The Fight to Defend the Free World

Book - 2020 | First edition
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The retired Lieutenant General and former National Security Advisor presents an urgent call to protect America from dangerous rivals by setting aside partisan divides and helping citizens better understand ongoing threats to national security.
Publisher: New York, NY : Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, [2020]
Edition: First edition
Copyright Date: ©2020
ISBN: 9780062899460
Characteristics: viii, 545 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (chiefly color), maps ; 24 cm


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Jan 23, 2021

A single passage indicates what an error-riddled book this is: “The European Union and the United States had a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of $36.5 trillion in 2017; Russia’s GDP was a meager $1.5 trillion. Russia’s GDP per capita in 2017 was approximately $10,750, roughly one sixth of the U.S. GDP per capita and ranking below far less powerful countries such as Chile, Hungary and Uruguay.” This implies that the combined GDPs of the US and the EU are 24.3 times that of Russia. In fact, the CIA World Factbook estimates for GDP on a purchasing power parity (PPP) basis show that their combined GDPs were only 10.1 times larger than Russia’s, an enormous difference. The CIA World Factbook estimates of GDP per capita similarly show that US GDP per capita was just 2.1 times larger than Russia’s in 2017. Similarly, if one ranks countries by GDP per capita in 2017, the national rankings of the countries McMaster mentions are: the US (13), Hungary (48), Russia (50), Chile (58) and Uruguay (62). So Russia actually outranks two of the three far less powerful countries McMaster says that it was outranked by, and the difference between it and Hungary are slight, and possibly within the bounds of measurement error.
Here I have used the CIA World Factbook estimates rather than the more commonly quoted IMF estimates mainly because they were more easily accessible, but the IMF, World Bank and CIA estimates all give comparable rankings. The differences between them are trivial compared to the enormous differences between any set of PPP estimates and the exchange-rate-adjusted nominal GDP estimates from which McMaster presumably draws his numbers. The problem with the using nominal GDP estimates is that low wage countries like Russia will have their output substantially underestimated in comparisons with high-wage countries like the US. In other parts of the book, McMaster is obviously aware of the existence of PPP estimates and makes use of them. So why doesn’t he use them consistently, when it is dysfunctional not to do so?
Elsewhere in the book and in interviews promoting it, McMaster has said that Russia’s economy is about the same size as Texas’s. In fact, in 2019, Texas’s economy was about 8.1% as large as the US economy, so Russia’s economy was 2.5 times larger than Texas’s. (Here IMF PPP estimates are used.) Russia is the world’s sixth largest economy and the largest economy in Europe after Germany.
McMaster tells us: “Since the USSR’s collapse, Russia had lost control of nearly all of Eastern Europe. Ethnic Russians were scattered across the newly independent successor states of the USSR, such as Ukraine, Georgia and Estonia.” The first sentence is ridiculous, based on any reasonable definition of eastern Europe. Based strictly on geography, the centre of Europe lies in western Ukraine, so Russia has clearly maintained most of Eastern Europe. The invocation of ethnic Russians is a mistake. As the current tragic war in Donbas shows: people in the former Soviet Union are much more likely to identify along linguistic lines than ethnic lines, with many ethnic Ukrainian Russophones siding with the rebels. There were more than 25 million Russophones in the FSU when the Soviet Union broke up. That large a population is never thinly scattered, and the largest numbers of them were in Ukraine (12.4M), Belarus (6.7M), Kazakhstan (3.8M), Latvia (0.7M) and Kyrgyzstan (0.5M). Why would McMaster choose to highlight a country like Georgia, with just 46 thousand Russophones, over even a country like Kyrgyzstan? My suspicion is that he would like to imply that the 2008 Russo-Georgian War, started by the highly unstable Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, was somehow caused by Russian irredentism, which it wasn’t.

Nov 11, 2020

Well written and informative.


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