democratic election and sometimes they lose, but they still have the advantage of decades of unopposed brainwashing on their side, and the skills and contacts of the former secret service. These days, Slovakia is technically a member of EU, but our government is communist, the prime minister is openly pro-Russian, the majority catholic church focuses on fighting homosexuality and liberalism, and some of my "friends" on facebook still insist that Ukrainians are attacking themselves, Russians are only trying to protect the innocent victims, and the evil Americans are spreading propaganda to start the war because that's all those evil mercenaries ever do, unlike us, peaceful Slavic brothers. So... this is one EU country, which happens to share a border with Ukraine. We will not be helpful, because we are already conquered memetically.

Replies from: ChristianKl, Lumifer, cameroncowan
comment by ChristianKl · 2014-08-29T10:31:20.343Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It was a huge strategic mistake after the fall of communism not to use the opportunity to expose the crimes of the regime, and to remove the important people from power, just like it was done with Nazis.

You can't just go in an remove important people from power. That would have needed a military invasion at a time where it wasn't clear who controls which nuclear weapons.

The Cold War ended with economical victory of the West, and memetic victory of the Soviets.

I think you overstate that case. A lot of former Soviet countries like Poland aren't pro-Russian. Poland has 38 million citizens while Slovakia has 5.5.

Replies from: James_Miller, Luke_A_Somers
comment by James_Miller · 2014-08-29T14:02:58.339Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Given Russian/Polish history, if communist propaganda were strong enough to make Poland pro-Russia, the communists would have taken over the world.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2014-08-29T19:16:08.526Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Poland was Eastern-bloc, yes. It was not a part of the Soviet Union since WW2 wound down.

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2014-08-29T19:51:31.106Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The same is true of Slovakia. It was part of Czechoslovakia.

I use Soviet country to mean, a country which political structure is build on Soviets as opposed to a representative democracy.

Replies from: Luke_A_Somers
comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2014-08-30T02:16:59.932Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm aware of Slovakia's origin, having visited Czechoslovakia. I'm not sure where I implied anything different.

Sorry for being pedantic.

(why the downvote, whoever? Was it belief I was lying about visiting Czechoslovakia? Believe it or not, the country did exist under that name during my lifetime. Was it suspicion of my being sarcastic in my apology? I was not.)

comment by Lumifer · 2014-08-29T14:36:33.547Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The Cold War ended with economical victory of the West, and memetic victory of the Soviets

Which memetic victory? Marxism/communism/Soviet ideology pretty much imploded after the fall of the USSR. Look at what China did. I think it was a total memetic loss for the Soviets.

It was a huge strategic mistake after the fall of communism not to use the opportunity to expose the crimes of the regime, and to remove the important people from power

First, whose mistake and who would have been doing the removing?

Second, it depends on the country. I think that in Russia the old Soviet "important people" were effectively removed. The new political elite is not the old political elite.

Replies from: Viliam_Bur, cameroncowan, Azathoth123
comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-08-29T15:42:47.970Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

First, whose mistake and who would have been doing the removing?

In my country, our mistake, of course. People were too idealistic during the "Velvet Revolution". We thought that just publicly ending the evil regime is enough, that we can just forgive everyone and have a fresh start. And that the bad guys will be happy for being forgiven (instead of e.g. executed for their crimes) and they will live peacefully.

Yeah... they just waited for a year or two to make sure there is no will to punish them... and then they returned to the power. Since most of the judges or policemen or people in any position of influence except for parliament (because all our attention was focused there) were former communists, it wasn't even difficult. They just had to wait for hedonic adaptation, and blame all the problems on lack of socialism, and then win one election. Then they removed all their opponents from the public media and used the media for propaganda. And used the loyal secret service against political opponents.

I think that in Russia the old Soviet "important people" were effectively removed. The new political elite is not the old political elite.

I don't know about situation in Russia. Just saying that it's not enough to remove the visible people in parliament. It is also important to remove communists from the justice and secret service. Otherwise, you get new faces, connected to the old less visible people.

comment by cameroncowan · 2014-08-29T19:27:59.694Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would disagree, many of the former soviet republics are full of old communists or those who were ascending the party ranks right at the end.

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2014-08-29T20:01:28.437Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

many of the former soviet republics are full of old communists

First, I explicitly said "Russia", not USSR.

Second, of course there are a lot of old communists. In the Soviet era if you wanted to make any kind of a career you had to be one. LOTS of people were communists. What do you think happened to the rank and file of the CPSU? Answer: nothing, they're still around and still ambitious.

Replies from: Azathoth123, cameroncowan
comment by Azathoth123 · 2014-08-30T02:26:53.029Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Second, of course there are a lot of old communists. In the Soviet era if you wanted to make any kind of a career you had to be one. LOTS of people were communists. What do you think happened to the rank and file of the CPSU?

What happened to the rank and file members of the Nazi party after WWII?

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2014-08-30T03:12:17.651Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What happened to the rank and file members of the Nazi party after WWII?

Nothing much, I think. Of course, a lot were killed during the war, but those who survived went through denazificaton and remained normal members of the German society.

comment by cameroncowan · 2014-08-30T19:15:39.213Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you for proving my point.

comment by Azathoth123 · 2014-08-30T17:21:34.301Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Which memetic victory? Marxism/communism/Soviet ideology pretty much imploded after the fall of the USSR. Look at what China did. I think it was a total memetic loss for the Soviets.

And yet the current head of the EU is a not-quite-repentant former Soviet apologist.

comment by cameroncowan · 2014-08-29T19:26:09.606Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Samuel Huntington would be cheering if he were alive because he predicted that this is what would happen. We would have a multi-polar world and that a great deal of that polarity would be based on ethnicity and he used the Slavic countries as a prime example. The downside is he predicted a lot of small scale conflict under this system which we are seeing.

comment by cameroncowan · 2014-08-29T19:24:07.829Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Absolutely, not only is there a Will problem you have a classic war weariness quotient in the US and UK and the EU to be perfectly blunt as we showed in Libya no longer has the resources to meaningfully put up a fight in a large scale and meaningful way. How the EU continues to actually make its NATO commitments is interesting because all in all Europe needs to re-arm itself to a certain degree and I think that program needs to happen right away. Not only is Austerity a terrible disaster but so is the EU military situation. One might also notice the silence from Ban-Ki Moon on this.

comment by knb · 2014-08-29T07:08:50.566Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, yeah. It's always 1939, the bad guy du jour is always Hitler. Assad is Hitler, Putin is Hitler, Saddam was Hitler, Qaddafi was Hitler.

The warmongers really need to get a new routine, people aren't falling for it anymore.

Replies from: Salemicus, Viliam_Bur, James_Miller
comment by Salemicus · 2014-08-29T14:19:58.762Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

But perhaps it really is always 1939. Or, to be even more glib, what you are saying sounds to me much like:

Every time we see icebergs on the horizon, you steer around them, but the ship never actually sinks. And every time I say we should forget about icebergs, you bring up the Titanic. You paranoiacs really need to get a new routine, people aren't falling for it anymore.

OK, let's be serious. Let's say that "being Hitler" means going on an ever-increasing campaign of conquest against neighbouring countries that results in a very damaging war. We could note that this kind of behaviour was very common prior to the Napoleonic Wars (Napoleon, Frederick the Great, Charles XII, Louis XIV, Wallenstein, Philip II, Suleiman I, etc etc). Since the Napoleonic Wars, there have been a number of international frameworks more-or-less explicitly devoted to prevent "Hitlers," and which have had some success. However, IR is basically anarchy, which means that when actors fail to abide by the rules of those international framework, forcing them in line means war.

There haven't been a lot of "Hitlers" in recent years. But at least part of the reason that the people you call "warmongers" nipped the likes of Saddam, Milosevic, Galtieri, etc in the bud. For example, Saddam was definitely on the Hitler path in 1991, and what stopped him was western military intervention. And not only did this intervention stop him, but it acted as a warning to other leaders who might be considering more bellicose action, and helped reinforce the rules and norms of our peaceful international framework.

But this commitment is forever being tested, because leaders get glory through war. Consider that the fame and popularity of American Presidents has been shown to be higher the more Americans who die in military combat in their term in office (!) and then multiply that for more bellicose societies such as Russia. A peaceful world requires constant vigilance.

In the current case, it's clear that Putin is engaged in an aggressive campaign of conquest against his neighbours (not merely in Ukraine). It's not clear where this will stop. It's clear that every victory strengthens Putin's domestic position and emboldens him for the next step. This is the classic "Hitlerian" path, and everyone from Hillary Clinton to Prince Charles has noted it. That doesn't mean the West should necessarily intervene (maybe the costs are greater than the benefits) but it's pretty obvious why the comparison is so widely made. I'd say the 'routine' that no-one is falling for is the Panglossian one that Putin isn't a predator - with each new Russian outrage, it becomes harder and harder to sustain.

I haven't heard the (potential) interventions against Qaddafi and Assad justified on the same grounds. There, the justification is usually a combination of (1) humanitarian and (2) preventing failed states, which is rather different.

Replies from: Lumifer, cameroncowan
comment by Lumifer · 2014-08-29T15:53:16.999Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Let's say that "being Hitler" means going on an ever-increasing campaign of conquest against neighbouring countries that results in a very damaging war.

...AND end up on the losing side of history.

That's an important addendum because sometimes you go on an ever-increasing campaign of conquest against neighbouring countries that results in many damaging wars, establish a successful empire, impose a Pax Romana, and, basically live happily ever after. People who succeed at this aren't usually called Hitlers.

Replies from: Luke_A_Somers
comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2014-08-29T17:52:55.344Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Okay... that has also declined a lot recently. I don't see the result being any different.

comment by cameroncowan · 2014-08-29T19:13:50.345Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

But you also have to remember that there is not the history between the US and these other regimes the way it is between the US and Russia. Putin is an old communist and he remembers the old days, he remembers them very well and he wants them back. Putin and his cronies chafed in the 90's under Pax Americana and now they have their chance to shake up the international order rather than conform to the American lead way of doing things and I think he is of the opinion that if it doesn't happen now there won't be another chance for a generation.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-08-29T08:20:28.712Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

1938: "Just give him the parts of Czechoslovakia he wants. Yeah, annexing a part of other country is wrong, but a minority speaking his language lives there, so, uhm, he kinda has a good reason. More importantly, we have a good reason to believe he will stop there. Just let's not be the bad guys who fight over nothing. Everything will be fine when he gets what he wants, he is a reasonable guy."

2014: "Just give him the parts of Ukraine he wants. Yeah, annexing a part of other country is wrong, but a minority speaking his language lives there, so, uhm, he kinda has a good reason. More importantly, we have a good reason to believe he will stop there. Just let's not be the bad guys who fight over nothing. Everything will be fine when he gets what he wants, he is a reasonable guy."

The analogies are much deeper here than merely "he is a guy we don't like, therefore Hitler". Things that happen inside Russia are also very disturbing -- I am trying to ignore politics, and I usually don't care about what happens in Russia, but some news still get to me -- Putin's supporters are openly nationalist, racist, homophobic, pretty much everything you associate with fascism, he has a strong support of the Orthodox Church, journalists who criticize him are assassinated. (Someone living in Russia would be more qualified to write about this.) The only way he could lose an election would be against someone who is even more like this. Winning a symbolic war against the West will only make him more popular.

To test how strong is this analogy, we should make bets like: Conditional on Putin successfully annexing a part of territory of Ukraine, what is the probability of Russia attacking another country within 1, 3, 5, 10 years? Which country will it be?

Replies from: knb, LizzardWizzard, Azathoth123
comment by knb · 2014-08-29T10:06:46.972Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The analogies are much deeper here than merely "he is a guy we don't like, therefore Hitler". Things that happen inside Russia are also very disturbing -- I am trying to ignore politics, and I usually don't care about what happens in Russia, but some news still get to me -- Putin's supporters are openly nationalist, racist, homophobic, pretty much everything you associate with fascism, he has a strong support of the Orthodox Church, journalists who criticize him are assassinated.

All of these things also apply to the other examples I mentioned, and many other countries besides. People said the same things about Saddam, Qaddafi, Assad, etc. Putin is of course saying similar things about his Ukrainian enemies to what you are saying about him. (Admittedly, they make it easy for him.)

There is no shortage of historical examples of historical revanchism, yet the "Hitler in 1939" analogy utterly dominates. So why rely 100% on one analogy. Why insist on using the example that is the closest stand-in for "evil psychopath who cannot be reasoned with, but must be destroyed utterly?"

Probably because you're in the midst of a media driven two-minutes hate. History begins and ends with Hitler, 1939!

(Seriously, your standard for being Hitleresque is being racist, homophobic, and nationalistic? It might be a fun exercise for you to write down a list of 100 historical leaders, determine how many were/were not racist, homophobic, or nationalistic. This will give you your Hitler/non-Hitler ratio. Do you think the ratios of Hitlers : non-Hitlers is greater or less than 1?)

Replies from: Viliam_Bur, NancyLebovitz
comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-08-29T12:48:15.173Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Probably because you're in the midst of a media driven two-minutes hate.

This situation is optimized for media, but exactly in the opposite way. The whole attack is divided into many incremental steps. Each small step is not enough to evoke a military response from the West. Then there is a pause, until media stop paying attention and find something else to care about. Then another small step.

(Remember the first step? Russian soldiers without uniforms in Ukraine territory, not yet openly fighting anyone, just carrying weapons and looking intimidating. So, what are you going to do about it? First, there is no war yet, and second, they even deny being Russian. Calm down, everyone, calm down, nothing to see here. -- A few steps later it's obvious there are Russian troops there, but we already kinda knew it for months, so why the sudden overreaction today? Calm down, everyone, calm down, nothing new is happening here.)

This is how you overcome the Schelling point -- by doing a calculated very small step, and then calling your opponent irrational if he wants to react.

Replies from: ChristianKl, James_Miller
comment by ChristianKl · 2014-08-29T18:01:16.841Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This situation is optimized for media, but exactly in the opposite way. The whole attack is divided into many incremental steps.

Dividing something in many incremental steps that each are newsworthy generally means that the whole things gets more media attention than if you do everything at once.

Wikileaks for example didn't release all the cables at once but purposefully spread them out over a time to give them more media attention.

comment by James_Miller · 2014-08-29T13:46:05.303Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is how you overcome the Schelling point -- by doing a calculated very small step, and then calling your opponent irrational if he wants to react.

This Yes, Prime Minster video is relevant: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IX_d_vMKswE

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2014-08-29T15:29:50.105Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Seriously, your standard for being Hitleresque is being racist, homophobic, and nationalistic?

Not just being nationalistic, not just being expansionist, but actually taking territory.

Replies from: DanArmak
comment by DanArmak · 2014-08-29T17:04:39.812Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would guess that more than half of all rulers in history took others' territory, or tried to and failed. And being nationalistic goes without saying ever since the invention of nationalism.

The specific tactic of nibbling on your neighbors one bit at a time, varying your speed depending on international reactions, was used by Hitler but also by many others. Calling a common behavior Hitleresque isn't useful.

There are good reasons for comparing Germany in 1938 with Russia in 2014, but I don't think these are among them.

Replies from: Luke_A_Somers
comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2014-08-29T19:14:09.235Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would guess that more than half of all rulers in history took others' territory, or tried to and failed. And being nationalistic goes without saying ever since the invention of nationalism.

And more than half of all the rulers in history would find themselves really really out of place in the modern world if they tried to do the same things they did in their historical contexts, and we would rather not have to deal with them.

A rather low bar to get over, there.

Replies from: DanArmak
comment by DanArmak · 2014-08-29T22:47:36.993Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think Hitler was very unusual among rulers of, say, the post-Napoleonic epoch of 1814-1945. He was just first unusually successful (making many enemies) and then unusually thoroughly defeated and occupied (allowing those enemies to make his name particularly infamous).

comment by LizzardWizzard · 2014-08-29T09:19:41.315Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

But Russia still has a "democratic" political structure, everyone off course knows that it's not like this in reality and only one party exists. But soon in 2018 there'll be new president elections and that's last term for Putin. Uncertainty that's what we will get for sure

I'm living in Russia however I don't watch TV and read newspapers, but I can say for sure, that Russian Invaders are proclaimed heroes, and NATO guys as Evil. And It's not a surprise for me that on the other side of the Globe opinion is exactly the contrary. My personal view of the problem is that Putin and Obama are both worth each other, they are strong leaders and will they never stop if there is a chance to gain more power. Situation in Ukraine is imho this - Ukranian side completely entangled in their own problems, and they thought that it was Russia who they must blame and gone comletely nuts, then West gave them weapons and so on

To test how strong is this analogy, we should make bets like: Conditional on Putin successfully annexing a part of territory of Ukraine, what is the probability of Russia attacking another country within 1, 3, 5, 10 years? Which country will it be?

Too much globalization (russialization in this case) is hard to contol, Russia has enormous territory, we already got Crimea which is a port, and got unfriendly response from the world. I expect things to calm down for next 4 years I assume probability of 5% of the invasion to any other country

Replies from: Azathoth123
comment by Azathoth123 · 2014-08-30T05:51:44.302Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My personal view of the problem is that Putin and Obama are both worth each other, they are strong leaders and will they never stop if there is a chance to gain more power.

As someone in America, I can tell you the idea of calling Obama a "strong leader" sounds hilarious.

comment by Azathoth123 · 2014-08-30T03:05:15.080Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Putin's supporters are openly nationalist, racist, homophobic,

Would you mind tabooing what you mean by "racist" (and possibly also "nationalist" and "homophobic") and why your definition is bad, there is currently a long debate in another thread on this very subject.

Replies from: Viliam_Bur
comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-08-30T12:02:07.156Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Things like the Nashi movement, and laws against LGBT people.

Yes, there is the irony that Nashi is officially an "anti-fascist" movement. To understand this, it is necessary to know the connotations these words have in the former communist countries, as propaganda shaped them for decades. Shortly: anything associated with former Soviet Union and her satellites is "socialist", and anything associated with West is "fascist". It's like yin and yang for everything; e.g. collectivism is "socialist" and entrepreneurship is "fascist", but also being ethinically Russian or at least Slavic is more central to the concept of "socialist", and the idea of human rights (other than the right to live happily and obediently under a socialist government) is kinda "fascist", because it goes against the power of the collective.

So a person who doesn't think about this too deeply (you know, most of the population) can identify themselves as "anti-fascist" and mean: "I hate entrepreneurs, homosexuals; and everyone who is not ethnically Russian/Slav should go away from this country". Having read a few articles about the Nashi, this is more or less the meaning they use.

(This is a point I would like to emphasise as often as possible -- though usually I don't, respecting the LW's attitude to politics -- that the ideas of "left" or "socialism" in former Soviet countries are so completely unlike their versions in the West. It is just a result of successful propaganda and suppressing the flow of information that makes most leftists in the West believe otherwise. If you take a typical Nazi, reduce his hate of Jews by 80%, and convert him using the chronophone to a post-Soviet culture, this is what passes as "left" here.)

Replies from: Azathoth123
comment by Azathoth123 · 2014-08-30T17:06:52.856Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Things like the Nashi movement,

Looking at the article, I don't see what specifically you're considering "racist". It would help if you stated your definition. Ok, it would help even more if you didn't through around words commonly used by SJW's to mean "anyone I disagree with".

and laws against LGBT people.

You mean like the laws every country had until maybe a couple decades ago?

If you take a typical Nazi, reduce his hate of Jews by 80%, and convert him using the chronophone to a post-Soviet culture, this is what passes as "left" here.

So are the Russian creating an overarching recreational organization and bringing all private clubs under its control?

Replies from: Viliam_Bur
comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-08-30T20:33:34.758Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

To taboo the SJW-like words, here is what I mean: worship of physical power, enthusiasm about war, emphasis on reproduction of purebloods, agression against people different from the norm.

Replies from: IlyaShpitser, Azathoth123
comment by IlyaShpitser · 2014-08-31T03:47:05.877Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, Nashi is impressively scary. Kudos for reading up on them.

comment by Azathoth123 · 2014-08-31T21:14:29.216Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Britain tried embracing foreigners even ones who had no interest in assimilating. This was the result.

Replies from: Viliam_Bur
comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-09-06T13:12:58.111Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Those are just two different ways of judging people by their ethnicity instead of by their individual actions.

My idea would be something like: Do whatever you want as long as you follow the law. When you break the law, go to jail.

Replies from: Azathoth123
comment by Azathoth123 · 2014-09-06T17:32:08.439Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Except that in this case the police and social workers weren't willing to enforce the law for fear of being called "racist". More generally, the law is only as strong as the will and ability of people to enforce it.

comment by James_Miller · 2014-08-29T13:41:16.714Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Genghis Khan was Hitler, Julius Caesar was Hitler, Hernán Cortés was Hitler. Adverse selection in the political process often favors leaders who really enjoy taking other peoples' stuff. Also, comparing some aspects of Putin to Hitler (as Kasparov did) doesn't mean you think Putin=Hitler. Putin, thankfully, doesn't seem to enjoy killing for its own sake.

Replies from: DanArmak
comment by DanArmak · 2014-08-29T14:35:55.920Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Putin, thankfully, doesn't seem to enjoy killing for its own sake.

Neither did Hitler. He always had extrinsic goals to be achieved by killing. Often those were quite admirable goals if you accepted extreme partisanship for the German people at the expense of everyone else. (Not always; he suppressed domestic opposition ruthlessly, but it was nothing in comparison to his treatment of non-Germans and no different from most other states at the time.)

comment by cameroncowan · 2014-08-29T19:07:54.077Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I hesitate to make 1938-1939 comparisons because the world situation is far different now than then especially because of globalization. I do however agree with Kasparov the longer Putin gets away with this the more emboldened both the Kremlin and his troops will be. The problem here is two fold: The US is war weary after 10 years of doing Iraq and Afghanistan and Obama going to the country to put boots on the ground is a dicey decision and economically now isn't a great time to do that.

However, I think there are some deterrents you could do:

If I were President Cowan I would have already moved 30K troops into German for a little german vacation. I would also move some assets into place in the Gulf of Alaska. You know just routine troop movements and it would look very threatening and it might make Putin start thinking twice. The best way to get an enemy to stop doing something is to get them worried because then their own fear will either make them do something stupid that you can exploit or they will cease and desist. I might also start an economic war by asking the FED to dump a few billion Rubles into the world economy just to see what happens. Frankly, its time to get Machiavellian.

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2014-08-29T19:58:17.600Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The problem here is two fold

Do you really think that if your two problems were absent -- if the US were not war-weary and if the economy were doing great -- then the US would be ready to put boots on the ground in Russia?

To quote a fellow named Vizzini, You fell victim to one of the classic blunders - The most famous of which is "never get involved in a land war in Asia" X-D

and it would look very threatening

I think it would look pretty silly and would give Putin a mighty political gift. He'd point a finger at your troops and yell that the American warmongers are preparing to invade Mother Russia -- and that's all he would need to really unite all the population behind him.

by asking the FED to dump a few billion Rubles into the world economy just to see what happens

I don't think the Fed has a few billion Rubles. And my guess as to what would happen is that Putin will close the taps on the oil and gas flowing into Europe, Germany in particular. Frau Merkel would be most displeased, I would think.

Replies from: cameroncowan
comment by cameroncowan · 2014-08-30T19:20:01.980Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes I think in a different scenario the US would be more hawkish on Russia without War weariness and better economic conditions. This is basic war theory.

You are right, Putin could certain point at increased troops in Germany as the West getting ready for war and it might lead to mobilization, however, as Putin is in no mood and Russia is in no economic condition for a protracted war with the West I think it would have the correct provocative effect. I don't think Putin would slow down but it would make everyone at the Kremlin think twice. I would keep them there for about 3 months and then send them home.

The Fed has a few billion rubles because all global trade accounts must balance and the Federal Reserves keeps vast quantities of every trading partners currency so that trade accounts will balance, they can re-buy American debt in local currency, and for stability of global markets. So yes, you could dump a few billion rubles by re-buying certain amounts of American debt from China and paying for it in Rubles.

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2014-08-31T05:32:08.124Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The Fed has a few billion rubles because all global trade accounts must balance and the Federal Reserves keeps vast quantities of every trading partners currency so that trade accounts will balance, they can re-buy American debt in local currency, and for stability of global markets.

What is this I don't even

Replies from: cameroncowan
comment by cameroncowan · 2014-09-01T06:35:30.533Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Basically, the Fed as apart of the global central banking system keeps various currencies on hand for global trade purposes. Ergo you could dump those back in the market.

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2014-09-02T18:41:47.747Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Basically, the Fed as apart of the global central banking system keeps various currencies on hand for global trade purposes.

Does it, now? Actually keeps "currencies on hand"? Or maybe we're talking about FX swap lines?

Can you provide a like to e.g. a Fed balance sheet that shows "a few billion rubles"?

Replies from: cameroncowan
comment by cameroncowan · 2014-09-02T20:53:54.988Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I cannot say/find information on what exactly they keep on hand these days. However, the currency swap lines can be created literally at will which they did during the 2008 crisis. Also, if you look at the case of Leo Wanta, who armed with 2.7 Trillion dollars destabilized the Soviet economy with FX swaps in Brussels between 1989 and 1991.

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2014-09-02T21:28:30.522Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

the currency swap lines can be created literally at will

Yes, but when you have an FX swap line, you don't own the foreign currency, you only have a facility to get some in exchange for yours. In your example, for the Fed to attempt to devalue the ruble it would have to get it first from someone (likely, the Central Bank of Russia), effectively buying it for dollars -- thus defeating the entire point of the exercise.

if you look at the case of Leo Wanta

The case of Leo Wanta doesn't seem to support your claims.

Replies from: cameroncowan
comment by cameroncowan · 2014-09-03T12:38:12.895Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You can trade American debt for Rubles from a Russian trading partner like the EU. Also, I would google more general information about Leo Wanta. Your reference doesn't actually talk about what he did.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-08-29T04:02:51.793Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

How certain were you that you had sufficient information to make a meaningful prediction?

Replies from: shminux
comment by shminux · 2014-08-29T06:02:27.781Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I clearly don't. The calibration is about accurately estimating the lack of information and translating it into probabilities.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2014-08-29T16:52:59.563Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think that's not getting the point. You thought the odds of a Russian intervention were less than 5%. Even at the time and with the information available that was probably too low. At the same time I would have rated James' predicitons as too high.

However how certain should you have been of your prediction? No the answer here is not likely to be 5%. It's at a meta level: your estimate was 5%, but with what error bars? How certain were you that you had processed and updated on all the information necessary to make such a call?

If the error bars were too big, you shouldn't have been making bets.

Replies from: shminux, Luke_A_Somers
comment by shminux · 2014-08-29T17:02:19.373Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That was indeed my reasoning, but apparently it's not properly Bayesian :) Real Bayesians don't use error bars! (They use credible intervals.)

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2014-08-29T17:52:40.653Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Different word for the same thing.

Replies from: IlyaShpitser
comment by IlyaShpitser · 2014-08-29T18:40:20.896Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sigh.

Replies from: None, shminux
comment by [deleted] · 2014-08-29T20:19:28.373Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

An interval defines a range, with the endpoints of that range being represented often as error bars when presented graphically. When I said "error bars" I was informally referring shminux's measurement of his uncertainty in his prediction, regardless of whether he is using credible intervals, confidence intervals, or some other framework.

comment by shminux · 2014-08-29T19:01:25.741Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Actually, I tried a few times to make sense out of it and failed. Feel free to ELI5.

Replies from: pragmatist
comment by pragmatist · 2014-08-29T23:49:52.367Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Maybe a simple example will help. Suppose I have an urn with 100 balls in it. Each ball is either red, yellow or blue. There are, let's say, five different hypotheses about the distribution of colors in the urn - H1, H2, H3, H4 and H5 -- and we're interested in figuring out which hypothesis is correct. The experiment we're conducting is drawing a single ball from the urn and noting its color. I get a new urn after each individual experiment.

There are obviously three possible outcomes for this experiment, and the frequentist will associate a confidence interval with each outcome. The confidence interval for each outcome will be some set of hypotheses (so, for instance, the confidence interval for "yellow" might be {H2, H4}). These intervals are constructed so that, as the experiment is repeated, in the long run the obtained confidence interval will contain the correct hypothesis at least X% of the time (where X is decided by the experimenter). So, for instance, if I use 95% confidence intervals, then in 95% of the experiments I conduct the correct hypothesis will be included in the confidence interval associated with the outcome I obtain.

In other words, if I say, after each experiment, "The correct hypothesis is one of these", and point at the confidence interval I obtained in that experiment, then I will be right 95% of the time. The other 5% of the time I may be wrong, perhaps even obviously wrong.

As a contrived example, suppose each urn I am given contains only 5 red balls. Also suppose the confidence interval I associate with "red" is the empty set, and the confidence interval I associate with both "yellow" and "blue" is the set containing all five hypotheses (H1 through H5). Now as I repeat the experiment over and over again, 95% of the time I will get either yellow or blue balls, and I will point at the set containing all hypotheses and say "The correct hypothesis is one of these", and I will be trivially, obviously right. On the other hand, 5% of the time I will get a red ball, and I will point at the empty set and say "The correct hypothesis is one of these", and I will be trivially, obviously wrong. But since the red ball only shows up 5% of the time, I will still end up being right 95% of the time. This means that the empty set is actually a kosher 95% confidence interval for the outcome "red", even though I know the empty set cannot possibly include the correct hypothesis.

The Bayesian doesn't like this. She wants intervals that make sense in every particular case. She wants to be able to look at the list of hypotheses in a 95% interval and say "There's a 95% chance that the correct hypothesis is one of these". Confidence intervals cannot guarantee this. As we have seen, the empty set can be a legitimate 95% confidence interval, and it's obvious that the chance of the correct hypothesis being part of the empty set is not 95%. This is why the Bayesian uses credible intervals.

Unlike confidence intervals, with a 95% credible interval you get a list at which you can point and say "There's a 95% chance that one of these is the correct hypothesis". And this claim will make sense in every particular instance. Moreover, if your priors are correct (whatever that means), then it is guaranteed that there is a 95% chance that the correct hypothesis is in your 95% credible interval.

Replies from: IlyaShpitser
comment by IlyaShpitser · 2014-09-04T21:20:17.664Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Upvoted -- thanks for a long, even if not fully even handed, reply (also it is perhaps not most transparent to explain CIs using a discrete set of hypotheses). I will try to give an example with a continuous valued parameter.

Say we want to estimate the mean height of LW posters. Ignoring the issue of sock puppets for the moment, we could pick LW usernames out of a hat, show up at the person with that username's house, and measure their height. Say we do that for 100 LW users we picked randomly, and take an average, call it X1. The 100 users are a "sample" and X1 is a "sample mean." If we randomly picked a different set of 100, we would get a different average, call it X2. If again a different set of 100, we would get yet a different average, call it X3, etc.

These X1, X2, X3 are realizations of something called the "sampling distribution," call it Ps. This distribution is a different thing than the distribution that governs height among all LW users, call it Ph. Ph could be anything in general, maybe Gaussian, maybe bimodal, maybe something weird. But if we can figure out what the distribution Ps is, we could make statements of the form

"most of the times where I pick a sample Xi from Ps, e.g. most of the time I pick 100 LW users at random and get their average heights, this average will be pretty close to the real average height of all LW users, under a very small set of assumptions on Ph."

This is what confidence intervals are about. In fact, if the number of LW users we pick for our sample is large enough, we can well-approximate Ps by a Gaussian distribution because of a neat result called the Central Limit Theorem, (again regardless of what Ph is, or more precisely under very mild assumptions on Ph).

What makes these kinds of statements powerful is that we can sometimes make them without needing to know much at all about Ph. Sometimes it is useful to be able to say something like that -- maybe we are very uncertain about Ph, or we suspect shenanigans with how Ph is defined.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2014-08-29T17:10:07.295Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You thought the odds of a Russian intervention were less than 5%

No, he didn't. He thought the odds of Russia invading Ukraine in the same fashion as the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan were 5%. This is a rather different thing.

Replies from: shminux
comment by shminux · 2014-08-29T17:37:38.275Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Something like that, yes. I was talking about Russian tanks openly rolling across the border. But Putin found a way to do effectively the same without being so brazen. Which was one of the factors I missed.

Replies from: NancyLebovitz
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2014-08-31T16:11:33.777Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'll going to look at the rationality skill of being able to tell whether you've anchored on a prototype. Has this already been explored?

Replies from: shminux
comment by shminux · 2014-08-31T18:04:39.682Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am not sure what you mean, maybe worth asking in the open thread.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-09-01T06:01:35.565Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I feel like there is a lot of noise in this thread. We'd do well to avoid any further mention of Hitler. But the first exchange with Lumifer was good.

What is Good Judgment Project saying? Maybe I should get around to actually participating...

One place to start might be looking at freedom indices and yes, you can see that Russia is basically a dictatorship now.

An analogy that comes into my head is Brezhnev and the Czechoslovakia invasion.

Replies from: shminux
comment by shminux · 2014-09-01T07:15:26.333Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I feel like there is a lot of noise in this thread.

Indeed. But it is still way better than what a similar topic would have generated on reddit or elsewhere.

An analogy that comes into my head is Brezhnev and the Czechoslovakia invasion.

Right, it used to happen every 12 years like a clockwork after the Soviets "liberated" Eastern Europe in 1944: 1956 Hungary, 1968 Czechoslovakia, 1980 Poland and Afghanistan. And by 1992 there was no more Soviet Union. In retrospect, I should have expected that another invasion is not out of the question.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2014-09-02T00:32:26.355Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

After posting a comment at Marginal Revolution I admit this thread is great by comparison...

comment by solipsist · 2014-08-29T13:28:53.974Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And if I had any skin in the game, I would probably be even more cautious.

I endorse putting skin in the game. I was surprised by how much more educational a skin-in-the-game prediction feels than a passive one.

comment by CellBioGuy · 2014-08-29T14:19:17.032Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You really shouldn't believe anything coming out of Kiev, especially about purported Russian invasions. Not that you should believe anything coming out of Moscow either, but the former's wild-fantasy to measured-propaganda ratio has been far far higher. They've cried wolf so many times and it is distinctly in their interest to try to provoke NATO.

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2014-08-29T14:48:27.911Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

They've cried wolf so many times

Correctly, too. The pro-Russian rebels are supplied with arms and fighters by the Russians. The Russians troops were killed and captured on Ukrainian territory. There are NATO satellite images (as in, not coming out of Kiev) of Russian columns around Novoazovsk...