Saturday, November 8, 2014

Irredentism is Costly

In For Kin or Country, the basic idea is to explain a set of policies that is always expensive.  When one tries to take the territory of another country, there tends to be a response.  While folks dismissed Obama's line about Putin's moves having a cost, it turns out that he was right.

These costs come, as always, in two forms: political and economic.  Thanks to both our friend the security dilemma and due to the domestic dynamics of the target, there are reactions.  If Russia thought it was being encircled before, it will certainly feel so now.  Some are calling for containment part two (or three or four, I lost count).  Sweden and Finland are far closer to NATO membership now than a year ago.  China may like getting cheaper gas since Russia has to go elsewhere for markets, but I doubt that China is going to invest more in BRIC club.  Europe may be squeamish about embracing containment.  Ok, some parts of Europe may be squeamish, but Russia is living in a different world, where everything is going to be harder.

Economically, the costs are also mounting as this piece suggests.  Inflation, collapse of the currency, recession... these are things that do not make for a happy public.  Or even happy billionaires.
Up is bad, as it reflects the collapse of the ruble.

Of course, as we suggest in the book's title, this is a choice, one that some politicians make when their constituents are not the electorate but key individuals or groups that do not pay the price for the aggression and/or benefit from international isolation.  The problem and the opportunity for Putin is that the beneficiaries are small and those paying the costs are large.  It is harder to get large groups to act, so the small can have more influence... for now.

How sustainable is this?  I don't know.  The initial acts have boosted Putin's popularity, as does any rally around the flag event.  But the costs will erode Putin's standing in the polls.  The big question is when do these costs really hurt those who have some leverage--those in his inner circle or those who have leverage of their own (the military, other plutocrats left out of the inner circle).  I have no idea, but the people who say Putin has been very clever in playing the West need to pay attention to these mounting costs.

Putin has chosen "kin", sacrificing the best interests of his country.  What happens next?  Damned if I know.

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