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05 May 2015


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Tom Welsh

"...Andropow built himself a [veritable] 'stovepipe'".

And yet I find that understandable. It was dangerous, and arguably counter-productive. But after all, the man was responsible for the safety of his people and his nation, and that can't help you sleep at night. No wonder he wanted to see all the raw information, rather than relying on the judgment of other people - even if those others were highly trained, seasoned intelligence professionals. It's rather like the problem Schiaparelli had looking at Mars through his low-powered telescope: he wanted very much to discover meaningful features, but he simply didn't have the physical means. So he ended up reporting the famous "canals", even drawing detailed maps of them. We'll never know whether the canals were physical, such as tiny veins and debris floating inside his own eyes, or mental, yet another product of the human propensity to see patterns even where they don't exist.

Tom Welsh

"I assume that Andropov fell into the trap because he led the KGB for something like 15 years. Nobody could second guess him and expect to have a career after that".

Same as Churchill and Hitler, both of whom were notorious for getting involved with very low-level details. Some they got right, others they got grossly wrong. The bigger your ego, the harder it must be trust anyone else.


"No wonder he wanted to see all the raw information, rather than relying on the judgment of other people - even if those others were highly trained, seasoned intelligence professionals."

It must be harder still when you think all those highly trained, seasoned intelligence (or state depatment) professionals to be idiots gone native (especially them Arabists).

Neocon disdain for career experts at CIA and state is legendary.

Insofar, assuming more than genuine patriotism and a sense of duty may be conceding too much.since another problem Andropov, the politburo and the neocons share is that they only talk(ed) to themselves. The result of inbreeding is retardation. In policy the result is dysfunction.

With the neocons, dissent was met with hostility. Indeed, when you alone are right, those who disagree are not just wrong but a danger, if not with the enemy.


A further factor was the KAL-007 shootdown, and the global wave of media vituperation of Soviet leaders as deliberate mass murderers led by the Anglosphere. And even before that, astute observers such as George Kennan noted the emergence of a 'War is coming' atmosphere in Moscow, which Reagan was stoking with every '...the bombing begins in five minutes."

That global wave of media vituperation was notably absent when USS Vincennes shot down Iran Air 655. Nor was it present when the Ukrainian armed forces shot down Siberian Airlines Flight 1812.

It returned for Malasian Airlines Flight 17, with the same objective as in 1983, I expect.

And there is once again a 'War is coming' atmosphere in Moscow.

David Habakkuk


The following was drafted before I had read your responses to my comment on Patrick Bahzad's ISIS piece, but as I am going out now it seems sensible to post it as written.

I do not know if you have seen the three postings on the National Security Archive site on 'Able Archer' from 2013.

(See http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB426/ .)

The opening of the first:

'Soviet General Secretary Yuri Andropov warned US envoy Averell Harriman that the Reagan administration's provocations were moving the two superpowers toward "the dangerous 'red line'" of nuclear war through "miscalculation" in June of 1983. Andropov delivered this warning six months before the 1983 "War Scare" reached its crux during the NATO nuclear release exercise named Able Archer 83, according to Harriman's notes of the conversation posted for the first time today by the National Security Archive (www.nsarchive.org).

'The meeting provides important, first-hand evidence of Soviet leadership concerns about a possible US threat. But other documents included in this posting suggest that not all Soviet political and military leaders were fearful of a US preemptive first strike, but may rather have been "rattling their pots and pans" in an attempt to gain geopolitical advantages, including stopping the deployment of Pershing II and Cruise nuclear missiles in Western Europe. "This would not be the first time that Soviet leaders have used international tensions to mobilize their populations," wrote the acting CIA director John McMahon in a declassified memo from early 1984.'

Unfortunately, I have not had time to look properly at the material. However, this does take me back to some issues I raised in a comment on Patrick Bahzad's piece on ISIS.

At the risk of being long-winded, I would like to revert to the Eighties.

Until the middle of the decade, as a rather conventional British Cold War liberal – a position which implied its own cynicisms – I had largely taken for granted that it was legitimate to infer some kind of 'intentions threat' from the very evident 'capabilities threat' posed by offensively-postured Soviet forces in Central Europe.

However, in 1986 I came across the writings of Michael MccGwire, who as a later learned had been the Royal Navy's pre-eminent expert on its Soviet counterpart, and was then at Brookings, where he was a colleague of Ambassador Raymond Garthoff. In his 1987 study 'Military Objectives in Soviet Foreign Policy', MccGwire referred to the study of 'Soviet Strategy in the Nuclear Age' published by Garthoff in 1958, actually just after he joined the CIA.

In this, Garthoff quoted from a discussion in the confidential Soviet General Staff Military Thought in June 1950 by Major General V. Khlopov. What Khlopov had argued was that despite American strategic striking power and plans for its use against the Soviet Union, the was a fatal flaw in the assumptions underlying such plans: that the NATO 'coalition army' in Europe could 'in the initial period of the war successfully hold enemy [Soviet] troops and gain time for the transfer of forces and material across the ocean.'

Under 'real conditions', Khlopov argued, the Soviet forces would have greater air capabilities 'to disrupt and destroy the transfer and concentration of troops,' and ground forces capable of deploying 'powerful offensive operations on a large scale and with a high tempo of advance,' so that 'the bridgehead on which the American militarists count to concentrate and deploy their forces for land engagements will be liquidated, and their plans for [winning] the war will be buried with it.'

In the study, Garthoff also noted that Soviet discussions of American military strategy 'do not reflect awareness of the Western object of deterrence', and went on to observe that it would be feasible for the Soviets 'to note but deny in their propaganda the need for deterrence.'

So one can see the textual evidence is systematically ambiguous. One has one possible interpretation in which the Soviets are indeed are disingenuously hiding offensive intentions, and are aware of the defensive nature of Western strategy.

Equally, however, there is an alternative interpretation in which Soviets genuinely conceive that contingency plans to eliminate the bridgeheads on which the massive potential power of the United States could be deployed are a self-evidently defensive responsive, and NATO talk of 'deterrence' is 'propaganda'.

Here, ironically, your recent discussions of submarines are very much to the point. Seconded to GCHQ in 1952, MccGwire had – like everyone else – taken for granted that the programme to build 1,200 submarines on which the Soviets had embarked at around the time of Khlopov's article was intended to attack NATO's transatlantic lines of communication.

But by 1959 MccGwire had reflected on the fact that four-fifths of these submarines carried no air defenses but an 100mm gun, while only a small proportion had air defense weapons. To someone with relevant expertise – and MccGwire had been at both the North African landings and D-day – the conclusion was obvious.

Only a small proportion of the fleet was optimised for use in the Atlantic, where attack from the air would be a major threat. The major part were 'littoral submarines'. Imagine what would have happened had the Germans had a functioning air force together with a fleet of such submarines, which could attack NATO amphibious forces at night, first with torpedoes and then on the surface with the gun in the confusion.

So what became evident is that NATO and Soviet planners are imagining a possible future war in the light of the war just past. But while what is in the mind of the former is the successful German 'blitzkrieg' and the Battle of the Atlantic, what is in the mind of the latter is the sheer scale of potential American military-industrial power. Less than a year after coming into the war against Germany, the Americans had been landing in force in North Africa. Why should they not attempt to do the same in the Baltic states or Ukraine?

Throughout his work, a particular bugbear of MccGwire's has been the maxim 'judge capabilities not intentions'. His point has always been that you judge different things, according to the problem at hand. From the point of view of contingency planning for war, it is perfectly legitimate to focus heavily on capabilities and treat intentions as a secondary or indeed largely irrelevant variable.

However, foreign policy planning has to be based upon a serious attempt to understand how adversaries – however much one may dislike them, and however good reasons one has for doing so – see the world. Failure to make this attempt means, among other things, that one lays oneself open to the kind of radical misperception evident in Soviet responses to 'Able Archer'.

In the Eighties we were very lucky, in that precisely the concerns about the danger of nuclear war which reached fever pitch in Moscow in 1983 were among a wide range of factors which precipitated a radical rethink in the Soviet security posture.

At the time, some naïve people in Moscow and elsewhere – I sometimes think we should be called 'Brzezinski's useful idiots' – thought that if the Soviets made a serious attempt to liquidate a whole range of features of their behaviour which others found threatening, they might expect to see people pay more attention to their own fears. This turned out wrong.


Nice post, CP. We were working on the Pershing II in Orlando and this proposal was made. (from Wiki)

""Both the hard target capability and W86 nuclear warhead were canceled in 1980, and all production Pershing II missiles carried the W85.[22] A concept warhead using kinetic energy penetrators for counter-airfield operations never materialized.""

Someone seriously and finally asked the question, 'Just how will the Russians, in the middle of whatever might trigger the use of that variant, discriminate between a nuclear armed RV and one just designed to take out runways with penetrators?' Given the entire 'big picture' as you have described, it was an insane proposal but such was the world of the military-industrial club that it was seriously considered and money spent on R&D.

Had they been produced and used, it is not a stretch to think that the return volley, sent before warhead impact, would have been SS-20s with nuclear warheads.


Re "A concept warhead using kinetic energy penetrators for counter-airfield operations never materialized"

I have a dim recollection that the thing was called TABAS - probably translating as 'Total Air Base Attack' or somesuch.



"Neocon disdain for career experts at CIA and state is legendary." I am continuously surprised that the career experts both military and civilian within DoD are so consistently discounted in statements like your quote. In my experience they are the best in the business and in the case of the neocon drive to war with Iraq were the first that were beaten into submission by Rumsfeld through the device of creating the OSP within his office. This body contained no intelligence professionals. They were all neocon ideologues and/or former congressional staffers who had worked tirelessly for years on such matters as the "Iraq Liberation Act" The OSP was created to second guess DoD intelligence analysts in DIA by pawing through the mass of raw information reporting from the field so as to confront DIA analysts with trash reporting as "evidence" of incompetence on the part of the DIA people. The fact is that most information reporting from the field is trash and must be winnowed through to find the grains of wheat. This can only be done by people of wide education and experience, not by people like the apparatchiks in OSP. In the period of neocon supremacy (as opposed to mere influence now) The faithful strenuously denied the need for any real skill in intelligence analysis. We see the continuing result. pl

William R. Cumming

Thanks for this excellent comment. THEY THOUGHT THEY KNEW BUT DID NOT! I would argue that this postulate market most of the COLD WAR on both sides.


No offence meant. Should have written "ANY career expert".

Just sloppiness on my part - as I was writing down my response, I really didn't have the DoD on my mind.

You're of course entirely correct.

William R. Cumming


ex-PFC Chuck

When you mix stove piping with group think and in the background lurks the truth of the insight of Upton Sinclair a century ago that "It's very difficult to convince someone of something when his salary depends on his not being convinced of it," you have a very volatile, often deadly brew.


Also the invasion of Grenada. Even if it was a member of the British Commonwealth.

David Habakkuk


You may have seen the interview which Ambassador Chas Freeman gave to Philip Weiss, which included the memorable line:

'Arguably, we have the world’s first genuinely autistic government: we seem uninterested in – perhaps incapable of – seeing ourselves as others see us.'

(See http://mondoweiss.net/2015/04/derailing-interview-freeman .)

To my regret, this kind of 'autism' as quite as prevalent in London as in Washington. Perhaps I need to write a sequel to Graham Greene's 'The Quiet American', which might be entitled 'The Noisy Englishman.'

What I find frightening is the way that many people in both cities tell one not to listen to or read what the Russian authorities say, on the grounds that it is self-evidently 'propaganda'.

The brute truth is that being clear as to how much of what people say is truth, how much propaganda, and how much 'bullshit', in the sense of remarks made for effect by people who are not greatly interested in the truth or falsity of their statements is very difficult to assess.

Any serious assessment, however, has to be based upon careful attention to what people say. There is never any excuse for simply closing one's eyes and ears. As Kipling's fictional 'spook' Colonel Creighton tells Kim, 'there is no sin so great as ignorance.'


Yes Sir. Very well put. What I find fascinating is that over the past decades what would have been considered hairebrained in the past has become accepted as modern theory. I speak in particular about economics and finance but it could equally apply to foreign and domestic policy. It's a Brave New World.


I believe that there is an analogy to be drawn with the manner by which American officials, and others, have been using every bit of information it can find (or invent) to add to a dossier which depicts Iran as the unredeemable source of all bad things happening in the Middle East


To underscore the point, there is the studied ignoring of Putin's speech to the Duma in march of last year which was a clear, straightforward statement of how he viewed the world and Russia's place in it. Quite remarkably, he included a set of guidelines - or rules of the road - for relations between Russia and the West. It is unique. Yet, it never gets mentioned or analyzed.


Am I correct in recalling an added twist to Soviet thinking about "deterrence" = i.e. consistent verbal disparagement of nuclear deterrence in official doctrine had something to do with two concerns: One, that NATO might resort to first-use of tactical nuclear weapons (to offset Soviet conventional superiority)in the expectation that strategic nuclear exchanges could still be avoided a la mutual assured destruction. Two, it similarly sought to dissuade the United States from intervening via conventional means in situations where the USSR was or might use force itself - especially Eastern Europe by claiming that such US action would lead to all-out nuclear war

William R. Cumming

The Pershing unclassified range was 600 miles with a six minute or less TOF.


Indeed, because mentioning and analyzing Putin's speech would interfere with the global campaign of media vituperation of Putin and Russia presently emanating from the Anglosphere Foreign Policy Elite & Punditocracy (AFPE&P).

And if its one thing the AFPE&P hate it is the disruption of their narrative.


I agree with you, mbrenner. It was worth reading every inch of it, though long.

But then, look how the MSM and the White House have marginalized Stephen Cohen, the excellent Russia analyst.


Thank you for this systems meta analysis. This kind of thing, where people take three steps back and look at how the system as a whole operates and where it's pointed, is CRITICAL to understanding the dynamics of inter-faction relationships. It needs to be done loudly, and more often.


“There’s A Hole In My Sidewalk: Autobiography In Five Short Chapters” by Portia Nelson

Chapter I

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in.
I am lost … I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter II

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place.
But, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter III

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in … it’s a habit … but,
my eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

Chapter IV

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

Chapter V

I walk down another street.


Just enough time for a Soviet launch control officer to have crapped his pants at the radar images and ordered a launch.


Well, of course when you have people like first-Nobel-Laureate-in-Economics Paul Samuelson declare that economics must adopt the 'ergodic axiom' (1969), which he did because he wanted economics (and his standing in it) to have the heft of hard science, then you get disastrous consequences that you can't foresee.

That's why you have ergodic models like the Rational Expectations theory (1972) that Milton Friedman embraced and convinced Reagan of. (While it was convenient, Samuelson had declared himself the keeper of Keynesianism then dropped it in the 70s when Keynes fell out of favor as a result of Samuelson's incorrect explanation of it in his seminal textbook for grad students. Samuelson only admitted in 1989 to interviewers that he never understood what Keynes was talking about, and he didn't read past Chapter 15 in Keynes' General Theory. If you read The General Theory, Keynes rejected most of everything Samuelson stood for.)

Roughly, simplistically, the ergodic axiom assumes that a sample from the past determines, or foretells, the future. There is no uncertainty (uncertainty, of course, in future time and space would be nonergodic). An example of using the ergodic axiom in a hard science is astronomy. We can measure the elliptical orbit of the earth and the position of the planets. We can measure with almost 100% certainty the minute when the moon rises and falls, and when eclipses and solstices occur. No government body, no policy construction, no Executive Order can issue a law that can change these. So it's laissez-faire, let Mother Nature do its thing, we’ll just measure what it does.

And that's where the idea of letting the markets determine the future came from. We don't need no stinkin' government interference. The markets are smarter than people, they can function on their own, just get government out of the way. Like building our Ferrari federal government and leaving the steering wheel off. (The complete opposite of 1945-1973.)

That's what Greenspan and Rubin convinced the hayseed from Arkansas Clinton to do two weeks before he first took office in January 1993. A lot of people got very very rich but the 99% had to eventually take out equity loans to meet expenses because their wages couldn't. Again, per Greenspan's 1999 suggestion.

Greenspan also failed to force the one thing that the NY Federal Reserve was legally compelled to do: regulate the mortgage banks because they don't come under federal bank charter regulations; so the mortgage bank CEOs had a free-for-all, and cheated. We all know where that ended.

And now we have foreign policy on auto-pilot re-fighting the assumptions of the 80s, big bad Russia, etc., à la neocon nonsense. And a fucking idiot for a president who doesn't see all this, who can't conceive he is being worked on or lied to, and whose judgment I now perceive to be substandard. (How is it possible that he lets Victoria Nuland out on a world stage?)

It’s the federal government’s JOB to create jobs through deficit spending when the economy is in the tank. Only the federal government can act counter-cyclically, because the private sector economy is a pro-cyclical system (meaning it only flows in one direction) and can’t do it because it legally cannot create interest-free money to stimulate the economy with jobs. That’s why business is sitting on $2 trillion in cash waiting for sales to pick up before they will hire. Sales will only pick up when people have income. They will only have income when they have jobs. Obama can form all the feel-good Black Boys Clubs he wants. But those people in Baltimore need jobs, not caretakers, or social engineers describing what joblessness does to a population. It’s Obama's job to force Congress to supply them--only Congress has the constitutional authority--because the idiots in Congress are too busy trying to do Obama's constitutional job in return for donor dollars.

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