Tuesday, October 30, 2007


"Terrorism is a tactic not an enemy".

This evening at the Cornell Club in Mid-town Manhattan, the man who is without a doubt the most qualified individual to be the next American Secretary of State (with Richard Armitage and Strobe Talbott as not so close seconds) under either a Democratic or Republican administration, Richard Holbrooke, spoke for forty-five minutes at an event sponsored by the Oxonian Society (www.oxoniansociety.com). The following are notes compiled by yours truly from this event. Apologies are made in advance for any errors of transcription (shorthand never having been one of my strong points).

According to Holbrooke, who currently serves as an advisor the Senator Clinton's campaign, the Bush regime has wrong footed the matter of the proper response to the event of 11th of September 2001 by, identifying 'our enemy' as terrorism:

"Our enemy since 9 / 11 is not terror or terrorists....But, Al Qaeda and like-minded groups who seek to destroy secular Arab regimes in the Middle East".

Terrorism according to Holbrooke, cannot be 'defeated' but merely 'contained', in which the damage from the same is 'limited'. What needs to be done, is to 'attack the root causes' of terrorism, but not 'terrorism itself'. As per Holbrooke: "the current administration has lead the public to a complete mis-understanding", of the nature of the enemy that we face.

Turning to the subject of the Balkans, where of course he made himself famous by negotiating the Dayton Accords of 1995, Holbrooke was on the whole optimistic about the future of the area, arguing that like Ireland, its future will be of a predominately peaceful and prosperous variety. With the only fly in this optimistic ointment, being the fraught issue of Kosovo. According to Holbrooke, the issue of Kosovo is one of Albanian "liberation from centuries (sic!)of Serbian oppression". With the Bush Administration being at fault in ignoring the problem for four years, when it could have been easily resolved. Now with Russia's Putin, "having gotten his mojo back" (a phrase which Holbrooke used three times in the coure of the evening), there is about 'ninety-five percent' probability of there not being an agreement between Serbia and Kosovo. With the deadline of December 10th, more and more resembling a 'train wreck'. With the possibility of 'serious violence' occurring. The only remedy for this situation being 'reinforcing NATO troops', and, recognizing Kosovo's independence outside of a UN framework, where Moskva can exercise its veto power. In short, Holbrooke argues for "strong visionary leadership" by the United States, a necessity due to a 'divided EU and a hostile Russia. Not surprising of course for anyone who has read his articles in the Washington Post, Holbrooke was overtly anti-Serb, stating that 'thank God' Montenegro is independent of Belgrade.

On Iraq: Holbrooke stated that there "has to be a solution, just not a good one". With the USA leaving Iraq in the next Administration, since it cannot 'stay indefinitely'. And, that "success as defined by George Bush [is] not achievable". But, unfortunately, the current administration in Washington, DC would not adhere to reason and logic, and that consequently on the 21st day of January 2009, there would still be upwards of 160,000 plus American troops in Iraq. And, that withdrawing them, would be the work of not months but perhaps a year or two at best.

On the Israel-Palestinian peace negotiations, Holbrooke while admitting that the was not an 'expert', blamed the late PA President Arafat, for the breakdown of peace negotiations which took place in late 2000 and early 2001. The Arafat being 'short-sighted' and in essence 'created the circumstances of failure', which lead directly to the second Intifada. A failure which was inadvertently abetted by the Bush regime's failure to push for an resumption of negotiations between the parties, and in essence to fully and totally back Israel regardless of the consequences. Or as Holbrooke put it: 'now the lid was off', in terms of American support for Tel Aviv. Concerning the upcoming Annapolis Conference being organized by Secretary of State Rice, Holbrooke expressed puzzlement about the method being employed to organize the meeting between the parties: not "the correct way of going about the process", and, "not similar to what was done at Dayton". And, that the entire event gives evidence of a faute de mieux mentality to cover up the lack of action by the Bush administration for almost seven years with this hugely important problem.

With some final remarks on Cuba after Castro (not "likely to follow the Central European pattern"), and, the need for young people to go into the foreign service (the ideal age being 21 or 22 not 30 or 31 as at present), the evening was concluded.

What can one make of the man and the likely policies that he may pursue if he does become Secretary of State? Without a doubt, Holbrooke is an ultra-intelligent, masterful and experienced individual. He will if he is given his head, make a erste-klasse, American Secretary of State. I myself still tend to doubt that he will be appointed regardless of who wins the election in November 2008. It seem to me too much of the always the bridesmaid but never the bride, type of situation. Hopefully I will prove to be wrong. What does worry me however, is that in many ways, Holbrooke, with some degree of nuance and at a much, much higher level of sophistication and style, is au fond, not too much removed from the underlying mentality of the Bush and Clinton regimes, in which the USA is (sans phrase of course) the 'indispensable power' `a la Mme. Albright. In particular it does not appear that Holbrooke will concede much if anything to Russia in terms of the latter's return to the world stage. Indeed, Holbrooke repeated the language of his Washington Post articles in which he complained about the fact that Bush's kowtowing to Putin, had no positive results: "Bush has gotten nothing from Putin". And, that Russia's current diplomatic high profile, is merely a result of "ninety dollar oil" and the "Iraq". And, while one may agree that at times Putin's diplomatic tactics do give the appearance at times of a monkey toying with a Sevres vase, that fact does not obviate the matter that Russia is back. Both diplomatically and economcially. And that the Russia of today and tomorrow is not the Russia of 1993 or 1999. For Holbrooke to conduct American diplomacy under the latter premises will have the end result of endless difficulties for American diplomacy and relations with both Moskva and the EU. One can only hope that Holbrooke suffers a change of heart about the matter if he does reach the top of the greasy pole at Foggy Bottom come January 2009.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


'Turkey in Europe', was a topic of huge discussion for much of the 19th century, when the infamous 'sick man' of Tsar Nikolai Pavlovich construction, gradually but assuredly lost more and more of its position on the European continent. The idea of 'Turkey in Central Asia', was a topic which was floated and discussed by many people, often enough with little insight or background knowledge of either Turkey or the Central Asian successor states of ex-Sovietskaya Vlast. Many were the predictions that were made circa 1995 and after, that by reasons of (very shaky) history, geography, ethnic affinity or whatnot, Ankara would naturally assume the mantle of the new rising and leading power of the Central Asian states. By 2001, if not earlier. This thesis had been thoroughly exploded. Turkey was not, and is not a power much less a leading power in the region. If any power has the right to assume that title, it is Matushka Roissya. With the United States, China and far behind Persia as the also rans in this particular race. Even in the conflict between the Kavkas power which it feels the closest affinity, Azerbaijan and Armenia, Turkey is for the most part a bystander. As it is Russia (1st) and the United States (2nd)which exercise real influence Baku, rather than Ankara.

With the long brewing crisis over Turkish threats to invade portions of Kurdish Iraq now coming to a boil, as the Turkish Parliament has passed the necessary legislation, Dr. George Friedman of the American online intelligence Journal, Stratfor.com (www.stratfor.com) takes the opportunity to argue, in a cogent piece of analysis, that the crisis is the beginning of Ankara's gradual emergence as a regional hegemon("Geopolitical Intelligence Report: Turkey as a Regional Power",). According to Dr. Friedman:

"In 2006, Turkey had the 18th largest economy in the world -- larger than that of any other Muslim country, including Saudi Arabia -- and the economy has been growing at a rate of between 5 percent and 7 percent a year for five years. Most important, Turkey is not a purely export-oriented country. It has developed a substantial middle class that buys the products it produces. It has a substantial and competent military and is handling the stresses between institutions and ideologies well.

It also is surrounded by chaos. Apart from Iraq to the south, there is profound instability in the Caucasus to the north and the Balkans to the northwest. The southern region from the Levant to the Persian Gulf is tremendously tense. The stability of Egypt -- and therefore the eastern Mediterranean -- after President Hosni Mubarak departs is in question. Turkey's longtime rival, Greece, no longer presents the challenge it once did. Moreover, the European Union's effective rejection of Turkey has freed the country from many of the constraints that its membership hopes might have imposed.

Turkey has a vested interest in stabilizing the region. It no longer regards the United States as a stabilizing force, and it sees Europe as a collective entity and individual nations as both hostile and impotent. It views the Russians as a long-term threat to its interests and sees Russia's potential return to Turkey's frontier as a long-term challenge. As did the Ottomans, it views Iran as a self-enclosed backwater. It is far more interested in the future of Syria and Iraq, its relationship with its ally, Israel, and ultimately the future of the Arabian Peninsula.

In other words, Turkey should be viewed as a rapidly emerging regional power -- or, in the broadest sense, as beginning the process of recreating a regional hegemon of enormous strategic power, based in Asia Minor but projecting political, economic and military forces in a full circle. Its willingness to rely on the United States to guarantee its national security ended in 2003. It is prepared to cooperate with the United States on issues of mutual interest, but not as a subordinate power".

And, while stating that this process is in its earliest stages, Friedman opines that this process is an inevitable return to the previous patterns of history, noting that: "Turkey has always dominated the region". With the only question being "the limits of its [Turkey's] ambition".

How realistic or likely is the above prognosis? Well if one were to rely upon 'history' as a forecaster of the future, than Deutschland would have made, certainly since 1989, strenuous efforts to make a 'German Europe'. And of course, nothing of the sort has been done, much less attempted. As was seen in my earlier brief survey of Turkey in the post-1989 world, much has been said, little actually attempted in the vein of Ankara expanding its reach. Regardless of this however what is the likelihood of the current crisis over the Kurds being the beginning of a definite effort by Turkey to begin to re-establish its position in the Near East? On the face of it, Turkey has much to recommend itself to such a role: relative wealth (at least vis-`a-vis its neighbors in the Arab World), probably the best trained and equipped army in the greater region other than Israel and perhaps Egypt, a central geographic location, relative political stability (again as compared to its neighbors). And, of course its being a Muslim power.

Notwithstanding the above, there are I would argue, insuperable constraints that would prevent and have prevented Ankara from fulfilling the role that Friedman would like for it to pursue. These are: Turkey is a non-Arabic speaking country (the same constraint the prevents Persia from also acting as a regional hegemon), with a less than positive image in much of the region, both for historical reasons, as well as due to its continuing military and diplomatic relationship with Israel. In addition, regardless of its military bravado, Ankara has not in fact engaged, much less engaged successfully in any opposed military operations of a large scale outside of its borders for the entire history of the Kemalist Republic. In addition and perhaps explaining the last fact is that much of the emerging bourgeoisie in both Ankara as well as the provincial hinterland (not to speak of the cosmopolitan elites of the Bosporus), are not in the least interested (I would argue) in any assertion of Turkish might in the region, nor for Ankara to become a regional hegemon. The reasons for this are rather similar to say Russian (or for that matter German) elites similar indifference: the game is not worth the candle.

The (relative) wealth that Turkey has acquired (albeit with much in the way of IMF assistance), in the last twenty five years, since the re-establishment of democracy, ould not be assisted or expedited by Turkey 'expanding' outside of the Anatolian peninsula to the greater Near East. Not only would such expansion entail a vastly greater military budget in a country which was on the verge of a major economic meltdown in 2001-2002, but, it would mean that assistance and commerical bank loans from the USA, the IMF, the World Bank as well as the EU would be at risk. Capital flight, inflation, a falling Turkish currency, would all be the end result of any long term or indeed even a more than momentary intervention into Iraq. There does not appear to be anything which would indicate that the commercial provincial bourgeoisie, who form the electoral backbone of the current Turkish Government would be interested in putting their hard earned monies at risk. All for a venture, which as the Americans can all too easily relate to Ankara, is easy to get into and very difficult indeed to get out of.

To sum up: look for a short-term, limited, Turkish intervention into the borderlands of Kurdish Iraq. Certainly do not expect that Ankara will endeavor to retain a permanent or semi-permanent foothold in the area. The risks: diplomatic, military, and economic are all much too great. Especially since as the present Turkish government knows quite well, the only 'solution' to the problem posed by the PKK, is for greater reforms in Turkey proper so the the position of the Kurds in Turkish society are improved so that the rationale for any guerrilla campaign enjoying support is gradually eliminated once and for all.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


The inconclusive tet-`a-tets, between the American Defence and State Secretaries in Moskva over the week-end, with Grazhdanins Putin and Lavrov respectively, over the topics of Persia's nuclear weapons programme, and, the proposed American anti-missile defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic, points once again to the perceived difficulties that the current leadership grouping in the Kremlin poses or I should say allegedly poses for the West in general and the United States in particular. I say 'allegedly', because unlike much of what one reads in the Western press, id est, the Financial Times, the New York Times, Le Monde, et cetera, et cetera, it is not altogether clear to this observer that Putin and company, while at times, and especially most recently, diplomatically maladroit, are not without good grounds to espouse the policies that they do. It is very far from clear to me, that why Putin should concert Russia's interests and policies in the fashion that Washington (and lately Paris) would like towards the admittedly crucial problem of Persia, in absence of some inducement to do so. In view of the fact that the masters of the Kremlin, for good or ill, view the proposed American anti-missile bases in Central Europe with (erroneous?) alarm if not paranoia, it would behoove our leaders in Washington, DC to propose some sort of quid pro quo along the following lines:

back us to the hilt, no nonsense about any 'even handedness' against Persia, and, we will drop basing the anti-missile defence systems in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Of course with our current leadership in Washington DC, there is no, nihil, nada, zero possibility of any such offer being put on the table. Much less accepted, if Russia herself were to make it to the Americans. Conversely, the Russians will no doubt in response to the current American stance of asking for something for nothing, as it were, will use the general weakness of the USA internationally to test and probe Washington's positions. It will refuse as Putin and Lavrov have been doing in recent months to back the American, et. al., over Persia, and other trouble spots in the world. What it will not do, however, contra to the attached article by Peter Zeihan a commentator for the American online journal, stratfor.com, is to overtly push the lines between banging the table diplomatically `a la Kiderlen-Wachter in the Second Moroccan Crisis of 1912, and, engaging in actions which by any observer will be characterized as 'aggressive'. So, contrary to Mr. Zeihan, I do not for see any possibilities of say Russian tanks crossing the borders and invading Georgia or Estonia, or attempting to orchestrate a coup d'etat, in Baku, let us say. No doubt the Russophobes to be found in the Western, especially American, neo-conservative press, would love such a scenario, but, the likelihood of such happening is slight to non-existent.

With the above qualifiers in mind, I hereby present for further edification and review, Mr. Zeihan's piece which if nothing else, does provide one with an excellent view into the more antagonistic circles opposed to good relations between Matushka Russia and the West. Hopefully, view which time will prove to be entirely mistaken.

"The Russia Problem", By Peter Zeihan

"For the past several days, high-level Russian and American policymakers, including U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Russian President Vladimir Putin's right-hand man, Sergei Ivanov, have been meeting in Moscow to discuss the grand scope of U.S.-Russian relations. These talks would be of critical importance to both countries under any circumstances, as they center on the network of treaties that have governed Europe since the closing days of the Cold War.

Against the backdrop of the Iraq war, however, they have taken on far greater significance. Both Russia and the United States are attempting to rewire the security paradigms of key regions, with Washington taking aim at the Middle East and Russia more concerned about its former imperial territory. The two countries' visions are mutually incompatible, and American preoccupation with Iraq is allowing Moscow to overturn the geopolitics of its backyard.

The Iraqi Preoccupation

After years of organizational chaos, the United States has simplified its plan for Iraq: Prevent Iran from becoming a regional hegemon. Once-lofty thoughts of forging a democracy in general or supporting a particular government were abandoned in Washington well before the congressional testimony of Gen. David Petraeus. Reconstruction is on the back burner and even oil is now an afterthought at best. The entirety of American policy has been stripped down to a single thought: Iran.

That thought is now broadly held throughout not only the Bush administration but also the American intelligence and defense communities. It is not an unreasonable position. An American exodus from Iraq would allow Iran to leverage its allies in Iraq's Shiite South to eventually gain control of most of Iraq. Iran's influence also extends to significant Shiite communities on the Persian Gulf's western oil-rich shore. Without U.S. forces blocking the Iranians, the military incompetence of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar could be perceived by the Iranians as an invitation to conquer that shore. That would land roughly 20 million barrels per day of global oil output -- about one-quarter of the global total -- under Tehran's control. Rhetoric aside, an outcome such as this would push any U.S. president into a broad regional war to prevent a hostile power from shutting off the global economic pulse.

So the United States, for better or worse, is in Iraq for the long haul. This requires some strategy for dealing with the other power with the most influence in the country, Iran. This, in turn, leaves the United States with two options: It can simply attempt to run Iraq as a protectorate forever, a singularly unappealing option, or it can attempt to strike a deal with Iran on the issue of Iraq -- and find some way to share influence.

Since the release of the Petraeus report in September, seeking terms with Iran has become the Bush administration's unofficial goal, but the White House does not want substantive negotiations until the stage is appropriately set. This requires that Washington build a diplomatic cordon around Iran -- intensifying Tehran's sense of isolation -- and steadily ratchet up the financial pressure. Increasing bellicose rhetoric from European capitals and the lengthening list of major banks that are refusing to deal with Iran are the nuts and bolts of this strategy.

Not surprisingly, Iran views all this from a starkly different angle. Persia has historically been faced with a threat of invasion from its western border -- with the most recent threat manifesting in a devastating 1980-1988 war that resulted in a million deaths. The primary goal of Persia's foreign policy stretching back a millennium has been far simpler than anything the United States has cooked up: Destroy Mesopotamia. In 2003, the United States was courteous enough to handle that for Iran.

Now, Iran's goals have expanded and it seeks to leverage the destruction of its only meaningful regional foe to become a regional hegemon. This requires leveraging its Iraqi assets to bleed the Americans to the point that they leave. But Iran is not immune to pressure. Tehran realizes that it might have overplayed its hand internationally, and it certainly recognizes that U.S. efforts to put it in a noose are bearing some fruit. What Iran needs is its own sponsor -- and that brings to the Middle East a power that has not been present there for quite some time: Russia.

Option One: Parity

The Russian geography is problematic. It lacks oceans to give Russia strategic distance from its foes and it boasts no geographic barriers separating it from Europe, the Middle East or East Asia. Russian history is a chronicle of Russia's steps to establish buffers -- and of those buffers being overwhelmed. The end of the Cold War marked the transition from Russia's largest-ever buffer to its smallest in centuries. Put simply, Russia is terrified of being overwhelmed -- militarily, economically, politically and culturally -- and its policies are geared toward re-establishing as large a buffer as possible.

As such, Russia needs to do one of two things. The first is to re-establish parity. As long as the United States thinks of Russia as an inferior power, American power will continue to erode Russian security. Maintain parity and that erosion will at least be reduced. Putin does not see this parity coming from a conflict, however. While Russia is far stronger now -- and still rising -- than it was following the 1998 ruble crash, Putin knows full well that the Soviet Union fell in part to an arms race. Attaining parity via the resources of a much weaker Russia simply is not an option.

So parity would need to come via the pen, not the sword. A series of three treaties ended the Cold War and created a status of legal parity between the United States and Russia. The first, the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE), restricts how much conventional defense equipment each state in NATO and the former Warsaw Pact, and their successors, can deploy. The second, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I), places a ceiling on the number of intercontinental ballistic missiles that the United States and Russia can possess. The third, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), eliminates entirely land-based short-, medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles with ranges of 300 to 3,400 miles, as well as all ground-launched cruise missiles from NATO and Russian arsenals.

The constellation of forces these treaties allow do not provide what Russia now perceives its security needs to be. The CFE was all fine and dandy in the world in which it was first negotiated, but since then every Warsaw Pact state -- once on the Russian side of the balance sheet -- has joined NATO. The "parity" that was hardwired into the European system in 1990 is now lopsided against the Russians.

START I is by far the Russians' favorite treaty, since it clearly treats the Americans and Russians as bona fide equals. But in the Russian mind, it has a fateful flaw: It expires in 2009, and there is about zero support in the United States for renewing it. The thinking in Washington is that treaties were a conflict management tool of the 20th century, and as American power -- constrained by Iraq as it is -- continues to expand globally, there is no reason to enter into a treaty that limits American options. This philosophical change is reflected on both sides of the American political aisle: Neither the Bush nor Clinton administrations have negotiated a new full disarmament treaty.

Finally, the INF is the worst of all worlds for Russia. Intermediate-range missiles are far cheaper than intercontinental ones. If it does come down to an arms race, Russia will be forced to turn to such systems if it is not to be left far behind an American buildup.

Russia needs all three treaties to be revamped. It wants the CFE altered to reflect an expanded NATO. It wants START I extended (and preferably deepened) to limit long-term American options. It wants the INF explicitly linked to the other two treaties so that Russian options can expand in a pinch -- or simply discarded in favor of a more robust START I.

The problem with the first option is that it assumes the Americans are somewhat sympathetic to Russian concerns. They are not.

Recall that the dominant concern in the post-Cold War Kremlin is that the United States will nibble along the Russian periphery until Moscow itself falls. The fear is as deeply held as it is accurate. Only three states have ever threatened the United States: The first, the United Kingdom, was lashed into U.S. global defense policy; the second, Mexico, was conquered outright; and the third was defeated in the Cold War. The addition of the Warsaw Pact and the Baltic states to NATO, the basing of operations in Central Asia and, most important, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine have made it clear to Moscow that the United States plays for keeps.

The Americans see it as in their best interest to slowly grind Russia into dust. Those among our readers who can identify with "duck and cover" can probably relate to the logic of that stance. So, for option one to work, Russia needs to have leverage elsewhere. That elsewhere is in Iran.

Via the U.N. Security Council, Russian cooperation can ensure Iran's diplomatic isolation. Russia's past cooperation on Iran's Bushehr nuclear power facility holds the possibility of a Kremlin condemnation of Iran's nuclear ambitions. A denial of Russian weapons transfers to Iran would hugely empower ongoing U.S. efforts to militarily curtail Iranian ambitions. Put simply, Russia has the ability to throw Iran under the American bus -- but it will not do it for free. In exchange, it wants those treaties amended in its favor, and it wants American deference on security questions in the former Soviet Union.

The Moscow talks of the past week were about addressing all of Russian concerns about the European security structure, both within and beyond the context of the treaties, with the offer of cooperation on Iran as the trade-off. After days of talks, the Americans refused to budge on any meaningful point.

Option Two: Imposition

Russia has no horse in the Iraq war. Moscow had feared that its inability to leverage France and Germany to block the war in the first place would allow the United States to springboard to other geopolitical victories. Instead, the Russians are quite pleased to see the American nose bloodied. They also are happy to see Iran engrossed in events to its west. When Iran and Russia strengthen -- as both are currently -- they inevitably begin to clash as their growing spheres of influence overlap in the Caucasus and Central Asia. In many ways, Russia is now enjoying the best of all worlds: Its Cold War archrival is deeply occupied in a conflict with one of Moscow's own regional competitors.

In the long run, however, the Russians have little doubt that the Americans will eventually prevail. Iran lacks the ability to project meaningful power beyond the Persian Gulf, while the Russians know from personal experience how good the Americans are at using political, economic, military and alliance policy to grind down opponents. The only question in the Russian mind pertains to time frame.

If the United States is not willing to rejigger the European-Russian security framework, then Moscow intends to take advantage of a distracted United States to impose a new reality upon NATO. The United States has dedicated all of its military ground strength to Iraq, leaving no wiggle room should a crisis erupt anywhere else in the world. Should Russia create a crisis, there is nothing the United States can do to stop it.

So crisis-making is about to become Russia's newest growth industry. The Kremlin has a very long list of possibilities, which includes:

Destabilizing the government of Ukraine: The Sept. 30 elections threaten to result in the re-creation of the Orange Revolution that so terrifies Moscow. With the United States largely out of the picture, the Russians will spare no effort to ensure that Ukraine remains as dysfunctional as possible.

Azerbaijan is emerging as a critical energy transit state for Central Asian petroleum, as well as an energy producer in its own right. But those exports are wholly dependent upon Moscow's willingness not to cause problems for Baku.

The extremely anti-Russian policies of the former Soviet state of Georgia continue to be a thorn in Russia's side. Russia has the ability to force a territorial breakup or to outright overturn the Georgian government using anything from a hit squad to an armored division.

EU states obviously have mixed feelings about Russia's newfound aggression and confidence, but the three Baltic states in league with Poland have successfully hijacked EU foreign policy with regard to Russia, effectively turning a broadly cooperative relationship hostile. A small military crisis with the Balts would not only do much to consolidate popular support for the Kremlin but also would demonstrate U.S. impotence in riding to the aid of American allies.

Such actions not only would push Russian influence back to the former borders of the Soviet Union but also could overturn the belief within the U.S. alliance structure that the Americans are reliable -- that they will rush to their allies' aid at any time and any place. That belief ultimately was the heart of the U.S. containment strategy during the Cold War. Damage that belief and the global security picture changes dramatically. Barring a Russian-American deal on treaties, inflicting that damage is once again a full-fledged goal of the Kremlin. The only question is whether the American preoccupation in Iraq will last long enough for the Russians to do what they think they need to do.

Luckily for the Russians, they can impact the time frame of American preoccupation with Iraq. Just as the Russians have the ability to throw the Iranians under the bus, they also have the ability to empower the Iranians to stand firm.

On Oct. 16, Putin became the first Russian leader since Leonid Brezhnev to visit Iran, and in negotiations with the Iranian leadership he laid out just how his country could help. Formally, the summit was a meeting of the five leaders of the Caspian Sea states, but in reality the meeting was a Russian-Iranian effort to demonstrate to the Americans that Iran does not stand alone.

A good part of the summit involved clearly identifying differences with American policy. The right of states to nuclear energy was affirmed, the existence of energy infrastructure that undermines U.S. geopolitical goals was supported and a joint statement pledged the five states to refuse to allow "third parties" from using their territory to attack "the Caspian Five." The last is a clear bullying of Azerbaijan to maintain distance from American security plans.

But the real meat is in bilateral talks between Putin and his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the two sides are sussing out how Russia's ample military experience can be applied to Iran's U.S. problem. Some of the many, many possibilities include:

Kilo-class submarines: The Iranians already have two and the acoustics in the Persian Gulf are notoriously bad for tracking submarines. Any U.S. military effort against Iran would necessitate carrier battle groups in the Persian Gulf.

Russia fields the Bal-E, a ground-launched Russian version of the Harpoon anti-ship missile. Such batteries could threaten any U.S. surface ship in the Gulf. A cheaper option could simply involve the installation of Russian coastal artillery systems.

Russia and India have developed the BrahMos anti-ship cruise missile, which has the uniquely deadly feature of being able to be launched from land, ship, submarine or air. While primarily designed to target surface vessels, it also can act as a more traditional -- and versatile -- cruise missile and target land targets.

Flanker fighters are a Russian design (Su-27/Su-30) that compares very favorably to frontline U.S. fighter jets. Much to the U.S. Defense Department's chagrin, Indian pilots in Flankers have knocked down some U.S. pilots in training scenarios.

The S-300 anti-aircraft system is still among the best in the world, and despite eviscerated budgets, the Russians have managed to operationalize several upgrades since the end of the Cold War. It boasts both a far longer range and far more accuracy than the Tor-M1 and Pantsyr systems on which Iran currently depends.

Such options only scratch the surface of what the Russians have on order, and the above only discusses items of use in a direct Iranian-U.S. military conflict. Russia also could provide Iran with an endless supply of less flashy equipment to contribute to intensifying Iranian efforts to destabilize Iraq itself.

For now, the specifics of Russian transfers to Iran are tightly held, but they will not be for long. Russia has as much of an interest in getting free advertising for its weapons systems as Iran has in demonstrating just how high a price it will charge the United States for any attack.

But there is one additional reason this will not be a stealth relationship.

The Kremlin wants Washington to be fully aware of every detail of how Russian sales are making the U.S. Army's job harder, so that the Americans have all the information they need to make appropriate decisions as regards Russia's role. Moscow is not doing this because it is vindictive; this is simply how the Russians do business, and they are open to a new deal.

Russia has neither love for the Iranians nor a preference as to whether Moscow reforges its empire or has that empire handed back. So should the United States change its mind and seek an accommodation, Putin stands perfect ready to betray the Iranians' confidence.

For a price".


Monday, October 15, 2007


Since his assumption of power earlier this year, the 'Sarko', France's new President, Nicolas Sarkozy, has been a whirlwind of activity. In areas both foreign and domestic. It is for the purpose of providing some background to that activity, and, to perhaps getting a glimpse of where France's foreign policy might go in the next five years, that we introduce a report, which first appeared on the American online journal, Worldpolitics Watch. It excerpts from a report (published on the web site of the French Presidency), by the former French Socialist Foreign Minister, Hubert Vedrine (1997-2002). Vedrine, best known as the man who coined the phrase "hyperpuissance", to characterize the American colossus, during the Clinton era, was one of the men of the left who Sarkozy has reached out to since his victory at the polls. While he is far from being at all a congenital 'Atlanticist', as the American neo-conservative writer, Christopher Caldwell observed a number of years ago (see: "Vendrism: France's Global Ambition", in www.hoover.org), Vendrine is above all, une homme d'etat, in short a realpolitiker. Hence of course his co-operation with the USA, during the Kosovo War, something which his original patron, Francois Mitterrand, would never have countenanced. The same realism is present in this report. And, while it is far from being the thinking or the writing of someone who is 'pro-American' by any means, what this report does provide us with, is how Sarkozy intends to proceed to navigate the chasms represented by France's dual roles as both a stalwart of European independence vis`a-vis the United States, as well as Great Power dependent upon its ties to the USA, to have an impact on the world. With the above in mind, we present for your further edification, the Vedrine Report.

"Hubert Védrine on France's Atlantist 'Temptation': Excerpts from the Védrine Report". Abridged, edited and translated by John Rosenthal.

World Politics Review here presents translated extracts from Hubert Védrine's report to the French President. The italicized titles are provided by WPR. The page numbers refer to the pdf-version of the Védrine report published on the Web site of the French Presidency.

Recommendation for how France should respond to the challenges of globalization ""

"It [France] conducts and inspires on the European level a much more offensive policy of protection, of solidarity and of regulation, such that Europe becomes the regulator of the global[ized] world. [p. 9]


We should make the European Union the most effective level of action in the process of globalization: the regulating power par excellence. [p. 26]

On the "Atlantist/Westernist" temptation to change French foreign policy

Nonetheless, in the France of 2007 one senses that there is a much stronger temptation [than the "Europeist" temptation] -- a temptation that is at once new and old -- to call into question French foreign policy: the "Westernist" temptation. [p. 35]

. . . What are the principle axes of the advocates of this "Westernist" reorientation, who typically do not show their true colors -- apart from a few isolated intellectuals trying to be provocative -- but present themselves rather under the comforting façade of a "modernization" (yet another!) of [French] foreign policy?

The first is the postulate of "common values" shared by Europe and the United States. There may be temporary disagreements with George Bush (and not even this is possible for all the members of this current of thought), but basically we are all supposed to be democracies under siege by the terrorists and threatened by China: the new "free world," in effect. The question as to whether recent American policy has not precisely increased such risks is not even posed by the defenders of this line. It follows that we should not unnecessarily criticize the United States, nor take our distance from the United States "for the pleasure of doing so." According to a well know schema, not opposing the United States without valid grounds becomes: not opposing the United States at all. Suspicion is thereby cast on a whole segment of French foreign policy, a whole heritage of French foreign policy -- tone, initiatives, methods, partnerships -- and even in those cases in which France evidently was right. . . . [p. 36]

According to the logic of this current of thought -- which is strong in the UMP [the party of Nicolas Sarkozy] and the world of industry and of defense, present in the PS [the Socialist Party], and significant in the media -- the particular position of France in NATO is a "problem." Up to now, the first four successors of General de Gaulle have preserved the essence of the decision that he was compelled to take following eight years of fruitless negotiations with the United States: to remove France from the obligation of any automatic military engagement [in NATO], while remaining, needless to say, in the alliance. If this question has not been the subject of public debate -- neither during the election campaign, nor since the election of President Sarkozy -- the temptation of a return to NATO well and truly exists. [p. 37]

. . . The point of principle [favoring a "return" to NATO] -- the question of Western solidarity [la cohérence occidentale] -- cannot be evaluated in terms of costs and benefits precisely because it is a point of principle, virtually a matter of doctrine. It is justified if France thinks of itself as, above all, a Western country, rather than first and foremost European or unique. [p. 38]

. . . One needs to ask what would be the price to pay for such a development [i.e. a "return" to NATO]. First, on the domestic scene. A part of public opinion -- and perhaps not only on the Left -- would be opposed or, in any case, would not understand the need for the change. At a time when the outgoing Bush administration has made the United States more unpopular than ever before in the world, what interest could there be in reviving such a polemic? The question could be posed differently -- perhaps -- after 2009.

On the international scene, such a development would provoke the enthusiasm of the American media and elected representatives: General de Gaulle has been forgotten, France has become a reliable ally again, France will help us in Iraq and elsewhere, etc. There would be satisfaction in Israel for the same reasons. A more ambivalent satisfaction in Great Britain. . . . Everywhere else, France would be considered to have realigned her policy to that of the United States and would be treated accordingly. The other world powers, established or emerging, would coldly take note of this development: Even if it had often proved illusory to attempt to contain [canaliser] or counterbalance the United States, in any case it would no longer be worthwhile to try to do so with the help of France and hence to promote France politically or favor France economically to this end.

For all other countries that are not world powers, at least some 150, the development would be perceived as the loss of a source of support in the U.N. and in the WTO and of a defender of their interests in the IMF, the World Bank and the G-8. But normal countries, much more so than world powers, have to be realistic and they will have soon found other sources of support. [pp. 38-39]

On a "reform" of NATO that would make a "return" more attractive for France
What would this "new NATO" be?

-- An organization that would accept debate in its midst among allies (and not among vassals) about strategic and tactical options: for instance, about the future of dissuasion and the proper combination of defense and dissuasion. . . .

-- An organization that would clarify its geographical area: Its role and its missions have become unclear since they have been constantly extended. Since the end of the U.S.S.R., the United States and various lobbies of other countries that are influential in Washington have pushed for an enlargement of NATO in order to bring about the containment of [achever de refouler] Russia, to surround Russia with a network of countries newly allied to the Westerners, or to deal with the terrorist threat and increase American influence. . . . Moreover, American and Western reactions and case-by-case engagements -- in the former Yugoslavia, in Afghanistan -- seem to have transformed NATO. . . . into the military arm of Western security of all sorts.

This has grave consequences for the perception of the West by "the rest" and for our strategic position in the world of the emerging poles of power. [pp. 39-40]

On the American missile shield project

In theory, missile shields weaken the credibility of dissuasion and that is why there was an ABM Treaty from 1972 to 2001. But there is the risk that a missile will be fired accidentally (?), that some regimes are not susceptible to the threat of retaliatory attacks (?), that certain threats could emanate from non-territorial entities that could not be targeted in turn because they have no fixed address (?) -- and all these risks have come to obsess the West (and some other countries) ever since . . . it defeated the U.S.S.R. The victor is worried. And, above all, as Z. Brzezinski has always explained, the United States wants to have more security than everyone else and to dispose of every possible system of defense, attack and dissuasion. [pp. 40-41; the question marks are Védrine's]

. . . But is it necessary to throw oneself into all of this [the missile shield project] just to intercept the missiles possibly fired by an Iranian regime supposedly bent on suicide and which, moreover, will undoubtedly have changed before the missile shield is operational? [p. 41]

On the American-led intervention in Iraq (which Védrine claims certain members of the French elites continue to support)

In reality, the American intervention was doomed to failure on account of the sophism that considered that too much importance was being attached to the Palestinian problem and that it was the Arab countries that had to be changed first, whether voluntarily or by the use of force (the neoconservative theory and Likud). This was combined with the simplistic belief that democracy could be imposed from the outside as in Germany or Japan in 1945. . . . [p. 42]

On French foreign policy during the Cold War and today

During [the Cold War], while loyally assuming its responsibilities toward its allies in the Atlantic Alliance in times of crisis, France esteemed that it was consistent with its history, its geography, its interests and its ideals to employ a certain freedom of action in the East and the South. It was well served by this choice: as were Europe and the world. [p. 43]

. . . France would be taking an enormous risk in leaving its foreign policy to a new Western Holy Alliance that is genetically pre-programmed to seek confrontation with non-Western poles [of power] for reasons related to ideology, security, energy or other considerations: an alliance led by a United States that cannot be influenced from the outside and that is subject to excesses of adventurism. [pp. 43-44]

On the "War on Terror"

Either we accept the analysis of the Bush administration: there is a global phenomenon of terrorism against Westerners, Israelis and some allies of the United States and the response to this phenomenon is a "war on terror." This "war on terror" represents the sole aim around which all foreign policy and defense policy should be reconfigured, while all analysis of terrorism (e.g., the Middle East conflict) should be prohibited, since to analyze would be to justify what cannot be justified.

Or, on the contrary, we free ourselves from this dangerously simplistic position, which has perhaps reinforced security but has reinforced even more the risks we face. In this case, we reformulate a policy that (1) provides maximum security against terrorist operations, but (2) also deprives Islamic terrorists little by little of their best arguments for propaganda and recruitment (the Middle East, Iraq, Iran, the domestic situation of the Arab countries), and (3) does not make terrorism the only problem in the world.

One will not make Islamic terrorists disappear from one day to the next, but, on the other hand, they cannot overthrow the democracies or even the existing Arab regimes. In the long run, "normal" Islam will manage to absorb them, as long as Westerners do not bother it too much by their mistakes. [p. 54]

On French "Arab Policy"

To renounce French "Arab Policy" would be a useless concession to a part of the American press and the Israeli Right. This policy has sometimes deserved criticism, but it has more often been caricatured. And what should one say, then, of the Arab policy of George W. Bush or that of Likud?

. . . [French] Arab Policy has, above all, been presented by its denigrators as synonymous with indulgence toward Arab regimes that are despotic and anti-Israeli. There is nothing so terrible about that. The Arab countries are not exempted from the effort at modernization and democratization that is expected by the whole world and for which their own peoples are hoping. On the other hand, it would hardly be to our credit to demand more from an Arab country than from China or Russia. . . .

Arab policy is, of course, also the Palestinian question. At least since Mitterrand's trip to Israel in 1982, it would be totally false to say that French policy in the Middle East has been "unbalanced." It is simply the case that since Mitterrand addressed the Knesset -- or even before with Giscard -- it has not ceased to insist that the Israelis will have neither peace nor security until they have correctly resolved the Palestinian question and accepted a Palestinian state in the occupied and evacuated territories. This position did not bother a Rabin, a Shimon Peres, a Barak, the Labor Party, the peace camp in general, several important Israeli media, and numerous important personalities and even Israeli public opinion, which accepts the need for it as the polls have shown for many years now. On the other hand, this prescient and clear French position has long been an easy target for all those, in Israel and elsewhere, who refuse in principle a restitution of the territories, who refuse all negotiations and every negotiator and try to discredit all the external supports of a Palestinian state. It is also true that while the French position is correct in substance, it has too often been stated vis-à-vis Israel (among others) in a disagreeable and sermonizing manner.

One can esteem that the situation in which the Palestinian people have been placed is revolting -- it is -- and, moreover, absurd in light of Western, European, and Israeli security interests. . . . But this does not justify reducing all our relations with Israel to disapproval. Israel is a democratic and pluralistic country. The debate there is lively. After the [French] government of 2001-2002 was unjustly accused of showing indifference to the anti-Semitic acts that were committed in some banlieues, the Franco-Israel exchanges that have occurred since 2003 -- between French and Israeli "civil societies" -- have been a good thing. . . ."

Hubert Védrine's full report on globalization and French foreign policy is available on the Web site of the French Presidency here and as a pdf file here. www.worldpoliticsreview.com