Friday, September 28, 2007

Recovering from (Arab) Spring Fever

The magazine co-sponsored an event today with the Carnegie Endowment, featuring the authors of two pieces looking at the question of democracy and the Middle East--Nathan Brown and Amr Hamzawy, and Suzanne Maloney. Tom Carothers moderated.

Some of the points made during the course of the discussion:

--trying to establish the cause for movement toward reform. How much does U.S. pressure matter? Is there a relationship between the countries pursuing what Brown and Hamzawy term liberal autocratic reform and the fact that many depend on the U.S. for security?

--is there a relationship between the importance of a country for the Arab-Israeli peace process and the willingness of the United States to see Islamist parties take part in elections and governance? (Morocco v. Egypt). Does it also depend on whether the Islamist forces are unified into a single bloc and are the only source of real opposition to the existing regime?

--can a government in the region successfully push back on political reform if it is capable of delivering on socio-economic benefits?

I found the discussion about the distinction between liberalizing "moments" and the need for continuous, sustainable liberalization to be an interesting one, as well as the discussion on whether overt U.S. aid helps or hinders the process of reform and liberalization (particularly with regards to Iran). I realize that this is an insufficient summary but expect that there should be further reporting on the event.

Two Quotes for the Day

Just posting two quotes from works written a few years back that are interesting for what they have to say about current events.

Authoritarian modernization for Russia? Robert D. Kaplan, back in 1993's Balkan Ghosts, wrote, "Whoever was to lead Russia out of chaos must be an Ataturk ..."

Measuring success for NATO in Kosovo? Misha Glenny concluded his 2000 work The Balkans with this note: "The NATO campaign can hardly claim either a moral or political victory if its sole achievement is the explusion of Milosevic's Serbia from Kosvoo. If the greatest military machine in history is unable to impose law and order in a small province, one cannot help wondering what the future holds ..."

Thursday, September 27, 2007

More on the Olympics Question

I asked Drew Thompson for his thoughts on the question I posed in the last entry about China's desire for a "good Olympics" as a means of leverage, and he noted:

"The Chinese were caught by surprise by advertisements and op-eds linking Darfur to the Olympics in major papers, even though US academics have been warning them about it for some time. The real connundrum is that China's stance on Darfur shifted, and it is tempting to link the pressure with the policy outcome. Myanmar might be very different from Sudan.

"If the situation in Myanmar deteriorates further and violence ensues on a larger, systematic scale, the Chinese government will be vulnerable to accusations that it has protected and supported a rogue regime. And it bears reminding that the 1988 demonstrations in Burma that were so brutally suppressed is known as the "8888 uprising," standing for August 8, 1988, which is the day the students took to the streets. The opening ceremony in Beijing will occur is twenty years to the day from the start of the protests in Rangoon."

Myanmar/Burma and the Olympics Question

Slate included TWR coverage in its roundup on Burmese Rage.

My colleague Drew Thompson writes in today's Financial Times:

The British and Chinese have used diplomatic channels. US president George W. Bush announced financial sanctions against the junta members and their families. India, eager to play a greater regional role, and China, heavily invested in Burma and mindful of its image prior to the Olympics next year, will both be under intense pressure to demonstrate their opposition to any violent resolution. However, it is unrealistic to expect the Chinese government to force a peaceful resolution, as it can only exploit its good political and economic relations so far.

He's not optimistic either that you could have an easy transition should the junta fall.

The situation is of course frustrating for many people but it also shows the limits of what the U.S. can do with a regime that has already isolated itself to a great degree and whose major trading partners are disinclined to take drastic action.

On a separate note, there is another question I'd like to explore--how often we can play the "Olympic card." It has become axiomatic that, in the run-up to the 2008 Olympics, China is eager to burnish its international image. Already, Olympics-related pressure is said to have induced a change in policy toward Sudan. There are those arguing that China is less likely to threaten Taiwan in the next several months so as not to have any incidents--which may embolden pro-independence forces. Now you have commentators arguing that China will have to do more in Burma. My question is at what point does Beijing decide, enough? At what point can foreigners continue to play the Olympics card, threatening boycotts or withdrawals if China doesn't do something on X issue? Something to consider ...

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Myanmar: Indian and Chinese Dilemmas

Some commentary:

B. Raman, director of the Institute for Topical Studies, writes:

Rightly or wrongly, the international community is convinced that only China and India, which have been following a policy of active engagement with the junta, despite its ruthless suppression of its people, are in a position to moderate the behaviour of the Junta. But neither country is currently inclined to do so.

Their policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries is cited as the ostensible reason for their reluctance to exercise pressure on the junta. A more important reason is their perception of the importance of Myanmar for their respective national security. Interest in Myanmar's oil and gas reserves for meeting their growing energy requirements is one reason.

For India, another reason is the likely benefits of Myanmar's co-operation in dealing with the insurgencies in the North-East. An additional reason for China is Myanmar as a gateway to the Indian Ocean and as a potential energy route for reducing its dependence on the Malacca Strait for the movement of its energy supplies from West Asia and Africa. While pursuing their respective economic and security interests, the two countries have been keeping a wary eye on each other in order to see that one does not make a strategic headway at the expense of the other.

What is interesting is that Raman concludes that "India and China should enter into mutual consultations as to how the two, working together and with the international community, could bring about an end of the repressive policies of the junta. Given the kind of junta Myanmar has, their initiative may fail, but that is not a valid argument for not trying."

There is an ongoing debate now in India about what should be done about Myanmar. A leading human rights lawyer, Nandita Haksar, was quoted by the BBC, ""We cannot have democracy at home and support military tyrants in the neighbourhood. India must do all it can for the restoration of democracy in Burma."

Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee, however, has noted: "We have strategic and economic interests to protect in Burma. It is up to the Burmese people to struggle for democracy, it is their issue."

Meanwhile, there are reports that China is making contigency plans if the junta should fall, while also seeing whether they can induce the ruling group to make reforms. It is telling that Foreign Ministry spokesman Jiang Yu said that, "As a friendly neighboring country of Myanmar, China hopes to see stability and economic development.''

The West has little leverage over developments. It is really going to be how China and India react to developments on the ground in Myanmar that will have a more decisive impact.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

NATO Debate Continuing ... and Russia too

Andreas Beckmannweighs in on my arguments as to why globalizing NATO may not be a good idea. He also makes an excellent point:

What made collective defense credible despite the hollow Art. 5 clause was the policy of basing foreign troops in the likely theater of war: in West Germany, the North Atlantic, and the Mediterranean. Only like that, an attack would have drawn the UK, France, Canada, and, above all, the U.S. almost automatically into military activities: Such an attack would physically have been an attack against NATO forces. The fact that only foreign basing turns Art. 5 into a kind of “guarantee” is behind the desire of NATOs new CEE members to have U.S. troops stationed on their territory - and the reason for Russia’s fierce resistance to that.

I also wanted to press Dominique Moisi a bit more on his vision for France's foreign policy under Sarkozy--particularly what weighting/priority would be assigned to the trans-Atlantic versus European dimensions.

On Russia, Lee Hamilton takes a view that may not have been welcomed by some of the participants at the Prague Europeum conference last week. Hamilton writes against those he sees as advocating a confrontational approach to Russia and says, "These opponents would prefer that disputes form the basis of U.S.-Russian relations -- an unstable foundation, upon which sustainable cooperation, peace and security cannot be built. But the proper approach is to recognize these differences, not ignore them, and fully engage Russia. It is doubtful we can solve many problems in the world without Russian help. ...
Pursuing such an outcome reflects a view toward Russia unchanged since 1991, when America saw a dethroned superpower, bested by the United States, condemned to a minor role on the international stage. This was and is a misguided view."

Monday, September 24, 2007

New Government in Russia

The changes announced today seem to be driven by two objectives.

One, as we saw with changes in the run-up to the 2003/04 elections, is to dismiss "scapegoat" ministers (in this case, Health Minister Sergei Zurabov and Vladimir Yakovlev, in charge of regional development) seen as having been ineffective in dealing with social issues. German Gref, dismissed as minister of the economy, might also be seen as a "scapegoat" for his role in curtailing social benefits, but his replacement by his deputy Elvira Nabiulina and the elevation of finance minister Alexei Kudrin to a deputy prime ministership are also indications that economic policy will remain unchanged.

The second is to ensure policy continuity around Putin's stated objective of furthering economic growth. Some have interpreted the promotion of Kudrin's deputy Tatyana Golikova to be the new health minister as a sign that, along with Nabiulina's promotion, there will be no major shifts in Russian policy.

One of the possible presidential successors, Dimitri Kozak, Putin's presidential envoy to the southern region of Russia, was returned to the cabinet, and given the regional development portfolio in the government, with expanded authority (with some transfer of responsibilities from the economics portfolio).

My interpretation? This is a temporary government for now, meant to keep the ship of state on an even keel in the run-up to the preisdential elections--but that this is not the final cabinet to be expected.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Two Responses: NATO and 1975

James Poulos comments on the growing negative reaction to the Giuliani proposal to transform NATO into a global alliance. Meanwhile, Christoph Schwegmann responds to my essay over the Atlantic Community. I reply (in part) that "So far, I can’t find any evidence of countries in the Asia-Pacific region that American politicians have identified as being part of a Global NATO showing much interest in the project. Most of them—Japan, South Korea or Australia, for instance, already have a bilateral security guarantee with the United States that I believe they would prefer to retain rather than rely on a more ambiguous Article 5 guarantee from a cluster of states."

Devin Stewart asks whether we are repeating history in his post Is it 1975?? I think that there are some elements but that in contrast to 1975 when we gave ground to another superpower bent on global hegemony what is happening now is that other powers are looking to create a greater degree of breathing room from the United States.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Keeping NATO Regional

The Atlantic Community published my essay today arguing against the proposal for turning NATO global. I have also added this comment:

If I could update my own piece, based on several days of meetings in Prague as well as some of the sentiments expressed at a conference today (co-sponsored by Europeum, the Prague Security Studies Institute, the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, and the American Center):

Difficulties in getting the NATO Rapid Reaction Force off the ground point to the immense challenges facing the alliance. I would argue that most Europeans (and for that matter Americans) favor NATO because of the defined nature of its missions and requirements, and the vaguer and more global they become, the less likely they are to retain public support. And here one must not only address structural questions, but also political ones. One official here told me that the public is already skeptical about why forces are deployed so far from Europe, whether in Afghanistan or Congo.

I think that there also remains a major gap between the idea of expansion in an abstract sense versus accepting the obligations. So far, the assumption is that expansion has been largely cost-free (and it is true that expenditures related to expansion have been far lower) and that new members are unlikely to be net consumers of security (for Central Europe, for example, the likelihood of a revived military threat from Russia remains quite low). But it seems most Europeans want to limit the discussion of the next growth of NATO to "completing" and rounding out the greater European security sphere (the rest of the Balkans, the Black Sea basin), rather than reaching out to still quite dangerous and unpredictable parts of the world, such as South Asia or the Far East.

For their part, Americans seem unwilling to contemplate creating a new global alliance with a different treaty and with separate assets and still remain committed to transforming NATO.

It's clear that far more frank and focused discussions are going to be required.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Pakistani Dilemma

I was asked to give a talk today at Radion Free Europe/Radio Liberty at their Prague headquarters on the theme, "U.S. Realism and Russian Democracy." It outlining my theses, I first made reference to the "democracy paradox", a concept many readers are already familiar with.

I realize now that as I was unveiling my second point, which I entitled "The Pakistani Dilemma", word of Osama Bin Laden's declaration of war against Pakistan's president Pervez Musharraf was beginning to circle around the globe, giving this particular section of my talk its piquancy.

In the context of Russia--and drawing on the example of Pakistan, the "Pakistani Dilemma" faced by Washington is the realization that even when there is profound dissatisfaction with the cooperation one has received on issues of prime importance to the United States (combined with concerns about the erosion of democratic freedoms), the United States is loath to risk bringing about political change not only for fears of destabilization (and it is hard to see how U.S. interests would be served by weak governments in either state) but that what might emerge in place of the toppled or weakened regime will either be unable or unwilling to cooperate with America's concerns.

There are many valid criticism of the governments of Vladimir Putin and Pervez Musharraf both for what they have done domestically as well as their external policies. Both have been "imperfect partners" from the U.S. perspective, where one can point to a gap between cooperation received and what could still be offerred. But those who have said American interests (and not just values) would be better served by increasing pressure on Russia or Pakistan need to be able to produce more than just hope as a basis for assuming things would get better. The first goal for policy must not be "we are trying to make things better" but rather "we are working to ensure things don't get worse."

We can't put all of eggs into one basket in Pakistan, that is very true, and one of the key lessons learned from post-Soviet Russia is not to favor personalities over process. Having said that, however, we also need to ask whether another Pakistani leader would do the same things Musharraf has done in terms of trying to contain Al-Qaeda in Pakistan (and perhaps here we should be realistically, as one Indian official told me, and to work toward a realistically goal of prophylatic containment rather than assuming eradication is feasible in the short run); moreover, would another Pakistani leader be in the same position to try and maintain dialogue with India, even if there have been no dramatic breakthroughs as of yet?

Today's warning is a reminder about not needlessly upsetting the apple cart.

First Thoughts on Missile Defense (from Prague)

When I left the Foreign Ministry this afternoon, I saw a building on the square displaying a large banner saying "I'm for" and displaying a hand giving the v-for-victory sign with two rockets at the end of the fingers.

Should the Czech Republic host the radar components of a limited missile defense system designed to protect most of Europe from the possibility of a ballistic missile launch from Iran or another "rogue" state? This is one of the key foreign policy questions in terms of Prague's bilateral relationship with the United States.

Popular opposition to the proposal puts forward a variety of arguments; missile defense won't work; it will bring unwelcome attention to the Czech Republic; it will complicate Prague's relations with those European states that oppose the system as well as with Russia.

Within those in government and the legislature, the proposal does seem to enjoy a good deal of support across the board, but even here there are concerns. Some argue that the system needs to become a truly trans-Atlantic endeavor, perhaps even part of NATO. Others are concerned about a continued U.S. propensity to cherry-pick (my term, not theirs) among different European countries to advance its wishes rather than seeking a consensus approach that might require compromise.

And there are also concerns about U.S. steadfastness. Will Washington see this project through to the finish? Is there a bipartisan consensus behind this proposal among all major presidential candidates, so that there isn't an announcement in January 2009 that the system is now "under review" and possibly subject to cancellation?

Just some very short observations, which is just a taste of some of the opinions I have heard.

Media Observations

Just a snapshot comparison of stories being covered on four different international news networks this morning when I turned on the television--

Al-Jazeera: lead-in for a documentary they are doing on Guantanamo Bay
BBC: whether economic problems in Asia could have a negative impact on the U.S. economy and thus create a global slowdown in 2008
Russia Today: a discussion on the new proposals of the European Commission for regulating the energy markets and limiting non-European companies from what assets they can control
CNN: was OJ Simpson framed in Las Vegas

Yes, perhaps unfair (Russia Today later had a segment on bulletproof vests for dogs, Al-Jazeera focused on a music festival, and the BBC also mentioned the OJ Simpson story), but it also points to another trend: the U.S. has no monopoly on the global transit of information in English nor do the U.S. channels automatically get to determine the direction a story can take, as say CNN could do in 1991.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Worried and Reassured on NATO

Keeping the trans-Atlantic relationship strong and healthy is a key foreign policy priority for the Czech republic. However, I fear that in recent years a certain degree of erasing of the landmarks has been taking place.

In the past, NATO had very clear and defined geographic and mission limits. It performed a more limited number of tasks than perhaps some people felt it should--but it completed them well. There was also an implicit bargain: NATO membership did not commit a state to absolute and total support of all U.S. policy priorities, but at the same time there was to be genuine burden-sharing in ensuring protection and stability for what remains a key region of the world. So growing U.S. involvement, say, in Vietnam during the 1960s did not cause alliance members to conclude that sooner or later they would be drawn into that conflict.

That understanding has been eroding in recent years. The expansion of NATO's area of operations to include more of the greater Middle East; the addition of new peace and stabilization missions; even a view of NATO not as a collective security organization but as the armed face of the world's democracies--have all made it harder for everyone to determine when NATO obligations are or are not being met.

So take the question of Iran. Is the threat that is said to be posed to the world by Iran's move to acquire the capabilities that would facilitate a nuclear break-out something that NATO as the alliance should be concerned about? If so, should policy be set by the alliance as a whole, with the U.S. certainly as primus inter pares, but not able to insist on a specific course of action largely opposed by other members?

I see the seeds of dual frustration--an American complaint that other NATO states are shirking the burden of the alliance; other states complaining that the U.S. takes the attitude of "when the avalanche has started, it is too late for the pebbles to vote" in terms of how it approaches consultations with its partners.

These are just some first impressions. I might also note that the missile defense issue (basing radars in the Czech republic) is the front and center issue. I'll try to devote a more substantial post to the ongoing debates.

The Kouchner Gambit?

One question that has come up repeatedly during my first day here in Prague--which included a nearly two hour session with key members of parliament's foreign affairs committee and a conversation on foreign policy issues broadcast by CT24, Czech televsion's news channel, is what to make of Bernard Kouchner's statements on Iran and missile defense.

First, he warns that diplomacy may not work in putting a stop to Iran's nuclear ambitions and that the West may need to be prepared to use force. Then, he argues that a proposed missile defense system for Europe that is meant to serve, in theory, as a safety net to lessen the threat from Iran that he has just focused so much attention on is but a U.S. provocation against Russia.

So what to make of it?

I proposed that France may be trying to insert itself as the "indispensable mediator" between Russia and the United States, reaching out to Russia in the name of a larger European security project but also emphasizing to Washington that France remains a key component of the Euro-Atlantic community. The Bush Administration was certainly pleased with Kouchner's remarks on Iran, but President Putin also had reason to be satisfied with Kouchner's approach, especially since the second session of the Russo-American consultations aimed to find a common position on missile defense issues has ended in deadlock.

Is France also trying to send signals--first to Tehran that its strategy of waiting out the clock on the Bush Administration to January 2009 is risky, and to other European states and Russia that if they don't begin to develop a more credible diplomatic "stick" then the military option returns to the table? Are Kouchner's comments in Moscow meant to convey in no uncertain terms to Washington that keeping pressure on Iran is the goal, not trying to develop a possible hedge against Russia using missile defense?

Nicolas Sarkozy has made clear that he considers himself a friend of the United States but not a blind follower. If France can broker arrangements on Iran, Kosovo and missile defense that are workable compromises between U.S. and Russian positions, how will the administration react? The Czechs are certainly interested in this question, as I assume other Europeans are too.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Off to Prague

I will be leaving to Prague, in part to attend and speak at a conference on Europe and its eastern neighbors (especially Russia). It should be interesting because some of the ground touched on by Secretary Gates yesterday and that has been an ongoing theme of discussion over at the Atlantic Community is going to be covered at this event. I'll be blogged from Central Europe for the rest of the week.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Gates: A Realist View of Democracy Promotion

Passing along some remarks made by the Defense Secretary today at the World Forum on the Future of Democracy in Williamsburg, VA. (Readers of TWR may want to compare to former Secretary of State Jim Baker's comments on the subject in his recent TNI essay.)

The Secretary said:

How should we incorporate America’s democratic ideals and aspirations into our relations with the rest of the world? And in particular, when to, and whether to try to change the way other nations govern themselves? Should America’s mission be to make the world “safe for democracy,” as Woodrow Wilson said, or, in the words of John Quincy Adams, should America be “the well-wisher of freedom and independence of all” but the “champion and vindicator only of our own”? ...

In short, from our earliest days, America’s leaders have struggled with “realistic” versus “idealistic” approaches to the international challenges facing us. The most successful leaders, starting with Washington, have steadfastly encouraged the spread of liberty, democracy, and human rights. At the same time, however, they have fashioned policies blending different approaches with different emphases in different places and different times.

Over the last century, we have allied with tyrants to defeat other tyrants. We have sustained diplomatic relations with governments even as we supported those attempting their overthrow.

We have at times made human rights the centerpiece of our national strategy even as we did business with some of the worst violators of human rights. We have worked with authoritarian governments to advance our own security interests even while urging them to reform. ...

Americans have never been a patient people. Today, we look at Russia, China, Afghanistan, Iraq, and others – and wonder at their excruciatingly slow progress toward democratic institutions and the rule of law.

The eminent French historian Helene Carrere d’Encausse wrote in 1992: “Reforms, when they go against the political traditions of the centuries, cannot be imposed in a hurry merely by enshrining them in the law. It takes time, and generally they are accompanied by violence.” She added: “Reforms that challenge centuries of social relations based on . . . the exclusion of the majority of society from the political process, are too profound to be readily accepted by those who have to pay the price of reform, even if they are seen to be indispensible. Reforms need time to develop . . . It is this time that reformers have often lacked.”

For more than 60 years, from Germany and Japan to South Korea, the Balkans, Haiti, Afghanistan, and Iraq, we and our allies have provided reformers – those who seek a free and democratic society – with time for their efforts to take hold. We must be realists and recognize that the institutions that underpin an enduring free society can only take root over time.

___ [End of the excerpts taken from the Secretary's remarks]

The conclusions that the Secretary draws from this in terms of policy prescriptions, however, may be subject to debate by others who view themselves as being part of the realist continuum, particularly with regard to Iraq.

I will close with one more excerpt that I think also stands as a challenge, implicitly, to those who glibly talk about a global concert of democracies: the future of Afghanistan. The Secretary noted:

"Afghanistan is, in a very real sense, a litmus test of whether an alliance of advanced democracies can still make sacrifices and meet commitments to advance democracy. It would be a mark of shame on all of us if an alliance built on the foundation of democratic values were to falter at the very moment that it tries to lay that foundation for democracy elsewhere – especially in a mission that is crucial to our own security."

Germany's Egon Bahr takes a much different tack, writing recently why Europe must say no to a "global" NATO. I would be curious to see whether Gates' speech provokes a reaction in Europe along the lines of what Bahr wrote, that such proposals are designed to bring about "a new NATO, in which members are obligated to support the United States in achieving its global objectives."

While You Were Sleeping ... China, Putin, Blackwater

Some things that happened this weekend.

The city of Shanghai held its largest air raid drill since the end of World War II and the Chinese civil war on Saturday. Most city residents, of course, ignored it, but the test of the system was meant to send a signal, I believe, that the leadership in Beijing still sees the possibility for a conflict, even a dust-up, with Taiwan.

And after years of taking U.S. protection for granted, Taiwan seems to be starting to "gird its own loins", proposing a more than 16 percent increase in defense spending for 2008 (to cover approximately twenty percent of total state expenditures).

President Putin praised the resume and qualifications of his pick for prime minister Zubkov, heightening speculation that he is the chosen one (I'm still skeptical) and reportedly dropped a bombshell, identifying communist leader Zyuganov and liberal politician Yavlinsky as possible capable successors. I think that what Putin said or meant to say is that they will prove to be effective candidates for the office, a type of Mexican-style (pre-Fox) "endorsement" of other candidates meant to show the legitimacy of the electoral process, in which challengers waged a good campaign and then were expected to lose.

With private contractors providing some 30,000 personnel in service in Iraq, the weekend firefight between insurgents and Blackwater employees (leading to the Iraqi government pulling Blackwater's authorization to operate in the country) raises the question as to whether or not private contractors will become preferred targets in forthcoming weeks (as opposed to formal U.S. forces). It also further opens up the possibility of a growing rift between an Iraqi government that wants to assert its rights and rising sentiment in the U.S. that the Al-Maliki government needs to go.

It also may foreclose what might have been a real option for the U.S.--to draw down official U.S. forces, beginning a withdrawal of sorts--but being able to supplement those forces with additional private contractors (since contractors being wounded and killed doesn't seem to create as much of a political issue here).

Friday, September 14, 2007

More on Great Powers

Some further thoughts from today's conference:

One of the interesting trains of thought is whether attempts by developed countries to find ways to restrict sovereignty and to interfere in what previously would have been viewed as the domestic affairs of a state are in fact ways to limit or inhibit the rise of new powers. Certainly questions will be raised on any new international regulations dealing with climate change.

It also means that rising powers that are also democracies are faced with a particular challenge. Accepting the idea that other states can interfere in your internal affairs if you are dictatorial might appeal--and so working with other democracies; but you may also resist what you see as an effort by dominant states to stack the rules in their favor and so become stringent defenders of sovereignty.

Brazil, India and South Africa all must face this dilemma.

What Makes A Power Great?

I'm attending the Worldviews of Major and Aspiring Powers: Exploring National Identitiesconference today. I'm intrigued so far by some of the points raised in discussion. Are robust military capabilities still really considered to be the mark of a great power--the ability to intervene or project power? Or is "great power" status defined by a country's ability to shape a regional or global agenda or to transform a region? This has obvious implications for the conversation in the first session, which dealt with Europe, the United States and Japan.

More to come.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Confused on Iraq

So what was the purpose of the hearings this week? I know the president will give a speech tonight on Iraq policy, but what conclusions are we drawing? I realize that by July 2008 we will have drawn down force levels back to what they were before the surge started, in other words, back to square one. Are we going to have a plan C (Amitai Etzioni's "plan Z" deals with devolution) where we abandon an Iraqi government unable or unwilling to meet our requirements and move to a prophylatic approach to sealing off the country?

I read about new amendments being proposed and all sorts of plans but can't say I feel particularly enlightened.

Zubkov: The Placeholder Theory

I've been reminded by one of my readers that I should not rule out a scenario that is drawn from the analogy I often make between Putin's Russia and the set-up of the PRI in Mexico.

A little history. Plutarco Elias Calles, unable to run again for president of Mexico, made himself the Minister of War (no term limits) and got recognition from all the factions to be Mexico's "political chief". He then from behind the scenes ruled through a series of presidents--Emilio Portes Gil, Pascual Ortiz Rubio, and Abelardo Rodríguez--all of whom would serve for a time, and then resign.

So, if Zubkov Putin's version of Emilio Gil?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Zubkov is In


Vladimir Putin has nominated Viktor Zubkov, head of the agency that investigates financial crimes, to serve as prime minister.

It's difficult to see Zubkov as being the designated "heir" to become president. It is important to note that if one looks at the last years of the second term of the Yeltsin Administration, a series of prime ministers were appointed, in part to keep the political establishment off balance.

This also gives some "breathing room" if the overall succession issue has not been settled by having another technocratic prime minister in place for the next several months, while negotations would continue over how power would be distributed. Remember, the lesson many in the Russian elite learned from the Orange Revolution of 2004 in Ukraine was that when the elite is divided and cannot reach consensus, the system becomes destabilized.

I assume many would consider Zubkov part of the extended "Petersburg" group, given that he is a 1965 graduate of the Leningrad Agricultural Institute and worked for many years in different positions in the Leningrad Communist Party apparatus. He served in the St. Petersburg mayoral administration (deputy chair of the external affairs committee) when Putin was vice-mayor under Anatoly Sobchak. After leaving the mayor's administration in 1993 he moved over to the Tax Inspectorate and has held various positions for both the St Petersburg region, the Northwest region and in the federal government, and held cabinet-level rank in the government under both Prime MInister Kasyanov and then Prime Minister Fradkov.

Those who look for increasing family ties as a sign of the development of a new political oligarcy might take note of the fact that Zubkov's daughter is married to the curretn defense minister, Anatoly Serdyukov.

A Day for Resignations: Abe

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also handed in his resignation today, conceding defeat after the electoral lossess suffered by the Liberal Democrats back in July. Current LDP Secretary-General Taro Aso will succeed him.

Abe's departure means that Japan's course toward "normalization"--being able to exercise the full range of military options available to other countries that are Japan's peers--is still uncertain. Abe's departure may create conditions for the Japanese Diet (Kokkai) to pass legislation extending the ability of Japan's navy to take part in resupply/refueling operations in the Indian Ocean in support of ongoing operations in Afghanistan--something that was being held up by the opposition.

But Abe's departure means that it is unlikely that his successors as prime minister will be as forceful as he was in articulating a 21st century path for Japan's "normalization" and will again raise concerns about the apparent lack of stability in terms of producing prime ministers that can serve for long terms.

Fradkov Resigns, Right on Schedule!

As expected, six months prior to Russia's 2008 presidential elections, Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov has resigned his position. Fradkov, a technocratic figure who was expected to keep the government's trains running on time, was never expected to succeed Vladimir Putin as president of the country, and it was widely expected that he would be asked to step down in order to allow a possible presidential successor to Putin to, in effect, be anointed.

Usually when a prime minister resigns, there is an overall shakeup in the cabinet. This is why a number of Moscow sources are predicting that we will see movement around a number of key figures--the two deputy prime ministers and "front-runners" for 2008--Sergei Ivanov and Dimitri Medvedev; another deputy prime minister, Sergei Naryshkin; the head of Russian Railways, Vladimir Yakunin; and the head of the powerful defense conglomerate Rosoboronexport. Of particular interest will be whether or not the current Minister for Natural Resources, Yuri Trutnev, will step down--since his ministry is the key in terms of awarding lucrative mining and exploration licenses and will be in charge of implementing the legislation restricting foreign ownership of and participation in Russia's natural resource sectors.

Given constant rumors that one of the "bargains" for ensuring a smooth succession in 2008 is the reconfiguration of the governemnt to award key ministries to different political and economic groupings in advance of the presidential elections, with the Cabinet then in essence being "frozen" for the new president, at least until 2010, the question of presidential succession may be on the verge of being resolved.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Shanghaied on the Caspian

Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev outlined likely and possible new export routes for Central Asian hydrocarbons.
Assuming that the list reflects preferred order, not exactly a ringing endorsement for U.S. interests in containing Russian influence, keeping Iran bottled up and frustrating efforts to create some sort of Shanghai Cooperation Organization-based group of buyers and sellers.

Nazarbayev said:

"One route is from Turkmenistan via Kazkhstan to Russia. Another route is to China, a third route is via Iran to the Persian Gulf. And we don't exclude using the Caspian as a transport corridor."

In other words, the preferred American route is not excluded--not really a ringing endorsement.

The James Baker Disconnect?

Last night, former Secretary of State James Baker spoke at a small gathering at Citronelle at a National Interest dinner to discuss his recent essay in the magazine. To encourage a free and frank discussion between Baker and his audience, including several members of the Senate, the proceedings were off the record--and this allowed for genuine exchange.

My dinner companions and I, however, were struck how the 2008 presidential campaigns seem unable or unwilling to engage in the type of frank, pragmatic discussion we were hearing, and why Baker's "Ten Maxims" which seem pretty common sense provoke such a strong reaction that somehow this is striking at core American values. (This continues a discussion I started on this theme from last month.) I don't know how to explain it. Is it really a product of post-Cold War euphoria about the "handcuffs coming off" of American foreign policy that leads to that type of reaction?

Monday, September 10, 2007

See You in Six Months ...

My first impression after reviewing today's testimony on the Hill from General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. Nothing unexpected, nothing dramatic, and, as Michael Abramowitz from the Washington Post aptly described it, an exercise in "kicking the can" down the road. Avoidance of saying that Iraqis have failed to meet benchmarks in favor of finding the good points to highlight; the sense that aw shucks the military and the diplomats are just trying to implement strategy, not craft the policy (isn't that your job here in Washington, anyway)?

All summer we were told that this was going to be a defining moment in the Iraq debate; now I assume we'll be waiting for the presidential primaries and for March 2008.

Lantos on Afghanistan at the Petraeus Hearings?

Reading through some of the rapid-reaction transcripts that have been going up on the hearings in the House featuring Gen. Petraeus and Amb. Crocker--did I see this correctly? Congressman Tom Lantos saying that U.S. support for the Islamist mujahideen in Afghanistan during the 1980s was "short-sighted"?

A fascinating admission--if only in hindsight--because it proves a point realists often make--that sometimes when you are faced with bad situations and alternatives other options might prove to be even worse.

But even after 9/11 it was very difficult to find many people who would suggest that that aid to the forces fighting the Soviets during the 1980s--or to be fair--our willingness to delegate that to Saudis who ensured that the lion's share of aid went to groups of their choosing--might have had negative ramifications for the United States in the long run.

With everyone so focused on what is being said on Iraq I am sure this point--if the transcript is accurate--will be lost, but interesting nonetheless.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Predictable Petraeus

So we are seeing the expected script from General Petraeus on developments in Iraq--the "mixed" message (progress is uneven and success is elusive but we are on the right track and need to continue).

Back in June, I had said:

My sense is that when General Petraeus releases his report, he will note that when resources and attention have been focused on an area in a sustained way, you can see signs of progress--but then recommend that the U.S. maintain or increase its commitments for the next two to three years--something I think is politically unsustainable in the U.S.

These are some of the comments the general said today:

--that he has the "sense that we have achieved tactical momentum and wrestled the initiative from the enemy in a number of areas."

"The result has been progress in the security arena, although it has, as you know, been uneven. We are a long way from the goal line but we do have the ball and we are driving down field."

He went on to say:

--"the progress has not, to be sure, been uniform across Baghdad or across Iraq ..."

"However, the overall trajectory has been encouraging, especially when compared to the situation at the height of the sectarian violence in late 2006 and early 2007."

So, something for everybody. What is important is that if this is the message we continue to hear next week, the general is giving the politicians no cover. Those who want to withdraw will hear that there has been progress; those who argue for staying will be confronted with an assessment that says all is not rosy and that there are real problems (and the related report coming out from the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq makes it clear that sectarian and ethnic violence is on the rise including in the areas now being vacated by the British)--so no 2008 victory for pro-war politicians to run on either.

More to come this week.

Thinking about Rules ...

Finally, to close out the week.

This Wednesday I was in New York and dropped by the presentation at the Carnegie Council for Ethics and International Affairs given by Tony Lang, senior lecturer in the School of International Relations at St Andrews. Fittingly for an institution located near where golf was created, he compared the formation and enforcement of international rules to that of golf--pointing out that golf has the largest playing field of any sport--meaning that rules have to cover all sorts of contingencies--and that golf has no umpire overseeing the game--similar to the international system where there is no one controlling public authority.

The self-interest of states in having a rules-based system is to create a level and predictable playing field, but, of course, there is no guarantee that having rules means that you can win (or that by following the rules you are automatically safer).

I bring this up because two other items crossed my desk in recent days. The first (which I also blogged about on Wednesday) is the question of having rules to keep us safe in terms of trade (and reports that Beijing was trying to exercise pressure to have its neighbors weaken their safety standards.) The other is the argument being put forward in support of rapid movement to implement the "Framework to Advance Transatlantic Economic Integration" on the grounds that if the U.S. and the EU can create convergence in all sorts of regulations, they will create, ipso facto, the global standard that other countries, especially China, will have to accept. But I wonder how much longer this will be true, if, given recent economic data, the EU-U.S. share of the global economy is now down to anywhere from 48 to 52 percent. (A related issue, covered in this week's Russia Profile Experts' Group, is whether the "surprise" nomination of Czech economist Tosovsky to contest the directorship of the IMF by Russia, China and other states represents the beginning of a shift in the global economic balance of influence).

How much is in U.S. interests, then, to begin to accept greater restraints on its freedom of action to in turn strengthen an international regulatory regime that could, over time, restrain other rising powers that in the future could diminish America's standing?

Thursday, September 06, 2007

USG and the SCO

Evan Feigenbaum, the deputy assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, spoke at The Nixon Center today. Given that I have paid a good deal of attention to the Shanghai grouping and the aftermath of the Bishkek summit, I was quite interested in his remarks.

The sense I got was that the U.S. is watching the Shanghai grouping, and has concerns, but is also not overreacting because Washington sees that there are a number of countervailing tendencies. The four Central Asian members of the SCO are also part of NATO's partnership for peace; the U.S. has an active economic relationship with many SCO states, not least of which is China; the U.S. has fruitful bilateral relations with all SCO members. Feigenbaum said, "Over the past sixteen years, Central Asians have demonstrated remarkable skill in turning great power rivalry into an asset that maximizes their independence."

On the question of complementarity between U.S. interests and the SCO agenda--something Richard Weitz discussed earlier this week, he said: "We don't seek to become a member or observer of the SCO. But we welcome all initiatives that are complement the affirmative agenda we believe we are pursuing with our Central Asian partners."

The theme was that the U.S. government is watching and assessing.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

But a reminder why people like a World with the West

Not everyone thinks that a world where China--at least present-day China--could play a greater role in setting forward the rules and regulations of the international system would be a good thing.

What does "playing by the rules" mean? Husniah Rubiana Thamrin Akib, who heads Indonesia's version of the Food and Drug Administration, says that when Jakarta complained to China about contaminated products (mercury-laced makeup, dried fruit treated wtih industrial chemicals, etc.), Beijing's response was that Indonesia should lower its safety standards.

So we may in fact be seeing states hedging against both American and Chinese dominance--embracing a "world without the West" when it reduces America's freedom of action but also demanding a "world with the West" in terms of maintaining level playing fields. Devin Stewart, Director of the Global Policy Innovations program at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, observes: "The things that make China frightening to 'the West' as a shaper of international norms and as a possible dominant power in the global system are the things that will make problems" for acceptance of Chinese leadership.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

World Without the West Watch Continued

Two items:

Vladimir Frolov, who moderates the Russia Profile experts' group, takes Russia's defiance of a long-standing tradition that the European states can name the head of the International Monetary Fund (with the United States able to do so for the head of the World Bank) by nominating Czech economist and former head of that country's central bank Joseph Tosovsky. Moreover, Tosovsky's candidacy was endorsed by the other members of the BRIC grouping (meaning Brazil, India and China). While everyone expects that the EU-nominated candidate Dominique Strauss-Kahn to win, many observers feel that he will be the last IMF director who can be unilaterally selected by the Europeans without any consultation.

The second, based on a comment made at TWR last week, concerns ALBA--the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas. This is a grouping set up by Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and encompasses Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Cuba. Today Iran asked for observer status!

I think that it is far too earlier to begin comparing ALBA to the Shangahi grouping--if for no other reason that ALBA has very weak foundations (electoral changes in Nicaragua or Bolivia, for instance, would change the composition of the group). But perhaps this is a development that bears some closer observation.

Monday, September 03, 2007

More on Iran: Outgrowth of the Roundtable

Last week's roundtable is still available for viewing on the C-SPAN site (Forum On The Challenges of Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan).

Some of the points made last Thursday have been expanded upon in the media. Alexis Debat, for one, in charting options for the U.S. vis-a-vis Iran, noted that in the event of any confrontation the United States could not rely on small strikes but in fact was planning to decapitate Iran's military infrastructure. Sarah Baxter of the Sunday Times used his comments at the forum to introduce her article on the Pentagon ‘three-day blitz’ plan for Iran.

Meanwhile, Ray Takeyh, who outlined his proposal for "benign neglect" (noting that no other policy undertaken seems to have been successful) was counseling, in the Sunday issue of the Boston Globe, not to personalize the U.S. disputes with Iran or attribute them to the person of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He wrote:

Had Ahmadinejad not been elected, Iran's nuclear trajectory would not have been all that different. The desire to deter the United States and project power in the Middle East has pressed successive Iranian regimes toward the nuclear option. ...

Tehran's strategy is not necessary to export its Islamist revolution next door, but to promote Shi'ite allies who share its vision of the Middle East. Iran has sought to win over average Shi'ites with economic assistance, while its military aid is meant to ensure that the Shi'ite militias will have sufficient hardware to fight Sunni insurgents. This policy is hardly Ahmadinejad's innovation. ...

Since 1989, the year the war with Iraq ended and revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini died, pragmatic considerations have gradually displaced ideology as the basis of Iran's international orientation. The reality remains that Iran's quest for nuclear arms and assertion of influence over Iraq makes strategic sense, especially in light of Iran's historic goal of regional preeminence.

Because Iran's ambitions are based on rational calculation, the United States can deal with it through dialogue. Only when the perception of an unreasonable Ahmadinejad is removed from the scene can Washington begin the painstaking task of diplomacy.

Confront or engage. These seem to be our two options. But one cannot do both, and one cannot realistically muddle between them (confront on one issue, such as the nuclear question, and hope to engage on others, such as stabilizing Iraq). Sooner or later, a choice has to be made.

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