No such thing as Russia…

First published at New Catallaxy blog on 25 February, 2023

The backroom conversations and classified files of Foreign Ministries and Departments of State must be a wonderland of speculations and conditionals, of grand schemes and short-term crises. But, judging by the utterances of two former Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Poland’s Ministry is up there with the best of them.

Take Radoslaw (Radek) Sikorski, Minister from 2007 to 2014. Before that he was Minister of Defence, and for a year afterwards, Speaker of Parliament. According to the Center for Strategic & International Studies,

[H]e negotiated and signed the Poland-Russia regional visa-free regime, Poland-U.S. missile defense agreement, and—together with foreign ministers of Germany and France—the accord between the pro-EU opposition and Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych in 2013.

Unfortunately, the latter accord was rendered meaningless by the Maidan coup of 2014. Before this small hiccup, Foreign Policy had ranked him in its top 100 “global thinkers” for “telling the truth even when it’s not diplomatic.” High praise indeed, and Mr Sikorski continues to live up to it. When the Nord Stream pipelines were sabotaged, and in disregard of the official narrative that “the Russians did it,” Mr Sikorski told the inconvenient truth by tweeting a photo of the gas bubbling up in the Baltic, with the caption, “Thank you, USA.” Only a week ago, Sikorski was asked during a radio interview, whether he thought that “ the government of PiS [Poland’s ruling ‘Law and Justice’ party] at some point thought about partition” of Ukraine. He responded, “I think there was a moment of hesitation in the first ten days of the war, when we all did not know how it would go, and perhaps Ukraine would collapse.” It was but a moment though, which was how long it took for the Polish Prime Minister to condemn his comments as “no different from Russian propaganda.”

The attachment of the Poles to “native Polish lands” is on display in the railway stations with recruiting posters for Leopard tank crews which mention “Polish armour in Ukraine,” unless this poster has been mistranslated.

Of more immediate interest to us, especially given the current constitutional debate, are the comments of another former Polish Minster of Foreign Affairs, Anna Fotyga. She is a member of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group in the European Parliament. It was founded in 2009 under the principles of the Prague Declaration, and declares itself to be a centre-right grouping. The principles make interesting and contradictory reading. Many of the principles will be applauded by readers here who consider themselves conservative or centre-right. But the Declaration is sown with mines.

• (1) Free enterprise, free and fair trade and competition, minimal regulation, lower taxation, and small government as the ultimate catalysts for individual freedom and personal and national prosperity.
• (2) Freedom of the individual, more personal responsibility and greater democratic accountability.
• (3) Sustainable, clean energy supply with an emphasis on energy security.
• (4) The importance of the family as the bedrock of society.
• (5) The sovereign integrity of the nation state, opposition to EU federalism and a renewed respect for true subsidiarity.
• (6) The overriding value of the transatlantic security relationship in a revitalised NATO, and support for young democracies across Europe.
• (7) Effectively controlled immigration and an end to abuse of asylum procedures.
• (8) Efficient and modern public services and sensitivity to the needs of both rural and urban communities.
• (9) An end to waste and excessive bureaucracy and a commitment to greater transparency and probity in the EU institutions and use of EU funds.
• (10) Respect and equitable treatment for all EU countries, new and old, large and small.

Let us turn our eyes modestly from principle (3). It could mean anything, including a reliance on nuclear power, or nothing.

Subsidiarity (5) is the principle that decisions affecting the body politic must be capable of being taken at the lowest possible level in any hierarchy of government, and must in fact be taken at that level. It is the obverse of globalism. Subsidiarity in this document seems to refer primarily to the sovereign integrity of the nation state

The equitable treatment of (10) extends to countries new and old. What are these new countries? They would certainly include the young democracies of (6). The youngest are the ones that haven’t been created yet. Such countries are certainly on Anna Fotyga’s horizon. It is the possibility of such countries coming into being that focusses conservative and reformist minds on the “overriding value” of a “revitalised NATO.” These notions of nations are bundled up in (6).

What concrete policies might precipitate from this complex mix of requirements, one might wonder? Anna Fotyga illustrated one such policy in an address late last month, which is worth quoting from at length.

Putin and his gang of war criminals are not the cause, but the consequence of the problem, the root of which is the authoritarian and imperial essence of Moscow… [T]oday we find ourselves not in the 16th century of Ivan the Terrible or the 18th of Catherine II, but in the 21st century of international law, common organisations and shared values. The European Parliament and many other parliaments…have labelled the Russian Federation a terrorist state… This terrorist organisation, even if it is seen by many as an empire, should be dismantled…

[T]he international community…must…[support] re-federalisation of the Russian state…and the respect for the rights and desires of its nations. The victims of Russian imperialism should be able to rebuild their own statehoods, exercise their right to celebrate their heritage, and determine their own future…

There are no such things as Russian gas, oil, aluminium, coal, uranium, diamonds, grain, forests, gold, etc. All such resources are Tatar, Bashkir, Siberian, Karelian, Oirat, Circassian, Buryat, Sakha, Ural, Kuban, Nogai, etc.  For most of the inhabitants of the regions — be they ethnic Russians or indigenous people — Moscow represents only war, repression, exploitation and hopelessness…

[W]e should discuss the prospects for the creation of free and independent states in the post-Russian space…The international community has the obligation to support the rights of indigenous nations…The same rights must belong to Khakas, Tuvans, Sakha or Evenks… [E]thnic Russians, while being the biggest nation of the Russian Federation, are just one of many…

The rupture of the Russian Federation will bring unquestionable benefits in the security, including energy security, and in the economy of Europe and Central Asia… [N]ew pro-Western states can emerge from within the Russian Federation…

[W]e are glad to host numerous experts, historians, journalists, politicians from both sides of Atlantic, and leaders and representatives of more than 20 nations of the Russian Federation, who will gather in Brussels in the European Parliament to discuss prospects for the decolonisation and deimperialisation of the Russian Federation.

Quite apart from the extreme Russia-hatred of Euroimperialists, generously projected onto “ethnic Russians”, the ostensible justification of this passion for destruction should be familiar to Australians; and not just Australians. It is the argument of supra-national empire against the nation-state, whether it be Australia, Canada, New Zealand or the U.K., because only the nation-state can offer effective resistance to the Borg. The tools of choice for dismembering the nation-state are the nation or nations within, with techniques being developed and refined over a number of decades now. Any nation created by colonisation or conquest is likely to be vulnerable to this approach. For example, Kim Beazley just last year in an address to the Ramsay Centre said,

So in those two acts [the First Fleet and the settlement at Albany] we supplanted with our colonies then and ultimately our nation 250 nations that at that point of time inhabited Australia.

Meanwhile, Poland looks to reinstate the full nation-state of the nation of Poland, so that the “benefits in the security, including energy security, and in the economy” will flow to all Poles when first Ukraine and then Russia are dismembered, by whatever means necessary. Europeans have long memories, but so do Russians (and so do Chinese.) Such memories motivated the best of those who originally sought to transcend long and bitter rivalries in an allegiance to a supra-national Europe.

And here we are, with the power of the EU executive held by a tiny clique; with Norway and Poland feeding on the energy-starved carcass of the once-mighty German industrial colossus; with the Poles marking out their territory on the other side of the borders; with the United States, through NATO, determining the security and hence the foreign policy of Europe; with the European centrifuge spinning up; and with only the external enemy and a proxy war holding the show together.

I wonder what Karol Wojtyla would make of it all?

Balloonacy

First published at New Catallaxy blog, 18 February, 2023

You will remember THE Chinese Spy Balloon. The big white one with the dangly bits. It was a remarkably capable balloon, as you would expect from a spy balloon.

One U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the balloon was able to linger in the winds over specific areas.
“We saw it do that. It loitered over certain sites. It went left, right. We saw it maneuver inside the jet stream. That’s how it was operating,” the official said, adding that the craft had propellers and rudders.

Writers in an Aviation Week article voiced what most people who had seen the photos were thinking.

[I]mages of the latest balloon [were] captured by photographers on the ground with telephoto zoom lenses…Such long-distance visual evidence contrasted with remarks by John Kirby, the National Security Council spokesman. “It had propellers,” Kirby says. “It had a rudder, if you will, to allow it to change direction.” Civilian photos provided no signs of a rudder aboard the balloon, and it is not clear how such a control surface would help steer a spherical, slow-speed object. Kirby also may have been speaking metaphorically about a rudder.

metaphorical rudder would certainly be a ground-breaker for balloon technology, but no more so than metaphorical propellors. The same article informs us that “a pattern has developed of Chinese spy flights by slow-moving high-altitude balloons, which had gone apparently undetected by U.S. surveillance systems.”

“I will tell you that we did not detect those threats, and that’s a domain awareness gap that we have to figure out,” [General Glen] VanHerck [head of North American Aerospace Defense Command] says.

You know, Glen, this domain awareness gap is not a good look, especially as Karine and the “intelligence community” were already on top of this.

[T]he intelligence community kept track of China’s spying balloon campaign in other parts of the world. Congress was briefed about the program in August, White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre says.
“There has been a program that has been in effect,” Jean-Pierre adds. “We have kept Congress abreast on that. But I don’t have anything more to say or to share.”

Fair enough. It is a secret, after all. Especially from North American Aerospace Defense Command. But Glen’s boys, of whom he is incredibly proud, did splash the balloon. Sighs of relief all round. But it wasn’t over yet. On Friday the 10th, another object was spotted over Alaska.

“It was difficult for the pilots to glean a whole lot of information,” [John Kirby] said, adding, “There was a limit to how much they could divine”… Fighter aircraft first saw it late Thursday night, it was a small object, and they were flying at high speed…

This one was only the size of a small car, and was at mere 40,000 feet. A U.S. official described it as “cylindrical and silver-ish grey.” Cylindrical? Was there, somewhere along the chain of misinformation, a stenographer who did not know the difference between spherical and cylindrical? Divination’s not what it’s cracked up to be. Ask King Saul. In the event, to an anxious public’s great relief, it was shot down near Deadhorse, Alaska. I kid you not.

On the left, we see the location of this wonderfully-named, but unincorporated, township. On the right is an image from SondeHub, a site that tracks radiosonde launches and returns worldwide. The black circles are regular launch sites. Note the one right at the tippy-top of Alaska. That’s the airport at a place called Barrow. Launches occur every six hours, starting at midnight UTC.

Here’s a weather balloon being launched in Phoenix. Attached to he balloon is the radiosonde transmitter which measures and reports, at least, pressure, temperature and humidity. There’s usually a parachute inside the balloon. It ascends gradually to about 28km, expanding as pressure decreases, until the balloon bursts. By then it will be 5m or more in diameter, depending on the balloon. The sonde then comes to earth under the parachute. Somewhere in this ascent, say at around 40,000 feet, it will be, maybe, the size of a small car.

Having ensured the Warhol fame of Deadhorse, Alaska, did the U.S. administration take the providential hint? Was that ever a remote possibility?

#metoo said Justin, the Wonder Boy, the very next day, Saturday, and another “cylindrical” object bit the dust in the Yukon. US and Canadian citizens had barely had a chance to sleep off the tranquillisers when another UFO appeared over Lake Huron, as if mocking both countries. F-16s, a refuelling tanker, and a AWACS aircraft were despatched. The UFOs were unsportingly varying their approach, and the F-16 pilots had trouble working out what this one looked like.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane?

Out of their identification struggles there finally popped an octagonal object. The second missile fired at “The Octagon” brought it down. I’m impressed that the AIM-9X Sidewinder was able to bring any of the latter three – let’s just call them balloons – down.

On Sunday, when the shooting had died down, Gen. Glen was press-ganged again. As the N.Y. Post reported ,

Asked whether he had ruled out an extraterrestrial origin for three floating objects shot down by warplanes in as many days, Gen. Glen VanHerck said: “I’ll let the intel community and the counterintelligence community figure that out…I haven’t ruled out anything”.

It was a click-bait bonanza. It was also a fine example of how a mendacious officialdom and an equally mendacious media need only the slightest provocation to set up a feedback loop of mutual incitement.  However, there have been some glimmers of sanity. A former Secretary of Defense for President Trump, Mark Esper, said, “My hunch is that these are weather balloons or scientific experiments put aloft by another country, a company or some none profit.” The Pentagon issued a memo on the Yukon raider. The “cylindrical” object was a “small, metallic balloon” with tethered payload below. Metallic, as in those shiny helium-filled St Valentine’s hearts, one presumes.

Somewhat less reassuring was the report of “a U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity” that the Chinese Spy Balloon “originally had a trajectory that would have taken it over Guam and Hawaii but was blown off course by prevailing winds…” Can this be the same balloon that “loitered over certain sites…[that] went left, right. …[that] maneuver[ed] inside the jet stream”? None other. This was clearly a failure of the metaphorical rudder, or the metaphorical propellor, or both. Or maybe this breakthrough in surveillance technology, with its unparalleled advantages over passé satellites, can’t tell Guam from the Aleutians.

This US Administration is in charge of what is still the most powerful military in the world, is far and away the most expensive, and has a huge nuclear arsenal. Try not to dwell on that.

Looney Tunes

First published at New Catallaxy blog, 10 February, 2023

Spy balloons over Barbados in 2016!

Our man in Barbados

Not quite a Chinese Spy Balloon (hereafter CSB), but a very good illustration of the principles involved in this kind of spying.

It’s a product of the Google Loon project, development of which commenced in 2011 as a cheap alternative to satellites to provide worldwide internet connectivity by using balloons. (I’ll refer to the balloons as “Loons.”) This is a longer video about Loon, but the principle of navigating balloons is explained from 3:57 through to 4:59. (Unfortunately, I couldn’t get it to stop automatically.) It uses a ballonet, a ballon within a balloon. Air is pumped into or evacuated from the ballonet, changing the buoyancy of the system, and giving it the capability to rise or fall. The Wikipedia entry gives an altitude range of 18km to 25km, or from about 60,000ft to 80,000ft. Because of the often extreme variation of wind speed and direction at different altitudes, the direction and speed of drift can be controlled to some extent.

This site displays global wind pattern animations for various altitudes. From the menu, you may change the height, given in hPa, from the surface (about 1013hPa) up to 10hPa, corresponding to about 25km. 500hPa is about 5km. It’s very pretty. Pressure at 65,000 feet is about 57hPa, so there is no exact correspondence in the animation to the purported 65,000ft altitude of the CSB.

Loons have no means of propulsion; they drift with whatever winds they encounter at their altitude. This is unlike a dirigible or airship, which has propellor propulsion, and an elongated shape to minimise cross-section in the direction of travel. The Loon is a spheroid, wider than it is high, at full expansion. In this it differs from a normal weather balloon, or indeed a CSB. The Chinese, in the Global Times, have unhelpfully referred to the balloon as an “airship,” a designation for which the images give no support. None of the images I have seen show anything but a sphere with a dependent array of solar panels and, no doubt, antennae. This balloon probably contains a ballonet, because the same article refers to the object’s “limited self-steering capability.” The U.S. Defense Department is not persuaded.

But a U.S. defense official rejected such claims, telling The Post that it lingered near sensitive sites including Malmstrom Air Force Base, which has a nuclear missile silo field. The Washington Post

The offical did not attempt to explain the means by which this mal-lingering was achieved.

This whole episode has been an exercise in more-or-less calculated media and political insanity. The scariest possibility out of this lunacy is that there were senior Pentagon officers who actually believed that this was a “Chinese spy balloon.” That possibility is very remote, but the alternative is terrifying in another way; men who knew the reality were complicit in whipping up anti-China hysteria. This in the context of senior commanders having recently set the date for war with China as soon as 2025.

Now a second CSB has been spotted passing over Latin America—searching for lost U.S. nuclear missile silo fields, no doubt. Lingering somewhere in this madhouse, and encouraging this inflammatory circus, there may be those who seek to turn attention away from the war in Donbas, because they see that war as a distraction from, and the run-down of weapons stocks as a danger to, preparation for war with China. Motives may be even more pacific; wanting to end a bloody conflict that was never going to be “won,” and which risks setting Europe on fire. Even so, inflaming relations with China in order to achieve immediate aims is potentially suicidal. Still, even as the U.S. has the firewall of Europe and the Atlantic between it and Russia, having the firewall of Taiwan, Japan and the Pacific between it and China may encourage the taking of such risks.

Looney Tunes indeed.