Monday, March 30, 2009

The Second World Depression?

My colleague Tom Fedyszyn notes that we have labelled the military conflagrations that encompassed the entire globe as "World Wars" (and numbered them accordingly).
So why not major economic downturns that are not confined to one country or region?

The 1914-1918 conflict was the "Great War" until 1939; then it became World War One. We talk about the "Great Depression"--perhaps now it is time to think of that as the "First World Depression?" And given the havoc the current crisis is working--especially in terms of bringing down governments--as well as the drops in levels of economic activity, which are now not being compared to the economic downturns of the 1970s and 1980s but what was taking place in the 1930s--are we in the early days of the "Second World Depression?" And should we be worried that in its wake there will be an uptick in conflict? Do World Depressions have to be followed by major wars?\

[A passing note: Robert Cutler at the Asia Times shares some of Fedyszyn's concerns.]

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

April 2010

That's the date, acoording to Tom Ricks, that Secretary of Defense Bob Gates has indicated when he'll step down, once the QDR is completed.

From that point onward, a Democrat will own Iraq policy.

Interesting as well to consider whether in the aftermath of the Gates departure there will be the first reshuffling of the Obama defense and foreign policy teams.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A New Term

There was the "war on terror". The "long war". GWOT. The struggle against extremism.

Naming something defines it. So perhaps what is needed now is a purely descriptive moniker?

Al Shimkus, the director for the Policy Making and Process subcourse at the War College, has coined a new term I think deserves consideration. The "Asymmetric Conflict over the Next Decade." I would use the acronym ACOTND myself, pronounced a-kot-nid.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Great Unwind

At World Politics Review, Judah Grunstein echoes concerns about the unraveling of NATO and the EU. He asks:
What's interesting is the way in which the NATO and EU expansion ... mirrors the economic expansion of the corresponding period, a sort of geopolitical equivalent of the bubble economy. That raises the question of whether the faultlines that are becoming increasingly apparent in the two structures represent a "market correction."

Retrenchment to core missions is what he is proposing.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Third Way for Afghanistan?

A comment I've received to my essay on the two policy directions for Afghanistan: there is a third compromise choice. Nation/state-build in Kabul and in some of the other cities (option 1) and disengage from the countryside (devolving power to traditional authorities and negotiating the terms of their association with the central government as well as denying use of their territories to terrorists).

It's an interesting approach. But for it to work the two "worlds" co-existing in Afghanistan would then have to have workable agreements to negotiate their interconnections. For instance, agreements on traffic flowing on national highways--how tolls would be divided, what actions would be taken against bandits, etc. There would also have to be some way, perhaps akin to medieval European laws about sanctuary in cities, to allow for people who don't want to live under harsher social codes in the villages to be able to safely move into the urban zones.

Could this help to square the difference between the U.S. interest in nation-building and human rights and the interests in winding down the conflict and preventing a resurgence of groups basing in Afghanistan that seek to do us harm?

Again, just some thoughts to consider.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Penalties of Rapid Expansion

To someone sitting in Kyiv, the events of the last eight months can't be that heartening (assuming that you are someone who was counting on the continued eastward expansion of the Euro-Atlantic community). These thoughts were inspired after reading Newsweek's "From Bread Basket to Basket Case,", including this quote:
"Allowing an enthusiastically pro-EU, pro-NATO state to fail for want of a few billion presents "a different sort of moral hazard," says one senior Western diplomat in Moscow. "The bottom line is, you have to stand by your friends … or you don't make any more friends."

It does seem that expansion occurred too fast, too soon--and the costs that are now being incurred are likely to inhibit any further expansion.

The EU is looking at economies sliding into collapse all across its eastern periphery (and some of the countries of the earlier expansions aren't doing so well either). NATO expanded at a time when Russia seemed prostrate and Article 5 commitments could be extended without much thought--then came the Russia-Georgia war. Plus NATO's continued unraveling over Afghanistan doesn't inspire much confidence.

Twenty years ago, NATO as a smaller group was much more formidable--and the EU was born at Maastricht with a smaller number of states whose economies were much more aligned. Are either stronger today as a result of expansion?

A serious PFP program, an expanded EFTA--could these not have started countries on a slower, more gradual path to integration?

I don't know--but the questions have to be asked.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Who's Trustworthy?

Aaron Friedberg is skeptical about the efficacy of negotiations with states like Syria and Russia to achieve U.S. objectives.

As I noted in a response to his post, we should be skeptical of a belief that simply negotiating leads to positive results--or to negotiations designed to produce a CNN moment.

I do think that his use of the democratic/authoritarian split is overblown, however, in terms of assessing where negotiations are likely to work.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Chinese-U.S. Incidents at Sea

Contributed to Colin Clark's discussion over at DOD Buzz as to whether China is testing the Obama administration, with a series of incidents in recent days involving U.S. and Chinese vessels.

Feel free to register comments there to be part of the larger discussion.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Northern Ireland attack: terrorism, criminality or a new blend?

The Real IRA attack has raised concerns about "dissident republicans" moving back to violence as a way to undermine the political process. But is Northern Ireland on the verge of unraveling?

"They really don't have a lot of support but can randomly cause problems in terms of assasinations, bombings, etc.," is the assessment of my colleague Elena Mastors, a professor of national security studies at the Naval War College and a terrorism expert. This is not a large group, perhaps numbering no more than 500.

And others have wondered whether the Real IRA is not more akin to an organized crime group that carries out "political" attacks from time to time to try and legitimize its existence. After all, law enforcement sources indicate that the Real IRA has been involved in smuggling, kidnapping, robbery and extortion operations.

This does seem to be a growing worldwide trend, where the stark dividing line between political and criminal groups is fading away. We have seen this in Colombia, in Iraq and in Afghanistan. And I worried last week whether this is a trend manifested by the assassination of the president of Guinea-Bissau.

On a side note for consideration, then: is this a sufficient trend to warrant retaining the Homeland Security Council as a separate interagency body, rather than devolving its functions back to the National Security Council?

Thursday, March 05, 2009


The conversations continue elsewhere ...

Laura Rozen's article on the missile-defense review underway in the Obama administration and some comments of my own.

James Joyner's thoughts on 'Russia reset and the EU's future' and my thoughts as well.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Confusing Signals on Russia?

I penned a short essay for National Interest online arguing that the Obama Administration appeared to be adopting the Robert Gates logic on missile defense in Europe: deployment of a system tied to a verifiable Iranian threat (which means that if Russia were to assist in that threat going away, there would be no need for such a system, right?) But now other statements coming out of the administration suggest that the older Obama campaign view remains dominant: that deployment of a system is based less on a threat from Iran and more on whether the technology works--the implications being that the system would continue to be deployed if it could be shown to work.

Something to keep an eye on.

Monday, March 02, 2009

The Rising Power of the Drug Cartels

A few months ago, over at New Atlanticist, I argued that NATO, as a security organization, was ignoring new threats and perils along its southern frontiers. Back then, piracy loomed as the major threat, but just behind it has been the growing reach of the drug cartels.

Now, Scott Baldauf of the Christian Science Monitors speculates whether the Colombian drug cartels might have been behind the assassination of the president of Guinea-Bissau.

He notes:
In recent years, Colombian drug cartels have begun flying small planes across the Atlantic, landing on tiny islands dotting the Guinean coastline. Since Guinea-Bissau has no navy to patrol its waters, the cartels were free to unload tons of cocaine destined for Europe. The drugs were then distributed to impoverished African migrants, who would carry the drugs north by boat to the shores of France, Italy, and Spain.

Government corruption, fed by poor government salaries at the bottom and uncertain political leadership at the top, means that Guinea Bissau has few tools to stop the drug trafficking.

Add to that what is happening in Mexico--grave enough for Foreign Policy to label it part of the Axis of Instability, and you have a problem that deserves more attention than it seems to be getting.

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