Thursday, May 28, 2009

When It Affects Me ...

I found this piece on China's growing irritation with North Korea to be of interest. How Beijing may reorder its strategic priorities based on how Pyongyang's actions affect its key interests is fascinating. Stability on the Korean peninsula/keeping a northern buffer state versus not wanting any hint of Japanese nuclearization and also a greater U.S. seaborne presence (via the PSI)? No North Korean program, and the rationale for the other two responses also evaporates.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Kremlin Reaching to the Past to Inspire the Future

Over the weekend, Vladimir Putin went to the Donskoi monastery to pay homage to some of the luminaries of the "White" movement, laying flowers at the graves of writer Ivan Shmelev, philosopher Ivan Il'in and general Anton Denikin.

In the Spring 2009 issue of Orbis, in a review essay entitled "Russia's Future", I talked about the growing interest in the political philosophy of the White emigres among members of the Kremlin elite, starting with Vladislav Surkov, who in his own essays quotes from Il'in and others.

These White thinkers were not monarchist reactionaries looking to turn back the clock. They accepted that the Bolshevik revolution had happened because of conditions in Russia. What they were interested in was how a post-Soviet Russia of the future might guide itself away from the Soviet past toward a better future.

From the review:
Il’in, for his part, felt that Russia could emerge from the Soviet period by rallying around a “national idea” which, in the words of that leading historian of Russian political thought, S.V. Utechin, could mobilize “chivalrous cadres with will and character, dedicated to the service of the idea of the perfect Russia of the future.” Moreover, this new elite should not waste its time in ideological and philosophical speculation but instead be motivated by a “free and calm patriotic realism” to find a path forward for Russia out of its crises.
Sound familiar?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Can President Obama delivers what he promises?

The president closed his first “hundred days” on an upsurge of optimism. His second “hundred days”, however, has gotten off to a shaky start. The rejection, by Congress, of the funds that would be needed to fulfill Obama’s promise to close the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, sends a disturbing signal around the world that there may be some gaps between what is promised and what will be delivered. Yes, as Congressman Jim Moran told the BBC, the administration failed to provide enough details about its plans to enable some members to assess whether its proposals for dealing with detainees following the closure of the camp were feasible. But what was more striking was that not only opposition Republicans but also Democrats embraced a “not-in-my-backyard” approach to the question. And the legislative defeat suffered by the president makes it that much harder to ask other countries to take back and incarcerate detainees in their own countries.

It also raises new questions about what progress the administration hopes to make in renewed diplomatic efforts with Iran and Russia, in reviving the Middle East peace process, and in starting a new treaty process to deal with climate change if Obama cannot bring around a Congress controlled by his own party to support his initiatives. The “cap and trade” debate on Capitol Hill is being closely watched in other countries to see how legislators are dealing with what will be the thorniest issue in any new climate change negotiation—how to balance the need to reduce emissions with the desire of developing countries, especially India and China—to “catch up” to the economic living standards that a century and a half of unregulated pollution bequeathed to the developed north and west.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Why Priorities Matter

My thoughts today on the different strategies employed to move forward the South Stream and Nabucco lines. My sense is that the roundabout way of connecting the Nabucco dots is a major reason for it lagging behind its Kremlin-backed competitor, even though the resource and political support for Nabucco in theory should be much greater. But power must be focused in order to bring about results.

Monday, May 18, 2009

There's Still a World Without the West ...

The global economic downturn may have taken some of the wind out of the sails of the "world without the West", but it is far from gone.

An interesting reminder ...

Brazil's oil industry is turning to China for cash in the latest sign of how Beijing's clout is growing amid the global economic downturn.

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was set to arrive in Beijing Monday to meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao, who is expected to unleash billions of dollars of credit to help Brazil exploit its massive oil reserves. Brazil will return the favor by guaranteeing oil shipments to Chinese companies.

The nations are being thrust together by the global financial crisis. Brazil's state-controlled oil giant, Petroleo Brasileiro SA, wants to spend $174 billion over the next five years to elevate Brazil into the major leagues of oil-producing nations. With international capital markets on life support, China is among the few remaining sources of cash.

Petrobras, as the company is known, is turning to China at a time when China's appetite for raw materials has lifted economies across commodity-rich Latin America, blunting the impact of the global downturn. In March, China passed the U.S. as Brazil's biggest trade partner.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

I Don't See It

My colleague Jacob Heilbrunn posted an essay earlier this week about the lack of vision from the Republican party on foreign policy. I have no arguments with him there. He then asked hypothetically what would be the likely reaction if/when the Obama Administration improves relations with Russia and Iran? How would Republicans reactto this:
Any modus vivendi, particularly on the issue of nuclear arms, will require patience, but what if Obama ends up next year in Tehran, feted by adoring crowds, much as Richard M. Nixon headed to China?
Problem from my end is I don't see it happening. Not unless there is some major catastrophe in Pakistan that creates a World War II style alliance of convenience (perhaps bringing together Moscow, New Delhi and Tehran together with Washington).

Monday, May 11, 2009

Everyone Loves Multilateralism

Noting that the pirate craze on American media has ebbed once again, I proposed this past Friday the creation of an analog to the Proliferation Security Initiative, the Piracy Security Initiative.

But why should the U.S. take the lead? This seems a perfect task for one of our key allies--perhaps the U.K. along with Japan--to provide both the naval assets as well as the finanical leverage--and then to work with the key maritime powers to put this PSI-2 into effect-perhaps leveraging our ties with Cyprus, which helped to take the lead on the original PSI.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The Listening Phase is Over

And so I argue in my ocntribution to World Politics Review's symposium on the first hundred days of the Obama Administration.

Some of my points:

The problem that the president faces is that he cannot restore trust in America's judgment in the span of a few months. Eight years ago, Charles Krauthammer had noted that U.S. leadership within the international system was sustained because the American-led order provided for "open seas, open trade and open societies lightly defended." In 2009, many countries feel far less secure because of U.S. policies. ... the executive branch of the U.S. government is not the one with the power to act. So President Obama can talk about change, but much of his leverage vis-à-vis the rest of the world is constrained by Congress. And given his ambitious domestic agenda, it's valid to wonder how much political capital his chief of staff will recommend he deploy on foreign affairs.

I conclude: "Obama has succeeded in clearing the decks of the baggage of the past. What remains to be seen is whether he has now positioned his administration to move forward on his foreign policy agenda. On this question, the jury is still out."

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

If Wishes were Fishes ...

The State Department's new "Fact Sheet" on "smart power" contains the following note:
The State Department will be disciplined in evaluating foreign policy choices; weighing the costs and consequences of our action or inaction; gauging the probability of success; and insisting on measurable results.
Rhetorically, it sounds great; but let's see if it actually happens.

Wish fulfillment gone bad is the subject of a short essay I did for The Atlantic Council; we have gotten diversity of routes for energy out of Eurasia--but just not diversity to the West.

Monday, May 04, 2009

The Musharraf Debate

As Pakistan teeters on the brink--and concerns about the security of its nuclear weapons grow--the background question that is being asked:

Was General Musharraf the "dam" which contained the various forces now unleashed in Pakistan (meaning that allowing his government to rupture has released the floodwaters) ...

Or was he the "termite" whose government undermined all the various civil society forces that would otherwise have proven to serve as a firm foundation for a democratic or democratic-leaning government?

The Obama team, when in the Senate, argued the second. It is now interesting to see whether, in cultivating General Kiyani, they may move to the first answer.

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