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Book Review: “Deception: Spies, Lies and How Russia Dupes the West.” By Edward Lucas

Posted by democratist on March 8, 2012

8th March 2012,

It has been four years since Edward Lucas’ The New Cold War excoriated the Putin regime for its increased repression at home and aggression abroad. That book proved a success precisely because it crystalized a trend in Russian politics which had been becoming evident internationally since about 2003, but which no one had previously managed (or dared) synthesize and analyze in such damning detail in a single tome. The central message of the The New Cold War was a warning about western complacency in the face of a determined foe that was recovering its confidence and capabilities.  In Deception: Spies, Lies and How Russia Dupes the West, Lucas seeks to update and deepen his original thesis with both historical and contemporary evidence.

Lucas’ main point is that while the end of the Cold War and the 2010 unmasking of the Russian “illegal” network in the US have been seen as great victories for western spy-catchers, historically it has often been the case that it was the Russians who had the upper hand. In this regard much of the book focuses on the very mixed western record of espionage and counter-intelligence targeted towards the Soviet Union, but launched from the Baltic States in the inter-war period (and again since 1991), as well as often short-sighted and disastrous western attempts at supporting armed resistance groups in the Baltics after 1945.

Examples here include much which has been glossed over in recent official histories; western support for many years of massively penetrated and ineffective émigré groups in both the post-war period, which led to the deaths of large numbers of their agents, and which never had any chance of revealing information on Soviet military activities or decision-making; superb Soviet domestic counter-intelligence right up until the late 1980’s, which meant that both SIS and CIA were together probably never able to recruit more that a maximum of about 80 agents between 1960-90; and the failure for many years of Western counter-intelligence to detect the activities of Herman Simm, an Estonian citizen who spied on NATO for the Russians from 1995 until his arrest in 2008.

Deception stands as a renewed warning against complacency: While the past few years have demonstrated that the SVR can be penetrated, even in its most secretive enclaves, a more historically informed contextualization of recent events suggests that despite very high levels of corruption present in contemporary Russian society, the special services are likely to remain focused, resilient and reasonably disciplined.

Whereas both the US “illegal” and Simm cases were ultimately uncovered because the CIA was able to recruit a key member of the SVR’s illegal program in the chaos that accompanied the downfall of the USSR in the 1990’s, and while it appears that western intelligence agencies retain a number of agents in situ, Lucas makes it clear that the Russian spooks retain important economic, social and political resources upon which they can draw at home, in addition to taking advantage of the vulnerabilities of comparatively open western societies.

The West still has many secrets; military, political, economic, that the Russians (and others) would be delighted to get their hands on in order to buttress their autocratic regimes at home and spread their influence abroad. In the Russian case is quite conceivable that the current government will remain in power for many years to come, buoyed financially by a resurgence in oil prices. If the west wishes to bolster the gradual trend within Russian society towards democratization, then we must not give the Putin regime an easy ride in its attempts to expand its power and influence.

Posted in Book Reviews, Russian Espionage | 1 Comment »

Democracy and Innovation: the Liberal Model.

Posted by democratist on March 8, 2011

March 8th 2011,

As many of our readers will be aware, Democratist is fascinated by the interrelationship between democracy, economic growth, and scientific innovation.

We have often suggested that autocratic rule in Russia (and its attendant corruption) is having a devastating (and continuing) impact on Russian industry and technology.

Recently however, we decided to look at this question from a slightly different perspective. Instead of saying what we think is wrong with the Russian government, and the impact this is having on Russian S&T, we decided to go back to basics a little and look at what actually it takes for a country to develop an advanced industrial economy, and a flexible, creative, inventive culture.

We have found a good general explanatory model of the social, political and cultural basis of innovation in Why Globalization Works (Yale, 2004) by Financial Times chief economics commentator Martin Wolf. We will call this the “liberal model.”

Wolf writes that the historical record suggests that the really key thing you need to promote an inventive culture is a market economy, backed up by the rule of law.

As Wolf states;

“The liberating technological changes of Promethean [i.e. technological] growth did not emerge from nowhere. They reflected a new way of organizing the economic activities of society as a whole – a sophisticated market economy with secure protection of property rights. Unshackled from the constraints of tradition and driven by hope of gain, economic actors were tied by competition to the wheel of what the great Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter called “creative destruction.” To achieve success in their battles with their competitors, businesses have been driven to exploit the ever burgeoning power of technology and science. Within a market economy the hope of gain and fear of loss drive inventors and innovators to apply new ways of doing things, or to produce new products.”

But how does democracy fit in here?

First of all, Wolf explains that democracy has the same cultural roots as the market economy: historically, protestant culture put an intrinsic value on all individuals, and moulded them to accept personal responsibility for their actions. Moreover, this was a key factor in promoting the initial development of liberal political and economic institutions in countries such as Great Britain (although evidently the post-1945 record demonstrates that their implementation is by no means restricted to protestant countries).

As Wolf explains;

“The bedrock of a liberal society is, as John Locke argued in the seventeenth century, the right of all individuals to own and use property freely, subject to well-defined, law-governed constraints. A liberal society is therefore a commercial society. But freedom to seek one’s own way in life, outside the boundaries of caste, class, community or, more recently of gender, cannot be restricted to economic activities alone. The culture of a liberal society is, for this reason, inimical to established hierarchies of power or opinion. It is no accident that commercial societies came to consider freedom of thought and expression of great value. A merchant is a practical man who must make rational judgements about the world, not least the risks he runs…The combination of practicality, rationalism and freedom of inquiry became the basis for the West’s greatest achievement – modern science. It is again, no accident that science reached its greatest flowering in a commercial West.”

If individuals are to be free, they need protection both by – and from – the state. For individuals to enter into long-term investments (which promote strong growth and innovation) they need to be able to trust each other, and the state. The condition for such confidence is normally expressed as the rule of law. This is a key driver of both economic growth and scientific innovation.

Historically, states which were both strong and beneficent emerged from a combination of forces including regulatory competition and internal representation; Regulatory competition developed from the multiplicity of competing states in medieval Europe. But;

“Regulatory reform is not enough. An absolute monarch may still seize the wealth of his subjects or default on his debts when his dynasty is threatened. Secure freedom requires governments interested in the long-term health of their countries. The best solution is a constitutional democracy with representative parliaments – government accountable to the governed. Such a democracy must be constitutional, that is law governed. It is not enough to move from the tyranny of one person to the majority.”

So democratic (or at least meaningfully representative) government an institutional prerequisite, according to the liberal model. This form of government will be accountable and therefore have a high degree of interest in the long-term health of the country it governs.  The rule of law is another sine qua non of long-term investment, the development of a market economy, and a creative competitive culture that leads to technological innovation and the emergence of an advanced industrial base and economic growth.

Posted in Autocracy and Innovation, Book Reviews, Liberalism, Russian Economy, Russian Liberalization, Russian Science | 3 Comments »

Book Review: Strange Days Indeed, The Golden Age of Paranoia by Francis Wheen

Posted by democratist on December 24, 2010

24th December 2010,

In line with our policy of writing book reviews for titles that have already been available for some time (a result of both sloth and impecuniosity), Democratist recently acquired a copy of Francis Wheen’s excellent Strange Days Indeed: The Golden Age of Paranoia. (4th Estate, 2009) through the good offices of, and for the very reasonable sum of £0.01 (plus £2.75 post and packaging).

Strange Days is essentially a political and social history of the 1970’s, focused principally on the US and UK, which seeks to highlight the developing “mélange of apocalyptic dread and conspiratorial fever” that characterized much of the decade, as the optimism of the 1960’s came face to face with (among other things); Watergate, the 3-day week, Baader-Meinhof, the IRA, the growth of religious cults, and the popularity of conspiracy theories.

As such, the book provides an especially interesting re-introduction to the decade to those of us who were born during it but were too young to understand much about what was going on at the time (and which was considered too recent for us to be taught as history at school).

The pages dealing with the origins of the “troubles” in Northern Ireland were especially revelatory in this regard; Democratist grew up under the very real threat of IRA bombs, but was only faintly aware of the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland in the 1960’s and 1970’s, or the 1972 “bloody Sunday” massacre (for which the UK government has only recently apologised).

However, while Democratist strongly recommends Strange Days to our readers, from our own particular perspective, we have to say that we think the book might perhaps have benefitted from a few extra paragraphs about the role of the Soviet bloc during the period.

This is firstly because the USSR and its satellites were a political arena in which paranoia played a key role, not just in terms of the KGB’s repression of the Soviet people, or the commonly held views about capitalist/Zionist conspiracies of their senior staff (see “The Mitrokhin Archive“), but also in their tendency to pander to the Kremlin’s paranoid fears of western aggression in their intelligence reporting, culminating in participation in operation RYAN in the early 1980’s, which in turn led to tensions over the NATO Able Archer ’83 exercise, that brought the possibility of nuclear war closer than it had been at any time since 1962.

The second reason to bring the Soviets and their fellow travelers into the picture is that, in a number of cases, their hand is visible in stoking political instability in the West, as well as the fires of paranoia initially lit by Watergate (and other US intelligence abuses). The promotion of instability is clearly demonstrated in the case of Baader-Meinhof, who had extensive help from the East German Stasi after 1977. More subtlety, the KGB was involved through its program of “active measures” in the promotion of numerous conspiracy theories throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s (especially in relation to the Kennedy assassination) which did much to heighten the “conspiratorial fever” to which Wheen refers.


Posted in Book Reviews, Russia - US Relations, Russia Propaganda, Russian Espionage, US - Russia | 1 Comment »

Book Review: “Advancing Democracy Abroad: Why We Should and How We Can” by Michael McFaul.

Posted by democratist on November 29, 2010

29th November 2010.

As Michael McFaul, Professor of Political Science at Stanford University, and latterly Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs and senior director of Russian and Eurasian Affairs at the US NSC notes in his preface to Advancing Democracy Abroad: Why We Should and How We Can (Rowman and Littlefield, 2009). “After eight years of the George W. Bush Administration, most Americans, as well as many people around the world, had grown tired of the United States’ efforts to promote democracy in other countries.”

And yet, while the paramount objective of US foreign policy has always been to defend the security of the American people, from the very beginning of the republic US leaders have consistently defined a special, ethical role for the US in world affairs.

McFaul argues passionately, persuasively, and in great detail against the adoption of a narrowly “realist” or isolationist foreign policy in reaction to the mistakes of the Bush administration, and for the continued relevance of democracy promotion for reasons both ethical and practical.

In the introductory chapter, he neatly summarizes his perspective in a single sentence; “Under democracy, people around the world enjoy better government, more security and economic development. In parallel, the advance of democracy abroad has made Americans safer and richer.”

At the core of his argument is the claim that, “The history of the last 200 years, but especially the last 80 years, shows that American security, economic and moral interests have been advanced by the expansion of democracy abroad, while reliance on realpolitik frameworks [i.e. alliances with autocracies] as a guide for foreign policy has produced some short-term gains, but many long-term setbacks for American interests.”

Advancing Democracy Abroad is therefore essentially an expanded, detailed and very timely restatement of the Kantian argument for the international benefits of the spread of democratic government, in light of  the practical concerns of foreign policy, and as such, equally a statement of Democratist’s own broad core position.

McFaul points to the long-term security advantages for the US that have stemmed from enduring alliances with other democracies, as well as democratization, and the economic and reputational dividends of democratic expansion. By way of contrast, he considers the three main problems of alliances with autocratic states have been sustainability (e.g the Shah in Iran until the 1979 revolution), consistency (Nasser in the 1950’s, or Saddam in the 1980’s and 1990’s) and cost (billions of dollars given to Iraq for its war with Iran in the 1980’s).

As such, McFaul calls for a  pragmatic and commonsense foreign policy based on “Wilsonian liberalism with a realist core.” He argues that, while at times the US needs to work with autocratic regimes to pursue vital national interests, it must never lose sight of its values, or of the critical importance of internal regime type for its ongoing relationships with other states.

In this regard, he devotes a detailed and useful chapter considering the wide range of instruments the US and its allies have available for the gradualist facilitation of democratic development. These include “dual track” diplomatic engagement; trade and economic incentives; security guarantees,  the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the US’ participation in the OSCE, funding for foreign domestic NGOs and election observers, media resources such as Radio Free Europe, and the International Republican and National Democratic Institutes.

McFaul is also fully aware that the United States’ democratic and human rights failings over the last decade have considerably weakened America’s standing in the world, and made it much harder for US leaders to call for democratic practices in other parts of the world.

As such, the renunciation of military intervention as a tool of democracy promotion, criticism of autocratic allies (including Pakistan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia), and the reassertion of democratic values at home are, he suggests, important prerequisites to the successful promulgation of liberty abroad.

Posted in Book Reviews, Democratization, Human Rights, OSCE, Russia - US Relations | 9 Comments »

Book Review: “The Global 1989.”

Posted by democratist on October 11, 2010

11th October 2010,

In line with Democratist’s ongoing support for the Historical Sociology approach to International Relations (HSIR), and of the intellectual legacy of the late Fred Halliday, we would like to take this opportunity to draw our readers attention to the recent publication of a new collection of deeply insightful and thought-provoking HSIR essays; “The Global 1989: Continuity and Change in World Politics.” (Ed. George Lawson, Mark Armbruster and Michael Cox, Cambridge University Press, 2010).

The overarching theme of the collection is the question of  how far the end of the Cold War (“1989”) has changed, but also significantly may not have changed the world all that much, over the subsequent 20 years.

Refuting the simplistic misconception that 1989 “transformed everything,”  it addresses the question of the enduring and continuing (although often contradictory and paradoxical) historical social trends that have helped to shape the contemporary world; how these were (or were not) influenced by 1989, and what they suggest for the ongoing trajectory of contemporary societies.

As such, The Global 1989 considers in detail;

  • How the period since the end of the cold war has started to witness an erosion of the trans-atlantic alliance in the absence of the Soviet threat.
  • How, by ushering in an era of liberalism without critique, 1989 has actually served to renew critiques of liberal utopianism which have continued to gain strength both in the West and wider world.
  • The impact of totalitarian legacies on Russian and Chinese development since 1989, and how the restoration of autocratic rule in these countries has produced a class of post-totalitarian nomenklatura, “which seeks to strip the country’s assets rather than engage in contractual politics” (a trend that that has not gone unnoticed here at Democratist).
  • How the neoliberal approach to economics and “casino capitalism” which emerged in the UK and US in the early 1980’s, received a huge international boost after the fall of Communism, only to produce the current financial crisis.
  • The resurgent influence of nineteenth-century Western thought on post-Cold War international relations theorizing and foreign policy-making (not least in relation to the 2003 invasion of Iraq).
  • The way 1989 has brought into question core aspects of European Integration.
  • The crisis of the European left invoked by the loss of Socialism as an “actually existing alternative” to market democracy.
  • The diverse impact of 1989 on the thirty-plus former allies of the Soviet Union in the Third World (and the way in which 1989 had variegated effects in different parts of the world, some with greater and some of lesser import).
  • How the peaceful revolutions of 1989 led differing groups to draw contentious, and sometimes dangerously wrong “lessons” from them: This included (for example) the belief of US hawks that the revolution in military affairs could be used to easily reshape international order.

This is a most impressive and serious work that, regardless of whether you happen to agree with some of its more overt leftist leanings, strikes out against much of the triumphalism, hubris and complacency we have witnessed in the West over the last two decades, and highlights a number of serious and growing problems which will require our urgent attention.

The Global 1989 also demonstrates (to quote from Lawson’s introduction); “…a profound lesson for academic enquiry as well as for policy-makers, reminding us of the need to ask good questions rather than look for easy answers, to use imagination rather than fulfill the requirements of “normal science,” and to work on developing sound judgements rather than on following the latest fad.”

We encourage all our readers to get hold of a copy, and publicize this generally jargon-free and accessible work as much as possible.

Posted in Book Reviews, Historical Sociology of International Relations (HSIR) | Leave a Comment »

Book Review: “The New Nobility.”

Posted by democratist on October 6, 2010

6th October 2010,

Last night Democratist had the pleasure of attending a public lecture at the LSE by Andrei Soldatov, co-author of the recently released “The New Nobility: The Restoration of Russia’s Security State and the Enduring Legacy of the KGB.” (PublicAffairs $26.95). This was followed by brief discussions with Dr Roy Allison from the LSE’s International Relations department (who chaired the meeting) and Irina Borogan, Andrei’s journalistic partner and co-author.

Democratist strongly recommends “The New Nobility”  for its multiple insights into the ways in which the FSB has taken on a more central and powerful role in the politics and economy of the Russian Federation than the KGB was ever able to manage during the Soviet period, and the methods by which it has been able to weave itself ever more deeply back into the fabric of Russian political and economic life after the hiatus of the early 1990’s.

Among the many interesting points that Soldatov raised in his lecture, we were especially intrigued by his suggestion that, even in the late 1970’s and 1980’s many in the KGB (who were, of course far better informed about the real state of the USSR than almost any other group of citizens) began to see themselves not only as the successors and inheritors of Dzerzhinsky’s Cheka, but also of the Tsarist Okhrana, (tasked with insuring internal stability in the pre-revolutionary period). In Democratist’s opinion, this emphasis on the centrality of maintaining internal stability to the FSB’s work has become all the more apparent over the past decade.

Another key point that Soldatov and Borogan make (underscored in the book) is the way in which some former members of the FSB found employment, and were subsequently corrupted by their involvement with Russian oligarchs in the 1990’s, while other officially “retired” officers sought to reassert Russian state power by seeking to infiltrate Russian political and economic circles as members of the FSB’s so-called “attached reserve.”

However, the authors of “The New Nobility” make clear that many of the more senior (and therefore better paid) FSB reservists also soon became more loyal to the businesses which employed them than the security agency itself. Rather they suggest these generals and colonels came to see the FSB as a source of access to intelligence and personnel. This trend of placing former KGB/FSB staff in key positions has become more overt since 2000, and was extended as Putin cleared the way to appoint (presumably somewhat more loyal) former colleagues to man the “commanding heights” of the Russian state and economy.

Readers may also be interested to hear this interview Soldatov gave to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning.

Posted in Book Reviews, Russian Espionage | 1 Comment »

Fred Halliday (1946-2010) and the Enduring Relevance of Historical Materialism

Posted by democratist on June 28, 2010

28th June 2010

Fred Halliday (1946-2010) was, among his many other achievements, Montague Burton Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics (2005-2008) and latterly ICREA research professor at IBEI, the Barcelona Institute for International Studies.

He was an extraordinary polymath and linguist; able to work in at least 10 languages (Persian, Arabic, French, German, Spanish, Catalan, Italian, Russian, Portuguese, and English – and with considerable knowledge of many others – his self-imposed definition of “competence” in a language was the ability to use it to write a book review and give a lecture.

Over the course of a 40-year career he produced 20 books, including Arabia without Sultans (Penguin 1974), Iran: Dictatorship and Development (Penguin 1978), Rethinking International Relations (Macmillan, 1994) Revolution and World Politics: The Rise and Fall of the Sixth Great Power (Macmillan,1999) The World at 2000: Perils and Promises (Palgrave, 2001) and The Middle East in International Relations. Power, Politics and Ideology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005). His output of high-quality work was truly impressive; and as of June 2010, at least five new books are still in the process of publication.

Professor Halliday was a great inspiration and mentor for Democratist, both in terms of his dedication to rationality, democracy. human rights, universal values, internationalism and “complex solidarity” with the developing world, and also in relation to the importance of “doing the work” as he put it – the need to study the history, politics and language of the countries concerned (often overlooked by academic International Relations theorists).

Halliday fully understood (in opposition to Waltz and the “Neo-realists”) the importance of looking at both the internal level of analysis (the domestic character of states), as well as the external “systemic” level (state-to-state relations).

In Rethinking International Relations, he proposed elements of  a reformulated historical materialism (shorn of its teleological and other less palatable aspects) as an alternative approach to interpreting the contemporary world.

While Democratist does not consider himself a Marxist, Halliday’s four suggested themes of reconfigured historical materialism certainly bear repeating for those of us who wish to “do the work” of analysing and explaining the historical and political development of the countries we study, and how this influences their international relations;

Determination by socio-economic factors (“material” determination).

The central activity of any society is economic production, and the main analytical questions should be considered in this context: Firstly, what is the “level of production”? Secondly, what are the systems of property and effective control that define ownership of these forces (what are the “relations of production”)? These forces (level and relations of production) combine to form a particular society – feudalism, capitalism etc – and ideas, institutions and events within a social formulation do not take place in isolation from this context.

Seen in this light the study of International Relations is best defined as the study of relations not between states, but between social formations: States should not be seen as an embodiment of national interest, but rather the interests of a specific society or social formation. The history of each state is the history of forms of social power and its legitimization. The contemporary interstate system emerged in the context of the spread of capitalism across the globe, and the subjugation of pre-capitalist societies. The socio-economic system underpins both the character of individual states and their relations to each other.

Historical determination.

The events or character of any society can only be seen in their historical context. Just as society has to be seen in a socio-economic context, so the conditions of the generation of that context, and their contingent location are central to any analysis: To understand a particular contemporary capitalist society, one has to see how it originated and what the problems and tendencies conditioned by the past are, how it limits what people consider their options, and leads them to be influenced by illusions and identifications derived usually unwittingly from the past.

The centrality of social movements in political life, both domestic and international

Classes are defined by reference to their ownership and control of the means of production; a power that is seen as defining the other forms of social power that they excercise. If within a particular state classes act to control those less powerful than themselves, they act internationally to ally with groups similar to themselves when this is beneficial, and to compete with them by peaceful or military means when rivalry is prefered.

Conflict and Revolution

Underlying the myriad events of international affairs lies social conflict, within and across frontiers; the pursuit of wealth and economic power is an important source of these events. Taking the historical determinants of specific states into account, it becomes necessary to enquire out of what historical conflicts they emerged.

Fred will be sadly missed, but the ideas he helped revive and transform will prove highly useful analytical and explanatory tools for those wishing to analyze domestic and international politics for many years to come (its influence should be fairly immediately apparent in many of the articles in this blog, not least Springtime for Dima?).

As he pointed out in Rethinking International Relations, “…historical materialism may prove to be just as relevant as it ever was as an explanatory system, and one that, in origin and development, takes as its starting point and focus of analysis that phenomenon that now more than ever dominates the world, namely capitalism.”

Posted in Book Reviews, Fred Halliday, Historical Materialism, Historical Sociology of International Relations (HSIR) | Leave a Comment »

Book Review: “Putin’s Labyrinth.”

Posted by democratist on June 6, 2010

June 6th 2010

Over the past couple of days I have been reading “Putin’s Labyrinth” by Steve LeVine (Random House – 2008).

The book provides a good survey of a number of aspects of the domestic development of Russia between Putin’s appointment as PM in 1999, and the rigged elections that installed Dimitry Medvedev as President in March 2008. However, it lacks an especially clear sense of focus; while the over-arching theme is the contempt the the Putin regime for the lives of it’s own citizens, and its complicity in a culture of impunity, and in the encouragement of violence towards those who are prepared to criticise the regime (with interesting and detailed chapters on the Klebnikov, Politkovskaya and Litvinenko cases), the book uncomfortably mixes an attempt to set out a serious history of the period with a disjointed memoir-like quality. And while he certainly provides some illuminating nugets, LeVine tends to be rather selective in his coverage – for example, there is very little about the horrific massacre of school-children in Beslan in 2004 (and contributory ineptitude of the local authorities). This is surprising given the book’s central theme.

While an engaging read, “Putin’s Labyrinth” is therefore more for the seasoned Russia-watcher in search of additional background detail than the beginner.

Posted in Book Reviews, Human Rights | Leave a Comment »