Friday, October 31, 2008

Pirates in Cameroon

Some people didn't like my September column in the New Atlanticist, warning that NATO needed to pay much more attention to security threats to its south. They saw it as a way to "distract" attention from Russia and Georgia.

Well, what's in the headlines today? Pirates Seize Crew of French Boat at Cameroon Rig. The French oil services company Bourbon, whose personnel was seized, had already suspended operations in the Bonny River area of Nigeria after attacks there.

What is also worrying is that the tug that was attacked and bordered was in the process of helping a tanker load crude oil. What happens if the next attack targets and cripples that kind of ship?

The Al-Jazeera report on the matter concludes:

Heavily armed pirates have in the last year preyed on oil plants, oil and fishing boats and even coastal towns in the region. Other Gulf of Guinea states that have seen similar attacks this year include Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea and Benin.

17 percent of U.S. oil comes from this region. Do we really want to be ignoring its security?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Congo, Coltan, China

Laurent Nkunda appears to be following in the time-tested pattern for rebels in Congo; rebellion in the country's eastern provinces, a rising of the ethnic Tutsi still seeking to deal with those Hutu militiamen who fled from Rwanda more than a decade ago to take refuge with their ethnic kin in Congo; and a fight for control over the country's mineral wealth.

What is interesting is the opposition to the proposed deal between Chinese firms and the Congolese state mining company. Essentially, my read of the agreement--where China would pay to develop the region and, more importantly, firmly link it to the port city of Matadi on the Atlantic, is the government in Kinshasha basically giving the Chinese a good deal of access to minerals in return for completing the task of nation/state-building--bringing Katanga back firmly into the fold. Rebel groups (and neighbors of Congo like Rwanda and Uganda) who have profited from the lack of central government authority to run their own mining operations can't be thrilled. What is not clear is whether, as in Sudan, China over time might deploy troops to help protect their assets and infrastructure. The UN is overstretched in Congo, with too few peacekeepers in place.

Here is the Associated Press report by Michelle Faul courtesy of the Guardian.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Should the EU Feel Confident?

I think that the results are mixed at this point. Sarkozy, as president, has shown a willingness to "combine" his position as chief executive of France with that of the Union as a whole (for the temporary period he has in that role) to try and push creative diplomacy. But the lesson both from his efforts to broker a cease-fire to the Russia-Georgia conflict and from what happened in Beijing is that the effective of the EU rests to some extent on its ability to find a cooperative partner. Moscow and Beijing only went so far along in what they were prepared to do.

So the test is whether or not next month in Washington the EU emerges as the "broker" at the G-20. And the longer question is what happens when the EU presidency rotates, meaning that Sarkozy is no longer dual-hatted--what impact then?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Betwixt Beijing and Washington

So the Asia-Europe summit in Beijing produced a series of "recommendations" that countries will bring with them to the G-20 meeting in Washington in November but fell short of generating any real solutions to the global financial crisis.

It was interesting to read in reports that attendees were agreeing that there would have to be "trans-Atlantic" buy-in--although I am sure that most TWR readers by now are aware of the People's Daily editorial that bluntly suggested that European and Asian countries settle their trade accounts not by using dollars but by using a basket of other currencies, starting with the euro. But for now the dollar's status as the international reserve currency, although weakened, reamins intact.

Chua Chin Hon, Beijing bureau chief for the Straits Times, has an interesting comment today, "Why China may not save the world, about some of the limits on China's ability or even interest in displacing the United States.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Word from Beijing

As the Beijing summit opens, the "ASEAN plus Three" states (meaning Japan, Korea and China) have agreed to set up a regional fund of $80 billion to cope with the effects of the financial crisis. However, it is talk until it actually goes into operation--and that might not be until next summer 2009. But the fact that Japan and China were able to work together on this may bode well for how the new Japanese prime minister Aso might be able to rejuvenate Sino-Japanese ties.

Apparently, from reading press reports, a side benefit of the summit is that it is permitting all sorts of bilateral and multilateral contacts "on the spot"--so other agreements and understandings might be reached.

What is not clear--and may not be likely--is whether the EU will get a formal agreement that might end up connecting and unifying the EU's efforts with those of "ASEAN plus"--in advance of the summit for Washington next month.

I'll assess the end result of this summit and some of the other steps the EU has been taking in economic and foreign policy to wrap up the series with a "Should the EU Feel Confident" post next week.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Should the U.S. Feel Confident--As Asia and Europe Join Hands?

Tomorrow is the Asia-Europe Summit Meeting in Beijing. All 27 states of the EU are represented, along with the European Commission; ASEAN and all its member states are represented, along with China, Japan, South Korea, India, Pakistan, and Mongolia. Germany's Merkel, France's Sarkozy, Japan's Aso, India's Singh, Korea's Lee, Italy's Berlusconi and Poland's Tusk are all attending.

China felt it necessary, via Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao, to stress "there wasn't any anti-U.S. sentiment within ASEM" since the U.S. has no representation at this meeting. Neither, for that matter, does Russia (neither a European nor an Asian country by the ASEM criteria? Is this tacit recognition that there does exist a distinct geographic, geopolitical and geoeconomic space called "Eurasia"?)

But is Washington's absence from deliberations that certainly will almost entirely be focused on the financial crisis a problem? It seems unlikely that solutions are going to be agreed upon and that the key European and Asian countries are then going to bypass the United States.

And despite problems at home, the fall in oil prices (hitting the "axis of oil" in the pocketbook) does seem to be benefiting the U.S. If America has suffered losses, Washington's attitude seems to be that no one else in the world is prepared to overtake the U.S. or rise at its expense.

So the feeling is, let them meet in Beijing, and then everyone will come to Washington in time for the U.S.-led solution.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Should India Feel Confident?

It seems like a good week for India. She continues to be courted by all the major powers. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov was in New Delhi and it seems like everything is ready for India to sign its third nuclear pact with Russia, meaning that India, pursuing a multivector approach, will have deals in place by the end of 2008 with the U.S., France and Russia.

And Japan is going to engage in its largest development project--a $4.5 billion loan to finance the New Delhi-Mumbai freight railway and attendant economic zones. Japan's prime minister Taro Aso also signed a security cooperation pact with Prime Minister Singh.

India also continues to meet the "great power" benchmarks. In a gesture tinged with symbolism of great power status, India is sending a probe to land on the moon. (The Hindu noted, "With the launch, India joined the elite club of moon faring nations -- the US, Russia, European Space Agency, China and Japan.")

And the emergency financial summit in Washington on November 15 is not going to be "just the G-7/G-8" but based around the G-20--India has a seat at this table.

[For reference, the G-20 is: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, Britain, the US and the European Union.]

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Should China Feel Confident?

To continue from yesterday's theme ...

China needs a healthy global economy to continue its strategy of export-led growth and development. Are other markets sufficiently developed and just as importantly able to absorb Chinese goods if U.S. consumers stop buying? And China still holds a good portion of its wealth in securities and assets tied to the United States, despite some diversification.

Of course, decreasing prices for energy and raw materials are beneficial.

My sense is that China realizes it has to ride the roller coaster of the U.S. economy for the foreseeable future--but that it also sees opportunity to expand its influence. China's sovereign wealth fund is apparently buying more shares of the Blackstone Group.

The China Daily editorialized: "It is quite uncertain whether the US soft power can come back to its pinnacle after the 'financial tsunami.' The rest of the world is not having blind faith in or even turning down the rules of US-style financial games."

Monday, October 20, 2008

Should Russia Feel Confident?

The Moscow Times has in today's edition a piece by Anna Smolechenko, "Russia in No Rush for Crisis Summit." In it, an unidentified senior Russian government official makes a number of comments that I wanted to "bullet point" on the blog for TWR readers:

--Russia's economy will continue to grow even under the most pessimistic scenario for next year, which sees it dipping a little under 5.5 percent ... By comparison, several European Union countries may struggle with negative growth, and the United States is expected to post zero growth ...

--Russia would suffer from a slowdown in economic growth in the West and, therefore, would see demand for oil fall. The budget for this year is balanced at $70 per barrel, and if the price falls below this level, the state might need to tap into the stabilization fund. [NOTE: oil was trading at $73.83 in London today. Some predict it may be at $50 by the end of 2008--so we will see how well Russia has prepared for the rainy day.]

--He said the government was aware that countries like Ukraine had begun feeling the weight of the global liquidity crunch and would consider helping neighbors that sought support. Moscow has already extended loans to China, India, Cuba and Belarus this year. [NOTE: my comment here--an interesting mix of states. And the mention of Ukraine is critical, as we head into key parliamentary elections and after Tymoshenko's failure to rally support for an anti-crisis coalition.]

An interesting set of points to consider.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Unanswered Question

Over at New Atlanticist, James Joyner asks the "unaswered question": what is NATO really for?

He quotes from the latest CRS report on expanding the alliance, but then concludes:

"Inherent in the discussion, but not answered in the report — which is, after all, intended to prevent Members of Congress and their staffs with information, not dictate policy — is the goal of the Alliance. Albania and Croatia add little strategic value, Macedonia creates friction within the Alliance just by its name, and Georgia and Ukraine are on the other side of a "red line" drawn by Russia. So, if NATO is primarily a defensive military alliance, adding any of them in the near future is counterproductive.

"If, on the other hand, NATO is only incidentally military but mostly a means of spreading and institutionalizing Western values and cooperation, then cautiously adding those states as they meet the required political, economic, and military standards promotes the Alliance's mission.

"This, unfortunately, is not a question for which social science can provide valuable insight."

But it is a question policymakers should be able to answer.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Last Debate and Belt-Tightening Continued ...

Jacob Heilbrunnintegrated the belt-tightening theme into his analysis of last night's presidential debate, noting that "both candidates operated in an alternate reality, where the United States can spend as much as it chooses without paying any real consequences."

He also pointed out:

"The strangest part of the debate isn’t what was said but what wasn’t. This was another bout of American solipsism, even if the illusion of American omnipotence has been dispelled, at least temporarily. How often was the term “global economy” used last night? Obama and McCain behaved as if America can act in an economic vacuum. But the recovery will have to be a global one. Here in England, where I’m currently visiting, unemployment is soaring. Germany is looking at a recession. How do either Obama or McCain plan to work with other world leaders to remedy the world economy?

"Nor did the candidates touch upon the question of American global power and economics."

This is an interesting point to consider. The British and French after World War II turned over some of their commitments to the United States. Who picks up the slack today? Germany's surplus is largely utilized within the European Union. The EU is also expanding its efforts across the Mediterranean into Africa and the Middle East--but certainly the EU would never replace the largesse dispensed by Washington to Israel and Egypt. And I doubt that China is going to pick up burdens from the U.S.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Belt-Tightening in Our Future?

Over at Real Clear World, Greg Scoblete takes a look at my recent NI online column and concludes, "There's little indication that either candidate would be committed to the kind of repositioning Gvosdev suggests." As he notes, "Barack Obama has proclaimed that 'the security of the American people is inextricably linked to the security of all people.' McCain, meanwhile, is surrounded by the 'benevolent global hegemony' set."

Belt-tightening caused by the financial crisis might cause "the next administration to reluctantly share some of the burdens. But it would be a move born of dire necessity, not prudent forethought."

Or what may happen is that promises made will be promises unfulfilled. Perhaps more of the Georgian aid package announced before the markets went south will be reconfigured as loans, or redirected domestically--that is to say, it is money that Georgia can spend in the U.S. (say for equipment or services).

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


My colleague here at the Naval War College, Derek Reveron, likes to say, "Strategy helps you either to avoid train wrecks or to prepare for them." One of the problems that we have in the greater DC beltway is not wanting to confront the reality of train wrecks. One reason I liked Charles Kupchan's essay in the forthcoming November/December issue of Foreign Affairs was that he hit home the point that how America expects its allies and friends to react and what they will actually do (in this case, responding to the League of Democracies idea) can be two different things.

I may try to explore this theme at a later point in assessing the trajectory, so far, of French president Nicolas Sarkozy. "Sarko" the "American" was his nickname--but since assusming his office, to what extent have those sentiments driven how he has conducted French foreign policy? It does seem that Sarkozy does take Reveron's aphorism to heart in how he deals with the rest of Europe, with North Africa and the Middle East, with China, with Russia and with the United States.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

And Now For a Word From Beijing ...

My colleague here at the Naval War College, Kathleen Walsh, passed along an op-ed written by People's Daily desk editor Huang Qing, about the current state of Russo-American relations.

What is interesting is the conclusion--and I think one could just as easily substitute "China" for "Russia". Essentially, the argument is simple: if the U.S. respects the "red lines" of the other major powers, it is "still possible for both sides to seek their rooms of interest under the given rules of the game, so that their bilateral ties could return to the relatively relaxed and healthy tracks."

Panic of '08?

Any TWR readers out there remember Paul Erdman's 1986 finance-thriller "The Panic of '89"--about a conspiracy of Latin Americans, Central Europeans, Arabs, terrorists and the KGB to bring down the U.S. financial system--and in so doing force America to retreat from its global posture?

The book intermixed fictional and real personages. After the main character brokers a solution that addresses many of the interests of the leading countries, the book ends with Raisa Gorbacheva telling her husband that the secret to success is contained within the proverb, "Ruka ruku moyet" (One hand washes the other)--e.g. you find a community of interests to hold the major players together.

An interesting re-read in light of today's developments.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

You and What Allies?

Remind me please, who exactly are these phantom "friends and allies" who are going to follow America's lead no matter what? Europe is deeply divided over how to deal with Russia. Britain is leaving Iraq and now appears to be parting company with America over what to do in Afghanistan (while other NATO countries seem to feel it is time to leave). For some reason I can't fathom, our policy elites seem determined to force Russia and China closer together. And when it comes to economic matters, it is rapidly becoming a case of every country for itself.

I've noticed that the presidential campaigns don't talk as much about Leagues of Democracies anymore, either.

Maybe the president-elect ought to head on over to the NATO summit in December and start seeing what common ground there is to get the trans-Atlantic alliance rejuvenated. Doing the rounds, especially in India, South Korea, Japan and Australia might not be a bad idea, as well as quickly establishing some lines of communication with South Africa and Brazil.

Perhaps a reminder of why an alliance audit needs to take place--and soon. From Reuters, reporting on the Evian Europe-Russia summit today:

"Medvedev said Russia's war with Georgia in August showed that the security mechanism in Europe, based around NATO and the United States, needed to be replaced with a new European security pact and proposed a conference to set it up. 'It should unite the whole Euro-Atlantic region on the basis of common rules of the game,' he said. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who holds the rotating EU presidency and was at the Evian forum, became the first European leader publicly to back the idea.
But he told Medvedev the United States could not be excluded. 'I don't take instructions from America. But America is our friend and ally,' Sarkozy said.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

From the Academy: Secession and Self-Determination

Now that I am back to being an academic, I find I have more time to read (for the sake of reading). I checked out from the library an edited volume, Yugoslavia Unraveled: Sovereignty, Self-Determination, Intervention, which was published five years ago.

The editor of the compilation, Raju G.C. Thomas, concluded his introduction by noting, “In choosing between the principle of the right of self-determination and the principle of the territorial integrity of sovereign states, the “international community” has now established the following self-contradictory and dangerous precedent and principles in the Yugoslav case: (1)The internal boundaries of a sovereign state will automatically become international frontiers without change if that sovereign state is taken apart through new state recognition policy; and (2) These newly recognized international frontiers of the newly created sovereign states that have been recognized will be preserved and enforced at any price, thus contradicting the earlier decision to take the international frontiers of the preexisting sovereign state part based on the right of self-determination and secession.”

Alan Kuperman’s contribution to the volume is quite thought-provoking; looking at case studies in Iraq, Bosnia, Rwanda and Kosovo, he notes that the gap between the West’s rhetoric on intervention and its actual willingness to commit blood and treasure creates two very negative dynamics: weaker groups in an ethnic conflict try to find ways to provoke outside intervention on their behalf; stronger groups try to set “facts on the ground” to persuade outsiders that it would be futile in the end to intervene. In other words, this mismatch between statements and action creates conditions which facilitate rather than retard violence. An interesting quote in the notes of his paper: an advisor to a secessionist politician noting that how his group’s bid for aid and sympathy “depends how we look on CNN.”

Monday, October 06, 2008

Bad News from Afghanistan?

Via Dan Drezner, the news from the weekend that the government of Hamid Karzai has opened negotiations with the Taliban. An interesting development. As in Pakistan, the same dynamic--Karzai is looking to stabilize his own government, not fight to the last man in the U.S. war on terror.

And on another front. My colleague Derek Reveron asked today over at New Atlanticist:

Now that Somali pirates have captured global attention and European navies seem prepared to deploy to the Horn of Africa, working through the rules of engagement is critical. How aggressive will naval action be against pirates? Will European frigates attack the pirates when these same countries have largely refused to conduct combat operations against Taliban in Afghanistan?

Another worrying possibility? Is there a sufficient "pipeline" of expertise that stretches from Afghanistan to Somalia? In other words, could those with some practical experience of fighting NATO forces in Afghanistan find their way to join up with the Somali pirates?

Friday, October 03, 2008

Warfare by Different Means

I read with interest this item that Georgia is bringing charges against a Russian mobile phone provider, MegaFon, because of its operations on the territory of South Ossetia, de jure a part of Georgia. MegaFon "has repeatedly denied it operated on Georgian territory saying it could not stop people accessing its services from base stations in nearby Russian regions."

An interesting development. Given insistence in recent years that freedom of the airwaves (and cyberspace) needs to be defended, what can and should be done when technologies which are designed to break down barriers can also be used to undermine a state's control over its sovereign territory. For instance, I still wonder, how the pirate city in Somalia seems to be integrated into the global communications network.

It will be interesting to see how this case proceeds and whether Interpol will issue the warrants.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Countering vs. Channeling

Judah Grunstein over at World Politics Review posted an interesting essay this past month, arguing that "both candidates are realists dressed up in idealist rhetoric."

I'd like to extend the discussion a bit further, and to probe then some of the core assumptions of the two campaigns. Grunstein ponders whether the rise of China, the resurgence of Russia, etc. "is the kind of geopolitical event that can be countered, or whether it is the product of broader historical forces that we are powerless to resist but might be able to channel." And here I think you can see some distinctions at least among the advisors to McCain and Obama.

McCain's team by and large views China and Russia as quite brittle--whose rise in power is based in fragile foundations. They look at some of the real negative trends in both countries (demographics, weakness of infrastructure, etc.) and do believe that America can bring meaningful pressure to bear on both. So they tend to be in the "countering" camp.

I think among some of Obama's people there is a sense that that while those vulnerabilities exists, they are less exploitable by the U.S. and therefore a channeling strategy is more appropriate. (The question then is whether Russia and China and other rising powers reduce their vulnerabilities as time goes on, or whether now is a more appropriate time to apply some pressusre in order to guide them into the "right" channels--this may be the dynamic of the debate within the Obama camp).

Discussion welcomed.

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