Russian Foreign Policy toward the Balkans: A Situation Assessment


Here is the final version of my part of the project on Russia. I hope to be able to publish here the team’s final report, which includes an analysis of competing hypotheses on Russian Reorganization of the Civilian Nuclear Energy Sector, a cost benefit analysis of Russia – Ukraine energy security relations, and a social network analysis of Dmitry Medvedev’s Leadership Network. However, I’m waiting for the permission of the other team members and the instructor to do so.

A brief evaluation of the effectiveness of the technique in relation to the topic

Using situation assessment to analyze Russia’s foreign policy toward the Balkans has as both its principal advantage and disadvantage the flexibility and resulting breadth of scope it offers. On the positive side, this flexibility functions to fill deficiencies in more formalized methodologies, where restriction of sub-methods and limitations of scope can result in an exaggerated focus on the particular details, failing to detect an over-arching pattern or structure. On the negative side, the potentially limitless options this method offers to the analyst can result in either oversimplification through generalization, or a lack of focus altogether. One way to avoid losing the string would be to commission situation assessments not of individual analysts but of an inter-disciplinary team. I believe this would only add to the potential multi-faceted direction this method is open to, while at the same time, keep the more wild fancies on a leash of peer review.

The elements I chose to include in this situation assessment, which in retrospect were best suited to the topic were the various IR theories on power and regionalism. In this spirit, I would advocate the use of open source analyses by various think tanks, especially if the analyst is not an area specialist. The potential pitfall of arriving at politicized information could be safeguarded against by a thorough source reliability check, which would take an infinitely shorter time than self-education of the analyst on a broad theme under the duress of a deadline.

Finally, the informal, descriptive nature of a situation assessment is conducive to writing in a narrative style, which is less prone to jargon and offers the analyst the opportunity to engage and “talk” to his/her client/decision-maker as the analysis unfolds. Not only does this make the reading experience of a person tired of reading report after report with uninspiring technical and/or management, or worse, bureaucratic language, but has the potential to establish good rapport between the two sides, minimize misunderstandings hidden in vague and ambiguous language, and add a dialogue-element to the analyst’s otherwise rather lonely job.

Think tank on the Future of Books

Another great serendipitous find – The Institute for the Future of the Book. It’s a Brooklyn/London-based think tank dedicated to the evolution of reading and writing in the digital age.  Some of their projects include The Googlization of Everything – a book in progress that visitors to the site can contribute to, aiming at the following 3 questions: What does the world look like through the lens of Google? How is Google’s ubiquity affecting the production and dissemination of knowledge; and How has the corporation altered the rules and practices that govern other companies, institutions and states? Another book in progress project to which readers can contribute is the Without Gods project, or a history of atheism. Lewis Lapham of Harper’s Magazine has a page on the site, entitled Operation Iraqi Quagmire, which features Lewis’ comments on US foreign policy toward Iraq. Finally, a title that caught my eye because I spent the last year of my studies in Classics researching and writing on the topic of perceptions of memory and writing in the ancient world, The Gates Memory Project is a collaboration project between Flickr and The Institute for the Future of the Book. Unfortunately, this last one appears to be at a stall, with the last blog entry dating back to 2005. Nevertheless, there are some interesting posts in the archives.