Thursday, January 31, 2008

Conservative Dissent on Kosovo

I had promised at the end of last year that I had spoken my final words on the Kosovo question, but today's piece in the Washington Times deserves mention. Written by John Bolton, Lawrence Eagleburger and Peter Rodman--two of whom held senior positions in the current administration--and coming from three leading members of the Republican party's foreign policy establishment (and, it might be added, none of whom have ever been seen as being "soft" on the issues of the day)--it cannot be easily dismissed away as representing the views of people peripheral to the U.S. foreign policy process.

The trio, in essence, call upon the administration to not move forward on recognizing an independent Kosovo at this juncture. "A reassessment of America's Kosovo policy is long overdue. We hope a policy that would set a very dangerous international precedent can still be averted if that reassessment begins now. In the meantime, it is imperative that no unwarranted or hasty action be taken that would turn what is now a relatively small problem into a large one."

They do state clearly that they "do not underestimate the difficulty and complexity of the Kosovo question nor do we suggest the status quo can endure indefinitely" but do find fault with " a U.S. promise to the Kosovo Albanians that their demands will be satisfied if they remain adamant and no agreement is reached with Belgrade."

A follow-up question: will this piece resonate with any of the Republican candidates for president?

Monday, January 28, 2008

State of the Union reaction

Nothing particularly new or different--in foreign policy terms--from tonight's state of the union. Perhaps it is best characterized as a summary of the key talking points of the last seven years--and some of them have not been updated.

No real discussion of the challenges he will be bequeathing his successor. China mentioned once--in the context of creating a clean energy technology fund (only mention of India as well--nothing about whether or not the supposed "alliance" of the oldest and largest democracies is in jeopardy). The list of the unfree countries remains the safe one--Burma, Zimbabwe, Belarus, Cuba. No discussion of Russia or what the U.S. stance will be on how, when and why NATO expands again. Europe not mentioned, no discussion of the future of the dollar or the trans-Atlantic relationship.

Is what was said about the Middle East peace process likely to convince people in the region that the Administration is going to make an all-out effort in its final months? What does it mean we are going to "do everything we can."

My guess is that most foreign leaders--those friendly to us and those less than friendly to us--are going to interpret this speech to mean--wait to January 2009.

China's Kosovo Problem

Drew Thompson and I look at an overlooked issue in all the debates about Kosovo's final status--the Taiwan dimension--in the International Herald Tribune. One commentator said to me that he thinks Drew and I have overstated the case--this comes from the perspective that Kosovo is "just" a European issue and has no relevance anywhere else.

But Taipei is interested and has been interested since 1999. They are interested in the same way that Nagorno-Karabakh is interested. They see a useful precedent and a wedge. So no, we shouldn't be pretending that what we outlined is not a possibility--and Beijing's reaction will be entirely predictable.

Yes, it is 2008--not 1985

Those of you who have heard me speak in recent months will remember that one of my perennial criticisms of U.S. politicians is that they still view the world through the lens of 1994 (or sometimes even 1985)--when assessing both potential rivals as well as the stances of existing allies.

Parag Khanna joins the fray with an essay in the New York Times magazine derived from his forthcoming book The Second World.

Some points:

Turn on the TV today, and you could be forgiven for thinking it’s 1999. Democrats and Republicans are bickering about where and how to intervene, whether to do it alone or with allies and what kind of world America should lead. Democrats believe they can hit a reset button, and Republicans believe muscular moralism is the way to go. It’s as if the first decade of the 21st century didn’t happen — and almost as if history itself doesn’t happen. But the distribution of power in the world has fundamentally altered over the two presidential terms of George W. Bush ...

At best, America’s unipolar moment lasted through the 1990s, but that was also a decade adrift. The post-cold-war “peace dividend” was never converted into a global liberal order under American leadership. So now, rather than bestriding the globe, we are competing — and losing — in a geopolitical marketplace alongside the world’s other superpowers: the European Union and China. ...

The new multicolor map of influence — a Venn diagram of overlapping American, Chinese and European influence — is a very fuzzy read. No more “They’re with us” or “He’s our S.O.B.” Mubarak, Musharraf, Malaysia’s Mahathir and a host of other second-world leaders have set a new standard for manipulative prowess: all tell the U.S. they are its friend while busily courting all sides. ...

The self-deluding universalism of the American imperium — that the world inherently needs a single leader and that American liberal ideology must be accepted as the basis of global order — has paradoxically resulted in America quickly becoming an ever-lonelier superpower. ...


I recommend the entire essay, but wanted to pull out one recommendation that I think is spot-on. It parallels what I have been telling east Europeans and Caucasians is the weakest link in their efforts to move to the West--that politicians' promises in Washington are not backed up by real money. Khanna recommends:

"In true American fashion, we must build a diplomatic-industrial complex. Europe and China all but personify business-government collusion, so let State raise money from Wall Street as it puts together regional aid and investment packages. American foreign policy must be substantially more than what the U.S. government directs. After all, the E.U. is already the world’s largest aid donor, and China is rising in the aid arena as well. Plus, each has a larger population than the U.S., meaning deeper benches of recruits, and are not political targets in the present political atmosphere the way Americans abroad are. The secret weapon must be the American citizenry itself. American foundations and charities, not least the Gates and Ford Foundations, dwarf European counterparts in their humanitarian giving; if such private groups independently send more and more American volunteers armed with cash, good will and local knowledge to perform “diplomacy of the deed,” then the public diplomacy will take care of itself."

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Testing the Takeyh-Gvosdev Thesis

So, does the news that the permanent five members of the Security Council, via their representatives meeting in Berlin, have come to an agreement about a third sanctions resolution to penalize Iran for its noncompliance on issues relating to its nuclear program, challenge or contradict the assessment Ray Takeyh and I presented in the International Herald Tribune three weeks ago?

I don't think so. First, the sanctions aren't particularly major--some financial freezes and travel bans. Everything I've seen so far is that the third resolution is going to be largely symbolic in import--designed to maintain the facade of unanimity among the great powers. Russia continues to claim that it is supporting the efforts of the international community to resolve the issue.

In the aftermath of last month's NIE, we should expect another report to come out, this time from the GAO, which is going to show that sanctions policies so far have been largely ineffective and that Iran has, since 2003, signed billions of dollars worth in energy contracts. And, perhaps on the heels of Sudan's decision to stop using the dollar and deal with financial institutions with no U.S. ties, Iran may also move in this direction to blunt any further unilaterally-imposed U.S. sanctions. Meanwhile, Kuwait is moving ahead to resolve its long-standing disputes with Iran over the territorial boundary in the Gulf, which, incidentally, would allow Kuwait, Iran and Saudi Arabia to begin to develop the Dora gas field.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Some Thoughts on Russian Strategy in Europe

Brian Whitmore was kind enough to include some of my thoughts and comments on Russia's long-term strategy in the Balkans--focusing especially on the economic and business angles--in his RFE/RL Special Report. I liked the phrase he coined--"banks not tanks"--to note how the main instrument of Russian power projection is changing.

I also felt it was important that we move away from the old cliches about "Orthodox-Slavic" unity as a motivator for policy. (If Orthodoxy was a key factor one would expect the best of relations between Russia and Georgia, whose Orthodoxy is the cornerstone of national identity. Putin and Saakashvili both went to church on January 7--it is not really a common bond between them.)

Russia is cultivating a whole group of new partners in Europe on the basis of good old fashioned self-interest. Hungarians have discovered they can forgive 1848-49 and 1956 to position their country as a major hub for Russian energy exports in the 21st century. No common cultural ties connect Russia with the Netherlands, the Austrians, the Norwegians, or the Italians; and it bears noting that Russia has more of a business presence in Catholic Croatia than in Orthodox Serbia (although that may change).

Several years back, I began incorporating a component into some of the classes I teach on Russia's business diplomacy. Perhaps this is now a subject worthy of its own course.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A Tale of Two NATO Reports

As we draw closer to the NATO summit in Bucharest this spring, concerns are mounting about the future of the alliance--and whether it still can retain any effectiveness as a security organization.

First, we have the Grand Strategy report, authored by General Klaus Naumann, (former Chief of the Defence Staff of Germany and former Chairman of the NATO Military Committee), General John Shalikashvili, former SACEUR and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Field Marshal Peter Anthony Inge, former Chief of the Defence Staff of the United Kingdom, Admiral Jacques Lanxade, former Chief of the Defense Staff in France, and General Henk van den Breemen, Former Chief of the Defense Staff of the Netherlands.

They wrote, "NATO must seek clarity on its geographical dimension. ... When considering NATO enlargement to full membership, the geostrategic sphere must be taken fully into account, as must the capabilities of the current members to defend new members collectively; but so also must the capabilities of new members to defend everyone else collectively. Article 5 is an important two-way street, and we cannot extend membership in a manner that would dilute its meaning and value."

Meanwhile, Stanley Kober has presented his Cracks in the Foundation: NATO's New Troubles. It pulls no punches from the opening: "The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is beginning to fracture. Its members, sharing the triumphalism that underpinned U.S. foreign policy after the Cold War, took on burdens that have proved more difficult than expected. Increasingly, they are failing to meet the challenges confronting them."

Hopefully, these new reports will jumpstart a long-needed debate on the future of the alliance, especially since there are growing divergences on both sides of the Atlantic about its scope, purpose and future.

Monday, January 14, 2008

India/China: No Need to Panic, Yet

Prime Minister Singh's visit to China seems unlikely to produce any major breakthroughts in the relationship between Beijing and New Delhi. Singh will not go home with any equivalent to the Russo-Chinese border treaty that once and for all ended disputes over territory. A free trade arrangement is not on the horizon, as Indian companies don't want to see China accorded free market status and to open up India even more to Chinese firms able to undercut Indian prices. Nuclear cooperation seems pretty rhetorical at this point. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization--no mention so far as I can tell.

But perhaps this is the best that could be achieved under the circumstances. China's strategy seems to be the one it pursued with South Korea--let the trade and business ties grow first, then the politics will follow. Let China displace the United States as the major trade partner, and see what happens from that. Certainly, the Chinese prime minister Wen Jibao kept using the rhetoric of partnership--but to what extent both Chinese and Indian elites believe that is an open question.

From Moscow's perspective, nothing to challenge Russia's preferential ties to India. For Washington, no sign that Beijing is in any position to capitalize on the recent difficulties slowing down American-Indian rapprochement. The U.S. appeal to India lives to fight another day.

Friday, January 11, 2008

From Democracy Promotion To Evolutionary Reform?

It seems that during the president's visit to the Middle East the focus of the "freedom agenda" is shifting--away from "promoting democracy"--defined as U.S. pressure to bring about substantial institutional change--to "evolutionary reform"--having existing regimes make changes at a slower, measured pace.

Prior to the visit NSA Hadley had said, in response to a question about whether the U.S. was pulling back on its support for democracy, that there has been some progress, just not as fast as the U.S. would like. He then noted,

"They have taken some steps -- we said from the beginning that this was going to go at the pace that reflected the history and culture of the countries, and would take a form that reflected the history and culture of the countries; it could not be imposed. That said, we would obviously like and have liked a little bit greater progress."

It is also interesting to note that the president now makes the case that he never believed we would have "Jeffersonian" democracies springing up in the Middle East--a choice of phrasing that is significant because many of those who were critical from the beginning pointed out this was a utopian goal.

So what sort of democracy, then? "Sovereign democracies" in the Middle East? Interestingly enough, one of the first usages of that term appears to be not Putin but Canadian prime minister Mulroney, to defend Canada's right to take different policy choices than its southern neighbor. Greater accountability, some taking into account of popular wishes? We find the Putin regime deficient in terms of Russian democracy--would it be an improvement for Middle East democracy?

Just some thoughts.

Monday, January 07, 2008

"Essentially Democratic"

This appears to be the consensus opinion of the international observers regarding Georgia's presidential elections.

Good enough to put NATO membership back on track? Not clear at this juncture. Just as the monitors engaged in a bit of hedging in their reporting (juxtaposing the conclusion that it was a fair process with concern about shortcomings and deficiencies), my sense is that the members of the alliance will now begin to discuss among themselves a hedging strategy for Bucharest, not only for Georgia but also perhaps Ukraine: a kind of another "temporary" plan that puts off having to offer formal Membership Action Plans in place of continued "cooperation" that avoids making any final or binding committments, notwithstanding the clear preference of Georgian voters to join NATO.

I found the statement of the head of the delegation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Matyas Eorsi, puzzling: "Now it is up to the authorities to hear our criticisms and urgently respond to the significant shortcomings noted." Or what? What will happen? PACE at some point down the road will re-evaluate its assessment of Georgia in a fashion that would be negative for its aspirations for NATO membership? (And how does this square with the statement of Manfred Grund, from the German Christian Democrats, who said, "I have had the impression that the elections have been well prepared and that they are more or less following European normality.")

So I think what we will see is statements praising committment to further democratization combined with vague assurances about eventual inclusion in the Euro-Atlantic world.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

My Two Cents on Iowa

With tens of thousands of reports making their way around the internet and every pundit and blogger under the sun commenting on the Iowa results, do we really need another commentary on "what the results" mean? Perhaps not ... but I would like to offer the following lines of speculation.

Last week, in the aftermath of the Benazir Bhutto murder, I had speculated:

On a separate note, what will be the impact on the U.S. presidential race? Bhutto’s murder reinforces the line taken by Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and John McCain that we live in a dangerous and unpredictable world—where experience matters and there is no time for “on the job” training. Whether Bhutto’s death will find its way into stump speeches is something to keep an eye on.

Apparently not much of an impact in Iowa, or not a major deciding factor.

What the entrance and exit polls demonstrate is that there is a longing for "change", especially among Democrats--and that candidates who offered themselves as agents of change, of new ways of doing things, benefitted. I don't know how much foreign policy played into this--but Governor Huckabee was certainly quite critical of the current administration's approach to world affairs and Ed Rollins has emphasized that the governor is not seeking to position himself as a "third term" for president Bush, but as the instigator of a new revitalized Republican revolution--and some speculate perhaps a return to more traditional Republican approaches to international affairs. Senator Obama has tried to portray himself as someone who wants to take a practical, pragmatic approach as a "problem solver".

Will these themes gain traction among the voters?

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Reviewing Past Predictions

To start 2008, some past predictions:

Increasingly, Claude Salhani's assessment written nearly two years ago and published in the spring 2006 issue of The National Interest appears to be right on the money-- that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Bashar al-Asad will outlast the Bush Administration and remain in power past January 2009. No signs that the United States, as it emerges into an election year, is going to engage in military action designed to bring about regime change.

Colin Dueck's predictions prior to the fall 2006 midterm elections also seem to accurately capture what is happening around the presidential elections:

"Democrats may well have success this fall simply by picking up on public dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq, but as long as they give the impression of having no serious or clear alternative on national security they will continue to be at a long-term disadvantage to Republicans on these issues. … American troops will probably still be fighting in Iraq in 2008. If circumstances do not change dramatically on the ground, then opposition to the war and calls for disengagement from within the United States will only grow stronger. Yet this will not change the fundamental paradox of the political situation: Republicans are tied to an increasingly unpopular war, but the very issue of war raises perennial Democratic weaknesses and divisions that tend to redound in favor of Republicans."

On Pakistan, what Ian Bremmer said a year ago: "A new question is now raising the country’s risk profile--"what happens if Musharraf stays?" His ability to maintain the peace and to balance political forces inside and outside of his country is diminishing. He has increasingly been forced to cede local authority in the provinces along the Afghan border to fundamentalist militants. In part that’s because his government was caught flatfooted last year by a catastrophic earthquake in Kashmir (where local fundamentalists were quick to offer effective aid, just as Hizbullah provided badly needed relief services in Lebanon following the Israeli bombing last summer). But Musharraf’s inability to cripple militancy along the border also poses a growing problem for President Hamid Karzai’s government in Afghanistan. A lack of foreign troops and capital has kept the new Afghan government from asserting its power beyond the confines of Kabul (where violence has grown steadily), and the Taliban have taken back strongholds in some parts of the country.

"As the security situation in Afghanistan deteriorates, and as the West no longer sees benefit in old information on nuclear proliferation from the AQ Kahn network, Musharraf’s utility to the international community will begin to erode--and Pakistan’s partnership with the United States will face growing pressure."

And in passing, some thoughts on the dual track Russian Iran strategy.

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