Friday, January 30, 2009

Do We Need a Nation-Building Service?

And who should staff it? Over at Shadow Government, Chris Brose takes up the question I posed in the previous post--and draws all sorts of responses, including some negative ones. I've also joined the fray over there, with some further points and clarifications.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

An Expertise Pipeline?

Dov Zakheim observes that the State Department needs more than just budget increases if it is going to take on some of the missions that the Defense Department has assumed in recent years.

I am genuinely interested to know whether there is serious consideration about creating a pipeline that would take retiring active duty military officers who have many of the nation-building skills needed by State--as well as the relevant management experience, and oftentimes language and cultural expertise--and be able to transition them into the Department of State? After years of promises, the civilian response corps that was supposed to be able to step up to the plate has what, a few dozen people assigned to it?

I will happily stand corrected--but right now an officer or NCO with relevant experience still goes through the same bureaucratic hiring process that ends up taking months.

If I recall, at least in the 19th century, the British had provisions to transition overseas active duty officers into their Colonial Service.

Otherwise, no matter even if Secretary Gates can help Secretary Clinton get budget increases--without cadres now, then the military remains the default "go-to" option.

The Unclenching Fist?

Russia appears to be testing President Obama on his rhetoric. First on accommodating NATO supplies reaching Afghanistan via Russia (and Presidents Medvedev and Karimov of Uzbekistan met and apparently coordinated their stance on this "northern route") and now a report that Russia will not deploy Iskander missiles to Kaliningrad as a counter to the missile defense plans for Poland and the Czech Republic.

What response might they be looking for from Washington? More importantly, how does this play out in the triangular U.S.-Russia-Europe relationship?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Wen and Putin at Davos

Via Aaron Friedberg, I read about the less-than-positive assessments of both the outgoing and incoming U.S. presidents in the Chinese media. What I found interesting was that these themes mirror those that prime minister Putin has been stressing in his speeches over the last several months (and indeed even earlier, to the 2007 Munich security conference).

Both Putin and Wen Jibao are scheduled to make speeches at the World Economic Forum in Davos--where there won't be much official high-level U.S. government representation. Given that the theme is "shaping the post crisis world", I doubt they are that disappointed -- and so it will be interesting to see what their speeches are like.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Raining on the Parade?

Donald Bandler and Wess Mitchell are worried that the trans-Atlantic honeymoon between Germany and the Obama administration won't last that long.
Germans love Barack Obama. When the aspiring presidential candidate traveled to Berlin in July of last year, the crowd of two hundred thousand that greeted him at Berlin’s Tiergarten was larger and more electrifying than Germany’s politicians would have drawn. On inauguration day, no nation in Europe celebrated more wildly or had higher hopes for the young president’s success on the staggering array of world problems he will inherit than Germany.

And yet, if things continue as they are, it could well be Germany—not Iran, Russia, or Palestine—that hands President Obama his first major setback. At the NATO summit in April, the president’s new team will find itself seated across the table from a German ally that is determined to block U.S. aims on nearly every important question facing the alliance.

I also have concerns, which I've noted in a response and reflection to some recent comments by Dov Zakheim, Vance Serchuk and Chris Brose.

Mitchell and Bandler offer some advice on getting the relationship moving--essentially a series of trade-offs and compromises:
Already, Washington and Berlin appear to be nearing an understanding on missile defense and Iran. As the U.S. side shows greater caution on the shield, the Germans may be more willing to ramp up their heretofore half-hearted support for the U.S. initiative with Tehran. A similar effort should be made on energy: in exchange for a more supple multilateral approach on climate change, the new administration should ask Berlin to take a more multilateral approach towards European energy security.

I think President Obama may be inclined to move in this direction--but we'll have to wait and see.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Loud and Clear Message From Across the Atlantic

Via Dan Drezner--on the day after the Inauguration, a statement from France: Defense Minister Herve Morin made it clear that they are not going to send any further forces to Afghanistan. Also Dan cites a Harris poll that shows that clear majorities in "the UK, France, Italy and Germany believe that their governments must not send more forces to Afghanistan, irrespective of demands that the new American head of state might make."

Dan wonders whether Obama can change minds. I also see it as a test of the claim made throughout the eight years of the Bush Administration by out-of-power Democrats now claiming their seats in the foreign policy and national security apparatus of the new administration that they could "do better" at getting Europeans to burden-share.

My guess is that in addition to France, Germany is a no--at least until after their elections--and depending on who wins, a no even after.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The New President ... And Managing Expectations

The United States chalks up another peaceful transition of power from one chief executive to another, under the world's oldest continuously operating constitution. That alone is a powerful example for the rest of the world.

But I do think it is also important for President Obama and his team to work hard to keep expectations in check, both at home and around the world. The president does not issue an executive order today and tomorrow we find that it is a world transformed.

It will be interesting to observe the "audit" that occurs over the next several weeks--aided, of course, by the retention of Secretary Gates and some of his deputies at the Pentagon. Some of what the outgoing Administration was doing is going to be continued. Other changes are likely to be instrumental.

An interesting bellweather: missile defense. Is the program continued? Under what funding? What happens with the proposed eastern European deployment?

Friday, January 16, 2009

George W. Obama?

The Making of George W. Obama is an essay in the current issue of Foreign Policy by my old TNI colleague Chris Brose.

It is an interesting read, especially because of his view that second-term Bush is likely to continue under first term Obama.

... there be little change on issues of global grand strategy. A refrain from the campaign was rebuilding damaged ties with America’s allies. But those ties have largely been rebuilt already—in Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Obama can certainly improve these relations further, especially with real action on climate change. But another challenge may be managing the bubbles of overinflated expectations for his presidency that will soon begin bursting in allied capitals.

Bush will also bequeath to Obama a realistic strategy for managing the rise of great powers. By pushing China, India, Japan, Brazil, and others to be responsible stakeholders in the international order, the Bush administration showed that “the rise of the rest” need not be synonymous with America’s decline. In fact, it might actually enhance U.S. influence.

Back at a magazine roundtable in 2007, Ian Bremmer said something quite similar (he used the term Bush-lite) to note that no matter who took over after--Democratic or Republican--the overall parameters of policy were unlikely to change in any radical direction.

Interesting arguments to consider as the Bush Administration enters its final days.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Light at the End of the (Gas) Tunnel?

Ukrainian Radio is reporting that prime ministers Tymoshenko and Putin may have come to the beginnings of a settlement that would get gas flowing to Europe. Tymoshenko dispatched a telegram (telegrams still get used these days?) to Moscow in which "she guaranteed that the total volume of natural gas that Russia will give to the Ukrainian gas transportation system will be delivered to the European Union countries, except for eight percent of gas which is used for work of gas pumping aggregates of the transportation system. ... the Ukrainian Government gives the Russian Government guarantees of payment for natural gas that will be used for technical needs immediately after setting a price of Russian natural gas for Ukraine." The report concludes that "Yuliya Tymoshenko believes that finding of a compromise is possible."

Tymoshenko seems to be rising in Western estimations in contrast to President Yushchenko. The Economist notes, President Viktor Yushchenko has undermined the efforts of his prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, to do a deal. He has tried to shore up his own flagging support by fulminating against Russia.

So if Tymoshenko and Putin get a firm deal when they meet this weekend, her stock goes up not just in Ukraine but in Europe. So it will be interesting to see what happens.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What Europeans Really Think?

Paul Taylor over at Reuters wonders whether Europeans have begun to sour on Georgia and Ukraine. Yes, he writes, the EU sympathizes with their democratic aspirations--but "the leaders of Ukraine and Georgia have fallen from grace among European policymakers" and "European Union officials have been exasperated by the behavior of the governments in Kiev and Tbilisi."

In private, he writes, Georgian president Saakashvili is blamed for provoking Russia in the Caucasus war and Ukrainian president Yushchenko is faulted for his political feuding with his rivals.

Two things: 1) Is what Taylor writes about a prevailing sentiment? and 2) if so, is Europe going to be honest with the incoming Obama Administration? Quoting officials who don't want to be identified because of the "sensitivity of the issue" leads me to suspect that Obama may experience what Bush did--hearing one thing at a NATO meeting when something else is being said at an EU one.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Prophetic Vision of Owen Harries

Just before the Clinton Administration took office in January 1993, Owen Harries penned his "Fourteen Points for Realists". Some of the points he raised are quite useful to be considered by the incoming Obama Administration.

Among them--"stop thinking of as a matter of course in terms of a unified political entity called 'the West' .... Already the French and Germans and the Japanese clearly do not think or act in terms of a united West."

Where should the U.S. focus its attention? "On the north Pacific, where the intersecting interests of three great powers and a divided Korea make the danger of a general conflagration real" and "on the Middle East where the combination of oil, religion, passionate hatred, sophisticated weaponry, an old-fashioned readiness to resort to force and commitment to Israel requires American involvement."

Interestingly enough, given the recent Moscow-Kyiv spat: "The regional relationship between Ukraine and Russia is of great importance, but it is difficult to see how the United States could play a major role if the relationship were to deteriorate seriously. Good offices, yes--but beyond that intervention would be both dangerous and probably ineffectual."

And, of course, his comments on democracy promotion--and his conclusion that, echoing Brent Scowcroft, "America should be content merely to 'nudge' other countries, rather than attempt to interfere deeply in their internal affairs" and his prediction of "only trouble" otherwise--are quite prescient.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The Gas Crisis

Over at the New Atlanticist, James Joyner argues that even if the current spat between Russia and Ukraine is resolved in Moscow's favor, things are unlikely to get much better for Russia. He thinks this may be the spur to get Europe to really diversify beyond Russia as a hydrocarbon supplier but also beyond hydrocarbons as a whole.

I've argued, also at New Atlanticist, that Ukraine (and by extension the West) still have done too little to make Ukraine more energy efficient and to develop Ukraine's own indigenous energy sources, a post which drew a lengthy response billed as a "Siberian's perspective" on the whole issue.

Chris Brose over at Foreign Policy was kind enough to solicit my views on Gazprom's motivations for their new feature The Argument, part of a new series of blogs and online commentators (including a number of NI contributors). I think that while politics is never absent, business reasons are a growing and contributing factor.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Dry Run Comment

I wrote about Rick Norton's suggestion that Obama use the Gaza crisis to test how he wants to organize his national security apparatus today. I got an interesting response which noted that he's already been doing with with his economic team so that they are prepared to hit the ground running come January 20th. But I wonder whether this means he doesn't have the time or inclination to do this with his national security team?

Monday, January 05, 2009

What to Expect in 2009

Ian Bremmer, contributing editor for TNI and president of the Eurasia Group, opens his predictions for the coming year with the following observation:
We'll see more state intervention in the global economy. Second, that intervention will be both reactive and uncoordinated by a series of local, regional, and national political actors who have decidedly non-global (and in many cases non-market) views of the cost/benefit equations that attend their policy decisions. In short, politics will drive the global economy more directly, and more inefficiently, in the coming year than at any point since World War II.

Some of what worries him:
The locus of the world's terrorism/security risks has been moving steadily eastward over the past decade--from Israel/Lebanon to Iraq/Iran and now to Afghanistan/Pakistan/India. An increase in Islamic radicalism, given the brittleness of local political institutions and a serious economic downturn, is a growing risk for a number of countries around the world (Algeria, Egypt, Somalia, and Yemen being a few worth particular focus). But nothing comes close to South Asia. Pakistan's problems are creating spillover effects in Afghanistan and India; and responses from both countries (and from the United States) will exacerbate Pakistan's political instability and increase security tensions across the region. Perhaps the biggest risk of all--a major terrorist attack inside the United States--is more likely to come from terrorists operating out of Pakistan/Afghanistan than from anywhere else.

And on Iran/Israel:
Despite credible international political pressure over the coming months, Iran's nuclear program will proceed apace. Barring direct military action, Iran will likely have the capacity to develop a nuclear bomb (if it so chooses) by the end of the year (probably the beginning of fourth quarter). The Obama administration will try to engage Tehran diplomatically. When that fails, it will continue sanctions, including a focus on shutting down suspect Iranian state accounts and financial transactions--an effort that will sting in a low oil price
environment. Ultimately, that's it for the Washington strategy.

The Israeli government ... is under much greater domestic pressure to take action. that's particularly true with the entire Israeli political spectrum having tacked to the right in recent months, the Labor party essentially disintegrating, and the strong possibility that Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu will become the next prime minister. At the very least, Israel will provoke conflict through a stronger focus on national security in this heightened threat environment. Over-reaction in Gaza over the past weeks is one example, a display designed in part to demonstrate seriousness of intent to the Iranian government. But Iranian overreaction is equally likely, with enhanced political and military support from Tehran for proxies in the Palestinian territories and Lebanon.

Iran will hold its own presidential election in June. The country's hardliners are critically unpopular on the economy, but they're much stronger on national security, geopolitics, and the nuclear issue, giving them all the motivation they need to take a strong stance in reacting to real and perceived Israeli slights.

Friday, January 02, 2009

From Gaza to Kashmir

Protests have erupted in Kashmir against Israel's campaign in Gaza, Reuters reports. Protests occurred in other parts of India, primarily among India's Muslim communities, and, as to be expected, both an anti-Israel but also anti-American focus.

But not good news for India's government, already, as I noted over at NI online, walking a "tightrope" on Gaza--with some political figures calling for a tougher line vis-a-vis Pakistan on the Israel model. And the protests in Kashmir explicitly link the call for "liberation" of Palestinians with liberation for Kashmir as well. The Reuters report quotes Kashmiri separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq calling for "Muslim countries must unite to fight for the liberation of Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and Kashmir." I don't think that New Delhi is eager to see Kashmir and Afghanistan--two areas where it has key strategic interests--linked with Iraq and Palestine.

India today announced that it is contributing $1 million to an emergency relief fund for Gaza and also called for an "immediate end to the violence witnessed in Gaza and its environs, so that further casualties amongst civilians are averted." It's in India's interests, certainly, to get the violence in Gaza ended.

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