Putin’s new Crimean War

The penninsula is Russia's for the taking if it wants to
The Crimea: a 21st century Sudetenland

The Crimea: a 21st century Sudetenland

Leave it to Vladimir Putin to spoil what had otherwise been one of the few truly positive developments in global politics of the past few months. It’s not often that you get a corrupt power-hungry goon like Viktor Yanukovych out of power through the most democratic means possible: mass protests. But when it happens in a nation that borders Putin’s increasingly assertive and imperialistic Russia there’s bound to be trouble, especially when the guy who got ousted was the guy who was pushing for closer links between his country and his former overlords. Add when said nation holds one of the most coveted pieces of geo-strategic real estate in the Black Sea area, the Crimean peninsula, then things start getting ugly. Add to this the West’s inability to deal with Putin, then you have the potential for disaster.

The Crimea in history

A little history first. The Crimean peninsula has been throughout human history, one of the most important cross-roads of empires from East and West. The Greeks had founded settlements there, and it became a Roman province during the Empire’s heyday. Subsequently, the Byzantines maintained a presence on the peninsula but this gradually gave way as the Italian city states grew more powerful, and their commercial interests began spreading far from the Mediterranean. First it was the Venetians, later the Genovese, who controlled numerous coastal cities, although by this time most of the peninsula was ruled by the Golden Horde (the Mongol Khanate that ruled over much of present-day European Russia). It is here where an interesting nugget of history took place: the outbreak of plague in the 14th century while the Horde was laying siege to the Genovese city of Kaffa. The Genovese sailors who escaped the siege would bring the plague back to Italy where it spread like wildfire over the next few years, killing a third of Europe’s population and altering the continent’s history forever. Continue reading

The war against Iran: a game theoretical perspective

If Israel goes solo, expect the US to get dragged in anyway
For Iran, escalation might actually work

For Iran, escalation might actually work

With the world still slugging through the second act of the Great Recession, few scenarios cause more chills to run down the spines of Washington policymakers than a potential war with Iran. Although it is difficult to envision Iran emerging victorious from such a conflict, the outcome would be all but pyrrhic for the US: oil prices (potentially reaching $200 per barrel) would grind the economy to a halt, and the only hole bigger than the ones made by the USAF’s bunker-busting bombs, would be the budget hole caused by another hot war in the Middle East, one which in the worst case scenario would be bigger, longer and bloodier than those being waged in Iraq or Afghanistan. But perhaps what scares the pants off the Obama administration is the war’s total unpredictability: it only takes one surprise attack by Israel to launch a series of events which could lead into an unmitigated disaster. Many people have wondered whether such a scenario could be “contained”; that is, leave Israel and Iran slugging it out among themselves. Certainly that would limit the diplomatic fallout, and leave the US to worry on more important domestic matters during a crucial election year.

But as I will show in this post, such a scenario appears unrealistic. Once the first bomb falls, the US will be sucked in it, just like a limited tactical nuclear strike during the Cold War would have inevitably escalated into all out exchange. My analysis will be capped by a simple game theoretical model which will make the outcome clearer for those of you who are more numerically inclined. Continue reading