Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Putin threatens astronauts...

Putin threatens astronauts...  Well, that's the headline on Drudge.  Reading the article, I get a slightly different impression: we're imposing sanctions on Russia, and Putin is letting us know that there are consequences to those sanctions to us.  That's something that is obvious to anyone who hasn't been hiding under a rock since about 1991 – ever since the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian economy has been more and more tightly integrated with that of the rest of the world.

The rationale behind “smart diplomacy” is, fundamentally, that we have more tools than just military might to change the behavior of other countries.  Exercising military force has a heavy price in blood and treasure.  Exercising “smart diplomacy” has a heavy price in economic terms, usually very unevenly distributed.  That's the case here.  For example, western Europe has been buying cheap natural gas and oil from Russia for over 20 years.  Cut that source off (because of sanctions), and the price of energy in Europe will spike – and because energy markets are global, we'll feel it here as well.  However, if the sanctions are well-chosen the impact on Russia will be far larger, proportionally.

So who would expect Putin to just accept this?  The “smart diplomacy” rulebook says that Putin would see what the sanctions are going to do to him, and he would back down.  Putin's actual reaction is to strike back, by hitting back at us anywhere he can that would hurt, short of overt military action.  One place he can do that is with our manned space program, which is currently utterly dependent on Russian rockets and the capsules that return astronauts to earth.  I find his threat here to be completely predictable.  I think the right answer is simple: cancel the manned space program.  Abandon the ISS.  That will save the U.S. taxpayer a boatload of totally wasted money, while simultaneously cutting off a source of revenue that Putin is using to prop up an otherwise failed space program...

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