Why I support WikiLeaks

Why I support WikiLeaks · 22 December 2010

In my book, Dictatorial CEOs & their Lieutenants: Inside the Executive Suites of Napoleon, Stalin, Ataturk, Mussolini, Hitler and Mao, I wrote about the people who serve dictators. They are the same sort of people who are part of the worst side of the present Russian Government, and who are often found in democracies—where they mainly keep their views to themselves.

On 21 December I woke up in my Moscow apartment only to read on the Lowy Institute’s Interpreter commentary ( site that we have a similar individual working in the Australian Government who is a senior Canberra security insider.

In my view, the commentary of senior Canberra security insider has an underlying tone that suggests that he/she would make a good lieutenant to a authoritarian or dictatorial leader.

Bob Johnston, Former Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia, wrote in the Foreword to my book:

Subordinates rarely rate more than footnotes in historical studies of such tyrants, but here motivations and actions of the lieutenants are extensively noted and compared. Once again there are commonalities that highlight the universal nature of human beings; and how desires and fears can lead people to serve a despot.

It is a pity that senior Canberra security insider does not have the courage to identify himself/herself but such is often the case with such servants to the power of others! I would welcome the opportunity to compare senior Canberra security insider with one of the subordinates/lieutenants in my book.

Here is the text of senior Canberra security insider on the Lowy Institute’s internet site:

Rory Medcalf’s Interpreter post on the real world fallout from WikiLeaks’ so-called ‘cablegate’ is spot on. Sure, there may be some positive consequences along the way, but the broader impact will be overwhelmingly negative. It will make the job of national security harder, and more expensive. Lives will be unnecessarily put at risk. One of the greatest contemporary challenges for agencies involved in national security (the number of which is growing) has been information sharing. The events of 11 September 2001 were avoidable if the right information had reached the right people at the right time. And as if we needed a reminder, it was only last year on Christmas Day that Northwest Airlines Flight 253 avoided by only the narrowest of margins being bombed out of the sky over the US. It was another incident that could have been prevented if information had been shared adequately, and acted upon. So how do government agencies and their people now respond to a world with WikiLeaks? They have no choice. Corporately, they must move to protect their information from wholesale disclosure on the internet. They’ll expend scarce resources strengthening information security and will need to monitor employees more carefully. They’ll need to ensure other agencies (including international partners) with access to their information can protect it, and in the meantime may well restrict access. Much needed efforts to strengthen information sharing and connect information systems will be reviewed, slowed or will stall completely. Any money available for information-sharing initiatives will be sucked into protecting existing systems. Lingering inter-agency mistrust will be given renewed life. And at a personal level, individuals will think twice before committing something to writing or sharing it with a colleague. This is why I find some of the ‘it doesn’t need to be this way’ comments in response to Rory’s article so misplaced. It is quaint to talk about a new era of diplomacy conducted in public. I’m not sure how that would work in practice. There’s a suggestion that confidentiality is not itself a problem and in fact is necessary in diplomacy but that governments haven’t got the calibration right between openness and confidentiality. But let’s be clear. This is not what WikiLeaks is about. WikiLeaks is not trying to reinvent statecraft. It is not trying to recalibrate government openness. It is not a whistle-blower. It is not practicing free speech. It is not just a publisher. It is not a media outlet. WikiLeaks has a political agenda that is anti-American and anti-government. And like most ‘anti-’ movements, it is not offering practical solutions, it is just against what other people are trying to do to solve problems. Why aren’t diplomats and other officials’ names removed from the US diplomatic cables it is posting to the internet? Because in WikiLeaks’ eyes they are the enemy. Any real world personal damage to them is collateral to the WikiLeaks political objective. So why do government agencies need to act in the way I describe? Because we don’t know what’s next. Yesterday it was tactical military reports, today it is diplomatic cables. Tomorrow it could be anything that WikiLeaks sees as promoting or defending its interests. It could be information from the Tax Office, the Federal Police, the Health Department, or any other institution of state or, for that matter, private enterprise. True colours are beginning to emerge. The Australian Government has displeased WikiLeaks and is now under attack, per Julian Assange’s thinly veiled threat in the Australian on 8 December. Who’s next? Amazon? Financial institutions that have withdrawn their services from WikiLeaks? It will be interesting to see. If WikiLeaks truly believed in transparency it would reveal all about itself, its decisions and internal deliberations, and each and every source of funding such an approach would certainly be consistent with the ‘scientific’ approach to journalism that it advocates, whereby the public can reach back to the source to judge for themselves what is true, and what is not. Even if WikiLeaks disappeared tomorrow, its damage is done. There is certain to be copy cats. What remains to be seen is the cause they summon to justify their actions. And the tragic irony in all this is that many of those who currently support or sympathise with WikiLeaks will be the same ones outraged when the next preventable security incident occurs. They’ll also argue for the right to privacy when there is some massive spillage of personal data onto the internet for that’s also a certain in a WikiLeaked world.

My response to the commentary of senior Canberra security insider is this:

I think that your true colours are pretty clear. I think that you would happily work for whoever has power. If I knew more about you I might be able to compare you with one of the subordinates (lieutenants) who worked for Napoleon, Stalin, Ataturk, Mussolini, Hitler or Mao. Are you a sometime lawyer, military officer, diplomat, politician, academic or spy? Do you have the courage to identify yourself?

I am not as conspiracy minded as Assange, but there certainly are conspiracies even in democracies!

I have some personal knowledge of one that was attempted a few years ago between very senior Treasury officials and the highest level of big business in the area of taxation. These people thought that they were acting in the public interest, and to achieve their aims they planned to put out to the public information that was not true. I actually nipped it in the bud with some well placed media leaks of my own.

Howard/Blair/Bush etc probably thought that they were acting in the public interest in the invasion of Iraq. On its very eve I appeared on Australia’s SBS television station to discuss the economic consequences of the war. When discussing weapons of mass destruction, one of my fellow guests (Dr. Chris Caton from BT) said: Who knows what he (Saddam Hussein) has. In response I said that it was pretty clear by now that he has none. It was a strong statement by me, but one that was not hard to make because I had been reading generally available information. The issue with Caton was that the pressure of work (as well as his particular interests) had restricted his reading and thinking. But the ultimate effect was the same: Caton was very susceptible to the connived propaganda of Howard/Blair/Bush.

Such ignorance of much of the population has been the source of empowerment to many a potential dictator. As Benito Mussolini put it, people do not want to rule, but to be ruled and to be left in peace. This is what attracted Albert Speer to Hitler and the Nazi party in the early 1930s: My inclination to be relieved of having to think, particularly about unpleasant facts In this I did not differ from millions of others.

Thus, the real value of WikiLeaks maybe that is makes it more difficult for the masses (and if it does not directly affect them, the non-thinking masses often constitute a majority of the population in most countries, including in Australia and Russia) to avoid the sometimes very obvious stupidity and lies of their leaders (who often feel themselves to be acting or the public good). Left unchallenged, these lies and this apathy toward stupidity can result in public support or, at least, acceptance of policies which are actually against the longer-term public interest. It is one thing for parts of the mass media in democratic societies to report supposed facts, but it is another thing to see them in an official documents. The direct effect on most of the non-thinking masses may soon wear-off, but in most countries such leaks will encourage a minority of the population which is willing to put some effort into finding out the truth and thinking about it and discussing it.

Amongst the important issues (for Australia at least) that seem to have been given greater expose by WikiLeaks are:
?the reality or not of Iran making an unprovoked nuclear attack on its neighbors (Australian intelligence officials think it not likely, but you would never believe this from listening to Gillard etc);
?Afghanistan (where the Government and the military would have us think that victory is within sight, even if not close);
?China, with both Rudd and Beazley being too ready to act as cheer-leaders for force no matter what the merits of issue.

Of course, senior Canberra security insider makes some good points about information etc, but whatever the WikiLeaks agenda, it is clearly to my mind about free speech. Yes, WikiLeaks may be an’anti-’ movement and not offer practical solutions to problems, but I personally do not have a lot of faith in the ability of the other people trying to to solve problems.

Tell us, who is this brilliant senior Canberra security insider problem solver?

I will conclude with a point about Russia and Australia. There is actually a huge amount of material available in the Russian printed media about the incompetence (leaving aside the issue of corruption) of much of the government. But, it is often suggested that because much of this does not get to appear on television (which remains the main news source for most Russians) it is allowed to continue for longer than if there were more public exposure. A WikiLeaks on Russia would bring considerable public benefit.

I am often amazed how much of what I read in the Russian printed media reminds me of aspects of government in Australia. This is another reason why I support WikiLeaks.

Wendi (Wendy) Deng

On Murdoch�s Wendi (Wendy) Deng & Zhang Yufeng · 25 March 2007

Most speculation about the future of News Corp misses a crucial point just as important as what happens to News Corp after the death of Rupert Murdoch may be what happens BEFORE! Wendi (Wendy) Deng is ideally placed to become Murdoch’s Zhang Yufeng.

Neil Chenoweth, in his article, Keeping it in the Family (AFR Perspective, 24 March), writes about life after Rupert and says that this has always been the question that News Corp investors have studiously avoided. Grant Samuel, a corporate advisory group, has recently written: It appears that most investors who invest in News Corp do so because they are backing Mr. Murdoch’s management and vision for the company and seem comfortable with his level of control.

What investors seem to be ignoring is the significant possibility that Wendi (Wendy) Deng will became a powerful gate-keeper separating Murdoch from most of his senior executives, in a similar way to Zhang Yufeng who became Mao Zedong’s gate-keeper. Murdoch is now 76 years old, and the older he becomes, the greater the probability of this occurring.

Apart from being his wife, Wendi (Wendy) Deng has the great advantage over others (including over other family members) of proximity and can whisper in his ear every morning; and according to Andrew Neil, who served as a Murdoch lieutenant for over a decade, Murdoch is highly susceptible to poison being poured in his ear about someone.

Time exacts a toll which cannot be ignored. Andrew Neil wrote that by 1994 Murdoch had become increasingly unpredictable, even whimsical, moving people about for no very good reason (spinning wheels was how one executive put it), except to satisfy his latest wheeze. He was even doing it to himself. Now over sixty, with intimations of mortality but still so much to do, he had become even more of a man in a hurry. He was moving executives around like pieces on a chessboard to suit whatever purpose obsessed him at that particular moment; regardless of the disruption in their lives they were expected to fit in, even if fundamental decisions risked being reversed only weeks after they were taken.

That was 13 years ago!

Murdoch has always been a loner, a Sun King who has adopted the classical dictatorial management style of someone like Mao who eschewed conventional management structures and hated delegating power. A person should depend on himself to do his work reading and commenting on documents, said Mao. Don’t depend on secretaries. Don’t give secretaries a lot of power. Yet, toward the end of his life, Mao’s did just this.

Li Zhisui, Mao’s long-time doctor, wrote that in 1973 Mao criticised Zhou Enlai for not discussing major issues with him, reporting only minor matters instead. Zhou’s position was awkward. He was still loyal to Mao. But Zhang Yufeng had become Mao’s gatekeeper and made it difficult for the two to meet because she was nearly always with him.

And it only got worse. One day in June 1976, when Hua Guofeng had come to see Mao, Zhang Yufeng had been napping and the attendants on duty were afraid to rouse her. Two hours later, when Zhang had still not gotten up, Hua, second in command only to Mao, finally left without seeing his superior.

Life after Rupert may be less interesting and important for News Corp investors than the remainder of life WITH Rupert.

US Missile Defence

US Missile Defense · 5 March 2001

US National Missile Defense (NMD), or mini-Star Wars

Jeff Schubert’s 5 March 2001 presentation to the Australian Institute of International Affairs (Sydney Branch)

(1)……………The Proposed United States NMD

The US NMD proposal at this stage appears to be for the deployment of several hundred missiles that would be able to shoot down missiles on their way to attacking the US. Initial deployment would be around in 2006.

The NMD is essentially a ground based limited version of the Ronald Reagan era Star Wars concept which was supposed to be able to handle a deliberate Soviet first strike in which thousands of warheads were launched against the US.

The rationale for the NMD is that the US is concerned about the ability of rogue states (governments) to acquire and use nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The US says that the NMD system is aimed at preventing an attack from such countries as Iran, Iraq and North Korea (the latter launched a long-range rocket over Japan in 1998).

US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, has said that the US is prepared to assist friends and allies threatened by missile attacks to deploy such defences.

The NMD would appear to be in breach of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty signed by Leonid Brezhnev and Richard Nixon. This allowed each side two ABM deployment areas so restricted and located that they cannot provide a national ABM or become the basis for one. Each country thus leaves unchallenged the penetration capability of the others retaliatory missile forces. One limited ABM system could protect the capital and another was to protect an Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) launch area at least 1,300 km away so as to prevent he creation of the beginnings of a nationwide system. No more than 100 interceptor missiles and launchers could be at each site.

In 1974, Brezhnev and Nixon signed a protocol limiting each side to one ABM site only, with the USSR choosing Moscow and the US choosing North Dakota. The North Dakota site is no longer in use, although the Moscow site is claimed by the US to still be operational.

Donald Rumsfeld has called the ABM Treaty ancient history and the US is now trying to persuade Russia to accept a modification of the Treaty to allow its larger scale NMD system to be deployed. The US can withdraw from the Treaty with six months notice.

The US is telling the Russians that the NMD system will never be extensive enough to prevent a nuclear attack by Russia because of the sheer number of missiles possessed by Russia.

At this stage the Russians are saying nyet, and have sought to divide the US from its European allies with a stick and carrot approach. The Russians have threatened to withdraw from other treaties (such as START I and START II) which still allow thousands of warheads. The Russians have also suggested an alternative European-Russian anti-missile defence system, which would also include the US. This alternative seems to involve mobile defensive missiles that would shoot down offensive missiles soon after take-off. The Russians say that their proposal would not breach the ABM Treaty.

The Russians may yet say da to the NMD as part of a complex trade-off involving negotiations on the number of attack missiles under the START treaties. Basically, the Russians want to reduce the number of their attack missiles to save money. They might thus be persuaded to do a deal in which they accept an NMD if it is accompanied by a massive reduction in US offensive weapons which in turn allows Russia to reduce expenditure on its own offensive weapons.

Some commentators have suggested that there is a Russian dilemna in that its nuclear arsenal is presently so dilapidated that after a first strike by the US its remaining lunched ICBM’s could be mopped up by a fairly limited US NMD system.

I know that the response to this by many commentators is that the US would never launch a first strike, but this may not be how the Russians see it and I want to come back to the issue of seeing things from the other side a little later.

(2)……………The Case For

The case for the NMD, or the case against the case against, seems to consist largely of four arguments:

(a) The first for is that any fears that the NMD might lead to an arms race is Cold War logic.

(b) The second for argument is the “missile defense has the potential to transform the logic of international security, and genuinely allow States to rely on defensive measures for their essential security needs”. This argument includes the idea that advanced technologies can be relied upon to secure the defense needs of the US (and its allies).

(c) The third for argument has been put to me by an economist in the following terms: The potential for NMD to trigger an arms race is actually one of the strongest arguments in its favor. Communism in the USSR broke down largely as a result of the expense of an arms race with the US. If China tries to up the ante on NMD it risks the same fate.

(d) The forth argument, which is an argument against the argument against, seems to
be along the lines of So what if Russia objects, it is so weak it will be able to do nothing.

(3)…………..The Case Against

In presenting the case against the NMD, I want to first address these four for arguments before moving on to other matters.

(a) Fear of an Arms Race is Cold War logic

In my view, the essential problem with the proposed NMD system is that it threatens to lead to another international arms race which will eventually move further into space. This will work to heighten the eventual nuclear threat to Australia.

While this arms race will essentially be about nuclear missiles, it will encompass all types of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Colin Rubenstein, Executive Director of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, has written that much of the opposition, including some adverse comment in Australia, seems to be trapped in the Cold War logic of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. At that time it was argued not unreasonably that missile defense systems might encourage leaders in Moscow or Washington to miscalculate that a nuclear war with the other superpower was winnable or panic out of fear that the other side could launch a successful first strike.

US Defense Secretary Rumsfeld likewise dismisses fears of an arms race as Cold War thinking.

My counter to this argument is that arms races are not only Cold war logic. It is a universal logic based on historical experience. History shows that arms races can lead to fatalism that conflict is inevitable and so help bring it about.

World War 1 was essentially caused by mutual fear, which both caused and was nourished by an arms race. The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand at Sarajevo in June, 1914, was only a spark an excuse for those who wanted to fight what they saw as the inevitable war.

In pre-WWI Europe, Germany regarded war with an increasingly powerful Russia as inevitable. This was probably the driving factor in the actual implementation of the Schlieffen Plan in August 1914—which saw Germany march through Belgium to defeat France before taking on Russia. The reason for fighting France was that Germany feared any war with Russia would inevitably lead France to seek revenge for Bismark’s victory in 1871 so, if Germany had to fight Russia, it also had to fight France.

Britain could have stayed out of WW1, but chose to fight because it feared both German domination of Europe and growing German naval power. Not surprisingly, this German naval build up had helped drive Britain closer to France and Russia and this in turn intensified German fears of a war on two fronts with Britain backing France.

The German naval build-up from 1900 had, in turn, been partly driven by Britain’s own naval dominance. In 1889 Britain had formally announced that it was keeping its navy at a scale that should at least be equal to the naval strength of any two other countries. While Britain thought this policy was justified by its small homeland army and the need to protect its colonies and trade routes, many in Germany saw it as aimed at containing Germany.

Ironically, but not surprisingly, British policy during the drawing up and enforcement of the Treaty of Versailles was to be concerned to not weaken Germany too much lest France come to dominate Europe.

The pre-WW1 arms race was not the first in history, but does nicely illustrate the point that countries have interests, and that big countries have big interests and that they will ultimately act to defend them. Moreover, it is not only government officials who think in these terms. Large parts of public opinion often do as well.

Thus, it is important when considering the possible impact of the NMD that we do not only look at it from the US perspective, but also from the perspective of others. Russia, China, India and others will feel that they also have great power interests. It does not matter whether policy makers in the US (or Australia) disagree with these views—the fact is that they will be there.

Unfortunately, the interests mean that the NMD proposals will indirectly lead to an acceleration in missile building in China, India and Pakistan.

China is particularly opposed to the NMD system because, unlike Russia (in the absence of a US first strike), it does not necessarily have sufficient numbers of attack missiles to overwhelm a US NMD. For China, this may be particularly relevant if the US ties to push them around (from their point of view) on the issue of Taiwan. To maintain its own credible nuclear deterrent the Chinese will increase their attack missile force.

India, which has sometimes had a tense and violent relationship with China, may respond by increasing its own nuclear forces. In response to this, Pakistan would surely do the same.

In his January AFR article, Colin Rubenstein accepts that the acquisition of nuclear weapons and / or long range missiles by India, Pakistan, North Korea, Iran and Iraq will mean that other states will react by seeking their own weapons of mass destruction. He writes the criticism that missile defense systems could spark arms races is an argument for good institutional arrangements for the deployment and use of this technology, not an argument for attempting to suppress it.

But why, I ask, should it be easier to control NMD’s than offensive weapons?

Colin Rubenstein also wrote about Russia’s possible cooperation in developing such systems. My view is that if Russia does cooperate it will be only because of the poor state of its finances. Once these recover sufficiently, Russia will be full on building its own extensive NMD and new offensive weapons to overcome the US NMD. China will be doing the same, as will a number of other countries as time goes by.

In contrast to the Russian ABM system deployed around Moscow, the proposed US NMD does not use nuclear weapons to destroy incoming missiles. Rather, it just hits them like you would by throwing a stone. However, other countries lacking US technology will certainly decide that their NMD’s will be nuclear. In turn, this may eventually force the US to do the same just in case the stone type does not work.

If they cannot match the US NMD with a least a nuclear version of their own, other countries may use so-called asymmetric responses. These may include arming existing missiles with multiple war heads, development of other (more basic) weapons delivery systems, assistance for friendly rogue states to develop missiles that can be used to tie down the defensive capacity of the US NMD, etc.

(b) Technology Will Solve Defense Problems

The US seems to believe that technology will solve its defense problems. President Bush has said, The best way to keep the peace is to redefine war on our own terms.

Indeed, arms races are often about getting the technological upper hand.

But as French President Jacques Chirac has said: If you look at world history, ever since men began waging war, you will see that there’s a permanent race between sword and shield. The sword always wins. The more improvements that are made in the shield, the more improvements are made in the sword. We think that these systems are just going to spur sword-makers to intensify their efforts.

That the shield never wins is what has led to the development of ever better modern weapons to overcome better shields, just as the defensive power of the machine gun lead to the attacking tank in WW1.

The sword-shield problem is now compounded greatly because we are now talking about weapons that can obliterate whole cites not just parts of battlefields.

Once again, history has some lessons for us. While the Royal Navy appears to have had a tradition of not pushing innovation which devalued existing ships, things changed after the Battle of Tsushima in 1905 between Japan and Russian naval forces. Long-range fire power derived from big guns gave the Japanese victory and led Britain to design and build the Dreadnought battleship.

The Germans responded with their own Dreadnought type ships, and went from having the worlds fifth most powerful navy in 1906 to the second most powerful by 1914. Instead of allowing Britain to redefine war on its own terms, the Dreadnought caused existing fleets to be obsolete and everyone now started from scratch.

While the US may think that its technology will always win, diffusion of that technology inevitably occurs and may eventually benefit the other side. We just don’t know how another arms race will play out—- except that it would make conflict more likely.

(c) Destroying Communism

As noted above, the third for argument seems to be that an arms race is attractive because Communism in the USSR broke down largely as a result of the expense of an arms race with the US. If China tries to up the ante on NMD it risks the same fate.

Having spent quite a bit of time examining the Russia economy, industries, and individual privatised companies between 1991 and 1996, I believe that the arms race argument concerning the collapse of the USSR is too simplistic While the demand of Russians for goods and services was far from satiated, it was more than just the diversion of resources to bomb and missile building that brought down the USSR economy.

In my view, the industrially centrally managed economy was struggling to cope with the move toward advanced electronics, services (and information) activities. The gigantic factory approach of Russian central planners, workable for an earlier simpler age, was incapable of taking the Russian economy further.

But even if the arms race killed the USSR argument is largely true, I have to ask whether we want the large densely packed Chinese population to suffer the same fate as the population of the USSR. What would be the consequences for the people of China and China’s neighbors and eventually for Australia.

(d) Russia is so weak it can do nothing to respond to the NMD

This argument for (or perhaps case against the case against) is that it does not matter if Russia is opposed to the NMD because it is now so weak, or is falling apart in a way similar to the USSR, that its opposition is irrelevant.

Firstly, in my view, Russia is not falling apart. Geographically, Russia now is the same as it was when it was part of the USSR. Chechnya aside, there have been no serious attempt or movements to break from Russia. After the chaos of Yeltsin, President Putin is moving to reestablish considerable central control.

Secondly the country is rich in resources and talent and I think that it will post some surprisingly strong GDP growth rates over the next decade. For those who would simply extrapolate present conditions into the future, I suggest reflection on the 1980’s story that based on then current trends the Japanese economy was on the way to becoming bigger than that of the US. Or reflect on the differing pre and post WW1 British attitudes to the relative power of Germany and France in Europe.

Russia will eventually have an enhanced economic capacity to respond in similar kind to the NMD. It might take a decade or more, but it will do it. In the meantime, look out for the so-called asymmetric response.

(e) Seeing the issue from the point of view of the other side.

I want to come back to dwell for a moment on the point I made earlier about seeing things from the point of view of the other side.

Condoleeza Rice, the US National Security Adviser, says American values are universal. Their triumph is most assuredly easier when the international balance of power favors those who believe in them.

The other side to this is that Russia’s 145 million people generally have values that although similar to America have their own features. Russians are generally nationalist and can be somewhat xenophobic.

A legacy of its history is that Russia takes defense issues very seriously, and it will not feel comfortable when the international balance of power favors others.

Many Russians see NATO expansion as aimed at Russia (the Poles and Baltic countries certainly see it this way) despite NATO denials. I marvel at the words of George Robertson, Secretary-General of NATO, when he says that NATO enlargement to possibly include countries of the former USSR carries no threat to Russia and that NATO’s enlargement follows precisely the post-Cold War logic. (That term, Cold War logic again!)

Indeed, how would Americans feel if Cuba decided it wanted closer ties with Russia and if this included a much heavier (and possibly nuclear) presence?

The US, however, seems set on ignoring these Russian sensitivities. In the words of a liberal minded Russian journalist, while Clinton’s Washington uncritically endorsed everything that the Russian elite did, the Bush administration seems bent on criticizing everything. This may be because, also in her words, the new administration is staffed by people who know Russia primarily from the books of old Sovietologists.

Foolishly, in my view, the Who lost Russia? debate at the end of the Clinton administration has become a Who needs Russia? attitude in the Bush administration.

Some Australian commentators have expressed a belief and relief that the NMD does not mean that the US will become isolationist.

I agree that it is generally very desirable that the US remains internationally engaged.

However, from the NMD debate perspective it might be better for the world if the NMD is accompanied by increased US isolation. Other countries (eg China, Russia etc) will feel less threatened by increased US defense capability if they feel that a less internationally engaged US will not be out there causing trouble for them. That is, that US policy makers will not be sitting there comfortably in their walled home, coming out occasionally to biff the neighbors around the ears before retreating inside again.

International engagement is not always positive. In the decades prior to WW1, Britain attempted for as long as possible to combine an isolationist policy, which consisted of hiding behind its powerful navy and resisting strong formal alliances, with one which was prepared to take action to prevent domination of Europe by one country be it Germany or France. However, when Britain eventually abandoned this policy partly in response to growing Germany military power and entered into the Triple Entente with France and Russia, Germany’s fear of a war on two fronts was magnified and WWI hastened.

(f) Other arguments against include:

Expanded nuclear arms production that is stimulated in response to the NMD inevitably increases the prospect of leakage of materials and knowledge to other non-nuclear countries (and, ultimately, terrorists) the very thing the US says it fears. The US attempt to protect itself from rogue states may thus actually increase the number of countries capable of a credible nuclear threat.

The simple way for a nuclear rouge state to threaten another state and avoid any NMD system may be to simply land an aircraft carrying a nuclear device at a major airport and threaten to explode it unless whatever demands are carried out, or to carry out some other relatively simple delivery.

Remember that France built the Maginot Line of fixed fortifications along its eastern frontier in the 1930’s to keep out aggressors, and it was considered impregnable. At the start of World War Two the Germans simply went around it.

(4)…………..Consequences for Australia

The proposal to extent NMD protection to US allies is unrealistic as far as Australia is concerned. Australia is too far from the major geographical areas of US concern for any sort of NMD to be put in place. Apart from being technically difficult, the expense of putting such a system in place at the bottom of the world would be prohibitive.

An effective northern hemisphere NMD would leave Australia sitting like a shag on a rock. While it is not presently easy to conceive of rational reasons why a rogue state would want to threaten Australia with weapons of mass destruction, Australia would be a soft target unprotected and unable to fight back.

The US, comfortable and safe behind its NMD might be more inclined to help us. Just as likely, however, the people of the US might prefer to stay home behind their shield. They could form the view that if Australia wants protection, then it should build its own NMD.

Indeed, in my view, Australia’s support for the NMD is encouraging a series of events that suggest Australia itself should acquire nuclear weapons over the next few decades. Australia may need its own offensive capacity for defensive blackmail. This would be a sort of mini-MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction).


This still leaves the problem of how to handle the threats that are there. I accept and agree with Rubenstein and NMD proponents that the risks from rogue nations are real, or will become real.

As discussed above, alternatives to the NMD include boost-phase interceptors stationed close to potential missile launch sites in rogue nations. For example, missiles launched from North Korea would be shot down by interceptors fired from ships stationed close to that rogue state rather than waiting for them to get closer to the US (or Japan etc).

While perhaps better than an NMD system in its arms race implications I have to admit that I find the idea of such quick fire all knowing defense systems a little unconvincing.

However, my view is that the NMD itself brings so many potential new problems that some drastic alternative international measures to counter the threats might be needed.

I think that the US should be putting the proposition to Russia, China etc that it will forsake its NMD if they agree to cooperate in enforcing (with non-nuclear guns and bombs if necessary) weapons control in “undesirable” countries such as North Korea, Iraq etc. While there are some unpleasant aspects to such a suggestion and many unanswered questions (like who is “undesirable”), they are better than the NMD alternative with its inevitable consequences.

A basic starting point may be that any country is automatically undesirable if it refuses to show its nuclear hand or is suspected of hiding one. This would apply to Israel as much as North Korea.

This approach would also attempt to tackle the issue of weapons delivered by more basic means such as ships, planes etc by eliminating the weapons themselves.

Tony Abbott

Confidence — Abbott and Gillard · 26 October 2010

The Australian prime minister, Julia Gillard, and the leader of the opposition, Tony Abbott, last week very strongly supported the military efforts in Afghanistan.

A good summary article is here:

Whether or not you agree with the military actions in Afghanistan, it is difficult to argue that either Gillard or Abbott know much about or are even interested in—that part of the world that does not speak English.

Here is Gillard’s entry in Wikipedia:

Here is Abbott’s entry in Wikipedia:

While both have recently made quick visits Afghanistan, their activities were confined to meeting Australian soldiers and a few meetings with officials with a set story to push.

There is no public (ie political) clamor for Australia to be part of the war in Afghanistan. So given their relative lack of knowledge and experience—where does the confidence of Gillard and Abbott come from?

In part, it comes from already being generally successful in politics. Louis de Bourreinne who was Napoleon’s friend and first secretary, wrote that intoxication which is occasioned by success produces in the heads of the ambitious a sort of cerebral congestion.

As a result, such leaders can all too easily begin to think like Mussolini, who in 1935 told a lieutenant: Too much ratiocination! We should rather concentrate on instinct! My instinct tells me that And that’s enough!

But instincts can easily be influenced by personal emotions. Emotions play a big part in all such decisions and the more complex the issue, the greater the role of emotion.

Indeed, the role of emotion is so important that even the best experts can succumb to it at least for a while!

I came across a striking example of this in an intense debate about business taxation reform which took place in Australia between late-1999 and mid-2002. The debate was about whether to move to a new system of taxing business income within a period by measuring the change in asset values (including cash in bank) between the beginning and end of the period. In theory, the new system eventually branded as the Tax Value Method or TVM—would have given the same result as the present method of directly measuring income/revenue flows and cost flows (including deductions such as depreciation) during a period.

One of the strongest proponents of TVM was a well-known Australian business taxation lawyer AND poet of considerable note. This unusual combination of very high level skills led to some compartmentalization of thinking at times but also provided some useful insights into human thought processes.

The lawyer/poet was very emotional when condemning the complexity of the existing business taxation system, and was desperate to see changes and he quickly supported TVM.

In September 2000 I organized and hosted a debate between some of the main proponents and opponents of TVM. The lawyer/poet was still in favour of radical change and spoke for TVM. Yet, he recognized that there was significant opposition and was quoted in the media as saying:

Eighty per cent of tax practitioners are opponents, and more than 80% of business leaders are supporters. Tax experts believe that Treasury (the originator of the concept) has done a snow job in convincing big business that TVM is the way forward. Business leaders reject this claim and believe the experts may be manufacturing a crisis where there is none. Behind the schemes, claim is following counter-claim.

About a year later the lawyer/poet changed his view and wrote a very detailed analysis that was extremely critical of the draft legislation for TVM.

I regarded the report as a brilliant example of taking a logical approach to a disputed issue. The lawyer/poet’s change of view was a turning point in the debate, and TVM thereafter died a slow death.

This lawyer/poet is the best example I have personally come across of someone allowing their powerful emotions (ie the poet side) to very significantly cloud their professional (tax lawyer) logic over a prolonged period of time. But over time—once the logic had reasserted itself there was a complete change their view.

One of the most prominent businessman supporters of TVM privately described the lawyer/poet’s critical analysis as turgid. But as the lawyer/poet’s quote above indicates, in the main it was NOT the tax experts who supported TVM; rather it was the non-experts looking for a silver-bullet to solve complex problems which, in the main, they understood little. The views of the non-experts were being led by their emotions.

If the views of most independent experts are any guide, that both Gillard and Abbott have such non-expert confidence—and that it is very possible that their expert advisers (military and non-military) may be allowing their emotional thinking to over-whelm their logical thinking.

I cannot more precisely demonstrate this in relation to Gillard (and do not know enough about the people who give her advice), but Abbott recently made a very revealing emotional comment about the recent election which led to Gillard becoming prime minister with the support of some independent members of parliament.

Abbott was quoted as saying: ‘’One of the things that so disappoints me about the election result is that I am the standard bearer for values and ideals which matter and which are important and as the leader of the Coalition, millions and millions of people invest their hopes in me and it’s very important that I don’t let them down. When I am unfairly attacked, I’ve got to respond and I’ve got to respond in a tough way.’’

Abbott’s comment is striking in its certainty. Abbott in his own view—is the standard bearer of the ONLY values and ideals which matter and which are important. In his view, the values and ideals of other people are not important.

In Abbott’s mind, there is little room for compromise. Abbott is a man who deals in certainties. He is more of an emotional poet than a logical tax lawyer. Whether Abbott is right or not in supporting the military effort in Afghanistan, it should be clear what the basis of his support is it is undoubtedly emotion.

As for Gillard, we will learn more about her over time!

Russia, NATO, Missile Defence

US Missile Shield: Technology & Psychology · 25 February 2008

Australia’s Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith, says that missile defence technology has evolved and that the Government was now giving “careful consideration” to participating in US missile shield arrangements.

Yes Stephen, technology does evolve, but psychology changes little! And, military technology is not as benign as Santa Claus.

While the US claims missile defence is nothing but a shield, many other countries will see it as little more than a device to protect the US while it swings its sword where it wants. And the experiences of General Caulaincourt, Reich Marshal Goering, and ex-general Colin Powell, suggest that they have a point.

In 1812, General Caulaincourt, who had been French Ambassador to Moscow and had experience of the Russian winter, had a five hour conversation with Napoleon Bonaparte trying to persuade him not to invade Russia; many years later Hermann Goering had a conversation of similar length on the same issue with Hitler; and, according to Colin Powell, as Secretary of State he spent two and a half hours with the George W. Bush trying to persuade him not to invade Iraq: I tried to avoid this war. I took him through the consequences of going into an Arab country and becoming the occupiers.

Leaders and countries sometimes do very stupid things when they feel that they have enough power to get away with it. Russia, no-more than any other country, cannot afford to assume that other countries will not abuse their power and there are many ways of doing this other than an outright invasion.

In mid-2007 I was in a park in Pushkin on the outskirts of St. Petersburg when a 10-year old girl pointed out to me that this is where the Germans were beaten (in World War 2). Several days later, in the evening, I hailed down a private car to take me to Pushkin. The driver, a lawyer looking for a little extra money by acting as a taxi for me, made the same point about the Germans.

Like most people in almost all countries, most Russians see things from their position and can find it difficult to see things from the other side. In a recent survey, more than 60 percent of young Russians said they sympathize with Putin’s calling the collapse of the Soviet Union the twentieth century’s greatest geopolitical catastrophe. Another survey has found that just 10 percent of young Russians think Russia should apologize for the Baltic occupation, and Estonia’s recent removal of a Red Army war memorial from its capital led to genuine anger in Russian.

Sometimes nationalism is no more than a political card in recognition that the majority of people in almost any country (including Australia) are emotionally, and stupidly, vulnerable to this but there can also be legitimate issues. This is where US foreign policy is so important.

The inability of the present American and Australian leadership to understand the nuanced feelings of people in other countries is the greatest friend that anti-democrats and rampant xenophobic nationalists in those countries have.

In 1812, General Caulaincourt tried to get Napoleon to see the view from the other side when Napoleon complained that Europe could not see that Russia was the real enemy: As a matter of fact, it is Your Majesty who is the cause of everyone’s anxiety and prevents them from seeing other dangers. The governments are afraid there is going to be a World State.

Perhaps Putin has read Caulaincourt, or perhaps he is just reacting like the Europe that Napoleon was complaining about. At the Munich security conference in 2007, Putin said the US has overstepped its borders in all spheres and has imposed itself on other states. This is a world of one master, one sovereign, he said.

The US has for some time being acting in a way that provides considerable justification for Russian fears (the invasion of Iraq being the most notable example). And, like Napoleon’s Europe, Russia will react in some way.

First Deputy Prime Minister Ivanov has, for example, suggested that Russia will retaliate to the placing of missile defense facilities in Poland by putting missiles in Kaliningrad. Russian defence analyst Pavel Felgenhauer described Ivanov’s comments about Kaliningrad as an “empty threat” on the basis that Russia had no missiles with the right range to be fired from Kaliningrad and hit the proposed interceptors in Poland.

Felgenhauer misses the point. Arms races, which Ivanov is suggesting in a limited sense, are drawn out and unpredictable affairs. The lead up to WWI was a long time in coming, but was nourished by mutual suspicion and an arms race. Sarajevo was only a spark. This is not to suggest another war, but Russia (and not Russia alone) will react to US moves and that its reaction, supported by public opinion, will be to stymie US power in any way it can.

I made a presenation (listed on the left-hand side, “US Missile Defence”) to the Australian Institute of International Affairs (Sydney Branch) at the beginning of Putin’s time in power.

Putin, Gillard, Abbott, Medvedev

Putin, Gillard, Medvedev, Abbott · 19 November 2012

My internet site has an implied theme that Russian economic policy makers could learn much from the approach of Australia over the last few decades.

While historical factors and in-place institutional arrangements place substantial limits on what leaders as ultimate economic policy makers can influence and control, their own personal psychological make-ups will influence their chosen policies and implementation.

This article briefly summarizes the personalities (psychological make-ups) of the two most important political figures in Australia and Russia, and the implications of these for the most crucial economic issues facing these two countries. In the case of Australia, I take the most crucial issue to be dealing with the rising economic and political power of Asia (in particular non-NE Asia). In the case of Russia, I take this to be dealing with internal economic reform and the wishes of the middle classes for political power.

In essence, my view is that at an intellectual and psychological level Russia presently has superior leaders to Australia. (I have written a number of articles (blogs) on each of the individuals, which can be accessed on this site)

Intellectually and in terms of a balanced personality, Dimitry Medvedev (despite his short physical stature) stands head and shoulders above Vladimir Putin, Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott. He does not appear to have any personal basic pathological (read abnormal or diseased psychology) issues. He is very open to new ideas and experiences even if this enthusiasm includes a touch of naivety, and he has displayed excessive loyalty to Putin.

Vladimir Putin also does not have significant basic pathological issues—- his main problem is that too much time in power has begun to warp his thinking, and he now regards himself as much more indispensable than he really is. However, his basic psychological make-up (judging by his career and the way he has conducted himself while in public office) seems to have been defensive rather than a need to project himself to high office or deeds of greatness in order to prove that he is a worthy person. While intelligent, Putin is not as intelligent as Medvedev.

Gillard has a great need for personal achievement there is a pathological issue at play. Gillard lacks any sort of talent for originality or vision. For her, achievement is signified by power; only in this way can she prove to herself and others that she is a worthy person. Intellectually, she is several notches below Putin. However, like him, she is very self-disciplined in fact, even more so!

Abbott is intellectually superior to Gillard, but he lacks her enormous self-discipline when it comes to focus on issues. However, Abbott is no match for Medvedev in either intellectual terms or openness to ideas and new directions. He seems constrained by a personal system of beliefs (feelings) which will all too easily override rationality. Intellectually, he may in theory be the equal of Putin but Putin would always win a contest of the mind because of his self-discipline.

Overall, intellectual and in terms of psychological balance, Medvedev comes out on top while Gillard occupies the lowest level. In terms of overall capability, Russia presently has superior leaders to Australia.

Comparing Russia and Australia in these terms, one might be tempted to conclude that a semi-authoritarian political system is better for Russia than the likes of Gillard and Abbott. However, in Australian history the low-standard Abbott/Gillard act is probably a depressing aberration.

In terms of the implications for crucial economic policy issues the rising economic and political power of Asia for Australia and internal economic and political reform for Russian the signs are not particularly good.

Putin, Gillard and Abbott fear change.

While Putin has a need for control, his main fears basically derive for the chaos of the Yeltsin years. His view of internal Russian affairs suffers from this. However, he has a reasonably sophisticated world view.

Gillard’s fears have a more personal psychological aspect as do Abbott’s. Both are astonishingly ignorant people once they step outside the familiar areas of domestic politics and the Anglo-sphere. An example is the simplistic way in which they both talk about learning foreign languages (neither Putin nor Medvedev, who have put in the effort to learn a language or two, would be so clueless).

Neither Gillard nor Abbott has the desirable combination of intelligence, curiosity or emotional flexibility to handle the rise of Asia to the best advantage of Australia.

Putin has also become a negative factor for Russia. He understands the details of many issues, but his inflexibility and need for control will grow over time — and, even worse, will be accompanied by a decreased capacity/desire to work hard on details.

Medvedev is the most willing of all to consider and embrace change. With its better institutional environment, Australia would probably perform wonders if he was one on its leaders.

Putin’s dangerous reading

Putin’s dangerous reading! · 6 November 2011

Anatoly Sobchak, the reformist mayor of Saint Petersburg with whom Vladimir Putin worked after he left the KGB in 1990, once suggested that Putin might be Russia’s Napoleon Bonaparte. And, in a sense Sobchak was right, and much of what I foresaw in a March 2000 article has occurred (see “Putin in 2000” in left-hand column)

Now, in order to justify his impending return to the presidency, Putin has invoked the cases of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Charles De Gaulle and Helmut Kohl as men who held power for a long time and who have been treated quite well by history in contrast to Russia’s own Leonid Brezhnev.

Dmitry Peskov, his press secretary has said: Putin reads all the time, mostly about the history of Russia. He reads memoirs, the memoirs of Russian historical state figures.

This is dangerous reading!

Contrary to what Peskov and Putin undoubtedly think, such reading concentrated on Russian historical state figures adds to the evidence that Putin will increasingly become a negative influence on the development of Russia.

The reading selection is very narrow and unbalanced, particularly for someone who has little experience of a more liberal democracy, and will work to reinforce rather than moderate Putin’s natural psychological instincts. Putin will increasingly see Russia in terms of his own desires and needs, rather than the real desires and needs of Russia. He will unconsciously distort his views of the latter so that they fit in with the former.

Josef Stalin said to Sergo Beria: If you want to know the people around you, find out what they read. But we can also get a sense of Stalin from his own reading: he wrote in the margin of a biography of Ivan the Terrible: teacher teacher.

Mao Zedong, like Stalin, read a lot of pre-communist history for guidance. Li Zhisui, Mao’s doctor, wrote that Mao turned to the past for instruction on how to rule: Immersed as he was in Chinese history, and thus in the power struggles and political intrigues that were part of every court, Mao expected political intrigue within his own imperial court, and he played the same games himself. Even if aspirants to power told Mao the objective truth, he could not accept it because he saw conspiracies everywhere.

The reading of Stalin and Mao distorted their thinking. While I am not equating Putin with Stalin or Mao, Putin’s concentrated reading about Russian historical state figures suggests that he is beginning to see himself as such an historical figure.

Napoleon, Stalin and Mao during their times in power increasingly saw themselves as indispensible to their countries. And, in all cases the consequences of this were negative; although the negatives were greater in some cases than in others.

In 1812 Napoleon told General Caulaincourt that he was the only man alive who knows the French thoroughly, as well as the needs of the peoples and of European society. France needs me for another ten years. If I were to die there would be general chaos. Caulaincourt noted, that as far as any opposition in France to his policies was concerned, Napoleon paid little attention to it and attributed it in general to narrow views, and to the fact that few people were capable of grasping his great projects in their entirety.

In 1952, Stalin expressed his self-belief to the Communist Party’s Central Committee when ordering further investigations of Soviet citizens: Here, look at you blind men, kittens, you don’t see the enemy; what will you do without me? the country will perish because you are not able to recognise the enemy.

Mao was no different. His long-time chief body-guard, Wang Dongxing, noted that Mao considers no one in the whole of the Communist party indispensable to the party except himself. Dr Li wrote that Mao had an almost mystical faith in the role of the leader. He never doubted that his leadership, and only his leadership, would save and transform China.

The attitudes of Napoleon, Stalin and Mao were influenced by their success. In the words of Louis de Bourreinne who was Napoleon’s friend and first secretary: Intoxication which is occasioned by success produces in the heads of the ambitious a sort of cerebral congestion.

Of course, Napoleon, Stalin and Mao are not the only dictatorial personalities in history, and some have left a more positive long-term legacy.

One example of the latter is Kemal Ataturk of Turkey. In 1938, with tensions rising in Europe, the dying Ataturk said: If this second world war catches me when I’m still in bed, who knows what will become of the nation. It is I who must return to be in a position to take charge of government affairs.

Like Napoleon, Stalin and Mao, Ataturk saw himself as indispensible—and in a very positive light. In 1937, Ataturk explained his position in these terms: Man, as an individual, is condemned to death. To work, not for oneself but for those who will come after, is the first condition of happiness that any individual can reach in life. Each person has his own preferences. Some people like gardening and growing flowers. Others prefer to train men. Does the man who grows flowers expect anything from them? He who trains men ought to work like a man who grows flowers.

So, why did Ataturk have a more long-lived positive influence than the others? There are a number of reasons related to the circumstances of the time and their own personalities, but Ataturk was not obsessed as Mao and Stalin with reading about the influence of individual historical figures, and he was not obsessed as Napoleon in boosting the international power of his own country. Rather, he looked at Turkey with a much greater eye on the future than on the past. Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew who is also reportedly admired by Putin was similar.

According to a 1 November Reuters article, Peskov said Putin had a keen interest in Tsarist Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin and Russian Orthodox philosopher Ivan Ilyin, who said Russia should plot an independent course between dictatorship and democracy. Putin has made no secret of his respect for Stolypin, who crushed dissent but also introduced land reform as prime minister from 1906 to 1911 under Czar Nicholas II. Putin said in July that a statue of Stolypin should be placed outside the Russian government’s headquarters in Moscow.

A true patriot and a wise politician, he understood that both radicalism of all sorts as well as stagnation, a lack of reforms, were equally dangerous for the country, Putin said of Stolypin.

In justifying rejection of radicalism Putin has the personal experience of the 1990s, but this along with his own personality has made him too fearful of change. Reading history is an excellent way of understanding the nature of people and their actions and reactions, but that understanding then has to be applied in a contemporary context with an eye to the future and not used to justify existing notions.

Putin would be well advised to read more widely; he has already read enough Russian history!

Putin Personality Cult

Imaging the Putin Personality Cult · 25 December 2009

On Friday 18 December, according to the Moscow Times, Vladimir Putin entered the hall of St. Petersburg’s School of Sport Mastery dressed in a white judogi and black belt, to applause from the assembled squad. After bowing, he went onto the mats, throwing squad members half his age and even tackling the chief trainer, Olympic gold medalist Ezio Gamba. Then, over tea and cakes, Putin made the suggestion. If you need direct help, you can include me in the team, he told the trainer, an Italian who won gold at the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Officials praised Putin’s technique in the Japanese martial art and dismissed any hint that he may have been allowed to win. He has the psychology of a winner, the psychology of the victorious, said Georgy Kukoverov, the school’s chief.

Reading this evoked thoughts of 1939, when foreign correspondents were invited to watch Benito Mussolini engage in various sporting activities, including horse-riding, fencing and tennis. An American onlooker commented:

The dictator, garbed in a beige polo shirt and shorts which revealed the scar of the wound he had received in the thigh during World War I, was playing doubles. He was serving underarm like a novice, and he violated every tennis rule and tradition by walking at least two steps beyond the base line to serve. Even so, the two athletes who were playing against him Rome’s leading professional tennis player, and a member of Italy’s national soccer team had difficulty in returning soap bubble his serves. Whenever the ball was returned, it floated slowly up so that a lame man with a broken arm could have hit it. Il Duce lobbed, smashed, and smiled, pleased with his triumph.

Mussolini, of course, won the game!

Putin is, no doubt, better at judo than Mussolini at tennis, but the central idea of promoting the leader as a winner in physical contests is the same. And visual image is the best way to do this. After all, seeing is believing!

Kemal Ataturk believed in looking the part, telling an early colleague that it was a fool’s belief that people like their leaders only with ideals. They want them dressed in the pomp of power and invested with the insignia of their office. His military uniforms, including that of Field Marshal, were used as an important prop early in his career.

The writer, Emil Ludwig was with a group of journalists in a hotel foyer in 1931 when they saw an example of Hitler’s image management:

Clad in a brand new overcoat, he was ambling lazily down the wide staircase, playing with the metal rod attached to the hotel keys to make guests remember to hand them over to the porter before leaving. He was whirling the key round the rod, to his own great amusement. Suddenly, about 20 paces off, he became aware of our group. That very second he dropped his hand to his side, stiffened his arms and legs, put on an expression of gloom, and, for our benefit, was transformed into Napoleon. Moved to the depths of his own schemes, he strode slowly past us.

In 1956, against the advice of colleagues, Mao Zedong swam in the Yangtze River, and his later conversation with Zhu Zhongli made it clear that he understood the importance of looking the part not only for the audience, but for the boost it gives leader himself!

Mao: People should not like to show off. I swam for too long! I felt utterly exhausted, but I wanted to show off, so I kept going. If it hadn’t been for Ye Zilong (one of Mao’s lieutenants) making me get back on the ship, I would have died.

Zhu: I don’t believe that. You swim very well.

Mao: You don’t believe and the audience on the banks of the river didn’t believe either. I understood the illusion therefore the more I swam, the more I was encouraged.

Yet there are subtleties and dangers in such image games!

The image needs to suit the audience and some audiences are not as easily impressed by the image of raw physical power, determination and vigor. Nuance is sometimes required to make the raw power aspect seem less threatening and thus more attractive! Such nuancing seemed to work well with the mind and emotions of Albert Speer.

Speer was surprised at the appearance of Hitler when he saw him for the first time in January 1931 as he addressed students of Berlin University and the Institute of Technology: On posters and in caricatures I had seen him in military tunic, with shoulder straps, swastika armband, and hair flapping. But here he was wearing a well-fitted blue suit and looking markedly respectable. Everything about him bore out the note of reasonable modesty.

With this particular audience, Hitler knew that a military uniform would evoke more negative than positive reactions. He thus acted to reduce any sense of threat to the audience themselves.

The next time Speer saw Hitler, the audience and the clothes were different. Now he presented the image of a purposeful winner. I saw Hitler reproving one of his companions because the cars had not yet arrived. He paced back and forth angrily, slashing at the tops of his high boots with a dog whip and giving the general impression of a cross, uncontrolled man who treats his associates contemptuously. This Hitler was very different from the man of calm and civilised manner who had so impressed me at the student meeting. I was seeing an example of Hitler’s remarkable duplicity indeed, multiplicity would be a better word. With enormous histrionic intuition he could shape his behavior to changing situations in public.

So, image making is a complex and sometimes dangerous process.

Mao put himself in danger, but there is also the issue of blowback. The Yugoslavian politician, Milovan Djilas, who had close dealings with Stalin and his lieutenants from 1944, observed:

The deification of Stalin, or the cult of the personality, as it is now called, was at least as much the work of Stalin’s circle and the bureaucracy, who required such a leader, as it was his own doing. Of course, the relationship changed. Turned into a deity, Stalin became so powerful that in time he ceased to pay attention to the changing needs and desires of those who had exalted him.

It is also possible to try to push the image too far. Mao was lucky that he did not overstep the mark swimming and make himself look silly which is absolutely one of the last things a leader should ever do. According to Hitler’s photographer, Heinrich Hoffman, he was careful what pictures he took because Hitler had a horror of appearing ridiculous. One journalist perhaps with the tennis match in mind noted that Mussolini sometimes looked like a circus performer in off hours.

This is why Putin could not risk being seen to lose to a serious opponent at judo. He has condemned the personality cult that surrounded Stalin, but he now is also part of a similar game. He, and his supporters, aim to send the message that he has the psychology of a winner, the psychology of the victorious.

So, were Putin’s judo fights fixed a la Mussolini-style? Probably! But it is also possible that his opponents were psyched-out by the thought of fighting the Russian leader.

And, this thought brings us to a conclusion about the future leadership of Russia.

My guess is that Dimitry Medvedev believes that he is the best person to be president after the 2012 presidential elections. But power is as much about the psychological need for power and, not surprisingly, Putin’s need has grown with time in power as it is about intellectual analysis. Medvedev’s visual image is very lackluster, and unless he can do something about it in early 2010 and boost his self-confidence (a la Mao) he will be psyched-out both privately and publicly by Putin.

Putin in 2000

Putin in 2000 · 23 March 2000

This article appeared in the AFR on 23 March 2000.

The post-USSR chaos in Russia was bound to throw up a leader whose instinct was more authoritarian and nationalistic than Boris Yeltsin. This leader has now arrived. His name is Vladimir Putin and he will be elected president of Russia this Sunday.

Anatoly Sobchak, the late reformist mayor of Saint Petersburg with whom Putin worked after he left the KGB in 1990, once suggested that Putin might be Russia’s Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon’s career received a spectacular boost in 1795 when, as a less than senior general, he dispersed a Parisian mob with, in his words, a whiff of grapeshot. It killed about 100 people, earned him the gratitude of the Convention and command of the interior army.

Putin’s rise has been as rapid as Napoleon’s and has more than a little to do with his uncompromising militaristic attitude to Chechnya. Putin is not going to lose sleep over a few thousand civilian deaths in Chechnya if they help him achieve his aims.

So what are these aims? It might well be that he will become a sort of Napoleon who, after becoming first consul in 1799, reorganized French administration under strong central control and reformed the tax and legal systems. Certainly after the 1990s, Russians and the world will welcome a more focused and disciplined leader.

The 1990’s chaos resulted from both the nature of Yeltsin, who was essentially an instinctive revolutionary rather than a thoughtful administrator or builder, and the desire of society to escape the State-enforced order of the USSR. Yeltsin and society complemented each other in their goals in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

While Yeltsin wanted to destroy communism forever and build a democratic capitalist state, neither he nor his Russian or Western economic advisers had thought enough about what really makes a modern democratic capitalist country function. Yeltsin did not understand that not only are good laws needed, but they must be effectively and impartially administered; that, wrongly handled, privatization may as easily created thieves as capitalists; and that markets, unless transparent and free, are easily cornered.

The Putin discipline will not be without downside. Domestically, liberalism as generally understood in the West will take a back seat to notions of rebuilding the State and nationalism. In 1989, Boris Yeltsin, a member of the Supreme Soviet, was leading a group seeking amendments to the USSR Constitution at the Second Congress of People’s Deputies. The dissident Yeltsin wanted to uphold the principle of diversity and explained: Unity has already inflicted a great deal of damage on our country. Unity stood for thinking exactly the same way the supreme leader thought. It is time we got rid of this stereotype. It is in the clash of opinions that the best solution develops.

The wheel has now turned almost full circle. Before Yeltsin’s resignation on New Year’s Eve, and Putin’s appointment as acting President, the Kremlin thought it necessary to create a new political party to help it gain control of the Duma (the lower house of parliament) at the December 1999 elections. The party was named Unity. It describes itself as Putin’s party and is backing him for election as president.

In 1989 Unity was a dirty word, but now both society and Putin want it. In this sense, the desires of Putin and society complement each other in much the same way as did Yeltsin and society a decade earlier. Putin will be seeking to reconstruct some of what Yeltsin sought to destroy. Whereas Yeltsin sought, in his own way, to promote diversity within society and to free the Russian regional governments from the centre, Putin will be aiming for consolidation.

Yeltsin generally tolerated the communists, but Putin will actively work with them because of their nationalism. Yeltsin offered the regions elected governors, but Putin would find it hard to knock back any opportunity to appoint them from Moscow. In one sense, Putin the leader will be more like Gorbachev than Yeltsin. Gorbachev did not like disorder. He wanted to change the political system to make it more humane and the economy more efficient, but he did not want to pull it down. Indeed, Putin may be even less inclined than Gorbachev to promote liberal change. From this point of view, Russians are probably lucky that they are giving Putin a weakened State apparatus rather than the highly centralized one that Gorbachev inherited.

Western leaders such as Britain’s Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright meet Putin and are relieved to find that he can behave himself in a meeting (in this regard Putin is also more like Gorbachev than Yeltsin who was always too spontaneous for the liking of Western leaders) and seems to understand the points being made. Moreover, he has even allowed himself to make the fatuous suggestion that Russia could one day join NATO.

But the West should beware. Putin’s electoral victory will mainly be the result of an expectation that he will get things done and if that has echoes of the toughness he has shown in Chechnya, then so be it. Putin has neither the Yeltsin verve nor the capacity to inspire that could sustain his popularity through a period of inaction. Unless he brings results quickly, his popularity will fade rapidly. Once he has power in his own right he will grow to like it very much. There is enough nationalism in Russia to make it the obvious card to play. The stronger Russia becomes economically, the stronger (ironically) is likely to be its nationalism. Thereafter, Putin may be continually forced to play harder ball with the West.

Russia is not an inward-looking country. It is expansive, and the West will have to increasingly deal with this over Putin’s four-year term as he eyes the electorate for a possible second term. Putin may not be a conqueror like Napoleon, but he will miss no opportunity to boost Russian power and influence.

Putin: New Faces and Flaws in the Weave

Putin: New Faces and Flaws in the Weave · 11 July 2010

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin recently issued reprimands to six deputy ministers for not fulfilling Dmitry Medvedev’s presidential orders in a timely fashion.

Apparently, under the Russian Labor Code, a reprimand is the lightest possible form of punishment.

Last year, only one in six presidential orders was completed on time, while for the first five months of 2010, one in five was finished, the head of the Kremlin’s control department, told Medvedev on 21 June. At that meeting, Medvedev ordered the government (headed by Putin in his position as prime minister) to give him a list of those to blame, including their punishments, “right up to termination.”

One newspaper article then carried this paragraph: The government treats the president’s orders just as seriously as any other orders, a government official said. The official suggested that people close to Medvedev could be pressing the issue because they are uncomfortable with the prime minister’s political clout.

Despite Medvedev’s comments, neither Putin nor Medvedev seem generally inclined to use the termination option as a management tool. After the disastrous Yeltsin years, both Putin and Medvedev crave stability in the Russian governmental system.

But there is also a difference. Medvedev is probably disinclined to use termination because of his intellectual nature which seems to generally focus on the good in people. Putin, however, is clearly more manipulative and inclined to use force.

Putin’s reluctance to use the termination option can be explained, at least in part, by considering how some historical strong-men have approached this issue.

There will be an element of Stalin in Putin’s approach. Sergo Beria, son of Lavrentiy and who had his own professional dealings with Stalin, wrote that above a certain level in the hierarchy of Party and State, Stalin appointed only individuals he knew personally. He sent for them from time to time and never ceased studying them. Before promoting a cadre he spent a long time analysing him. He had one unchanging rule: one can never be too suspicious.

Such analysis and study takes time, so there is a lot to be said for sticking with old faces. Louis Bourreinne, Napoleon’s first secretary, wrote that Napoleon had an extreme aversion for mediocrity, and generally rejected a man of that character when recommended to him; but if he had known such a man long, he yielded to the influence of habit, dreading nothing so much as change, or, as he was accustomed to say himself, new faces. Napoleon’s third private secretary, Fain, confirmed that Napoleon had a horror of change, feared new faces, and held single-mindedly to conserving all the men who were formed under his shadow.

All this sounds like Putin who had a solid eight years as president beginning in 2000 to choose who would progress under his shadow and those who have so progressed generally seem at little risk from new faces.

At Nuremberg, Herman Goering said that Adolf Hitler found it extremely hard to get used to new faces, and that he did not like to make changes in his entourage. He preferred to continue working with men whom he did not like, rather than change them.

Albert Speer explained that Hitler was generally pleased if his lieutenants showed some flaw in the weave, and quoted one of them, Karl Hanke:

It is all to the good if associates have faults and know that the superior is aware of them. That is why the Fuhrer so seldom changes his assistants. For he finds them easiest to work with. Almost every one of then has his defect; that helps keep them in line.

In Hitler’s case, wrote Speer, immoral conduct, remote Jewish ancestors, or recent membership in the party were counted as flaws in the weave.

Mao Zedong operated on a similar principle. His doctor, Li Zhisui, wrote of Mao’s method of finding the flaw in the weave and of the control this gave him:

Repeatedly in my years with Mao I watched him win loyalty from others in the same way he had won it from me. He would begin by charming people, winning their trust, getting them to open up, to confess their faults just as I had told him about my problematic bourgeois past. Mao would then forgive them, save them, and make them feel safe. Thus redeemed, they became loyal.

Dr Li then added:

His loyalists, in turn, would become dependent on him, and the longer they depended on him, the more they had to depend on him, the more impossible life outside his circle became.

This is a very similar comment to that of Speer who wrote that all of Hitler’s lieutenants who had worked closely with him for a long time were entirely dependent and obedient.

Somewhat paradoxically, Speer also wrote that Hitler loved to see new faces, to try out new persons. The paradox would seem best explained by the combination of factors. Firstly, Hitler recognised his own hypnotic powers and ability to fascinate; so it was a bit of a game some diversion from the familiar servile faces around him and possibly a chance to overcome his loneliness at the top.

Secondly, it accorded with his tendency to divide power wherever he encountered it. Speer noted that Hitler often had two or three competitors for each important position, all of whom he directed immediately (personally). Thus, Hitler was all to ready to treat the second men in an organisation, as soon as they were presented to him, as members of his staff and to make assignments directly to them.

Hitler was an instinctive psychologist of genius in his manipulation of people. In this he differed from Stalin, Mao and even Napoleon who had a more methodical approach. Indeed, Speer wrote that Hitler seemed to have no sense of methodical deceit that is, he did not plan his moves in advance like a chess-player or a Stalin. In his approach to divide and rule Hitler was more instinctive than Stalin etc

From the point of view of manipulation and deceit, Putin is no Hitler. His psychological approach is closer to the methodical Stalin, Mao and Napoleon.

So what is the result of all this?

General Caulaincourt, a close aide to Napoleon, wrote of a positive effect of not liking new faces: The master’s well-known dislike of any change (among his entourage) gave everyone a sense of security which proved greatly to the advantage of truth.

This aversion to new faces also had another benefit in that Napoleon’s lieutenants generally had little fear of exposing their own lieutenants to Napoleon. His third secretary, Fain, wrote about the Administrative Councils: Each minister was careful to bring with him to the council the colleague who could be most useful to him. It thus helped ministers avoid the type of reaction that Speer noted, when he wrote that in order to avoid raising up … a rival in his own household, many a minister took care not to appoint an intelligent and vigorous deputy.

So, this could be one benefit of Putin’s approach; and indeed I suspect that it is.

The disadvantage is that too many incompetent (and corrupt) people remain in the highest levels of government, and this impedes the progress of Russia. Medvedev may well understand this better than Putin, and his proding on this issue may be more than simply being “uncomfortable with the prime minister’s political clout”.