Virtual Travel with Pessoa, Google and the Russian Railways

Noone is better at describing the ‘tedium of physical traveling’ than Fernando Pessoa in The Book of Disquiet – an endless mental journey through aesthetics and philosophy:

Fragment 451

Travel? One need only exist to travel. I go from day to day, as from station to station, in the train of my body or my destiny, leaning out over the streets and squares, over people’s faces and gestures, always the same and always different, just like scenery.

If I imagine, I see. What more do I do when I travel? Only extreme poverty of the imagination justifies having to travel to feel.

Any road, this simple Entepfuhl road, will lead you to the end of the World. But the end of the world, like the beginning, is in fact our concept of the world. It is in us that the scenery is scenic. If I imagine it, I create it; if I create it, it exists; if it exists, then I see it like any other scenery. So why travel? In Madrid, Berlin, Persia, China, and at the North or South Pole, where would I be but in myself, and in my particular type of sensations?

Life is what we make of it. Travel is the traveler. What we see isn’t what we see but what we are.

Why travel indeed? If the book has become an outdated transport medium, Google has just launched a new travel product-experience – virtual ride on the Trans-Siberian Moscow-Vladivostock railine, complete with a choice of soundtrack from balalaikas to a meditative rumble of wheels to an audio recording of Gogol’s Dead Souls (in Russian) should you be so inclined. As you follow the passing scenery from your train window to whatever acoustic accompaniment you prefer, you can also trace your route on the map and explore the surroundings, and that for 9000km, 7 time zones and 150 hours of footage.

In case of motion sickness, Pessoa comes to aid again:

Fragment 122

The idea of travelling nauseates me.

I’ve already seen what I’ve never seen.

I have already seen what I have yet to see.

The tedium of the forever new, the tedium of discovering – behind the specious differences of things and ideas – the unrelenting sameness of everything, the absolute similarity of a mosque and a temple and a church, the exact equivalence of a cabin and a castle, the same physical body for a king in robes and for a naked savage, the eternal concordance of life with itself, the stagnation of everything I live, all of it equally condemned to change…

The Google train ride on the Trans-Siberian in this sense emotionally resembles a frozen TV dinner. It robs the imagination and leaves an empty aftertaste.

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Who’s got the last laugh? Interview with Dmitry Rogozin in Bulgarian “Kapital”

Last week the European Council on Foreign Relations ran a commentary by compatriot Vessela Cherneva, in which she gives a summary of an interview given by Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s Ambassador to NATO, for Bulgarian newspaper Kapital. In addition to Ms Cherneva’s apt evaluation of the nuances and implications for Bulgaria (and beyond) in terms of Russia’s foreign policy toward Bulgaria and other “lost” spheres of influence in the wider Balkans region, a comment by one of the readers, explaining the notion of the “useful idiot” stemming from pre-Cold War Russian ideology are both well worth reading.

While Rogozin is well known to the international community for his thuggish “sense of humor”, I’m not sure to what extent such thuggishness comes across in a summary of his speech. This prompted me to translate the full interview from Bulgarian, which can be read below. Something else worth noting is perhaps the difference between interviews given to the Western press and the one in this Bulgarian publication. I cannot pinpoint exactly what those differences are, but one thing is certain: speaking to a cultural audience that one considers its adversary and another – its “historically proven and justified” sphere of influence is not the same.

Rogozin, who may or may not be having the last laugh aside, I can highly recommend the analyses and policy briefs published by the ECFR. They are a voice of hope that the EU has not entirely lost its ability for rational thought!

Interview with Dmitry Rogozin

Regardless of the West’s position, Moscow views the conflict with Georgia as unconditional victory. What is your next step?

You mean, who’s next? My colleague, the US Ambassador to NATO Kurt Volker, said that Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia face a threat of a Russian attack. I would like to add to this list two more categories: the Marcians and the Penguins. We are getting more and more annoyed of such panic-raising US statements. The German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has proposed an independent investigation of the events in Georgia. We agree to such measures, but the Georgians don’t. In this case, the Georgian President Saakashvili is the aggressor and the criminal – and, so what? Is NATO going to cease communication with him? If we were to open the facts to CNN, are they going to apologize for the disinformation they were spreading during the crisis? And what are the faces of Dick Cheney and George Bush, the men who financed Saakashvili’s regime, going to be like?

The recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia was not an easy decision for us, but it was the only way to stop the violence. In the very near future they will be recognized by another 10-15 countries. If a country is not formally recognized, it does not mean that it does not exist. The US didn’t recognize the Soviet Union until 1933. Yet we existed and developed prior to that.

Despite the civilian and military casualties, we can speak of a positive result of this war. Namely, the war was a test in morale, responsibility and who’s worth what in international politics. These things are clear. You can’t not take a side in this issue. What we want is that the aggressor is punished and anathemized by the international community, if not in real at least in moral terms. The second thing we want is peace and stability on the Caucuses for all. Third, it’s clear that our world is fragile and that it can be easily destroyed by one wrong step taken by a drug addict. This is why we have to protect ourselves from dividing into (political/ideological) blocks and to try to find stability for all of us.

You are comparing 8 August 2008 to 11 September 2001. What do you think are the long-term consequences of 8 August?

One thing is sure: we will not be acting like the Americans after 11 September. After they were attacked, instead of taking care of their national security, they attacked Iraq and Afghanistan; what’s more, under a laughable pretext. Russia will concentrate on its national security and will keep to its own part of the geographic map. Our goal is to create a wide coalition for peace and stability in Europe, to change the agreements, and to make security an indivisible issue for us all. You can laugh at me but I support the idea for obligatory conscription for everybody in Russia.

Where else are there Russian minorities that Russia intends to protect as it did in South Ossetia and Abkhazia?

Minorities are not only a Russian problem. There are Hungarians in Romania, Turks in Bulgaria…What’s important is to not provoke one another, but to secure peace of mind for our compatriots. Why, for instance, are Russian in the Baltic states refused citizenship rights? They are the second largest ethnic group in those countries. This stands in the way of friendly relations between Russia and Estonia and Latvia. There is one thing I want to clarify. We intervened in South Ossetia not only because Russians live there. We would likewise protect every small nation in our region, which is threatened by genocide – Jews, Bulgarians, all. How can we stand by indifferent if someone is shooting rockets at a civilian population?

After all the hard words of the past few weeks, is there place for constructive dialogue between Russia and NATO?

As a Washington favourite, Saakashvili has been a force of instability in the Caucuses for years. Since the beginning of August I have been in constant communication with NATO. We wanted to use the mechanisms for cooperation available in order to put a stop to the aggression with joint efforts. For some reasons America blocked this process. This is why we think that NATO’s General Secretary visit to Tbilisi on the 15-16 September, despite being planned way in advance, is amoral and not correct. We were hoping that our colleagues in NATO will understand that such a visit will be taken to mean moral support for Saakashvili, which is totally out of line.

The behavior of the Americans was scandalous. For many people the US was also an actor in this conflict because they were arming the Georgian army. As for the Europeans, we expected from them not just propaganda but an objective evaluation of who played what role in this war, and why. We trusted that they would adopt a balanced approach. We have economic and friendly relations with Europe, we are building together a common European home, which has now been bombarded from within by some revanchists with a Cold War mentality. We did not expect such hypocrisy.

Do you think NATO’s expansion to the east has come to an end?

We consider further NATO expansion as counterproductive and very, very dangerous. If NATO had not promised Georgia membership, the situation would not have escalated to aggression. Saakashvili took this promise as an indulgence. Until recently we treated his behaviour in the way an elephant would react to a puppy barking. But when he started to exercise violence over a small nation like South Ossetia, which only four years ago suffered the tragedy in Beslan, we could no longer pretend that nothing is happening.

If NATO likes to pretend that it doesn’t matter whose hands it is shaking and refuses to see the blood on these hands, then an organization of this kind can no longer be our partner. If NATO offers Georgia a plan of action toward membership, we will terminate all our cooperation with NATO.

What will happen to eastern Ukraine if Kiev decides to pursue NATO membership?

Ukraine is another version of the Caucuses drama. There the governing coalition split apart over the question of NATO membership. The Prime Minister and the President are on non-speaking terms because of this. This shows again how dangerous it is for NATO to step in the region. Many in Ukraine are now apprehensive, and with a good reason – President Viktor Yushchenko was selling weapons to Saakashvili. Besides, we have information that the Ukranian air forces may be involved in the shooting of Russian planes over Georgia.

All other issues aside, Ukraine is for us the cradle of Russian civilization. We come from Kiev. Ukraine is our mother; this is our family. You can’t just tear apart a child from its mother – we will not let this happen.

As the winter is coming, is there danger of cutting gas supplies to Europe?

Where are such fears coming from? We have never put forth the question of cutting supplies to our European partners. There are two elements in our country which remain unchanged no matter what happens: the discipline in our energy supplies to our partners and our readiness to apply our rocket systems. Both are in order. In 1991 nothing worked in Russia – but even then these two elements were in “readiness”. Don’t doubt our reputation in these two areas.

Are you ready to use the second element the same way you apply the first?

It is the guarantee to our sovereignty from the time of the Cold War until now. It is our guarantee for security.

The Black Sea is a strategic security zone. Is Russia ready to share it with NATO?

All the countries in the Black Sea region have to be very careful when it comes to this issue. No military activity should be developed there, otherwise there will be an ecological if not military disaster. There is sulphuric hydrogen at the bottom of the Black Sea – in case of military activity, this can lead to an ecological disaster. This is why we are warning NATO to stop flexing its muscles in the Black Sea region. They say now that they are delivering humanitarian assistance to Georgia. But why use navy ships? We want the Romanians, the Bulgarians and all countries bordering the Black Sea to be very careful what they’re doing and what they allow to be done in their waters. The Black Sea should be used for trade and tourism, not for military purposes.

Bulgaria has historical ties with Russia but today is a NATO member, a host of American military bases and supporter of Georgia’s membership in NATO. Does Russia view Bulgaria as a competitor in this respect?

Russia has lost many lives fighting to protect Bulgaria and we have never regret this. We have the same religious beliefs, the same blood, and there are no bad feelings between us. Your President Parvanov is my personal friend. However, Bulgaria has abandoned us many times, but afterwards always taken the correct decision when victory was on our side. Now Bulgaria once again is in the wrong camp – NATO. But this is your own fault and it depends on you to correct it at some point.

This week the EU sent over its most senior representatives to Moscow to discuss how Russia sees its future relations with Europe. How do you interpret the answer they were given?

We want to implement the “Medvedev-Sarkozy” plan – every step of it. But there’s a problem with this plan. Actually there’s more than one plan: one signed by Medvedev and the French President Sarkozy in Moscow on 12 August; in Tbilisi, however, Sarkozy was unable to convince Saakashvili to sign it, and the word “statut” was changed to “security” for Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This plan was given to US’ Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and this black American panther managed to get Saakashvili to sign a different plan, one that does not at all include the 6 points. Then the Security Council changed the plan again…We are going to discuss only the original document signed by Medvedev and Sarkozy in Moscow. The EU is mostly interested in how many Russian troops there are in Georgia and when they are going to be withdrawn. I will answer immediately. We have 400 people military personnel in the demilitarized zone, which are stationed in 19 check points. They will stay there until a peacekeeping mission of the OSCE or a common mission between us and the EU arrives there. Then we will return to our pre 6 August positions.

You have proposed a new foreign policy concept for changing the security architecture in Europe. How does this idea look now in the aftermath of the recent events, and is there place for the US in this scheme?

This concept was presented in July. There is a need for a common security system for Europe, the US and Russia. The US is part of this. We are talking about a security zone from Vancouver to Vladivostok. We must stop acting divided in blocks, and move into a common, inter-related security system.

In the last month the fear from Russia was revived; investors left and your country is understood in this international isolation. Was the war with Georgia worth the price?

History will be our judge. The historical truth will be on our side. The West has become cynical and double-faced. It is morally poor and acts according to double standards. A few months will pass and everything will normalize. But we are going to draw our lessons learned. Two countries will pay the bill – Georgia and the US. Georgia has to cure itself of its nationalist-populist illness. The US has lost its reputation. What America has done in the past few years, has degraded it in the eyes of many people around the world.

So Russia is back in the Great Game?

(Long silence.) Yes. But everything will be ok. In the past there were moments when I thought that we have lost everything in the face of insults and hatred. I used to tell myself that things will turn around, that a time will come when we can look back at the situation and laugh. This time has come and I would like to conclude with a fitting joke. In Russia the optimists learn English; the pessimists learn Chinese; and the realists learn how to use a Kalashnikov.

An Offer they just Can’t Refuse?

   It’s not all about energy resources when it comes to Russian interests in its former Central Asian republics. As this RFE/RL article reports, the Russians are deploying further troops to their air base at Kant outside the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek. Reportedly housing some 400 personnel currently, the base has a U.S. “rival”, the 1000 staff U.S. air base at Manas also on the outskirts of Bishkek.

Though the Americans are paying a steep rent for the privilege of being allowed to maintain their only remaining military base in Central Asia, local governments are less warm to U.S. aid initiatives for a number of reasons, not least of which that the money allocated is meant to support human rights NGOs and the building of democratic institutions, which challenge the very foundation of the authoritarian Central Asian governments.

Russia, on the other hand, is seen as the most viable foreign partner despite obvious increase in its military presence in the region. In addition to proximity, cultural and historical ties, Russia is a profitable destination for impoverished migrant workers from Central Asia. Add to that Russian political support for regimes of the Islam Karimov type in Uzbekistan and talk of merging CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization) and Eurasec as a counterbalancing initiative to NATO and the EU, and the news of Russian further military deployment acquires the distinct taste of an offer Central Asian states just can’t refuse.

Putin Video

In light of my recent posts on Russia and my discussion on perception vs. reality in the situation assessment, I just couldn’t resist adding this video. It’s a hoot!

 

Russian Foreign Policy toward the Balkans: A Situation Assessment

russian-foreign-policy-toward-the-balkans

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.

Introduction to Situation Assessment on Russian Foreign Policy toward the Balkans

I’m having so much fun writing this! The final product should be ready by Wednesday. Last minute comments welcome as always.

Russian Foreign Policy toward the Balkans: A Situation Assessment

Introduction

Situation assessment as a methodology aims to provide the context for strategic planning, decision-making and action. As such, it is primarily a descriptive methodology that examines events in the present and looks for patterns from the past. While the ultimate purpose of a situation assessment is future-oriented in that it serves as the starting point for generating hypotheses for alternative futures, the process of gathering and analyzing information that makes up a situation assessment does little in terms of logical speculation of the data by the analyst. This, at least, is the traditional approach of this methodology whether applied in the context of national security intelligence, business/competitive intelligence, assessment of military capabilities, or academic research of international relations and political science. Although the definition of situation assessment may vary slightly across disciplines – compare, for instance, Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis in business, Case Study in international relations and politics, and Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (IPB) in military intelligence – the main characteristic of this methodology is its focus on providing a descriptive observational design.

The present situation assessment will try to demonstrate that a descriptive analytical method need not be confined to observational variables alone, but offers the analyst opportunities to present his/her decision-maker with a highly inferential, evaluative and nuanced assessment. I will argue that situation assessment is a particularly useful methodology for looking at complex, interconnected and interdependent environments, not only because it can provide simultaneously a detailed (microscopic) and big picture (telescopic) view, but also because it opens the possibility to distinguish between perception and reality.

One of the more important advantages of situation assessment as a method is its qualitative (open) rather than quantitative (restricted) selection of the variables – I prefer to call them elements – that constitute the observation. This allows the analyst the flexibility to adapt these elements as well as juxtapose them in different ways on the surface of the analytical landscape, with the gained benefit of exploring different perspectives, and by extension, make qualitative judgments about perception and reality, much in the same way one would analyze a picture.

This situation assessment begins with an introduction to why this particular methodology was chosen by the analyst to examine the topic of inquiry, namely, Russian foreign policy toward the Balkans. The first part is a discussion of the methodology itself, what elements and why they were chosen to constitute the situation assessment. In this section I examine the aptitude of applying a situation assessment technique to the study of a country’s foreign policy. Next, I attempt to determine the viability of analyzing a country’s foreign policy through international relations and political science theories by looking at both the epistemological (positivist and post-positivist) and constructivist camps. Given the distinctly regional dimension of the research topic, I focus in particular on theories with specific application to power distribution, balance of power and power transition. Having identified ‘energy’ as one of the two distinct means toward the end in Russian foreign policy toward the Balkans, I explore applications and implications of a theoretical model developed by Buzan and Weaver, known as Regional Security Complex Theory and its extension to energy security.

I then focus on Russia’s second regional power weapon – identity politics – through a descriptive analysis of historical, cultural linguistic and religious factors, with emphasis on the particularly Russian cultural ideology of Eurasianism as the counter-balancing ideology of the Anglo-Saxon “west”. This discussion concludes my traditional approach to the examination of a country’s foreign policy in a regional aspect, and I turn to alternative analysis as a complement to the more established methods of conducting a situation assessment.

Because I treat a situation assessment as a picture, i.e. as a snapshot frozen in time, or rather, in non-time, I introduce art history analysis as a possible analogy in looking at “the picture”. I believe a comparison of a situation assessment analytical landscape to 17th century Dutch still life is particularly appropriate in shedding light both on my original technique (cf.Greek ‘techne’ – art, craft) and topic for a number of reasons.

First, the significance of Dutch development and preoccupation with optic instruments such as the microscope and telescope in the 17th century bears a resemblance to current trends of strategic thinking, most notably the emphasis on “big picture”, holistic visions of reality. This offers a basis for comparison, especially where a situation assessment is concerned because its purpose is to piece together the details, so as to offer a bird-view (God-view?) of the situation. That said, I do not believe that this is entirely possible due to sheer cognitive limitations, so in my evaluation of the technique, I will argue that holistic analysis is an idealized ambition: it can open more doors, but it will not open all doors.

Second, still life as an artistic genre is comparable to a situation assessment in that it offers a picture of reality suspended in, what would appear to be the present moment, but could well be argued that it is a representation “out of time”. And third, the role of perspective and depth on the canvas is not unlike what various foreign policy tools aim to do in shaping both external perceptions of the state by other states, and creating self-perceptions of national identity. Hence, I believe, such alternative analogy could be useful to the intelligence analyst trying to distinguish between perception and reality by becoming aware of the deception inherent in the image.

Part I concludes with an evaluation of the technique in application to the particular topic.

Part II of this paper is where the technique comes “alive” in action to form the actual content of the situation assessment. It begins with an overview of Russian foreign policy, the traits and trends that define Russia’s role on the global scene. This overview borrows heavily from international relations and political science theories, and resembles what a political scientist might refer to as foreign policy analysis. This section is followed by a discussion of the soft and hard power tools available to the current administration in Moscow, and aims to answer three specific questions.

First: Is Russia aiming to regain its sphere of influence on the Balkans by building complex interdependencies among the countries in the region by means of securing bilateral pipeline deals? Second: How is Russia exploiting the issue of “common” identity in the region and why? Third: Assuming that no state on the Balkans currently holds regional leadership, can Russia fill this gap by transcending the geographical limits, which define the region and achieving political, economic and cultural hegemony on the Balkans?

The last section of the analysis uses an alternative technique, namely an art analogy, to look at the individual players on the Balkans as well as the region’s periphery (Turkey and Cyprus) as though we were looking at a still life painting. The contradiction in the title of this section, “A still life of Balkan regional dynamics” is intentional. It aims to show that while a situation assessment and a still life can be perceived as static representations out of time, each country’s perception of each other along a spatial and temporal perspective, as well as its relation to the “blank” surface, exhibits a dynamic that is not apparent from a static snapshot of the situation. Since the more traditional approach to a situation assessment is closer to a static image, I felt justified in exploring an alternative technique to supplement the assessment with a more dynamic representation of reality.

It is important for this exercise to distinguish between allegory and symbol. A detailed discussion on this topic is out of the scope of this paper; for our purposes, the Oxford English Dictionary definitions will suffice, and I hope, convincingly justify my preference for an allegorical over a symbolic representation for each country on the grounds that each has a story to tell on the still life canvas of our situation assessment, rather than function as an idealized symbol, which would doom the actor incapable of change.

Allegory – a story, play, poem, picture, etc. in which the meaning or message is represented symbolically

Symbol – a mark or character taken as the conventional sign of some object, idea, function, or process

Thus, through the process of allegory, Bulgaria, with its machinations to please and benefit from both its NATO/EU partnership and Russia, becomes Janus – the Roman god of the gate and door who looks both ways. Romania, with its long history of fending off vampires becomes the garlic that would help keep Russia away from breathing distance. Greece, with a stable record of adhering to its proverbial reputation – “don’t trust Greeks bearing gifts – becomes the Trojan horse. In the Western Balkans, Serbia’s vocal support of Russian cultural kinship and little hesitation to assert its cultural and historical claims on the region, becomes a Kalashnikov. Kosovo, with its ambition to proclaim its “otherness” has finally got its own flag to show for it if nothing else. And Bosnia and Herzegovina is sweetening its bitter wounds with a lethargically brewing Turkish coffee pot.

In the background, but gaining in proportion are the S300 missile Cyprus, loaded not only with Russian ammunition, but a fat Russian wallet, and Turkey – holding tight to its application for EU membership as sticky Turkish delight. Russia – emperor of the surface, the “blank” – space absorbs these unfolding dynamics with the anticipation of the Minotaur waiting for his royal breakfast of seven youths and maidens.

The alternative analysis section of the situation assessment draws no conclusions. As a complementing alternative technique, its aim is to raise awareness of different perspectives and “throw” the more traditional parts on their heads, so to speak. As such, it is an exercise in thinking, not a logical argument.

The paper concludes with some thoughts on methodology in intelligence analysis in general and a summary of the experience in preparing this paper.

The Role of Alternative/Competitive Analysis in Intelligence Analysis

In general, I’m in favor of using competitive/alternative analysis (AA) as a supplement to traditional methods; yet-sparingly. First of all, there should be a clear understanding what constitutes “traditional” analysis. If, as we have witnessed through various readings in this course, there is no consensus within the intelligence community (IC) whether intelligence analysis is produced based on intuition or structured methodology, and the tendency within the community is still to rely on intuition as a preferred “method”, any argument about potential harm of AA is meaningless and, frankly, quite absurd. What can be more alternative than intuition?! As intuition defies arranged structure, it could be argued that it is AA per se. Once again, I think people in the IC engaged in the debate of the pros and cons of AA are stuck in the tyranny of definitions. It is noteworthy that such debates tend to come to surface as a result of some intelligence or policy failure, or both, and are aimed at finding quick fixes by falling prey to either extremes: tradition vs. avant-gardism. I find neither position palatable: too much tradition and you risk falling into group think trap; too much avant-gardism, and you risk missing the “bare essentials” while on some far-fetched optimistic or pessimistic fancy.

From the views of the different senators on the NIEs A-B Team exercise on Soviet strategic capabilities and objectives in 1976-8, that of Senator Daniel Moynihan rang closes to my own take on the topic. Namely, Moynihan states several times that the point of doing AA is to sharpen the analysis by occasionally – “from time to time” (p.10) – challenging the analysts’ thinking. Institutionalizing AA as a regular component of analysis would mean to deprive it of its “alternativeness”, to go back to semantics once more.

Another point on which I particularly agree with Moynihan is his conclusion that AA need not be taken for all its worth but only for those elements that are lucid, relevant and sharpen the focus rather than take a different snapshot altogether. “No one should have expected that the intelligence community would accept the entire Team B position…”

This reminds me of Grove’s earlier discussion on the rising importance of complementors to an enterprise that chooses a flat as opposed to a vertical hierarchy. While these complementors are in a way competitors since they function as entities outside a given enterprise, they can be highly beneficial, often indispensable to the success of the enterprise. Similarly, AA should not be so much feared in the IC as a force exposing the inadequacies and outright failures in intelligence analysis produced by tradecraft-seasoned analysts, but as a complementor offering potential new opportunities.

Stack’s negative view of AA and his reasons for believing that: “Competitive analysis would fail again for four major reasons.” was rather unconvincing. Time, the first obstacle he exposes to conducting AA, and AA’s consequent irrelevance to current and warning intelligence, is: a) everyone’s number one favorite excuse for not doing something; b) time and its semantic cognate ‘speed’ can, and are, perceived differently by different people at different times. (Recommendation to Stack: examine Xeno’s tortoise paradox). What in one country’s estimate might seem as a current or tactical intelligence, from another country’s perception can well fall under long-term, strategic intelligence. Add to this the use of deception and coercion, and time assumes yet an altogether different dimension. Russia’s take/behavior in the Kosovo issue is one of the more obvious examples.

Stack’s second point can be dismissed outright because it reiterates the first, i.e. his editor didn’t check for tautologies.

His third point – OSINT provides a sufficiently alternative alternative to alternative analysis is self-defeating. Says Stacks: “…OSINT…exposes analysts to more diverse viewpoints on the same topic, without having to call in outsiders…”. First of all, OSINT comes from outside, not inside the IC. Second, you still need people within the IC to analyze and sort through the tsunami of open source (often foreign language) information flooding the IC’s collection capabilities. Third, OSINT has been considered AA until fairly recently by people like Mr Stack himself, and is still struggling with the IC’s mainstream secrets obsession to be recognized as an integral part of analysis.

Stack’s fourth point, echoing Senator Gary Hart’s opinion is that the various intelligence agencies “each with differing opinions and bureaucratic alliances, already perform separate analyses in the current intelligence community structure.” Separate – yes. Competitive – no. Going back to the report on the Team A-B exercise, it is interesting to note that the level of constructive inter-team contribution was higher regarding technical questions, while the discussion on Soviet objectives and intentions “was more controversial and less conclusive.” (p.3) There are several conclusions we can draw from this finding. First, AA does not, as Stack seems to think, constitute in compiling an assessment from different intelligence agencies (and disciplines, by extension). AA may involve interdisciplinary knowledge and methodology, but its purpose is to provide an alternative within a given intelligence discipline. If we’re talking about Soviet intentions, a look at the technical capabilities of a particular weapons program is a different question altogether.

Second, while it might be easier to achieve “constructive contribution” from a Team A – Team B exercise on a technical issues because the basis of the analysis is more factual than psychological-ideological, it is the latter – objectives and intentions – which would benefit more from AA because it is here, where our cognitive and cultural biases, as well as a tendency to politicize information, is the most strongly ingrained.

Finally, Stack’s continuous references to pleasing the policy body over producing good analysis, got on my nerves. Is anyone within the policy community taking half as much time to improve relations with the IC?

With reference to the analysis I’m currently writing on Russian foreign policy toward the Balkans, I would choose the Red Cell method as a good complementor in trying to see behind the façade the Russian administration is parading in the face of Washington and Brussels. Because this is a technique which aims to manipulate cultural and political biases, I think it is particularly well-suited to explore how one actor (Russia) is playing a role of a defender of cultural heritage and made-up religious “brotherhood”, with the bravado of being a strict supporter of international law and sovereignty while at the same time stalking the fire of ethnonationalism in the Western Balkans to further destabilize the region, so it may achieve its own political agenda (anything but culture and/or a Slavic, Orthodox common identity).

For a humorous alternative analysis of Russian culture and political world view, I would recommend a close analysis of Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel Master and Margarita, which opens with a brilliantly dark humor passage about the futility of the term “foreseeable future” by having an atheist intellectual, upon concluding a conversation with the devil-in-disguise, on a Moscow park bench, slip on the tram rails and have his head cut off. As I’ve mentioned in earlier assignments, dramaturgy, and now I add humor, can be quite revealing about a political Weltanschauung of a nation, its leadership and its subjects: poetry as politics – from the Greek verb poeio, meaning ‘I make’, and the poesis, ‘that which is made’.