The Argonaut Conference: 70 Year Old Seeds, Sovereignty & Kinetic Warfare
February 7, 1945 Joseph Stalin met Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt in the resort town of Yalta, Crimea to decide the fate of the post-war world. It was here, code-name “Argonaut Conference,” that the Iron Curtain was drawn.
Each of three architects of the post WWII world came with very different set of expectations, despite meeting under the principal of securing lasting peace. Stalin sought a political sphere of influence from Eastern Europe to the recognition of a Mongolia free and separate from China; and the return of Kiril Islands from Japan, and to retain the portion of Poland it had annexed 6 years previously. Stalin maintained this land was essential to the USSR because it was the corridor through which armies had and would invade Russia. Churchill’s demands were seemingly more reasonable- free and fair elections in Poland (despite the gov’t Russia had already installed), Central and Eastern Europe. Roosevelt wanted to secure Russian alliance in the Pacific theater, and participation in the UN. If it seems that Stalin’s ask was a little larger than the other two, some thought so at the time, including future Secretary of State James F. Byrnes who said, “[i]t was not a question of what we would let the Russians do, but what we could get the Russians to do.”
Russia kept the portion of Poland it had annexed and Poland was granted German land in compensation and the Big Three carved Germany into zones of occupation- Russian, British, American, with a fourth zone carved out of the UK and US zones for the French (who only got a small piece having had a “collaborator” government). All displaced civilians were to be repatriated, and original governments restored, except for: Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria, which Russia had already “liquidated” of leadership. Finally, Russia also agreed to UN participation with absolute veto authority to the Permanent Security Council- a provision as important now as ever.
The 20th century triumvirate brokered the closed-door deal without much consultation from the countries whose borders were being re-determined. It may not have even occurred to them to consult at the height of big power politics, and of course the three Allies who won the war would have been justified, benevolent even, and rightful in “restoring order,” as the victors. And indeed those zones of influence stood for several decades, working well enough that no comparable war proceeded.
72 years later though, what might seem firmly buried in the past is resurrected, if in fact it ever died. The non-uniformed irregular Russian forces that re-annexed Crimea in 2014 brought the small peninsula back into Western news. The Pacific theater Roosevelt sought Russian alliance in is a popular side stage at the moment, poised to become the next main stage. Russian oil interests and ports in Asia are growing, as Russia and the US struggle to win Chinese and retain Chinese cooperation (in North Korea, choke coal industry and international finance). Ex-Russian statesmen seeking sanctuary in Poland have been killed in the crosshairs of state “diplomacy” and Romania, which has struggled for true democratic self-rule in much of the post war era, is leading one of the world’s most effective anti-government people’s movements.
And where are the “Big Three” today? The UK is struggling to maintain cohesion under Brexit, the PM, Labour and nationalist parties, all clamoring for preeminence. The US is hardly in a better a position as the overtaxed, deeply stratified home of infighting and fake news, casting its own rather large shadow of doubt over much of the world. Russia, while smaller in military, per capita income and many other measures is simply winning in a war of influence and disruption politics. Interestingly, while France is battling its own populist-nationalist movement, it’s Germany that has emerged as the front-runner for global democratic leadership- a precarious position, which could easily be undone by refugee rhetoric and the still pervasive derision in the west for female leadership.
But to say we are reaping the seeds we sowed 70 years ago would be as true as it is false. The tendency to look to history to provide answers, predictions, comfort even in patterns fails to account for the rate of change, the lack of common values and the absolute inability for territorial sovereignty to continue as the modus operandi in globalization. So while the seeds were planted in these self-same soils, the outcome will not be predicated on the past, or any historical notion of conventional warfare, statehood or power.
It will not be the nation with the largest navy/army/air force/nuclear arsenal or the one who guards, blocks and deters that rises to the top of the New-new world order. The winner will be the one who adapts the fastest. The non-state, aggressor-state and irrational state actors have already adapted. They know their capabilities and limitations and have turned them to their advantage.
Rather than attempt to compete on a dance stage they cannot win, they simply blow up the stage. When the conventional state builds a new stage, and puts up a bigger, more expensive guard, the competition moves platforms- to the internet where everyone can watch instead of the small audience the stage had. When the Big Three put billions of dollars into safety measures in airports or regulating fertilizer purchases, the non-state actors simply drive a truck into a market. The cost to the traditional state is endlessly exponential, while the cost for disruption is minimal.
Despite claims to the contrary, there is no viable strategy because the conventional power players don’t even understand what’s happening in kinetic, non-linear and proxy warfare. It’s like a nuclear arm’s race against voles- sure, we can kill them all but we definitely won’t have any yard [e.g. planet] left.
This is not a situation easily remedied. It’s a series of disruptions, untruths, failures to meet commitments, an inability to discern fact from speculation (by the way, this is speculation, too). It’s what happens when words like “ally” lose their meaning because we don’t come to our brother’s aid, or “values” when we apply it to acutely biased issues-based opinions, or when we erode a word like “freedom” by placing it in front of “fries.” We have lost our sense of meaning and honor. And without them, it’s unbelievably easy for our enemies to use our immorality against us, to drive further wedges between us with our meaningless value/opinions, to state untruths knowing we’re too lazy to verify.
What else I think we can do is a much longer subject, for another night, but in the meantime, we can start with putting meaning back in our words, honoring our commitments, and aligning our actions to our values.
And if you’re not too depressed already, I highly recommend this entirely probable dystopian vision of the future- https://foreignpolicy.com/2017/03/06/the-plot-against-europe/