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Taking the Strategic Intelligence Model to Moscow
Taking the Strategic Intelligence Model to Moscow
I am going to visit Moscow next week. I was invited by the Moscow State Institute of International Relations to speak on strategic analysis, their term for what Stratfor calls strategic forecasting. Going to Moscow would give me pause under any circumstances. I am a product of the Cold War, and for me, at some level, Moscow is the city of the enemy. For my father, that city was Berlin. For my daughter, it was Fallujah. In every war there is an enemy and a city that embodies that enemy. I have spent too much of my life fixated on Moscow to lose the ingrained sense that it is a city of darkness and conspiracy.
My children don’t have that sense of Moscow, and it is fading in me as well, like memories of old loves. It’s there, but it’s not there. Certainly, we are not on the verge of nuclear war, nor are we expecting Soviet divisions to pour into West Germany. But it is interesting to me that those I mentioned this trip to — people who are aware that I am constantly traveling and discussing such matters — have expressed concern for my safety. Some have asked whether I was afraid of being arrested or afraid for my life. Stratfor’s security director even took a half hour of my time to remind me of the potential dangers. We both are of an age to have enjoyed the conversation mightily.
The events in Ukraine are not a surprise to us, and our readers know that we have covered them carefully. But the distance between then and now is as important as the conflict itself. There must be a sense of proportion. If I were to identify the major difference, it would be this: In the Soviet Union prior to 1980, there was an overarching ideology. Over time, people became cynical about it, but for a long time, it was either believed or feared. Today’s Russia is many things, but it is not ideological. It is nationalist (what we call patriotic in other countries), it is an oligarchy, it is corrupt, it is authoritarian — but it is not a place of deeply held beliefs, or at least not a place of a single belief. The Soviet Union once thought of itself as the vanguard of humanity, giving it a strength and will that was daunting. Russia no longer has any such pretensions. It is simply another country. It makes no claims for more.
There are causes for conflict other than ideology. The United States has an interest in preventing the emergence of a new European hegemon. The Russians must maintain the buffers that sapped the strength of Napoleon and Hitler. Neither interest is frivolous, and it is difficult to imagine how both can be satisfied. Therefore, there is a divergence of interests between the United States and Russia, complicated by the European Peninsula’s myriad nations. That this had to play out was inevitable. As the Europeans weakened, Russia strengthened relative to them. When Ukraine reversed its orientation from Russia to the West, Russia had to react. As Russia reacted, the United States had to react. Each side can portray the other as a monster, but neither is monstrous. Each simply behaves as it is forced to under circumstances.
That is the entire point of strategic forecasting and analysis.
It does not depend on hidden secrets but on impersonal forces.
It depends on things hidden in clear sight. The current dispute
over Ukraine is an example. The Russians have an interest
in Ukraine’s fate, fair or unfair to Ukraine.
So do the Americans. Several years ago I wrote about this crisis
because it did not depend on policies but instead on the
impersonal forces that shape national interest. Robert D. Kaplan has written
on the realist view of foreign policy. I disagree in this
sense: For me, realism is not a policy.
It is a standpoint from which to observe the unfolding
of reality. The subjective views of policymakers matter little. They
are trapped in events. Regardless of what
This is why I am going to Moscow. I want to talk to Russians who are looking at the world through a prism similar to my own and compare notes on how we see the world. We will be looking at the same realities using what I suspect are similar methods and will see how our visions differ. This is not a game of secrets. At this level, it matters little what Obama wants or what Russian President Vladimir Putin thinks. It is about forces far larger than individuals. I will tell them the following. I wonder what they will tell me.
The Nature of Strategic Forecasting
Strategic forecasting is that class of intelligence that
is most alien to intelligence services: events that cannot
be understood through sources and whose outcome was unintended and
unanticipated by the actors involved. In addition, it does not
Strategic intelligence is not
We have a saying at Stratfor: Be stupid. By this we mean do not be so sophisticated that you do not see what is before your eyes, and do not value the secret that is obtained at great expense over facts that everyone knows but fails to understand. Excessive sophistication and excessive love of the secret will hide the strategic processes underway. Thus, for example, the fragmentation of the European Union, which is of great importance today, is based on the fact that the value of Germany’s exports is equivalent to 50 percent of its gross domestic product. This is a fact that everyone knows, but few understand the implications, which are enormous. The sophisticated deal with levels of abstraction far beyond this simple fact. The truth lies in the open.
There are two foundations to the model. The first is that there
is no distinction between economic, political, military and
technological affairs. They are convenient ways to organize departments,
but in reality, they are simply a different and linked dimension
Necessity is predictable, particularly if you are dealing with rational actors, and successful politicians are extremely rational within the space they occupy. The actions required to rise and lead a million people, let alone hundreds of millions, necessitate extraordinary discipline and instinct. Few humans can even begin the climb, and only the most disciplined achieve the heights. It is fashionable among journalists and academics to hold politicians in contempt. They lack the politicians' learning and cleverness. Thus, journalists mistake a radically different mindset and soul for inferiority. This satisfies their need to not feel inferior, but it does little to guide us. Obama and Putin have far more in common with each other than either has with their general publics. Each rose to power in his milieu, where almost no one else did.
If you watch a chess grandmaster play another, you will note that the game is rather predictable. Each understands fully the circumstance and knows that the apparent options are illusory. Each move is met with an expected countermove. On rare occasions, a brilliant player finds a variation. Most games end in predictable draws. A grandmaster is predictable in his game precisely because his understanding is so acute. An amateur is liable to do anything, but of course, the amateur never gets the opportunity to play at the grandmaster’s board. The same is true of politicians. The careless and random can’t be predicted, but neither do they survive. It is the gifted and disciplined who survive and who can therefore be predicted.
The Strategic Intelligence Model
The task of strategic intelligence is to build a model that takes into account the wide range of constraints that limit the choices of a leader, identifying the imperatives that he must pursue if he is to survive as a leader and if his country is to be safe. The obvious constraint and imperative is geography. Germany’s location on the Northern European Plain and its ability to produce efficiently and dominate markets to the east and southeast create an imperative to export and to maintain political domination in its markets. This has been true since the unification of Germany in 1871. At the same time, given its location and lack of natural barriers, it is an inherently insecure country. It must maintain its export markets while politically or militarily securing its physical safety. This simplistic model allows us to predict a number of things regardless of who is chancellor. First, to avoid domestic disruption, Germany will export regardless of circumstances. Second, Berlin will shape the political environment to facilitate this. Third, it will try to avoid military confrontation. Fourth, in extreme circumstances, it must initiate conflict rather than wait for its enemies to do so.
This model, which I provide only for the sake of understanding the concepts I’ve laid out, begins with the internal political constraints on a German leader. It follows to the only effective solution: exports. It then shifts to other concerns triggered intermittently by German success. Chancellor Angela Merkel must maintain exports or face unemployment and political opposition. Germany must export in part to the European Union, so it has shaped the European Union to facilitate this trade. Simultaneously, it must protect its national security by posing no strategic threat to anyone. Other options, such as cutting exports, allowing the European Union to function under other rules or moving Germany from the North European Plain are not available to her. Therefore, certain policies are imposed upon her.
The model involves imperatives that must be fulfilled, constraints that
shape the solutions and
My hosts should be comfortable with this theme, for it has elements of Marxism in it. The two differences are my focus on the state instead of the class and the fact that I regard this as the human condition, permanent and not evolving toward any «new humanity." Ultimately I owe more to Adam Smith’s invisible hand and to Machiavelli’s description of the dilemma of the prince, who is powerful only so long as he exercises his power as necessity dictates. His power has little choice.
I will be looking forward to seeing how the Russians do strategic intelligence and how they see Ukraine. The board and the pieces are for anyone to see. Espionage undoubtedly has its uses, but not at this level and not in this game. I will report on what I find in Moscow.
«Говорят эксперты МГИМО», может не совпадать с мнением редакции портала.