Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Linchpin

I'm a fan of the TV show Castle, mostly because it stars Nathan Fillion of Firefly fame (granted, more people watch Castle now than watched Firefly when it was on). And also because it's about a writer and is more or less a cop show. But as a show, Castle is deeply flawed and often downright silly. Aside from the fact that there are nothing but "beautiful people" on the show top to bottom--with law enforcement folks, from the NYPD to the FBI to the CIA, being the most beautiful group by far--the plot lines are outrageous, sometimes seeming to come from a Clive Cussler novel (and by the way, wouldn't Fillion make a helluva Dirk Pitt?).

One of the most outrageous plot lines occurs in a two-part bit that culminates in "Linchpin," the sixteenth episode in season four. Jennifer Beals, by the way, plays a senior CIA operative in these two episodes. Anyway, the long and short of it is that there is a conspiracy under way to start a world war based on the idea of a "linchpin," an otherwise small event that would trigger a series of other events, ultimately culminating in world war. In this case, the linchpin event was the assassination of a child, the daughter of a Chinese diplomat. Needless to say, Castle and Beckett help save her and thus stop the dominoes from falling, thereby saving the world at large.

Linchpin theory--or linchpin analysis--is a real thing, both in intelligence work and in game theory, but it seldom--if ever--turns on events like the ones described here. Why? Because there is too much uncertainty, too much dependence on limited human agency. The whole basis of linchpin theory is relative certainty, is knowledge that one event will have a given result, not might have it. The Castle scenario was much more a roll of the dice, not a true linchpin scenario.

But those scenarios are out there.

Right now, Russians are fit to be tied over the Cyprus situation (the proposed one off bank levy). Putin, in particular, is "furious":
Putin has made it clear that he is furious with the decision to ‘tax’ deposit holders throughout the country, calling it “unfair, unprofessional and dangerous”, and Moscow has already threatened to withdraw a €2.5 billion loan to the island.
Spokespeople for the Russian government have vocally complained about the EU's decision and it's failure to consult with Russia beforehand. The generally widespread view of the Russian money in the Cypriot banks is that it is mostly profits from criminal enterprises, but the Russian government is also involved, as are many Russian businesses that are no more--or no less--criminal than those in any other country. And there is no question that these monies are the targets of the EU's action.

Given this blatant targeting, justified or not, what will be the consequences outside of strictly financial matters? Not all that far away, yet a world a way in some aspects, from Cyprus lies the Middle East, including Syria. And the violence still wracking that nation seems far from settled. The latest news there has both government and rebel forces accusing each other of using chemical weapons.

Attempts by the international community to control the unrest in Syria, to bring it to an end, have largely failed. And this is partly due to splits in that community, with regard to who should be the winner in this civil war. Western Europe and the United States have backed the rebels as an offshoot of the Arab Spring. Yet, the EU has maintained a general arms embargo against Syria for almost two years now (it was imposed in May of 2011). Meanwhile, the Russians have continued to supply the Syrian government with arms throughout the conflict.

Now, the EU is about to consider dropping the embargo. France in particular is prepared to begin supplying the rebels, even if it means defying the EU embargo:
"The European Union arms embargo is now backfiring," one French official said. "Ideally, we'd like the European Union to lift the embargo. But if that doesn't happen, we'd be ready to take our responsibility."  
Deciding to flout an EU arms embargo is a bold gesture, one which hasn't been taken militarily since the Bosnian war. But with French headlines dominated by the crisis in the former French colony, public opinion seems squarely on the side of bold action.
And as this decision by the EU looms, the United Sates and Russia have already staked out their positions on the chemical weapons incident:
U.S. officials flatly rejected the official Syrian version that rebels launched a chemically armed rocket that killed 25 and injured 110, the latter including many in critical condition... 
President Obama has warned the Syrian government that any use of chemical weapons -- or a transfer of stockpiles to other powers -- is a “red line” that could trigger a U.S. response... 
In Moscow, Russian officials wholeheartedly endorsed Damascus’ charge that the rebels had unleashed a chemical attack outside Aleppo. The Foreign Ministry labeled the episode an “extremely alarming and dangerous development.”
The EU's actions against Cyprus are about economics, about dealing with the financial crisis that has afflicted the EU for several years now. But the repercussions of these actions are not limited to the sphere of economics, alone. What about politically? Germany, even as it pushed for the one off levy, is very much opposed to lifting the arms embargo against Syria. Yet both the embargo and the levy bear the stamp of the EU as a whole. Assuming the levy eventually goes through, how will this affect Russian decisions with regard to Syria? It has--up to this point--balked at supplying the Syrian government with advanced fighter jets and missiles.

Suppose it changes its tune in this regard? Really, it seems like almost a given that it will if the levy goes through. Putin is certainly not going to be looking for a negotiating table over Syria anytime soon. And if France pushes forward with supplying the rebels? If Obama is true to his word on the issue of chemical weapons? A proxy war in Syria is the end result. And for the Middle East as a whole, that means what? For the world?

People fearful of the next world war have largely looked to China and the U.S. as the two "sides" in this regard. Russia has been a secondary consideration at best for the past several decades. But the Chinese have their own issues to deal with right now. U.S. and Russian interests in the Middle East are clearly in opposition and have been for some time. Enter the EU, which picks this moment in time to poke the Russian bear with a very pointy stick, even as EU power--economic, political, and military--is on the wane.

It's a good scenario for a book or a TV show. But it's all too real. Cyprus could very well be a linchpin event.

Cheers, all.

4 comments:

  1. Eeeeh... it's a bit of a stretch, imo. Things are getting complicated in Syria, no doubt, but there are plenty of conflicts between Russia and the West without Cyprus, and I don't see this so very different from the other ones.

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  2. Oh, I'm just specualtin', Dm. Note that in my previous bit on the Cyprus stuff I implied it will be forgotten about in short order.

    I find these two extremes fascinating; it will be interesting to see how thinks finally break out in that regard, which extreme was the "least wrong." :)

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  3. Hey, Rob, can I use your blog to plug myself?
    http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/nn400028p
    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v495/n7441/pdf/495284a.pdf

    ReplyDelete