Moacir P. de Sá Pereira on September 4th, 2008

Everything I know about military tactics I learned from playing Civ4. In other words, I don’t know much at all about military tactics. But there are two situations that always annoy me when playing the game that I try to avoid.

The first situation is the small attack met with large counterattack. This is, in fact, my standard response to aggression from weaker civilizations. They launch an assault on one of my border cities, and I respond with my entire military to take over all of their territory in an extensive war of attrition (which usually makes me slip in the global rankings and is often expensive folly against the computer). When I first started reading about the military response by the Russians, which included marching into Georgia proper, I saw a resemblance to this sort of tactical response; I worried that Russia would do like I would: annex land, raze cities, crush rebellions, destroy infrastructure, starve cities… Some of that they have most certainly have done, but not all of it.

The second awful situation I hate being caught in in Civ4 is the overextension. In the rush to claim new land, or–and this is the significant part–while being already engaged in other wars with other civilizations, I inevitably leave many cities underdefended. Usually, this isn’t a problem, but eventually–and this always happens–multiple galleons, weighed down with cavalry, will land on the coast right outside of my capital, which is being defended by a single swordsman. It is not even worth coming back from that kind of maneuver tactical shock to the system.

But it’s this second situation that has been worrying me since I read George Friedman’s article about Georgia in the NYRB. In the lede graph he writes:

The Russian invasion of Georgia has not changed the balance of power in Eurasia. It has simply announced that the balance of power had already shifted. The United States has been absorbed in its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as potential conflict with Iran and a destabilizing situation in Pakistan. It has no strategic ground forces in reserve and is in no position to intervene on the Russian periphery… Moscow did not have to concern itself with the potential response of the United States or Europe; hence, the balance of power had already shifted, and it was up to the Russians when to make this public. They did that on August 8.

In otherwords, there is an overextension here in place, but it’s not Russia or Georgia that has overextended. It’s the US. Russia’s marching into Georgia not only calls the bluff of how willing to support Georgia the US (and NATO) is, but also calls into question the mere logistical possibility of a response.

And here, finally, in its paranoid implications, does the Lithuanian pro-Georgian response become clear. If we take it as a given that Russia can attack Georgia all it wants both because the US has no interest in making good on its buddy-buddy claims to Saakashvili and because the US is incapable of mounting a military response because of overextension, then what is to stop any aggressor from taking any kind of military action?

If the global policeman is tied up pursuing one case, who will be around to police the other crimes that come up?

Earlier I’ve pushed forward the theory that Lithuania’s membership in NATO is enough to disqualify the comparison between the invasion of Georgia and a potential invasion of Lithuania. But consider the possibility–how equipped is the US to provide the backbone of a military response to an attack on a NATO nation? We have no idea, of course, and I should assume that the US’s generals are smarter about avoiding overextension than I am when I play Civ4, but the idea is chilling.

In the London Review of Books, Chris Wood outlines how Russia has ended up the loser here:

not only has it been demonised, but it has suffered alarming capital flight – $16.4 billion in the week after 8 August alone – and its bid for WTO membership, already subject to Georgian veto, has been derailed for the foreseeable future. The image of Russia flexing its military muscle in its ‘near abroad’, sobering enough for the Ukrainian elite, only reveals all the more starkly its lack of any ideological attraction for its neighbours, to whom it can offer only cheap gas and retribution.

The both material and ideological distancing is important to keep tabs on, but otherwise, I’m content to leave the situation here. There is a strong case to be made for Lithuanian concern, but it’s tied into a (possibly paranoid) lack of faith in the ability of NATO to protect its members.

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3 Responses to “Overextending America”

  1. Great post about overextension Moacir. I especially liked the clip from the Chris Wood article. I’ve got one issue with him though. He says that Russia has only suffered since the attack on Georgia and that Russia did not gain anything meaningful from the attack: “…only reveals all the more starkly its lack of any ideological attraction for its neighbours, to whom it can offer only cheap gas and retribution.”

    To us in the West (myself included), it looks as if Russia has only harmed its international image. This isn’t the way Russia (specifically its leadership) looks at things though. Russia has had an inferiority complex to the U.S. since the end of the Cold War. This isn’t helped in the way the U.S. has dealt with Russia since then: like a vanquished foe who doesn’t deserve much respect and is only to be given directives to, not negotiated with.

    Having some oil clout is one way to bolster its ego and knocking the U.S. down a peg by showing that Russia can do what it wants in its backyard is another. Personally, I don’t think that losing $16.4 billion in capital and the world’s goodwill is worth pushing around the Georgians. Still, this brings up the old argument of which a leader would rather have from his people: love or fear. North Korea is another example of an inferiority complex and constant efforts to try to join the nuclear club in order to gain more respect (fear).

    I’m not saying that Russia made the right move in regards to Georgia, but I am saying that Russia made a statement it felt it had to make in order to gain more respect (and they timed it perfectly, as you noted in your post). I think this is only a continuation of the strategy of bullying that Russia started once oil prices rose steeply after 1998.

    Pushing around the Ukraine and others by using gas politics apparently leads to violence against smaller neighbors. Putin has also said that he doesn’t like how many NATO naval ships are in the area. When asked about what he’d do about it he said recently “You’ll see.” Idomu kas bus toliau…

    J.V.

  2. Yeah, the point that the Bush administration seems to still treat Russia as though it were a weakling (the Clinton-era perspective) and that that is a gross misunderstanding of Russian affairs has been widely made…

    …It kind of makes you wish they had, I dunno, an expert on Russia somewhere high up in the State Department… like someone whose dissertation was on the military in 20th c. Eastern Europe, perhaps.

  3. Haha, well said. Just goes to show you how blinding ideology can be. I’ve read some of her scholarly papers from back in the day. She definitely wasn’t throwing around neocon talking points at that point in time.

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