Friday, November 28, 2008

Maritime Security from Somalia to India

Via the Washington Post, the December 2006 report of the Mumbai Intelligence Bureau about the maritime security deficit. (It is believed that the attackers, said to be linked to Lashkar-e Taiba, came via sea after hijacking a vessel):

--In the first phase, they are being given swimming lessons. In the second
phase, they are being trained to handle large boats, laying of mines in
coastal zones and planting of explosives under dams, bridges, ships etc.

--In the third and final phase, they are being taught navigational
techniques, rescue operations, surveillance methods, concealment of
explosives and underwater attack on enemy's coastal targets/vessels.

The Post says that the letter estimated that some 500 to 600 Lashkar-e Taiba recruits had been trained in these operations and, as the article noted, "were planning to infiltrate into the coastlines and island territories disguised as fishermen."

So it does suggest that at some point there could be overlap between pirates and terrorists ...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Coming to Pass: SecDef Gates to Remain?

News reports are suggesting today that it is all but confirmed that current Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will stay at his post through 2009 as part of the Obama Administration.

Back in September, I had noted,

"[B]oth presidential candidates might consider asking Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to remain in office not simply through January but to a later point in the calendar for 2009; to ensure continuity and to provide a more stable and structured way to initiate the transition. This would also mean, particularly in that critical point between Election Day in November 2008 and Inauguration Day in January 2009, that there would be a senior figure with whom other countries could have confidence that any arrangements reached with the United States would not be measured with a shelf life of only a few weeks. ... Secretary Gates seems to be a figure that both of the presidential candidates could work with, and who would be able to assist in a much more seamless, less chaotic transition. It is perhaps an unorthodox idea to consider, particularly considering Washington’s political culture, but these are uncertain times—and the next administration is not going to be given a honeymoon period to get up to speed on the critical issues of the day."

This appears to be the logic at work. It certainly strengthens the U.S. position to have this type of continuity. One cannot also not ignore the domestic ramifications; of letting the previous administration's defense secretary continuing to oversee the wars initiated by the previous administration.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

China-Russia: Limiting the Fallout

Reading with interest reports coming from the APEC summit in Peru about the meetings between China's president Hu Jintao and Russia's president Dimitry Medvedev, about the "strategic action plan" they discusssed during the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Washington. It sounds like an economic version of Bismarck's "reinsurance treaty" system. In the energy sphere, it sounds like China is guaranteeing purchases of Russian energy which in turn guarantees Russia a set amount of income and gives Russia the financing to proceed with field and infrastructure development. China gets energy security, Russia doesn't have to turn to skittish international credit markets for financing. Whether, over time, both China and Russia work to developed a system that helps to shield both from negative consequences in the international global economy will be interesting to observe.

Monday, November 24, 2008

India Consultations on Piracy

The Hindureports in today's edition that India is holding talks with Russia and Japan about a joint anti-piracy mission in the Indian Ocean. What I found interesting was one of the driving reasons: "India is averse to joining a fleet other than a U.N.-mandated operation" and does not want to have its efforts subordinated to NATO.

Despite its warming ties with the United States, India does not appear at all interested in foreclosing any of its other security options. India already seems open to working more closely with Russia in combating piracy. War games are now scheduled in January 2009, the fourth installment of the INDRA series. Interestingly, the report cited above maintains that a key goal of the exercise will be to train in destroying an aircraft carrier (no nationality of the carrier is assigned, but TWR readers can easily determine the two potential candidates from the Indian and Russian perspectives).

Friday, November 21, 2008

Gvosdev's Nationality Theses

I presented these thoughts at a roundtable yesterday at the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies--on Russia's national identity in the 21st century. Submitted for your consideration.

1. Growing convergence between nation and citizenship. Twenty-three years ago, Mikhail Gorbachev's famous slip in Kiev, when he talked about "Russia" as the Soviet Union, implied Russians and Soviets were interchangeable. Solzhenitsyn's 1990 essay on rebuilding Russia went narrower--Russia was not the Soviet Union but it was more than the Russian Federation. Today, I think we are moving in the direction that a Russian is someone who carries the passport and citizenship of the Russian Federation. These are the people that Russia is seen as having an obligation to protect. Russian-speakers, people of Russian heritage, the Russian "diaspora"--they may form part of a community of culture with Russia, but unless they carry Russian passports, they are not Russian in the same way.

2. Emergence of post-Soviet "markers" for Russian identity. Aided tremendously by the enormous resurgence of the Russian-language media--films, internet, book publishing--creating a new post-Soviet Russian popular and elite culture. Emphasis on "cultural Orthodoxy" providing norms. Vladislav Surkov's attempts to define a "Russian political culture"--and the fact that his opponents also debate the same ground. Resumption of old imperial notion that to be Russian is to be part of the Russian state.

3. The wild card: Russia cannot fully define its national identity as long as Ukraine's remains undefined. 17 percent of people in Ukraine define themselves as Russian; 14 percent of those who define themselves as Ukrainian cite themselves as Russian-speakers. But is there a defined identity of "Russian-Ukraine"--where the Ukrainian state is the focal point of loyalty but the cultural identity is seen as Russian? In other words, could this 30 percent or so of Ukraine end up being like the Austrians vis-a-vis Germany? (Think what might have happened if Skoropadsky's Hetmanante of 1918 had lasted longer.) And in Russia itself, what would be the reaction? And over the next several decades, how will Ukrainization proceed, and will it begin to change these numbers--and again, what would be the reaction in Russia? Right now there is (reluctant) acceptance of the reality of a separate Ukrainian state but also the sense that there really isn't a major border that prevents and cuts off contact. That certainly changes if Ukraine gets in NATO.

The current financial crisis, of course, has ramifications for all of this. Much of Russia's cultural soft power--films, for instance, could wither away if the funds dry up. Also some of this has rested on Russia being attractively economically so that people have wanted to live and work there. If Russia goes down economically and (even if highly unlikely) the EU moved rapidly to integrate Ukraine, this would have a major impact, I think, on attitudes in Ukraine.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Why Not Storm the Ships?

After my MSNBC and NPR appearance (yes, a shameless self-promoting plug!) to discuss Somali piracy, I've gotten some queries as to why the U.S. and/or other Navies don't just retake hijacked ships by force. Well, there's a good economic reason why, for the last number of years, companies have preferred to pay ransom. Generally, companies prefer getting their ship and cargo back in one piece rather than risk destruction--and because the pirates, as of yet, don't seek to kill the crews (although there have been accidental deaths from bullet wounds during the initial takeover and a sailor on the Ukrainian vessel that was seized in September had a coronary)--there is no sense that the captured sailors are in imminent danger of death.

When it comes to the SS Faina and the MV Sirius Star (the arms ship and the oil tanker, respectively)--there are also environmental concerns. Especially with the oil tanker, no one wants a major oil spill contaminating the Red Sea and/or Gulf of Aden, or to have the ship vent oil and then to have it ignited. So the strategy is one of patience, at this point.

Going ashore to attack the pirate haven itself? Politicians will have to decide if they want to commit ground and air forces for such an assault.

It is interesting to note that the historical comparison with the Barbary Pirates gives us both models--force and accommodation. President Washington, for instance, did negotiate tribute arrangements to protect American shipping. Even after the "shores of Tripoli" incident, the U.S. would alternate between using the stick and the carrot.

There has been some interesting discussion about the possible applicability of the Petraeus model--an approach to tribal elders in the coastal villages about forming "sons of Somalia" groups that might be paid to act as "coastal security"--whether there might be impetus for such a move remains to be seen.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Back to the Financial Crisis: Beijing vs. Brussels Rules

Pirates are the fun story of the day--and I've been enjoying my commentary on the situation. But I wanted to go back to the global financial crisis and the "let's agree to talk again" G-20 summit in Washington over the weekend. Obviously the outcome was not the "reinvention of the international financial system" envisaged by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the European Union.

And a clear divide was present. I characterized this in my contribution to the Stanley Foundation report on global leadership as the tension between the Brussels view of the world--increased transnational regulation--versus the Beijing approach--limited compacts among sovereign states. When it comes to the issue of "supervision" of the financial system, it is not surprising that Washington is leaning much more in the Beijing direction on this issue, at least for now.

Will that change under an Obama Administration? Does the pendulum swing towards the Brussels approach? Specific proposals are due on March 31 in advance of the follow-up G-20 meeting.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Pirates of the Gulf

An op-ed I co-authored on the subject, for your consideration.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Somali Pirates and the Oil Supply

It was only a matter of time. Now, Somali pirates have seized the Sirius Star, a supertanker owned by Saudi Aramco, off the Kenyan coast.

Some of the students here at the Naval War College have done some excellent work on possible solutions--I hope to be sharing them with you soon.

Obama and a Concert of Powers Approach?

The president-elect has selected Mona Sutphen to be his deputy chief of staff. Last year, she co-authored a book with her Clinton administration colleague Nina Hachigian (The Next American Century)on future directions for U.S. foreign policy, and expounded on a possible concert of powers approach to solving a number of pressing foreign policy issues.

Is this a direction he might move in? In a related essay for Culture 11, I noted that "depending on how he chooses to situate his Afghan policy, it could also serve as the basis for restoring the post-9/11 coalition of the major powers. Instability from Iraq is largely contained, and the major “proxy players” in Iraq — Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Iran — are skilled at limiting the fallout to the rest of the region. In contrast, there is no real prophylactic barrier that insulates Afghanistan from the larger world. A resurgent Taliban — even one that ends up in control only in southern Afghanistan — would not be in any of the great power’s interests.

"The return of the Taliban feeds the extremist current in Pakistani politics, which in turn causes the government in Islamabad to seek to export jihadis, principally into Kashmir and other parts of India. China and Russia do not want a return to the 1990s when terrorism spilled over into Central Asia and threatened their own stability (in Xinjiang and Chechnya, respectively). Europe doesn’t want a safe haven for extremists nor a resurgence of the heroin trade. There is a strong community of interest among the major powers for success in Afghanistan.

"If this is tied to two other issues which Obama has identified as first-order priorities for U.S. foreign policy — nuclear non-proliferation and climate change — one can see the emergence of a 21st century “concert of powers” approach where America “convenes the board” with representatives from Europe, India, China, Russia, and Brazil to hammer out workable solutions — in keeping with the original FDR vision for what the Security Council of the United Nations was intended to do (or, in keeping with Nixon’s “regional policemen” strategy)."

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Tide of Less Than Great News

Doesn't seem like it is going to be a quiet transition period. Not only do we have the financial crisis to deal with, but a growing list of problems and challenges.

Moscow started the show by announcing what it is prepared to do to counter a BMD system in Poland and the Czech Republic. Now what else do we have? Countdown to an Arab-Kurdish civil war in Kirkuk? More bombings in Baghdad? North Korea saying it is not going to let in international inspectors (while China is reportedly increasing the number of troops it has on its Korean border)? New attacks in Afghanistan (and the kidnapping of an Iranian diplomat from Peshawar)? The end of the Israel-Hamas/Gaza Strip truce?

Massimo Calabresi asks, But even if Obama's temperament can warm the diplomatic atmosphere, will it help resolve America's toughest issues abroad? Good question.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Now Berlusconi Steps Up

Italy's prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is now presenting himself as a possible mediator between Washington and Moscow over the question of missile defense. This comes as expectations rise in parts of Europe that an Obama administration is going to change course on the deployment of components in Poland and the Czech Republic. The parliamentary leader of Germany's Social Democrats said as much on Friday.

Again, it would be interesting to see whether there would be much enthusiasm on our side of the Atlantic for having a European leader play the role of mediator. Both Berlusconi and Sarkozy belong to the "engage Russia and keep talking" school, rather than the "isolate" approach one sees in eastern Europe and a stance it seems many in DC have greater affinity for.

So an Obama administration does have European partners who want to work with it--but whether their help is wanted may be another question altogether.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Lowering Expectations

Keeping trans-Atlantic expectations modestseems a necessary corrective to some of the euphoria about the consequences of Barack Obama's election. Better to start slow and build up ... and for this to work, European leaders have to level with their American counterparts. There's no hiding behind the excuse of the Bush Administration anymore ...

On a separate note, I hope that consolidating the opening to India will be a high priority of the new administration, not something left on the side.

It may sound like heresy for me to suggest it, but trying to fix the Russia relationship shouldn't be--in terms of the calendar--a top priority. Let tensions subside, let the Europeans take the lead. A rushed Obama-Medvedev meeting that doesn't produce much of substance will be more damaging in the long run.

Just some Monday thoughts.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Obama and Sarkozy, Continued

Judah Grunstein looks at my New Atlanticist comment that suggests French president Nicolas Sarkozy may be positioning himself to become the new interlocutor between Moscow and Washington and agrees that Sarkozy does appear to be pursuing a policy which would make "Paris the fulcrum upon which American-EU relations pivot." Writing in World Politics Review, he observes:

"Sarkozy has been very careful to balance his gestures towards Washington with demands for concessions (NATO vs. EU defense, for instance), and has also not been reluctant to oppose American positions (on NATO expansion, for instance) when it was both in his interest and he had sufficient support to come out on top.

"But I think Gvosdev is onto something, and it goes beyond the Washington-Paris-Moscow conduit. His suggestion brings to mind the possibility that France's recent insistence upon engaging Syria has been in anticipation of an end to America's isolation of Damascus. ... Certainly the progress Sarkozy and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner have made in restoring French-Syrian relations will put them in good position to help smooth the way for Washington.

"But on the back end (because when it comes to quid and quo, Sarkozy's a pro), my hunch is that he's going to do everything he can to make sure that Obama's willingness to engage Iran directly does not undermine the enormous efforts that have gone into maintaining a very firm and consistent EU3 negotiating position on Tehran's nuclear program, perhaps even pushing for an American presence at jumpstarted P5+1 talks with Iran before any bilateral channels are opened up between Washington and Tehran."

But would an Obama Administration be prepared to work closely with Sarkozy, in what would be a realignment of the trans-Atlantic relationship? I realize that he is talking mainly at this point about economic policy, but so far, Steve Clemons, over at the Washington Note, is concerned that Obama "is not ready to make the first term ... about the new great leaps forward we need. He may be crafting a hybrid of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush holdovers. Indeed, there is a chance that Obama I could turn out to be GW Bush III & Clinton III."

We'll have to see whether a direct Sarkozy/Obama relationship might overcome that tendency.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Foreign Policy Advice for the New Administration

The Stanley Foundation is releasing the papers of its series, "Powers and Principles: International Leadership in a Shrinking World." The essay dealing with the United States,
A Stake in the System: Redefining American Leadership
was co-authored by Suzanne Nossel of the Center for American Progress and David Shorr of the Stanley Foundation. Yours truly provided a comment.

Thoughts welcomed.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

President Obama's Challenge (and Sarkozy's Opportunity?)

Expectations around the world are highas to what a President Obama would do. Managing those expectations--and the likely inevitable disappointment--is going to be a challenge for his foreign policy team.

What is of interest to me is the possible role of French president Sarkozy in working with Obama. Sarkozy was the first foreign leader to reach Obama and congratuate him (if the BBC breaking news ticker is to be trusted). Sarkozy has already shown his diplomatic finesse with the Russians; could he be trying to position himself--and France--as the new transatlantic interlocutor? This bears watching.

What the Polls Say in Russia

Interesting reading from the latest polls done by the Yuri Levada center in Russia. The "thrill of victory" in the intermediate aftermath of the "Russian victory" in Georgia, which gave a boost to Dimitry Medvedev's poll ratings in September--has been replaced by concern about the Russian economy.

Via Angus Reid Global Monitor, the trajectory:

In August 2008--Medvedev had a 73 percent approval rating and a 22 percent disapproval; in September, the height of the victory buzz, his rating shot up to 83 percent (shades of what George H.W. Bush had in the immediate aftermath of the Gulf War in 1991). Now he's slipping back into the mid-70s; and the disapproval rating is also up.

I realize that for Western politicians to be cursed with falling approval ratings in the 70 percent range is no tragedy--but it shows that there is an undercurrent of concern about how permanent and lasting the Putin revival for Russia might be under Medvedev.

China-Taiwan Pact

"Peaceful negotiation creates a win-win situation."

This was the calligraphy that PRC representative Chen Yunlin (head of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits) and Chiang Ping-kung, chairman of Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation, displayed after they signed the pact that sets forward direct flight and ship links between the mainland and the island. They have also agreed to hold regular talks every six months.

Both sides appear to be prepared to leave aside "final status" issues and concentrate on practical cooperation (the next set of agreements to be negotiated will deal with banks, food and product safety, and so on). The strategy in both Beijing and Taipei is to make it not worth the while of the other side to jeopardize the growing beneficial linkages to pursue maximalist solutions.

A possible model for Serbia-Kosovo, or Georgia and Abkhazia, to follow?

Vote Early, Vote Often

Our presidential elections are underway in the United States ...

While most attention is focused on who the winner will be, other states will also be assessing other features: does the winner have the right or ability to claim a clear mandate for governance--and, just as importantly, can he get key items through Congress? Much of what both Obama and McCain have promised to do in foreign policy, especially matters such as trade and defense agreements--require Congressional approval.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Russia's "Look East" Strategy

The strategic plan for the development of Russia's foreign economic ties to 2020 apparently identifies China and India as Russia's leading partners for future development. This appears to be an attempt to balance Russia's existing dependence on Europe (as well as tying Russia's own economic growth to Europe's continued demand for Russian resources). India's ONGC is expected to get approval for its purchase of the British firm Imperial Energy which operates assets in Western Siberia; other sources indicate that by November 25, an agreement between Rosneft and Transneft and China's National Petroleum Company should be ready on supplying China via a Siberian oil pipeline supplying some 300,000 barrels per day.

A lot of talk, as usual, at the prime ministers' summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization last week--but of interest is to monitor whether the economic dimension of the group continues to develop or not, especially in light of the economic slowdowns in Europe and the United States.

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