Friday, February 16, 2007
The Merkel Factor
There will be a more substantial report at NI online but my observations.
The main conclusion: that in comparison with the Schroeder goverment, we have with Merkel a "rhetorical difference but substantive continuity." Germany is moving forward trying to define what constitutes its national interest while still holding on to its traditional role as the coordinating country among the nations of the EU as well as the coordinator of the trans-Atlantic tie.
On Russia, the point was made that Russia is a different type of partner for Germany than the United States, and while, as democracies, we may abhor the methods of the Putin government, if the results are to make Russia more stable and predictable, then that is in Germany's interests.
Europe is going through a period of strategic uncertainty because while Merkel has achieved a great deal of stability via her grand coalition the political futures of both France and the UK are now up for grabs. What may emerge in the future--Merkel, Sarkozy, Cameron--is a situation where the U.S. is faced with "skeptical allies"--not reflexively anti-American, but not automatically inclined to trust American judgment.
And Americans have no moral legs to stand on as long as we gulp up the oil from the Saudis and the Venezuelans.
I would be very interested to know what the panel said (if the questions came up) about (1) how far the Germans would be willing to go in Afghanistan if NATO forces come under greater pressure, and (2) whether an escalation of tensions between America and Iran would strain relations within the alliance.
"The most obvious reason the West needs Russia is the latter's abundance of natural resources, which Western governments have for decades assumed would always be at the disposal of their industries. Indeed, Europe has almost learned to take its dependence for granted, relying on its good fortune that, for the past three centuries, the Russian elite has identified itself wholeheartedly with European culture and values. The occasional voices that arose to call for a reorientation eastward to Siberia, or southward to Central Asia, have never been more than marginal political or cultural influences.
"Until today, that is. Now that two-thirds of gross domestic product (GDP) in the world is generated in the Asia-Pacific arena, and European and US elites trumpet their increasing hostility toward Russia's economic and political resurgence, it becomes hard for even such an ardent Europhile as President Vladimir Putin to argue that his country's destiny perforce lies with Europe. Translated into simple geopolitical terms, if the West cannot convince Russia that it deserves a 'special relationship', then over the next two decades China and India, rather than Europe, will become the primary beneficiaries of Russia's resource abundance, and the axis of global political and economic development will shift accordingly.
"The consequences of such shift for the West are not hard to imagine. It would lead to the decline, first of Europe, and then inevitably of Europe's closest ally, the United States. Ultimately, Russia's decision (and it is clearly its to make) to align itself or not with the West will prove decisive in tipping the scales in favor of the long-term prospects of modern Western civilization."
I would be interested in the views of others -- including Nicholas Gvosdev -- as to whether these warnings can simply be discounted, and if so why.
How much did Europe depend on Russia in the twentieth century? I thought the two World Wars and the Cold War blocked most of the trade that developed between 1890 and 1914. Russia's elites have felt themselves to be part of Europe since Peter the Great, but I would characterize the Slavophile alternative as a kind of isolationism, not as an identification with Asia.
China is indeed a natural market for Russia's natural resources. Beijing can supply labor and inexpensive manufactured goods to Russia in exchange. I think there are two questions that Petro's article raises:
The first is whether the North Atlantic will suffer if Russia redirects its resource exports to Asia. I'm not sure how much Russia accounts for overall world supplies. But if pressed, I believe Europe could obtain imports from Canada and Africa to replace Russian oil and gas. It is also possible that shortages could stimulate more efficient technologies.
The second question is whether we will be any less oriented toward Asia and any less a beneficiary of Asia's economic growth. We are probably still going to export food to Asia, and we will continue to import manufactured goods in exchange. It is hard for me to see a zero-sum situation.
Russia supplies over 9 million bpd, of global production of ~85 million bpd. Russia exports over 7 million bpd. Russia is even bigger in natural gas, with fully 27.5% of global reserves. Iran is next with 16%.
But the real kicker is that Russia's present level of exports give her a current account surplus of over $120 billion and a government budget surplus of over 7% of GDP. The foreign debt of the Russian government is about gone, there's a foreign exchange reserve of well over $300 billion.
If push came to shove, they could easily cut way back on energy export volume. The only impacts for them would be:
Dollars/Euros stop piling up so fast.
The price they'd get per unit would go way up.
Their oil/gas reserves would last much longer.
The impact on the rest of us would be, um, harsh.
Bottom line, we need them far more than they need us. Given the amount of nagging and lecturing they get from the West, I'm suprized they still tolerate us.
I think the figures given by 'anonymous' point to some of the problems.
At a anecdotal level: when I was a small child, half a century ago, most of our heating came from coal, and we expected to be chilly in much of the house in winter. These days, the normal expectation in most British homes is to have gas-fired-central heating keeping the whole house warm all the time.
In much of Europe, I think it is fair to say that dependency developed in the late Soviet period, when the USSR was a very reliable supplier. Here in Britain, the North Sea has been an energy cushion, but production there is running down now.
I do have worries that sooner or later we may have some successor to Putin producing a variant of the words of Shakespeare's Shylock:
Shall I bend low and in a bondman's key,
With bated breath and whispering humbleness, Say this;
'Fair sir, you spit on me on Wednesday last;
You spurn'd me such a day; another time
You call'd me dog; and for these courtesies
I'll lend you thus much moneys'?
It really is much more pleasant to do business with people who do not insult you all the time.
Certainly, the problems of reducing dependence on Russian gas may be soluble. But I would happier if I had any confidence that people in London and Washington had thought these matters through before hyping up the anti-Russian rhetoric.
Points taken. What I really meant was longer-term. It would be best for the EU and US to have alternative supplies and if possible to reduce the need for fossil fuels.
I'm not sure it is nagging or insulting to express concerns over such matters as the assassination of a Russian journalist or Russian claims to a sphere of influence to which countries in that sphere do not assent. The more valid question is whether we hold all countries to a common standard, including most especially ourselves. The Russians have a point if that is their point. And I agree that it makes no sense to find fault with others if we are unwilling to reduce our dependence on them.
I am still reflecting on William Pfaff's essay in the New York Review of Books (Feb. 15, 2007)
but there is much in what he says that Americans need to hear.
Hm. Why is a murder case in Russia a matter of concern to the US? We have a number of our own, on which the Russian government rightfully does not intrude. And one wonders who asked Guatemalans whether they wanted to be in the US sphere of influence. And when the Polish government's strategic preferences in 1939 to have nothing to do with the USSR were respected by the West, against the advice of several British military leaders, the results were pretty catastrophic, especially for the Poles. When you get right down to it, Russia has a much greater interest in Eastern Europe than the US does, and sticking BMD facilities in Russia's natural sphere of influence is a needless stick-in-the-eye to Russia.
I would be grateful if you would explain what you mean about Poland in 1939. What did the USSR offer Poland and at what cost?
As for Guatamala, the US had and has no right to dominate the country, and Russia had and has no right to dominate its western neighbors. The problem is that we should have offered to include Russia in any BMD system that covers western Eurasia.
Really. Ii seems to me that when a country adopts an economic policy that causes it to go from births exceeding deaths by 800,000/year to deaths exceeding births by 800,000/year it would be a far bigger story warranting a great deal of attention.
But it isn't.
Instead we get Politikovskaya/Litvinenko coverage, over and over, op-ed after op-ed. It indicates that we really don't actually care whether Russians live or die. Just that they submit.
"I would be grateful if you would explain what you mean about Poland in 1939. What did the USSR offer Poland and at what cost?"
They offered sending an Army into Poland to fight the Germans in the event of a German attack on Poland. The Polish CinC's response to the idea was "With the Germans we lose our independence. With the Russians we lose our soul."
"As for Guatamala, the US had and has no right to dominate the country,"
Yet it does, and will continue to do so.
Merkel is an order-taker when it comes to external affairs - do not expect any bold creative, or otherwise active engagement from her.
WOW - interesting viewpoint - idiot! this is so wrong on many levels. Maybe you should learn a little history before you write your rants.
"Balt" - Latvian writing
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