A password will be e-mailed to you.
Hide from Public

The Seven Deadly Sins of Russia Analysis

December 23, 2015

One analyst's reflection on the common analytical sins and questionable assumptions that bedevil the field of Russia analysis.

As the clock counts down to the end of another tumultuous and difficult year of dealing with Russia, the natural instinct is to look back on the battles and surprises of 2015 with an eye to making predictions for the coming year. There is material aplenty: the battle of Debaltseve, Moscow’s operations in Syria, a crisis with Turkey that still burns bright. A new year offers new opportunities for prognostication: Where will Russia strike next? What is Putin thinking? What are the likely flashpoints of 2016? Instead of this traditional exercise, Russia experts should reflect on a year of discussions, briefings, round tables, merciless PowerPoint decks about hybrid war, and occasional spats in the virtual pages of outlets like War on the Rocks. What are the nagging questions, questionable assumptions, and unknowns that beset the analytical and policymaking community?

Experts and policymakers who deal with Russia are living in a high-tempo environment, keeping pace with military interventions, crises, and the frequent twists in bilateral relations. However, in any such endeavor, it is possible to learn lessons that are not true. This is my own attempt at presenting a list of questionable bits of analysis and assumptions that exist within the community. In doing so, I hope to push people to critically examine how they look at Russia. Why do we say some of these things, and more importantly why do we think them?

1. The Russian Government is Brittle. Or is it?

Presenting Vladimir Putin’s regime as brittle is often analytical shorthand for arguing that his regime is dangerous in the near term, but equally likely to implode in short order, with Russia descending into turmoil and instability. Indeed, Moscow has accumulated so many domestic and foreign policy problems that it would make this a logical assessment were it not for the poor track record of such predictions. With each new outbreak in what has become an almost routine series of political, economic, or foreign policy crises, a segment of the Russia-watcher community invariably begins to make predictions of Putin’s imminent demise. Unfortunately, the science of predicting regime change seems to lag significantly behind astrology. We should remember that few predicted the Soviet Union’s rapid demise, the start of the Arab Spring, or anticipated the rapid fall of Victor Yanukovich in Ukraine following the start of the Maidan.

There are two ongoing case studies on the merit of such predictions. The first is Pakistan, a country that by the same theory should have collapsed long ago under the weight of its many problems. The second is North Korea, which soldiers on despite decades of predictions and estimates of the regime’s imminent implosion. As former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates remarked on our ability to predict the nature and location of the next conflict, “our record has been perfect” given that “we’ve never once gotten it right.” The same should be said of our ability to judge regime brittleness. The point is not that neo-Kremlinology or assessments of political stability are a waste of time, but that this is a single layer of analysis that should be taken with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Undoubtedly those who regularly predict Putin’s downfall will one day be vindicated, but for planning and analytical purposes, our expectations should be tempered. The next test of political brittleness comes in 2018 when we will see how ready and willing the Russian public is to accept Putin’s automatic re-election. Nobody knows what the state of the economy, currency valuation, foreign exchange reserves, oil prices, or international position of Russia will be that year.

2. The United States has a Putin Problem, not a Russia Problem. Or Does it?

The individuals in power matter, and another Russian leader may not have chosen to annex Crimea or invade Ukraine in response to the Maidan’s victory. That being said, the lingering debate on whether the United States has a Putin problem or a Russia problem is an unsettled one. If one assumes that the real problem is Putin’s regime, however long it might last, then the natural course of action is to avoid any bargains with Russia, cauterize the damage to the bilateral relationship and wait for another leader. My personal view is that whoever succeeds Vladimir Putin will not prove to be all that different, and will likely follow a similar policy path.

Russian history suggests that Putin is anything but an aberration in leadership, pursuing security dilemmas in the same manner of many previous occupants of the Kremlin. Seeing Russia’s security space as a zero-sum game and securing it by limiting the sovereignty of its neighbors is almost canon for Russian foreign policy (as it was for Soviet policy). We should ask if Putin’s foreign policy is fundamentally so different from that of Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s first democratic leader, or if Russia was simply too weak during Yeltsin’s rule to challenge the post-Cold War security arrangements in Europe. In early 2014, Henry Kissinger warned Washington not to fixate on Putin when he wrote that “For the West, the demonization of Vladimir Putin is not a policy, it is an alibi for the absence of one.”

Yeltsin too believed in the application of force to achieve desired political ends in Russia and on its periphery. Examples are found among Russian interventions in Transnistria and Tajikistan in 1992 and Abkhazia in 1993, the use of tanks to suppress a constitutional crisis in Moscow, the First Chechen War in 1994–96, and the Russian paratrooper deployment to seize Pristina International Airport in 1999 ahead of NATO’s deployment in Kosovo. In retrospect, that administration was not short on military gambits, complaints about NATO expansion, or gripes with U.S. military interventions. The character of Yeltsin’s government was quite different from Putin’s regime, but arguably it was under his leadership in the 1990s that Russia began and ended its brief flirtation with democracy. In truth, we have Yeltsin’s presidency to thank for Putin.

Putin’s view of the world may have evolved during his rule, but there is little evidence that we should expect his successor to travel a different path. Thus far, there is nothing to suggest that the next Russian leader, when faced with a similar international and regional environment will not attempt to engage the West, leave disappointed and revert to the ruthless pursuit of Russian national interest. Another question seldom raised is whether U.S. policy towards Russia would truly change if its troublesome leader were to disappear tomorrow.

3. Moscow Cannot Keep This Up. Or Can it?

Current discourse on Russia’s economic frailty folds into the broader discussion on whether or not Moscow can sustain the current state of confrontation. In other words, how long can Moscow keep this up? The underlying question is whether Russia will cease being a problem in the near- to mid-term by succumbing to its economic woes. The narrative that Russia will run out of money is prevalent in the West, even though Moscow’s foreign reserves have both stabilized and shown a modest rebound in recent months. The bigger question is why do we talk about Russia as though it was a bank or a company? Did Russia go out of business after the 1998 default?

What is the actual connection between Western security considerations vis-a-vis Russia, its foreign and national security policy, and the amount of money it has on hand? Putin pressed forward with ambitious military reforms in 2009, when the price of oil fell to $35 per barrel. Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea in 2014 even though the Russian economy was clearly entering a recession in late 2013. Looking further back, Russians persevered through the financial default and currency crisis of 1998, many going the better part of a year without salaries. Putin was anointed as Yeltsin’s successor following this economic carnage, and in the aftermath launched the Second Chechen War in 1999, a prolonged conventional and counterinsurgency campaign.

This discussion begs a more essential question as to whether or not the economy has ever been a foundation of Russian power in the international system. In a previous article for War on the Rocks, I argued that Russia has often appeared to be the sick man of Europe, technologically backwards, with a lackluster economy, and a political system that consistently lags behind the needs of its society. That being said, despite Western fears to the contrary, the Soviet Union was never a superpower by virtue of being a serious economic competitor to the United States, let alone the West, at best attaining 57 percent of America’s GNP in the late 1960s before falling behind.

Today, plenty of senior U.S. officials consider Russia to be a strategic threat and a serious opponent to NATO even though its GDP is barely a tenth of America’s. In a recent interview discussing Russia, Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work applied Mearsheimer’s definition of a great power to Moscow, highlighting the return of great power politics in the international system. Granted, he said this was a narrow lens, but if the United States considers Russia to be a great power (or regional power with a big nuclear arsenal) when its economy represents a mere 3.3 percent of global GDP, then the connection between economic fundamentals of power and Russia’s position in the international system merits further discussion.

4. Russia Cannot Sustain Military Operations. Or Can it?

Following closely the discussion of economic weakness is a general sentiment that Russia is unable to sustain military operations due to financial or force constraints. Going back to early 2015, the notion that Russia’s armed forces are tied down or “stuck” in Ukraine seems to have dissipated. The merit of such estimates was cast into doubt when, in September of this year, Russia was simultaneously sustaining its deployment in Ukraine, conducting the expensive strategic exercise Center 2015, and deploying an expeditionary operation to Syria. I too was wrong in arguing that logistical and financial constraints would limit Moscow’s involvement in Syria given its lack of assets to sustain expeditionary operations.

Much to my own surprise, Russia surged sea lift by reflagging Turkish commercial ships to support its increasing troop presence and base expansions. For Moscow, necessity is the mother of invention, whereas for the United States it is usually the mother of procurement. Russia also found plenty of funding to test expensive land attack cruise missiles of almost every variety. In a recent press conference, Putin showed no signs that economic constraints would impact military operations. Instead, it seems Russia can sustain this and all other lines of effort for at least a few years. At 4.2 percent of GDP, or 3.3 trillion rubles, Russia’s defense budget is the highest it has been since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Too often we trade in our analytical expertise for an accountant’s glasses, as though we could count the Russian Ministry of Defense’s money or its available troops better than it can. On the issue of sustainment of military operations we need a dose of analytical humility.

5. Russia is Still a Power in Decline. Or is it?

I fundamentally believe that Russia is a power in structural decline, but increasingly I wonder about the relevance of that assessment. It seems with each year we can infer less and less from such a statement. Celeste Wallander and Eugene Rumer, two longtime Russia experts whom I hold in the highest regard, once wrote:

Despite several years of economic growth and a new dynamic leader, Russia remains a power in decline. Neither its recent economic success nor its vigorous leadership is sufficient to make up for the long-term losses the country has suffered or to compensate for the contemporary shortcomings that belie key elements of Russian power.

The only problem with this remarkable piece in The Washington Quarterly is that it was published in late 2003. Roughly a decade later, President Obama similarly opined that Russia is a “regional power” acting out of “weakness.”  Many of Russia’s underlying weaknesses were as true then as they are now, but if Russia is declining, it is doing so very slowly, and its leadership does not accept such a predestined fate. As improbable as it may be, absent a sudden Russian collapse, at some point we may be forced to admit that Russia is declining so slowly the country might just be muddling through.

6. Demography Will Determine Russia’s Fate. Or Will it?

Russia’s demographic problems are commonly referenced as one of the drivers of its supposedly assured structural decline. Analysts often mention demography to either blithely support the notion that Russia will simply cease to be a problem for the West in the long term, or worriedly speculate that the country will become dangerously unstable. But what might Russia’s demographics truly determine? Will Russia somehow be less of a strategic threat or a concern for the United States if it has a smaller population? It is almost certain that Russia will have enough manpower to maintain 1,550 strategic nuclear weapons, along with a conventional force to overmatch any of its neighbors, save China. Perhaps counterintuitively, in the short term, Russia’s armed forces have steadily increased in size from roughly 667,000700,000 in 2012 to 900,000 today.

When considering long-term alternative futures it is worth noting that Russia’s economy and national budget is inexorably dependent on energy and resource extraction. These are industries that are not labor-intensive. At the same time, Russia is the beneficiary of a large labor influx from former Soviet Republics, often making it the third- or second-highest recipient of migrants in the world. Can Russia nationalize such labor at the cost of internal social cohesion? How much will its government budget truly suffer following a labor force contraction? Is it even fair to assume that warfare or similar state tasks will remain manpower-intensive 30 years from now? Are Russia’s demographic problems fundamentally different from those of other developed states, including many U.S. allies? It strikes me that Russia’s demographic decline is more of an open-ended question than a definitive statement on the future of the country.

7. For Putin, It’s All About Regime Survival. Or is it?

Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, invasion of Ukraine, and launch of operations in Syria are sometimes explained as the throes of a falling political system engaged in a “survival project.” The underlying theory unifying these actions is regime survival, brilliantly advocated by Lilia Shevtsova in a number of articles and op-eds. The problem with this approach is that regime survival circularly explains everything and absolutely nothing at the same time: There is no political regime on earth that is not interested in its survival. Regime survival is a constant motivation for many, if not all, political systems and politicians. It is so fungible an analytical approach that it lends itself useful to explaining any and all policy choices by Putin.

At its core, this argument arbitrarily takes the domestic political outcomes of Moscow’s actions, such as high approval ratings at home, or a resurgent sense of nationalism, and moves them back in time to become the primary objectives of foreign and national security policy. That could be true, but it seems impossible to prove or disprove. Regime survival may not be an incorrect explanation of Moscow’s motives, but it is certainly incomplete as an analysis of the real sources of Russian decision-making.

Russia Analysis in Perspective

In my own narrow lane of Russian military analysis, there is always room for a more balanced, informed, and nuanced understanding of Russia. Perhaps the greatest woe of discussions on Russian military, strategy, and decision-making (other than debates on hybrid warfare) is the constant seesaw between two extremes. Too often, we are engaged in an asinine debate as to whether Russia’s military is five feet tall or 12 feet tall. Assessments tend to track more closely with where one sits in the policymaking or national security establishment, versus where the Russian military actually is, and what it can do. Here I believe the starting point should always be Bismarck’s observation that “Russia is never as strong as she looks nor as weak as she looks.” When it comes to decision-making analysis, Putin is regularly cast in stark terms as either a brilliant strategist, outfoxing the West at every turn, or completely incompetent without any notion of what he will do next.

Perchance the broadest and most vexing question for U.S. decision-makers and experts today is this: How do we deter Russia? It is as vague as it is recurrent. The short answer is that the United States does deter Russia, which is why we’re all still here 70 years after nuclear weapons were first used. A more analytically interesting — and politically valuable — question would be how the United States should manage great-power competition in the international system and keep confrontation with Russia from escalating into war. If crises are inevitable among the major players, and it seems they are, then managing escalation dynamics is paramount. When faced with a problem, bureaucracies have a predilection for pursuing activity and confusing it for achievement, to paraphrase Fareed Zakaria. To better structure a policy or a strategy towards Russia we should confront our own underlying assumptions and the merits of prevailing narratives, and more rigorously seek to fill existing gaps in analysis.

 

Michael Kofman is an Analyst at the CNA Corporation and a Fellow at the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute. Previously he served as Program Manager at National Defense University. The views expressed here are his own.

 

Photo credit: kremlin.ru

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

22 thoughts on “The Seven Deadly Sins of Russia Analysis

  1. “To better structure a policy or a strategy towards Russia we should confront our own underlying assumptions and the merits of prevailing narratives” — indeed. We need to understand ourselves first, before attempting to understand the actions of others, as this will profoundly influence the lens by which we view others’ actions. This is dependent on understanding the output of values and mores associated with our own social structure, and how those create the dynamics of judgement.
    It seems that this concept of self awareness, however, is powerfully elusive to the West.

  2. That’s one of the most thoughtful and thought-provoking pieces I’ve read in a while.

    I think, however, your first section is weakened by your use of the examples provided by the long-term survival of the regimes in North Korea and Pakistan. That is, would either of them still be in place if it weren’t for (in the case of the NKPR) the support of China, and (in the case of Pakistan) the support of the US? Russia has no such supports.

    That’s not to say I see the fall of Putin’s regime, in some color-revolution or outright civil war scenario, as being inevitable. Don’t forget though: less than 100 years ago, Russia provided the world with the quintessential example of what a modern civil war can look like. So, I similarly wouldn’t reject a repeat of that kind of outcome as being improbable.

    Anyway — it remains an overall superb piece (and I write that as I today begin my final testing of a simulation modeling an all-out Russian strike into their western ‘near abroad’).

    If you see Dr. Perla, please give him my regards.

    1. I think we have to define support as it matters for a country the size of Russia.Its one thing to be Pakistan large population but small size and only regional interests,and North Korea small size and population and to be Russia large population and size with basically global interests.While Russia technically is not supported by anyone i don’t think you can say it doesn’t have any friends.At the very least there are countries interested in Russias survival as a state like China.

      1. In regard to Chinese ‘interest’ in Russia, my feeling is it presently lies primarily in having Russia act as a strategic distraction for Beijing’s own adventurism in the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean regions. History doesn’t show us much possibility for long-term strategic partnership between Moscow and Beijing (especially, as appears to be happening, if the latter presses for more influence in Central Asia among the former Soviet republics there).

        In that longer term, I also don’t think it will escape Chinese notice — especially given the fact Russia has no real friends — that most of Beijing’s resource acquisition needs can easily be met in central and eastern Siberia. Thus, if a Russian civil war scenario erupts, I could see the possibility of Chinese exploitation of it in that way.

        1. Somehow intervening in a civil war against a country armed with nuclear weapons is pretty dangerous.The typical russian is probably as nationalistic as the typical american and they would not hesitate to use any means to defend their soil.On the other hand countries do tend to make stupid decisions quite frequently.Fortunately so far no nuclear armed state has ever collapsed into civil war.Odds are if it ever happened someone would use nukes either on outside forces trying to intervene(like the sometimes rumoured idea that the US would snatch pakistani nukes in the event of internal collapse,my gut feeling is telling me pakistani commanders have received orders that in the event of american intervention they are to use the nukes against them regardless of risk) or on the internal opposition.

  3. Following on the comments below – this a great piece. Russia is and will always be a complex place to analyze – just look at Russian literature. But this is a must-read for all Russia watchers.

      1. A country’s domestic or economic problems are intellectually interesting. Yet we should not count on them for imposing real world restraint except in some “long run” (perhaps when we shall all be dead). As the astute Adam Smith cautioned about a prediction of national ruination, depend upon it, Sir: there is a great deal of ruin in a nation.
        Meanwhile, we have to deal with its leadership.
        Good article.

  4. Russia’s $1.2 trillion economy is not 3% of a $70 trillion global economy. PPP calculations are meaningless in the context of any kind of military analysis. A Su-24 may cost as much as an F-16 when adjusted for PPP, but over the skies of Syria, no one calculates PPP.

    1. This is a really late reply, but whatever.

      You’re totally wrong. Actually the opposite is true. The current situation shows that perfectly well. Has the Russian military spending somehow really collapsed after the devaluation? No, because the value of the ruble (in other words, NOMINAL GDP) has nothing to do with Russian military spending. They have full-scale, domestic military industry. Russia spends rubles on its military (and budget in general), not dollars! Russian military spending is still higher than ever (since the Soviet times) and it very much shows.

      It’s pretty damn clear that the dollar figure doesn’t tell you anything about Russian military spending. If you wan’t to make some kind of comparison to the western countries, you should probably triple the current “50 billion USD”.

      And do you seriously think that the Su-24 incident tells something about Russian military spending or technological capability!? Yeah, let’s compare a 3rd generation TACTICAL BOMBER to a 4th generation FIGHTER. That Su-24 wasn’t even carrying any AA-armament or expecting any kind of shootout with Turkey. That’s some “military analysis” right there!

  5. A question US analysts could/should ask themselfs is: If they were in Russias shoes, how would they deter the USA?

    I think it is a fantasy to assume that US-Russian confrontation would end with Putin.

    US policy towards Russia explicitly aims to reduce them to a level below a regional power, and outside of “non consensus candidates” such as Trump and Rand Paul, this is a bipartisan thing.
    No Russian government is ever going to accept that. What could stop the US-Russian confrontation is a rising China forcing a grand bargain, or a major, perhaps “perestroika-like”, change in how the USA is run. Should US posture reform itself from a hyperinterventionist one into an offshore balancing approach things could gradually improve too.

    1. Well said Andrej. I am not maintaining that Russia is always right, what I am saying that they can maintain their military, military operations, and political system for as long as their leaders act in a manner that is consistent with the needs of the Russian population. Even in the Soviet Union days, operations like the 1979 war in Afghanistan eventually collapsed because it was overreach. However, moderate goals such as protecting themselves against NATO encroachment and being allowed to stabilize Syria against Jihadist is well within their national interests.

      Russia is not obligated to be totally subservient to the U.S. in all matters but the author projects a tone that lack of subservience is somehow an existential threat to the U.S. The notion that the U.S. has to be mindlessly opposed to a Russian military that is able to hold its own is a bad notion. There is an implicit policy stated that we should crush the Russian economy again until there is a Russia that is too our liking. We in the U.S. would not take too kindly to a country that had such designs on us.

      1. This is incredibly well said Chris.

        Given the extraordinarily secure position that the USA enjoys in international terms, I have always found it to be completely puzzling how threatened Washington feels just because someone is not subservient to it.

        I once believed that this is, to paraphrase Emmanuel Todt, due to the insecurity of continued Japanese and German tribute towards the USA. From his pov., both Germany (especially as the lokomotive of a core Europe) and Japan are easily regional, and perhaps even potential Great powers (Germanys GDP adjusted by PPP is roughly on par with Russias, Japan is ahead of both). He views the current subservient status as an anomaly, since powers of that magnitude typically have a sphere of influence, by contrast, Germany and Japan are in one.

        IIRC he then posits that US overreaction towards very minor threats is because they do not want any precedent of other states not being subservient to them, the less powerfull the not subservient state is, the more German/Japanese elites may question why they need to stay subservient to the USA.

        Given who Todt is, part of his argument may well be based on accumulated Gaullist exasperation with the poodlyness of German transatlanticism, he also comes across as a “sense seeker” meaning that he inherently believes that there is a US grand strategy behind US actions, and a number of his predictions (he was one of the few to call the collapse of the USSR though) didnt exactly came to pass, but it is still the most “reasonable” explanation for Americas theatralical micromilitarism known to me.

  6. I am a first generation American of Russian(-Jewish) descent, which is to say my parents emigrated to the U.S. when I was two years old. My parents, family and their collective community of emigres to the West (the United States, Canada, Australia, Israel and Germany), were what was once called the “intelligentsia” of the Soviet Union. These emigres’ ages and social stations roughly corresponded with that of Putin. Thus, they were his contemporaries, in the deepest sense of that word. They shared his basic (pre-KGB) education and lived amongst the socio-/politico-economic community that both shaped and shared Putin’s view of politics and history. In summary, Russians of that period were taught (and taught to think) as Western Europeans of a century before. Historical conquerors (from Alexander the Great to Peter the Great) and conquest (Classical Rome to the American frontier) were noble, destiny-shaping enterprises. Russia was a “Middle Kingdom” in its own right. A nation spanning the Eurasian continent, largest in territory, population and resources. Only in need of an iron fist to hurl its desperately backward and superstitious (but ever-enduring and hardy) serfs into modernity. The Soviet Union was a polity that got within a hairs’ breath of achieving the Russian Destiny, but was bitterly blocked and crushed by a mirror-image rival, the United States. Putin literally mourns the passing of the Greater Russia that the Soviet Union represented, and seeks to “gather the wayward” (i.e. the former republics) back to their “rodina” (rus. “motherland”). Putin wants to reassemble what was lost when the Soviet Union collapsed, even if it impoverishes or depopulates the nation. He knows from history, and watching China, that a nation in the worst possible state, can return to greatness . . . IF it has territory and resources. That is Putin.

    1. But Russia already has the choicest parts of the USSR, why assume the headache of absorbing non-Russian Muslim populations like Khazakstan or even western Ukraine?

      Even if they re-assemble 50% of their former territory that has a Russian population but EXCLUDES Eastern Europe (former eastern Bloc countries) and the NATO Baltic states why should we care?

      1. Mexico has never forgotten or forgiven the loss of the American Southwest to the United States despite the fact that the territories were and are still majority populated by European-Americans. In short, no country forgets or stops yearning for its greatest peak. Putin wants ALL of the territory and populations that belonged to Tsarist Russia/Soviet Union, including Tartars, Kazakhs AND ESPECIALLY the Ukraine — which has endless fertile fields akin to the American Midwest and a strategic warm water port in Odessa (a city Russians consider theirs historically). Putin, if he is at all rationale, has probably given up on the Baltics. But the Ukraine and oil- and uranium-rich Kazakhstan? Never.

  7. “…the United States does deter Russia, which is why we’re all still here 70 years after nuclear weapons were first used…” First used by the United States, mind you. Wouldn’t it more honest to say we’re are still here 70 years later because Russia deters the United States?

  8. Being Russian and reading western analysis and predictions about Russia, that turn out to be almost always wrong for the last 10-15 years, I wondered why it is so.
    I think, that since Washington wants containment of Russia it needs its ‘troops’ (allies, politicians, journalists, etc.) to be motivated in implementing this containment, and what can demotivate more, than knowledge of almost zero probability of achieving your goal. The very idea that Russia will never ever go away, that it is uncontainable would affect minds of so many people so profoundly, that containment policy would simply stop functioning. Of course, there is a drawback to such approach: except several guys in the State Department and CIA, no one actually knows what the hell is happening in Russia :)

  9. Koffman makes good points. Judgements about Russia’s powers and intentions are usually projections about the commentator’s biases.

    I thnk an objective assessment is that Russia is much weaker than us, but still strong enough to be dangerous. Furthermore, Russian policies and objectives seem to be more stable and consistent than ours, which vacillate with every presidential election.

  10. Most of your issues come down to the first one: assessing brittleness. A brittle government tends also to be a rigid one, because it cannot afford to bend. It is not, however, a very useful principle for analysis.

    A government which rigidly refuses to change can be taken as both proof of strength or proof of brittleness and impending collapse…until it either collapses or doesn’t.