Monday, March 31, 2008

Listen To Conservatives on Foreign Policy

For those who argue that a League of Democracies is indeed a viable plan, I urge you to read some past articles in TNI. "The India Imperative" by Robert Blackwill (summer 2005). Blackwill feels that a strong, interest- and yes even values-based relationship is possible between New Delhi and Washington--but also points to what the limitations would be when it comes to Iran and China.

Or go back to David Rivkin and Lee Casey writing in A House Divided back in 2002. They look at problems in the U.S.-Europe relationship (this is pre-Iraq war, by the way) and note:

"The flair-up of these tensions is not a manifestation of random or issue-specific trans-Atlantic disputes. Rather, it is emblematic of the long-term fundamental disagreements between the United States and our European allies over a broad range of major policy issues. The fact that these disagreements have not been muted by an emergence of a new common strategic threat--terrorist groups seeking the destruction of Western civilization--demonstrates the width and depth of the intra-alliance rift."

No one can accuse Blackwill, Rivkin or Casey of being part of some anti-American leftist cabal. So perhaps their assessments about what we can expect from other states that happen to be democracies might be useful in helping to craft viable policies?

Friday, March 28, 2008

Violence in Iraq, Predicted

Perhaps some members of the media and the punditocracy caught by surprise by the violence in Iraq should re-read Ian Bremmer's submission to the March 2008 issue of TNI. He completed this piece in late January.

Among his points about what we should expect:

--as British forces withdraw from Basra, "no foreign power will be able to prevent an intra-Shia conflict" over control of this strategic, oil rich region and that if the central government doesn't accommodate the desires of local political players, "Shia will abandon any pretense of support for al-Maliki's government."

--on Moqtada al-Sadr: "al-Sadr and the Mahdi army may well provoke a direct confrontation with their Shia rivals" in a bid to retain power and influence and to avoid being marginalized.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Ominous Assessment of Basra Events

"This is very, very serious and it could all go wrong for the United States as we try to extricate ourselves. It could go wrong in many, many ways and cause everything to come apart there." -- Maj. Gen. Donald Sheppard (USAF, retired), CNN's senior military analyst.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Formula for Bucharest?

I've been told that part of the U.S. lobbying effort to ensure that all of the countries of the Western Balkans and Ukraine and Georgia receive MAPs at the upcoming Bucharest summit is to try and convince other NATO members with doubts that all that is being issued in Bucharest are invitations, not commitments--and to try and request all NATO states not to use their veto power to block invitations. The argument is that if there are still unresolved issues, then governments that have objections can block the process from moving forward. The other argument being proffered is that it is better for NATO to make invitations and to let candidate countries "fail" on their own merits or choose to reject the invitation. Here, the logic, especially in the context of Ukraine, is that popular opposition to NATO is likely to decrease once there is a tangible invitation to join the alliance on the table--but if that doesn't happen, better to have Kyiv reject NATO than have NATO not make an invitation at all.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Debate on NATO and Democratic League Continues ...

Expecting smooth sailing in the trans-Atlantic relationship? Some interesting reactions at the Atlantic Community.

And is the magic of the Atlantic Alliance over? Dan Drezner weighs in at Newsweek.

Monday, March 24, 2008

I Don't Understand the McCain Essay

John McCain's recent op-ed, once again championing the notion of a "league of democracies", leaves me quite confused.

The Senator makes very powerful arguments about problems facing the world that no single nation is capable of solving, especially with regard to climate change. He writes, "The bottom line is that none of us can act as if our only concerns are within our own borders. We cannot define our national interests so narrowly that we fail to see how intimately our fate is bound up with that of the rest of humanity."

If that is the case, whether other governments are democratic, non-democratic, authoritarian or managed pluralist makes not one whit of difference. States will have to work together, won't they?

And again, what is lacking in this piece is why precisely democracies will somehow share common interests to pursue this global agenda but non-democracies will not. The collection of states he identifies--"Today, there is the powerful collective voice of the EU, India, Japan, Australia, Brazil, South Korea, South Africa, Turkey and Israel, to name just a few of the leading democracies. And there are the struggling young democracies, such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon ..." don't appear to me to really be the basis for this change. Certainly, the soaring rhetoric at the end--"It is the democracies of the world that will provide the pillars upon which we can and must build an enduring peace" is not supported by a SINGLE EXAMPLE IN THE TEXT of where this has played itself out. He says "The US and Europe must lead together" but that assumes that 1) the US and Europe can develop and maintain a common position, which in matters of climate change they have not and 2) that the US and Europe still represent the bulk of the global economy, which increasingly they do not.

I can also easily foresee situations where groups of states will come together on agreement on issues that cut across the democracy/non-democracy line--where China, India, Brazil and South Africa might be in greater alignment on a particular issue in opposition to Europe and the United States. Opposition to the Iraq war, Iran sanctions, Kosovo independence are three that immediately come to mind as past examples.

Presidential candidates--Obama, McCain and Clinton--like using this lofty and soaring rhetoric--but we do have to deal with the world as it is.

Friday, March 21, 2008

French Announcement and NATO Reaction

Synchronizing with Richard Weitz's call for arms control to move beyond "just" the bilateral U.S.-Russia relationship, President Sarkozy today announced a 1/3 cut in the size of the French nuclear force. Interesting, though, that he cited Iran as one of the ongoing threats to Europe that requires a continued possession of a deterrent capability.

One reaction to my NATO piece that I received reports that the U.S. strategy in trying to convince reluctant European states to endorse expansion plans for the alliance at the Bucharest summit is to ask them not to veto anything at Bucharest and let the devil work itself out through the details. In other words, extend invitations to the Balkan states and MAPs to Ukraine and Georgia--to prevent any sense of trans-Atlantic disunity--and then let the process get slowed down. Perhaps this is the "compromise" that we'll see proffered.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

OIC Summit and Dakar Declaration

The declaration produced at the end of the Organization for the Islamic Conference summit in Dakar, Senegal, had a good deal to say about UN Security Council resolutions.

The Leaders of Muslim countries hereby renew their pledge to preserve world peace and security, one of the OIC's objectives, and thus to fully adhere to the United Nations' key mission in this regard as well as international legality as a rule for all without any political double standards.

This is the reason why we proclaim, once again, our resolve to make sure that the Ummah's entire causes prevail in accordance with resolutions adopted in this regard by the Islamic Conference and the United Nations.

From this standpoint, in order to ensure just and lasting peace in the Middle East, we reaffirm solemnly the need to comply with all Security Council resolutions on Al Quds, an issue for which the OIC was established, and on the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people to establish an independent state within internationally guaranteed borders.

Given this emphasis on the importance of UN resolutions, perhaps it was not surprising that the declaration makes no mention of Kosovo.

Americans seem surprised about the lack of formal recognition from most Arab and Muslim countries. The crux of the issue was summed up by an Indonesian who noted that his country--and many others--had no problem with the idea of an independent Kosovo or even with eventual recognition--but their reaction was guided by the manner in which it had come about.

Kosovo was discussed at the summit and on its sidelines, but perhaps in one direction that Washington may also not have anticipated: Kashmir. The leader of the Kashmiri delegation to the summit, Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, noted:

The recent declaration of independence by Kosovo is like a whiff of fresh air... We welcome this new member nation and hope that entire international community in general and the OIC in particular will stand in solidarity with the people of Kosovo. The people of Kashmir stand encouraged by this historic development.

(But Pakistani Foreign Minister Inam-ul Haque did stress that any final settlement on Kashmir would have to be mutually acceptable to all parties).

The Indian Foreign Ministry responded, "The OIC has no locus standi in matters concerning India's internal affairs, including Jammu and Kashmir, which is an integral part of India. We strongly reject all such comments ..."

Many Islamic-majority countries will probably end up recognizing Kosovo at some point--although they may also hesitate given the strong emphasis of many Kosovars of their secular, European identity as opposed to an Islamic one. But if and when they do, they may add caveats about possible precedents--not really caring what U.S. and European diplomats once again said at the Brussels Forum last week--that could create headaches for the U.S. down the line and which Washington still seems unprepared to deal with.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

And Commentary on Iran ...

Most commentary on the elections focused on the impact the results would have on the president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. My colleague Ray Takeyh, in contrast, argues in the IHT that the results complete Supreme Leader Khamenei's "long march" to dominance:

"Khamenei's nearly two-decade strategy of ensuring his political primacy has finally been realized. In a remarkable achievement, he has managed to marginalize the wily Rafsanjani and the still-popular Khatami. The future of Iran belongs to the Supreme Leader and dogmatic younger conservatives who outdo one another for his support and affection. Whatever the composition of the new Parliament, and whoever succeeds the office of the presidency next year, Iran has entered the age when a single mullah dominates all institutions and arbitrates all debates. Iran's Supreme Leader has never been more supreme."

Discussing the U.S.-Russia Relationship

For those interested--my discussion with KOA Radio's Rick Barber and his callers about the U.S. - Russia relationship. The podcastwill be available shortly.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The "Gates Commitment" on Missile Defense?

“When we see flight testing that leads us to believe the Iranians are close to developing a capability to hit our allies in Europe, that would be the point at which we would operationalize the sites," Defense Secretary Robert Gates has just said about the proposed missile defense system that would be deployed in Eastern Europe. This reiterates a point he had made in Prague last year--and perhaps may serve as the basis for a formal agreement or understanding between Moscow and Washington that could reduce tensions. Gates and the Secretary of State are currently in Moscow for talks with the outgoing and incoming Russian presidents, to ensure continuity in the U.S.-Russia relationship.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Merkel's NATO Criteria -- And Craddock's Concern

Yet another nail in the coffin of the belief that Angela Merkel is automatically pro-American in her orientation on foreign policy.

In a speech that has gotten very little coverage in the U.S. media, the German chancellor, without naming any countries in particular, laid out her view of the criteria that should guide invitations to join NATO.

1) "A country should become a NATO member not only when its temporary political leadership is in favour but when a significant percentage of the population supports membership."

2) "Countries that are themselves entangled in regional conflicts, can in my opinion not become members."

The first criterion seems to be directed at Ukraine, where a majority of the population opposes or is ambivalent about NATO membership. The second seems to encompass both Georgia (with its ongoing separatist problems) and Macedonia (with its continuing dispute over its name with Greece).

France also seems interested in postponing expansion issues--not ruling them out at Bucharest, certainly, but making no commitments either.

With less than a month to go to the summit, these unresolved issues make the outcome of that meeting unpredictable.

Meanwhile, at a Congressional hearing yesterday, when most of the sentiment seemed to revolve around expanding NATO because of the political signals it sends, NATO's commander General John Craddock sounded a cautionary note--yes, the alliance should be open to expansion, but existing and prospective members had to be prepared to shoulder actual responsibilities. “In this transitional period, I’m concerned about the alliance’s collective ability to match its political will to its level of ambition,” Craddock told the committee.

That didn't seem to resonate, though.

Some Real "3 AM" Scenarios

So let's look at some actual and very plausible challenges and ask the candidates what they plan to do. And some of these won't even require waking up in the middle of the night.

--A democratically-elected Greek government cannot reach a settlement with its Macedonian neighbor over the name issue. Push ahead with NATO invitations for the Western Balkan states without Macedonia, try to override Greek objections, or punt the entire issue to 2009?
--A democratically-elected Pakistani government signs a far-reaching "cease-fire" with militants. Polls show many Pakistanis don't want to carry water for "America's war". A Pakistani government says only with major U.S. concessions--essentially equality with India on a variety of issues plus pressure on India to accommodate Pakistan on Kashmir--is the only way to move forward.
--Nagorno-Karabakh petitions for recognition of its declaration of independence citing Kosovo.

I raise these three because the campaigns try and reach out to key "ethnic lobbies" in the U.S. with a good deal of what may seem to be empty rhetoric about sharing their concerns. Sure, most of this falls by the wayside--but don't think that any candidate wants to forego support from key Indian-, Greek- and Armenian-American lobbies at this juncture.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Realists Not Welcome in the Republican Party?

An interesting anecdote from Dan Drezner, who was a speaker at UCLA's "U.S. Foreign Policy Toward Rogue States: Engage, Isolate or Strike?" conference:

"The most amusing moment for me was when AEI's Danielle Pletka accused me of being on the far left -- because I suggested some realpolitik approaches to foreign policy (like prioritizing counterproliferation over democracy promotion). When informed of my party status later, Pletka replied, "well, he's not like any Republican I know!" Apparently, Brent Scowcroft, George H.W. Bush, George Schultz, and Henry Kissinger are now barred from entering AEI."

However, because that's also been a policy prescription outlined by Amitai Etzioni, perhaps the source of the confusion on Pletka's part (and perhaps a point of reconciliation between Dan and Amitai too?)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Gossip and Hookers And More U.S. Setbacks

Scandal is fun, salacious, and great to write and blog about. Everyone deserves levity from time to time. And this past week has been great for this--more scandal over campaign advisors and their ill-advised remarks, a "Mr. Clean" governor taken down by a prostitution scandal, and so on ... Fine. But pushed down the headlines are the explosions in Pakistan and Iraq, and other real world issues that have a direct impact on your bottom line.

And meanwhile, more bricks are being laid in the foundation of what seems to be a pretty audacious energy strategy on the part of Russia that will mean that any future President Obama, McCain or Clinton won't have as much freedom of action when that supposed 3 AM phone rings.

Gazprom's strategy of making different European states key stakeholders in its success--either by routing pipelines across their territories or creating vast gas-storage depots--has paid off by effectively killing once and for all the "NABUCCO" pipeline that was supposed to be an alternate way to bring Central Asian gas to Europe without it having to pass via Russian territory or a Russian-controlled pipeline. Gazprom's alternative projects were more lucrative.

Now, Russia seems to have reached a deal with the Central Asians that by 2009 they will get full market price for their natural gas. Works well for Russia which is in the process of increasing its electricity production from nuclear and coal, with less need for natural gas--remember, Gazprom now owns a major Russian coal company too.

Bad luck for Ukrainian P.M. Tymoshenko because Ukraine was still counting on getting cheap Central Asian gas since Ukraine hasn't moved on increasing its own energy efficiency or on developing more of its own indigenous gas fields. What's Washington going to argue, that Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan or Turkmenistan ought to subsidize Ukraine with cheap gas?

And this pre-emptive move lessens the likelihood the Central Asians will divert more gas for the Chinese and Asian market--and increases the chances that China will secure new sources of supply from Iran--making Beijing more unwilling to countenance any sort of destructive pressure on Iran. And if China locks up more Iranian supply, that erodes Europe's great white hope of eventually using Iranian gas as a way to lessen dependence on Russia and on Russia's control of the transport routes from Central Asia.

Also on Iran, the latest polls: "Support for tough measures against Iran's nuclear program has fallen in 13 out of 21 countries according to a new BBC World Service Poll."

And those latest state election results in India--perhaps the nuclear deal is postponed a bit longer.

Just a little of what's going on behind the headlines. Oh, but a critical report--Britney's lawyers say K-Fed can pay his own legal bills.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Comparing China and India: Defense Spending (and Kosovo Update)

An interesting comment circulating from Commodore C. Uday Bhaskar, the former Director of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, on comparing the Indian and Chinese defense budgets. On paper, it looks like India is spending more and increasing capabilities. But paper is not translating into procurement, he says.

"For the last nine years running, the Indian defence establishment has been returning money from the overall defence budget to the national exchequer – and while this may be a good sign for the fiscal health of the nation – it has very adverse consequences for the Indian military."

He concludes: "The contrast with China is striking. This year's allocation marks the 20th successive year when Beijing has increased its annual defence outlay by double digit percentages closer to 20 and has translated fiscal outlay into distinctive military outcome. The focus is on trans-border military capability relating to ordnance delivery (missiles, long range fighter aircraft and ships) and surveillance (satellites) . China is relating its military capability in relation to the USA, Japan and Russia and this is a logical policy initiative for a nation that has a clear strategic vision of the next 50 years. India does not exude the same degree of determination and consequently the existential military advantage will inevitably grow in China's favor. This asymmetry will have abiding politico-diplomatic implications for the South Asian strategic grid and New Delhi should read the tea leaves of this week more astutely."
(For those interested, a copy of the column can be found here).

Raviprasad Narayanan of the ISDA echoes some of the same concerns Drew Thompson and I have been making about the Kosovo/Taiwan connection--for those who are interested..

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Kosovo Recognition and Possible Trade-offs

Where we now stand: 24 states have recognized the independence of Kosovo--alongside the United States, mainly European ones. 18 states--those with concerns about separatist movements in their own borders, which stress the importance of territorial integrity. or those who took particularly issue with the U.S. and key European states bypassing the UN--have announced they will not recognize, ranging from Argentina, Spain and Cyprus to Russia, Vietnam and Venezuela. Several Islamic states are on this list--Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

Perhaps a real surprise for Washington is the "wait-and-see" attitude of the Arab world and the larger Islamic world. The Organization of the Islamic Conference welcomed the birth of the new state, but left the decision to recognize independence in the hands of its individual member-states. So far, only Turkey, Afghanistan and Senegal have chosen to recognize--and these can hardly be identified as the bell-weather states of the Islamic world (and no Arab state has yet done so).

The issue will break over the "undecideds"--who represent the bulk of the Islamic world and of the "World Without the West"--particularly its leading democracies. Brazil, India and South Africa are undecided. So is China. They have urged continuing negotiations. Here the concern is not to necessarily prevent an independent state from emerging but having an agreement sanctioned by all parties and with UN blessing.

Of particular interest is the concern in the Arab world both for upholding and preserving the principle of territorial integrity--the reason why the Chechen cause did not attract much official support (even if support from some segments of the "street") and for not validating what appears to be a unilateral U.S. or unilateral "Western" imposition of a solution.

The U.S. would like to see the number of countries recognizing Kosovo go up. So far, we are nowhere near the predicted "more than 100 countries" or even the "40 or more" many thought we would be at around this time. So it is interesting to speculate, and I stress here SPECULATE, what some of the things are that might need to be on the table for Washington to consider.

--Would Washington give public guarantees to China that the one-China policy is forever sacrosanct and that Washington endorses Beijing's Anti-Secession Law--with the only proviso from the U.S. that there is no use of force against Taiwan but that Washington will actively oppose all manifestations of sentiment for independence? Might not be feasible for Washington and might not be enough for Beijing (see Wu Yun's comments.) What about similar promises on Kashmir for India?

--to move Arab states, would Washington pledge never to use separatist movements as tools against the axis-of-evil states (Iran, Syria if promoted to this role)? More importantly, would Washington accept the right of Palestinians to declare independence and a state--even absent a final agreement on borders and a capital--given that the jurisdiction of Kosovo at present does not coincide with the territory of the state--and most significantly, without having to have Israel agree to the declaration of a Palestinian state? In other words, if the Annapolis process falters and we don't have an agreement and don't have status issues resolved, will the Palestinians embrace the option Yasser Abed Rabbo proclaimed (and that was walked back by Abbas)--and would other Arab states support it?

Just things to consider. The job of policy analysts is to consider all possible permutations--even if not all scenarios end up happening.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Lessons from Outremer

I realize that when an increasing number of Americans are unsure as to our foes during World War II, an appeal to the mists of Crusader history may be meaningless. Nonetheless, I am struck by certain parallels.

Here I see the "West" or the "Euro-Atlantic community" as equivalent to the Kingdom of Jerusalem: both clearly territorially defined and both having clear lines of authority, but also composed of individual units with sovereign freedom (in the case of the Crusader kingdom, the various communes, military orders, fiefs, etc.) Both have a clear sense of ultimate aims, but the units differ in terms of strategy and approach.

This line of thinking was sparked by listening to France's ambassador to the United States Pierre Vimont when he spoke yesterday. France, he noted, is ready to return to the "integrated military organization" of NATO, for instance, but wants a number of points clarified, including the scope of the alliance in terms of its geographic mandate and its missions, and its relationship to the EU's own military capacities. Then the discussion about how France and the U.S. share common objectives vis-a-vis Russia, Iran, Lebanon, etc. but a clear sense of a different way to achieve them.

Today the Nixon Center will unveil its report on Russian Energy and European Security, and there is, in my opinion, a similar disconnect. There is no unity of approach.

Not predicting that the West will share the fate of Outremer--but its inability to reconcile its divisions may be an instructive lesson.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Short Thoughts on the Russian Elections

--The Kremlin got the voter turnout it wanted--a sufficiently respectable number to give the elections the glow of legitimacy. We will have to wait to see whether, as with the Duma elections, we find some significant regional and local variations.

--The Kremlin also got, from its perspective, a "competitive enough" race. It was not a Stalinist 99 percent vote. 30 percent of Russians, as in 2004, cast votes for someone "else". The bonus is that almost all of the votes cast against Dmitry Medvedev went to the unreconstructed communist or the posed "extreme nationalist"--the "liberal democratic" option got less than 2 percent. Either those who supported his outlook didn't vote at all to protest the outcome, or voted for Medvedev. At any rate, the Kremlin can now say that the bulk of the rising middle class prefers the sure course of the Putin legacy rather than risk change at this point. Contrast this to Armenia where a state of emergency is now in effect and where the opposition is prepared to contest the results of the presidential election.

--Finally, the Kremlin indicated, once again, that it no longer cares what Westerners think about its elections. And by the way, yes, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization observer mission, led by its Secretary-General, Bolat Nurgaliyev, declared the elections to be free and fair.

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