Friday, March 26, 2010

Things I'm Reading ...

Our Friend Pakistan, by James Cook.

Necessity Knows No Law, by Stephen F. Knott. Did Abraham Lincoln engage in some domestic covert operations to influence elections to bolster the Union cause?

South Asia and the Middle East: Regional Solutions vs. Choosing Sides, by Judah Grunstein. Ties back to some of the themes in Jim Cook's piece, but also the diplomatic logic driving diplomacy in both regions.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Good News on START?

Cross-posted at Global Security:

I'm happy to be proven wrong when a pessimistic prediction is transformed by good news. As people are well aware, I was not optimistic about the progress (or rather, lack of progress) in nuclear arms talks between Russia and the United States. What seemed to be a "no-brainer"--after all, presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev had reached a "memorandum of understanding" outlining the shape of a new arms control agreement at the Moscow summit last summer--took a turn for the worst as one issue after another kept popping up, preventing a new treaty from being finalized before the original START agreement expired in December.

Reports that the logjam over the START Treaty has finally been broken--and that Obama and Medvedev will be able to sign a document in Prague next month--suggest that both sides saw the U.S. -Russia relationship deteriorating even further without some concrete measure of success. It also means that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, during her visit to Moscow, convinced the Russian leadership that holding out for treaty language that had no chance of surviving once submitted to the U.S. Senate for ratification would serve no one's interests.

So what do we have? Based on preliminary reports, the Russians will get language that recognizes that there are important linkages between offensive and defensive systems--acknowledging their concerns over how U.S. missile defense systems could impact the strategic balance--but that language is nonbinding, and does not prevent Washington from moving ahead, if it so chooses, with plans to deploy limited BMD systems in the Black Sea region. Both sides will have an upper limit of 1,675 warheads and may shoot for an even lower number of delivery vehicles than originally outlined in last year's MOU--from 1100 to an upper limit of 800. Some of the Russian reductions are likely to occur from attrition and the retirement of aged systems. This will test the willingness of the Senate to accept a compromise, because it has been argued that Russia would have "no choice" but to bring down the size of its nuclear arsenal, to a size it can more effectively maintained--but now Russia will get binding limits on the size of the U.S. arsenal as well.

A renewed Russian interest in getting the treaty moving forward may be related to problems in getting the Bulava missile into service and ensuring that it can be successfully launched from the new Borey-class submarines (such as the Yuri Dolgoruky). In the absence of a new treaty that would put some limits on America's ability to regenerate its nuclear force, uncertainties about the future of a key part of Russia's deterrent capability may have strengthened the hand of those calling for compromise on finalizing the START language. For its part, the lifting of U.S. sanctions that had been imposed against the Russian aerospace firm Glavkosmos (initially imposed in 1998 for its previous dealings with Iran) was also a symbolic gesture on Washington's part of wanting to improve ties.

We still need to hear from some key stakeholders in both Moscow and Washington--the reaction from Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as well as the response of key members of the U.S. Senate who were expressing skepticism as to the utility of a new agreement--but progress on START may represent the first "fruits" of the reset.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Domestic v. Foreign Policy; India and Iran

I want to again clarify a point I raised in Friday's World Politics Review column. I am not arguing that there was or is a clear quid pro quo arrangement (cotton subsidies in return for sanctions on Iran). What I am arguing against is the willful blindness of policymakers who decide that there can be no interconnection between these kinds of issues; that another country's decision to adopt our approach on Iran rests solely on the "merits of the case" and that all other issues in the relationship are somehow compartmentalized--the latter only happens when you have an external problem that is equally a threat to both partners. [This is, by the way, why the U.S. and Iran could find common ground on dealing with the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001.]

Speaking of Iran, a reminder why India's interests in Afghanistan and Iran differ from ours, per Priyanka Bhardwaj.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Russian Elections, India and Iran, Multilateralism

Is Russia moving closer to the PRI form of governance, after Sunday's elections?

Continuing on the theme of the BRIC Wall, some of the latest signals from India ...

[For those interested, some other commentary on the BRIC Wall, see here,, here, and here.]

And thoughts on the evolving world order.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

World Without the West Continued ...

The third session of the "Rise of the Rest" series was held yesterday at the Carnegie Council for Ethics and International Affairs.

I am not too optimistic about the trajectory of U.S. engagement with India and Brazil. I think that Secretary Clinton's visit to Brasilia should serve as a wake-up call.

Every president comes into office promising to repair ties with the hemisphere, and sooner or later that promise is left by the wayside. But what happens if the rest of the hemisphere decides that instead of trying to increase U.S. influence and attention, the region might be better off reducing it? An intriguing thought after reading Sean Goforth's recent essay.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Shaping Multipolarity

How much is the United States doing to shape the emerging new global order, as opposed to simply reacting to events? I worry that it is too much the latter ...

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

More on Medvedev in France

My thoughts, along with Damon Wilson, Pavel Baev, Richard Weitz and David Kramer, among others, on the Franco-Russian Mistral deal and on France's diplomatic efforts to get Russian buy-in for new sanctions on Iran. Reported by Alexander Grigoriev (VOA News). [Note: the text is in Russian. On sanctions, I note that the French approach has been to hone in on sanctions directly affecting the nuclear program, rather than more general punitive sanctions. On the Mistral deal, I point out that this is part of overall trends in military reform in Russia--to move toward light, mobile, agile forces--and the desire to have a platform "now" rather than wait for developing an indingeous capability, and also my thoughts that the Mistral purchase would not fundamentally shake up the balance of power.]

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Developments in Ukraine/Medvedev in France

A bookend to the mid-February presentation on Ukraine at the Nixon Center: Speaker of the Rada Lytvyn has confirmed that the government of prime minister Yuliya Tymoshenko no longer commands a majority as the "Orange coalition" has dissolved. My comments back in February suggested that a new coalition would form that would probably consist of Lytvyn's bloc joining with Yanukovych's Party of Regions and elements of the former president's "Our Ukraine" bloc in an anti-crisis coalition government.

On his first foreign visit--to Brussels to meet with the EU BEFORE he goes to Moscow--president Yanukovych re-iterated his agenda of balancing Ukraine between Russia and the West. He is making the pitch for an association agreement between Ukraine and the EU that will provide for free trade and visa-free travel, and pitched his idea for a joint EU-Russia-Ukraine consortium to handle natural gas transit.

Meanwhile, how will Nicolas Sarkozy's strategy of engagement with Russia--based on offering concrete incentives to Moscow--work in engendering Russian support for stronger sanctions on Iran? If Sarkozy can deliver where Obama did not, what does this say about the future of the reset? As Judah Grunstein has observed: What's interesting is the way in which Sarkozy reversed the poles of the engagement-reset approach that the Obama administration pursued: While President Barack Obama was trying to engage with Iran and reset with Russia, Sarkozy was trying to engage with Russia and reset with Iran (the fuel swap deal).

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