Monday, July 31, 2006

Undefining Democracy

J. Peter Pham takes issue with the lack of nuance in the repeated characterization by political leaders and reporters of the Lebanese government as “democratic.” He argues that while Lebanon is certainly more open than many Arab states, one should entertain no illusions about its “democratic” politics.

Pham raises a critical point--the difference between politicians, and in this case the Bush Adminstration, wanting to label for political purposes a country as "democratic", ends up ignoring the political science "realities" that really determine whether a country has become a democracy as defined by sustainable institutions and political culture.

The problem is that the strict application of the "mature polyarchy" rule would mean that countries like Hungary and Poland, for example, would only be recognized as being full-fledged democracies after 2009. Georgia, which has had considerable difficulties in sustaining democratic transitions, would only be able to start its current cycle from 2003 and so would not qualify under this standard until 2023.

It is just easier to take a country in transition and move it up or down the democratic scale based on your preferences. Ukraine is the best example of this. Over the last five years it has been described as a democracy, a dictatorship, a semi-democracy, a transitional democracy, and semi-authoritarian. I don't think that the country has gone through such dramatic changes. What has happened, though, is that a government in Kyiv has shifted on a number of policies back and forth. Former president Kuchma was a dangerous authoritarian when he tilted to Moscow, he was a reforming democrat when he sent troops to Iraq.

Friday, July 28, 2006

More on the Disclosure Issue

Not that this is breaking news anymore, but another example this week of blurred lines: a pundit blogger supposedly acting as an independent who, it turns out, is actually on contract. This is the Patrick Hynes case. Hynes himself agrees he should have revealed his negotations with Straight Talk America (this is connected with Senator John McCain) earlier, but at the same time maintains that his professional work and his blogging remain separate. Jim Geraghty over at TKS, who "broke the story", had this to say in conclusion:

There's nothing wrong with working on a candidate's PAC or on his campaign, and there's nothing wrong with blogging about that candidate. The error is in not informing readers. I think bloggers have an obligation to disclose their relationships to entities in which they have a financially compensated relationship or interest. There’s no reason to think that anything Hynes wrote is anything less than his unvarnished opinion; but his readers ought to be informed that McCain is not just his favorite presidential contender; he is, ultimately, a client.

This is a sensitive issue because nowadays one of the easiest ways to shut down criticism and debate on foreign policy issues is to insist or hint that someone is "on the take". Incidents like these, no matter how innocent or trivial in the end, continue to add more straws onto the camel's back that commentators, pundits, etc. are simply puppets for their paymasters.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Nick Gvosdev, Enemy of Freedom

That's right, I'm an enemy of freedom.

I believe in evolutionary change for sustainable societies, not hey-presto! sudden revolutions.

I believe that you have to set priorities in relationships with other states, especially when you don't have leverage. If the US wants to be a force for freedom, move to energy independence and cut back on wasteful consumer spending. Otherwise deal with the real world as it is.

I sympathize with activists but I don't pretend that they automatically speak for a majority of their people especially if they have no track record of winning elections.

I believe in paying attention to the priorities that others set for themselves and understand that their list of priorities may not always accord with mine.

Like former German ambassador to the US Issinger I am looking for long-term trend positive trend lines recognizing that there will be short-term problems along the way.

Criticism has to be part of a larger strategy and has to be weighed against other objectives to be coherent. Grandstanding never seems to work, especially when we are vulnerable to charges of double standards.

I believe common values help to cement interstate relations but that common interests is what forges relationships to begin with. I do not pretend that Finland, Indonesia, Australia and Bolivia have to share a common foreign policy outlook with each other or with the United States simply because of democratic forms of governance.

I do not believe that words speak louder than actions, or that intent is better than results.

All of this makes me an "enemy of freedom" to some, but this is why I am proud to call myself a realist.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

More Unrealism in the Congress

A number of Congressional Democrats are angry that Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki would not directly condemn Hezbollah or call it a terrorist organization and instead retreated into generalities.

I love how members of Congress never seem to understand politics anywhere else in the world. Al-Maliki is head of a fragile governing coalition trying to walk a real tightrope. He knows the polls on the ground throughout the Arab world show widespread support for Hezbollah, and he, as an Iraqi Arab Shi'ite, isn't in the strongest position to be critical of another Arab Shi'ite movement. Keeping Iraq from moving any further into the Iranian orbit should be our first priority, and we want Maliki to look even more as if he is a U.S. stooge? It is another reminder to me about how Congress increasingly wants "the show" over substance.

It amazes me to see how many Congressmen still hold to the fantasy that a "democratic Iraq" means a pro-Israel Iraq, perhaps continuing aftershocks of the hopes expressed by Marc Grossman on the HIll several years back--and not understanding that Maliki can't deliver.

Ray Takeyh and I took a lot of heat for a piece we wrote three years ago where we said democratically elected Arab leaders would have even less leeway dealing with Israel and being accommodating of U.S. preferences and that we had to be prepared for this trade-off. Seems like that message never made it to the Hill.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

China/North Korea

To take a break from the Middle East for a moment ...

A constant charge often levied against American realists who argue the need for engagement with countries such as China, notwithstanding our problems with the domestic nature of their regimes, is that even with engagement these countries don't render effective assistance in dealing with the problems that the U.S. faces.

Eurasia Group Asia analyst Bruce Klingner, however, notes that in response to specific and credible allegations brought forward by the United States, the Bank of China froze North Korean accounts this past year.

Klingner's conclusion is important to note:

"China’s acquiescence to US requests for action against North Korea illegal activities, even as it publicly criticized Washington’s efforts as counterproductive to resolving the six party talks, reflects Beijing’s conflicted policy toward North Korea. China seeks to induce Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons programs but has been reticent to risk actions that could trigger North Korean escalatory behavior or regime instability. China will continue to resist expansive US and Japanese economic sanctions against North Korea, asserting that UN Resolution 1695 applies only to missile and nuclear weapons activities and does not provide for levying or enforcing sanctions. Yet, China will be more willing to constrain North Korean proliferation or illicit activities than in the past, but will likely limit its involvement to targeted action against specific North Korean entities in response to direct US requests."

In other words, diplomacy.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Mercenaries, Anyone?

An ongoing debate at TWR has been the gap between the desire for "action" and the willingness of states to put up the military personnel. So if the key states aren't going to send personnel, are the PMCs as peacekeepers the lesser evil than having no force or having an ineffective force?

Support is growing for the creation of an international military force to stabilize the Lebanese border with Israel and to bring an end to the fighting. But there is no agreement on the size, mandate or mission of such a force and little enthusiasm around the world for sending troops.

The United States has ruled out its participation, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization says that it is already stretched thin, France is calling the mission premature and Germany said it was willing to participate only if both Israel and Hezbollah called for it.

"All the politicians are saying, 'Great, great' to the idea of a force, but no one is saying whose soldiers will be on the ground," said a senior European official. "Everyone will volunteer to be in charge of the logistics in Cyprus."

Turning Points in the Middle East?

The debate on the Middle East, it seems to me, is now increasingly going to focus around the question of "widening" versus "containing". To what extent are the Iran nuclear issue, the ongoing insurgency in Iraq, and the Hamas/Hezbollah clash with Israel all part of one larger problem? And is the approach one of widening and expanding (e.g. increasing pressure on Syria and Iran now with existing U.S. deployments as they are in the Middle East) or trying to separate, isolate and contain each situation?

The transformationalist vision is always compelling--but the problem is that the U.S. seems to lack the will and staying power to see it through. And I still see no evidence that people here in Washington want to face the reality that democracy promotion and sustaining and deepening pro-U.S. governments don't always go hand in hand.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Hamas, Hezbollah and Israel

Geoff Kemp at the Nixon Center hosted a discussion today on “Hamas, Hezbollah and Israel’s Security Dilemmas”, quite apropos given the current unfolding situation. He opened by noting that in Washington there is unprecedented bipartisan solidarity behind Israel’s operations in Lebanon—but for how long? Is there an inevitable point where international pressure for the U.S. to play a much more proactive and interventionist role will force Washington to act (and in the process, to restrain Israel?)

My colleagues Ximena Ortiz and Nicholas Xenakis, both editors at The National Interest, sat in on the discussions.

Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat chair at the University of Maryland, expressed pessimism that there is no stable outcome that he can foresee. He called attention to the growing gap between governments and populations, noting that while Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have all officially and publicly put the blame for the present crisis on Hezbollah, public opinion is overwhelmingly supportive of their confrontation with Israel, noting that of some 200,000 visitors taking part in an online poll on Al-Jazeera, some 91 percent supported Hezbollah. This gap is worrisome, and points to two dangerous trends: weak states in the region where non-state actors increasingly can set the agenda, and the continuing proliferation of dangerous weapons technologies (such as missiles) into the hands of such groups.

The bottom line, according to Edward Walker, our former ambassador to both Egypt and Israel (currently president of the Middle East Institute), is that all the “wrong guys” are getting a boost from the current situation. Syria’s leadership, which had been politically emasculated by its forced withdrawal from Lebanon under intense international pressure, now has the prospect of returning to Lebanon. Hezbollah, meanwhile, “is more popular than sliced bread.”

Given the apparent victors of the conflict, Israeli strategic thinking is unclear. Given their long experience with occupation, the Israelis must understand that the current situation can’t be resolved militarily. What Israel has achieved with its strikes into Lebanon, though, is to raise the stakes, inevitably forcing other members of the international community to “come in and help.” Politically, the Olmert government has been strengthened, with public opinion clearly united behind him.

The United States, meanwhile, is increasingly coming under increased criticism in the region, due in part to its support of Israel. U.S. officials could still play a constructive role by working with other Arab states and other intermediaries to get the hostile situation resolved. In addition, the United States could bring in the Security Council as a guarantor for a potential agreement.

Ziad Asali, president of the American Task Force on Palestine, pointed out how this conflict highlights a state’s needs for security and the shortcomings of some measures that have been taken with security goals in mind. Israel’s security wall, for example, clearly serves limited utility in an age of missiles. At the same time, it is enormously destructive to the lives of Palestinians and prospects for peace. An eventual agreement that must involve a two-state solution will have to include an elimination or alteration of the wall.

The questions remains, though, what should be done now? Strengthening the Palestinian state is the immediate priority. A weak Palestinian state certainly gives Hamas and similar groups an advantage. There are a number of measures that can be taken to strengthen the hand of Abu Mazen. The situation in Lebanon provides a curt warning regarding the broad dangers that a weak state and weak government can pose.

Israel will continue hitting Lebanon for the next week or so, given the understanding it is receiving from the United States. Indeed, even Arab governments have imparted such an “understanding,” as have some Palestinian factions that would like to see Hezbollah weakened.

Samuel Lewis, also a former ambassador to Israel (and now with the American Academy of Diplomacy), observed that the mood in Israel is currently coalescing behind the idea that Israeli withdrawal, whether it be from Gaza or Lebanon, signals to the world a sense of weakness. The withdrawal from Gaza has not stopped the launching of missiles towards Israel from that area. Hezbollah’s abduction of the Israeli soldiers also attests to an apparent perception of Israeli weakness.

The Israelis for some time have turned a blind eye to Iranian support of Hezbollah factions in Lebanon. As long as Hezbollah was focused on amassing public support in Lebanon, the Israelis remained wary but were not going to target Hezbollah. The Israelis perceive the abduction of its soldiers as an expected, and planned for, provocation.
Olmert should be commended for not making excessive concessions to win the release of the soldiers, as Israel has done in the past.

Israel’s goals in striking Lebanon have been to impair Hezbollah’s capabilities and to deter any similar ambush in the future. In curtailing Hezbollah’s and Hamas’ strength, Israel believes it can bolster its position vis a vis Iran and Syria. By depending on air power, the Israelis aim to launch attacks without getting bogged down in a quagmire.

There are some shortcomings to the Israeli strategy. For one, its intelligence badly underestimated to degree to which Iranian forces have been able to sharpen Hezbollah skills and broaden its resources, not only in terms of supplying military hardware but also in demonstrating how best to protect hardware from attack. In addition, airpower is able to deliver limited strategic dividends. Boots on the ground are needed to secure real results. In turn, it is unlikely that Israel, following such a strategy, will demilitarize Hezbollah.

A critical element in determining the level of Israeli success will be the reaction of the international community. So far, the community is lending Israel ample forbearance, giving it more time to strike Lebanon than it did during the 1982 conflict. All the same, Hezbollah is much stronger than the PLO and even with more time, it remains unclear what Israeli gains against Hezbollah will be.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Israel's--and America's--Continuing Napoleonic Conundrum

In continuing this ongoing discussion based on references to Napoleonic analogies, let me offer a further example suggested to me: Napoleon's campaigns in Spain. (The original Napoleonic conundrum was the failure of the Russians under Alexander I to surrender after they had been, in Napoleon's opinion, defeated.)

Napoleon's campaign in Spain bears some eerie resemblances to our current efforts in Iraq. Napoleon felt the obligation to spread the benefits of the French Revolution to a country ruled by an autocratic tyranny, in the grips of what was, in his opinion, a medievalist and obscurantist religious establishment, in order to convert a potential foe into an ally. Conventionally, the French "won"--they occupied the country, deposed the monarch, found plenty of local collaborators--but were overwhelmed in the end by a guerilla insurgency that was then exploited by other powers (remember Wellington's Iberian campaign!) to help bring down the French Empire.

There are also implications for Israel in Lebanon. Guerilla fighters, as the the French learned in Spain, don't have to win; they simply have to stay alive and functional.

Again, I don't know what to do. There are plenty of pundits out there with "advice" but they don't have to live with the consequences. Should Israel turn everything south of the Litani into a free-fire zone and turn it into an uninhabitated wasteland to create a no-man's land to put some distance between its territory and rocket launchers? Could Hizballah have been bought off--the Saudis did it for themselves and the U.S. in the 1980s with great success.

Even more unrealistic ideas--massive population exchanges of sending Lebanon's Shia to Iraq in exchange for Iraqi Christians to come to Lebanon, recreating Lebanon as a majority Christian state? Ahmadinejad has already proposed relocating Israel in Europe (would he then support a massive return of Muslims out of Europe in exchange?) As I said, I don't know what to do for a viable long term solution. Is it enough only to get a cease-fire and get a process started without worrying about the long-term--what Philip Habib achieved in Lebanon in 1981-82?

By the way, in the upcoming issue of TNI, biblical scholar Robert Doran will be re-examining the Books of the Maccabees for lessons about insurgencies in the Middle East.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

G-8: Final Thoughts

For those interested in my final perspectives on the G-8, may I recommend the following:

After the G-8: Putin, at least, got what he want, in the International Herald Tribune


Putin on the Ritz, in National Review Online.

UPDATE: An audio file of my talk at the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs is now available as well.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

G-8: What Happened to Energy Security?

As The National Interest/Nixon Center delegation finishes its work at the G-8 summit, it is evident that “energy security” has ceased to be the key priority of the meeting, in spite of the fact that the growing crisis in the Middle East—which is pushing oil prices to record heights—puts new emphasis on the importance of energy supplies reaching global markets from sources outside the Persian Gulf region.

Speaking at the group’s briefing Friday evening, TNI Advisory Council member J. Robinson West (chairman of PFC Energy and chairman of the board of the U.S. Institute of Peace) observed that the standard U.S. definition of “energy security”—ensuring a reliable supply of oil (and thus gasoline) at reasonable costs in an environmentally responsible fashion—increasingly could not apply in a world where increased demand is sending prices skyrocketing while the main sources of supply are located in unstable areas of the world.

A common attitude in the United States is to assume that U.S. energy security can only be achieved by insisting upon private ownership of oil and gas assets in Russia, and that as a result, the growing return of the state to owning and managing Russia’s energy portfolio is a threat. How Russia manages its oil and gas reserves is its business, he stressed, but state-owned companies have an obligation to be responsible and efficient stewards of their assets. In particular, he noted how GAZPROM, while it has a number of promising fields in its portfolio, lacks the ability to exploit and develop these assets, and increasingly has been resorting to purchasing gas from private Russian companies as well as from Central Asian providers (such as Turkmenistan) in order to meet its delivery obligations to Western markets. The United States cannot lecture Russia in how to run its oil and gas industry, but Russia’s state-controlled firms need the assistance and expertise of the world’s private multinational oil and gas companies if they are to be in a position to deliver additional supplies to meet rising global demand.

West noted that some Russian and Western analysts have a tendency to compare a state-owned company like Rosneft as if it is the equivalent of an Exxon, based on market capitalization. This is the wrong standard, he concluded. The question should be based on efficiency; is Rosneft as efficient as Exxon in extracting energy and delivering it to world markets? By this standard Rosneft has a good deal of catching up to do before it can be a true peer of the majors.

West also cautioned against viewing energy security in terms of grandiose new Greenfield projects. Although it appears that GAZPROM will not announce the foreign partners who will take part in the Shtokman project in the Arctic until August (rather than at the conclusion of the G-8 summit), those who see very capital intensive and demanding projects such as this as the way forward again miss the point about efficiency. West put forward the example of moving more Russian households to using thermostats to control consumption of natural gas for heating. Instead of the current wasteful methods which use much more gas than needed, moving, over time, Russian apartments and homes to a better, efficient climate-control system would save a considerable amount of natural gas. This is also very true for other post-Soviet countries like Ukraine—where West warns a second natural gas crisis could be in the making this coming winter due to a lack of inventory and likely price increases by suppliers like Turkmenistan.

G-8: Chill in U.S.-Russia Relationship

As The National Interest/Nixon Center delegation finishes its work at the G-8 summit, signs of additional strains in the U.S.-Russia relationship have become evident.

Speaking at the group’s briefing Friday evening, Nixon Center president Dimitri K. Simes noted that a major breakthrough would be needed to get the U.S.-Russia relationship back on track. Many had expected that an announcement of a Russo-American agreement clearing the way for Russia’s membership in the World Trade Organization would provide such an impetus. In the aftermath of Saturday’s presidential press conference, it was clear that the Petersburg summit was not going to lay the basis for a rejuvenated U.S.-Russia partnership, despite the upbeat tone adopted by President George W. Bush.

As Simes noted, “A senior Russian official pointedly told us that the Russian government was disappointed with the Bush Administration’s lack of flexibility on the last technical issues blocking the way for an agreement on the WTO.” This official expressed the sense that, in President Vladimir Putin’s mind, the fact that the United States—the only country still holding out on Russian accession—was not prepared to make concessions was quite revealing.

“It was the U.S. attitude, rather than the importance of the technical issues, which led the Russians to say no,” Simes noted.

Putin and other Russian senior officials were also apparently offended by what they viewed as a patronizing tone and inflexible attitude adopted by U.S. officials attending the “Drugaya Rossiya” alternative conference. Assistant Secretary of State Dan Fried was quoted in the Russian media as flatly declaring, for example, that the question of independence for Kosovo would set no precedent, “period”, as he stressed, even though the Russian position is that independence for the province raises the possibility that other separatist regions in the greater Black Sea region, notably the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, should receive similar consideration. The sentiment shared by a number of Russian officials was that “this is not the way anyone should be able to talk to us,” Simes said.

Senior U.S. officials were also clearly frustrated and less than pleased with the results of the discussion. The most anyone was prepared to say was that the talks “could have been worse.”

The democracy question is also contributing to this. Taking into account that the “Drugaya Rossiya” conference included extremists like Viktor Anpilov, leader of a faction of radical communists who have advocated violence in the past, and Eduard Limonov, the head of the “National Bolsheviks”, a militantly anti-American group whose party uses Nazi-style insignia (and whose “young stormtroopers” were delegated to serve as security for the gathering), it is not surprising that all mainstream opposition parties—the Union of Right Forces, Yabloko and Rodina—refused to take part in the event. As a result, Putin has interpreted the level of American participation in the event as a sign that Washington is concerned less about democracy but about challenging his authority, which clearly did not put him in a mood to be accommodating at the summit.

On the other hand, the Russian pretense that it is committed to democracy, that they only want to do it “Russian-style”, is beginning to run increasingly thin.

One senior Russian official told us that Putin is not looking for confrontation with the United States, but that making concessions for the sake of partnership with the U.S.—walking the extra mile in the name of improving U.S.-Russia relations—is increasingly losing currency in Moscow.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

G-8: Reaction to presidential press conference

In yesterday’s National Interest briefing, Dimitri K. Simes, president of the Nixon Center, observed that if nothing substantial emerges from this G-8 meeting to get the U.S.-Russia partnership back on track, the “political cycles” in both countries would begin to work against any improvement in relations.

Today’s press conference was not reassuring. To be sure, the proposals for a new international regime for the control of enriched uranium and spent fuel were promising, as well as the promise of a U.S.-Russia civil nuclear agreement. The rhetorical focus on the continued threat of nuclear terrorism was also significant, since, as Graham Allison, a member of the TNI briefing team, noted in his remarks, this is the one overriding threat to the peace, security and prosperity of the entire international community.

However, the fact that an agreement clearing the way for Russia’s entry to the World Trade Organization could not be announced (since negotiations are ongoing), the only sign of progress on Iran and North Korea that could be put forward was that both states share a common message (and, as Allison remarked yesterday, the G-8 last year at Gleaneagles had given a clear message to North Korea)—without any substantive details about how this common message could be translated into concrete action, clear signs of disagreement over what to do about the ongoing crisis in the Middle East—all of these factors indicate that the St. Petersburg summit is not going to produce major breakthroughs that demonstrate either how relevant the U.S.-Russia partnership is for global security, or, one might add, the real utility of the G-8 summit process itself.

“Iran should not have a nuclear weapon or the capability to develop one” is a position that is likely to gain ready acceptance. Yet “should not” does not necessarily mean “will not” nor does it guarantee any agreement as to the means that can and should be used to force Iranian compliance.

It was also significant that the erstwhile theme of this summit meeting—energy security—was not discussed at all, reflecting Robin West’s point on Friday about the lack of a common definition as to what constitutes energy security.

The presidents continue to show signs of a good personal working relationship—and President Bush euphemistically labeled concerns about democracy and human rights as a “discussion” about “philosophy” of government and governing; but Bush also alluded to real difficulties in moving the relationship further when he noted that, for example, any agreement about Russian accession to the WTO would have to be passed by Congress. Putin, for his part, made it clear that in any issue, from the WTO to policy toward the Middle East, he would be guided by his vision of what was best for Russia’s national interests, and that Russia wanted its perspective to be taken seriously.

If the two presidents could not, in their press conference today, offer concrete steps for dealing with Iranian recalcitrance, with North Korea’s refusal to come back to the negotiating table, and preventing the violence in the Middle East from spiraling out of control, it seems unlikely that the larger meeting of all eight leaders will produce anything other than a bland consensus position that hits all the right points but lacks specific details for execution.

Friday, July 14, 2006

G-8 Briefing

The National Interest held a briefing on the issues facing the G-8 on-site in St. Petersburg.

Here is my summary:

Dimitri K. Simes opened the session by noting that the summit should focus on fundamental issues of national security, especially when the current “picture around the world is not very pretty”, referring to the Iranian and North Korean nuclear crises as well as the threat of a major conflagration in the Middle East. He observed that this meeting could prove crucial in putting a troubled U.S.-Russia partnership back on track.

Robin West pointed out that there is no common definition of what constitutes “energy security” among the G-8 members. The American preference is to define energy security as ensuring a reliable supply of oil (and thus gasoline) at reasonable costs in an environmentally responsible fashion—but if that is the case, then we are entering an era of energy insecurity, where energy is both more expensive and more unreliable.

How Russia manages its energy resources is its business—but Russia does have an obligation as a G-8 member to do so in a responsible and efficient manner. The test before state-owned companies is whether they can do this—to open new reserves in the Arctic and Eastern Siberia—and to accept partnership with the international oil and gas firms in the process.

West warned that just as Russia’s G-8 presidency started on the note of crisis with Ukraine, trouble may be brewing on the horizon: Ukraine is already having trouble paying for its gas imports under the current arrangement and has little gas stored; a cold winter could cause Ukraine to again tap Russian gas in transit to Europe and create a new perception of “energy insecurity.”

Graham Allison reminded everyone present why a nuclear terrorist incident should be at the top of the security agenda; a single device is capable of killing millions. The risks of nuclear terrorism could be shrunk to near zero but this requires a full commitment to secure all loose nuclear weapons and materials, to ensure that there are no new nascent nuclear states capable of enriching uranium, to prevent the emergence of new nuclear weapons states, and to revitalize the nonproliferation regime. Overall, the G-8 has a poor grade. North Korea remains on track to emerge as a new nuclear weapons state while Iran continues to test boundaries with regard to enrichment. The G-8 meeting last year in Gleneagles said, “We call on North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program” but what appears to be happening is that two relatively weak but determined states are moving ahead with their nuclear programs despite the stated opposition of the world’s leading powers.

Allison did see a ray of light in the proposed U.S.-Russia civil nuclear deal, which offers the opportunity to accelerate practical U.S.-Russia cooperation, especially in joint projects and research. As Nikolas Gvosdev, the editor of The National Interest, noted, this could help to make the proposals advanced in the magazine by former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft for a new international regime to control all aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle a reality.

Gvosdev noted that while it is not a G-8 summit item, the complex relationship between Russia and its neighbors, notably Ukraine, has cast its shadow over the Petersburg summit. The G-8, he feels, is not likely to address the core problem in the Russian relationships with its “near abroad” as well as with Europe more generally; that a process is in place which is encouraging greater economic interdependence, particularly in the field of energy, without a corresponding political process of integration that can help to mediate conflicts. In fact, many of Russia’s neighbors hope to balance political ties with the West as a way to offset continued economic dependence on Russia, which can help to exacerbate tensions.

Alexey Pushkov noted that Russia should be in the G-8, but not on the grounds of its level of democracy or economic development. Rather, Russia “fits” in the G-8 because of its geopolitical position, because the major strategic problems that beset the world, especially in Iran, Afghanistan and North Korea, cannot be solved without active Russian participation (necessitating a Russian seat at the table) and because the Russian economy, while it is not at the level of France or the UK, is nonetheless poised to become the world’s energy superpower. Russia needs to be taking part in these deliberations for practical reasons.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Israel's Napoleonic Conundrum Expanded

On June 29, I posted Israel's Napoleonic Conundrum, how its vastly superior military force and regional staying power had failed to convince its neighbors and opponents that it would be time to reach some sort of modus vivendi.

Now, the incursion into Lebanon does threaten a wider regional conflagration. It also, to my mind, marks the end of any lingering Oslo sentiments about economics gradually paving the way for Israel's tentative acceptance in the region (e.g. through economic corridors from Egypt and the Mediterranean to Jordan and the Persian Gulf, from Turkey through Lebanon to Israel). Israel is going to continue to laager up and retreat behind fortress walls.

It also demonstrates once and for all the utter folly of the statement that the road to Jerusalem runs through Baghdad--and, sadly, confirms Senator Hagel's observation that taking our eye off the Israel-Palestinian conflict as we did was a strategic mistake.

It will be interested to see how the Gaza/Lebanon crisis plays out at the G-8 as an unscripted addition to the agenda; whether the nuclear issue joins with Iran's support for Hamas and Hizballah; and whether this puts energy security (rather than democracy) back front and center on the agenda.

The magazine will be doing an event tomorrow in St. Petersburg--a pre-summit briefing with Graham Allison, Robin West, Dimitri Simes and myself--offering our advice and commentary on what should transpire at the G-8. Details will be posted here at TWR as they are available.

Pre G-8 roundup

The National Interest (and thus by extension TWR) will be reporting from the G-8 summit in St. Petersburg, where we will be doing a summit eve briefing (with Robin West, Graham Allison and Dimitri Simes).

The president today touched on several themes in his press conference with Merkel. He said he'd carry a message about the importance of values such as a free press to be delivered in private to Putin (perhaps at dinner tomorrow night? and perhaps making the case, as Mark Urnov did on Monday, that a free press can be a valued ally in the fight against corruption?) He said Iran could not "outwait" the U.S. and its allies (although in our spring issue UPI's Claude Salhani said that is precisely the strategy, to wait and "survive" to Inauguration Day 2009). The Middle East peace process is in shambles (and tensions in the region only heighten fears about the security of the energy supply).

So, will the G-8 meeting lead to any real breakthroughs? We'll see.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Mallias and McFarlane on energy security

The magazine hosted Alexandros Mallias, ambassador of the Hellenic Republic, who spoke about the nexus between energy and security in southeastern Europe, addressing a topic that is a major point on the agenda of the forthcoming G-8 summit in St. Petersburg. The discussion was moderated by former National Security Advisor Robert C. McFarlane (whose own thoughts on achieving energy independence appeared in the Summer 2006 issue of The National Interest and were discussed in TWR).

Ambassador Mallias noted it was a welcome change to have a Greek ambassador asked to speak to a Washington audience on something other than Cyprus or Greek-Turkey relations!

He made several observations:

1) For the first time, the Balkans region provides a secure environment which facilitates the construction of the infrastructure needed to increase the flow of energy from the greater Caspian region to global markets; the expansion of both NATO (to provide security) and the EU (the strongest incentives for promoting democracy and open markets) to encompass the entire region in turn creates conditions for creating a single energy market.

2) Greece, in conjunction with Turkey and Italy, is opening up a "southern route" for natural gas that can accommodate additional supplies coming from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and even Turkmenistan; while preserving good relations with Russia, Greece wants to promote diversification of supply not only for itself but for Europe as a whole. Greece is investing in expanding its tanker fleet to carry LNG and to have more storage and processing facilities in Greece itself to store LNG.

(He had some comments on the Balkans and on Kosovo which I'll relate separately.)

McFarlane noted that while many policymakers and pundits talk very casually about increasing supplies of oil and gas from non-Persian Gulf countries, infrastructure needs are great. Energy transport is, he predicts, a high growth area.

Because so many Western and East Asian economies are now structured as "just-in-time" economies (see Barry Lynn's Winter 2005/06 TNI essay on this!) and owing to the lack of storage and of major inventories of energy supplies, we are subject to massive economic disruptions should there be even a temporary interruption of supply from the Persian Gulf. And the likelihood of a second attack on a Saudi terminal is high.

The next step is to move to alternates. Here, the Balkans offers some interesting possibilities. Mallias had talked about Greek investment in rehabilitating the lignite industry in Kosovo and providing energy to get mines up and running; McFarlane noted that with these huge reserves in place, with additional investment, lignite could be converted into methanol (and Kosovo could become an energy supplier of a key alternate).

Mallias echoed a point raised by McFarlane in his essay: that development and economic growth is linked to a stable and dependable supply of energy at market prices. The Greek approach--expanded cooperation with Russia, development with Turkey of new supply lines from the Caspian, upgraded ties to Algeria using the Greek shipping fleet to bring more LNG into Greece (for reconversion and distribution into the European supply network)--works from the assumption that a market price for energy cannot occur if the customer is dependent on a single source; a competitive price only emerges when you have alternates.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Urnov on Russia

Mark Urnov, the dean of the faculty of political science at Moscow's Higher School of Economics (and a former head of the Kremlin Analytical Directorate) spoke today at the center, giving his perspective on domestic developments in Russia.

He described himself as a liberal, a pessimist, and an oppositionist, prepared to speak frankly. What Russia has now is indeed "managed democracy" or more accurately soft authoritarianism--but he noted it is critical to recognize that liberal ideas never had much traction in Russia; the "democrats" who won elections in the 1980s and 1990s did so because they were anti-Communist and promised that it would be possible to create an affluent, stable society in a short period of time.

That failure reinforced what he described as an "authoritarian syndrome" where people prefer stability and some degree of guarantees; this has also created a "common language" between the political elite and mass society, something that did not occur under Yeltsin.

However, the current regime, Urnov says, is unable to cope with the major problems facing Russia; the demographic and health crises, the rise in mental illness, alcoholism and drug abuse--the latter vices which threaten to cripple 15-20 percent of the labor force. Add to this the "moral crisis"--the "mistrust culture" which produces an atomized society where people do not trust their fellow citizens or institutions. This in turn facilitates corruption on a wide scale which in turn cripples the economy; he calculated that corruption decreases economic efficiency in Russia by at least a factor of two, stifles small business and demoralizes the country.

How can corruption be tackled beyond administrative measures--for this a free press and an open political system are needed. Russia must also choose whether to concentrate resources on social development or on trying to remain as a great power.


Urnov's comments are quite useful. The concept of the "authoritarian syndrome" also helps to explain the trajectory of developments to some extent in Ukraine and also, I would argue, in Kazakhstan and Belarus. Some of this is even visible in the East-Central European states, as reform fatigue sets in. Urnov also makes the case for why the short-term stability of the Putin regime may not lay the basis for a long-term recovery--something that touches upon the work being done by Ian Bremmer in his forthcoming book The J-Curve. How to move societies from embracing short-term authoritarian solutions that do work to take steps toward democratization which introduces a higher degree of risk for a long-term payout is the real challenge of democracy promotion.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Georgian Puzzle

I'm puzzled by the reaction of so many American pundits to President Saakashvili's visit.

The message seems to be this: anchoring Georgia firmly in the Euro-Atlantic community is a priority national interest; Georgia is a key strategic anchor to provide some balance against a resurgent Russia; and U.S. objectives can be met by putting increased pressure on Russia to open its markets to Georgian goods and to be more accommodating to Georgian interests.

Something doesn't compute.

Georgia is already the third single largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid, after Israel and Egypt. The United States could certainly do a lot more--it could open up hundreds of thousands of visas for work and study (and begin to reorient the Georgian diaspora away from Russia and perhaps create some of the synergies that have fueled the booms in India and Ireland). It could give Georgia special free trade status such as Taiwan once enjoyed and that Israel still does.

This could have been done with Ukraine, too. And no reason the EU couldn't have reached some special arrangements, either.

But they didn't.

My words of warning--and I say this as someone who has met President Saakashvili and who admires his efforts to get his country on track--DC pundits talk much and deliver little. As I said before and say again, we don't control a dime of investment. It was a great performance at AEI--but it is getting New York financiers and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs enthusiastic, not paid lobbyists and pundits--that is going to seriously reorient Georgia's geo-economic orientations.

[One final note on energy. I sometimes read articles that suggest that because Georgia is a key transit point for energy this creates incentives for the U.S. to stabilize the whole country. Take a look at Africa. For decades now oil and other natural resources have continued to flow unimpeded from conflict-ridden countries. A civil war that is fought 100 miles away from a pipeline is not going to worry oil companies if the pipeline itself isn't threatened. Energy security is important, but it is not an omnipotent talisman.]

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Israel and the Palestinians

As the crisis continues, the discussion centered on the entry from last week (Israel's Napoleonic Conundrum) is continuing apace--my thanks to the many thoughtful contributors to what is turning into an ongoing discussion, and one I commend to all TWR readers. I would ask, that to keep the thread consistent, that posters continue to go to the June 29th entry, as there is a good deal of material there. Feel free, of course, to comment on more recent posts as well!

Wednesday: Mexico, Pakistan, North Korea, Iran

Is an Orange Revolution likely to happen in Mexico? Some similar elements: charges of fraud, an outgoing presidential party wanting to secure the succession--but in this case the United States wants the PAN's candidate, Felipe Calderon, to become the next president, to forestall the "leftist wave" from cresting in Mexico. So what if the PRD's Lopez Obrador says that 3 million votes went missing?

What will happen if the IFE declares Calderon the winner and the PRD doesn't want to accept the results? And what happens if the PRD can cite exit polls and claim there are discrepancies with the tallies?

The Acorn over at The Indian National Interest noted something that I had missed in keeping tabs on the India nuclear deal:
While most eyes are on the nuclear deal, the Bush administration has notified Congress of its intention to allow the sale of 36 F-16s (yes, those F-16s) to Pakistan. The US$5 billion deal includes 18 new and 18 used aircraft, as well as the upgrade of 34 aircraft from Pakistan’s existing fleet.So something of a half a loaf for Islamabad after all.

On North Korea, the Postmodern Conservative has anticipated Japan's reaction, including drafting a resolution of condemnation that is to be presented at an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council.

Surprise, surprise, Ali Larijani is delaying his meeting with Javier Solana to discuss Iran's response to the latest proposals of the EU-3 for ending the nuclear standoff. Perhaps the Iranians want to avoid giving the G-8 summit participants enough time to have a coordinated response ready for St. Petersburg?

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

North Korea and Larry Johnson

North Korea has launched several missiles. Reports at this juncture are confused as to whether they tried to launch the long-range missile theoretically capable of hitting the U.S. mainland and that missile failed--which, as I had written previously, might deflate the DPRK's claims of technical proficiency--or whether only two intermediate range missiles were launched (the ones that have been tried and tested and work).

For those of you who didn't read it already, I recommend Larry Johnson's recent NoQuarter post The Myth of Terrorism, Part Deux.

Whether you agree with his analysis or arguments or not, you have to admire someone who stands by what he writes even when the so-called "conventional wisdom" says it is wrong. Johnson's now famous July 10, 2001 op-ed in the New York Times ("The Declining Terrorist Threat") drew a firestorm of criticism after 9/11, including in the Thanksgiving 2001 issue of The National Interest.

Johnson continues to make the case that while Al-Qaeda and Islamist terrorism in general remains a threat--and can be a deadly threat--it is not equivalent to the old Soviet threat and has to be seen in perspective--and that Al-Qaeda's threat does not justify responding out of proportion.

Some excerpts below:

While terrorism from radical Islamic extremism is a threat we must take seriously, we are kidding ourselves to place it on par with the military and nuclear threat we faced during the Cold War with the Soviet Union. ...

Should we ignore terrorism? No. We do face a serious threat from radical Islamists. They are a fervent and uncompromising lot. Fortunately, they are not ubiquitous nor do they represent a majority opinion among Muslims around the world. While jihadist radicals have flocked to Iraq (and been killed and captured with regularity) they have had limited success gaining traction and sustaining operations around the world.

There are trouble spots—Somalia, southern Thailand, parts of Indonesia—where radicals are trying to get a foothold. But, these radicals have not been able to project force consistently outside of the local communities that protect them. When they do attack they provoke a counterstrike by government officials that usually results in the death or capture of terrorist operatives. This weakens their ability to sustain operations.

We make a mistake, a potentially fatal mistake, if we delude ourselves into accepting that the threat of terrorism is so unique and so severe that we must suspend civil liberties, break international accords, and ignore allies in order to fight this enemy. If we continue to choose this road we risk alienating the moderate Islamic nations and the Islamic authoritarian regimes (e.g., Pakistan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia) who we need as allies in order to battle this threat.

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