August 11, 2008

Disputed borderlands - auction them off

Reading various commentaries on the Russia-Georgia war over South Ossetia, I'm struck by all the American pundits who have such strong opinions on whether this little dot of land should belong to one country or the other.

While it's fun to argue over rights, in situations where a separatist province has long enjoyed de facto autonomy, such as South Ossetia or Taiwan, the best thing is usually to do nothing. The formula dreamed up by Nixon, Kissinger, and Chou for Taiwan in 1972 is logically absurd, but it has worked for 36 years, so why fix what isn't broken?

On the other hand, if it's assumed something has to be done about a disputed territory, the optimal way to settle it is often via a mutual auction. If both Russia and Georgia want South Ossetia, they should put their money where there mouths are. Auction off South Ossetia with the highest bidder paying that sum to the loser of the auction.

It's a lot better than war.disputes.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

How about letting the inhabitants of South Ossetia vote on their status?

Byrne said...

The problem with this formula is that I can just go claim Manhattan, and bid any amount under the approximate value of the real estate -- either I get the island at a discount, or I get a huge sum of cash.

For this to work, you probably need some kind of way to measure how legitimate a claim is, so you can tell when claimants are just trying to extort money. And if you've solved that problem, you don't need to do auctions -- you've solved the original problem.

Edward said...

On so many levels the idea would not actually work.

Allies of both sides could provide money and artificially inflate the price.

This would compound the main flaw that one side may be able to get what they want cheaper through war, and therefore it becomes rational to choose war before the auction occurs.

Likewise, if one side believes it cannot bid high enough to gain what the territory is actually worth at an auction but can win a war, it is rational they'd go to war at an earlier stage.

Interestingly, there is an outcome for the loser of the auction that is a WIN/WIN - where a portion of the money could be spent on the means (arms/propaganda) to win back what was lost in the auction.

headache said...

From what I've read Ossetians belonged to the Tzarist Russian Empire since the 1900's. Apparently the South/North split was a present of Stalin to his home country Georgia. So I guess all this is just history correcting itself again. Just a quick look into the history books tells me there is still a lot of "history correcting itself" in the pipeline. So I guess we ain't seen nothing yet.

Anonymous said...

War Nerd is - as expected - having a ball with this:

War Nerd: South Ossetia, The War of My Dreams

http://exiledonline.com/war-nerd-south-ossetia-the-war-of-my-dreams/

anonymous_coward said...

Another problem - violence is cheap. If the inhabitants don't like how it goes down, there's still nothing to stop 'em from rioting.

Lucius Vorenus said...

I haven't been following the South Ossetia commentary here at iSteve, but I assume that you guys are aware of the theory which holds that Vladimir Putin, The $40 Billion Man, has his eyes set on surpassing Carlos Slim Helú, and becoming the world's first $100 Billion Man, and that to pull it off, he needs that pipeline in Georgia?

Where's the famous iSteve cynicism? Or has the anti-AIPAC paleo-thought blinded you guys to the obvious? [And yes, I know all about the fellows in the Georgian Defense Department with the dual Israeli citizenship].

PS: And then there's the whole question of honor - like it or not, Georgia has been one of our most steadfast allies in the world these last eight years, and it's hard to think of anything more dishonorable than failing to aid them in their time of need.

PPS: Dubya's big problem at the moment is that he risks humiliating the Chinese if he starts saber-rattling as a visitor [with Putin] at the Olympics [which was exactly Putin's calculus in pushing the war during the Olympics], and Dubya is really working overtime right now to try to cement our relationship with the Chinese as we head out into the 21st Century.

Jody said...

Gotta love the cross-pollination between Sailer and Cowen - Coasian bargaining (sorta) to resolve ethnic disputes.

Concerned said...

Fuck War Nerd. He writes from a totally Russian nationalist point of view. He's like a pro-Russian William Kristol. Not reliable.

Silber Streak said...

The auction could be conducted on eBay; I'll make a bid for the disputed area, and for neighboring Mtskheta–Mtianeti,too, if they'll combine on the shipping charges, or discount for the bulk purchase.

testing99 said...

Steve --

I think you ignore the reality of human nature. Auctions only work when there is a state authority to provide law and security. They don't work when the system in place is no system.

Largely, the world consists of places where the rule of law exists, however imperfectly, and places where thugs rule like Russia or Iran or Pakistan or (in a different way, but still thugs) Saudi Arabia.

In places like that there is no "controlling legal authority" to quote Al Gore to force one or both parties to adhere to the bargain fairly reached.

Instead, the more effective thug can simply TAKE. Provided he has kept his thug patronage network intact.

Real world examples of this include Capone's rise (and rubout of rivals), the rise (and fall) of John Gotti, Putin-Georgia.

Didn't Brecher go on record as saying war was obsolete among industrialized nations? Why yes he DID! As usual he's wrong again.

I expect his other assertion, laughable in the extreme, that insurgencies always win, will be proven wrong in Georgia (as Russia simply crushes the Georgians under able Putin) as Petraeus leveraged existing power structures in Iraq to crush AQI and the Iranian militias.

Truth said...

With all possible respect Steve, there is a reason that foriegn policy issues are not resolved with one-paragraph answers such as you have provided.

Forced partition has been tried, in Wassau in the 1930's for one and what was the result of that?

What about all of the thousands of 'mixed' families, which side of the wall do they go on? What about their kids?

As far as an auction goes, obviously Georgia cannot, in good faith make a bid nearly as large as Russia so what's to stop this from artificially pushing the purchase price up millions of dollars? What if they made a bid they had no intention/ability of keeping?: I'll tell you what, if they did, Russia would declare war on them to 'teach them a lesson.'*

*That is of course taking this whole Russian-Georgian conflict at it's silly, simpleminded face value, in reality of course, Georgia is another US-Israeli subsidiary. An auction does nothing to address the true problem which is the neocons obsession with Caspian sea oil.

neil craig said...

To some extent plebiscites do work this way. Peoples mainly vote out of patriotism but they are also swayed by the bottom line. At the end of WW1 some people of mixed nationality in Silesia voted for more wealthy Germany not Poland & it is clear Montenegro's vote for independene was not a new found patriotism but the fact they would be able to trade stolen cars in the EU more easily.

I strongly suspect if the Argentinians had offered $100,000 "compensation" to each of the 2,000 Falklanders if they voted for union with them they would have jumped at it & Britain would have been happy to let them go.

The most stiff necked foreign policy mistake the Russians have been making is in not offering to sell the Kuriles back to Japan. These are 4 tiny island between Japan & Kamchatka of no conceivabkle value but it really rubs Japan that they lost them at the end of WW2. The Japnanese would have paid billions for them & ended up as Russia's friends & it is not like eastern Russia is cramped.

History shows that the hatreds that siezure in conquest produces don't happen when it is purchase. The French aren't annoyed about Louisiana though Alsace is still a sore point & in all the vitriol of the cold war the Russians never said they had a sacred duty to liberate Alaska.

Normally however money is a fairly good comparator to military power or at least potential but sometimes it isn't. The Saudis could put more than the GNP of Israel into a bid on Jerusalem, probably a lot more if Iran & the Gulf States chipped in, but somehow I don't see the Israelis selling - though they might then grab Mecca & offer to sell it back.

Anonymous said...

We're talking about a country nearly as large as Canada and the United States combined (but with only 145 million people) ganging up on a country smaller than South Carolina, in order to "liberate" a county or two.

And Russia wonders why we're expanding NATO.

Before sending troops, NATO should immediately declare Georgia a member, and dare the Russians not to remove their troops.

OTOH, if Russia refuses to remove its troops from Georgia, the US should should insist on a fair trade and annex oilfields from the real villains of 9/11, the Saudis - and from Iran, too.

anony-mouse said...

Yes that is one alternative.

But for Russia another alternative is to simply overpower the much smaller Georgia, as the Tsars did (I admit I don't know who was supplying Georgia with arms at that time). That way Russia doesn't lose or pay anyone anything (see the Baltic States 1940-89, and for that matter a substantial number of Russia's neigbours).

The only time Russia did anything remotely like what Steve is suggesting was in 1867 with 'Seward's Folly', and the Russians have never forgotten that mistake.

Had Russia taken Steve's advice it would now be the size of the Duchy of Muscovy, but richer.

Anonymous said...

Last update - 00:46 11/08/2008

Jewish Georgian minister: Thanks to Israeli training, we're fending off Russia

By Haaretz Service

Tags: Georgia, Russia, Jewish World

Jewish Georgian Minister Temur Yakobshvili on Sunday praised the Israel Defense Forces for its role in training Georgian troops and said Israel should be proud of its military might, in an interview with Army Radio.

"Israel should be proud of its military which trained Georgian soldiers," Yakobashvili told Army Radio in Hebrew, referring to a private Israeli group Georgia had hired.

Yakobashvili, Georgia's minister of reintegration, added that this training provided Georgia with the know-how needed to defend itself against Russian forces in the clashes which erupted last last week in the separatist region of South Ossetia.

Yakobashvili said that a small group of Georgian soldiers had able to wipe out an entire Russian military division due to this training.

"We killed 60 Russian soldiers just yesterday," said Yakobashvili. "The Russians have lost more than 50 tanks, and we have shot down 11 of their planes. They have enormous damage in terms of manpower,"

Yakobashvili warned that the Russians would try and open another battlefront in Abkhazia and he denied reports that the Georgian army was retreating. "The Georgian forces are not retreating. We move our military according to security needs."

"There was no attack on the airport in Tbilisi. It was a factory that produces combat airplanes," said Yakobashvili referring to the attacks in the country's capital.

"The whole world is starting to understand that what is happening here will determine the future of this region, the future price of crude oil, the future of central Asia, and the future of NATO," the Georgian minister added.

According to him, "every bomb that falls over our heads is an attack on democracy, on the European Union and on America."

yow

Sleep said...

I think that money worked well for the Jews in Egypt because the Jews werent really that attached to Egypt. But these Ossetian people are very attached to their homeland and don't want to move out; if they had wanted to move out they could have done so already, as Russia is willing to take them in.

It's a kind of mindset that I don't understand, because I'm a normal American and I see moving around as no big deal, it's something that happens every few years. I was just talking to a Russian friend a few minutes ago asking him why the Ossetians don't just move up to Russia where they could have a better standard of living, but he told me that almost none of them would ever be happier in Russia than in their homeland, regardless of their standard of living.

GMR said...

I'm sort of surprised that sovereign nations don't sell land more frequently to other nations.

In the 1800s, the US made three significant land purchases: the Louisiana Purchase (from France); Alaska (from Russia) and the Gadsen Purchase (from Mexico). We also, of course, acquired significant territory in the wars with Mexico and then later with Spain.

I don't know of any recent instance where one country has just outright paid another for any significant amount of territory. But then, there might not be any territory that wealthy countries want which are currently owned by poorer countries. Although maybe some of the wealthy gulf states would want to buy parts of Africa that are more fertile.

Bill said...

The formula dreamed up by Nixon, Kissinger, and Chou for Taiwan in 1972 is logically absurd, but it has worked for 36 years, so why fix what isn't broken?

-S. Sailer


The difference in the case of Taiwan is that once China got formal UN recognition, Taiwan, whether the PRC admits it or not, has been useful for both China and the US. Both make loads of money off business with Taiwan, and both use the island to their political advantage from time to time.

Georgia really derives no advantage from the situation in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, but Russia certainly does. Therefore, there's a bit of logic in the military assault, but it appears not to have been thought out to its conclusion.

airtommy said...

which was exactly Putin's calculus in pushing the war during the Olympics

Except that Putin didn't have anything to do with the timing of this war because GEORGIA STARTED IT.

Martin said...

"Lucius Vorenus said...

PS: And then there's the whole question of honor - like it or not, Georgia has been one of our most steadfast allies in the world these last eight years, and it's hard to think of anything more dishonorable than failing to aid them in their time of need."

Yes, and that goes to show that one should be careful in selecting ones allies. It's foolish to choose allies to whom we have few ties, who avail us nothing, and antagonize large powers on their border. Look at how much trouble we've gotten into because we felt some moral obligation to the kurds (and not an imaginary obligation, either).

The only thing that Georgia has given the world was Joseph Stalin. I don't particularly care about them.

neil craig said...

As "revenge" for Russia invading Georgia:
"OTOH, if Russia refuses to remove its troops from Georgia, the US should should insist on a fair trade and annex oilfields from the real villains of 9/11, the Saudis - and from Iran, too."

Wasn't that how we got into Iraq?

Perhaps from the Russian point of view "if the US refuses to remove its troops from Yugoslavia, Russia should should insist on a fair trade and annex Kazakhstan, Ukraine etc."

This is exactly why the world need respect for the rule of international law.

Anonymous said...

Before sending troops, NATO should immediately declare Georgia a member, and dare the Russians not to remove their troops.

OTOH, if Russia refuses to remove its troops from Georgia, the US should should insist on a fair trade and annex oilfields from the real villains of 9/11, the Saudis - and from Iran, too.


Oh that'll work. "You mean old Russians remove your troops RIGHT NOW or we'll, we'll ... INVADE SAUDI ARABIA! AND IRAN!" (And with who? And what?)

I don't know which moves me more: my misplaced sense of pride in seeing a traditional ethnic nation-state acting out of self-interest as opposed to senseless ideology, or schadenfreude at the utter impotence of US neo-cons confronted with aggressive action against a purported ally.

martin has it exactly right. This is an abject lesson in choosing one's allies carefully, like how we choose six million net tax consuming Israelis over several hundred million Arabs with all the oil.

Senor Doug

Lucius Vorenus said...

neil craig: it is clear Montenegro's vote for independene was not a new found patriotism but the fact they would be able to trade stolen cars in the EU more easily

Yes, and as I understand it, since breaking away from Georgia, some huge percentage [like approaching 100%] of South Ossetia's "GDP" consists of the taxes which are levied on tractor-trailer cargo passing through the tunnel which connects Georgia with Russia.

It would be as though Tony Soprano seized control of the New Jersey Turnpike and levied a tax on all the vehicles which passed through his domain [compounded by the presence of a huge range of mountains in Pennsylvania which made it prohibitively expensive for anyone to try to build a competing turnpike].

airtommy: Except that Putin didn't have anything to do with the timing of this war because GEORGIA STARTED IT.

Putin's been planning this for months - maybe even years. From everything I'm reading, our people were shocked [which gets back to the question of why we even bother to have a CIA] at the speed with which Russia moved men & matériel deep into the heart of Georgia - it had all been forward-positioned months [or even years] ago, just waiting for the green light.

Martin: Yes, and that goes to show that one should be careful in selecting ones allies. It's foolish to choose allies to whom we have few ties, who avail us nothing, and antagonize large powers on their border.

But that's the nature of honor - the decision may have been foolish in the first place, but once the decision has been made, you have to stick with it.

When an honorable man comes to realize that he married the wrong woman, he can't just ignore his oath to forsake all others and ditch her & and the children he made with her in lieu of his secretary [cf The Breck Girl & Lisa "Rielle Hunter" Druck] - instead, he has to grit his teeth and stick it out until the bitter end.

[Which, of course, only serves to emphasize the manifest, fundamental, foundational, über-importance of choosing the correct woman to swear the oath with in the first place.]

Martin: The only thing that Georgia has given the world was Joseph Stalin. I don't particularly care about them.

That's actually an interesting aspect of the story - if you accept the ostensible pretense for the Russian involvement here, then you have to wonder whether [at least some of] the Russians might not be taking glee in wreaking vengeance on the state which produced Stalin & Beria.

But as Simon Sebag Montefiore has been pointing out, Putin is the grandson of Stalin's chef, Spiridon Putin, so to make that theory work, you're gonna need to invoke some nauseating Cook/Wife/Thief/Lover theory of geopolitics.

Of course, nauseating theories of geopolitics might not be such a bad point of view to adopt in attempting to grok the comings and goings in that part of the world.

SaintMiddens said...

PS: And then there's the whole question of honor - like it or not, Georgia has been one of our most steadfast allies in the world these last eight years, and it's hard to think of anything more dishonorable than failing to aid them in their time of need."

To echo Martin, why were they chosen as an ally as the first place? Just so we could have the pleasure of defending them after they got embroiled in a war? You internationalist warmongering types can defend Georgia yourselves. In the meantime the war on terror is budgeted at 3 trillion and perhaps more, and the borders aren't being defended.

SaintMiddens said...

But that's the nature of honor - the decision may have been foolish in the first place, but once the decision has been made, you have to stick with it.

Why should ordinary citizens feel bound by promises they never made? Maybe certain politicians have promised things (i.e. blood and treasure) that aren't rightly theirs to give, in which case I promise the people of Georgia the blood and treasure of those same politicians. You might say to that that it isn't my right to give away things that aren't mine, but that argument never swayed the neocons, so it's worth a shot.

boomajoom said...

Too easy to abuse. If I were either country, I'd play the bidding war for a while; if I won, I'd pay the money and get the land. But if I lost, I'd tell the other party to shove it and just fight them for it. It turns into a choice of A) paying money for the land or B) killing people for it. Option C) give up the land leaves my calculation.

Or even better, I could play the bidding war and lose so that the other party pays me a bunch of money for the land, and then turn around and fight them for it. I get the land and the money, what could be better?

Martin said...

"SaintMiddens said...

Why should ordinary citizens feel bound by promises they never made? Maybe certain politicians have promised things (i.e. blood and treasure) that aren't rightly theirs to give"

For the record, I am quite willing to fight to the death of every member of the Council on Foreign Relations, every employee of The National Review, The Weekly Standard, The New Republic, and every lobbyist who's ever taken a dime from any foreign interest, for the independence, safety, and prosperity of whatever benighted hell-hole they are currently enamored of.

Truth said...

"When an honorable man comes to realize that he married the wrong woman, he can't just ignore his oath to forsake all others and ditch her & and the children he made with her in lieu of his secretary...."

He didn't come to realize that he married the wrong woman, he came to realize that the right woman had put on weight and grown wrinkles.

Lucius Vorenus said...

Guys, Putin is a thug, with a whale of a lot of petro dollars at his disposal, and a whale of a lot more if he gets his hands on that Georgian pipeline.

Putin is busy doing what Hugo Chavez would do if little Hugo thought he could get away with it [for the time being, Hugo has to satisfy himself with funding bush-league Marxist terrorists in the jungles of Columbia, although Hugo has his sites set on bigger goals, and the Russians are only filling his head with even more ideas right now].

Furthermore, Putin is young and healthy and virile, practically to the point that it feels slightly g@y to look at pictures of him:

GOOGLE IMAGES: putin bare chest

So the junior readers at iSteve could very well be dealing with this little ex-KGB a$$ clown for another two or three decades.

The iSteve community has its panties all in a wad from eulogizing Bruce Ivins and his "weaponized anthrax spores" - now try imagining a "weaponized thallium dirty bomb", smuggled to, gee, I dunno, maybe a Hugo Chavez in our own hemisphere?