Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Doing Nothing

David Rothkopf pulls no punches in his latest essay at NI:

... our allies need to realize that it is not that we want their help, it is that either they step up or no action will be taken. We can no longer afford to go it alone.

We will have to stop asking every time a situation arises in the world, "What should we do?" And we will start having to do as other nations do and ask, "Should we do anything?"
The question, as posed, is stark and direct.

Secretary Gates and others talk about balance, about setting priorities--and yet, the policy process still ends up making everything a priority. I remember at a magazine event a few years back where a speaker was asked whether he could prioritize the countries where the U.S. has a military presence--and he said that they were all important (some 144 countries!). So it will be interesting to see how and under what circumstances Rothkopf's question get answered.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Pirate Complications

I was told recently by a piracy expert that one reason many Western countries are not eager to try captured Somali pirates in their courts is that once a defendant is brought ashore, his family will request that they be brought to that country--and that once a suspect gets into the judicial system, he'll never leave. This is why they prefer using Kenyan courts or, if those captured had not successfully taken over a vessel, the "catch and release" method.

I read with interest that today, the mother of the pirate apprehended after the rescue of the captain of the M/V Alabama, Abdiwali Abdiqadir Musi, has asked to be flown to New York, where her son is to be arraigned today. Is that proof of my colleague's theory?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Some Thoughts from Secretary Gates

The Secretary of Defense has been making the rounds of the war colleges and is speaking today at the Naval War College. Some of the themes that caught my ear:

--we need to stop thinking about a black and white distinction between "irregular warfare" and "conventional warfare" and start thinking about a spectrum of conflict. Even near-peer competitors of the United States may resort to irregular or assymetric means to counter U.S. advantages. So the U.S. military and national security apparatus has to be able to respond flexibly.

--our defense posture must be rooted in "real world assessments" and take into account U.S. limits. (Shades of Walter Lippmann?)

--you continue to purchase systems that are proven to be first in their class rather than buying things that are based on promising but yet unproven technologies. Listening to this, I was struck by the comparison with the Russian space program, which continues to use tried and true technologies rather than trying to develop new things for the sake of newness. If the Soyuz capsule works, stick with it--and try to modify it if there are new missions before going to the drawing boards for something completely new.

--his take on the military priorities of rising powers: they are not going to bankrupt themselves trying to match the U.S., particularly in trying to compete ship for ship with our navy. So he doesn't expect any arms races a la Britain/Germany prior to World War I. That's the good news. The not so good news: rising powers will concentrate their efforts on finding ways to neutralize U.S. capabilities.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Meetings Don't Make A Strategy

The four new steps the State Department will undertake as part of its counter-piracy initiatives are to hold meetings--with allies, partners, Somalis and industry.

I realize that politicians want to show how they are "doing something" but these meetings should have already been taking place. Why wasn't piracy a front-and-center issue at the NATO summit? Don't we already have quasi-diplomatic contacts with the separatist governments in Somalia (perhaps we don't).

The real challenge begins when the meetings are done. We've already had discussions about increasing the multilateral effort, about more countries prepared to prosecute pirates, about what industry should be doing. What happens if/when others don't step up to the plate? That's the eventuality we need to be planning for.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Trans-Atlantic Relationship: Back on Course?

Pirates are always more interesting than the details of trans-Atlantic diplomacy--and luckily for the president, most initial coverage focused on his favorable reception. The follow-up stories--assessing what was actually achieved--got displaced by the drama occurring off the coast of Africa.

The White House maintained that president Obama's visit was to "plant the seeds" of a better relationship.

My take?

It's not a problem of laying the seeds it is a problem of whether the soil is fertile. The soil becomes fertile when other countries feel that their interests are aligning with those of the United States. The soil becomes more receptive when there is a sense that what the U.S. is proposing is beneficial.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Pirate Week Continues

For those interested:

My contribution to the New York Times forum Capture Pirates on Land and Sea

Some of my colleagues' thoughts as well:

****Derek Reveron discusses the situation with John Munson (NPR)

***Chris Jasparro on piracy and governance

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Additional Thoughts on the Somali Pirate Question

My colleague Derek Reveron poses the question, is the attempted hijacking of the Alabama by Somali pirates a game changer?

As you can see, Derek takes a different tack on some of the questions from me (see the previous T(ex)WR post) ... so good material for discussion.

Somali Piracy Revisited

The status quo in the western Indian Ocean is not sustainable. Over the last four days, Somali pirates have seized French, German, British-Italian and now American-Danish ships. The problem is not just going to "go away."

Some thoughts on possible ways forward.

Monday, April 06, 2009

My Pessimistic Take on the Reset Question

I am still a pessimist on the U.S.-Russia relationship (and here's some of my thinking at the New Atlanticist on the subject. That's great that Presidents Obama and Medvedev had a good meeting, that both seem like pragmatists who want to move forward. But they are both constrained--and those constraints hold back real movement on the relationship.

I cited Fedor Lukyanov's recent op-ed in Gazeta in the NA piece, but elsewhere he also had a good point--which is that right now we have a zero-sum set-up in the Eurasian space.

Any compromise on the former Soviet space is virtually out of the question. Washington will never recognize Moscow's right to a sphere of influence, since this goes against the spirit of American politics. The Kremlin, for its part, will never give up on its claims.

From Russia's perspective, if it doesn't possess a special status on the territory of the former Soviet Union, it will be unable to protect its vital interests in the spheres of security and economy.
So unless one side or the other compromises, there isn't going to be room for common ground--and in turn, that prejudices other initiatives that have been proposed.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The Great April Fool's G-20 Post

Dan Drezner's April Fool's Day post about how the G-20 summit actually made some major breakthroughs is a fun read. However, as James Joyner noted at New Atlanticist, what should we expect? Democratically-elected politicians are going to put the needs of their constituents first.

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