Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Anno Domini 2007 As Disaster?
China's Fears For The Current Year

Widely regarded as the world's coming Great Power, China possessing the largest currency reserves on the planet, with economic growth in the past year topping 10% per annum, would on the surface appear to be invincible. However as I have argued on more than one occasion on this site, underneath the gleaming surface lurks many structural problems for the PRC. Additionally in the field of foreign relations, the PRC, faces many many challenges which make the talk of coming Super powerdom, to be quite facile and simplistic.

It is with the hope of bringing this point of view forward, that we present the following article by the American, online journal The article in essence posits that China will face a good number of important challenges in 2007, in particular relating to its interaction with Formosa [Taiwan] and the United States. As per the article's author, Rodger Baker:

"There is a core concern among China's top leaders, more acute for 2007 than in many other years: Taiwan. Parliamentary elections will take place there this year -- the final year of President Chen Shui-bian's second term. The Chinese are also very much aware of the political shift in Washington and the window of time until the U.S. presidential elections in 2008. These factors, along with Beijing's apparent obsession with maintaining stability and a positive public image ahead of the Olympics, are combining to create a perfect storm of conditions".

While, one can criticize the article for excessive and one-sided pessimism, certainly as compared to the simplistic and highly excessive optimism about the PRC's future, and, its benign aims one comes across so frequently in the Anglo-American media, makes the presentation of the article a worthwhile exercise. With that in mind, we hereby present Mr. Baker's article for your perusal and enjoyment.

China's Concerns in 2007: Fears of a Perfect Storm, By Rodger Baker

The year 2007 is an important one for China's leadership. At the National People's Congress (NPC) session in March, the government is likely to enact legislation equalizing the status of private property with state property and addressing the imbalance in tax rates between foreign and domestic businesses -- both moves designed to encourage domestic Chinese entrepreneurship. In the fall, the Communist Party of China (CPC) will meet for its Congress -- bringing changes to the Politburo, stacking the political deck with supporters of President Hu Jintao and providing an early glimpse of the next-generation leadership slated to take power in 2012. Lastly, this is the final year of preparations for the symbolically important summer Olympics, which Beijing will host in 2008.

As the regime takes on these social and economic challenges and lays the groundwork for a smooth continuation of power for the next half-decade, there is a core concern among China's top leaders, more acute for 2007 than in many other years: Taiwan. Parliamentary elections will take place there this year -- the final year of President Chen Shui-bian's second term. The Chinese are also very much aware of the political shift in Washington and the window of time until the U.S. presidential elections in 2008. These factors, along with Beijing's apparent obsession with maintaining stability and a positive public image ahead of the Olympics, are combining to create a perfect storm of conditions that, from Beijing's perspective, signal Taiwan will take the final political step of declaring independence in 2007.

To fully grasp the implications of this perspective -- and how China's fears are likely to drive its actions -- it is useful to consider the state of affairs that long has been agreed upon by mainland China, Taiwan and the United States.

Under the present arrangement, China has the seat at the United Nations and Taiwan is viewed officially as merely an "economic" area. In every realistic sense, Taiwan conducts its economic, political and social affairs as a sovereign state -- though of course, China exerts its own influence and money in order to limit the number of nations that recognize the island diplomatically as an independent state. Everyone else just plays along -- paying lip service to mainland China's position while carrying out diplomatic and economic relations with Taiwan in "semi-official" ways. So long as China doesn't invade or physically reclaim Taiwan and Taipei doesn't formally declare independence, an uneasy half-truth is perpetuated, and both sides go about their business.

By its own calculus, China cannot afford to lose Taiwan to a formal independence move. The social and political structure of mainland China -- not to mention the legitimacy of the CPC -- are still, to a great degree, predicated on actively maintaining the myth that Taiwan is a part of China. And while Beijing and the international media have moved away from using the overt and loaded appellation of "breakaway province" to describe Taiwan, a formal declaration of independence -- unless met with a swift military response -- would significantly weaken the regime.

At the same time, Beijing does not want to undertake military action against Taiwan. For one thing, while China might have the military power to hurt Taiwan badly, it is not capable of the kind of sustained operation that would be required to invade and forcibly reunify Taiwan. Second, any such invasion of Taiwan would draw in the United States and possibly Japan -- neither of which, for strategic and geographic reasons, can allow China to reclaim Taiwan and thus project power into the midst of the South China Sea and its vital sea-lanes. In general, the United States has sought to keep separatist sentiments in Taiwan contained: It offers assistance and military sales to Taiwan on the condition that Taipei will not force the independence issue and draw the United States into a war with China.

This trilateral relationship has been frequently strained and tested, most noticeably (in recent times) with the lead-up to Taiwan's 1996 elections. At that time, Beijing carried out missile tests in the Taiwan Strait, and the United States sent two carrier battle groups into the area to keep the two sides from tangling. During the past decade, though, the balance has been maintained primarily through political means: Washington carefully controls Chen's "instigations" through comments by government officials, diplomats and others; through selective permission (or denial) of flight stopovers in the United States; and through economic and political dialogue with Beijing.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the United States has been particularly keen on keeping Chen under control, taxed as it has been with U.S. military forces caught up in conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq and the emerging nuclear crises in North Korea and Iran. During this time, Washington has adopted a more cooperative track with China, pushing the "responsible stakeholder" dialogue as a way to engage Beijing and keep tensions down. Though the Defense Department frequently has sought to stir up fears of the "China threat" and Congress has pursued economic action related to the Chinese trade imbalance and currency rates, the general tenor of relations between Beijing and Washington has been smooth for the past five years.

Correctly or otherwise, however, Beijing now sees this era as potentially coming to an end -- and Taiwan as being at the center of the shift. On Jan. 17, in comments that were given substantial play in the Chinese press, Yang Yi -- a spokesman for the State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office -- said 2007 is a crucial year for opposing Taiwanese secessionist activities, and warned that Taipei might seek "de jure independence." Yang's comments were not all that unusual: Chinese officials, particularly those in the Taiwan Affairs Office, frequently caution against Taiwanese independence moves, and Beijing was particularly provoked this month over an overnight stopover Chen made in San Francisco on Jan. 8. Beijing viewed this as an intentional snub on Washington's part and as a major shift in the U.S. attitude from less than a year ago, when the United States denied Chen permission for a similar stopover.

From Beijing's standpoint, there are three situations that could come together this year to herald a crisis on the Taiwan front.

The Shift in Washington

First, the leadership in Beijing is extremely concerned that the shift from Republican to Democratic control in the U.S. Congress could spell the beginning of the end of the current round of rapprochement in Sino-U.S. relations. Though Beijing views the Republicans as being hawkish on the military front (and as the key voices in the "China threat" line of argument in the United States), it also sees this movement as having been subsumed by the Republican White House, which has advocated a more balanced and consultative approach to Chinese relations.

There are no such expectations of the Democratic Congress.

China now anticipates a move to push economic and financial actions against China through Congress. It is the Democratic Party that is seen as the most motivated to attack the established economic and business relationships between the two powers. With the Democrats in charge of the legislature and the popularity of the Bush administration fading, Beijing sees little that would stop Congress from becoming more aggressive in its moves to punish or contain China.

A related concern, tied to the extended U.S. war in Iraq, then begins to emerge. Again, peering through the Chinese lens, the war is unpopular among Americans, and the Democrats -- positioning themselves for presidential elections next year -- will seek to reduce the U.S. presence in Iraq. However, they cannot afford to look dovish. To demonstrate that the party is strong on U.S. national security, and to gain support from the Pentagon, the Democrats could shift attention to issues like North Korea and China. China's military restructuring and its recent space experiments are perfect fodder for Democratic presidential hopefuls seeking to point out the failures of a presidency that, it will be argued, has gotten the United States tied down in an interminable war in Iraq and missed the "real" threats on the horizon, such as China.

That concern by itself would be manageable for Beijing. After all, the regime has balanced competing pressures from the United States before. The political shift and cycles in Washington could complicate matters at the CPC Congress and the NPC session next year (where a new vice president is likely to be named), but this does not constitute a crisis. However, if Taiwan generates significant pressure this year as well, the U.S. Congress could compound that pressure by giving tacit or overt support to the island's moves toward independence.

Taiwan: Chen Presses Ahead

This is Chen's final full year in office. Presidential elections are scheduled for March 2008, and Chen, having already served two terms, will not be eligible to run again. China sees Chen -- a member of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) (the "pro-independence" party in Taiwan) -- as an ideologue; someone who will do everything in his power (and maybe a little beyond his power, as constitutional amendments in 2005 demonstrated) to bring about Taiwanese independence. And his time is running out.

Chen already has spearheaded one round of constitutional revisions in Taiwan, having added the right of referendum to the document in 2005. That is something Beijing fears will pave the way for a popular vote on independence in Taiwan. Chen also has pushed for use of the name "Taiwan" to be used on Taiwanese passports, instead of the "Republic of China" nomenclature preferred by Beijing. (The existing terminology pays at least historical homage to the Taiwanese government's original claim to legitimacy as the government of all of China -- and this keeps the "one China" illusion alive).

At this point, Chen is continuing with moves to create a "Taiwan identity," which ultimately would smooth the path toward independence.

First, he is pressing with renewed vigor for Taiwan to gain a seat of its own at the United Nations -- or, at minimum, to have all of the island's positions there officially placed under the name "Taiwan." Both changes would qualify as steps away from the status quo and toward a more formal recognition of Taiwan's sovereignty from mainland China. This, by the way, is both the perception of the leadership in Beijing and the way Chen himself publicly characterizes the measures.

Chen is also pushing for additional constitutional reform in 2007. Under the changes passed in 2005, any new constitutional reform would need approval both from parliament and, by referendum, from Taiwanese citizens.

Though there is little concrete thus far in Chen's proposals for additional changes, he has played up one key issue -- redefining the territory of Taiwan. According to Article 4 of the Taiwanese Constitution, "The territory of the Republic of China within its existing national boundaries shall not be altered except by a resolution of the National Assembly."

The definition of this territory, however, is interpreted, as per the preamble to the constitution, as the territory of the Republic of China founded by Sun Yat Sen -- a territory that, in the 1936 draft constitution, included mainland China and Mongolia but not Taiwan, which was still a possession of Japan. This legal dilemma has been reviewed by the Taiwanese Supreme Court, which deemed the definition of territory a political concern and refrained from determining exactly what the "existing national boundaries" actually were.

Now, it is obvious that the current Republic of China/Taiwan territories are limited to Taiwan and a few additional islands; Taipei no longer makes much claim to mainland China or Mongolia. Thus, Chen's attempts to "clarify" the boundary definitions in the constitution signal another step toward a more formal independence, laying the groundwork for recognition of Taiwan as it truly exists. From Beijing's perspective, this would eradicate the last vestiges of a link between the sovereignty of Taiwan and the sovereignty of the People's Republic.

If Chen is to succeed in his quest for constitutional change, he must move quickly. Parliamentary elections are due in Taiwan in December, and the Kuomintang Party (KMT) and People First Party have recovered from their differences to field a joint set of candidates, who will have the upper hand over Chen's DPP. The opposition parties already have a slight lead in parliament, making any constitutional change difficult at best -- but then, Chen managed to pass reforms against the wishes of the KMT in 2005, and he could pull it off again.

Self-Generated Pressure: The Olympics

There is one more element that causes Beijing to view Chen as such a dangerous player in 2007: the Olympics. The Chinese leadership has spent years preparing for the big show, and is doing everything in its power to portray China as a major modern nation. The 2008 Olympics will be a venue for showcasing China's modern and global role, and for sweeping away any lingering stigma from the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident (which still haunts China -- for instance, by restricting its access to the European arms market). Beijing wants to use the Olympics to bring China more fully into the world political and security sphere.

But this near-obsession with the Olympics -- and with fostering a sense of stability to go with it -- is an Achilles' heel for Beijing. During this period, Chen might perceive China as being less decisive or less likely to respond militarily to incremental moves toward Taiwanese independence. As Beijing sees it, Chen will capitalize on China's overwhelming desire to maintain its image and make his move while Beijing's hands are tied. According to the same logic, the new U.S. Congress might signal that it, too, supports -- or at least doesn't oppose -- Chen if he should take action now.

Beijing's concern about an attempt by Taipei and Washington to exploit the opportunities of 2007 already has begun to play out in Chinese actions -- specifically with the test earlier this month of an anti-satellite system. Chinese leaders could have carried out such a test at a different time in order to avoid stirring trouble. They didn't. They conducted the test and then, initially, simply winked when Washington called them out -- before finally admitting to it outright and asking no forgiveness. A China deeply concerned about maintaining a nonthreatening image and smooth relations with Washington in the run-up to the Olympics would not behave in that manner.

The Implications

Beijing's choice of actions sends a few very clear messages to Washington and Taipei. First, the regime is signaling that it would be a miscalculation to think the Olympics outweigh China's strategic interests. Beijing wants the Olympics to be a success that substantially alters global opinion of China, but this is not a goal to be achieved at the expense of the state and the party. Second, it has signaled that Taiwan should not be so quick to rely on U.S. naval intervention if the cross-Strait situation deteriorates rapidly. Knocking out the satellite, combined with moving new J-10 fighters to the Taiwan Strait area and tailing a U.S. carrier strike group with a Chinese submarine last year, constitutes a message to the United States that intervention over Taiwan might not be as easy or painless as it was in 1995-1996. This, then, is supposed to convince Washington that it needs to put a little tighter leash on Chen and control his "separatist tendencies."

The political and military stakes are high. While the Chinese military demonstrations are certainly impressive, there are those within the U.S. defense and political establishment who argue that countering China is something better done earlier than later, after Beijing has a chance to build up a more substantial and technologically advanced military force. Further, with China facing its own political sensitivities this year -- as the next-generation leadership is selected and economic and social stresses climb -- Beijing is perhaps at a point of maximum vulnerability, particularly with the added economic burden and international image issues related to the Olympics.

By default or design, 2007 is shaping up to be a very tense year for the China-Taiwan-U.S. relationship

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Sunday, January 28, 2007


The future evolution of 21st century Asiatic politics is one of the biggest guessing games, ongoing among foreign policy analysts. In particular of course, the future role of China, in both the Orient and out, is a source of differing interpretations. Some posit that Peking, enjoying unprecedented wealth (world's largest foreign exchange reserves), and relative political stability (no repetition of the crisis of 1989), as well as the beginnings of the use of soft power, especially in Africa and Latin America (massive raw materials purchases and foreign aid programmes). According to the American academic, Emanuel Pastreich, China is on the cusp of becoming in the 21st century, what the United States was in the beginning of the 20th century (see: "Is China the Nemesis in a new cold war", in Others see, Chinese political stability as much more fragile and prone to collapsing, due to the pressures of economic modernization, and development, on a archaic and increasing illegitimate political system. According to this perspective, China's rulers, under increasing domestic pressures to solidify their legitimacy, will seek to do so by engaging in crises abroad, especially vis-`a-vis Japan and Formosa [Taiwan]. Seen from this perspective, the closest historical example to China's future path, would be that of Kaiserreich Deutschland, after the fall of Bismarck in 1890. Just as the domestic pressures on the German political system in the period from 1890 to 1914 (as per Eckhart Kehr's "Der Primat der Innenpolitik" [the primacy of domestic policy]) "inevitably" lead to the crisis of the Great War, so will China's domestic instability invariably lead to a crisis with the United States and or its regional allies. Some such as Henry Kissinger, while accepting the legitimacy of the Kaiserreich analogy, argue that a sound and good diplomacy, by the de facto 'hegemon' in the Orient, id est, the United States, can and should prevent the Great War example from happening again. As per Kissinger, it is for the United States, to exercise caution and to envelope China's emerging power, by accomodation & appeasement, as well as occasional firmness, all with the objective to preventing an unavoidable crisis in the Far East from occurring.

For what it is worth, my own position is a mixture of all of the above. I like Professor Pastreich, see that China, has some of the qualities displayed by the United States, at the beginning of the 20th century. However, unlike Pastreich, I do not see China, in the absence of a political transformation of its political system, from being able to convert its newfound wealth into a regional, much less an extra-regional hegemony. The fact that two next largest powers in Asia: Japan and India, are either skeptical of Chinese aspirations and or outright opposed to them, make a 'peaceful rise' of China to Far Eastern hegemony difficult if not impossible. The equivalent example from American history would be if at the turn of the 20th century, the United States was flanked by a militarily powerful and populated Canada, and Mexico. Something of course, which was very much not the case, and, which greatly contributed to America's 'peaceful rise' to Western Hemispheric hegemony by 1905. Absent a complete collapse of the current American alliance system, which in recent years, has seen the addition of India as a de facto member, there appears to be little that China can do to transform its immediate neighbourhood, in such as a way as to make it the hegemonic power. This example of being flanked if not necessarily 'encircled', is of course quite similar to the strategic position of Wilhelmine Deutschland, where Berlin was surrounded by the Triple Entente of France, Tsarist Russia, and, last and most importantly Great Britain.

Into this debate, I would like to add the thoughts of the noted French International Relations expert, Dominique Moisi. Moisi, known to some of you, via his occasional articles in the Financial Times, has been a leading commentator on European and world diplomacy for upwards of the last twenty. From his perchs as the Deputy Director of the French Institute of International Affairs, past editor of their house journal "Politique Etrangere", Moisi has offered up a combination of views both French and European. According to Moisi, Europeans and others such as myself, I suppose, should not feel too much schadenfreude about the possibilities of the 21st century Orient, following in the catastrophic footsteps of twentieth century Europe. As per Moisi, China, unlike Wilhelmine Germany is a 'status quo' power, and, uninterested in changing the regle de jeu, of the Far East's geopolitical landscape by violently overturning it (with the exception of Formosa). As per Moisi, the real problem for Asia is the 'lack of the rule of law', especially in China. According to Moisi, it is this very lack, much more than China's increasing armaments, or its lack of Democracy, which will upend the Orient. How plausible is this prognosis? I think that Moisi's analysis is quite valuable, especially his fruitful (negative) European comparisons. However, the complete absence of the United States from his analysis, of the Far Eastern equation, ultimately makes his outlook problematic. Especially since Moisi fails to note, that the various tie-ups in the region: Japan South Korea, and Formosa, Australia and Japan, India and Japan, all have an implicit or explicit anti-Chinese rationale to them. Finally, like Norman Angell circa 1913, Moisi, leaves altogether too much to the rationality of Peking's leaders. Id est: "why should they take unnecessary risks". Unfortunately, as history, especially history of the last two hundred plus years is full of instances, where leaders, even leaders of great powers, full of success, have decided to play the game of va banque, often of course with results that they did not anticipate. To expect that the leaders of the PRC, 'technocratic' though they maybe, to take the line of common sense, and least resistance, in a sudden crisis, whether real or imagined, is something that history suggests Monsieur Moisi is demanding a bit too much of it unfortunately.

Without the rule of law, an Asian Union can't be the EU
By Dominique Moisi

"It is tempting for Europeans to project their own history onto Asia and to view current developments there as a mere repetition, if not an imitation, of what occurred in Europe. In fact, Asians themselves encourage this temptation, with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) openly aiming to become increasingly like the European Union.

In trying to decipher Asia's diplomatic future, Europeans are confronted, so to speak, with an "embarrassment of riches." Is Asia today replaying the balance-of-power games of late 19th-century Europe, with China in the role of Germany? Or is South Asia, through the growth of ASEAN, poised to one day become the Far Eastern equivalent of the EU?

These comparisons are not neutral, and one may detect in the analogy between China today and 19th-century Germany an element of that guilty pleasure in others' troubles that the Germans call "Schadenfreude." Asia may be doing well economically now, according to this view, but just wait: Rising nationalism, China's appetite for power, and the rest of Asia's desire to curb its ambitions will necessarily impede economic growth and restore the West's global primacy.

But this scenario does not correspond to reality. China at the beginning of the 21st century is not Bismarck's newly unified Germany in the second half of the 19th century. The Chinese do not view themselves as a rising new power, but instead as Asia's traditional power, now experiencing a renaissance. China, they believe, is regaining the status and prestige that it enjoyed until the end of the 18th century.

As a result, unlike Wilhelmine Germany, the Chinese are not in a hurry to prove how strong and powerful they have become. In strategic terms, China is not a revisionist power, but instead a "satisfied," status-quo power. The only exception to this, of course, would be a declaration of independence from Taiwan, which the Chinese would consider a casus belli.

To be sure, the Chinese are indeed rearming - and even entering the military space race - but they are doing so at a pace and to a proportion that reflects their new economic prosperity. China's fundamental priorities remain economic, reflecting its leaders' belief that their regime's long-term survival presupposes the continuation of rapid growth. For that, they need access to energy, but they are not about to engage in military or even diplomatic adventures.

Nor are they set to become a benevolent, altruistic power, ready to use their new strength and reputation to improve the stability of the international system. Chinese cynicism and spontaneous selfishness, however, is now tempered by what they perceive as growing recognition of their unique status. The combination of respect and interest they see in the way the world now views China can only reinforce their sense of confidence. So why should they take unnecessary risks?

The resounding success of the Africa-China summit, which was attended by more African leaders than purely African gatherings; the diplomatic rapprochement between India and Japan; and the democratic alliance in the making between India, Japan, and Australia, can only be interpreted as signs of China's newly regained position. Why would the Chinese jeopardize such real and symbolic gains with rash and untested moves? There is no Bismarck at the helm of China's diplomacy, but there is no impetuous Kaiser either: just relatively prudent and competent technocrats.

In reality, what may threaten the stability of the region, and above all that of China, is not an excess of Chinese ambitions or a failure to democratize, but the Chinese regime's inability to establish the rule of law. In 1978, China's newly installed leader, Deng Xiaoping, viewed Singapore as living proof of the superiority of capitalism over communism. He remembered the impoverished backwater that Singapore was in the 1920s, and now he saw the gleaming city that free enterprise - together with Lee Kwan Yew's quasi-authoritarian leadership - had wrought. It was after visiting Singapore that Deng introduced "special economic zones" in southern China.

But the rule of law, even Singapore-style, is far harder to implement than capitalism, and its absence represents the major obstacle to the establishment of an Asian community based on the EU model. Twenty years ago, one of the main obstacles to creating an Asian Union was Japan - Asia's most advanced and successful country, but one that did not feel Asian. Moreover, the rest of Asia resented the Japanese for reveling in this difference. That resentment remains, sustained in part by historical grievances, but the Japanese have now come to perceive of themselves as Asians, helped by their realization that the economic miracle that they initiated in the region has gone well beyond them.

In Europe, transcending nationalism required not only two devastating world wars in the first half of the 20th century, but also the prevalence of democratic regimes. The rule of law is the equivalent for Asia today of what democracy was for Europe yesterday. Without its gradual imposition, an Asian Union could at best remain only a pale and hollow copy of its European model."

Dominique Moisi, a founder and senior adviser at the French Institute for International Relations, is currently a professor at the College of Europe in Natolin, Warsaw. THE DAILY STAR publishes this commentary in collaboration with Project Syndicate (

Thursday, January 25, 2007


Joschka Fischer, is a man, who I will admit to you frankly, I do not in the least like or admire. A man of 1968, a soixante-huitard, a man whose popularity as Germany's most liked politician from 1999 to 2005, was a complete mystery to me personally. A man who was not in the least entitled to become foreign minister, not having any, I repeat any prior experience of either diplomacy or any prior ministerial posts at the all-government level. Joschka Fischer, did reasonably well, not brillantly by any means whatsoever, but, did reasonably well as German foreign minister. He was not, obviously a Hans-Dietrich Genscher, or a Heinrich von Brentano, but, all in all, his performance in his post in the Schroder government was credible. And, of course in representing Germany in the crises over the Iraq war, he represented ably the German point of view: that the Bush regime's preventative war policy was a mistake from every perspective. Having retired from active politics with the ouster of the Green Party from government in the fall of 2005, Herr Fischer is now a 'Professor' at Princeton University. Something of an oddity for a man who never got his abitur in his native country, and, thus would be unfit for even entering a University....

Notwithstanding all this, Fischer's recent comments on the Bush regime's current policies towards the Near East, deserve a hearing for the following reasons: a) by virtue of the fact of his having said them; b) because his comments represent to a degree feelings and tendencies of a good cross section of European, especially West European opinion; c) a good segment of the pays legal, the 'official mind' in Western Europe, EU Europe, adhere to, and agree with the arguments that he lays out. Arguments, which insofar as they refer to future American policies in Iraq, will no doubt be repeated by members of the EU at the foreign ministry level, and, of course by many Brussels officials. How convincing are his arguments? I for one, could argue that he over-emphasizes the military aspect to current American policy, especially as it relates to Persia. Rightly or wrongly, 'fear' and the military build-up to create that fear, is a part and parcel of any diplomatic bargaining with Persia's Mullahs. Especially given the fact that the current debacle in Iraq, which one can agree with Fischer in decrying, has of course seriously diminshed American credibility in the region. And especially among the United States, traditional Sunni Arab allies, id est, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf States. Fischer also overlooks the fact, that currently American policy vis-`a-vis Persia is at least equally focused on bringing to bear economic sanctions, on Teheran, as on the (very vague) military threat (on this idea behind the American military build-up, see: "Intelligence Brief: U.S. Moves to Regain leverage over Iran" in According to Thursday's Financial Times, the existing sanctions are already begining to seriously impact on the regime in Teheran. Indeed, one can hope that if the European powers in the contact group (UK, France and Germany) were indeed serious (as I think that they are) in looking for a non-military means of resolving the crisis over Persia nuclear programme, than utilizing the economic lever is one that they should eagerly subscribe to. Although, so far that is not the case (on American attempts to tighten the screws on Persia, see: However, notwithstanding my own caveats, I do believe that Fischer's thinking is worthy of a hearing, and, with that in mind, I present herewith, Fischer's article. Please read and enjoy:

If Iran is next, the United States is making a big mistake

By Joschka Fischer

"Can politics learn from history? Or is it subject to a fatal compulsion to repeat the same mistakes, despite the disastrous lessons of the past? President George W. Bush's new strategy for Iraq has posed anew this age-old philosophical and historical question.

Ostensibly, Bush has embarked on a new political and military strategy for war-torn Iraq. His new course can be summarized under three headings: more American troops, more Iraqi responsibility, and more American training for more Iraqi troops.

If you apply this new plan to Iraq alone, two things immediately catch the eye: almost all the proposals of the Iraqi Study Group (ISG) report have been ignored, and the plan itself - in the face of the chaos in Iraq - is quite simplistic. In light of the failure of all previous "new strategies" for stabilizing Iraq, there is little to suggest that the newest "new strategy" will succeed any better, despite the additional 21,000 US soldiers.

What is interesting and really new in the Bush administration's policy is the way it reaches beyond Iraq, to deal with Iran, Syria, and the Gulf states. Here, unexpected and genuinely new decisions have been announced: an additional US aircraft carrier group will be moved to the Gulf; Patriot anti-aircraft missiles will be stationed in the Gulf states; and the additional 21,000 soldiers far exceed what the American generals had asked for to deal with Iraq. So one wonders about the purpose of this military build-up. One might think that Saddam was still alive and in power, so his overthrow had to be prepared all over again.

The surprise of Bush's new policy is its shift of political focus from Iraq to its two immediate neighbors. Bush accuses Syria and Iran of interfering in Iraq, threatening its territorial integrity and endangering American troops, and, more generally, of seeking to undermine America's allies in the region. If you add to this the seizure, on Bush's orders, of Iranian "diplomats" by US forces in the northern Iraqi town of Irbil, a completely new picture of the president's plan comes to the fore: The "new strategy" does not follow the advice of the ISG report, but harks back to the disastrous strategy of the neoconservatives. Iran is now in the superpower's sights, and the US approach brings to mind the preparatory phase of the Iraq war - down to the last detail.

Where does all this lead? Basically, there are two possibilities, one positive and one negative. Unfortunately, the positive outcome appears to be the less likely one.

If the threat of force - a force that the US is quite obviously building up - aims at preparing the ground for serious negotiations with Iran, there can and should be no objection. If, on the other hand, it represents an attempt to prepare the American public for a war against Iran, and a genuine intention to unleash such a war when the opportunity arises, the outcome would be an unmitigated disaster.

Unfortunately, this danger is all too real. Since the Bush administration views Iran's nuclear program and hegemonic aspirations as the major threat to the region, its new strategy is based on a newly formed undeclared anti-Iranian alliance with moderate Sunni Arab states and Israel. The nuclear program is the dynamic factor here, because it will set a timeline for action.

But air strikes on Iran, which America may see as a military solution, would not make Iraq safer; they would achieve exactly the opposite. Nor would the region as a whole be stabilized; on the contrary, it would be plunged into an abyss. And the dream of "regime change" in Tehran would not come true, either. Rather, Iran's democratic opposition would pay a high price, and the theocratic regime would only become stronger.

The political options for stabilizing Iraq, and the whole region, as well as for securing a long-term freeze of Iran's nuclear program, have not yet been exhausted. The current state of Iran's nuclear program does not call for immediate military action. Instead, the focus should be on diplomatic efforts to detach Syria from Iran and isolate the Tehran regime. But this presupposes American willingness to return to diplomacy and talking to all the parties involved. Tehran is afraid of regional and international isolation. Moreover, the recent municipal elections in Iran have shown that betting on diplomacy and a transformation of Iran from within is a realistic option. So why the current threats against Iran?

The debacle in Iraq was foreseeable from the beginning, and America's numerous partners and friends predicted it quite clearly in their warnings to the Bush administration. The mistake that the United States may be about to make is equally predictable: A war that is wrong will not be made right by extending it - that is the lesson of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.

The ideologically driven strategy of regime change by means of military force led the US into the Iraqi disaster. Getting into Iraq and defeating Saddam Hussein was easy. But today, America is stuck there and knows neither how to win nor how to get out. A mistake is not corrected by repeating it over and over again. Perseverance in error does not correct the error; it merely exacerbates it. Following the launch of the new American policy, the old question of whether politics can learn from history will be answered again in the Middle East. Whatever the answer, the consequences - whether good or bad - will be far-reaching."

Joschka Fischer was Germany's foreign minister and vice chancellor from 1998 to 2005.

A leader in the Green Party for nearly 20 years, he is now a visiting professor at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School. THE DAILY STAR publishes this commentary in collaboration with Project Syndicate (

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


"If we can’t win the battle of Baghdad in three to six months, if we can’t secure the city, if we can’t drive out most of the Sunni insurgents, or destroy them, if we can’t bring the extreme Shiite militias under control, if we can’t bring not simple tactical victory, but the ability to both secure areas and actually bring aid and some kind of belief the government can work, then essentially the strategy has failed and so has the U.S. war effort. Whatever will happen, the country will then drift into sectarian and ethnic divisions. The only question will be how violent, how much chaos will occur, and how many countries around Iraq will become involved."
Anthony Cordesman being interviewed by Bernard Gwartzman of the Council of Foreign Relations on the 18th of January in

As anyone who has had an opportunity of reading the usual newspapers, periodicals, as well as onling journals, must have noticed, much red (or black / blue) ink has been spilt over the Bush Administration's recently announced 'Surge' policy. The policy is one in which the United States adds another 15,000-25,000 troops to the existing American forces in Iraq, mostly to Baghdad, in an effort to halt the ongoing sectarian and insurgent attacks on the city, and, to a lesser extent, Anbar Province. Coupled with assurances (by the USA) that the current Iraqi government of Prime Minister Maliki, will crackdown on Shiite militias operating in the capital. And, in particular the militias associated with the 'radical' cleric, Al-Sadr. Notwithstanding the fact that Sadr himself is a popular figure on the Shiite masses and an important political ally of Maliki. It is perhaps because of these promises as well as the failure of a similar (if smaller) 'surge' policy in Baghdad to work as advertised back over the summer of 2006, that many critics, including yours truly, have expressed great skepticism, if not out right sarcasm of the recently announced policy.

With a firm consensus by the entire Washington pays legal, that the Bush policy is hopeless of success, and, remembering that in point of fact, such similarities of opinion, among the 'chattering classes', often tends to betray an intellectual failure of both nerve and insight, I thought that it would be a worthwhile exercise to stop and, offer up, contrary arguments. The first such argument in support of the policy is that it is backed by the new American commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, who is commonly regarded as one of, if not the finest officer serving in the American army (see:"An Open Mind for a New Army: David Petraeus" in One who in his two previous tours of duty in Iraq, has been successful in adapting both strategy and tactics to the ongoing insurgency. It is with the hope that perhaps the situation does not look as bleak and dark as it does to me, that I offer up to the Diplomat of the Future, the insights provided by one of the most penetrating analyists of the Iraq War: Anthony Cordesman. Cordesman, who does not need an introduction to this readership, has been specializing the Near Eastern military and military conflicts for over thirty years now. He is someone who has consistently been able to forsee what is going to transpire just around the bend. And, as it so happens, while skeptical of the 'Surge' policy, Cordesman's views are not nearly so dire as many of the armchair startegists seem to be at the moment (again including yours truly). It is with that said that I encourage you all to read and enjoy Cordesman's summary of his thirty-six page analysis.

Is Victory Still Possible? A Detailed Analysis of the Bush Plan
By Anthony H. Cordesman

"President Bush has presented a new strategy for the war in Iraq that may be able to defeat the insurgency and reverse Iraq’s drift towards large-scale civil war. His speech does, however, raise many questions as to both the risks it will create over the coming months and the real-world ability to actually implement his plans. The new Bush approach is considerably more sophisticated and comprehensive than the one the President could fit into his 20-minute address – which had been cut back from a longer 40-minute version. It combines political, military, and economic action in ways that do offer a significant hope of success. The following analysis examines the strengths and weaknesses of the proposals in the President’s speech in detail, but also adds important further details and clarifications by Secretary of State Rice, Secretary of Defense Gates, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Peter Pace.

A reading of these additional details is far more reassuring than the bare bones of the President’s speech, but it is clear that the new strategy and plan still do involve several critical risks, the most important of which are political and military. The most critical such risk is that the success of his strategy depends on the cooperation of a weak and divided Iraqi government that may not agree with his desire to deprive Shi’ite militias of their growing power, on Iraqi forces that so far have shown little fighting capability and key elements of which are corrupt or allied with Shiite and Kurdish militias, and on the acceptance of a major US urban warfare campaign by a divided Iraqi people, many of which are hostile to the US and the presence of US forces. The overall changes in US deployment plans are complicated, since they involve retaining and moving forces already in theater as well as adding new forces, but involve some very high capability Army and USMC units. Their stated mission is to, “help Iraqis clear and secure neighborhoods while protecting the local population. These actions will build the capacity available to commanders to 20 brigade or regimental combat teams to assist in achieving stability and security and accelerate Iraqi Security Force development.”

The Bush plan will add two brigades and some 7,000 more combat troops to the force in Baghdad relatively quickly. This will raise the 24,000 US troops now in Baghdad to a total of 31,000. There are some three additional brigade equivalents in the pipeline, with around 10,500 more troops. These may deploy to Baghdad, to Anbar, or not at all depending on the pace of events. Even if all deploy, adding 17,500 more US troops into Baghdad might not be enough. There were close to 50,000 US troops in Baghdad during the peak of the fighting in 2004-2005, plus more than two brigades, covering an area about half the size of the one that the US now plans to clear. At most, the President’s plan would provide 41,500.

In addition, the new plan raises serious political issues of a different kind since both Prime Minister Maliki’s advisors and those of Hakim’s SCIRI party have previously gone on record as opposing an increase in US troops. It will almost certainly mean a major confrontation with Sadr and the Mahdi militia, which can now draw upon up to 60,000 fighters nationwide. More generally, much depends on the overall ability of the Iraqi government in achieving political conciliation in the entire country, and removing much of the popular support for insurgents and militias, and on the ability to coopt or disband the less extreme Shi’ite militias and Sunni security forces. The new Bush strategy focuses on Baghdad with a limited increase in US forces in Anbar, and calls for Iraqi forces to take formal control of the security mission in November. It is not clear that increasing US military strength from 132,000 to 153,000 will be enough to win even in Baghdad.The combined total of US and Iraqi strength does not seem sufficient to guarantee similar victory in the rest of Iraq, and particularly in Basra (where the British will soon start making major cuts in their forces), Kirkuk, Mosul, and Iraq’s other major urban areas. Given the poor performance of Iraqi forces in Baghdad even over the last 10 days, and the failure of Iraqi forces to effectively take control of the security mission in other provinces, it seems very doubtful that the Iraqi forces can make the required progress by November.

As for the new “battle of Baghdad,” everything hinges on whether the Iraqi government will appoint a military commander and two deputy commanders for their capital who will actually fight, and can or will deploy three more Iraqi Army and National Police brigades across Baghdad’s nine districts. The President’s plan calls for a total of 18 Iraqi Army and National Police brigades, but many of these units can’t or won’t really fight, and many are at only a fraction of their authorized manning. There are currently 42,000 men in these Iraqi forces in Baghdad. Adding two brigades will add at most 8,000 men, bringing the total to 31,000. The plan also relies heavily on the 30,000 men in the Baghdad police forces in Baghdad, These Iraqi forces are to operate from local police stations – conducting patrols, setting up checkpoints, and going door-to-door to gain the trust of Baghdad residents. The reality is that the National Police still have ties to Shi’ite militias and death squads, and the regular police are ineffective, corrupt, and not properly trained or equipped for the mission. In reality, even if all the planned US forces, and Iraqi Army, National Police, and regular police forces do show up, the total mix of forces may still be inadequate to bring lasting security to a greater urban area with 5-6 million inhabitants.The President also was scarcely realistic in saying that US troops would support or “help”.

Iraqi forces, rather than lead them and bear the brunt of combat. Iraqi army forces previously only deployed two of six promised battalions at the start of Operation Together Forward and took months to build up to around 7,000 troops. Putting a US battalion of 400-600 men as embeds in each of the nine Military Districts in Baghdad may help, but it is still US forces that will do almost all of the hard fighting. This is likely to sharply increase US casualties, at least initially. As for national efforts, the President’s plan to increase the embedding of American advisers in Iraqi Army units – and partner a Coalition brigade with every Iraqi Army division, and giving US commanders and civilians greater flexibility to spend funds for economic assistance may also help. There are, however, many questions as to the real world ability to deploy enough qualified US advisors and translators, and increase the effectiveness of Iraqi forces. At the end of December, the Iraqi Army had trained and equipped 132,700 men, but many had deserted, many of the remainder were ineffective, and even effective units were often largely Shi’ite or Kurdish and had mixed loyalties.

It is far from clear that the US can rapidly succeed in raising Iraqi army division strength from 10 to 13, brigades from 36 to 41, and battalions from 112 to 132. Out of the 92 Iraqi brigades now said to be “in the lead,” as few as 10 may have high effectiveness, although some experts say 20-30. The President did not discuss the problems in reforming the police, or reforming the Ministry of the Interior to increase transparency and accountability and transform the National Police. These are all “high risk” measures. The Iraqi Army is also only part of the story. The 24,400 man National Police will present a major force development problem because of its ties to Shi’ite militias and extremists. No one knows how many of the 135,000 men trained and equipped for the police remain in service but absentee and desertion rates often ranged from 25% to 50%, and the same is true of the 28,900 men trained for other MOI forces. Further problems exist in dealing with the 135,000 armed security personnel in the various facilities protection forces, many of which are loyal to Sunni, Shi’ite, or Kurdish factions rather than the central government.
The President’s use of benchmarks and the implied threat that the US will leave if Iraqi does not support it and cannot takeover security responsibility by November may backfire. It creates a strong incentive for the elements hostile to the US to keep up military pressure, and for Sadr and other Shi’ites hostile to the US to push the Maliki government to not cooperate. The Maliki government may also react by trying to use the US increase in forces in Baghdad and Anbar to focus on Sunni insurgents and defeat them, while leaving Shi’ite militias and forces intact, creating constant tension between the US and Iraqi governments. That said, these very real risks in the President’s new strategy do not mean it cannot succeed over time. They simply mean the odds of success are probably less than even. The President did make it clear that he expects much more intense urban fighting, and understands that a more powerful and proactive US military effort to “win, hold, build” in Baghdad could significantly increase US casualties. What is not clear is what will happen if the Iraqi people turn against US forces, or the insurgents simply lie low and outwait the US and government forces in what is fundamentally a long war of attrition.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


The news this week just past, that the PRC, successfully tested an anti-satellite system in outer space, has been the subject of a good degree of comment, both about its implications, and, Pekings' motives in going ahead with the very overt test. Some claim that Peking was mainly interested in flexing its outer space muscles as it were, in light of recently published claims by the United States government, that American hegemony outer space was not open to question. And, that consequently, any other power or powers who attempted to either interfer with, or upset the American superiority in outer space, would be fair targets of American 'pre-emptive' action to forstall any such challenge. Other commentators claim that in fact, Peking's motives were primarily defensive in nature, that Peking worried about American testing and development of its anti-missile systems, both on the ground (and potentially) in space, sought to draw Washington's attention to the perils of an open ended 'space race'. A race, unlike that of the fifties and the sixties, would have a very overt and dangerous, military aspect to it.

It is with the hope to provide our readership with some answers to this important quandry, that we present the following article by the American online strategic journal, The article is by Mr. George Friedman, who is principal of the journal.

"Space and Sea-Lane Control in Chinese Strategy"" By George Friedman

"Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine, citing U.S. intelligence sources, has reported that China has successfully tested an anti-satellite (ASAT) system. According to the report, which U.S. officials later confirmed, a satellite was launched, intercepted and destroyed a Feng Yun 1C weather satellite, also belonging to China, on Jan. 11. The weather satellite was launched into polar orbit in 1999. The precise means of destruction is not clear, but it appears to have been a kinetic strike (meaning physical intercept, not laser) that broke the satellite into many pieces. The U.S. government wants to reveal as much information as possible about this event in order to show its concern -- and to show the Chinese how closely the Americans are monitoring their actions.

The Jan. 17 magazine report was not the first U.S. intelligence leak about Chinese ASAT capabilities. In August 2006, the usual sources reported China had directed lasers against U.S. satellites. It has become clear that China is in the process of acquiring the technology needed to destroy or blind satellites in at least low-Earth orbit, which is where intelligence-gathering satellites tend to operate.

Two things about this are noteworthy. The first is that China is moving toward a space warfare capability. The second is that it is not the Chinese who are announcing these moves (they maintained official silence until Jan. 23, when they confirmed the ASAT test), but Washington that is aggressively publicizing Chinese actions. These leaks are not accidental: The Bush administration wants it known that China is doing these things, and the Chinese are quite content with that. China is not hiding its efforts, and U.S. officials are using them to create a sense of urgency within the United States about Chinese military capabilities (something that, in budgetary debates in Washington, ultimately benefits the U.S. Air Force).

China has multiple space projects under way, but the one it is currently showcasing -- and on which the United States is focusing -- involves space-denial capabilities. That makes sense, given China's geopolitical position. It does not face a significant land threat: With natural barriers like the Himalayas or the Siberian wastes on its borders, foreign aggression into Chinese territory is unlikely. However, China's ability to project force is equally limited by these barriers. The Chinese have interests in Central Asia, where they might find power projection an enticing consideration, but this inevitably would bring them into conflict with the Russians. China and Russia have an interest in containing the only superpower, the United States, and fighting among themselves would play directly into American hands. Therefore, China will project its power subtly in Central Asia; it will not project overt military force there. Its army is better utilized in guaranteeing China's internal cohesiveness and security than in engaging in warfare.

Geopolitics and Naval Power

Its major geopolitical problem is, instead, maritime power. China -- which published a defense white paper shortly before the ASAT test -- has become a great trading nation, with the bulk of its trade moving by sea. And not only does it export an enormous quantity of goods, but it also increasingly imports raw materials. The sea-lanes on which it depends are all controlled by the U.S. Navy, right up to China's brown water. Additionally, Beijing retains an interest in Taiwan, which it claims as a part of China. But whatever threats China makes against Taiwan ring hollow: The Chinese navy is incapable of forcing its way across the Taiwan Strait, incapable of landing a multidivisional force on Taiwan and, even if it were capable of that, it could not sustain that force over time. That is because the U.S. Navy -- using airpower, missiles, submarines and surface vessels -- could readily cut the lines of supply and communication between China and Taiwan.

The threat to China is the U.S. Navy. If the United States wanted to break China, its means of doing so would be naval interdiction. This would not have to be a close-in interdiction. The Chinese import oil from around the world and ship their goods around the world. U.S. forces could choose to stand off, far out of the range of Chinese missiles -- or reconnaissance platforms that would locate U.S. ships -- and interdict the flow of supplies there, at a chokepoint such as the Strait of Malacca. This strategy would have far-reaching implications, of course: the Malacca Strait is essential not only to China, but also to the United States and the rest of the world. But the point is that the U.S. Navy could interdict China's movement of goods far more readily than China could interdict American movement of goods.

For China, freedom of the seas has become a fundamental national interest. Right now, China's access to the sea-lanes depends on U.S. acquiescence. The United States has shown no interest whatsoever in cutting off that access -- quite the contrary. But China, like any great power, does not want its national security held hostage to the goodwill of another power -- particularly not one it regards as unpredictable and as having interests quite different from its own. To put it simply, the United States currently dominates the world's oceans. This is a source of enormous power, and the United States will not give up that domination voluntarily. China, for its part, cannot live with that state of affairs indefinitely. China may not be able to control the sea itself, but it cannot live forever with U.S. control. Therefore, it requires a sea-lane-denial strategy.

Quite naturally, China has placed increased emphasis on naval development. But the construction of a traditional navy -- consisting of aircraft carriers, nuclear attack submarines and blue-water surface systems, which are capable of operating over great distances -- is not only enormously expensive, but also will take decades to construct. It is not just a matter of shipbuilding. It is also a matter of training and maturing a generation of naval officers, developing viable naval tactics and doctrine, and leapfrogging generations of technology -- all while trying to surpass a United States that already has done all of these things. Pursuing a conventional naval strategy will not provide a strategic solution for China within a reasonable timeframe. The United States behaves in unexpected ways, from the Chinese point of view, and the Chinese will need a solution within five years -- or certainly within a decade.

They cannot launch a competitive, traditional navy in that period of time. However, the U.S. Navy has a general dependency on -- and, therefore, a vulnerability related to -- space-based systems. Within the U.S. military, this is not unique to the Navy, but given that the Navy operates at vast distances and has sea-lane-control missions -- as well as the mission of launching aircraft and missiles against land-based targets -- it has a particular dependency on space. The service relies on space-based systems for intelligence-gathering, communications, navigation and tactical reconnaissance. This is true not only for naval platforms, but also for everything from cruise missile guidance to general situational awareness.

Take out the space-based systems and the efficiency of the Navy plummets dramatically. Imagine an American carrier strike group moving into interdiction position in the Taiwan Strait without satellite reconnaissance, targeting information for anti-ship missiles, satellite communications for coordination and so on. Certainly, ship-board systems could substitute, but not without creating substantial vulnerabilities -- particularly if Chinese engineers could develop effective jamming systems against them.

If the Chinese were able to combine kinetic ASAT systems for low-Earth orbit, high-energy systems for communications and other systems in geostationary orbit and tools for effectively denying the electromagnetic spectrum to the United States, they would have moved a long way toward challenging U.S. dominance of space and limiting the Navy's ability to deny sea-lanes to Chinese ships. From the Chinese point of view, the denial of space to the United States would undermine American denial of the seas to China.

Conjecture and Core Interests

There has been some discussion -- fueled by Chinese leaks -- that the real purpose of the Chinese ASAT launch was to prompt the Americans to think about an anti-ASAT treaty. This is not a persuasive argument because such a treaty would freeze in place the current status quo, and that status quo is not in the Chinese national interest.

For one thing, a treaty banning ASAT systems would leave the Chinese without an effective means of limiting American naval power. It would mean China would have to spend a fortune on a traditional navy and wait at least a generation to have it in place. It would mean ceding the oceans to the United States for a very long time, if not permanently. Second, the United States and Russia already have ASAT systems, and the Chinese undoubtedly assume the Americans have moved aggressively, if secretly, to improve those systems. Treaty or no, the United States and Russia already have the technology for taking out Chinese satellites. China is not going to assume either will actually dismantle systems -- or forget how to build them fast -- merely because of a treaty. The only losers in the event of an anti-ASAT treaty would be the countries that do not have them, particularly China.

The idea that what China really wants is an anti-ASAT treaty is certainly one the Chinese should cultivate. This would buy them time while Americans argue over Chinese intentions, it would make the Chinese look benign and, with some luck, it could undermine U.S. political will in the area of the military utilization of space. Cultivating perceptions that an anti-ASAT treaty is the goal is the perfect diplomatic counterpart to Chinese technological development. But the notion itself does not stand up to scrutiny.

The issue for the United States is not so much denying space to China as ensuring the survivability of its own systems. The United States likely has the ability to neutralize the space-based systems of other countries. The strategic issue, however, is whether it has sufficient robustness and redundancy to survive an attack in space. In other words, do U.S. systems have the ability to maneuver to evade attacks, to shield themselves against lasers, to continue their missions while under attack? Moreover, since satellites will be damaged and lost, does the United States have sufficient reserve satellites to replace those destroyed and launchers to put them in place quickly?

For Washington, the idea of an ASAT treaty is not the issue; the United States would love anything that blocks space capabilities for other nations. Rather, it is about building its own space strategy around the recognition that China and others are working toward denying space to the United States.

All of this is, of course, fiendishly expensive, but it is still a lot cheaper than building new naval fleets. The real problem, however, is not just money, but current military dogma. The U.S. military is now enthralled by the doctrine of asymmetric warfare, in which nonstate actors are more important than states. Forever faithful to the assumption that all wars in the future will look like the one currently being fought, the strategic urgency and intellectual bandwidth needed to prepare for space warfare does not currently exist within the U.S. military. Indeed, an independent U.S. Space Command no longer exists -- having been merged into Strategic Command, which itself is seen as an anachronism.

For the United States, one of the greatest prices of the Iraq war is not simply the ongoing conflict, but also the fact that it makes it impossible for the U.S. military to allocate resources for emerging threats. That always happens in war, but it is particularly troubling in this case because of the intractable nature of the Iraq conflict and the palpable challenge being posed by China in space. This is not a challenge that many -- certainly not those at the highest levels of military leadership -- have time to think about while concerned about the future of a few city blocks in Baghdad; but U.S. leaders might, in 10 years, look back on 2007 and wonder what their predecessors were thinking about"

Sunday, January 21, 2007


"'The Great Game', a term usually attributed to Arthur Conolly, was used to describe the rivalry and strategic conflict between the British Empire and the Tsarist Russian Empire for supremacy in Central Asia. The term was later popularized by British novelist Rudyard Kipling in his work, Kim. The classic Great Game period is generally regarded as running from approximately 1813 to the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907. Following the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 a second, less intensive phase followed".

"Curzon [Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India, 1899-1905] wants me to talk to the Russians as if I had a half a million men at my back, and I have not".
Lord Salisbury, British Prime Minister, 1885-1886, 1886-1892, 1895-1902.

Since the breakup of Sovietskaya Vlast in 1991, it has been common, among a certain type of western, especially American commentator to refer to the diplomatic rivalry and interaction between the USA and the Russian Federation, as being a revival of, the 'Great Game' as defined above. Unfortunately, this premise rests upon a totally mistaken assumptions and historical analogies. For one thing, notwithstanding the romantic and much hyped aura of the 'great game', with its resonance of Kipling's Kim, the Youngblood expedition to Tibet and, what not. In point of fact, for much of European diplomatic history in the 19th century, Central Asia had all of the impact of a damp squib. Despite recent attempts such as Kark Meyer's and Peter Hopkirk to breath some life into the concept historically speaking, actually, Anglo-Russian rivalry in Central Asia did not have much importance in the diplomatic record of the time. Anyone who has had an opportunity to peruse such contemporary diplomatic records as Die Grosse Politik, the Holstein Papers, and such not, can readily see, how truly unimportant, the 'great game', truly was to European Great Power diplomacy of the period. Especially as compared to say, Turkey, Egypt (1820's-1890's) or the Far East (1894-1912). Indeed the careful reseacher will soon note, that with the exception of the Panjdeh Incident of 1885, Central Asia, for all its importance does not leave much of a trace on the files of diplomats of this period of time.

Which of course raises the question of 'why'? Partly because due to the nature of the vast territories that we are talking of, especially within the limitation of transport in the one hundred years or so after Waterloo, the likelihood that either antagonistic could have realistically brought forth large armies of men to say, Amu Darya river to engage in battle is nonsensical. This was especially true of course for the British, who notwithstanding the military brillance of Lord Robert's campaigns in Afghanistan during the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1877-1881), choose deliberately to withdraw back to the Northwest Frontier, and, to treat Afghanistan as something of a half-way house between a vassal and buffer state. The reasoning behind it, a reasoning that was reflected in much of the 'official mind' of Whitehall in this period, was that there was nothing, in Central Asia, no interests or assets which made war, much less war with Tsarist Russia a worthwhile exercise. Consequently, regardless of the occasional, emotional 'on the spot' voices heard such as Lord Curzon's it was the cooler and more sane voices such as the Great Lord Salisbury, which in internal Whitehall deliberation prevailed. Hence, despite all the alarms bells which, people seem to think happened in this period, over the 'great game', not one military incident involving the two powers ever occurred. And, of course with the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907, the Great War and then the Bolshevik Revolution, the great game, soon went the way of the hoop skirt or plus fours.

Which brings us to the contemporary relevance of the above history, as now, hopefully properly understood realistically, without any romantic shadings or distortions. First, regardless of the (allegedly) great oil and natural gas deposits in the Cental Asian region, much of the area is poor and economically helpless. All are steeped in economic, cultural and political backwardness. As perhaps best exemplified by the state of affairs highlighted by the recent passing away of Turkmenbashi....(on recent developments in Turkmenistan, see: "Moscow moves to consolidate control in Belarus and Turkmenistan," 5 January 2007 in Insofar as any outside power has any real interest or intersts in the region, and by interests, I mean something which is worth investing time, money and potentially men, then that country is most likely Russia. Although, there are voices within the American military, diplomatic and humanitarian establishments, who argue for active American involvement in the region, either for dubious (negative) purpose of 'shutting Russia out', or the equally dubious (positive) purpose of attempting to advance the laudable goals, as most recently expressed by the American organization, 'International League of Human Rights', of Democracy, human rights and liberty, id est, in their verbage: "galvanizing demands for reforms by raising civil society concerns" (see their 'Turkmenistan Project' in I use the word 'dubious', not because I oppose per se, any 'democratic' or civil society 'aspirations' that the Turkmen or other Central Asia peoples may have (although what in fact the Turkmen, Uzbek or Kazak, et cetera, peoples really want, is of course unknowable at this time. But of course, our modern-day, American, Vera Pavlovna's still feel that they know, and, that they must give it to them...). Indeed, their already exists various international agencies on the government to government level which attempt to assist Central Asia governments with raising living standards, educational levels, assisting the nascent civil society of these countries, et cetera. What I object to, is using such legitimate concerns as a wedge, a diplomatic, military and other wedge to interfer with, and, subvert the organic nature of development of these societies. Let us not mince words: any, I repeat any American diplomatic and other intervention, at this time, or any time in the near future, will be seen rightly or wrongly as aimed at overthrowing the current regimes of the regions, and, also aimed at overturning their pro-Russian policies and ties. This would be true not only in Russia proper, but, also in the areas concerned as well, and, indeed as far away as Peking. And, given the nature of the current priorities of American foreign policy, with its (admittedly mindless) investment in Iraq, in a possible (but not likely) looming confrontation with Persia and North Korea, the very last thing that the United States needs to do is to waste both diplomatic options, resources, prestige and, needessly alienating other powers such as Russia and China, by engaging in a hopeless campaign to change the nature of things in Central Asia. If indeed, Central Asia will change, as it most likely will, it will not change as a result of American intervention. In point of fact, any such intervention will complicate and, not ease the ongoing transition that the region must undergo.

It with the above in mind, that I would like to present to the readership of this journal, the following article by Professor Stephen Blank of the United States Army War College. This article is of interest for two reasons, one, is that it does provide a detailed look at ongoing developments in Central Asia, and specifically Uzbekistan; two, is that it provides an interesting insight into the mentality (the 'official mind' as it were) of how certain elements within the US governing circles view both Moskva's policies in the region, and, how they see that policy affecting perceived American 'interests' in the region. Such as they are, or are said to be. Perhaps nothing better fits this frame of mind better, than the Professor's cri de coeur, near the end of the article in which he states that:

"Access to the Navoi is a major though not decisive Russian step, towards realizing several diverse objective simultaneously. It is also indicative of a reversion to more overt forms of Russian imperialism as well as an expression of the apprehension of Liberalism in Central Asia".

Insofar as the base agreement can be said to constitute 'Russian Imperialism', why is it in the interest of either the United States, the European Union, or any other outside power to care? Indeed the legitimacy of the Russian agreement is not altogether similar to selfsame type of agreements that the United States currently has with countries as 'democratic' in nature as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Oman, the UAE, Pakistan, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. One would rather doubt that the good professor would characterize such agreements as evidence of 'American Imperialism' or that the United States was opposed to say, 'democratic openings' in the same countries (although insofar as such 'openings' would be Islamic in nature it may very well be...). Others would argue that the rich oil and gas deposits of the area, are a tremendous asset, and, that only 'pro-American', 'pro-western' regimes, and not any regimes tied to Moskva will ensure that enough oil and gas are explored, and then supplied for transport to Western Europe. This thesis, seems to me to be a highly dubious one. There does not appear to be any concrete evidence that Moskva directly or indirectly has attempted or will attempt to strangle the development of natural resources in this area. Indeed, insofar as Moskva currently serves as a transit point for such resources to go west, it is in fact, very much in Moskva interests to promote, and, not stifle the development of such resources. Which is not to gainsay the fact that by serving as a transport hub for moving natural resources, Moskva has gained a valuable economic and diplomatic asset. An asset which all the world has witnessed it using at times in Anno Domini 2005, 2006, and 2007. But, that fact, does not I would conclude either necessitate, or justify American and or other intervention in the region of Central Asia. If there is any power which should and hopefully will intervene and attempt to harmonize in an organic and fruitful fashion the ongoing developments in the area, that should be the Russian Federation. With that said, please enjoy for the many reasons cited above, Professor's Blank's article:

Lost in all the international attention given to Turkmen President Sapamurat Niyazov’s death in late December was an announcement that Russia and Uzbekistan had agreed on a deal giving Moscow access to the Uzbek airfield at Navoi. This development marks an important step forward in the Russian effort to lock up Uzbekistan as a loyal client state.

Policy analysts had long believed Russia was seeking a base in Uzbekistan, in particular the facility at Karshi-Khanabad, which was vacated in 2005 by US forces after the Uzbek government issued an eviction order. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. A November 2005 treaty between Russia and Uzbekistan contained language enabling Moscow, if it so desired, to come with military means to the aid of Uzbekistan’s government, language that only fueled the speculation that Moscow wanted permanent access to Karshi-Khanabad. But Russia, not wanting to be seen as an imperialistic power, denied that there were discussions about any base deal.

It’s now clear that Moscow was indeed covetous of a military facility in Uzbekistan. But it’s equally clear that there must have been hard bargaining, and the Russians did not get all they wanted. Certainly they did not get the more modern Karshi-Khanabad base, which has greater operational capacity than the facility at Navoi. Neither did they get full and unrestricted access to Navoi.

According to press reports, Russia will only be able to gain access to Navoi in case of emergencies, or what some reports called "force majeure" contingencies. In return Russia will provide Uzbekistan with modern navigation systems and air-defense weapons.

Russia mostly likely sought broader access to the base, given that Uzbekistan will probably emerge as the regional headquarters for a unified air defense command for Russia and several other Central Asian governments. This regional system will become a component of the CIS Unified Air Defense system, based upon pre-existing Soviet facilities and structures. Thus, to some degree, this deal represents what Russian military analyst Vladimir Mukhin called a "reanimation" of the Soviet defense structure. Meanwhile, Uzbek SU-27 and MiG-29s will be posted there as a regular peacetime deployment.

Mukhin also opined that Moscow wanted the Navoi base because one of its primary interests in Uzbekistan is uranium production and enrichment, which is now being done at the Navoi Mining and Smelting plant. Allegedly this new capability will help protect those works from security threats, such as a potential terrorist attack.

Access to an air base in Uzbekistan enhances Russia’s ability to respond to a potential crisis in Central Asia, such as the type of civil unrest and clashes that occurred in Andijan in 2005, or upheaval triggered by a political succession crisis.

Both Moscow and Beijing showed considerable anxiety over the fact that they could not intervene in Kyrgyzstan in 2005’s Tulip Revolution, and, since then, have both made conscious efforts to bolster their respective ability to project power in the region. Gaining access to the Navoi base offers another example of Russia’s efforts to encompass all of Central Asia in a single defense organization that is, in essence, counterrevolutionary and/or anti-democratic.

The second objective is clearly tied to Russian concerns about American strategic intentions and capabilities in Central and South Asia. It would seem that the Russian military still regards US and NATO forces as its primary enemy. After the Soviet collapse in 1991, much of Russia’s air defenses and early warning systems were disrupted to the point where Moscow was actually "blind" to potential attacks. The Kremlin is eager to close existing gaps in its defenses. A "reanimation" of the old Soviet air defense system is crucial to this end, as is exclusion of US forces from Central Asia to the greatest possible degree. Furthermore, Russia apparently is building an integrated land, sea and air force throughout the Caspian Basin. A unified air-defense is critical to the protection of all those forces.

Access to Navoi is a major, though not completely decisive, Russian step towards realizing several diverse objectives simultaneously. It is also indicative of a reversion to more overt forms of Russian imperialism, as well as an expression of apprehension of liberalization in Central Asia.

Perhaps Uzbekistan has begun to fully appreciate Moscow’s aims, as Tashkent has made several recent small gestures to improve its ties to the European Union and the West in general. While Russia may have gained limited access to Navoi, it may turn out to have also overreached, stimulating Uzbek President Islam Karimov to reach out again to the West. Whatever the case, the Navoi basing agreement constitutes a significant development in Central Asia’s geopolitical contest – one that deserves ongoing scrutiny.

Editor’s Note: Stephen Blank is a professor at the US Army War College. The views expressed this article do not in any way represent the views of the US Army, Defense Department or the US Government.

Friday, January 19, 2007


One of the highlights of 2006, was the bringing to the international stage the antagonism between Russia and Georgia. While the conflict between the two powers was fierce and at times voluble, it remained, notwithstanding the predictions of some observers, almost entirely verbal and economic, rather than military. Indeed, as the Tbilisi-based journalist, Diana Petriashvili pointed out recently the year 2007, began as the prior year did, with Tbilisi accepting Gazprom gas supply price increases, notwithstanding Georgian President Saakashvili prior boasts about throwing off dependence upon the Russian energy giant (see her report in, "Gazprom makes the Georgian Government Pay" in And, notwithstanding certain Western based commentators who argue that Russian aggressiveness vis-`a-vis the current government in Tbilisi, will inevitably result in military conflict, I would argue that this seriously overdoes the 'enlightened self-interest' of both parties, to refrain from openly provoking a casus belli by either side (see the prognosis of the Amsterdam based, Colonel de Haas in "Current Geostrategy in the South Caucasus" Consequently, with however tensions still high, if not perhaps as high as some such as Colonel de Haas would like them to be, we feel it incumbent to provide our readership with an alternative view of the realities of Russo-Georgian relations. A relationship which has been both intimate and at times quite difficult, rather like a marriage between two emotional people. And, which has lasted for over two hundred years now. This is not to deny the fact, that going forward, Russo-Georgian relations will never be the same as they were in the Imperial and Sovietskaya Vlast periods. With the declaration of independence by Georgia in 1991-1992, Georgia as an independent state actor, with its own goals and concerns, at times similar to, if not necessarily opposed to Russia's, became an unalterable fact. And, notwithstanding the comments from Western commentators of the Russophobic variety, there does not appear to be any great wish in Moskva to return Georgia to the embraces of Russia proper. Any more in fact than say, Putin et. al., would wish to do the same for Belarus for example (on the case of Belarus see an interesting report in What follows are two contrasting, if however not diametrically opposing views, of the recent past and the near future of Russo-Georgian relations. With one of the commentators being Russian and the other Georgian. Both essays are from the German & Swiss based, Russian & Eurasian research online journal: Russian Analytical Digest. So, we wish that our readers read and enjoy what follows:

"A Russian View: Russia Seeks to Promote Peace and Stability in the Caucasus"

By Sergei Markedonov, Moscow

A Broader Context for Georgian-Russian Relations

Relations between Georgia and Russia are one of the most problematic aspects of politics in the Caucasus. The erstwhile “fraternal” republic has become for Moscow the most inconvenient and disagreeable partner among all the CIS countries. Today many Russian and foreign experts are concerned about the insistence with which Russia seeks to preserve its political dominance in this part of the post-Soviet space. Russian relations with Georgia must be seen within a wider context. At the beginning of the 1990s, Russia gave up its territorial claims to Ukraine and Kazakhstan without wavering even though, in ethnic and cultural terms, the northern and eastern parts of Kazakhstan and the Crimea were much closer to Russia than Georgia. Russia’s policies toward the Baltic states were even more passive despite the large ethnic Russian communities in Latvia and Estonia. Compared to the South Caucasus, Russia is much less involved in the political processes in Central Asia. In 2001, Russia approved the American intervention into the region and now is not putting up much resistance to China’s “assimilation” of the territory. In the case of Transdniestria, the Russian Federation is ready for an internationalization of the conflict resolution process.The South Caucasus, and Georgia above all, is different. Here Russian foreign policy-makers are only ready for small concessions and compromises, seeking to preserve their exclusive role in the resolution of the “frozen conflicts,” and will not allow other “honest brokers” to become involved.

Problems Despite Years Together

Russian-Georgian relations have a paradoxical character. On one hand, there are strong traditional ties, particularly social-cultural, between the two countries. Moreover, over the course of 200 years, Georgia was part of a common state with Russia. Its political class was incorporated into the Russian elite (from the Bagrationi family to Shevardnadze). On the other hand, there is the weight of mutual claims against each other from the perestroika and post-Soviet periods.

The April 1989 events in Tbilisi, in which the soldiers of the Transcaucasus Military District dispersed a demonstration, was one of the catalysts for the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Georgia’s acquisition of sovereignty coincided with a parallel growth of anti-Russian feelings. For Yeltsin-era Moscow, Eduard Shevardnadze was above all a colleague of the “hated Gorbachev.” As a result, Russian leaders of that time looked on all of Shevardnadze’s actions as potentially

Georgia Blames Russia for Its Problems

It seemed that the rise to power of Mikheil Saakashvili, having overthrown the “White Fox,” should have substantially transformed relations between our countries. However, the leader of the Rose Revolution began his policy of restoring Georgia’s territorial integrity with a search for an external enemy to blame for the collapse of the Georgian state. With this approach, post-Soviet Georgia’s responsibility for the multi-ethnic confl ict in South Ossetia and Abkhazia was transferred to Russia. In this way, the Georgian-Abkhaz and Georgian-Ossetian confl icts became Russian-Georgian confl icts.

Among the Georgian elite, the idea of fleeing the Russian empire became seen as the principle precondition for the liberalization of the country, and its ability to join the “civilized world” and the “west.” Accordingly, the “young Georgian democracy” could only overcome its confl ict with Moscow by gaining the full support of the US, European countries, and international organizations (above all NATO), according to the ideologists of Georgian independence. Such partners would presumably bring Georgia internal stability and restore calm.

Saakasvili’s Western Priorities

The current Georgian leader became president on a revolutionary wave of hope for a quick resolution of the problem of the separatist territories, resettling refugees from Abkhazia, and an end to the nationalhumiliation caused by these conflicts. Now Mikheil Saakasvili must pay back the political credits he has received and strengthen his reputation as a patriot and defender of “Georgian unity.” In the battle to restore Georgia, he acts like a pragmatic politician. If in achieving this goal he can use the political resources of Russia, then he is ready to become a pro-Russian politician. But since Russia is not ready for a unilateral exit from Abkhazia and South Ossetia (without a full resolution of the confl ict), Saakashvili opted for strategic partnership with the USA.

However, it might turn out that the US and Russia have common interests in stabilizing the situation in Georgia. The format of Russian-American relations in recent years makes it possible to think along these lines, however, it is obvious that neither the US nor the European Union has developed plans for removing their presence in the Caucasus, at least before the resolution of the intra-Georgia conflicts. Even the idea of a quickened entry of Georgia into the North Atlantic alliance is not accepted by all members of NATO (the US is an influential member of this organization, but hardly the only one).

Russian Security Depends on the Caucasus

Despite this, Russia remains one of the most important gravitational centers of the Caucasus. It is objectively interested in the existence of a unified, open, and friendly Georgia. Just as Tbilisi seeks to preserve its unity and territorial integrity, Russia would benefi t from a neighbor capable of preventingpart of its territory from being turned into a base forterrorists. A separate question is whether the return of Georgia’s separatist territories should be achieved at any price, particularly with the use of “iron and blood.”

The Caucasus is a unified social-political organism despite the borders tyrannically imposed on it by the Bolsheviks. Any conflict beginning in the South Caucasus might continue in the Russian North Caucasus. Russian dominance of the South Caucasus is not a question of its “imperial resurrection.” Securing stability in the former republics of the South Caucasus is a principle condition for the peaceful development of Russia itself and the preservation of the state’s integrity.

Russia is a Caucasus state. This thesis is not a beautiful metaphor. Seven Russian regions are located in the North Caucasus and an additional four are on the steppe abutting the Caucasus. The territory of the Russian North Caucasus is larger than the size of the independent states of the South Caucasus. Almost all of the ethno-political conflicts in Southern Russia are closely connected to the conflicts in the former Soviet Transcaucasus republics. The Georgian-Ossetian standoff led to a flow of refugees from the former South Ossetia autonomy and other parts of Georgia to the neighboring North Ossetia in Russia. The reconstruction of the Transcaucasus republics into independent “fraternal republics” took place in part by squeezing the Ingush from the Prigorodny district. The Georgian-Abkhaz confl ict made possible the consolidation and radicalization of the Adyg ethno-national movement in Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachaevo-Cherkessia, and Adygeya, activating the Confederation of Caucasus Peoples, which became one of the chief actors in the Georgia-Abkhazian standoff . The removal from Georgia of the Kvarelsky Avars at the beginning of the 1990s led to the knotted conflicts in Northern Dagestan. The mountain-dwelling Avars sent to the Kizlyar and Tarumov raions of Dagestan came into conflict with the Russians and flat-land dwelling Nogai. As a result there was a significant outflow of Russians from the northern parts of Dagestan. Resolving the “Chechen Question” depends crucially on stabilizing the situation in Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge. Thus, it is impossible to provide security in the Russian Caucasus without stability in Georgia.

Russia Plays a Useful Role in Conflicts

One can criticize Russia for supporting Abkhaz separatism, but the pro-Russian feelings among the vast majority of Abkhaz society and their resistance to any but Russian soldiers as peacekeepers is a fact which cannot be ignored. As a result, there are simply no pro-Georgian politicians in Abkhazia. Moreover, the Abkhaz authorities in exile are led by ethnic Georgians.

The situation is slightly different in South Ossetia. Here there are pro-Georgian politicians (Dmitry and Vladimir Sanakoevy, Uruzmag Karkusov), though their political motivations raise many questions. Dmitry Sanakoev, currently the “alternative” South Ossetian president, and Karkusov participated in the Georgian-Ossetian military confl ict of 1990–1992. At the same time, while the Georgian leadershipis prepared to engage in negotiations about an increased status for Abkhazia within Georgia (while the Abkhaz leaders seek full independence), their position toward South Ossetia is different. Until now the Georgian authorities insist on calling South Ossetia “Tskhinvalsky Region” and refuse to cancel the Zviad Gamsakhurdia-era (1990) order liquidating the South Ossetian autonomy. Effectively this decree realized the policy once described by Gamsakhurdia as “In Georgia there are Ossetians, but there is no Ossetia.” The popularity among the residents of South Ossetia of Eduard Kokoity, the current leader of this de facto state, secures a similar course by official Tbilisi. The ethnic minorities living in Georgia are interested in a continued Russian presence in Georgia and view the Russian peacekeepers as a guarantee of their security. While the decision to withdraw the Russian bases from Georgia has already been made, hastily removing the Russian peacekeepers from South Ossetia and Abkhazia would be premature. Of course, a unilateral and forced recognition by Russia of the sovereignty of Abkhazia and South
Ossetia would be a mistake. But the Georgians should rethink the current situation: Georgia is not a country only of ethnic Georgians. The effort of Georgia’s first president Zviad Gamsakhurdia to operate in disregard of this reality, rather than the “imperialist intrigues of Moscow,” led to the division of Georgia, a situation the country cannot overcome by itself today. Georgia will hardly be able to address this problem in the near future.

Russia is not now seeking to obtain new territory. Russia must show the Georgian elite and international society that the rejection of Russian peacekeepers would inevitably lead to a new round of confrontation, which would threaten the security of the Russian North Caucasus. The events around Tskhinvali in 2004–2005 demonstrated this. Of course, Georgia is a not a threat to Russia. However, the build up of Georgian military strength and its militaristic rhetoric toward South Ossetia and Abkhazia could raise tensions in the Russian border zone. This would represent more than a loss of face for Russia. These high stakes are the main reason behind Russian “ambitions” and increased emotionalism toward what happens in and around Georgia.

About the author
Sergei Markedonov is the head of the Interethnic relations issue group at the institute for Political and Military
Analysis in Moscow.

"A Georgian View: Have Russian-Georgian Relations Hit Bottom or Will They Continue to Deteriorate?"

By Ghia Nodia, Tbilisi

Two Views of the Same Problem

During the last fifteen years, Georgian-Russian relations have been moving from bad to worse, to a little bit less bad, and then to crisis again. Nobody expects them to improve in the near future. It is only natural to ask: Why are relations so bad? And – most importantly – have these relations hit the bottom already, or can they still get worse?

Both sides have radically different views on what exactly is at issue here. The most frequent complaint I have heard from Russians is that Georgian leaders are prone to blame them for their own disastrous policies, so they are bad-mouthing Russia just to re-channel their people’s wrath. (Sometimes they like to add that the Georgian people cherish a secret love for Russia but bad leaders do not allow them to consummate it).During the last three years, after Mikheil Saakashvili came to power, another charge has emerged: Georgians are preparing to renew wars in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, thus undermining stability in the Russian south. Of course, Russia must prevent this from happening. Georgians argue that the Russians are stuck in 19th century-style geopolitical thinking. Russia’s outlook is all about the wounded self-esteem of a fallen empire: a failure to control Georgia causes it to experience phantom pains, as if it is missing a limb. There are also ethnic stereotypes at work: Russians see Georgians as hopelessly frivolous and disorderly people who enjoy delectable food and accomplished dancing but cannot be trusted to have a state of their own. They believe that Georgians owe them special gratitude because more than two centuries ago, the Russians were the ones who saved their fellow-Orthodox country from being annihilated by its Muslim neighbors. Therefore, when Georgians claim to be a European country and say that NATO and eventually EU membership are its due, Russians take this as a personal offense. For two centuries we have fed and protected these hapless Georgians, and look how ungrateful they are: they like Americans better!

Running the risk of being accused of a bias, I would say that I find the Georgian perception closer to truth. This does not imply that my compatriots are without blame. It is handy for any government, especially that of a small and weak country, to have a powerful foreign enemy, and for the last fifteen years Russia has been excellent in this role. While taking the initial steps towards statehood, inexperienced and nationalistic Georgian leaders did quite a few stupid things which led to civil wars and economic breakdown. Naturally, they were happy to explain their incompetence away by blaming Russia for everything that went wrong.

Georgia Seeks Good Relations

However, it was obvious that having decent relations with Georgia’s northern neighbor was crucial – and the Georgian leaders tried hard to achieve this result. The two most recent presidents, Eduard Shevardnadze and Mikheil Saakashvili, despite their enormous differences, followed a similar trajectory: both sought to find a modus vivendi with Russia, but failed and ended up at loggerheads with the northern neighbor. In late 1993, after Abkhazian separatist forces – with sizeable Russian support – prevailed in the war with the national government, Shevardnadze went out of his way to appease the former metropolis: he signed an agreement on Russian military bases (which was never ratified), legitimated Russia’s exclusive control over Abkhazia by inviting Russians to serve as peacekeepers, and allowed Russian border troops to control its borders with Turkey. It seemed that the Russians considered relegating Georgia to the status of a Russian-satellite state as a return to normality, but did not propose anything in return. As Shevardnadze began to realize this, he gradually drifted to a pro-western orientation and formally announced his bid to join NATO. Relations with Russia reacheda nadir in 2001, when Russia accused Georgia of harboring Chechen terrorists in Pankisi Gorge and seriously considered a military invasion. Russia bombed Georgian territory several times then. That crisis was, in part, explained by personalities: Russian generals simply would not forgive Shevardnadze for his role in giving away the Soviet empire to the West, analysts argued. When the fresh, young Mikheil Saakashvili came to power, he made a new effort to improve relations, proposing a more or less clear deal: we will welcome Russian economic investments, not press for the withdrawal of military bases, and cooperate on the Chechen issue, but you should accept our wish to integrate into the European and Euro-Atlantic community. He also implied that Russia should take a more favorable attitude to Georgia’s wish to reintegrate Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Th ere was no distinct answer from the Russians, but for the first six months of Saakashvili’spresidency, relations appeared to be on the mend. The summer 2004 crisis in South Ossetia, when the Georgian government tried to solve the issue through a mixture of humanitarian off ensive and military intimidation, put an end to this – and relations have steadily worsened ever since.

Dealing with the Separatist Regions

The events of 2004 lead us to the alleged Georgian project to renew the separatist wars. Following the really unfortunate summer 2004 episode, this is the most serious criticism against Georgia and one that makes many western leaders – including those who generally favor the new Georgian government – think twice about rendering support. Can Saakashvili and his youthful advisers be considered credible and predictable partners?

Immediately after coming to power, Saakashvili’s government hoped that it could solve the issue of the separatist conflicts quickly. Such aspirations were mistaken, though the desire to address this issue is fully understandable since the presence of unresolved conflicts is the single most important impediment towards economic development and stable democracy in Georgia. However, while Saakashvili has a habit of making some statements that are hardly diplomatic (like referring to an unfriendly leader as Lili-Putin, for player who knows how to learn from his mistakes. His clear priority is state-building, which is a natural priority in a country which had frequently been described as a “failing state” in the past. He has achieved serious – arguably, even spectacular – triumphs in this regard: for the first time in modern history, the Georgian state is providing public services, its public servants get salaries they can live on, the armed forces are well-fed and under control, corruption and organized crime are down dramatically, and last year the World Bank officially recognized Georgia as the country that has made the fastest progress towards creating a more attractive business environment. Th e flow of foreign investments has already increased, though Saakashvili clearly hopes for much more. The October 2006 local elections confi rmed a strong popular mandate for the incumbent political party. While NATO membership is far from decided – mainly because of the reluctance of western Europeans who have developed an aversion
to anything smacking of “enlargement” – Georgia is now in “intensifi ed dialogue” with the alliance, which makes it a credible candidate for membershp: Bringing Georgia to NATO is clearly the highest priority of the government. Saakashvili knows very well that if he stirs up trouble in the separatist regions, he will lose western support and be left one-on-one with an unfriendly Russia. The conventional wisdom in this government is that Russia’s goal is to provoke Georgians into doing something stupid in Abkhazia or South Ossetia thus undermining Georgia’s NATO ambitions. The recent removal of Irakli Okruashvili, the former minister of defense who had made a foolish pledge of spending New Year’s Eve 2007 in Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, was a symbolic gesture to alleviate the remaining western fears.

Georgia’s Answer to Western Critics

Some critics (especially western Europeans) argue: this is all very well, but why does Saakashvili try to annoy Russians without need? Is it so vital to insist on NATO membership – if this is what makes Russians so mad? Why put salt on Russians’ wounded pride by demonstratively arresting Russian spies (no one argues they were not spying – but this is not the issue, right?).

The Georgian answer would be: being nice and reasonable would make sense had there been any chance of getting anything in return from Russia. But nobody in Tbilisi believes Saakashvili can do anything to make Putin happy. Every time Georgians ask Russians a straight question: what should we do so that you do not try to destroy us, there is never a clear answer, just nebulous hints. The story one hears often from Georgian politicians is about Putin’s reaction to Saakashvili’s question: What will Georgia get in return if it gives up its bid to NATO membership? The problems you already have will not get worse reportedly was the answer. Russia cannot accept Georgia for what it is: confident, independent, wanting to integrate with the West. It wants to change Georgia, not its specific policy.

Russia Seeks Regime Change

Which in practice means regime change. Russia’s steps as well as rhetoric give some credibility to this hypothesis. The Russian political elite appears to believe the theory repeatedly voiced by the Russian media during the last two years: Saakashvili is too emotional, probably mentally unstable, his popularity is dropping, and he is bound to end up like Zviad Gamsakhurdia, Georgia’s temperamental first president who was in office just over a year before he was removed from power after an armed uprising in January 1992. Some trends in the first half of 2006 seemed to corroborate that theory: there was an increasing tide of public protests against different policies of the government, including some rather brutal behavior of its police. Th e Russian government apparently financed some political groups (at least that’s what almost all believe in Georgia) such as the anti-Soros movement or the Justice Party led by Igor Giorgadze, an ex-KGB officer sought by Interpol and frequently interviewed by Russian TV, that took active part in the protest. On the other hand, Russia believed it could aggravate the situation by causing additional economic grievances – for instance, by blowing up gas pipelines on the coldest days of the winter (in January 2006), or banning Georgian wines and mineral waters from the Russian market. These products were Georgia’s most important exports.

In August 2006, when a local warlord started an uprising in Kodori Gorge, the only part of Abkhazia still partially under Georgian control, Russian politicians opined this was the beginning of the end of Saakashvili’s regime. The uprising was easily quelled (so, maybe this was really just a local aff air), but after this event Saakashvili decided not to take chances and arrested the bulk of the allegedly Russia-backed activists of the Justice Party (they were charged with plotting a coup) and the Russian spies (who the government believed could also help organize some subversive actions).

One may believe this particular conspiracy theory or not. But this is the assumption on which the Georgian government acts. Th erefore, the most popular question in Tbilisi is: what else can Russia do to Georgia? Has it exhausted its levers, or does it still has something up its sleeve?

With most economic ties cut and the price of gas raised to western European levels, economic sanctions seem to have reached their limit. Painful as they are, all these measures may be a blessing in disguise. Russians – including Russian politicians – appear to have sincerely believed that even after the Soviet demise Russia had been “feeding Georgia” and could force its southern neighbor down on its knees by cutting the lifeline. If so, in 2006 the lifeline was cut, but Georgia survived: the IMF estimated its GDP growth to have been around 8 percent in 2006. Without Russian sanctions it would probably be closer to 10 percent – unpleasant, but not lethal. If Kremlin strategists hoped that they could help change the regime in Tbilisi – as I suspect they did – they have by now probably given up on this idea. This outcome allows me to end on a cautiously optimistic note: the best thing about 2006 may have been that Russian-Georgian came very close to hitting the bottom. But there is still one issue that may make things worse: this is a Russian project to recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The highest ranking Russian politicians, including President Putin, have hinted that if the international community recognizes Kosovo, Russia might respond by recognizing separatist entities in its “near abroad”. Although the Kosovo solution has been postponed, the Russians still want to move forward: recently the Russian Duma adopted a resolution that recommends that the president recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Putin is still considering the options, but following the Duma recommendation looks like a plausible one. It is hard to say what Russia may gain from such a step, but just the urge to punish insolent Georgia may prove too strong to resist. There may also be a calculation that this time the emotional Georgian president will really be provoked into doing something stupid. I hope not – but this will be a real point of crisis. If this happens, though, it will also be the moment when Russia really exhausts its leverage against Georgia.

About the author:
Ghia Nodia is Chairman of the Board of the Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy, and Development in Tbilisi and Professor of Political Science at the Ilya Chavchavadze State University.