Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Cold War Redux?

Let me weigh in on the question as to whether we are on the verge of a "new cold war" with Russia. I agree with those who point out that the Cold War had very specific ideological underpinnings--criteria absent today. It seems to me that the U.S. rather is stepping into the role Britain often played vis-a-vis a rising Russian Empire in the 19th century--looking to find ways to contain the power of a continental hegemon. Read up on the British role in the Caucasus in the 19th century and one can see similarities with what is happening today.

Nuclear Horses Off and Running to New Delhi

While Senator Reid is hopeful that the U.S.-India nuclear deal the House approved last week will be voted on in the Senate tomorrow, the French have today announced they have concluded their own nuclear deal with India. Russia has also announced plans to expand its own efforts--it seems everyone wants a piece of the estimated $145 billion market.

Prime Minister Singh stopped off in France after a visit to Washington. Perhaps a subtle or not so subtle signal that Washington is not always "the only game in town". His speech to the India-EU Business Summit today in Paris also sounded the theme, of how Europe and India have to work together to prop up and ride out the impacts of the U.S. economic crisis. India definitely is putting its eggs in many different baskets.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Friday roundup

Just a few themes to finish the week with. James Joyner over at New Atlanticistlooks at European reactions to the U.S. financial crisis and sees a broadly more supportive picture than what I noted yesterday.

WIth Congress now focused on the financial bailout, I wonder if this basically punts what's left on Congress' foreign policy plate (trade deals, U.S.-India nuclear deal) to the next administration.

Finally, a question of the week for TWR readers: do other countries look for leadership to the U.S. if they feel America conducts itself in alignment with its moral and cultural values--or had countries in the past accepted U.S. leadership because it was better than the alternatives? A question based on what sort of effect closing Guantanamo Bay might or might not have--especially if the U.S. closes the camp but its financial crisis negatively impacts the global economy.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Is this the Start of the Downward Spiral?

Pakistani and U.S. forces exchanged fire today at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Others can determine whether U.S. helicopters were on the Afghan side of the line and did or did not cross, or whether Pakistanis fired flares or shots. What I found interesting (via the New York Times coverage, were two quotes. The first, a local Pakistani resident saying, "We were happy that our forces fired at the helicopter." The question is, how many more Pakistanis will share that attitude, and transmit that to their politicians.

The second, and more telling, was a statement earlier this week from the Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani.

"We will not tolerate any act against our sovereignty and integrity in the name of the war against terrorism. We are fighting extremism and terror not for any other country, but our own country."

Seems the message this week at the UN on a variety of issues--Iran, North Korea, etc.--was that a number of countries made clear that their stance is based on an assessment of their own interests, not what preferred outcome Washington may have.

Ditto on the financial crisis, too. We keep hearing on this side of the Atlantic that this is a global crisis. Guess some Europeans don't agree. Peer Streinbrueck, Germany's finance minister, says "the financial market crisis is most of all an American problem."

And all of this happening as the U.S. enters the election cycle ... (My thoughts on how to minimize the disruption of the transition, for those interested.)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Georgia Events (Self-Promotion)

For those TWR readers who are interested, I'll be taking part in two events that deal with issues arising from the events in Georgia. On Friday, September 26, I'll be a discussant on a panel convened at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, DC; and then on Monday, September 29, at a forum at the Watson Institute at Brown University in Providence, RI. Both are public events and I believe both will probably post transcripts of the discussions.

Some of the themes I am trying to develop: Cyprus as model for how Europe can reconcile a de jure recognition of Georgian territorial integrity/sovereignty with a de facto acceptance of the situation on the ground; how Kosovo and now Ossetia/Abkhazia sends a signal to states like China, India, Indonesia, South Africa and others (the rising south and east) that preserving Westphalian norms is a matter of top national interest (meaning further resistance to new humanitarian norms--see my last post as well).

The New East-West Divide

No, I am not talking about Russia and the West over Georgia; but rather the growing divide between the global "north and west" and the rising "south and east". Via Business Week-which in turn got its report from Transitions Online, a new report from the European Council on Foreign Relations concludes that it is not just the United States which is losing influence--Europe is too. So much for the argument that European diplomats could do what "American cowboys" could not. The ECFR used as their criteria the ability to form coalitions and win votes at the UN---the report concludes that "the EU has lost the regular support of 41 former allies (including most of the countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia)."

The winners? Russia and China. As this analysis concludes, "The Russian and Chinese mantra about protecting national sovereignty in the face of encroaching international organizations and the United States carries much weight around the world ..."

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

George Was Not an Isolationist

Damir Marusic comments on my Washingtonian foreign policy essay. I agree with the conclusion that "such categories [e.g. conservative or progressive] do not exist in any meaningful way" in assessing a foreign policy strategy and that the goal of U.S. policymakers should be to look for the best solution, not one that has the right adjective in front of it.

I have to take slight issue, however, with the use of the term "skeptical isolationism". Washington I don't think was one--in the sense that he did not believe in walling off the new American republic from intercourse with the rest of the world. I think he'd best be described as someone in favor of limited engagement. You want isolationist, consider the reply of the Qianlong Emperor to George III.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Go South Young Man ...

One way to regenerate NATO and perhaps to restore some degree of alliance cohesion is to focus attention on what are joint threats to all NATO members, whether north, south, east, or west in Europe or across the Atlantic. That's why I have been arguing that securing the trade links and the vital energy corridors upon which the West depends for its economic health should move to the top of the agenda.

As the financial and credit crisis here demonstrates, there is no effective military or security response if the economic foundation has been eaten away. (Just as one can argue that Russia's resurgence is linked to the growth in its own treasury--cash is a prerequisite for combat, one can argue).

And I am worried about the eastward focus of the alliance as opposed to consolidating its southern flank. And no, I don't think we've shown ourselves to be good at walking and chewing gum at the same time; so some degree of reprioritization may be in order.

Ready on Day One Will Be Too Late

When it rains it pours. It seems clear that a growing number of problems are not going to "wait" while the U.S. leisurely sorts out its political system. A year ago, the next president was supposed to be "ready on day one" to cope with Iraq. Now add to that list the financial and credit crisis that is crippling the U.S. economy, growing problems in Afghanistan, a deteriorating relationship with Pakistan, confrontation with Russia, the Atlantic Alliance under strain, key agreements with India, Colombia and Korea on hold (unless Congress acts). And Al-Qaeda is again on the move, given the recent attacks in Yemen and Pakistan.

Transition planning and coordination with the outgoing Administration is going to be critical. Based on past American political precedents, however, the signs aren't encouraging. I hope that both candidates are prepared to move ...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Yemen and the Bus Station Strategy

The bombing of the U.S. embassy in Yemen highlights the risks of the "bus station" strategy for dealing with militants.

It might be a good time to re-read Dan Byman's "Rogue Operators" that appeared in the July/August issue of TNI, particularly his comments about Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

Migration of jihadis certainly played a role in today's events. From the BBC's coverage:

The current migration of Saudi jihadis to Yemen coincides with the emergence of a transnational structure calling itself al-Qaeda in the South of the Arabian Peninsula.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

What Would Washington Do Revisited?

Culture 11, a new web periodical devoted to politics, culture, the arts and current events, has published a short essay where I propose, if we are going to talk about a post-Bush Administration "reset" in U.S. foreign policy, why don't we just go back not to 2000 or 1992 but right back to the first president himself.

This is not about trying to shoehorn U.S. foreign policy into some 18th century construction, mind you, but about taking some of the core Washingtonian principles and approaches and thinking about our approach in the 21st century.

Comments welcomed either here or at their site.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Prioritizing: Baltics and Zimbabwe

The theme of today's post is consolidation and prioritizing. If the U.S.--and by extension the West is--to use Derek Reveron's phrase about superpower not superhero--limited in what problems it can address, then it is interesting to speculate on whether we are going to see some retrenchment in the months ahead.

First is the ongoing discussion as to whether the U.S. and Europe, when it comes to NATO, ought to retrench and refocus efforts on stabilizing the alliance rather than pursuing further expansion. In particular, getting the "Baltic front" consolidated and getting this consolidation to serve as the basis for a renewed trans-Atlantic consensus--and accepting that Georgia and Ukraine may be, at present, a "bridge too far" for the alliance. How this debate plays out will be interesting to watch.

Second, on the heels of the power-sharing agreement in Zimbabwe. Rhetorically, far short of the regime change it seemed the West wanted. Also, given the pretty harsh criticism South Africa came under from the U.S. for its activities in Zimbabwe, it will be interesting whether the West will accept what is, yes, a flawed agreement (and not possible stable) under the rubric of "African solutions". If so, will the EU and the U.S. begin to scale back their sanctions? Will they decide this agreement is "good enough"?

Just some Monday observations.

Friday, September 12, 2008

What is "the Atlantic community?"

I've always found it odd when people talk about a country that may be in the heart of Eurasia as being part of the Atlantic world (and I've heard India (!) sometimes described that way as well)--yet somehow there seems to be a magic line at the straits of Gilbraltar below which the Atlantic world somehow abruptly ends. It's even more strange given the growing importance of West Africa to the energy security of the United States.

Hence, my latest contribution to the Atlantic Council's New Atlanticist blog. As I ask, "Shouldn't there be a much greater focus and effort on the part of the U.S. and its European partners to working more closely with North and West Africa?"

Thursday, September 11, 2008

General Kayani and Democracy

We've seen how rhetoric unhinged from an appreciation of national interest got us in trouble in Georgia. Now we see it in Pakistan as well.

General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the new chief of staff of Pakistan's army, is sending pretty clear signals that, unlike his predecessor, ex-president Pervez Musharraf, he is not going to carry Washington's water. In particular is his embrace of the need for democratic legitimacy in justifying any operations with the U.S. Certainly his stance on defending Pakistan's sovereignty goes over well, as well as his statements that any solutions to try and stop Pakistan's tribal areas from being used as safe havens for Taliban fighters would need public support.

Just as in Turkey in 2003, Washington seems unprepared for the contigency that a democratic government won't endorse its policy objectives--and then wonders why the military won't override the civilians.

This is going to put real pressure on our planners. Do we respect Pakistani sovereignty and put our forces in Afghanistan at risk? Or do we go ahead and carry the fight across the border, even though this could end up discrediting the new government? What we aren't going to get, it seems, is a friendly general who is going to defy his government and facilitate U.S. needs.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Oil Prices are Relative

I was reading reports today about how oil prices are falling and are at new lows--around $100 per barrel. And with that comes the "analysis" about how this is going to "hurt" states like Iran, Russia, or Venezuela. Then I was poking around in some news archives and reading about how such states (back in 2006) were amassing record amounts of wealth when oil was $70 / barrel ...

Wall Street vs. the Politicians

Nothing signifies to me the growing disconnect between Wall Street and American politicians more than the chasm that has opened up on Russia. When I've spoken before New York and DC audiences, the differences have been tremendous.

So, why DC politicians are gearing up for a new containment of Russia, we have money managers telling us that while Russia's move into Georgia is just one of the issues that have put its stock market deep into bear territory. That makes this a tempting time for investors to buy in.

Politicians call for boycotts, business figures look for opportunities. It doesn't seem like a recipe for a coherent policy approach to Russia.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

A Superpower, Not a Superhero

My colleague here at the Naval War College, Derek Reveron, likes to say that "a superpower is not a superhero." The United States cannot accomplish anything it desires, certainly not by an act of will alone.

Derek used the phrase in his contribution to a volume he edited last year, Shaping the Security Environment. It is a useful "bumper sticker" notation because it avoids the twin extremes of thinking we can do everything or that we can do nothing. It reminds us about the need for setting priorities and working to set up usable partnerships with other states.

The rest of the volume--including a fascinating contribution by General Zinni--is well worth a read.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Admitting Error on NSG and India

So the Nuclear Suppliers' Group did go ahead and give India the waivers after all, that will permit the U.S.-India nuclear deal to go forward. So earlier predictions about a holdup were wrong.

It does appear that for some countries, the first vote was meant to "punish Washington"--or at least show India that Washington was not all-powerful. The second vote appears to have passed in large part because many countries, with the waivers in place, expect to play a profitable role in India's nuclear industry, among them Russia, Kazakhstan, France and even Australia. Other countries, like New Zealand, also got New Delhi to commit not to again test nuclear weapons and so were prepared to grant the waivers.

Will the U.S. Congress now move quickly enough to get the deal in place?

Spillover Effects from Georgia

Alert: Vanity Post.

Just submitting for those TWR readers a selection of thoughts on some of the spillover effects from the events in Georgia:

(From the Boston Globe)

Tehran is using the Georgian crisis as a cautionary lesson to the Persian Gulf states. From its podiums and platforms, the message emanating from the Islamic Republic is that the Georgians mistakenly accepted American pledges of support only to pay a heavy price for their naiveté. The Gulf sheikdoms who similarly put much stock in US security assurances would be wise to come to terms with their populous and powerful Persian neighbor. In a region where America is viewed as unpredictable and unreliable, this message has a powerful resonance.

(From the New Atlanticist)

This raises the possibility that Russia in 2008 becomes a repeat of the Iraq war of 2003—with no unified “Euro-Atlantic” position and thus no basis for concerted action. The West would then have to decide, as the EU did this past year vis-à-vis Kosovo, whether the allies could “disagree without being disagreeable”—allowing each individual country to chart its own course on Russia policy. But what would happen, then, if the U.S. and a “coalition of the willing” of NATO members were to extend security guarantees to Georgia? Would other European countries then raise the same objections that France and Belgium did in 2003, when they argued that Turkey could not expect NATO assistance if itthe United States in an “optional” war against Iraq and Saddam Hussein chose to retaliate? NATO is already under strain because of the Afghan mission; another major disagreement between its members could cripple the alliance permanently.

(The Christian Science Monitor made a similar point this past week.)

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Where the Rubber Hits the Road

The vice president can make all the speeches he wants in Tbilisi, and Congress, when they reconvene, can pass all sorts of resolutions. But we've reached a bottom-line, fork in the road decision. As I wrote in TakiMag today:

There are two courses of action. One is for NATO to define its eastern frontier—meaning that the former USSR beyond the three Baltic Republics is to be left outside the alliance’s zone of operation—with the West’s strategy to pursue not full membership for these countries but rather a neutral status that would allow countries that want to be part of the West culturally and economically to do so. The other is for the U.S. and some of its European partners to forge a new Iraq-style “coalition of the willing” that will work to extend Western influence and counter the resurgence of Russian power in the Eurasian space—but to forego the full support and backing of NATO’s European core in the process (but trying to leave the alliance intact for maintaining European security and the trans-Atlantic connection). The moment for this decision is rapidly approaching—and will determine what future, if any, NATO really has.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Tymoshenko's Realism vs. Yushchenko's Politics of Hope

The crisis in Ukrainian politics--and the possible collapse of the second Orange Coalition--is based, in part, on the assessments that President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko have made in the wake of the Caucasus war.

Yushchenko continues to espouse "the politics of hope"--to try to appeal to values as a basis for Ukraine's move westward. When he receives vice president Cheney tomorrow, I am sure the rhetoric of freedom will saturate the air. But what beyond words is on offer?

Tymoshenko is much more of a realist, it seems. She has her finger on the expansion fatigue in the Euro-Atlantic community and drew what seems to be the correct conclusions about the West's willingness to forcefully respond to Russia's resurgence in the Eurasian space. She and her party decided that symbolic gestures meant to irritate Moscow weren't going to be of much value to Kyiv--hence her much lower key response to events in Georgia. At the same time, she does seem more interested in how the winds of a reviving Russian economy might blow in the sails of Ukraine--and how events in Georgia might be a silver lining for Ukrainian interests.

I'm sure that Tymoshenko has heard the same message I've heard German officials deliver in private--that Berlin (and by extension most of the other Western European countries) are more amenable to Ukrainian integration if 1) Ukraine settles its affairs with Russia and 2) Ukraine's economy grows rapidly. (The line I heard was this: "When Ukraine's economy is like Switzerland's, we'll have no objection to membership.") I also think that in her calculations the more that a "sober and sensible" Ukraine can be contrasted with an "impulsive" Georgia under the Saakashvili administration, the better off Kyiv will be.

I'm not downplaying the importance also of the ongoing power struggle between Yushchenko's presidential administration that is loath to surrender the powers and privileges it inherited from Leonid Kuchma and the desire of Tymoshenko's secretariat to boost its own status by enhancing the powers of the prime minister. At stake here is who exactly should control the valuable state companies in Ukraine--for gas and oil, mining, and other natural resources. But the Georgia crisis has brought matters to a boil in Ukraine.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The Future of the Nation-State

This roundtable with Devin Stewart and David Andelman was written largely prior to the Russo-Georgian-Ossetian conflict, but I think the discussion touches very much on some of the fundamental issues. Andelman, in particular, makes the case that self-determination is the critical point to consider, and that "this concept, more than any other, that I believe will become the gold standard for understanding what constitutes a nation in the future." He ends up concluding, "every nation, every people, if left to their own devices (and this is critical, especially with superpowers or would-be superpowers poised to send troops in at the slightest provocation), winds up with a government that they deserve and that suits them. This should be our watchword, and what we teach our students as they return to their classrooms just as the tectonic plates of the world have begun to shift yet again."

An interesting debate and discussion, for your consideration.

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