Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Rice Visit To Turkey

I don't have high expectations for the Secretary's visit to Ankara on Friday. What she seems prepared to offer--based on news reports--is better and more detailed intelligence on the PKK and its activities in Iraq. But that still leaves the question open as to who will act on that intelligence.

If the U.S. seems unprepared to secure the Iraqi-Turkish border and to prevent incursions, it is not a particularly good precedent to move to the Annapolis peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, since keep the boundaries secure is the sine qua non of any lasting Middle East settlement.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Sanctions for Northern Iraq?

Turkey appears set to begin measures that would amount to the economic isolation of northern Iraq (the Kurdistan Regional Government) to apply pressure on the KRG to bring the PKK to heel.

Such measures would bring to a halt efforts to try and create a community of economic interests between the Kurds of iraq and Turkey (both in terms of its own Kurdish regions and the country as a whole) based upon giving northern Iraq and its energy resources a much more secure access route to world markets. Another unintended consequence, at a time when the U.S. is hoping to isolate and pressure Damascus, is the benefits Damascus might receive. Gareth Jones reports that "Turkish authorities have been discussing bypassing northern Iraq by closing the Habur border gate and diverting all truck traffic from Turkey via Syria and then into Iraq through the border crossing close at Rabia."

Monday, October 29, 2007

What was the Information the Saudis sent to the UK?

King Abdullah created quite a stir on his arrival in Britain by claiming that the UK government failed to act on intelligence provided by the Saudis that could have prevented the 7/7 bombings in 2005. Spokesmen for the prime minister maintain that the intelligence provided was not material to those attacks and could not have led British authorities to the perpetrators.

I'm interested in two facets. First, let's assume that the king is being perfectly straightforward. What precisely was the information? Was it obtained from Saudi informants, say, in Pakistan, that have connections and ties to extremist groups? Was it general or specific? And how did the Saudis pass it along? In such a form that it was so general (beware second generation Pakistani Britons) as to be unactionable?

Second, and this is the larger issue. Is this a reminder that the West can't be choosy in terms of who it allies with? Abdullah's comments in London sound the same note that Putin's statements a few years ago in New York that Moscow had proposed a joint operation to finish off the Taliban in Afghanistan prior to 9/11 only to be rebuffed.

How much of this is also a smokescreen to further divert attention from the Al-Yamanah affair? (This is the starting point for Benjamin Heineman and Fritz Heinman to examine the question of corporate corruption in the current issue of The National Interest, by the way).

Friday, October 26, 2007

Additional on the Northern Iraq Crisis

First, the U.S. is NOT going to police the Iraqi-Turkish border for the Kurdistan Regional Government or otherwise get involved in any efforts to stop the PKK from using sanctuaries in Iraq from striking in Turkey. Major General Benjamin Mixon has made this perfectly clear; that in his eyes it is the responsibility of the Kurdish Regional Government to take these steps.

[The Associated Press reports as follows:

Asked if he is planning any action against the rebels, Mixon said:

"Absolutely nothing."

Does he think he has any responsibility to try to avoid a Turkish incursion into the north? "I have not been given any requirements or any responsibility for that," he said.

But if terrorists are operating in his region, came another question, why not get involved?

"Let me put it to you very clearly," he answered. The provincial Kurdish authorities have their own Peshmerga militia, Mixon and, "it's their responsibility" in three northern provinces of Iraq.

Reuters is now quoting a "senior Turkish source" claiming that the proposals brought by Iraqi Defence Minister General Abdel Qader Jassim and National Security Minister Shirwan al Waeli to Ankara "do not meet our expectations." No further meetings are planned.

Will the raids taking place today change attitudes?

I am a bit concerned about the U.S. attitude as well. It suggests that we would not be prepared to implement a containment strategy to prevent spillover from Iraq from destabilizing the larger region.

We will keep monitoring the situation.

Turkish Incursion into Northern Iraq?

There are reports that the Turkish Air Force is targeting PKK outposts in Northern Iraq, perhaps a prelude to a ground incursion. This would be taking place amidst the talks in Ankara between Turkey and Iraq on how to prevent Iraqi territory from being used as a safe haven by the PKK without having Turkish forces cross the border.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Test of Sanctions

The sanctions that the Treasury Secretary will announce (with the Secretary of State) will make it illegal for any entity subject to U.S. jurisdiction to "knowingly provide material support or resources" to the Iranian groups and institutions so designated. It also mandates any U.S. bank or financial institution which knows it has funds that are related or connected to such groups to turn them over to the Treasury Department.

Iran doesn't do business directly with the U.S.--but the hope is that this increases pressure on Europeans and Asians who do to cut ties to Iranian businesses that are connected to the defense ministry, the Quds force, the revolutionary guards.

The test will be to see whether this happens, or whether foreign businesses doing business in Iran begin to route transactions outside of the U.S. A company that lists on the Hong Kong exchange and deals in non-U.S. currencies through non-U.S. financial institutions is pretty immune from U.S. pressure.

Kosovo Queries

I spoke at a roundtable yesterday organized by the Harriman Institute at Columbia University on the question of whether the resolution of the final status of Kosovo sets any sort of precedent. The discussion was conducted under Chatham House rules to allow the officials and diplomats present to engage in free discussion of ideas, but some points that were generated both in the formal discussion (as well as informal conversations):

--One cannot escape the question of precedent because even insisting that the Kosovo case is sui generis requires comparing Kosovo to other cases; one cannot escape the question of precedent.

--The question of sovereignty is increasingly becoming delinked from the question of viability; with an underlying assumption that if a state cannot function another agency (the UN, the EU, etc.) will make it viable.

On the Kosovo issue in particular:

--How serious is Russian (and to a lesser extent Chinese) opposition to an imposed solution for Kosovo?

--How serious are European internal disagreements on what to do? Can they be resolved by December? For Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy, which is a higher priority--securing an independent Kosovo now or keeping a European consensus together and intact? [The argument here being that Europeans will urge delay and no unilateral recognition as a way to keep options open.]

--Can UN Security Council Resolution 1244 be re-interpreted to permit adoption of the Ahtisaari plan without a referring to a new resolution? Would European states want to recognize such a precedent, given the U.S. attempt to re-interpret UN resolutions vis-a-vis Iraq (with the argument that a new resolution was not needed to authorize coalition military action). Would public opinion accept a reinterpretation or see it only as a way to bypass probable Russian (and maybe Chinese) opposition.

Some food for thought.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Last week Russian Finance Minister Kudrin was asked about Russian plans for its sovereign wealth funds.

It's clear that there is unease about the prospect of large investments being made in the U.S. and European economies by funds that would be controlled by the state--would the Kremlin be a passive investor, seeking mainly to receive returns, or would it want to utilize its financial clout for political purposes?

Kudrin told the Wall Street Journal reporter at the lunch that new rules and codes of conduct were necessary, mostly to reassure the public in the US and Europe. "The US administration is saying that it will restrict the movement of capital [and investment] if they're not happy with the rules," he said.

But later he also made it clear, "Sovereign wealth funds should be subject to the general rules of the free movement of capital"--meaning that Russia would not accept any sort of two-tiered system which would disadvantage Russian investment.

It's clear we need to start thinking about what we mean when we say an investor has a right to a return--and whether that is measured only in terms of dividends but also in terms of influence and control over a company.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Report on Afghanistan

I've just had a chance to peruse a report on Afghanistan written by a British Conservative MP, Tobis Ellwood.

We've had an ongoing debate about Iraq as to what degree one hsould have devolution of power from the center to regions and to ethnically-defined entities. With regard to Afghanistan, Ellwood writes:

• Dissatisfaction with President Karzai’s administration is growing. The entire administration is seen by much of the country (particularly the old Northern Alliance) as corrupt.

• The centralised model of Government represses any tribal, ethnic, or cultural differences, rather than celebrating them. Consequently there is growing resentment that Kabul based power is now being abused.

• Although the centralised model hinders corrupt Governors from exploiting their local power base, there is little provision to reward the growing number of potentially more accountable regional leaders with responsibility or operational funding. Hence a growing level of resentment with Kabul.

His last section is interesting as well. It is entitled, "Proposals that Conservatives might consider":

• Call for an immediate, independent assessment of the state of Afghanistan (similar to the Iraq Study Group) in order to publicly acknowledge the critical state of affairs and the need for urgent reform.

• Appointment of a senior co-ordinator, approved by the UN, EU, US and Britain and a merger of international offices to improve political cohesion and co-ordination. (Note: Tom Koenig, head of UNAMA, is about to retire)

• Agreement of an Afghan led national plan to boost the agricultural market with a) railway and b) irrigation systems and small and medium sized dam constructions.

• Review of ISAF’s involvement in Afghanistan with a view to reconciling caveats that have led to the two tiers of commitment.

• Consideration, where appropriate, of empowering provisional Governors with funds to run ring-fenced projects.

• Consideration of preliminary peace talks with the Taliban.

• Incorporation of the majority of OEF forces into NATO command.

Dennis Ross, the Middle East and the Fate of Annapolis

Dennis Ross spoke yesterday at a small group seminar at the Council on Foreign Relations. The conversation itself is off the record, but the ambassador at several points cited his forthcoming article in The National Interest.

I thought, for the benefit of TWR readers, I would excerpt what he has to say about the upcoming Annapolis conference in his "Mesopotamian Muddle":


And we should not underestimate Saudi Arabia's role in the upcoming international meeting on Middle East peace. Without their involvement, the international meeting is likely to look no different than previous meetings involving the Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians--meetings that have been held often and produced little. ... This meeting, which President Bush announced with such fanfare, wil not take care of itself. Secretary Rice must negotiate clear understandings in advance. The details of the agenda must be worked out and not left to chance; the terms of reference must be understod the same way by all the attendees; the steps that will follow the meeting must be agreed upon beforehand. None of this will be accomplished in a meeting or two ...


Claude Salhani notes at UPI:

The complexity of the issues associated with the Palestinian question simply renders the logistics involved in any mediation time-consuming. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is on her fifth trip to the region since June. Henry Kissinger, when he was the top U.S. diplomat, undertook 36 visits to Damascus and an equal number to Israel in a single month in order to reach a breakthrough on the Golan.

Former advisor to P.M. Barak Yossi Alpher contends that what Ambassador Ross is advising happen with regard to Annapolis is not occurring, that this is a--in my words--a "hail Mary" pass rather than a meeting with well-defined parameters. As a result, "the real danger here is precisely that the unwinding of this conference - its cancellation, failure, or endorsement of a weak statement that in any case cannot be acted upon by Abbas, Olmert and Bush - will accelerate the negative dynamics in the region."

Ross concludes that the secretary of state "must engage in intensive statecraft if the upcoming November international meeting is to contribute to the president's stated objective for it." But the clock is ticking.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Iran's New Nuclear Weapons Negotiator

I've been told that Saeed Jalili, who has been appointed to be Iran's nuclear negotiator (and chief of the national security council) is not only a veteran of the Iran-Iraq war but someone who survived Iraqi chemical weapons attacks. If that is the case, we can assume that this is someone who doesn't put much trust in international agreements or security guarantees.

He may also amplify the tendencies in the current leadership that would rather have the capabilities and even the weapons if possible as the only firm assurances for regime survival.

Leadership Transition in China

We often hear about the "brittleness" of the leadership in China. But it is also true that there does exist a workable mechanism for identifying and promoting the next generation of leadership to ensure continuity of power.

To make way for retiring members of the Politburo, two new figures were appointed to its Standing Committee: the secretary of Shanghai's Communist Party Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang, the party secretary from Liaoning Province, one of the northeastern industrial "red belt" regions. Both are in their early fifties (54 and 52 years old, respectively).

Current president Hu Jintao is expected to step down in five years as part of the regular cycle of transition. Some China observers feel that the results of the Politburo reshuffle show both a concern with preserving consensus and also with putting some limits on Hu's ability to set the agenda.

At any rate, this contrasts with the problem that can be found in other types of regimes, both democratic and non-democratic--of identifying and promoting new leaders (say Greece in the 1960s to the 1980s). This is one of my main concerns with what is happening with the transition for Russia in 2008.

Friday, October 19, 2007

No Get out of Jail Free Card on Iran

The Deputy Prime Minister (and Finance Minister) of Russia, Alexei Kudrin, spoke today at a Nixon Center lunch. His response to a question about the use of financial sanctions as a means of pressure against Iran was very interesting. He said that sanctions should only be imposed if Iran is engaged in the construction and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and that at present there was no evidence that Iran was building weapons.

Two points of divergence from the U.S. narrative. The first is that the operative word used was "weapons"--e.g. Iran has to be building actual weapons. In other words, it would seem that just having capabilities or equipment is not the threshold for action.

The second has to do with intelligence. What standard are other powers going to demand? Can the U.S. do the Cuban missile crisis-style intelligence briefings with other partners, being able to show satellite photos or human intelligence that can convince beyond a reasonable shadow of a doubt?

I think that the bar is being set quite high for proof on Iran, if we take these remarks at face value.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

I Have A Secret Plan?

Several days ago, on Al-Jazeera, I ventured the opinion that Vladimir Putin, during his visit to Iran, might try to square the circle--in essence, eschew the use of force to pressure Tehran but also present Russia as the negotiator who could present a solution to the Iran nuclear question and demonstrate that both Washington's approach but also that of the EU-3 had failed.

Now, the New York Times reports:

Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, proposed a new way to help resolve the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program during an extraordinary meeting with Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said the country’s chief nuclear negotiator on Wednesday.

The negotiator, Ali Larijani, told reporters that Mr. Putin, who was granted an audience with Ayatollah Khamenei on Tuesday evening, “offered a special proposal.” Neither the Iranians nor the Russians would disclose any details, but Mr. Larijani said the Iranian side was studying it.

“One of the issues he brought up was his view on the nuclear issue,” Mr. Larijani said, according to the ISNA news agency. “We are reviewing it now.”

State-run television and news agencies quoted Ayatollah Khamenei as telling Mr. Putin, “We will think about what you said and about your proposal,” even as he added that Iran was “determined to provide our country’s need for nuclear energy.”

Curve ball on missile defense earlier this year. A likely Kosovo compromise proposal to be floated, perhaps with Nicolas Sarkozy (assuming he is not distracted by his divorce) and spearheaded by the EU Kosovo negotiator, and now an Iran proposal?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Inderfurth and Riedel on the nuclear deal

Karl Inderfurth and Bruce Riedel spoke on the U.S.-India relationship today (see yesterday's TWR for the announcement). They were asked about the fate of the nuclear deal. Bruce said it might enter into a stage of hibernation (to be revived at a future date), Karl was more optimistic that the flak we have witnessed is a temporary setback and that things could be back on track by early 2008. But both also warned against reducing the entire Indo-American relationship to one agreement, especially if it distracts us from the entire panoply of security and economic arrangements.

Is the Dalai Lama the Olympic "Exchange"?

Beijing is understandably not pleased that the Dalai Lama is being honored by Congress and received by President Bush. The president, of course, has tried to mollify the Chinese by indicating that he, as a "sports fan", will plan to attend the 2008 Olympic Games.

While some commentators are urging George W. Bush to maximize the opportunity to press the PRC on a whole variety of issues, I am wondering whether the president's acceptance--at this point--marks the beginning of the end of the use of the 2008 Olympic card. Beijing moved a bit on Darfur, reportedly helped in getting the releases of those detained in Iran, and appears, despite vocal protests, to have accepted the reality of the Dalai Lama's visit to the United States. In other words, we played the Olympic card, and now that game is up. One also wonders whether there has been any unofficial quid pro quo--essentially trading the Dalai Lama's visit here with a pledge that the president will attend the Olympic Games and that the visit will not be held hostage to further demands made on China.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

What's Happening with the US-India Nuclear Deal?

What was supposed to be one of the signature successes of the Bush Administration in foreign policy now appears to be on course for a crash and burn. The nuclear deal that was to cement the new rapprochement between Washington and New Delhi is threatened.

Hopefully some of this might be addressed in an event tomorrow that the magazine is co-sponsoring (Breaking More Naan with Delhi, featuring Ambassador Karl Inderfurth of the Elliott School at George Washington and Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution), but here are some of my lines of speculation as well:

1) Perhaps Prime Minister Singh sent a signal that he is prepared to move on the deal but only when a new U.S. president is in place, if that is how we interpret his comments about keeping his government intact until 2009.

2) This is a ploy meant to simultaneously discredit the leftist parties further (since the conventional wisdom is that India's rising middle class wants the deal to go through) and to put pressure on the U.S.

3) This is a reaction to the May 2007 letter sent by members of Congress that was interpreted by many in India as an attempt to exercise undue influence over Indian foreign policy

Any other suggestions?

Georgian Dilemma?

At the Caspian summit, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan made it clear that "under no circumstances" would they allow the use of their territory for any military operation against any other Caspian state, including Iran. This follows reports that U.S. officials were inspecting airfields in Azerbaijan under the partnership agreement between Azerbaijan and NATO.

I assume that U.S. strategic planners would want the option of being able to pressure Tehran, in the event of any military confrontation with Iran, from the north as well as from the Gulf region--and to have secure land facilities not subject to insurgent/militia disruption, as in Iraq.

This leaves open the question--would Georgia make such facilities available to the United States, and if so, under what conditions? Presumably Tbilisi would want explicit security guarantees from Washington and perhaps guarantees about taking whatever measures necessary for reunifying the country. But would Georgia want to be exposed to Iranian attack as an acceptable price?

On a separate note, the discussion about the restoration of the monarchy in Georgia is an interesting one, given my own interests in the history of the country. But the old ruling house often suffered from the same sort of splits and at times one had several different Georgian kingdoms and principalities; only in the 18th century did the great king Erekle II succeed in effectively reunifying the country (and even then there was still a king in Imereti). So it is not an automatic solution.

Geo-Engineering and Breathing Space

Fred Ikle and Lowell Wood make the pitch for "Thinking Big on Global Warming" in the Wall Street Journal, something they will expand in a forthcoming issue of the magazine.

It is quite interesting to me that a number of Reagan Administration officials have been calling for steps to "ease" us from using hydrocarbons to newer forms of energy. Ikle and Wood wrote:

"Mankind's current energy system evolved during the 20th century as an offspring of the Industrial Revolution. It may take almost as long to replace this system with the novel energy sources and distribution networks that future generations will need. This huge transition would be greatly facilitated if geo-engineering options are developed and tested to provide a safe breathing space without a massive global-warming crisis."

Last year, Reagan's National Security Advisor Robert "Bud" McFarlane talked about the need for "breathing room" to help us transition from our current mix of energy dependence.

All of them are thinking in terms of a transition that would take decades, not years or months--and would require real bi-partisan cooperation as well as getting key players in the U.S. economy to accept burden-sharing. But the longer we wait, the higher the costs and the greater the shock.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Security First Forum

We are featuring a Security First forum at NI online, with the first topic being whether stemming or preventing nuclear non-proliferation should be a central organizing principle of U.S. foreign policy, and, if so, what measures might need to be taken.

Amitai Etzioni kicked off the discussion by noting "For those of us who acknowledge the gravity of this threat, it holds many ramifications for the foreign policy of the United States, that of its allies, and indeed all who are concerned with the well being of nations."

The latest contribution, by Anatol Lieven, provides a good response to Amitai's original posts as well as subsequent contributions to the forum by Charles Ferguson and Ted Carpenter.

Comments welcome.

Caution, Turkey

Trukey's not reacting well to the House committee vote to bring the Armenian genocide resolution to a vote of the full body. Couple that with rising tensions on Iraq and you don't have a good situation.

But Ankara also needs to be very careful in how it chooses to react. It can express its disappointment and frustration, sure. But making threats against its leading ally could be very counterproductive. It is not wise to throw around talk about leaving NATO--membership in which, after all, is one of Turkey's cornerstone arguments for why it should be considered part of the West.

Turkey is an important country for the U.S., but it is not indispensable. Not having a northern front for Iraq in 2003 was an irritant, but the current problems we face in Iraq are not caused by the fact we didn't have a northern front. Turkish influence isn't that critical for advancing the U.S. agenda in the Arab world nor is Turkey playing a critical role in either helping to broker settlements either for Iraq or Iran.

Turkey could find that other countries in the region would be more than happy to try and make up the "slack"--in terms of offering access to facilities or advancing the U.S. agenda--which would over time weaken the U.S. committment to Ankara.

Turkey needs to take a page from Croatia. The Croatians got a rude awakening a few years back from the EU with regard to some of their own less than exemplary record during the Yugoslav wars. They dealt with it--and got the issue off of the table.

Or perhaps learn how Beijing blows off steam. The Dalai Lama, who in Chinese eyes is a dangerous separatist rebel--is going to get a Congressional Medal of Freedom and speak on the Hill. Beijing will complain, make a great deal of protest--but keeps trade and business and the North Korea separate and compartmentalized.

Other countries know that there is a certain give-and-take in their relationship with the U.S. and that dealing with Congressional resolutions is part of that. Russia still has to endure a resolution that calls on the president each year to recognize that Russia is responsible for holding Poland, Tibet, and Yugoslavia, among others, as "captive nations."

Perhaps Ankara should take a bit of Reagan's counsel (referenced in TWR earlier this week).

... But Putin Could Snatch Defeat From the Jaws of Victory

That is, if Russia decides to continue its belligerence about withdrawing from treaties. Europeans tend to like the secure feeling that comes from having a whole host of treaties defining the architecture of Europe.

Russia's pride may force it to take steps that at present its security does not demand. Is deploying a battalion of tanks in Pskov really going to do anything to make Russia more secure? Russia could make the complaints it has but still abide by the treaties for now, and keep some semblance of the high ground.

If the primary headlines after the Rice/Gates visit to Moscow focus on shared Russian/American intransigence, then this makes it easier for Merkel and Sarkozy to "apportion the blame".

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Is the U.S. Being Set Up to Fail?

I don't envy the Secretaries of State and Defense in their trip to Russia.

Rice and Gates will arrive in the aftermath of what appears to be a successful visit--from Putin's point of view--from Nicolas Sarkozy. It was, after all, a surprisingly restrained Sarkozy, given some of the rhetoric he had unleashed on the campaign trail about talking tougher with the Krmelin. Indeed, the theme of their talks was about how the two could talk honestly and try to reach common ground on issues that divide Russia from the West.

Then the Americans will arrive. They won't be able to offer anything that resembles a compromise on issues like Kosovo and missile defense--it will be largely a restatement of established U.S. positions with standard Russian objections being voiced. I don't expect any breakthroughs. And how much longer can we continue to deflect having to turn Moscow's proposals down by saying that they are interesting and worthy of further study? Time is not on our side here.

Then Putin heads out to Wiesbaden to see Merkel. What's he going to say? Probably something along the lines of, I tried to come halfway, I was prepared to bargain, I wanted to find solutions.

Whether Merkel buys it or not is less important, though, in terms of how public opinion in Europe will assess his claims. Russia in the last several months, in Europe--not in the U.S., of course--has done a lot to repair the image that it is, to use Sarkozy's own comments, not acting as a facilitator to solve problems.

Politically it makes it harder for Merkel to endorse the missile defense system or to undercut EU Kosovo negotiatior Ischinger's efforts to find compromises. I don't expect to see Sarkozy move to endorse the U.S. position either.

It is really surprising--prior to the G-8 summit Russia seemed much more isolated and on the defensive against what appeared to be a return to a series of U.S.-European agreements. What has changed?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Sarkozy Disappoints?

Some commentary assessing the first day of the Putin-Sarkozy talks in Moscow.

Seems like those who were expecting Sarkozy to descend on the Kremlin as the stern avenging angel of the Western community of democracies are going to be disappointed. Certainly, the French president shares a number of concerns with Washington, not least of which is a nuclear Iran. It doesn't mean that he is prepared to automatically support an American position. On Iran and on Kosovo, Sarkozy is much more prepared, it seems, to find a compromise approach that can achieve most Western objectives but also address Russian concerns. (Sounds very much like the advice Ronald Reagan gave James Baker: “Jim, I’d rather get 80 percent of what I want than to go over the cliff with my flag flying.”

Sarkozy appears to reflect a consensus continental-European position that does share with the U.S. concerns about democratic backsliding, abuse of human rights and corruption in Russia but also thinks that the country is still moving in a positive direction for the long-term and is continuing, slowly but surely, to become more integrated with Europe (witness Sarkozy's comments on investments).

We'll have to see what happens now on day two.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Joergen Oestroem Moeller: China's Model

Continuing on the World without the West theme, and a recent post by Dan Drezner on China's weight gain, some recent comments by Joergen Oestroem Moeller, Visiting Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore and an Adjunct Professor, Copenhagen Business School. As he notes, the views expressed are his own. I post them here as part of a growing discussion about the extent to which China is beginning to acquire "soft power" in terms of providing an alternate to the West.


The conviction is widespread in the West that there is no alternative to the combination of American capitalism as the global economic model and democracy as the ultimate political model. Eventually this model will reign albeit editions around the world may differ according to history and geography, but not much. Islamic Fundamentalism is the only barrier to pole position.

... [While] Islamic Fundamentalism may challenge the Western model, but is not deemed attractive by the non-Islamic part of the world. Another model though is being scrutinized and analyzed as an alternative: The Chinese model.

The two differ at the core. Islamic Fundamentalism seeks to destroy or obliterate the Western model in what is believed to be a God inspired historic mission. If successful only one model will be left: Islamic Fundamentalism. It cannot be a global model for two reasons: there is no room for non-believers and it cannot deliver economic development, which is what the world wants.

The Chinese model is a global alternative to the Western model. The two can co-exist in a duel or rivalry or in competition just like Socialism versus Capitalism did, vying for support and in the spirit of letting the best man win. It has delivered, it works and it has proved itself. It draws the logical consequence of global Capitalism and shies away from politics in the old fashioned sense of distribution of income, who owns production factors etc. All these questions harassing political life for a century or more have been settled. The job now is to manage the economy inside the existing framework. Many people name meritocracy as the prime gift of the US to the world, but the Chinese with more than one thousand years of mandarin rule got there first. And what they offer now is a mix and combination of meritocracy and management, an extrapolation of the Chinese system or model given finishing strokes and refined over centuries and now adjusted to the modern world.

It has worked extremely well in China since 1979 when Deng Xiaoping coined the phrase that ´Whether it is a black cat or a white cat, as long as it can catch the rat, it is a good cat´. This is the key to understanding politics in the future.

China and the Chinese do not explicitly offer this model in their political and economic offensive abroad. They do not follow the Western powers or Islamic Fundamentalists insisting that they alone know what is right not only for themselves, but for everybody else. They are not ´preachers´, but ´doers´. The mere fact that China has succeeded disregarding the basic philosophy of Western political culture attracts the attention of many countries outside North America and Europe.

The Western philosophy overlooks that the principles (democracy, free elections and human rights all as defined by the West) may be sacrosanct for the Western world, but does not look equally attractive in the eyes of other nations with other traditions, history and circumstances. Part of this misunderstanding may be subscribed to the near monopoly of the Western media looking and reporting at the world through Western glasses. Another part, the almost Marxian belief in having history on its side. There may be set backs and disappointment, but the end result is known and given.

In comes the Chinese saying that what counts is economic growth, increasing standard of living and better human security, bringing along a better standard of living for everyone. It looks like a carbon copy of the prescription for the West’s victory over Communism.

Certainly there are rising expectations especially among the young people in Asia, Africa, Latin America and other parts of the world to gain more fundamental rights of freedom enjoyed in the Western world. Certainly they want to be consulted to forward their input to the political decision-makers. The point is, however, that they do not associate this with a particular political model. In the West it is seen as two sides of the same coin. Not so in many parts of the world outside the West. Maybe, the grassroots whisper, it can be gained with a non-Western political model.

If the Chinese political model built around management and meritocracy captures this trend it will turn from potential challenger to a real alternative. It will need to ‘universalise’ its ‘ particularistic responses’ to reach beyond China as a genuine global model.

If so the world will see a new duel just like the one we had between Socialism and Capitalism, but this time between:

A Western political model emphasizing human rights and a large degree of personal freedom and not the least these principles and the selection of political leaders through free elections as two sides of the same coin.

A Chinese inspired model focusing upon management and meritocracy without much emphasis on selection of political leaders as long as they live up to these expectations and offer the citizens personal freedom albeit not necessarily as defined in the Western model.

With luck the world may see no winner, but an amalgamation of the best elements from each of these two models. With luck. And if politicians and statesmen make an effort to get there.

Developing Crises: Kurdistan and Waziristan

Are we seeing the pendulum swing once again in Waziristan? The Pakistani military is using major force--including warplanes--to strike militant positions. What remains to be seen is whether an overwhelming display of force will be followed by a return to negotiations, and perhaps the status quo ante July--when militant groups rejected the cease-fire arrangements they had reached with Islamabad. Certainly the military strikes will enhance General Musharraf's reputation and lessen criticism that he has been too reluctant to tackle Al-Qaeda and Taliban elements along the frontier.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant-General Asad Durrani, former head of the ISI, opined today that Osama bin Laden is much more likely to have taken refuge in a Pakistani city than hiding out in a cave or open country, noting that bin Laden would have greater anonymity in a large urban area and could perhaps be secreted in a series of safe houses.

In terms of reports that Turkey is preparing an incursion into Iraqi Kurdistan to deal with PKK elements, a cross-border operation would most likely torpedo any hope in the short run of trying to forge a closer economic link between northern Iraq and Turkey, and puts the one area where the U.S. has claimed the greatest post-Saddam success at risk. What could Washington offer Ankara as an incentive? Unlikely that the U.S. would assume any sort of border security responsibilities to prevent the PKK or related groups from engaging in cross-border operations. Baghdad would also not respond well to any perceived violation of the country's territory. An emerging lose-lose for the U.S.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Guardian Editorial on Iraq and Al-Rubaie

In case readers of TWR haven't already seen the Guardian editorial commenting on Britain's withdrawal from Iraq, I wanted to post the following excerpts. I found it interesting because it reinforces--even if not exactly in the way he might have wanted--points raised last week by Al-Rubaie. (See also this write-up.)

First, that cessation of violence has more to do with politics on the ground that the presence of outside forces. The Guardian writes: "British troops have had little to do with the partial peace they leave behind. It has been created by political deals with Shia militias. A ceasefire of forces loyal to the cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, secured by the release from prison of a number of his top militiamen, has been followed by an agreement between the cleric and his main Shia rival, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq."

Second, that outside forces now have little leverage. "The reality is that Britain's power to shape events is now limited, and will become more so. Mr Brown said yesterday that British forces will maintain a "more limited" capacity for re-intervention. This is a convenient myth: troop movements will only be one way. In Basra and elsewhere in the south, peace depends on an agreed division of the oil wealth, and on Iran's attitude."

Finally, the one takeaway quote that most people who attended last week's event was his clear statement about a "big fat no" for any U.S. strike on Iran. The Guardian editorializes: "Britain can help a little by trying to stop the US from talking up a military strike on Iran. If Iran responded it would be through its proxies in the south of Iraq."

So interestingly we seem to have a somewhat shared message from the Iraqi national security advisor and a left-wing British newspaper.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Power Sharing for Pakistan?

We do seem to have the basis for an agreement, with the following components:

--corruption charges have been dropped against Benizar Bhutto;
--the presidential election will proceed as scheduled;
--Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party will not walk out from parliament, meaning that attempts to prevent General Pervez Musharraf's re-election (it is an indirect election via national and regional assemblies acting as an electoral college) by denying a quorum will fail;
--Makhdoom Amin Fahim, the vice-chair of the PPP and another presidential candidate, will drop his petition asking the Supreme Court to require Musharraf to resign from the army in order to run;
--in turn, Musharraf has announced that after he is re-elected he would step dwon from his army position
--the path is cleared for Bhutto herself to potentially become prime minister and create a government of national unity that will reduce criticism of Musharraf in the West.

Can a Pakistani version of French cohabitation work? Will Musharraf be able to continue to guide policy? Does the deal with Bhutto effectively take the wind out of the sails of the opposition? It does seem that there are short-term benefits to Musharraf but the long-term impacts remain unclear, at this point.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Governor Richardson's "New Realism" on Iraq

I had the chance to meet with Governor Bill Richardson today following his remarks at Georgetown University.

It seems to me--and I'll let readers decide--that some of the elements of his "New Realism" for foreign policy align well with former Secretary of State James Baker's pragmatic idealism as well as General Brent Scowcroft's concerns that the United States has still been too slow to recognize how revolutionary the changes sweeping the globe are. I also assume there are strong points of similarities with the analysis that his former colleague Congressman Lee Hamilton will present in the next issue of The National Interest.

What I found refreshing today, however, was his candor. He says "We should harbor no illusions" on Iraq. "There are no guarantees that our departure will end the civil war." That "Iraqis might, or might not, resolve their political crisis." In other words, he lays out a course of action, says why he thinks there is a good chance of success, but doesn't gild the lily.

It was also interesting to hear his call for a regional conference for producing a settlement and how that accords with with al-Rubaie said yesterday about the interrelationship between a larger regional settlement and stability in Iraq.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Iraq's National Security Advisor Speaks ...

Mowaffak al-Rubaie, national security advisor to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, spoke today at The Nixon Center.

He seemed, at times, to be channeling the sentiments found in Morton Abramowitz's and Heather Hurlburt's essay in the current issue on the challenges of nation-building, arguing that what is going on in Iraq is a "long struggle" and a "continuous process", and that Iraq is moving from an old regime--not simply that of Saddam but one going back for a thousand years--in order to try and create a new form of governance.

Rather bluntly, he said that this could not be completed within a U.S. election cycle and urged his audience to have "strategic patience."

Echoing a theme that I and others have made, he noted that there are political forces in Iraq that at present are unwilling to compete in the political process and instead use violence as their means of expression. The process of national reconciliation in part is to convince all parties in the country that there is no way to bring down the government or constitution or current system, that it is not going to disappear, and that participation is the only outlet (signficantly, I thought, he also said that it would be necessary to "break the will to fight" on the part of those groups currently outside the process and drew comparisons with the long time frame needed in northern Ireland to get fighters into the political process).

But this cannot occur in a vaccuum, and al-Rubaie pointed the finger squarely at the larger region for some of Iraq's difficulties in moving ahead. He said that "90 percent" of the violence taking place has a larger regional link (e.g. outsiders, groups armed and equipped by neighbors, etc.) All of Iraq's neighbors are currently meddling in Iraq's affairs--and this is also complicated by the unclear signals the U.S. is sending about its intentions vis-a-vis Iran and Syria. Essentially, national reconciliation inside the country is tied to a larger regional peace process.

Last Thoughts from the Dialogue: America's Involvement

One last comment from yesterday's trans-Atlantic dialogue--having to do with America's role in Europe and the rise of anti-Americanism. One participant suggested that perhaps, when Europe is faced with threats or problems that don't immediately impact the United States, Washington's best bet is not to immediately become involved (and help to stoke the feeling of America as the overbearing hegemon) but let Europeans deal with it (or choose not to deal with it). For example--if Russia withdraws from the CFE treaty and the INF treaty, and a tank battalion moves back to Pskov and intemediate range missiles get built--that doesn't really affect the U.S. (in the short term. Why then should Washington have to take the lead in framing a response?

This comment echoes themes that Justine Rosenthal will explore in her contribution to the forthcoming issue of the magazine--whether America should embrace its role of global "relief pitcher" rather than the first intervener.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Some Additional Points from the Energy Dialogue ...

--When the U.S.-Russia Energy Dialogue was announced in May 2002, oil was at $25/barrel, most Russian oil was being produced by private companies, and the Russian budget was extremely dependent on oil revenues. There was also a prevailing belief that after any Iraq war the United States and its allies would be able to quickly restore Iraq's oil production and that the world price would probably fall to $15/barrel. The feeling was that Russia needed the United States and the West--to provide new investment and capital. That situation is very different today.

--International companies are not likely to be able to acquire major assets in Russia today but can still invest and have smaller pieces. What remains unclear is whether international companies can trade expertise--particularly in making old wells more productive, helping to deal with losses caused by flaring, and to help bring new sites online--for a piece of the project.

--Russian production is leveling off in both oil and gas. And Russia may hit a crunch where rising demand at home, the need to fulfill contracts to Europe and loss of supplies from Central Asia may create a crisis.

--The long-term problem for Europe is not whether Europe is dependent on Russian gas, but whether Russia can keep up with the demand Europe is going to have for energy.

--We still don't think about energy in a global sense--supply and demand across the world in a single integrated system.

Some Thoughts on Europe's Energy Security and Russia

The trans-Atlantic energy dialogue conference is taking place according to Chatham House rules, but I did want to note some of the general themes being discussed. What I find interesting is the extent to which it picks up on conversations earlier this year.

One point raised was that Europe is both vulnerable due to its dependency on outside sources for its gas needs but also that Europe essentially as the world's largest importer of gas also sets market rules.

European governments are concerned about possible supply disruptions that result from disputes between Russia and the transit countries (and want to be prepared for them) but so far have not tended to worry about Russia cutting off supplies to paying European customers feeling that there is a mutually of interest at play.

There is a lot of talk about energy security and the need for diversification but that some of the countries that complain the loudest about Russia are also the ones not putting much money on the table to pay for different options, so that there is an imbalance between rhetoric and what is actually taking place. Some of the concepts like "energy NATO" also are based on assumptions that richer European countries will pay for the stocks of energy themselves.

How essential is unbundling in Europe for creating a true market for natural gas? Is this also a case where Moscow can use powerful vested European interests (such as the major gas companies) to block a move it may feel compromises its own interests?

Thoughts on the Putin Announcement

I thought I would share with readers of TWR some of the points I made this morning at the trans-Atlantic dialogue on energy security, in the session dealing with the succession in Russia and foreign policy.

First, Putin's announcement provides the strongest answer to date to the question as to whether the system being created in Russia could be managed by anyone who happened to sit in the presidential chair versus needed Putin as a specific individual to serve as referee and judge between the various factions and clans that form Kremlin, Inc. Putin is still needed. Most of the key "clan leaders" would prefer to defer to Putin's judgment (and his generally even-handed division of spoils) than risk losing everything should a rival be elevated to supreme power. It may also be that Putin remains the key driving force behind the consolidation of a new Russian political-economic system as well as providing much of the vision for how it should develop and evolve.

Second, it demonstrates that the "concrete is still wet" on the infrastructure being created--and Putin is needed to continue to guide his creation to the point it achieves a greater degree of permanence.

It also I think is a very clear signal that many of the key players in Russia still expect major conflicts ahead over division of assets and over the direction of policy; that the clash we saw between Gazprom and Rosneft over the division of YUKOS heralded further divisions--and that Putin is needed to continue to lay down the law.

Finally, it is proof that the system has not yet figured out how to replicate itself and to find new trustworthy personnel. This may be because the "recruiting grounds" for the next generation (say, as in France, in the elite schools) have not yet been firmly established. It also points to the fact that the bonds holding together the political system are still more personal than systemic.

The constitutionally-mandated term limits have forced the Russian elite to come up with another way to keep Putin around, even if for the short term (say to 2010 or 2012), to see whether he can still shepherd his creation to the point where it has much more independent viability, and replicate itself.

A signal to look for:

After the Duma elections in December, does the new legislature pass new enabling legislation "On the Government" that enhances the perogatives of the prime minister (e.g. gives the PM control over the security and power ministries)? That would be a sign that perhaps Putin will embrace a role as prime minister.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Pendulum Swings in Ukraine--Yet Again

Ukraine certainly is the land of political comebacks--as yesterday's elections demonstrate. When former disgraced presidential candidate Viktor Yannukovych became prime minister, people wondered at his ability to return to power. Now, the Guardian says the likely victory of the Orange Coalition forces suggests a remarkable comeback for Yuliya Tymoshenko.

Tymoshenko's bloc succeeded in winning over some of the undecided voters and took some votes away from the Socialists, to give her party a strong showing (initially in first place but now reports are suggesting that Yanukovych's Party of Regions will have the most votes). But given that President Viktor Yushchenko's "Our Ukraine" took a respectable 15 percent or so of the vote, and the announcement that Tymoshenko and Yushchenko have agreed to reconstitute their coalition, and it seems likely that Tymoshenko will be able to become prime minister.

But we're not out of the woods. Tymoshenko and Yushchenko have always worked better together in opposition rather than in governing. The coalition will have to hold together on a number of contentious reform issues and will have little incentives provided==the best Europe is offering is a free-trade arrangement. Tymoshenko will have to demonstrate she learned from the mistakes of the first orange coalition--in terms of restraining some of her populist sentiments and not appearing to be using her position to go after business figures allied with her political opponents. I think that Yushchenko himself is strongly behind the coalition but this does not mean that, over time, other figures in Our Ukraine might themselves might not decide to break ranks.

Even in opposition, Yanukovych and his people wil remain a formidable force--this is not an overwhelming victory. Ukraine remains divided. It might be appropriate for the new government to continue the arrangement reached earlier between Yushchenko and Yanukovych--that all decisions about Ukraine joining larger international organizations (Single Economic Space, NATO, etc.) cannot be ratified simply by a parliamentary majority but are subject to a referendum. This might help preserve Ukraine's ability to continue along the track of pursuing membership in such bodies without opening up the country to paralyzing political crises before there is a stronger national consensus in place as to what to do.

Finally, the elections prove the point that I and others were making earlier this year--favor process in Ukraine over personalities. Legitimate, fair and free elections were held--and as with the previous set of elections, we do have a good snapshot of the will of the people of Ukraine.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?