Friday, May 30, 2008

Foreign Voices

Some end of the week reading ...

Pragati--the Indian National Interest review--has a fascinating interview with K Subrahmanyam, who served as the chair of the Task Force set up by the Indian government on Global Strategic Developments. It might also be of interest to TWR readers to go back to his January 2008 essay, Pragmatic China countervails US through India partnership.

Conor Foley in the Guardian takes a look at what IBSA has been saying and weighs it against the LOD proposal.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Of Democracies and Cluster Bombs

So the new buzz word is that of the "rogue democracy"--the state that finds itself in alignment with the autocracies like China to frustrate the aims of the democratic community of nations.

Well, the U.S. finds itself in good company tonight. One hundred eleven states--many of them democracies--have representatives gathered in Dublin to ban the use of cluster bombs. VOA News: reports

"The U.S., Israel, Russia, China, India and Pakistan are not present at the Dublin meeting."

The fact that the U.S. shares a similar form of government with most of the states represented in Dublin--and the treaty is being championed by our closest ally, the United Kingdom--does not mean that the U.S. finds itself in agreement as to not using a weapons system. Yet I don't hear many DC pundits or foreign policy advisors arguing, at least not yet, that the U.S. cannot have the same position as China when most other democracies are opposed.

Not surprisingly, India, perhaps one of the candidates for the "rogue democracy" label, prefers to keep its own sovereign judgment as to how it will defend itself.

What is interesting to see is where we go from here. The Times of London noted:

"The signatories of the proposed convention will now try to put pressure on the nations who have refused to play a part in the negotiations to change their policy. Gordon Brown, who ordered the British negotiators to support a total ban, said: “We will now work to encourage the widest possible international support for the new convention."

So it is entirely possible that the UK and Australia might try to reverse-engineer the League of Democracies argument to put pressure on the U.S.; they also might, in the future, condition their participation in other joint military activities with the U.S. on a tacit American acceptance of the ban. What will be the response, though, if that line of argument is used?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

First Reactions: McCain's Address

Some reactions to the Senator's address in Denver:

In these remarks, Senator McCain's pragmatic, realist side was very much on display. I am sure that commentators will be seeing this speech as a bookend and counterpoint to his Los Angeles speech (reflecting his idealistic/crusading side).

He doesn't use the term here, but one gets the impression that in dealing with the dangers of nuclear weapons, one can almost hear the concept "concert of powers" being echoed. There are threats that are existential in nature to all governments--free, not free and a mix of the two--and so common interests in reducing and eliminating these threats. He sees merit in proposals advanced by Russia (and by unnamed extension two leading non-democratic powers, China and Saudi Arabia) in coping with a whole host of issues, including dealing with Iran's program.

So, is this a reaction to consistent polling data that says Americans want a foreign policy that puts their safety as the main priority, rather than spreading freedom around the globe? An attempt to send the signal that U.S. policy would be conducted on the basis of sober interest? Is it meant to lay out some proposals for joint action that, if rejected by Moscow and Beijing and others, lends credence to the idea that we can't work with "the autocracies?"

Is this a move away from the Kagan/Return of History approach and an embrace of the Sutphen/Hachigian thesis that a concert approach works better (and doesn't alter the "balance in favor of freedom" that currently exists?)

What I do hope is that we don't have a belief in "compartmentalization"--e.g. we get concert of powers to deal with nuclear issues but then we can have a league of democracies to bypass the "autocracies" when it is convenient for us. Or that policy is going to be a 50/50 split between the "LA" and "Denver" visions. Or that we've embraced a Clintonian view that we can "do both". China in particular is not going to sign on to binding international regimes if it feels that the U.S. leaves backdoors to opt out of such structures when it is convenient for DC.

Given my continued interest in Indian affairs, also no word also in the speech as to what happens with the India-US nuclear deal in the event of a McCain victory. AND MY MISTAKE: I assumed this would be in the section on the NPT. The Senator follows in the next paragraph that "I support the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Accord as a means of strengthening our relationship with the world's largest democracy."

Finally, a note on rhetoric. I was struck by some of the similarities to Senator Obama's April 2007 speech to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Both talked about U.S. global leadership being exercised in assembling an interest-based coalition of states to respond to threats. Even more interesting is their apparent overlap on Russia. Two quotes:

Obama: We know that Russia is neither our enemy nor close ally right now, and we shouldn’t shy away from pushing for more democracy, transparency, and accountability in that country. But we also know that we can and must work with Russia to make sure every one of its nuclear weapons and every cache of nuclear material is secured.

McCain: While we have serious differences, with the end of the Cold War, Russia and the United States are no longer mortal enemies. As our two countries possess the overwhelming majority of the world's nuclear weapons, we have a special responsibility to reduce their number. ... There are other areas in which we can work in partnership with Russia to strengthen protections against weapons of mass destruction.

So, a consensus view? We have a "values gap" with Russia but let's base relations with Moscow on interest?

Trends to Watch: UNASUR, Indian Elections and Others

Can South America pull off an EU-style model towards regional integration, with Brazil playing the role of Germany? The formal creation of UNASUR on Friday is a step forward--but the test will be whether common institutions can withstand disagreements between member-states. The approach taken toward a common defense policy--to step back and not insist on pushing it forward given Colombia's clear concerns--may indicate that we have a group of leaders who want to construct workable institutions brick by brick rather than create a grandiose scheme that doesn't have much filling.

President Lula's insistence, as well, that the union needs to focus on economic improvement--with Brazil committing itself to infrastructure projects designed to tie Paraguay, Bolivia and Uruguay into Brazil's own rising prosperity--seems to be designed to give ordinary citizens a stake in the success of this new venture.

So we have Brazil stepping out into the international stage in the BRIC and IBSA formats and working to solidify a bloc around its leadership in South America.

Second item for the day: we all love democracy here in Washington but we don't tend to pay too much attention to the details of democracy in other countries. (On a side note--Al-Jazeera says 40,000 protesters in Tbilisi saying the elections were unfair. The Europeans fence-sit again; highlighting a whole host of procedural problems but saying the elections reflect the will of the people.) But a critical regional election in India happened--in Karnataka (the state may not be familiar to Americans, but its capital city should be--Bangalore). The BJP is taking power after winning local elections--and while local issues dominated, it is also a sign that Indians are losing confidence in their current government at the national center. The Times of India editorialized today: "The significance of the BJP's victory in Karnataka extends beyond the state. Even though the BJP has been steadily increasing its influence in the south, the party has never been in a position to form a state government on its own. Winning Karnataka for the BJP is, unlike its retaining power in Gujarat, gaining new territory. It sets the BJP on a par with the Congress: a national party with governments across the country. With general elections only a few months away, such a win can boost the morale of the ranks and even gain new allies. The Congress, having lost as many as 13 assembly elections since 2004, has a lot to worry about." So should we expect bold new initiatives from an imperiled Manmohan Singh government, on the nuclear deal, on Pakistan, on anything else? I note this because too often when we talk about "India" or "France" or "Germany" or "Brazil" we tend to lose sight of the fact that governments depend on electoral victories and therefore politicians take the pulse of what voters want, not what we in DC want.

Finally, some additional recommended reading:

C. Uday Bhaskar on recent developments in Pakistan and how they affect India--and thus issues that affect Washington's relationship with both Islamabad and New Delhi.

Shashi Tharoor and concerns about the league of democracies.

National Review on Europe

I meant to blog about this last week but it slipped my mind. Better late than never, however.

National Review was understandably pleased with the return to power of Silvio Berlusconi in Italy. This means that three of the core EU states--France, Germany and Italy--are now ruled by center-right/conservative governments. (Everyone assumes that the UK won't be too far behind, either.)

I worry, however, about the effusive descriptions of their pro-American sentiment. Yes, in contrast to Chirac et al, these leaders are not instinctively inclined to oppose the U.S., certainly not in any sort of knee-jerk reaction. Each of them places high value on the continuation of strong trans-Atlantic ties. On a variety of issues, notably terror and Iran, there is much more possibility for convergence with U.S. positions. And I assume that, in turn, the next administration here in Washington will be more accommodating on climate change issues. So yes, we should be optimistic--but to a point.

But the big conservative-3 also have some clear differences with U.S. policy. If we are willing to live with them, fine. But we can't ignore them.

**First and foremost, on Russia. They believe that it is better to engage rather than isolate Russia; they feel that Putin, for all of his faults, has put Russia back on track; they see Russia's European future as inevitable. They are less interested in containing Russia and its power rather than integrating it.

**The EU has limits. All are skeptics on Turkish membership in the EU and none are big proponents of further expansion, beyond a reluctant acknowledgment that Europe has no choice but to deal with the Western Balkans.

**The problem with Iran is one of its nuclear program. Settle this issue, and you are done. Less worries or concerns about Iran as an Islamic republic; less inclination to be proponents for "regime change" or using force as the tool to get a deal.

So I'd be wary about any irrational exuberance about the trans-Atlantic relationship.

Friday, May 23, 2008

C. Raja Mohan: Changing Geopolitical Dynamics

I lamented the lack of coverage or discussion in the U.S. press about the recent IBSA, BRIC, and RIC meetings. Fortunately, those interested in some excellent analysis of these developments can peruse C. Raja Mohan's essay in today's issue of the Straits Times. [Although one still has to go to a non-U.S. Anglophone outlet for the discussion.]

The piece is quite useful because it avoids the Scylla of seeing every meeting where the U.S. is not involved as a harbinger of a new global anti-American alliance (the Pravda approach) and the Charybdis of being dismissive about these developments (the "nothing will come of them" approach so common in Washington).

Why are we seeing these new groups emerge? Because countries want to, as Steven Weber and his authors noted last year, "use the forces of globalization to gradually revise the terms of their connection with the Western world in ways that enhance their autonomy." They want to hedge. They want options apart from accepting or fighting a "unipolar moment."

So, what Mohan says here is quite important: "There is no doubt they would love to see the US taken down a peg or two. Yet, improving relations with the US is the highest priority in all their respective foreign policies. In banding together, each hopes to leverage on the others to improve its own negotiating position with Washington."

I also thought his discussion about the multiple interests and identities a country may have and which a country may use in making its associations important, especially for those here in DC who want to reduce everything to simple binary choices. India can be a democracy associated in the "quad" (with the U.S., Japan and Australia); it can be an Asian power; it can want to balance China; it can want to hedge against the United States; it can be a southern democracy in IBSA.

But there is a shift in the global balance of power.

His conclusion? "... the BRICs forum is a wake-up call to the US and the West. For far too long, the West has deluded itself that a rapidly changing world can be managed by tinkering with such institutions as the UN Security Council, Nato and the G-8.
But the history of international relations tells us it is never easy to reform old institutions. It makes more sense to devise new ones that reflect the changing global distribution of power. Over the long term, a new global directorate is bound to emerge. The BRICs forum is part of the unfolding contest as to how an enduring international core might be constituted."

I recommend the essay to you and wish stateside readers of TWR a restful and peaceful Memorial Day (and hope people will reflect on the origins of this holiday, which was not to start the summer shopping season.)

Thoughts on the "Global Hub"

I've been pondering Foreign Secretary Miliband's notion of the UK seeking to project influence by being a "global hub."

The UK has major advantages--stability, infrastructure and trustworthy institutions, that encourage people to do business and to form meaningful interconnections. The UK benefits from hosting these transactions and extends its global reach as a result. There is also a "soft power" possibility--that people return from the UK and are more inclined to pursue reforms.

But the flip side is that there is competition among several hubs for business. As we've seen, places that want to be global hubs also have to accept the limits of their ability to force outsiders to conform to their preferences. London has benefitted immensely from business that left New York because foreigners did not want to accept the extension of Sarbanes-Oxley standards to their operations. Britain's freedom of action vis-a-vis Russia, for instance, is also conditioned on Britain's desire to continue to be a major hub for Russia's entry into the world of international capital.

It also got me thinking about the possibility for ongoing progression. That is, the possibility that places like Hong Kong or Dubai are "Anglo/Western" enough to have the benefits people associate with doing business in New York or London, but without some of the strings. As business migrated from New York to London as a global hub to avoid U.S. regulation, will business migrate further east?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Something's Got To Give on Energy

The Seattle Times had this to say about yesterday's hearing on energy in the Senate, where politicians did well scoring rhetorical points against oil company executives but there was little talk of solutions.

We have a U.S. energy strategy predicated on a series of "no"s--and many members of Congress are complicit in enacting them.

This is what we have:

No to increased exploration and exploitation of domestic U.S. sources of hydrocarbons, for environmental and aesthetic reasons;
No to increased use of nuclear power in the U.S, for fear of accidents.;
No to increased use of nuclear power around the world, for fear of the proliferation risk;
No to increased use of coal, especially by China and India and other developing countries, for power generation, because of global warming;
No to providing low-cost clean coal technology because of the expense that would be borne by the developed world;
No to opening up Iran's major deposits of gas and oil because of the continued rule of the Islamic Republic and instead pushing for stronger sanctions.

What's left? Strategy one--ask the Indians and the Chinese to voluntarily limit their use of energy and stop their economic growth--not going to happen. Strategy two--ask the Saudis to pump large volumes of extra oil into the market. We got an answer to that question this past week.

Something will have to give--and the question is whether we make choices in order to shape events or whether the dam begins to break. My guess--as we've seen with Iran--is that maintaining strong sanctions long-term is not going to happen. The nuclear genie is also increasingly out of the bottle.

We'll see where things go from here.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Gamble

Let me try and tie together the various loose ends of this blog for the last week--League of Democracies, BRIC, Miliband, and so on, and to make this point:

This is the gamble. That upon the inauguration of a new U.S. president in January 2009, the rest of the world, but especially our allies, will want to shore up their ties with the United States and so will drop or mute their current opposition to a variety of American proposals--and that they will find a U.S. president much more prepared to bring U.S. policy on a variety of issues, starting with climate change, into closer alignment with what other states have proposed. Add to this growing unease about the rise of China and the return of Russia, and we have a transformed relationship.

It could happen. But what I think might end up occurring is that a new U.S. administration might be prepared to offer something that would have been acceptable in 2002 or 2003 but that by 2009 may seem insufficient--so I do think that there is a clear "expectations gap", certainly in the trans-Atlantic relationship. It bears watching, and it means that we need to de-emphasize the countdown to 1.20.09 as the only thing that needs to change.

Milliband's Advice

Went to hear David Milliband, the UK's Foreign Secretary, speak at the New America Foundation this morning.

A few points.

He said he didn't like the term "democracy promotion", rather, he preferred "support" for democratic processes. Moreover, elections were less critical than fostering democratic accountability.

Foreign policy is not successful if it is only conducted government to government; there must be strong business and economic links as well as "popular mobilization." (Perhaps a useful post mortem of the U.S.-Russia relationship?)

Putting forward a vision of the UK as a "global hub"-exercising influence by being a place where global networks intersect-rather than via control of territory. Interesting also that he rejected the role of Britain as a "bridge" between powers and blocs.

More thoughts soon.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Final Thoughts on BRIC and Burma

A bout of insomnia has me surfing the 'net to follow some of the threads of stories I have been writing about.

In Washington, the narrative is that the autocracies of Russia and China played the lead in blocking efforts in the UN Security Council to pressure the junta in Burma/Myanmar to accept aid, but New Europehas a different headline: "China, Indonesia helped Burma block aid." Doesn't fit the matrix, though--since both are Asian powers but one is an aspiring member of a U.S.-led League of Democracies.

Viewing international coverage of the BRIC summit, I found some interesting, and telling, patterns. First, let me make clear that I am not one to over-emphasize this meeting. is free to spout off that the Yekaterinburg meeting created some sort of anti-Western alliance, but that is rubbish. The meeting had much more modest goals--but they succeeded in reaching them. For one, the idea that these four states should meet on a regular basis to discuss world affairs and exchange their viewpoints. Moreover, that they don't need to work via the "hub" of the United States.

So, what does a quick perusal of the net show? Plenty of English-language coverage from Russian, Indian and Chinese news sources. The international wires covered the story--but as far as I can tell, their reports were picked up primarily by the UK media. Little or no coverage or discussion in the U.S.

Which brings me to a final thought about any LOD. All of the U.S. proponents argue that the U.S. is the country that has to bring the LOD about. But is that necessarily the case? Other democracies are free to lay the foundation for the LOD. If they aren't, what does that mean? The EU has created a LOD that is territorially restricted to Europe and has very high standards for admittance. India has, in recent years, created two interesting multilateral formats--the Russia-India-China one (RIC) and the India-Brazil-South Africa one (IBSA), which held a meeting prior to the RIC/BRIC one in South Africa (and will hold a summit in New Delhi later this year). Other countries are engaged in creative exercises in multilateralism--and are taking, yes, short baby steps, but steps nonetheless, toward greater institutionalization. It is a touch of arrogance to assume that we must be present "at the creation" for any such body to have any sort of impact.

It's also clear that few of my colleagues in DC paid attention to what the Brazilian foreign minister Celso Amorim said in Cape Town about democracy at the IBSA ministerial:

The IBSA alliance, said Mr Amorim, is "in favour of our peoples, of humanity, a world where democracy will prevail - not just a political democracy but a social, cultural democracy".

Does this mean that he would be sympathetic to the PRC's claim that lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty and creating conditions for a middle-class existence is just as democratic as having competitive elections? I don't know--but it clearly returns a question I think many of us here in Washington thought was settled after 1989--that democracy means political democracy.

And for those who care--the IBSA forum also got no coverage in the U.S. press, not even much in the specialized foreign affairs media.

A League of the Unwilling

Jackson Diehl, over the weekend, again picks up on the old tired theme of "the authoritarian states" (e.g. Russia and China) blocking "the democracies" from doing good in the world.

He writes:

"Take the past few months: China, helped by Russia, has stopped the Security Council from discussing a humanitarian intervention to rescue the 1.5 million Burmese endangered by the criminal neglect of their government following a cyclone. Strong sanctions against Iran for its refusal to freeze its nuclear program have been blocked by Russia. An attempted U.N. intervention in Darfur is failing, largely because of Chinese and Russian refusal to authorize stronger measures against the government of Sudan."

All true--but only half of the picture, as readers of TWR are aware. "Southern democracies" have joined with authoritarians to defend the principle of state sovereignty--and as we've seen in the case of Burma, the call for pan-Asian solidarity against "Western colonialism" seems to have carried more weight, with ASEAN states arguing they can deal with the junta in Rangoon to get aid delivered, and would the French foreign minister kindly refrain from his remarks.

In the case of Sudan, the West and Asian democracies like Japan and India decry the role of Beijing and Moscow but don't seem to want to push on their own, which they would be perfectly free to do. Even presidential candidates have had investments with funds that provide capital for businesses in Sudan.

What Diehl, Ikenberry, Daalder and others are under an obligation to demonstrate, and in my opinion have NOT DONE, is that 1) countries are prepared to come together in a League of Democracies and 2) they are prepared to take action even when the Security Council is divided. I don't find much evidence, beyond a few countries that were part of the Iraq coalition of the willing, which undercuts the whole notion of the League being a way for the U.S. to be much more multilateral and share burdens. I certainly don't find support for this idea among continental European states (Germany, France, Italy, Spain), as well as other leading democracies like Brazil, Australia, or India.

It is not enough for American academics and policy advisors to declare from the heights of Olympus which states might be invited to join a league or concert of democracies--but to show that governments and populations of said countries actually want to join.

Senator McCain, to his credit, has backed away from describing a proposed league as a new international organization in favor of a body that would bring together the major democracies for consultations on joint action, which is a more realistic and feasible plan.

We have to see the world as it is--and this neat divide between democracies and autocracies just doesn't exist.

Funny, that Diehl doesn't mention the BRIC summit that took place as he was writing his op-ed piece. Doesn't fit into the picture, so best to ignore it.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Whose Responsibility to Protect?

I'll be appearing on The Agenda with Steve Paikin tonight to discuss the Responsibility to Protect and the crisis in Burma/Myanmar. It is always difficult to talk about international relations in the abstract when tens of thousands of people are dead or dying. But we have to face up to the problem that we always want to help, but at little or no cost--and the Burma case, like Somalia before it, raises difficulties.

My fellow panelists didn't like that I've adopted the position articulated by Pang Zhongying, that there is no "international community" that exists above or separate from sovereign nation-states. To quote from his 2002 essay:

it is necessary to draw the distinction between the concepts of "international community" versus "international society." "Community" implies that its components share many things in common, such as values, whereas "society" recognizes that, while actors may have shared interests, there is no overarching common power or universal standard. Former United Nations Secretary-General Butros Butros Ghali has been a leading proponent of the notion of "the international community." I maintain that, at present, one can use the term "international community" to describe something like the European Union, a community of nation-states sharing common values, institutions, and procedures, but I do not believe that Ghali's vision applies to the reality of world politics. Thus, in assessing China's international environment, I think that it is more useful to conceive of global affairs taking place within the parameters of an "international society" rather than an "international community."

And we are in a transition phase. More and more, we accept the idea that sovereignty is not absolute and we may have responsibilities to people who are not citizens with us in a shared political community--but if the nation-state cannot or will not accept its sovereign responsibilities, we are still unsure as to who should and who should bear those burdens. Witness Somalia (or Sudan).

Will the deaths in Burma/Myanmar cause states--and more importantly, populations--to reassess their views? Would Americans support sending U.S. troops into humanitarian missions? Should we revisit an earlier proposal, about having contract forces (soldiers and civilian experts) on staff to do such missions?

Interested in your reactions to the program.

Friday World Without the West Watch

Just some items to consider.

--further attempts to institutionalize the BRIC format. The finance and economics ministers of the foursome are set to meet in Brazil, and the second summit after Yekaterinburg will be in India in 2009.

--claims coming out from that meeting that it is the U.S. (and Japan) which is blocking expansion of the G-8 to include countries like India--not a particularly good piece of public relations for Washington's ability to woo New Dehli or Brasilia. (As I had mentioned yesterday, in contrast French president Sarkozy has endorsed an expansion of the group).

--India shifted its position on Kosovo, for the first time signing on the the proposition that the unilateral declaration of independence is in violation of UN Security Council resolution 1244 and calling for new talks between Belgrade and Pristina to produce an agreement.

--Russia, India and China called for a "diplomatic settlement" of the Iranian and India reaffirmed its support for Tehran's civilian nuclear ambitions.

--In response to Senator Chuck Schumer's call for Saudi Arabia to increase oil production or face sanctions preventing Riyadh from buying U.S. arms, Saudi Arabia is reportedly looking at what Russia might have to offer.

Now the bargaining shifts back to what we might want to offer.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Hiding Behind the Chinese (and the Indians too) ...

The wires have the story that Cindy McCain has sold several million dollars worth of holdings in two investment funds that, within their portfolio, had investments in Chinese and Indian oil firms doing business in Sudan.

Did she carefully read the prospecti to see which companies the funds were investing in, and then track down each of those companies' operations? Of course not--and let's be honest, no one else does this too when making routine mutual fund investments. Other presidential candidates only divested themselves last year--so the McCains may be late, but it is not like others were particularly early.

But it also highlights the real dilemma. Hot money to be made these days in investing in the BRIC--so you get a good rate of return. But you also can't then control how those funds are invested.

This also points to how Beijing and New Delhi really do provide the shield by which we in the West can say, we aren't doing business in Sudan. True, we are just enabling others to do business. U.S. investors provide the funds that allow Chinese companies to develop oil reserves which can then be sold to Japan. How convenient.

TWR readers recall my post from last month on this question, where I had written:

Perhaps some of this is explained by having Chinese companies doing the producing and then selling on the open market to democratic states. Does this assuage Japanese or Korean or European or American consciences, that the products of these states were sold by Chinese middlemen, while absolving us of responsibility?


So, what happens now. Does American Funds drop companies that invest in Sudan from its portfolio? Will the sudden visibility cause other big investors to pull their investments? Are people willing to put principle ahead of pocketbook?

First Comments out of Yekaterinburg

One "lure" the United States has tried to deploy vis-a-vis India in the past is to support India playing a greater global role. China and Russia are just as prepared to endorse that proposition. Press Trust of India reports:

"China along with Russia today expressed support for India's "aspirations" to play a greater role in the United Nations, signalling its readiness to back New Delhi's quest for a permanent berth in the Security Council. "The Ministers of Russia and China reiterated that their countries attach importance to the status of India in international affairs and understand and support India's aspirations to play a greater role in the United Nations," according to a joint communique of the Foreign Ministers of Russia, India and China (RIC) who held a meeting here.

"Russia and China also expressed their readiness to provide additional opportunities to India within the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation of which it is an observer."

An interesting report from Bloomberg--`BRIC' Nations Summit Seeks to Turn Economic Might Into Clout.

French president Sarkozy, by the way, has not only NOT endorsed the call of Senator McCain to "throw" Russia out of the G-8 but has signaled his support for making China, India and Brazil full members and not just have them as "invited guests" at future summits.

By the way, I liked Sujit Dutta's comment (he is an analyst at New Delhi's Institute of Defense Studies and Analyses)--that this BRIC meeting is important because "through this informal arrangement, the four nations will understand each others' policies, discuss common factors and issues and leverage their positions through dialogue." The key word here being LEVERAGE.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

More than an Image Problem in the Islamic World

Yesterday's discussion with Andrew Kohut and Richard Wike raised an interesting point: the United States is not viewed in many parts of the Islamic world (or for that matter in other regions as well) as being interested in the promotion of democracy or human rights but instead using this rhetoric to advance their own interests. As a result, things many Americans think we should get "credit" for in the Islamic world--Bosnia, Kosovo, etc.-are discounted--in other words, the U.S. didn't do these things to help Muslims but to advance U.S. interests.

I'm also trying to get my thoughts around a remarkable passage I came across in Steve LeVine's recent book The Oil and The Glory. Based on his interviews, he says that in the 1990s, U.S. diplomats in Pakistan were portraying the Taliban and its takeover of power in Afghanistan as "the will of the people." If that's the case, it would therefore not be surprising to me why Pakistanis might see our later opposition to the Taliban as not being based on concerns for democracy, but pure power politics--and why this might contribute to the trends Kohut and Wike have tracked. But this is just a thought.

BRIC Summit

The foreign ministers of Brazil, China, India and Russia will begin their quadrilateral meetings today in Yekaterinburg, Russia.

Who would have predicted ten years ago that this would happen?

What is interesting about the announced agenda is its focus on economic and commercial issues--including energy, the role of biofuels, the question of food security, and the impact of the slowdown of the U.S. economy.

My sense is that a common theme will also be complaining about the "dysfunctionality" of the U.S. role in the world--and ways in which these four countries can insulate themselves from American-inspired volatility.

All four countries are riding high these days--China has more than $1.5 trillion in foreign reserves, Russia at $500 billion, India at $300 billion, and Brazil at $200 billion. Breaking them into two classes, you have two leading manufacturing powers and two leading resource providers--so increasing synergies benefits them.

I doubt we will see much public posturing against Washington--after all, Brazil and India are cultivating much better relations with the United States--but I think there will be a high degree of receptiveness to the argument that the four should work more closely together.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Where Medvedev is A-Traveling Too ...

Where the new Russian president travels--and when--is an interesting indicator of Russia's diplomatic agenda.

Medvedev has announced that his first international journey will be to Kazakhstan--which has emerged as one of Russia's closest partners in the Eurasian space--and from Kazakhstan, to then travel to Beijing. China will be the first "great power" destination.

"Medvedev is giving priority to China in Russia's foreign relations with major powers," Professor Xu Tao of the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations was quoted as saying in the China Daily.

Complementing this approach to the "south and east", in a few days, the foreign ministers of China, India, Brazil and Russia will meet in Yekaterinburg, Russia. Indian Prime Minister Singh has already extended an invitation for Medvedev to visit India and plans are apparently afoot for Medvedev to travel to New Delhi later this year.

However, he won't neglect Europe, and Russia's closest partner there. Plans are underway for Medvedev to travel to Berlin in June for meetings with Chancellor Angela Merkel. Merkel, of course, was the first foreign leader to meet with Medvedev following his election as president in March.

President Bush met Medvedev in Sochi last month and he will meet the new Russian president again in July at the G-8 summit in Tokyo. But it is quite interesting to see what capitals a new Russian president feels he needs to visit soon: Astana, Beijing, Berlin and New Delhi.

Monday, May 12, 2008

New Cabinet in Russia

The composition of the cabinet, as selected by prime minister designate Vladimir Putin for ratification to new president Dmitry Medvedev, is a further signal of the importance of maintaining a united consensus. It also suggests that the message to all Kremlin factions is that it is better to be part of the large tent than cast outside of it.

The cabinet, as noted, will have seven vice prime-ministers serving under Putin; starting with the two "first vice premiers"--the former prime minister Viktor Zubkov and the G-8 sherpa and former deputy chief of staff for Putin, Igor Shuvalov. Putin aide Igor Sechin will now supervise industrial policy. Sergei Ivanov remains a vice prime minister, although no longer one of the two deputies. Putin's chief of staff remains in that position, switching from the presidential administration to the prime ministerial one, while another "Petersburger", Sergei Naryshkin, moves into the position of the presidential chief of staff.

Finance Minister Kudrin retains his portfolio, along with Economic Development minister Elvira Nabiullina, while Sergei Lavrov and Anatoly Serdyukov retain the foreign ministry and the defense ministry, respectively.

Viktor Khristenko, who in the past served as energy minister, is the new minister of industry, and he will supervise a number of key agencies, among the Russian Fund for Federal Property and the Federal Agency for Industrial Development (Rosprom).

Signals so far? A strong sense of continuity--very few personnel shakeups. Second, a desire to avoid radical breaks or conflicts; many of Putin's presidential administration is migrating into the government, freeing up new appointments for Medvedev. Finally, my early read--a "balancing" effect where cabinet ministers are balanced with the deputies to the prime minister.

Not Misreading India

As readers of TWR know, I have been a strong proponent of closer U.S.-India ties. What I have tried not to do, however, is to assume that India's desire for much closer and improved relations with Washington comes at the expense of what the country will see as its fundamental national interests.

Can India be a close strategic partner of the United States? Yes. Is India on the verge of becoming the next "special relationship" in the way that the UK and Japan have such ties with the United States? At this stage, I would say no. I don't see any evidence that the Indian strategic and defense elite is going to completely overhaul the country's orientations simply to become America's "best friend" in Asia.

India instead is going to want to balance out its relationships. Take this observation, from Commodore Uday Bhaskar, about the U.S.-Iran dilemma faced by India:

India -- like China -- needs energy from any and every source to sustain its GDP growth and related developmental goals and Iran's importance cannot be ignored. The choice for India is not an 'either-or' option in relation to the US/Iran and the nuclear/oil sector. India needs both and the challenge for Indian foreign policy will be to realise both objectives.

Writing in the Asia Times, Siddarth Srivastava, an Indian journalist, concludes that the “emerging trend” in New Delhi’s approach to international affairs “is a skillful balancing of its strategic relationships with the major powers.”

I think we can work with this--but this certainly does not suggest that India is going to play the role some here in Washington would like it to play.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Dialogue Across the Atlantic

I am in Philadelphia attending the 8th annual Trans-Atlantic Editors' Roundtable. Just a few thoughts that have been heard around the table (and by no means exhaustive or even completely representative of the conversations):

--How do we manage a trans-Atlantic relationship when it is clear that while interests may converge in some instances, they don't in other areas? Do we choose to "agree to disagree" in the latter case, or try to find some sort of compromise solution?

--Can we even speak about the trans-Atlantic relationship as its own self-contained world, or do we have to acknowledge that other actors are present? Can we still talk about trans-Atlantic ties without reference to China and Russia?

--Is this statement still accurate in today's world--when the United States and the EU agree on an issue, this forms the basis for a global consensus; when the U.S. and the EU disagree, no such global consensus will be possible?

--What is the best way of making Russia a "responsible stakeholder" in both European and global affairs?

--Would a democratizing China be any more likely than an autocratic one to slow down its economic growth or work to limit its emissions and use of resources? Or, given the large number of poor still present, would a democratic China be even under greater pressure to speed up economic growth? (This in the context that China is building one new coal-fired power plant a week; claims it cannot afford clean coal technology for all of its power needs; and where each additional unit of GDP growth essentially requires 1 to 1.3 additional units of energy).

--Democrats claim to be more multilateral and more solicitous of European concerns, but given a renewed protectionist mood and a desire to revisit trade agreements, would the next Democratic administration clash with Europe over trade?

--Do we have a growing consensus on how to deal with climate change across the Atlantic or not? (TWR readers will recall that at last year's roundtable in London, the thesis was advanced that disagreements over climate change will be to the future of the trans-Atlantic relationship what Iraq in 2003 was--a deeply divisive event.)

Just some thoughts.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Kagan and China's Pitch

I penned a review of Robert Kagan's The Return of History but something kept nagging at me, that I had left something out. And it was this. Kagan explains why China's view of the international order appeals to other autocrats--but neglects to discuss how many democracies might also find Beijing's approach to be useful and even preferable to the one he lays out.

Kagan notes that the Chinese view--and here let me use the words of the 1972 Shanghai Communique--"the people of all countries have the right to choose their social systems according their own wishes and the right to safeguard the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of their own countries ..." is music to the ears of autocratic and non-democratic governments around the world. He cites it specifically in the context of Chinese-Iranian relations. True.

But it is also quite attractive to a number of democratic ones as well. It is the basis for India's participation as an observer in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Indonesia, Brazil and South Africa like the idea that their own path to democracy and development not be subject to the control or validation of outsiders. Even for U.S. allies like South Korea, this Chinese view is very welcome--because it means that Beijing's 1950 position--that North Korea did have a right to extend its system by force to the source--has been reversed and that South Korea's right to have a democratic, free-market system is not being challenged by China. And this makes it much easier for Europeans to deal with China--because Beijing seems to be saying, if you want to move to a post-nation state union where EU member-states have freely surrendered some sovereignty to Brussels, that is your affair.

[On a side note, what about the U.S. position in the Shanghai Communique--that "The United States supports individual freedom and social progress for all the peoples of the world, free of outside pressure or intervention"?]

And, as Naazneen Barma, Ely Ratner and Steven Weber have been arguing in The National Interest (both the print and online editions) for more than a year now, China offers the vision of a world order based on sovereign states where these states negotiates contracts with one another in achieving their economic and security objectives and where international organizations have no authority to bypass the state on behalf of individuals. For many democratic states, particularly those that have a "John Quincy Adams" view that the fate of democracy in any given country is in the hands of that country alone, a global order predicated on sovereignty is just fine.

And what you may end up with, as Parag Khanna has argued, is a whole series of states--both democratic and non-democratic--that position themselves betwixt "autocratic/sovereign East" and "democratic/internationalist West". We shouldn't be counting on other democracies to automatically flock to our banner.

I quoted Lee Hamilton at the close of my review; but Khanna is more blunt and less polite than the former Congressman. How can America's power and leadership be revived? He complains, "One would expect hard-headed guidance based on experience,
observation and connections, yet instead one hears—from ex-administration officials from the Clinton or Bush eras—the platitudes of detached utopians."

Southern Democracies With Eastern Autocracies?

One reason why I continue to think the association of democracies idea is problematic is that the world's "southern democracies" are very ambivalent about breaching the protective wall of state sovereignty. I blogged earlier this week about a pitch that might resonate with some of them.

But the current UN Security Council wrangling over Myanmar/Burma is quite instructive. France, as TWR readers may know, wanted to invoke the "responsibility to protect" to get the Security Council to authorize relief efforts that would bypass the Burmese military junta.

We are told that, in addition to Russia, China and Vietnam, South Africa also argued strongly behind closed doors that the Security Council should get involved. Panama also doesn't see a role for the Security Council, according to its ambassador, while Indonesia's representative seems to feel that relief work can best be undertaken by the Asian states.

First on Kosovo, now on Burma. So far, "southern democracies" still seem to place a greater premium on preserving state sovereignty and integrity. This is something that I am frustrated that so many of the advocates of the LOD/COD idea just won't address. But ignoring it doesn't make it go away.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

A Chinese Definition of Partnership

Yesterday, Xie Feng, deputy chief of mission of the Chinese Embassy in Washington, spoke at the Nixon Center. He gave an optimistic view of the future of Sino-U.S. relations, grounded in common interests and, perhaps even over a time, a narrowing values gap.

But I don't know how receptive some are going to be to his viewpoint. Because, listening to his on-the-record remarks, Beijing's view of partnership with Washington is one where the relationship is defined by equality. One where, especially in economic terms, the U.S. and China are the "twin engines" (rather than the U.S. being the hub); one where both countries will have to work together on a number of issues but where it must be accepted that "we do not see eye to eye on everything" and where both sides will have to engage in dialogue to minimize differences. "We hope that the U.S. will meet us half-way" was a point made.

Diplomacy, anyone?

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

UPDATE: BRIC Ministers to Meet

Earlier today, I passed along a news tidbit from The Hindu about the Indian-Brazilian-South African joint naval exercises.

Now, The Hindu is reporting:

"The Foreign Ministers of Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC) will meet exclusively for the first time in the Russian city of Ekaterinburg on May 14 with economics and cooperation at multilateral fora topping the agenda.

"A meeting of Foreign Ministers of Russia, India, China (RIC) will take place at the same venue the next day as a follow-up to their regular interactions, the latest being in Harbin, China, last year. Although the BRIC Foreign Ministers have discussed the prospects of mutual cooperation on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, the agenda here will be solely focused on promoting the concept of BRIC."

Folks, we live in a dynamic world where powers keep open their options and hedge their bets. India does joint military exercises with the United States, reaches out to other middle powers to do their "own thing" and schedules regular consultations with the foreign ministers of China and Russia. India disproves the thesis about countries choosing and sticking with "blocs" and instead seems to indicate countries feel safer with multipolar options.

So two southern democracies, one sovereign democracy/managed pluralist state and one state still under the guiding role of the Communist Party are seeing whether they have common ground for policies.

Read the full Hindu piece, it is quite interesting.

Thoughts on President Medvedev

For those of you who are interested (and didn't hear Michele Kelemen's report on NPR's Morning Edition).

Igor Yurgens, vice president of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, was quoted as saying, "He's a young guy, Internet generation leader - from this point of view, more open."

Mark Medish, of the Carnegie Endowment, feels that both outgoing presidents--Putin and Bush--have left their successors, in terms of the U.S.-Russia relationship, "a list of things to be done in the future, things that have not been really accomplished ..."

My takeaway? "This is the first Russian leader who was trained in instruments of power that are not military and not intelligence. So for the 20th century, the fear was Russian tanks are going to be coming across the border. We're now dealing with the 21st century Russian leader who understands that energy and currency are the tools of power."

My colleague Paul Saunders has this to say on the subject.

India-South Africa-Brazil Naval Exercises

Yesterday, I posted a note about the "southern democracies" and today I read in the Hindu about the start of joint naval exercises between India, Brazil and South Africa that are being conducted along the coast offshore from Cape Town. This is the first time military maneuvers have been undertaken under the aegis of the trilateral IBSA (India-Brazil-South Africa) forum.

First, given the nature of the exercises--dealing with terrorists and pirates--it is interesting as a demonstration as to how rising powers are beginning to take steps to ensure their own security rather than simply relying on the U.S. It is also important for what it signals about the interest of the "southern democracies" to work together and to develop independent capabilities.

A South African naval commander, Captain Charl Coetzee, is quoted as saying the exercises are designed to facilitate a "common understanding of interoperability" and to strengthen multilateral cohesion between the three powers.

An interesting development.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Squaring Sovereignty and Intervention

I have noted in the past that "southern democracies" like India or South Africa are nonetheless very receptive to China's contention that respect for state sovereignty must still serve as the fundamental basis of the world order. They are suspicious of claims that other states can and should intervene in the domestic affairs of a state, even on human rights grounds-and this was manifested by reluctance to intervene in Zimbabwe or Burma.

So an interesting "pitch" is underway-to argue that the international community has no right to intervene in the affairs of democracies, only non-democracies. Also a useful doctrine for Americans suspicious of EU style legal interventionism (e.g. The ICC).

Sunday, May 04, 2008

The New U.S. - Russia Relationship?

I was recently asked what happened to the "realist" agenda for the U.S.-Russia relationship. I think that Alexey Pushkov's comments last week are quite apropos: the core fundamentals--anti-terrorism, promoting stability in the international system, stemming nuclear proliferation, and so on--were never really operationalized with clear criteria and where both sides took the "in principle" and moved to "what we do" (e.g., from Moscow's statement that, "in principle", Russia does not want Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon, to what Moscow actually thinks is the problem and what it is prepared to do about it).

Both sides could still try to move forward to provide more definition--and the documents agreed at Sochi last month do give us a framework-but I doubt we will see much action.

One of the major stumbling blocks as well was the question of what both sides should expect to get. Over the last several years, Washington has, at times, become more comfortable with the idea of one-off coalitions and groups that come together to focus on only one issue--and therefore, this assemblage of states who come together to work on a particular issue are NOT expected to support the positions or interests or prioriteis of member-states on issues UNRELATED to the specific issue at hand. Take the Proliferation Security Initiative. Cyprus, for instance, is under no illusions that because it is part of the PSI--given its large merchant fleet and that it is an international banking center--other members of this initiative, working together to stem the likelihood of a nuclear terrorist attack which would have negative economic consequences for the PSI's members, even if they were not the actual recipient of the attack--are somehow obligated to support Cyprus' position on OTHER international issues (especially resolution of its territorial integrity). The same might be said of the Six-Party Talks on North Korea.

This runs up against a prevailing Russian interest that weighs cooperation alongside the continued restoration of Russia's great power status and interests--so that if cooperation with other states undermines that quest, it must be questioned.

I wrote in 2002 for TNI about this problem--where U.S. and Russian interests might collide--and think that the analysis holds up for 2008.

But what it also means for today is that I do think that the realist agenda for the U.S.-Russia relationship shifts. Now, an American realist wants to focus on preventing problems from opening up in the trans-Atlantic relationship OVER Russia. That is to say, most of the principal European countries are following a track vis-a-vis Russia that is similar to ours (and of most Asian states) vis-a-vis China. Yes, they have a number of complaints about a number of Russian internal and external policies; but those complaints don't lead them to assume that a more confrontational stance towards Moscow is justified. So, if the U.S. thinks that Russia's resurgence is now a problem--it may find it more difficult to find a consensus with the Europeans. The Bucharest NATO summit was a foretaste of this--and then begs the question, what political capital does the U.S. want to spend with Europe on the Russia account? At Bucharest, for instance, the president didn't "get" MAP for Georgia and Ukraine but got approval for missile defense and at least token increases for Afghanistan.

Just some thoughts.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Sarkozy's Olympic card played?

It appears that China and representatives of the Dalai Lama are set to begin talks.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy had made his attendance at the Beijing games conditional on the start of an official dialogue; will this suffice? And, of course, starting a dialogue is no guarantee of any solution. Starting talks is not the same as reaching a settlement that would be acceptable both to China and the Tibetans.

But would this give him sufficient cover to say he has made a stand on human rights-something he'd promised to do as a presidential candidate, with limiting the damage done to Franco-Chinese ties over the past few months?

More thoughts on the democracy question

Some follow-up thoughts.

Beyond the democracy caucus at the UN, a majority of General Assembly members are classed as democracies-but it is clear that regional alignments, especially with non-democracies, still takes precedence.

Would those patterns change in a differently-configured international organization?

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Kagan's Memory Problems

In his interview with Newsweek, Bob Kagan has this to say about the need for a League of Democracies:

There are international institutions that gather together all the rich nations, there are groups of poor nations, there's an Islamic Conference. The one thing there doesn't seem to be is a group of democracies, getting together to discuss the issues of the day. I think that's something that's lacking in the present system, and one that could possibly do some good.

I think Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky, for one, might find that statement problematic. When she spoke at the Seoul ministerial meeting of the Community of Democracies back in 2002, she described this body as a "circle of democracies" that embraced some 140 countries. She went on to say,

We, the world’s democracies -- young and old, developed and developing -- stand together on the frontlines of freedom. Our growing Community of Democracies truly represents the world’s greatest hope.

And I have no doubt that the Plan of Action that results from these deliberations will identify concrete steps our governments can take -- individually, collectively and in partnership with non-governmental groups -- to keep Democracy’s hope strong and secure.

And let's not forget the Democracy Caucus at the UN, set up in 2005. The State Department tells us:

Democratic nations share a common commitment to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms. The United States believes that democratic nations must work more closely together in order to help the United Nations live up to its founding principles. The Democracy Caucus at the United Nations — a network of democratic nations working together — advances the work of the UN in areas such as human rights, good governance, and the rule of law.

The Democracy Caucus does not supplant longstanding regional or other groupings, but rather provides an added mechanism for like-minded democratic nations to cooperate. Countries use the Caucus as a supplementary network to cooperate on resolutions, on such areas as promoting democratic transitions, rule of law, and corruption-free societies.

Perhaps these two bodies have gone down the memory hole because they haven't really been able to bring the world's democracies into alignment and behind the United States. Fine; we can admit that these two bodies have not functioned as intended, but we should be honest about their drawbacks and not try to erase their very existence from the record.

By making it seem, though, that this idea of bringing together the "world's democracies" has NEVER BEEN TRIED, however, then one doesn't have to address the reasons why these two previous attempts--the COD and the Democracy Caucus--haven't worked.

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