Thursday, August 28, 2008

Lame-Duck Congress

I posted earlier this month a comment about the need for the United States to begin consolidating its position among other key actors in the wake of the debacle of the Georgian war. Of course, Congress, true to (at least the movie version of) George Patton's comment about them having their timetable, is going to leave a number of items of unfinished business on the table.

I think it is pretty clear why the Russia-U.S. nuclear deal is off the table, but I still think that, on its own merits, and not as any sort of punishment or reward for Russia, it should go through. Whether Congress next year will be more willing to consider the deal in light of U.S. interests remains to be seen.

Whether the U.S.-India deal can move forward is still very much up in the air. I worry about the impact of delay, especially as some in India (as yesterday's post noted) are beginning to fret about whether their policy is too U.S.-centric.

Neither the Colombia or South Korea free trade agreements are likely to be considered before the new president takes office. Again, perhaps the consequences of delay will turn out to be minimal, but there is something to be said for getting things wrapped up and for Washington to be able to count on goodwill now.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Losing Influence--A Voice from India

T. V. R. Shenoy, a leading Indian columnist, makes a few provocative points in his weekly column. Let me cite several excerpts:

Responding to developments in Georgia: "Frankly, I could care less about Russia's quarrel with Georgia. (Though I must note that President Saakashvili of Georgia is not quite the innocent lamb he is made out to be by a sympathetic American media.)"

About America's diminishing influence: "Two weeks ago, I thought even a lame-duck administration carried enough clout to push the Indian nuclear deal through the Nuclear Suppliers Group. That was clearly an erroneous assumption. The Nuclear Suppliers Group could not reach a conclusion after two days of debate, and has adjourned without specifying exactly when everyone shall reconvene."

And one of the conclusions he draws? "The bottomline is that the Manmohan Singh ministry committed a cardinal error in putting all its eggs in the American basket."

The question is, will this view become more common in key Indian political circles?

In other news, a very interesting signal. Who is going to represent India at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Dushanbe, Tajikistan? India's oil and gas minister. India is indicating where it sees its energy security.

Overheard at the Berry Farm

Last night, a group of "ordinary" (e.g. nonspecialists) people, who follow the news and seemed like informed citizens, were discussing the Russo-Georgian conflict. After nearly a month of coverage and many breathless op-eds about the subject, the group was still leery about the U.S. inserting itself into what many around the table saw as a regional conflict that did not directly affect key U.S. interests. No one was approving of Russia's actions or methods--but there wasn't much support in that group for the U.S. to have do be doing anything.

One very unscientific poll, to be sure ... but I suspect this reflects the attitudes of most Americans.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Russia: Tit-for-Tat Wins over Principle

So Russia has decided to recognize the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Does this mean recognition for Kosovo is not far behind?

Earlier this year, at the Russia-India-China meeting in Yekaterinburg, Russia scored a major diplomatic coup when it got support for a common statement on Kosovo: that there could be no recognition of a unilateral declaration of independence and that UN Security Council Resolution 1244, with its call for "substantial autonomy" for Kosovo within Serbia was the path forward. Russia was seen in much of the "World without the West" as a defender of a key principle that is near and dear to the 140 countries or so that have chosen not to recognize Kosovo independence.

What does Russia gain? The situation on the ground hasn't changed by this act, but Russia's international standing may further erode. I can't imagine that this will go over well at the forthcoming SCO summit.

First, I think that Russia's decision is going to be a lot like Turkey's decision to recognize the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus when it self-declared its independence in 1983: an act no other state will follow. Not even Russia's allies and friends are going to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia, because they have issues with territorial integrity. China and India and South Africa aren't going to be happy with any widening of the Kosovo precedent.

Second, Russia's credibility in trying to resolve other frozen conflicts like Nagorno-Karabakh and Cyprus is eroded, but perhaps that isn't really something that concerns either Smolenskaya or the Kremlin.

Getting "even" with Europe and the U.S. for their position on Kosovo doesn't to me seem a good reason for further weakening a key provision of the international order.

And Georgia, to its credit, has been consistent in its position on territorial integrity.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Orange Pakistan

Nawaz Sharif and his PML-N party have left the coalition with the PPP--one week after Pervez Musharraf resigned the presidency. Once this goal was achieved, the glue holding the coalition together dissolved. Sharif had repeatedly put forward a demand that judges sacked by the former president be reinstated.

Again, I find the parallels with Ukraine interesting. A point of contention that opened up between President Yushchenko and Yuliya Tymoshenko when she was first prime minister was over dealing with "the past"--Yushchenko trying a more "don't rock the boat" approach and Tymoshenko wanting to take much more vigorous steps against those connected with the previous administration and to neutralize their position in politics. Another point, this time reversing the analogy, is that the PPP put the husband of the murdered Benazir Bhutto, Asif Zardari, up as their candidate for president rather than what Sharif said was promised, a "neutral" candidate, fueling the charges that the PPP wants to advance its own personal and partisan agenda rather than consolidate the political changes--shades of the charges about Tymoshenko's first administration going after business and political rivals.

Sharif has also announced that retired Justice Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui will run as a rival presidential candidate against Zardari.

I don't think that Musharraf is waiting in the wings to be restored, but it does mean that Pakistani politics is not going to be focused on America's preferred agenda and instead is going to be dominated by the struggle between the former coalition partners.

Testing New Doctrines in International Relations

One of the things I found most interesting was reading the various Russian justifications for the operations in Georgia--and perhaps it should be a bit sobering for those who have been proponents of new reasons to justify interventions. I don't want to in this note or the comments get into the specific merits of the Russian claims (and counterclaims about what NATO, the U.S., the EU, the French, etc. have done); in the end, any intervention is in the eye of the beholder and those who choose to agree or disagree.

Three claims were put forward:

1) Russia had a right under "responsibility to protect" (R2P) to intervene to defend a civilian population and could intervene without the permission of the Georgian government or of any international body

2) Russia had a right as the "guarantor" of regional security

3) Russia had a right under prior agreements that created the cease-fire and peacekeeping missions in South Ossetia and Abkhazia

Russia did not seek the approval of any regional body--the CIS, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, but it will be interesting to see whether the SCO summit this week produces any sort of retroactive endorsement.

All three of the above rationale were first proposed at a time when the power of the U.S. individually and of the West collectively seemed to dwarf possible challengers and when the only real initiator of military action might be the United States. Will, in the future, proponents of R2P, for instance, want to see China use this as a rationale for action?

I assume that in the next several years we may see a return to enhancing the position that the international system should be defined by sovereignty and territorial integrity of states and the importance of the imprimatur of the Security Council for any military action other than self-defense, or perhaps the international system will become more anarchic. But I do think that some of the notions about an "international community" which were fashionable earlier may be coming in for some serious re-examination.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Diplomatic Round-Up

The U.S. Ambassador to Russia says Washington told Georgia not to invade South Ossetia and that the intial (although not subsequent) Russian response was "well-grounded." How long before the fallout starts?

Despite U.S. efforts, the nuclear suppliers group meeting in Vienna did not give India the waiver it sought. The sticking point: India at present voluntarily observes a ban on further nuclear tests; some NSG members want that ban to be worked into the conditions that would govern India's ability to engage in the nuclear trade. India cites the U.S. position--it needs to retain the right to test at some indefinite point in the future to ensure the credibility of its deterrent. Deadlock today; talks reconvene 4 August.

My big question on the Iraq deal. Given the reluctance of the current central government in Baghdad to integrate the Sunni "Sons of Iraq", is the U.S. withdrawal predicated on no killings/fighting in Iraq, or just no killing/fighting that targets U.S. personnel? Is essentially the U.S. going to stand aside if intercommunal strife begins again? And what is the strategy if the Sunnis decide to retarget U.S. forces? Something's not adding up.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

NATO's Troubles and Ukrainian Lessons for Pakistan

So, NATO decides to suspend its ties with Russia; Moscow one-upped the alliance by simply cancelling the upcoming exercises and contacts altogether. So the suspension of the NATO-Russia Council doesn't seem to have been that big a deal.

The disquiet in France over the deaths of soldiers in a Taliban attack in Afghanistan on top of the events in Georgia is likely to strengthen the "come home France/Europe" contingent, that believes NATO's duty is to protect the European core, not engage in out-of-area missions or expand obligations. Don't know how Sarkozy's comments about the need for France to be there "for the freedom of the world" will play out.

A lesson for Pakistan's version of the Orange Coalition: learn from the mistakes of your Ukrainian counterparts in 2005. Opposition to someone (Kuchma/Yanukovych or Musharraf) is a great glue but there needs to be a positive component as well. Otherwise I foresee the Pakistani coalition dissolving along the same lines as Orange I (and Orange II doesn't look so great either).

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

That Forceful NATO response

So, at the end of the emergency NATO meeting, the decision of the Western alliance is to "suspend" meetings of the NATO-Russia Council. Since there wasn't a great deal of meaningful NATO-Russia coordination and joint activity to begin with, I don't see why this will be a major blow to Moscow.

The U.S. Secretary of State, despite calls from many U.S. pundits, did not press the alliance to accelerate efforts to bring Georgia and Ukraine into the alliance, correctly assessing that there is absolutely no consensus on this issue.

The Europeans expressed their irritation with Russia's implementation of the cease-fire but also categorically rejected economic sanctions against Russia. Here I think it is also important to make this observation. It is not just that Europe is dependent on Russia for energy. Europe is making GOOD MONEY from Russia. Europeans buy energy from Russia, yes, and then sell all sorts of goods and services right back. It is a mutually-beneficial relationship and it makes sense why Europeans wouldn't want to cut into a good thing. Germany I believe is running a trade surplus with Russia, and Germany, in turn, funds a good deal of the EU. (In contrast, the U.S. spends a good deal of cash for its imported energy but doesn't seem to get reciprocal contracts back.)

So I stand by Monday's assessment.

Monday, August 18, 2008

More "Back to the Future"

Bruce Anderson opines in today's Independent:

"If only our diplomacy could be conducted in secret, without any need to appeal to the West's electorates. We need diplomats who are the intellectual heirs of Castlereagh, Kissinger, Metternich, Salisbury and Talleyrand; with the temperaments of Peter Carrington or Douglas Hurd, steeped in experience, wisdom, realism and cynicism."

A Talleyrand for the 21st century? Any prospects on the horizon?

Mixed Signals on Russia

So while the U.S. and Europe debate what steps to take to censure or punish Russia, other states are moving ahead with business as usual. Just to note. The eighth meeting of the India-Russia intergovernmental commission, for instance, occurred right on schedule this past Monday, with “the world’s largest democracy” discussing matters such as licensing India to produce the T-90 tank as well as plans for a jointly-produced fifth generation fighter plane.

Don't think there's going to be an "international community" response or even a "response of the democracies"--interests will trump rhetoric in the end. Nor do I see evidence that U.S. companies are going to follow the line of the pundits. Tom LaSorda, v.p. of Chrysler, says things seem to be on track for Chrysler to pursue partnership opportunities with Russian automakers, for instance.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Lessons for Russia

A final observation, as I step back to survey the larger Eurasian picture. And my hope is that the Russian Foreign Ministry and its analytical wing begin to pay attention to a critical question: why, with all of its advantages, has Russia failed to deploy and use its soft power to much better advantage in the Eurasian space?

Russia is the economic center of gravity of the region; there are millions of Ukrainians and Georgians who live and work in Russia, and who have benefited from its prosperity (and by extension, helped the economies of their countries as well). Russia has done much more in economic terms than the West. There still are immensely strong cultural ties as well.

I know that people point to the nationalism of the west Ukrainians or of some segments of the Georgian elite, but in the case of Georgia, why did no stronger pro-Russian party develop as a counterweight?

Russia does seem to have pursued a much more effective policy toward Kazakhstan--even when Kazakhstan has flirted with the West and pursued closer ties with the U.S. and Europe. Is it because Russia has been prepared in its dealing with Astana to work on the basis of equality/near equality of partners?

Is there a way Russia could have said, join with us for mutual prosperity and benefit, that would have resonated? Could this have also borne fruit in Russia's problematic ties with Central-Eastern Europe. It does seem that in Russia's relationships with Hungary and Slovakia, for instance, this message--let's make money together--has won out. Not so much with Poland.

Perhaps Russia should study the often prickly U.S.-Mexican but also sometimes problematic U.S.-Canadian relationship; it is hard for smaller countries to subsist in the shadow of a major power (and the U.S. did fight wars with Mexico and twice tried to conquer Canada in its earlier history).

You see the warm relations between members of the various post-Soviet Olympic teams in Beijing, even the Russian and Georgian ones. There is a foundation there.

Perhaps the Russian version of Joe Nye can research and explain this problem. I am still genuinely puzzled by it--and this meandering post is a reflection of that confusion.

Out of Steam

Andrew Sullivan has made some excellent points about the commentary on the recent events in the Caucasus and the U.S. response and has them grouped in a sidebar on his blog; the comment to stop hyperventilating, the misuse of analogies (it's always 1938!) and analysis that avoids both extremes (Moscow is absolutely evil versus the U.S. is no better than Russia).

A lot of hot air released over the last week; let's see where we are now. Another attempt at a cease-fire in Georgia, perhaps more likely to hold, and become the prevailing status quo (no Russian presence in most of Georgia proper, but Russia solidifies its presence in Ossetia and Abkhazia). A cold peace with occasional hot flashes descends.

The U.S. moves away from trying to balance between cultivating its new allies and preserving good ties with Russia. What was striking to me about the signing of the missile defense deal in Poland is that this time, there was no pushback or real efforts by Washington to talk down or dismiss claims coming from Poland that the missile system and its attendant facilities may in fact be directed not just at rogue Iranians but at Russia itself. Doubt also that the U.S. in future will try to segregate its Georgia train and equip program and say this is just to deal with terrorism, not with efforts to regain control over all of Georgia's territory.

But the U.S. won't invest in the effort to build up a counter-balance to Russia among what's left of the GUAM framework, so Georgia will limp along and Ukraine will continue to teeter on the balance between west and east.

There'll be continued trans-Atlantic discord on this issue; whether it spills over and affects other parts of the relationship has yet to be seen. Merkel and McCain don't seem to have as much common ground on Russia, for instance.

All of this gets handed to a new administration in January 2009, but between now and then lines and positions will solidify.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Consolidate the U.S. Position: Serbia and India

It looks like the attempt to get the 45-nation nuclear suppliers' group to agree to the waiver needed for the U.S.-India nuclear deal to move forward is stalling--and this, in turn, puts in doubt whether the agreement can be ratified this year.

Washington needs to be prepared for this. It was eminently predictable that some countries would raise major objections. But I fear we have nothing on offer to India that might send the signal that the U.S. does prioritize the rapprochement with New Delhi.

In the wake of the Georgia debacle, now is not the time for further diplomatic defeats handed to the United States. Putting India on the front burner is also important given that the Singh government nearly didn't survive its no-confidence vote. And I don't know whether having India go as an observer to the Shanghai summit later this month, especially with the perceived resurgence of Russia as a major power, and hear the same message that the U.S. can't deliver on its promises to India, but that China and Russia are there for New Delhi, is an outcome we want.

The other matter: Serbia. Events in Georgia have emboldened those in the Balkans who feel that Russia is back on the move. We have a pro-Western government in Belgrade and stalemate in Kosovo. Perhaps the time is now to 1) give Belgrade some credit for Karadzic and 2) start a new diplomatic process on defining a final status relationship between Serbia and Kosovo--confederal, partition, parallel relations, entities, whatever. Something creative (see, for instance, what Gordon Bardos and others have talked about). Something that helps to restore the credibility to the U.S. position on why territorial integrity of states matters. Get the Kosovo question moving in the direction of a solution that Serbia can endorse, and get Serbia moving on its Euro-Atlantic integration path--that is what serves U.S. interests.

Yes, I know it is August. But perhaps curtailing some vacations is in order. But I have no hope at all that we will work to solidify our position in the Balkans or with India.

(And it is because of statements like these that I have my disclaimer in the blog).

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Because They Can -- and a New Congress of Berlin?

I thought that Moscow might decide to enhance Europe's diplomatic efforts by fully implementing the cease-fire--on the grounds that let Europe show it can do something with Russia without the U.S. and to enhance the notion that Europe and Russia, left to themselves, can do something productive.

Instead, it seems that the imperative is, to paraphrase the 2004 U.S. election slogan, that Russia needs no "permission slip" to pursue its interests and that no outside power can stop Russia; that Russia will stop by an act of its own will, not imposed from without.

So I think my somewhat pessimistic tone from earlier this week is justified as to where all of this ends up.

It also means the likelihood of a 19th century-style "Congress" solution under the parameters many feel might be the most viable--very broad autonomy for the provinces but with retention of Georgia's territorial integrity, perhaps a role for Russia along the lines Ireland obtained for the welfare of Northern Ireland in the 1985 Anglo-Irish accords (which at the time some vociferously opposed for weakening London's sovereignty), soem sort of neutral status for Georgia along the lines of what the Finns got after World War II--which enabled, by the way, Finland to enjoy good economic prospects and remain a part of the West in everything but military terms--is probably out the window.

But it raises a question, prompted by the Simon Jenkins quote in an earlier post: are there lessons from the Congress system that are applicable today? Generally the goal was to satisfy some demands from each of the powers; no one got entirely what they wanted; but the system did seem to work to tap down the prospects for conflict.

One final note: Tony Blankley, Anatol Lieven and Morton Abramowitz don't usually agree with each other on many issues and even on the Russo-Georgian conflict they disagree. But I found it interesting that each concluded that the lesson for the U.S> is that this isn't the 1990s anymore and, to quote directly from Abramowitz: "that the mythical world of the 1990s is gone—to cease believing that U.S. and NATO utterances can make the Russian sea recede whether it is in the Caucasus or central Asia." In other words, better not make promises you can't keep.

Or Not Time to Clean Up Yet ... And back to 1815

One of the problems with trying to blog about an event in real time is that events have a way of changing. So there is a declared cease-fire but fighting is still ongoing, and the Russian Foreign Ministry seems to have interpreted the cease-fire requirements to mean that until Georgian troops return to barracks, not simply pull back, that operations will continue. But I do think that things will sputter out in a few days, although I could be wrong--readers of TWR following my blog posts of the fighting can see earlier predictions not validated by subsequent events.

Simon Jenkins made the following bold claim in today's Guardian, about where the international order is heading. It is certainly a thesis that needs to be debated.

I retain an archaic belief that the old UN principle of non-interference, coupled with a realpolitik acceptance of "great power" spheres of influence, is still a roughly stable basis for international relations. It may on occasions be qualified by soft-power diplomacy and humanitarian relief. It may demand an abstinence from kneejerk gestures in favour of leaving things to sort themselves out (as in Zimbabwe). But liberal interventionism, especially when it leads to military and economic aggression, means one costly adventure after another - and usually failure.

Hat tip: Atlantic Community.

Cleaning Up

The cease-fire in the Caucasus appears to be holding. Now we confront the "day after" issues.

One thing I and my fellow pundits lack (we do have an ample supply of hot air!)-- we have no ability to direct large amounts of foreign investment, and right now Georgia is facing a real crisis--the possibility that whatever is left of Western investment, beyond the pipeline, may continue to leave. Contrast that with the $500 million pledged from Russia for reconstruction efforts in Ossetia. On top of that, most American companies doing business in Russia--like GM, Proctor and Gamble, Ford, Microsoft, etc.--are not going to pull up and leave just because of what some pundit writes in the newspaper about the need to "punish" Russia--nor are they going to redirect funds to "help" Georgia.

Most of the proposals I've seen to "help" Georgia don't address economic issues. Of some of the others, an interesting one is the proposal that the U.S. should not wait for the Europeans to join in extending a NATO invitation (and opinion about the desirability of such a step is quite divided across the Atlantic) but designate Georgia a "non-NATO ally." The problem here--Pakistan's designation as such carries no guarantee that the U.S. will intervene to protect Islamabad in the event of a clash with India. And Congress is not going to put its money where its mouth is and push for any sort of Article 5 commitment.

The one about disbanding the G-8 altogether (rather than "expelling" Russia)--to the extent that the G-8 doesn't really effectively tackle issues (remember the plans to help the Greater Middle East, Africa, deal with climate change or respond to the 2006 Lebanon war) I think may have merit, but unlikely to happen.

The London Timeshas an assessment of the cease-fire and reactions. The headline says it all: "war of words." Right now, we aren't seeing much beyond rhetoric and promises of action.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Sarkozy-Medvedev Talks

Over at the Atlantic Community, I've raised the question about the possible trans-Atlantic divide over the response to the Georgia/Russia conflict.

(Former German Foreign Minister Fischer's piecein Die Zeit also illustrates some of the real divergences in perspectives.

Now that we have the news that French President Sarkozy, having met with Russian President Medvedev, has unveiled a plan for restoring peace to the Caucasus. It is not clear whether Washington will like provisions four--calling for Georgia to withdraw its forces to the pre-conflict lines outside of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, in essence returning to the status quo of these two provinces being de facto independent--and five, which not only keeps Russian forces in place as peace-keepers but allows for them to be reinforced. Having a new round of discussions on final status for the two provinces--provision six--may also be problematic for Washington because it has endorsed complete reintegration of these two provinces with Georgia, whereas European negotiators may be more inclined to explore Kosovo-style options.

At any rate, Sarkozy's visit to Russia doesn't bode well for U.S. calls for a forceful Western response.

Unrest in Kashmir

With all of the attention on the fighting in the Caucasus, it is important not to let other things slide under the radar. The renewed outbreak of unrest in Kashmir bears watching, especially because the recent incidents seem to be linked with a growing frustration over the lack of progress on talks announced in 2004.

This, in turn, can only complicate the Indo-Pakistan relationship. Pakistan is trying to link the violence to the overall tenor of bilateral talks, while India has warned Islamabad not to become involved in its internal affairs.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Georgia Appeals to Beijing

One of the stories that just came up on my desktop was a report about the visit of the Georgian ambassador in Beijing to the Chinese Foreign Ministry with a request for the PRC to use its influence to bring an end to the fighting in the Caucasus.

Apparently the Georgians appealed to China's sentiments about defending sovereignty and territorial integrity.

It helps that Georgia has never recognized Kosovo's independence, even despite strong pressure from its Western allies, so it can make the case in Beijing that Tbilisi does have a consistent position on the issue.

It is also interesting to note that, having come up short in terms of help from the U.S. and Europe, the decision was made to make an appeal to the Chinese.

Ghosts of Kosovo in the Caucasus

Some of the rhetoric that the U.S. and NATO bandied about in 1999 to justify the Kosovo operation may be coming back to haunt us in the wake of the 2008 Ossetian war.

Russia has claimed that its mandate from the 1992 Sochi agreement to "keep the peace" gives it the right to take whatever measures are necessary to secure South Ossetia. But this can be interpreted to mean that Russia has the right to strike targets in Georgia proper on the grounds that Georgia's warfighting abilities must be degraded--similar to the NATO rationale in 1999 for hitting targets in Serbia itself, not just Serbian units in Kosovo.

Russia is also utilizing the "loss of sovereignty" argument that was advanced against Serbia in 1999--that Georgia's attack on South Ossetia which seemed to target civilians has produced such a negative reaction among Ossetians who claim they can no longer live under Georgian rule. So, the argument is that Tbilisi has forfeited its right to exercise sovereignty over South Ossetia just as Serbia supposedly lost its sovereign rights over Kosovo.

And whether the West, and particularly the U.S., buys this or not is no longer the issue. Moscow doesn't seem to care whether we accept these comparisons, just as we didn't care about Moscow's opinion on Kosovo final status. We can either try to fight it--which we don't seem to want to do--or we will have to accept it de facto--which is where things seem to be headed, at least given the tenor of the French peace mission, which wants a restoration of the August 6 status quo--which for all intents and purposes is a Russian victory and a Georgian defeat.

A final and sobering note of comparison. The 1999 Kosovo war soured U.S.-Russia relations and prevented cooperation that might have nipped Al-Qaeda in the bud in Afghanistan prior to 9/11. The Ossetian war today is going to torpedo any effort to restart the U.S.-Russia partnership--and what consequences might result?

Bolivia and Iran: In the Shadows

With all of the attention focused on the war in the Caucasus, I did want to pause for a moment and look at two other developments over the weekend that touch on U.S. interests.

The first is the recall election in Bolivia. Evo Morales won 63 percent of the vote, increasing his majority of victory from the 54 percent he received when first elected. With this renewed mandate, it makes it harder to claim that his program of redistribution (as well as his anti-Americanism) does not enjoy the support of the majority of Bolivians, and the results are also a boost to Hugo Chavez. For Washington, the one bright spot may be that one of Morales' harshest critics, the governor of Santa Cruz, Ruben Costas, also won his ballot and stays in office.

Saeed Jalili, Iran's nuclear negotiator, is said to be upbeat after his conversation with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana on Sunday. Perhaps he is in a good mood because he senses that the fragile united front against Iran is in danger of imploding. At any rate, the "freeze for freeze" proposal seems less and less likely to move forward, and one part of the EU-led strategy--which was carrots from the Geneva talks while pressure intensifies from the UN in New York--is now in doubt. Talks on a fourth sanctions resolution for the Security Council to consider may now be off given the rising level of hostility between the U.S. and Russia.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Why Words Matter: Final Thoughts on the Caucasus War

Over the weekend, the situation could escalate or it could simmer down. It's not clear at this point what will happen.

I wanted to close with some final thoughts, about how "words matter"--especially when uttered by Western politicians who don't always consider how what they say has an impact. So let me offer a few examples.

1) Internationalizing the peacekeepers in the region. For years, Georgia has complained about the lack of peacekeepers from states other than Russia. Western politicians echoed these complaints, but were never serious about actually proposing their own forces--certainly not the U.S. We'd complain, and then the mandates for the Russians would be renewed.

There were proposals floated a few years back about having a dual-ring of peacekeepers--Russian and Western--to provide greater security and assurance--but no takers. (Ian Bremmer and I advanced a similar, although more general, idea some four years ago.)

A comment posted on the last entry in the blog raises a very pertinent question: we say Russia is no longer able to be an impartial peacekeeper. But what happens if no Western country is prepared to send any peacekeepers should a new cease-fire come into being? Then what?

2) The reasons for keeping Georgia out of NATO. Rather than being more open and honest, a number of European leaders searched for excuses so as to avoid having to say no outright. One of them was that Georgia could not be considered for NATO membership until it had resolved the separatist conflicts and established its territorial integrity. Perhaps the feeling was that Abkhazia and Ossetia would end up being like the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus--an "eternally frozen" conflict. There are indications that one of the reasons for this operation, from the Georgian side, was to begin to restore the country's territorial integrity so as to remove this objection to Georgia's NATO membership.

Finally, I hope that there was nothing done by the U.S. that someone in Georgia could have considered to be a "wink" or a "nod" for this.

Update on the Caucasus War

My sense, as of 12:30 PM EST:

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili upped the ante this afternoon when he called for American support. "We are a freedom-loving nation that is right now under attack," he said in an interview to CNN. This follows the arrival in South Ossetia, on the heels of “volunteers”, of regular Russian military forces whose apparent mission is to re-establish the status quo as it stood earlier this week: a division between Georgia proper and a South Ossetia which still proclaims its right to separate. In order to accomplish that, however, Georgian forces would either have to withdraw to the previous lines of control, or they would have to be compelled by force. The latter is what is happening—and the danger is that the fighting will spread beyond Ossetia if the Russian forces decide they must target Georgian military forces elsewhere in order to achieve this purpose.

With television screens across Russia displaying the destruction of Tskhinvali and reports circulating of hundreds of civilian casualties, it is becoming difficult for the Kremlin to back down, given that most residents of South Ossetia are Russian citizens.

Tbilisi, which feels it may be on the verge of “solving” the Ossetian secession once and for all, is not going to meekly accept a return to any status quo ante bellum.

The West, and particularly the United States, which poured on the rhetoric of support for a “democratic Georgia”, may now find itself trapped by those honeyed words. Does President George W. Bush want to be accused, as was his Republican predecessor Dwight D. Eisenhower, of abandoning a “freedom loving people” to Russian tanks? (It does help that, like Eisenhower in 1956, there is a major ongoing Middle Eastern crisis to distract attention, in fact there are three!)

So far, the response from official Washington is a mix of reaffirming support for Georgia’s territorial integrity with calls for an immediate cease-fire and the dispatch of an as-yet unnamed envoy to the region. Senator Obama focused on the need for fresh negotiations on all sides to seek a diplomatic solution.

Senator John McCain went further. He said, “We should immediately call a meeting of the North Atlantic Council to assess Georgia's security and review measures NATO can take to contribute to stabilizing this very dangerous situation. Finally, the international community needs to establish a truly independent and neutral peacekeeping force in South Ossetia.” Left unsaid, of course, is what those measures might consist of, who would supply the forces and material (since Afghanistan, a much more pressing mission, remains undersupplied), and, of course, whether such action by NATO would terminate Russian assistance to the alliance in transporting men and material to Afghanistan, especially when the future of the Pakistan-based supply routes is unclear—not to mention what might happen if other key NATO allies didn’t see things his way.

The real danger, and we’ve seen it in the last 24 hours, is that the pattern of escalation/counter-escalation has taken over. If not interrupted, the conflict will worsen.
Jonathan Eyal, director of studies at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London, summed up the West’s dilemma in comments to The Guardian: “There is considerable sympathy for Georgia among western governments such as the US and London. It is clear that the Russians have fermented the separatist movement for a particular strategic purpose. "There is also however an enormous amount of frustration with the reckless behaviour of the Georgian president at this moment.”

But there can be no progress on a diplomatic solution if the Ossetians are left out of the equation. Whether we in the West like it or not, a 2006 referendum showed clear support among the population for independence from Georgia (and many might wish to reunite with the Ossetians north across the border in Russia). These may be inconvenient facts, but all sides will have to confront them.

One final note: the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline stopped working as a result of PKK attacks. Oil shipments were suspended. So, with the oil flow stopped, the current fighting in Ossetia can't be blamed as the cause.

The New MAD World -- Guest Post by Devin Stewart

After participating in a recent foreign policy conference call, it occurred to me that analysts are speaking to one another on different modes, often talking past one another. One mode is the classical balance of power conversation: Which country has more power in various regional theaters? Another mode looks at foreign policy questions in a global context: What are the most urgent problems facing the world today?

Can these two modes of analysis be reconciled?

The biggest phenomenon in international relations today, the so-called rise of the rest, presents fertile ground to test such a question. Many observers, from Fareed Zakaria to Kishore Mahbubani to Steve Weber, have noticed that “non-Western” states such as China, Russia, and India, are growing more rapidly than Western states and are doing more business with one another. They therefore have more foreign policy options—they can “route around” the United States, as Nick Gvosdev has put it. To further this conversation, Nick and I assembled a group of experts at the Carnegie Council this summer as a follow up to a panel at the Nixon Center in the summer of 2007.

A surprising consensus emerged from that panel: The current international system is witnessing the birth of an “embryonic community,” as George Washington University professor Harry Harding put it. Two camps are taking shape, providing more clarity about the system than the amorphous notion of a “multi-polar system” that has plagued foreign policy thinking for the past few years. According to Harding, the world’s two camps are the U.S.-led elitist reformers and the China- and Russia-led populist conservatives. Harding noted that these two camps happen to view the world in contrasting terms: The U.S. group wants democracy at home and order in the world, while the other group (the rest) wants order at home and democracy in the world.

If indeed a system of two camps or one that is “nonpolar,” as Richard Haass puts it, is emerging, is cooperation more or less likely? Harding’s answer was optimistic: The current problems of today, including climate change and energy security, are so grave that they will force cooperation between these two camps. In political science terms, Harding likened these two camps to political parties, concluding that bipartisanship (or cooperation) was likely.

Which brings me to my conference call. The conversation was stuck on whether Japan or the United States will define China’s rise as a “threat” without defining the assumptions or even the problem. If the problems facing statesmen today are so severe, will they continue to view rivals in the simple terms of threat analysis?

Taking the assumption of two emerging camps, “the West” and “the rest,” I might offer a way out of this analytical problem: The current system may be Cold War Lite in which noncooperation is the new mutual assured destruction (MAD). The imperative of the global commons is such that if we fail to cooperate, our destruction is mutually assured. Welcome to the new MAD world.

All of the greatest challenges—climate change, nuclear proliferation, terrorism, pandemics, dwindling natural resources, and economic vulnerability as a consequence of interdependence—necessitate cooperation but states will only cooperate if they can build trust. Classical realists can build trust by employing the traditional instruments of statecraft, such as trade agreements, treaties, sea lane protection, and military exercises, so that states can overcome the mutual distrust that is preventing cooperation. They don’t have to use liberal instruments like international law or institutions.

The deeper, perhaps more psychological obstacles preventing cooperation are those identified by Scott Barrett in his book Why Cooperate: The Incentive to Supply Global Public Goods. The tragedy of the “new commons,” as Bill Owens calls it, is that the benefit to the state that provides global public goods is diffuse except that it acquires moral leadership in the international community, something that is essential to preventing a hegemon from being perceived as a threat. Yes, China and Russia are rising but they will only trigger balance of power politics if they do not also provide global public goods.

The task for United States is therefore to lead by providing those public goods and facilitating a sincere conversation about global ethics. The United States can lead by example but it also must grapple with the question: What is the fairest way to address the world’s problems? Assigning responsibility for climate change mitigation, for example, is not simple. Should the biggest polluter bear the most responsibility? And over what time period do you measure that pollution? Or should it be the richest country? Or the country with the greatest ability to take action? These are the questions that the world’s aspiring leaders should have the courage to ask.

Devin Stewart is Director of the Global Policy Innovations at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs.

Caucasian Endgames?

Escalation continues. The Russian Defense Ministry has now apparently confirmed that it will send in "regular" forces to protect Russian citizens in South Ossetia.

So what are the endgames here?

If the Georgian army can take and hold South Ossetia, does this solve that separatist problem once and for all, or does it continue to spiral? Can the Georgians stop operations or are they now committed to finishing the job no matter the cost?

Does a direct clash between Russian and Georgian forces bolster Georgia's argument that it needs NATO membership to protect it from Russia, or will it cause skeptics in Europe to decide that the alliance doesn't need further complications?

Does Russian president Dimitri Medvedev has to worry about "looking strong" in his first crisis as chief executive, or can he de-escalate things from the Russian side?

So far, the messages I decode from Western capitals--including Washington--is a lot of regret, some finger pointing and a clear undercurrent of "we don't want to actually have to get involved." I certainly don't see the current round of hostilities increasing the likelihood that, per Georgia's repeated requests, Western forces become part of any new peacekeeping/stabilization operations.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Well, That Didn't Last Long--Fighting Resumes in the Caucasus

When I had penned a short piece on the outbreak of fighting in the Caucasus for NI online at midday, a ceasefire seemed to be in place. It lasted for about four hours.

Renewed fighting in South Ossetia resumed as the Georgian government announced it was going to restore "constitutional order" in the separatist region, and Tskhinvali, the capital of the enclave, is now under siege.

Like clockwork, stage 2 in the escalation of the conflict, as predicted, is now underway. Reuters had this to say in the last hour: "In a sign of broadening conflict, hundreds of volunteers from Russia and Georgia's other breakaway region of Abkhazia headed to South Ossetia to support the separatist forces. ... Interfax quoted Taimuraz Mamsurov, the head of Russia's province of North Ossetia bordering South Ossetia, as saying: 'Hundreds of volunteers from North Ossetia are on their way to South Ossetia. We cannot stop them or prevent them from going.' It also quoted Sergei Bagapsh, the head of Georgia's other breakaway province of Abkhazia, as saying: 'About 1,000 Abkhaz volunteers are leaving for South Ossetia.'"

What are the gameplans? Is Tbilisi thinking it can do what Russia has done in Chechnya--a military strike to crush the rebellion and then installation of an alternative Ossetian administration, in this case, the "Provisional Administration of South Ossetia" under the leadership of Dimitry Sanakoyev? Will Russia claim the right to intervene on the grounds that most South Ossetians hold Russian citizenship--the distinction being that while Russia recognizes the territorial integrity of Georgia, it still must "look out" for its own? Also, given the hands-off nature of the Kremlin's approach in the Caucasus, what will local leaders do--take matters into their own hands?

I know that some here in the U.S. are hoping for a quick reintegration that will present Russia with a fait accompli, but if that doesn't happen, then what?

On a side note, what happens to a much more volatile situation in the Caucasus--I'm thinking here of Nagorno-Karabakh. Does the Georgian action increase the possibility that Azerbaijan may see the military option as preferable for "solving" Nagorno-Karabakh--something that could really destabilize the region and jeopardize vital energy transport links if it goes south? Already Fitch is talking about downgrading Georgia's credit rating as a result of the fighting.

We know what a long-term solution to this problem looks like: broad autonomy for the regions within Georgia with some role for Russia--what President Saakashvili seemed to endorse on Thursday. But the fighting makes getting from point A to point B that much more difficult.

Replacing Managed Pluralism

The Washington Post's John Pomfret has come up with a turn of phrase to describe how the Beijing government maintains political control while permitting a zone of personal freedom: the Kung fu masters' approach—concentrate on controlling the pressure points.

It is a useful analogy--and why the easy division of the world into "free" and "not free" can miss the point.

It's also a more catchy turn of phrase than the one I use: managed pluralism.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

A President's Faith

President Bush's remarks in Thailand today about China sounded familiar to me. The president criticized Beijing's human rights record, but then sounded an optimistic note, that China's leadership will move on political reforms to accentuate the economic growth of the country. Speaking in Bangkok, he said:

"We speak out for a free press, freedom of assembly, and labor rights not to antagonize China's leaders, but because trusting its people with greater freedom is the only way for China to develop its full potential."

I went back to a Fall 2005 article written in TNI by my colleague Chris Marsh, and found this:

"[I]n 2003, during the arrival ceremony for visiting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, President Bush said that, based upon the maturity of the U.S.-Chinese relationship, it was possible to talk freely and openly about their differences, including religious freedom. 'China has discovered that economic freedom leads to national wealth', the president observed. He continued by stating that the growth of economic freedom in China gives reason to hope for increased social, political and religious freedom and that 'in the long run, these freedoms are indivisible and essential to national greatness and national dignity.'"

So there has been a consistent view, that China's economic development creates evolutionary conditions for democratic development.

But in the short run, say the next ten to twenty years, does some version of the managed pluralist system work and sustain itself?

It will also be interesting to see how the president's quite vocal criticism of China's record plays out. After all, he is adhering to what I thought was the implicit bargain reached last fall when he met with President Hu Jintao (see my essay in TAC on the subject).

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Asymmetric Global Reach

After perusing several different Russian sites today, this is the picture forming in my head:

The Russian Federation cannot return as a superpower rival to the United States, nor seek to balance Washington. But what it can do is use its regained wealth to "annoy" and complicate matters for America.

My thinking was sparked by reading this report in Utro.ruabout Russian plans to form what would effectively be a version of the U.S. Space Command. Then over to Leonid Ivashov's comments about restoring a Russian presence in Cuba--reactivating a listening post and having air facilities. Add to that the ending note in the piece about expanding the range of Russian patrols and what you have is a blueprint for Moscow "showing the flag" in areas the U.S. thought it no longer had to worry about after the end of the Cold War.

Let's not overreact, of course. The U.S. is in no way threatened by the flights of 1950s-era bombers over the Pacific. But it is an annoyance and causes us to have to pay attention to matters we assumed were taken care of.

I don't think that Moscow is trying to challenge the U.S., and all of these new military expenditures still don't dent overwhelming U.S. superiority. But these efforts are also "no skin off Moscow's nose"--paid for out of new-found wealth--so that unlike during the Soviet period, "butter" is not being sacrificed for "guns". Perhaps the Kremlin wants to see if these annoyances may cause us to recalculate our own strategy in the Eurasian space.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Globosclerosis: Changing Doctors

NI online today focuses attention on the David Brooks column and responses from the blogosphere. Allow me to add my own two cents.

There is a binary trap at work here: either the U.S. puts together an effective coalition, or nothing gets down. Formal institutions don't appear to be working, and unilateral action has been discredited by Iraq, so nothing will get done.

There is, however, a third possibility--other states may choose to "get something done" but not seek U.S. leadership, permission or even participation. Yes, right now in 2008 this is quite embryonic, but if we look at some of the attempts to forge capabilities, and I've tried to follow that trend here at TWR--say, among the SCO members, the emerging IBSA forum, and so on--in a few years this third option may be much more feasible.

I still don't have a good sense for how we would react to some of these developments. If IBSA could in fact assume more responsibility for oceanic security in its zone of action, would we, the U.S., ask to take part? Want to be consulted? Would we try to oppose? Or would we see this as a legitimate response to our grips about free-riders?

One final point. Brooks assumes that the U.S. would be in the forefront of a league of democracies. What happens if a group of democracies decided we were the problem, not the solution? Then what?

The Lesson of Solzhenitsyn

One point to remember in assessing the life and legacy of Alexander Solzhenitsyn: a critic of a totalitarian system is not ipso facto a supporter of American-style liberalism. Nor, in seeking to destroy the old system, will such a person automatically endorse everything that the successor regime does. Solzhenitsyn was a bold and prophetic critic to the evils of the Soviet system; he was horrified by what occurred in post-Soviet, 1990's "free" Russia.

Solzhenitsyn's trajectory is important to keep in mind as we expect and wait for Iranian and Chinese versions; critics of their own systems will not mean that they uncritically endorse us.

On a passing note--the general lack of interest in Solzhenitsyn among the younger, post-Soviet generations in Russia ... is the era of the "intellectual" come to an end? In conditions of relative freedom, certainly when compared against the scope of Russian history, is the need for the poet and writer diminished, when individuals are now much freer to chart their own destinies?

Friday, August 01, 2008

The Oil Price

OPEC president Chakib Khelil earlier this week indicated that oil prices, over the long term, should drop and that the black sludge should be trading at between $70-$80 a barrel. This is predicated on a strengthening U.S. dollar and restoration of confidence in the greenback's value, and the defusing of any crisis surrounding Iran, which has spooked markets.

An interesting sidenote. In going through some old files, I came across some notes from a 2003 U.S.-Russia dialogue. In it, a Russian economist was discussing how, when oil hit $30 (thirty!) /barrel, Russia would start accummulating a capital surplus. I realize that in the last several years, Russia has begun spending a lot more of its oil boom revenue--but it is still interesting to note that even if oil "falls" from where it is now, in the $140 band--to $70--it is not like we are cutting off the gravy train--we'll just have lowered their superprofits.

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