Monday, February 12, 2007

A Shot Across the Bow in Munich

Just posted this at National Interest online.

Anyone who has been engaged in the Russian-American dialogue for the last six months or so would not have been surprised by the content of President Vladimir Putin’s speech at the Munich Security Conference this past Saturday. What was different was that complaints that have been voiced privately or in public by television commentators were pronounced by the country’s president.

Given the downward course in U.S.-Russia relations over the last two years, that Putin gave this speech is not so earth-shattering. What is more important, in my opinion, is the reaction of what I believe Putin’s intended audience to be—not Washington but European public opinion.

Much of the American response to the speech presumes the existence of a strong, single, integrated Euro-Atlantic security community (Senator McCain’s remarks are a case in point). But last year Charles Kupchan argued in our pages:

The Atlantic order is in the midst of a fundamental transition. The transatlantic discord that has emerged since the late 1990s marks a historical breakpoint, not a temporary aberration. The foundational principles of the Atlantic security order that emerged after World War II have been compromised. American and European interests have diverged, institutionalized cooperation can no longer be taken for granted, and a shared Western identity has attenuated.

What is interesting is the extent to which what Putin said in Munich reflects what is being said among Europeans in general.

An important litmus test for the United States—and for claims being made here in Washington that problems in the trans-Atlantic relationship can be laid solely at the doorstep of the Bush Administration—is the response in the coming days and weeks to what Putin said. Polite disagreement, vehement rejection, studied silence? Even a quick perusal of European-based chat rooms shows the main split among English-speaking Euro-netizens to be between those who agree with Putin’s assessments versus those who argue that Russia’s own less than exemplary record in foreign and domestic policies do not give Putin the moral authority to launch any critique of the actions of the United States—one is much harder pressed to find defenders of American actions.

And as public opinion goes, what impact on what governments do? And here the real test will be Iran. The Russians have concluded that the United States is prepared to act only if it can assemble some sort of coalition that can give the color of legitimacy to any actions that are taken—and that America’s key European partners will need a clear-cut resolution of the United Nations to act, in the absence of some devastating act taken by Iran. By continuing to insist on diplomatic action—and by endorsing the thesis that U.S. unilateralism is a key motivator for states to seek weapons of mass destruction (for defensive rather than offensive purposes), Putin prevents the solidification of a solid Euro-Atlantic position on Iran.

Was Putin trying to speak for a European “silent majority” on Saturday? And will what he put on the record make it more difficult for European states who populations are increasingly skeptical of U.S. intentions to cooperate with Washington’s security agenda?

Time will tell.


We'll be hosting a roundtable this coming Friday at the magazine on "The Merkel Factor" and I'll pose these questions to the visiting experts from the German Council on Foreign Relations.


Putin has articulated what many non-Western people have said before either in public or in private. His statements reflect the concerns of many many states among them Iran, South Africa, India, and others.

That US is de-stablizing the world since 9/11 has been heard from many non-Western quarters - even South Koreans understand US polciy as such.

This is just the start of a global - perhaps haphazard - effort to contain US. Now it is US that is the rogue state.
It would be useful to know if the Russians turned down an invitation to be part of the missile defense now being deployed in eastern Europe, or if the US and NATO declined to invite Russian participation.

In May 2001, Bush invited Russia to join the US in a joint missile defense. One could argue that the invitation was premature, but one could also argue that it was a basis for cooperation that subsequent events are proving more and more urgent.

Our response might be to underline the common interest we have with Russia in defending against missiles (to the extent that such a defense is possible) if Russia opposes more forceful action to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. But that would require us to invite Russian participation.

Some segments of the European public will identify with Putin's speech but very few of them will see Russia as European, and I think governments will pick and choose which elements of popular pressure they will give in to.
Nick, on the points about Iran--saw this in the New Zealand Herald:

The US chief delegate to the IAEA, Gregory Schulte, last week chided Europe.

"Faced by the defiance of Iran's leadership, the European Union and European countries can do more - and should do more - to bolster our common diplomacy," said. "Why, for example, are European Governments using export credits to subsidise exports to Iran? Why, for example, are European Governments not taking more measures to discourage investment and financial transactions?"

This manoeuvering and sermonising has gone down badly in European capitals. Unlike in the US, there are no laws or regulations in Europe barring business with Iran, except where stipulated in the UN resolution.

It also irks Europeans that the US singles them out rather than Russia, one of the architects of the Iranian nuclear programme.

The US measures "have no effect for the European people", French Foreign Ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei said.

"Nobody in Europe is going to give up the opportunity of doing business with Iran just for the sake of pleasing the Americans," said an oil consultant, pointing to the profits that can be made by petroleum majors.

The European position, though, is not monolithic. Britain, predictably, is aligned with the US. Germany, which holds the presidency of the European Union as well as the year-long chair of the G8 nations, wants diplomacy.

Last week, during a visit to Kuwait, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said a "military option" against Iran was out of the question.

France, unlike in the runup to the Iraq War, is demanding firmness but is worried by the US approach.

"We must show Iran that firstly it has more to lose than gain from an enrichment programme that worries the international community, but also that if Iran accepts to respect its international obligations, it has much more to gain that lose," French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said last week.

"We must combine dialogue with firmness in our approach. I think the US and Europe can go further in dialogue and proposals."

Actually claims that problems in the trans-Atlantic relationship can be laid solely on the doorstep of the Bush Administration are realistic and right, whereas solely is a little overstated.

It was the war in Iraq that made energy prices jump. It was the war in Iraq that implied a war for natural resources in the future and the financial markets reacted. Considering the scarcity of natural resources in Western-Europe in proportion to the big EU-economy, the war in Iraq had and has a massive financial effect on EU households. This is also intensified by public frustration with the effects of globalization like outsourcing etc... and the hidden inflation that came with the Euro. Since the catastrophic public picture of George W. Bush, for which his inappropriate rhetoric is responsible, gave the leftist media in Europe the perfect enemy and so all public frustration was concentrated on Bush, in parts of the population resulting in an overall resentful attitude towards the US. Apart from that the leftist media in Germany (in France anyway) was very supportive of the "Berlin-Paris-Moscow-Peking axis" which was due to concerted effort of Chirac, Schröder, Putin and Hu Jin Tao(although Tao not so important). It was an answer to the "coalition of the willing", the bypassing of the UN-security-council and the presented "evidence" in favor of the war in Iraq.

Additionally the jump in energy prises has increased Russian power significantly, logically also Russian influence over the EU. According to the leading expert on Russia from the German Council on Foreign Relations, Alexander Rahr, the EU is totally dependent on Russia and we (Europeans) should reconsider our understanding of EU-Russian relations.

Another polarizing issue in trans-Atlantic relations is (from a west-European standpoint, especially France)unconditional US-support for Israel and a rather uncritical attitude towards Turkey.

As far as Charles Kupchan argumentation goes, he indeed made a point there, however, we have to see that in the future the trans-Atlantic relations will HAVE to improve, simply because of Asian competition. A trans-Atlantic-free trade-agreement and the good job chancellor Merkel does in promoting good relations with Washington will in the end fix the damage that Bush and Schröder ignorantly did to trans-Atlantic relations.

It is really positive that Chirac's and Blair's time is up, Bush is gone soon, so is Putin (I assume) this will make Merkel/Germany the center of gravity in Europe and allow chancellor Merkel to easily implement her "cooperative politics". The policy of the Christian Democrats has always been pro-American, since Adenauer, does not look like they are going to loose power soon.

By the way,... I have to admit Putin is a skilled politician, more precise, a skilled authoritarian politician and his comments were definitely targeted at EU public opinion, whereas I think that his reaction was triggered by US plans to position a missile defence in Eastern Europe. Which is not bad, but not at the moment,...I don't think these plans should have been announced or "updated" before the Iran-issue was resolved.
The idea that Putin really had Iran in mind when speaking in Munich is interesting. To me, it seems too complicated though. What he spoke about was most probably what he cared about, like the NATO's expansion, missile defence, political obstacles for doing business in Europe, and so on. Actually, nuclear America is a much bigger problem for him than nuclear Iran :(.
let me try this again ...

kf--true putin did not have iran in mind but where rubber hits the road is whether europeans in the end agree with his blunt assessment that diplomacy is the way out and us policy is only aggravating the situation or whether they line up for much strong sanctions and even possibility of force being used. so euro leaders can protest all they want how they disagree with putin but in the end result i think they lean to his view on iran not g w bush's.
I see the point but I still have doubts that Iran may be something that really gets Mr. Putin making sensational speaches. The interesting dances that NATO still makes around Ukraine can, that's where he really has stakes.
I mean that if the speaker did not really care about Iran, why should anybody make Iran-related conclusions from this speach?
kf--i agree that putin himself may not have been thinking about iran as his first priority, don't misunderstand me. it is the ramifications of what he said about the us however that would lead his european audience to think about iran where they are being pressured by the us to join washington to pressure iran. so what i am saying is that putin's rhetoric--he may be talking about ukraine, poland, etc.--will resonate with europeans on iran.
I hope Russia help to Iran with S300 and nuclear weapon, if USA put radar in Poland and Czech.
I doubt if Europeans are interested in the intellectual content of the speach, because, first, it is from Russia, and, second, because it is not that original. They simply will not listen. I think it is perceived as a pure signal, and the signal is not about Iran.
Putin may indeed have been targeting E.U. public opinion, but his primary objective, I assert, is, as usual, an attempt to draw fire away from his own regime's irregularities.

Splitting the U.S. and Europe is an old strategy used by, among others, Iraq, Iran, and the U.S.S.R. Sometimes it works. Having said that, while Putin's arguments may resonate at the popular level, he will not be a critical factor in any transatlantic breach, because there's no real likelihood of an E.U.- Russia alliance. The E.U. is, at this point, more sensitive to human rights than the U.S., and Russia less sensitive. Way at the core, the E.U. may consider us reckless, even unintentionally dangerous, but we do not appear to carry Russia's capacity for direct and deliberate acts of malice.

Jordan W. '02
"Way at the core, the E.U. may consider us reckless, even unintentionally dangerous, but we do not appear to carry Russia's capacity for direct and deliberate acts of malice."

Like, for instance, giving up a geopolitical position they paid 27 million lives for, in a war Western Europeans either started or abbetted.
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