The four constituent nations of the "Visergrád Four."

Apparently, this alliance exists, and as of May, now includes a military component. I like it. As a bloc in the EU and NATO of otherwise somewhat ignored countries, it allows for a little more interdependence without relying on the “big boys.” The history behind the group, which dates back to 1335(!) is just awesome, and I believe was designed for the sole purpose of fascinating me.

Originally a meeting between the King of Bohemia, the King of Poland, and the King of Hungary and Croatia, the “Visegrád Three” (so-named for the Hungarian castle town in which the meeting was held) was intended to create new routes of commerce, bypassing what was then the center of European commerce, Vienna. Replace “Vienna” with “Berlin and Paris” – and possible even “Moscow” – and one gets a decent idea of what the Visegrád revival is all about. Of course, as post-Communist countries, the Visegrád Four (with the split of Slovakia and the Czech Republic) were concerned with maintaining their own sphere of influence without Russian interference.

As for the Visegrád Battlegroup, it is expected to become fully operational by 2016. It is intended to be a separate force from NATO, though elements will begin exercising with the NATO Ready Response Force. Poland is taking the lead militarily, as befits its size and spending relative to the other members.

Aside from the practical nature of the undertaking, the symbolism of this alliance is not to be underestimated. The four countries involved are all European Union members, but not in the Euro-zone (they are the westernmost non-former Yugoslav countries to not adopt the Euro). They represent a strange hybrid between EU membership and existing outside it, and with the Euro looking shakier every day, actual entrance into the common currency may be an increasingly remote possibility. This would solidify the status of the Visegrád Four as, if not second-class member-states, then at least as junior members in an IGO whose legitimacy is derived from the equal status of its constituent nations.

On its own, the Visegrad Group is not particularly powerful or a threat to European unity, but when seen as part of the larger pattern of sub-regionalization it becomes indicative of a larger trend. Even where formal ties do not exist, developments like the emerging German leadership of the EU or the newly-signed Anglo-French defense treaty point to a Europe losing coherence. And in Eastern Europe these new subregions are gaining prominence and a sort of global autonomy. The customs union between Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia that came into being in 2010 harkens back to the collapse of the Soviet Union, when a similar union (with the addition of Ukraine) was seen as a means to preserve much of the structure of the USSR while maintaining the multinational state. That customs union has abolished border controls as of this month, creating another subnational and even subregional entity.

There seems to be growing disenchantment not just with the universal United Nations, but even with the regional variants: the European Union, UNASUR, African Union, SCO, ASEAN, etc. In a world where nations themselves are tending towards autonomy and fragmentation, it should not come as a surprise that some countries would turn to a more specific alternative than the grand regional frameworks that attempt to address an incredible array of problems and cooperative issues.

Also, the conflation of military and economic drivers of an alliance like Visegrád should not be overlooked as a key development. While the two are often treated as completely separate realms – NAFTA certainly does not include a military component, NATO’s economic requirement is that members adhere to capitalism, more or less, and the EU’s EDC unified European military force has been discussed for sixty years without ever coming to fruition. Military power and the economy, however, are inextricable, and it is perhaps for this reason that these microalliances are coming into being. For a group of four, maybe it’s just more manageable that way.

In general, though, keep an eye out for these subregional and some day soon even subnational alliances. The New England Six? The League of Extraordinary PIGS? Flanders? Coming soon to a world map near you.

On Decapitation

Warsaw skyline, Saturday, April 3, 2010.

Sunday’s plane crash that wiped out much of the upper echelon of the Polish government was truly tragic, indeed. I hesitated to write this just because of the proximity of the accident, but I don’t think anyone will be too offended (and if you are, my apologies in advance).

The crash was a prime example of a decapitation strike. While those who perished are not exactly comparable to “Barack and Michelle Obama, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Olympia Snowe, Christopher Dodd, Rahm Emanuel, [and] the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” it’s awfully close (and that probably understates the breadth of the victims).

A better example might be Barack and Michelle Obama, Rahm Emanuel, James Jones, Ben Bernanke, Dick Durbin, Steny Hoyer, Admiral Mullen and the other Joint Chiefs, Tim Kaine, Jacob Lew, David Ferriero,  plus an incredible number of dignitaries, cultural icons, and legendary figures. I don’t think the United States has public citizens comparable to the epic Ryszard Kaczorowski or Anna Walentynowicz.

But the moral of the story is that essentially, the casualty list didn’t matter. The government continues to function; the Polish government’s continuity has continued unbroken. Luckily, that order is fairly simple. The Speaker of the lower House, Bronislow Konorowski, is acting president and must call elections, which will be held by the end of June. So far, everything is proceeding as it is supposed to.

This doesn’t mean that it would necessarily be such a smooth process if say, the Tu-154 had crashed due to Russian sabotage or terrorism. But with crazy accusations of Russian culpability being hurled around (thankfully, not by anyone in a position of power) and Poland still continuing to function like a normal country, it seems to point at a rational, calm transition of power even if a future accident was caused by something more sinister.

The continuity in the Polish government makes an article linked to from Abu Muqawama, Jenna Jordan’s “When Heads Roll: Assessing the Effectiveness of Leadership Decapitation” (pdf) even more relevant. Her conclusion?

Decapitation is not ineffective merely against religious, old, or large groups, it is actually counterproductive for many of the terrorist groups currently being targeted. In many cases, targeting a group’s leadership actually lowers its rate of decline. Compared to a baseline rate of decline for certain terrorist groups, the marginal value of decapitation is negative. Moreover, going after the leader may strengthen a group’s resolve, result in retaliatory attacks, increase public sympathy for the organization, or produce more lethal attacks.

I feel like the system most vulnerable to a decapitation strike is the particularly complex one of the United States, but perhaps the fact that it cannot really be planned for (or at least isn’t planned for) in any sort of detailed sense explains our current strategy: ensure the survival of the system.

So it probably wouldn’t work in the United States, either. It won’t work on sub-state actors.It won’t work on non-state actors. It won’t work on state actors. Isn’t it time to call decapitation strategy faulty and scrap it for something more productive?

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Buda Castle, Budapest, Hungary.

Today I’m en route to Hungary to kick off a grand central/eastern European trip, accompanied by an especially lovely lady. If you’re curious, the itinerary is Budapest-Vienna-Salzburg-Munich-Berlin-Warsaw.

I’ll be over there for two weeks, and while I’d like to pretend I’ll make occasional posts with pretty pictures I’ve taken, it would only take a couple of days for you all to see through the charade.

There’s a slight chance I’ll post every once in a while, but don’t hold your breath. Later today I’ll have Part IV of “Operation Tannenbaum” up, which will be the last for some time (and hopefully provide some needed closure). I’ll be back in April for sure.

And again, thanks so much for reading. If you haven’t already, this would be an excellent time to explore the links page and discover some interesting new blogs.