Bryan Caplan  

NATO Bet

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Tyler heavily insinuates that Russia will invade a NATO member in the foreseeable future:

"At least half of Germans, French and Italians say their country should not use military force to defend a NATO ally if attacked by Russia," the Pew Research Center said it found in its survey, which is based on interviews in 10 nations.

There is more here, and so every great moderation must come to an end...

This is also of note:

According to the study, residents of most NATO countries still believe that the United States would come to their defense.

Meanwhile:

Eighty-eight percent of Russians said they had confidence in Mr. Putin to do the right thing on international affairs...

Solve for the equilibrium, as they like to say.  It is much easier to stabilize a conservative power (e.g., the USSR) than a revisionist power (Putin's Russia).

In contrast, I think (a) a Russian attack on a NATO member is highly unlikely, and (b) would provoke a massive military response by NATO.  Even a low-level, unofficial war in Ukraine has cost Russia dearly, and it looks to me like it will slowly become another "frozen conflict" in the Russian sphere of influence.  Attacking a NATO member would not be suicide for Putin, but still much too risky for his taste.

As always, I am willing to bet on my forecast.  I give even odds that Russia attacks zero NATO members for the next 25 years.  I also give 5:1 odds that Russia attacks zero NATO members in the next 5 years.  If anyone wants to bet, we can hammer out the exact  definition of "attacks."  I'm inclined to say that if the New York Times, Wall St. Journal, and Washington Post all have front-page stories saying that 1000 or more Russian troops have entered a specific NATO member, I lose.  But I'm open to other definitions.




COMMENTS (13 to date)
_NL writes:

Has that three headlines condition even been met in Ukraine? Russia continues to deny sending troops there and uses various means to conduct warfare without openly doing so.

Bob McGrew writes:

If you had offered even odds for the next ten years instead of 25, I'd think you were agreeing with Tyler. As it is, a 20% chance in the next five years is a high and arguably heightened risk.

Yaakov writes:

I agree with NL. You need to take into account air attacks without ground forces and sending troops without admitting it.

As to the prediction, I am on your side. An attack on a NATO country is very unlikely.

Miguel Madeira writes:

A lateral point: why USSR (who supported insurgent guerrillas all over the world) was a conservative power while new Russia (who, until now, only attacked in reaction to moves against "clients" - like Yanukovich or South Ossetia) is a revisionist power?

Jeff writes:

5:1 odds makes the bet rather tempting. I think the odds are against it, also, but this is Russia we're talking about. The normal rules have never applied there.

Richard writes:

I sort of doubt NATO would do much to respond. It's easy to dole out promises of collective defense when the public isn't paying much attention to foreign policy and an attack looks like a remote possibility. It's another thing completely to actually take the country to war with Russia over Estonia or Latvia.

Any president who did go to war would be sacrificing all his political capital and time on defending eastern Europe. He'd have to forget about the rest of the world and his domestic agenda. Maybe it would be worth it to a Republican president, I don't think it would to Obama.

E. Harding writes:

"Even a low-level, unofficial war in Ukraine has cost Russia dearly"
-No, it hasn't.
"Attacking a NATO member would not be suicide for Putin"
-Yes, it would be.

Hazel Meade writes:

The risk here is that someone will miscalculate and send the wrong signal, such as that NATO would NOT defend Lithuania should Russia invade. This would make a Russian inviasion more likely.
The poll of Germans, French and Italians sends that bad signal.

That said, I doubt Putin is just reading Pew polls to determine if he can get away with invading a NATO member. So I still think he wouldn't dare. But maybe some sort of low-grade proxy conflict; that he might think he can get away with.

E. Harding writes:

In any case, what possible reason would Russia have for attacking a NATO member? The Baltics, Poland, and Finland not Russian clients, like Ukraine, or would openly attack a disputed territory, like Georgia. Those insinuating Russia might attack a NATO member might as well be stating Russia might attack Alaska because of its oil.

JD writes:

I think the main "reason" to attack a weak NATO member in close proximity to Russia would be that it could very well lead to the end of NATO if the west doesn't have the stomach to enter into open warfare with Russia.

However, the long term result of that would likely be the rearmament of Western Europe, which would make Russia's security situation considerably worse.

And of course, the west might indeed stand its ground, resulting in war between nuclear powers.

A bet on Russia attacking a NATO member is a short position on Putin's sanity.

blink writes:

I'm in line with @Bob McGrew. Does 5:1 for five years and 1:1 for 25 years reflect your probability assessment, or are you playing it especially conservative? At what point would you take the opposite side? At odds in these ballparks, I think many would call you pessimistic about Russian belligerence.

I think your bettor's pledge needs a coda: When posing a bet, one should offer odds for *both* sides. A spread is fine, just like the bookies, but it would make for much fairer interpretation.

Hazel Meade writes:

E. Harding:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russians_in_the_Baltic_states

There are large Russian minorities in the Baltics. One of the stated justifications for Putin's involvement in the Ukraine was Russia's supposed role as protector of Russians and Russian-speaking peoples throughout the region.

There is also that chunk of Russia that is geographically cut off from the mainland by Lithuania and Belarus.

So yeah, there are some quite plausible reasons for Russia to invade the Baltic states. Especially by their own assertions of what Russia's rights are.

Dan King writes:

Do you really think that the NYT, the WSJ and the Washington Post will all be around 25 years from now?

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