Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Russian Espionage Caper

Some thoughts over at on the Russian illegals spy case ...

UPDATE: Harlan Ullman offers his perspective, as well as some of the possible scenarios ...

Friday, June 25, 2010

Karzai, McChrystal, Medvedev and Obama

Interested in your thoughts and comments on the following perspectives ...

Does the Karzai as Chiang Kai-Shek comparison work?

My thoughts on the Obama-Medvedev meeting, and what might happen if the economic relationship really does take off ...

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Run-Up to Obama-Medvedev Summit

Some thoughts:

--getting behind the decision not to sell the S-300 system to Iran.

--on what the Russians want.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Deepwater Horizon as Three Mile Island

The theme of my World Politics Review column today ...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

New START and "understandings"

I attended an interesting discussion today at the Nixon Center on whether the "reset" in U.S.-Russia relations is real or a "Potemkin village". It featured commentary from David Kramer, Andranik Migranyan, Dov Zakheim and Dimitri Simes, and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Internatioanl Security Sandy Vershbow was also presented and offered his thoughts.

The part of the discussion I found very interesting was on the question of whether the New START treaty makes a binding linkage between arms control and missile defense. The Russian side, of course, has put forward a unilateral declaration which takes language that appears in the preamble and tries to make that a binding commitment--which could make ratification of the Treaty in the Senate problematic.

The question is whether the U.S. has signaled that any further pursuit of missile defense on the American side will not be directed at eroding the Russian strategic deterrent--and whether any commitments have been made on this point--and how they might be defined. Is any U.S. deployment of a system (or even research) ipso facto an erosion of Russia's strategic capabilities? Missile defense as an issue in the START treaty may not have been completely solved.

UPDATE: Over at the Cable, Josh Rogin reports the official reaction: "Clinton: Reports of limits on U.S. missile defense deployments 'Dead Wrong'."

Monday, June 14, 2010

Border Changes: Not Just for the Balkans

Could Western Europe see a revision of existing boundaries, depending on what happens in Belgium following the elections? The strong showing of the New Flemish Alliance raises the possibility that Belgium might, over time, break apart, particularly because there is no longer a strategic need for a neutral state to separate Germany and France.

Could we end up with a new state of Flanders? And what would happen then to Wallonia?

Found this part of the report in the Christian Science Monitor interesting:

Recent polls in France show two out of every three members of the French public would agree to absorb Wallonia as part of France. Meanwhile, a recent survey in Flanders by the Luxembourg broadcasting group RTL found that 32 percent want independence immediately, 17 percent would accept a "confederation" with Wallonia that is independence in all but name, and 25 percent want greater autonomy in Belgium.

Or would a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation work?

It's not just in eastern Europe that these questions need to be asked.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Aftermath of the Security Council Vote

I argue in today's World Politics Review column that the Obama administration has made gains vis-a-vis Iran and in improving its relations with Russia, but both are fragible and reversible.

My take on sanctions? Much now depends on the strategic assessment made by the Iranian regime. If it feels that the events of the last year have weakened its bases of domestic support, it may decide that continuing to push forward on the nuclear program -- which these new sanctions will now make much more expensive to pursue -- is less important than rebuilding and expanding the conventional capabilities of its military and security forces (to deal with possible new outbreaks of unrest, for instance). Similarly, Tehran might decide to prioritize another round of social welfare benefits to secure the allegiance of the working poor and rural classes who have been the mainstays of support for the Islamic Republic.

In today's National Interest column, I advise against viewing the Security Council vote as a sign of world unity on the subject. In particular, we need to get past the Brazilian and Turkish "no" votes.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Zones of Interest

At a time when U.S. allies are poised to make further cuts in their defense spending, it calls into question American hopes and aspirations for its partners to take on a greater share of the burden in sustaining Washington’s plans for global engagement.

Tufts University professor Daniel Drezner, speaking at the second day of the Naval War College’s Current Strategy Forum, advises the United States to “retrench, revive, and reassure.” The U.S. should pare back on its commitments and engagement, to focus on those areas of the world most vital to American interests, to concentrate on rebuilding its domestic economy, and to retain its overall predominance in the G-20.

But retrench where? (Ambassador R. Nicholas Burns, speaking after Drezner, listed Europe, the Middle East, South Asia and the Pacific Rim, itself still a wide range of territory.)

Asia, the Middle East and Europe were constantly on the agenda here at the CSF. Tellingly, neither Latin America nor Africa received much attention. If the coming years are to be years of strategic retrenchment, it seems that the proposal to redefine the Atlantic community to the south—to concentrate on integrating the human and resource capital of the Western Hemisphere, Europe and West Africa, is likely to receive short shrift.

Is that the right strategic course, however? I worry about expending U.S. energy and effort in playing the “Great Game” in Central Asia—where the rivalries and competing interests of Russia, China, India, Europe and other Asian powers is likely to keep an “open door” in place without direct, first-order U.S. involvement anyway—while continuing to neglect opportunities in our own immediate backyard.

Gaza Aid Package Announced

As expected, part of the new round of diplomatic efforts--an aid package for Gaza. Scrambling of U.S. diplomatic might to move things forward. (Also helps that the UN sanctions resolution passed ... giving the Obama team some breathing room).

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Turning Russia Into a Friend?

At the Naval War College's 2010 Current Strategy Forum, Georgetown professor and CFR fellow Charles A. Kupchan spoke on the subject on transforming former adversaries into future partners and described Russia as "the prize." (A fuller version of this description is up over at the Atlantic Council.)

Can we turn Moscow into a stakeholder in the architecture of the Euro-Atlantic world without simultaneously frightening allies in "New Europe" that they will be abandoned? Can we do the "tap dance,"backing off, for instance, on the extension of Euro-Atlantic institutions into the Eurasian space in return for obtaining greater Russian cooperation on a series of issues that, over time, would see Russia voluntarily aligning more with the West? (Thankfully, the voluntary choice of the current Ukrainian government to abandon aspirations for NATO membership ensures that there will be "breathing room" between Russia and the West, in terms of security.)

Listening to the discussion, I was reminded of the early post-Cold War discussions about bringing Russia into the Atlantic Alliance. If Kupchan refers to his recent Foreign Affairs article proposing Russian membership in NATO as an idea whose time has not yet come, what to see then of Coral Bell's similar proposal, advanced in the Winter 1990/91 issue of The National Interest? Or former undersecretary of defense Fred Ikle's proposal, two decades ago, for a "Russian-American defense community"? ...

If we are now in a better position to begin resolving Russia's final status — and the Obama administration has recently unveiled a new grand agenda — what are the lessons we can draw from Kupchan's work, explored in great detail in his new book How Enemies Becomes Friends?

Two come to mind.

The first is to understand the proper sequencing of how partnerships develop. It is rare for economic integration to precede a political rapprochement (China may be an important exception). The growth in the Russian-American business relationship has not been sufficient to provide the necessary ballast for the political relationship. The diplomats and military officers have to "get the geopolitics right" in order for economic and political ties to have the breathing room to grow and take root.

The second is to be aware of the domestic impediments to engagement. Does an outreach to a former adversary and to a state that in then-Senator Obama's words is currently neither friend nor foe generate opposition that prevents the "mutual exchange of compromises" that builds consensus? Two interesting tests (from the U.S. side) are whether the Senate ratifies the START treaty and the Congress permits a 123 civil nuclear agreement with Russia even in the absence of real progress toward settling the Russian-Georgian conflict, which is what torpedoed the 2008 effort to secure that agreement. From the Russian side, will Moscow abide by its promise to endorse a new sanctions resolution against Iran, despite the trilateral meeting between Vladimir Putin, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan? Is giving the United States — and the Obama administration in particular — a major foreign policy success an important incentive for the Kremlin to cooperate?

The Future of the Navy

Admiral Gary Roughead, the Chief of Naval Operations, opened the 2010 Current Strategy Forum at the Naval War College.

I've discussed his remarks in greater detail over at Global Security, but let me excerpt a few points here:

The CNO foresees a resurgence of the Navy's traditional Cold and post-Cold War role as the vehicle for the projection of a "credible military presence offshore" anywhere in the world. Given the importance of the sea lanes for the global economy, the importance of the oceans for transport and communications ("the internet swims with the fishes"), and the increasing size of the oceans (considering the climactic changes in the Arctic opening up the northern passages), the United States will need to be able to demonstrate it has credible capabilities for ensuring its interests. The U.S. must cross two oceans to reach many of the areas that are vital to U.S. interests, which requires a robust force structure.

The U.S. has the smallest navy since 1916; the fleet shrank during the last period of budget growth; and the increased focus on front-line engagement means assets are being constantly used (and depreciated). In addition, we have new high-technology threats that make control of the seas more problematic, and the industrial base in the U.S. is shrinking. If previously there were 6 major shipbuilding conglomerates, now there are two.

Partnerships help to bridge the gap. He cited Task Force 151 dealing with Somali piracy as an example of growing cooperation (among the U.S., the EU, Malaysia, India, China, Russia, Australia and others) to secure the global commons. He views some of the examples of naval cooperation (antipiracy, disaster response, etc.) as bypassing the political problems that can emerge when countries attempt to coordinate onshore/on land operations.

But the U.S. military will have to rethink its personnel and procurement policies. Programs must meed the needs of the U.S. to secure its interests--and this means that programs that are not delivering required capabilities or at a price that can be afforded must be re-examined (and canceled if necessary).

Finally, U.S. strategists will have to grapple with the question: are we creating and sustaining a naval force sufficient to influence the global order? Does it require the creation of networks and partnerships with other countries--and what capabilities do we need to retain to be able to act alone if necessary?

Friday, June 04, 2010

Colombia, Korea, U.S. and Israel

Results of the election in Colombiademonstrate some of the limits of reporting and polling ...

The Iran sanctions resolution is already postponed, and it looks like the Security Council will be taking up the sinking of the Cheonan. War isn't likely, but best to be prepared ...

My thoughts on where U.S.-Israel relations might be headed ...

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Turkey and the United States

Steven Cook's Foreign Policyessay on Turkey as a "frenemy" of the United States is making the rounds ... Ben Katcher at the Washington Note argues that there are still some significant areas of cooperation.

I've added this comment:

This trend has been noticeable for the last several years, as Turkey emerges as a Eurasian power in its own right. The Gaza flotilla incident should not have been a wake-up call. Ankara and Washington had already clearly diverged in terms of Russia policy; while the U.S. under the Bush administration tried to contain the Russian resurgence in the post-Soviet space, Turkey now has a booming partnership with Moscow. Turkey's outreach in the Balkans has tended less to clash with U.S. interests, but Turkey is a much greater proponent of engagement with Serbia and Ankara sees Serbia as the key to regional development, not the obstacle. And of course Turkey is working to integrate Iran rather than to isolate it.

Washington policymakers, for the most part, have been stuck in 1985, still seeing Turkey as a lonely Western outpost facing the Soviet threat--and there is no returning to that supposed "golden age" of the U.S.-Turkey relationship. Turkey has discovered it has options--and because it wants "zero problems" with neighboring states like Iran and Russia, it is adopting a more pragamtic approach in its foreign policy.

International Law and Treaty Obligations: Gaza Fallout Continued

James Kraska, my colleague here at the Naval War College, offered his thoughts (along with other experts) on the legality of the Gaza blockade.

James Joyner raises some very interesting points about NATO.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Fallout from the Gaza Flotilla

Just collecting some of the different perspectives on the aftermath of the IDF action against the flotilla attempting to create a direct sea link between Gaza and the outside world.

Over at World Politics Review, Judah Grunsteinmakes the following point:

... the assault has once again proven to be an unqualified disaster in terms of the Israeli armed forces' operational reputation. This creates a vicious circle with regard to the emphasis on liberty of action, since the IDF's deterrence is no longer based on its Entebbe-era veneer of Mission Impossible-like efficiency, but rather on the knowledge that the Israeli government is willing to use overwhelming and disproportionate force against all provocations, regardless of their threat level.

Dan Drezner is taking some heat (read the comments section) for making the following observation, the comparison (about their respective international positions) between Israel and North Korea:

Both countries face hostile regional environments. Both countries keep getting referred to the United Nations. And, in the past month, the great power benefactor is finding it more and more difficult to defend their behavior to the rest of the world.

Questions to ponder: what does this do for the Obama administration's efforts for sanctions on Iran? The argument that Iran is violating its international commitments and so should be sanctioned may be much harder to make. Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey's foreign minister, is loudly proclaiming (when it comes to Israel) that "No state is above the law" . First the administration was handed a Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference that focused on Israel's non-declared nuclear program, and now this ...

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