Learning Theories

States are rational, and regime type matters. That is, countries will tend to do what is in their best interest. However, what is in the best interest of a country depends on what sort of country it is. Thus, Russia’s best interests are probably very different from those of India, China, Europe, or the United States, Russia desires to maximize oil prices means it needs to redistribute wealth away from the producers of wealth to the extent possible. Growth-oriented countries, by contrast, need to create wealth to the extent possible.

Still, none of this happens in a vacuum. Countries learn what is the best way to achieve their goals. In particular, is modeling (which is analogically adopted from the research of Albert Bandura) or “conquest-and-reward” (which is analogically adopted from the research of B.F. Skinner) the best method for removing bad behavior from the repetior of states?

First, some background on the approaches:

Conquest-and-reward is an operationalization of the Law of Efffect, which was first described by E.L. Thorndoke in 1898 and refined over the next decades to the following

Responses to stimuli that produce pleasing effects are more likely to occur again

Responses can be “positive” (some new good thing is added) or “negative” (some old bad thing is taken away). Punishment doesn’t work predictably, as it interacts with volition instead of motivation. Instead, to prevent a bad behavior from reoccuring, you would subject the organism to an upleasant state of affairs, and lift the bad experience when the organism complies. “Conquest-and-reward” (C&R) is a basic feature of all learning systems, whether mechanical, animal, or human. C&R, by itself, does not explain all variation in learning behavior. However, it is a great start.

Modeling is a more complex form of learning that relies on an orgasm using the behavior and consequences of other observable organisms as a form of “offloaded experience.” In modeling, an organism observes a behavior, acquires the gist of it, and reproduces the behavior (with variation) in similar situations. So, in the classic Bobo Doll study, for example, children watched a model abuse a doll in specific ways, and proceeded to abuse the doll in novel ways.

With states, my suspicion is that C&R is more important than modeling. Or rather, they operate in different ways. C&R, through condition, impacts what a country actually wants. America’s learned response from Vietnam was to avoid counterinsurgencies, for instance. Modeling, in contrast, provides methods for a country to get there. The successful integration of much of Old Core Europe into the European Union, for instance, modeled behavior that would allow the central European states to get what they want (rich and free of Russian domination). Thus, if a country wishes a bad outcome, such as the conquest of a neighbor, modeling provides a mechanism only of demonstrating how that could be done successfully, while C&R can reverse the bad behavior.

U.S. Defense Secretary: Russia’s actions are harmful

Good news from Robert Gates, who is proving himself one of the best people in George Bush’s cabinet.  While Secretary of State Rice is in Georgia for European diplomatic consumption, Gates implicitly describes Georgia as part of his portfolio as minister of war:

WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned Thursday that if Russia doesn’t pull back from its fighting in Georgia it could hurt Moscow-Washington relations “for years to come.”

Speaking at his first Pentagon news conference since the fighting started, Gates said he does not foresee the need for use of U.S. military force there, however. At his side, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright said the military assesses that Russia is “generally complying” with the truce that called for its withdrawal from the hostilities.

Gates warns Russia to pull back in Georgia fight – Yahoo! News.

Russia’s invasion of Georgia is dangerous, both because it violates the peace and it encourages Russia to act in bad ways.

We should be preparing to destroy Russian forces that remain in Georgia.  However, even these current steps to protect Georgia are a good start.

Russia is bad

Russia is bad

Or to put the sentence more meaningfully

Russia’s actions are largely determined by variables which makes it paraistical to global wealth and international peace.

States act in predictable ways. Their behavior is affected by important concepts such as their history, their geography, and their economy. International relations is not a true social science like voting behavior or organizational psychology, but nonetheless there is plenty of evidence that these three factors can be expected to explain variance once reliable paradigms are established in that field.

Russia’s history is one of authoritarianism. Russia’s action patterns are of a strong government, a standing band of thieves who provide minimal security services in exchange for expropriating the wealth of the countryside. First the Russian government organized the nobles to exploit the peasants, and once its capacities expanded it reduced the nobles as well. Unlike countries which were able to generate the income disparity necessesary to limit the central government’s influence (Iceland, England, etc), Russia stayed mried in tyranny with tyrannous traditions. The government’s patterns of actions are to expropriate wealth and to crush civil society. This is not necessarily because of any bad characteristic of individual leaders, but rather a function of the Russian government drawing on what has worked for a very long time.

Russia’s geography is one of authoritarianism. Free countries are those with easy transportation and ready access to the sea. Unfree countries are those with difficult transportation and difficult access to the sea. Thus pennsular countries are naturally predisposed to be free, while continental countries with long coast-lines will naturally face a “red-blue” divide of exophilia and exophobia. Landlocked countries, or those with very limited access to the sea, have little chance to develop external links and will naturally fall back to dependence on the government. Russia is such a country, with little access to the sea from population or industrial areas.

Russia’s economy is one of authoritarianism. To an extent, this is also a product of the first two risk-factors. Russia’s history has led to reegular confiscation of private property, and thus encourages a relatively short time-horizon (except for government service, which is a reliable method of earning the prviilege of looting the wealth of others). Likewise, Russia’s seperation from the sea means that wealth-generating international trade is difficult in the first place. Further, the one industry that Russia does have (oil and natural gas exploitation) gives it only a highly variable source of wealth to raise it up only to the level of Portugal. Oil is the opium of the masses, as it allows an awful government to dysfunctional indefinitely.

Russian influence must be limited to the extent possible. Russia, regardless of the particular leadership at any specific time, is overdetermined by factors outside its control to tend to be a bad actor.

Russia’s invasion of Georgia threatens to expand Russia’s power, and Russia’s ability to act on its bad instincts.

Invest in a better Eurasia. Expel Russia from Georgai.

War is bad

War is bad.

Or to put the sentence more meaningfully

Interestate war as a tool of negotiation in areas of the world that are not worthless destroys global public goods and reduces economic development.

Interstate war can be though of as a global version of the domestic war that Thomas Hobbes saw ended only by the presense of a Leviathan. Within a national polity, that Levithan is a government which (if it is functional) possess vastly more firepower and organization than any challenger and so is able to enforce its will. A national government Thus, the people of a government spend a good deal of time thinking of how their government’s force can be contrained, or shaped, so that it does not deprive the people of liberties. This is domestic peace.

Interstate peace never features a leviathan as strong as domestic peace can. Right now, the closet thing to a “Leviathan” is the United States, internation law (most essentailly the World Trade Organization and other trade regimes), and the U.S. military. Because the U.S. is much weaker relative to the international great powers than the U.S. is compared to domestic great powers, there is no concern about the people of the world losing their liberty because of the U.S. leviathan role.

Nonetheless, there is a real concern that states may lose sovereignty due to the international order. For functional states that rely on the benefits that trade provides, this isn’t much of a concern. One extreme example of this is Europe, but even developing countries like China, India, and Mexico prefer the benefits of ordered trade to a return to full sovereignty, and great power war. Parasitical states do not share this belief. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is opposed to great power war not because of it depends peace for economic development, but it is too frightened of its own subjects to field its own military. Iran and Russia, which trusts their citizens enough to have large militaries, see no trade as no reason to give up sovereignty.

Therefore, in order to protect the peace, the U.S. needs only to deter trade-oriented states from suicidal strategies, but must deter parasitic states from otherwise rational strategies. This is because even trade-oriented countries can make bad decisions they must be protected from. So, for example, our policy with regards to China should be one of hedging without wedging. Parasitical states would normally use the cash they receive by sucking wealth out of growing countries to increase their power and further warp the global system. These countries must be contained in the traditional sense.

Deterannce in this sense means matching unconventional thrust with unconvential thrust, while preventing any conventional expansion of their power. This explains much of our relationship with Iran over the past few decades. Special forces, kidnappings, and the like happen on both sides, but Iran has been consistently conditioned such that it presents no threat to its neighbors, as long as the conditioning continues. Russia has unfortunately not learned its lesson, and has violated the peace in order to violently expand its influence.

So what should be done? How should we react to Russia’s invasion of Georgia?

The ‘free-riding’ approach would be to do nothing, or merely call on all sides to show retraint while reciting some international legal ideal. This gets us off the hook, allows the global public good of peace to crumble around us, and trades long-term security for short-term good relations with Russia. It breaks the conditioning, rewards bad behavior, and encourages future aggression.

The ‘investment’ approach would be to condemn Russia, send troops to the region, and begin the processing of forcing a humiliating Russian withdrawal. This costs of time and attention now, forcing us to delay lower-priority objectives. It reinforces the conditioning, allows future rewarding of good behavior, and discourages of aggression.

Invest in Peace. Expel Russia from Georgia.