Thursday, September 13, 2007


"Already caught off-guard by the sudden resignation of Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov today, Russia's political elite was sent reeling by the follow-up announcement that little-known Federal Financial Monitoring Service Director Viktor Zubkov is President Vladimir Putin's choice to head the next cabinet".

"Russia: Putin's nomination of premier stuns political elite", by Robert Coalson in

Yesterday the chattering classes of Moskva were greatly surprised by first the resignation of colorless Premier Mikhail Fradkov, than the appointment of the even more colorless and obscure Viktor Zubkov. A longstanding colleague of Putin, going back to the Saint Petersburg's Mayor's office in the early 1990's, Zubkov has for the past six years, headed the relatively unimportant office of Federal Financial Monitoring Service, Zubkov appears to this observer to have been appointed to hold the ring, as it were, while the two most eminent contenders for the Presidential Succession: Ivanov and Medvedev fight it out. No doubt there are 'shadowy forces' in the Kremlin (such as the ultra-secretive and rather poisonous deputy head of the Kremlin Administration, Sechin), who would love to push Zubkov as Putin's successor, in the hopes that he will merely act as a place holder for Putin to stage a return to power within a year or two, or alternatively to safely see Zubkov in power as some sort of political eunuch. While there are some who see Zubkov's appointment in that vein, I for one refuse to believe that Putin, notwithstanding his many flaws and errors, would engage in such an non-sensical act (for analysis along these lines see both Coalson's article above, as well as Financial Times in "Zubkov in frame to Succeed Putin", Russia today is not the Russia of Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev, nor is it a European version of the PRC, where nameless and colorless individuals can be anointed to the leading role of the state.

For an analysis which I believe is closer to the mark than either article cited above, please see below the following by Gehlbach and Sonin which appeared today in the Moscow Times ( As the two author's make clear, the most likely purpose of the appointment, was not to name a successor, but:

"By choosing Zubkov, a figure even less known to the public than Putin himself was when he was nominated as prime minister, the president may be signaling that he expects his successor to be the leader not of the government, but of a party. In this interpretation, an electoral victory by United Russia would pave the way for a successful presidential run in 2008 by whoever is chosen next month to head the party list. That would be not Zubkov, but one of the more obvious successors, like Ivanov or Dmitry Medvedev, the other first deputy prime minister".

Au fond, as it Grazhdanin Zubkov, is expected to perform a neutral 'holding operation', while a successor to Putin is chosen. Perhaps the manner of the eventual choice is not an ideal one by any means. From either a West European sense or any other. However, notwithstanding that fact, it is a truism that the current government of Russia, is with all its many faults, the very best one that Matushka Roissya has had since Pyotr Stolypin's of almost one hundred years ago. Hopefully, for the sake of the Russkii narod, whoever does succeed Putin will be able to follow in that path. Ideally Stolypin, if not him, than at the very least, faute de mieux as it were, Putin. With that being said, I urge you all to read and enjoy this most informative article from the Moscow Times.

"Knowing Who but Not Why", By Scott Gehlbach and Konstantin Sonin

"The surprise came a bit late. Usually the Russian political system is upended in August, but this year we had to wait until the second week of September to discover who would replace the inevitably outgoing prime minister, Mikhail Fradkov. But a surprise it was, nonetheless.

Although nobody expected Fradkov to survive the fall, the nature of the replacement had political analysts scrambling late Wednesday to answer a question that has been asked before, only this time with a different name attached: "Who is Zubkov?" The real question, however, is not who, but why?

The Moscow spin doctors will certainly claim that President Vladimir Putin, who is prohibited by the Constitution from serving past March, has no desire to be a lame duck and so has chosen a political unknown to maintain the balance of power among rival camps at the top until the last possible moment.

But the easiest way to maintain the balance of power would simply have been to maintain the status quo. When Fradkov was appointed out of nowhere 3 1/2 years ago, it was the absence of presidential potential and ambitions that seemed to make him such a good candidate for the position of prime minister. What was said then could also be said today.

Others will suggest that Putin intended for First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov to be the prime minister but that Wednesday's leak to this effect in Vedomosti, necessitated a change in plans so that Putin could retain the political initiative. Unlike his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, however, Putin has demonstrated very little tendency to second-guess decisions already made.

So what is the meaning of Wednesday's nomination of Viktor Zubkov, the retirement-age (he turns 66 on Sunday) head of a relatively unknown government agency with responsibility for preventing money laundering and the financing of terrorism, to head the government in advance of December's State Duma elections? One possible answer is that the path of succession has been decided, and that it does not run through the prime minister's office.

By choosing Zubkov, a figure even less known to the public than Putin himself was when he was nominated as prime minister, the president may be signaling that he expects his successor to be the leader not of the government, but of a party. In this interpretation, an electoral victory by United Russia would pave the way for a successful presidential run in 2008 by whoever is chosen next month to head the party list. That would be not Zubkov, but one of the more obvious successors, like Ivanov or Dmitry Medvedev, the other first deputy prime minister.

Always attuned to the examples of history, the Kremlin may thus be attempting to create the Russian equivalent of Mexico's Institutionalized Ruling Party or, PRI, an organization that outlives any particular president and keeps political competition within manageable limits. Such a system would be highly stable if it could be created, thus assuring that those close to power have little to fear from constitutionally mandated elections every four years.

Yet it is far from clear that Putin will be able to pull it off, if, in fact, this is what he has in mind. Establishing a precedent for orderly succession requires a careful balancing of interests within the party elite. Whoever is at the top of the pyramid must have more to lose from hanging on than stepping down when his time is up, and those further down must invest in the success of those further up, knowing that their time will also come. Even if Putin is shrewd enough to start the process of institutionalization successfully -- and Putin is nothing if not shrewd -- it will take another few presidents acting in a similar manner before people know what to expect come August or September and adjust their actions accordingly.

Moreover, the PRI that governed Mexico for seven decades was not merely a "party in government," in the language of political science, but also a "party in the electorate." It assured that the president's handpicked successors would actually win elections by exploiting the party's deep integration into the electorate and control of pork-barrel spending. United Russia is more of a party today than it was four years ago, but it has a long way to go before it matches the electoral machinery of the PRI.

Yet there is another lesson to be learned from the Mexican experience. In 1880, Porfirio Diaz, having promised to serve no more than one term when assuming the presidency four years before, stepped down to steer the election of his chosen successor -- a political unknown. After four years of a weak and corrupt presidency, Diaz was back, and served seven more terms until finally deposed during the Mexican Revolution. It was the subsequent 20 years of civil war that taught Mexican politicians the value of an institutionalized authoritarian regime.

Although Wednesday's development is hard to interpret, it does clear the horizon. If Ivanov or Medvedev acquires the coveted first place in the United Russia list ahead of parliamentary elections, this will indicate that Putin has opted for the more modern Mexican path, the path toward institutionalized succession. If not, then we may witness a figurehead successor and -- probably less than seven, but perhaps still many -- future Putin terms".

Scott Gehlbach is assistant professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and Konstantin Sonin is assistant professor at the New Economic School/CEFIR.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


"Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, tho' they come from the ends of the earth!"

Rudyard Kipling, "The Ballad of East and West".

"I am a strong supporter of Turkish accession talks with the EU. The prospects of EU membership has built a bridge to a key Muslim country".
Rt. Hon. David Miliband, Foreign Secretary, "New Diplomacy: Challenges for Foreign Policy", 19 July 2007, Speech at Chatham House to the Royal Society, in

Bridge building indeed! David Miliband is probably the most intelligent member of the current British Cabinet, with the exception of his brother (Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster) and Edward Balls (Brown's evil genius). And, he is the best appointment to the Foreign Secretaryship, since Lord Hurd. However those facts do not obviate the less than forthright and clear sighted language used in his speech at Chatham House back in July as it relates to Turkish membership to the European Union. As the wonderful British journalist, Geoffrey Wheatcroft in an article yesterday's Financial Times points out, Miliband, like his former maitre, Tony Blair, uses on the subject of Ankara's future membership of the European Union, "arguments that sound good but do not really stand up". Arguments which try through sophistry and tendaciousness, to obscure the prima facie fact that: a) Turkey is not a European country; b) Turkey will never be a European country; c) That the EU is in fact a 'Christian Club', notwithstanding attempts by socialists like Miliband to argue otherwise; d) That there are no intrinsic, realpolitik reasons for Turkey to join the EU, except if the EU were to become a grossmachtpolitik `a la the late unlamented Sovietskaya Vlast; e) That 'reform' in Ankara, such as it is, are more likely to succeed if they are the end results of internal pressures of Turkish society, and, not merely external pressures by Europe; f) That notwithstanding the fact that Turkey is 'Muslim', its influence on its immediate Arab neighbors is extremely limited, and, thus the supposition that Turkish membership of the EU will have a 'positive' result on said neighbors is eye wash, pur et simple; g) That it is far, far better for both Ankara and Brussels, that each recognizes these perhaps disagreeable but, all to true facts, and move onwards, rather than engage in a futile exercise which will avail neither party nothing. Unfortunately, for our post-modernists, history is not permeable, it is not malleable, it is not clay. Lepanto, the sieges of Vienna in 1529 and 1683, cannot be washed away.

With all of the above in mind, I encourage you all to read the attached article by the British journalist and author Geoffrey Wheatcroft.

Structural flaws in Miliband’s Turkish bridge, By Geoffrey Wheatcroft

Published: September 9 2007 18:43 Last updated: September 9 2007 18:43

"At one end of Europe, Turkey has just acquired a controversial new president; at the other, the British foreign secretary has reiterated his view that Turkish accession to the European Union is imperative, before setting off to visit Turkey. Abdullah Gul and David Miliband share the view that Turkey should join the EU. Unfortunately, what they show between them is that the difficulties of Turkish membership are, in practice, well-nigh insurmountable.

In his inaugural speech as president, Mr Gul praised the Turkish state’s secular tradition, but that could not disguise the profound unease his appointment has caused among those who consider themselves the guardians of that tradition – above all, the army officer corps, who were conspicuous by their absence at the ceremony.

He is an observant Muslim, whose wife infuriates the secularists by wearing a headscarf and whose AKP party, though not “Islamist” in the most radical sense, is religious in inspiration. His choice by parliament led to an incipient constitutional crisis and the army would have blocked it if it could have done so without causing a worse crisis.

He has made the right noises about political progress and affirmed his disapproval of religious and national discrimination, but that only serves as a reminder that in most European countries such things do not need to be said. At regular intervals in the 45 years since Turkish membership of the European Economic Community was first broached, Turkey has set back its own cause, with the invasion of Cyprus in 1974, the military coup of 1980, the repression of the Kurds and the long delay in ending capital punishment.

At each setback, it was not cynical to suppose that many European politicians breathed private sighs of relief. This sad story can often seem like an exercise in bad faith, especially on the European side, but is in truth the opposite, almost a case of social embarrassment, an offer lightly made in haste and repented at leisure.

Like other enthusiasts for Turkish accession, notably Tony Blair, Mr Miliband uses arguments that sound good but do not really stand up. Last December, Mr Blair said that Turkish membership mattered “not just in respect to Turkey but with wider relationships between the west and the Muslim world”, as a way of building bridges (that favourite image) between the two.

Now Mr Miliband spells it out even more clearly by mentioning the threat from al-Qaeda. To which the answer is obvious enough. Building such bridges, spreading democracy in western Asia and combating fundamentalist terrorism are all very desirable goals, but they have not been the purpose of the EU from its conception with the Treaty of Rome 50 years ago.

In another bad point (as barristers say), Mr Miliband claims that “every time the EU has enlarged, it has emerged stronger – more confident, more capable”. That might have been true of enlargements up to the 1980s but it is patently untrue of the last enlargement of 2004. The EU acquired 10 new members that – as we realised with a headache on the morrow of the festivities – now comprise 25 per cent of the Union’s population while contributing about 5 per cent of its economic product.

You do not need a doctorate in economics to see the problems that spells. And you do not need to be a pessimist to see that adding a country with a per capita income not much more than one-tenth that of the UK’s – and which will, moreover, soon be more populous than Germany – would threaten the very being of the EU.

But the greatest difficulty of all is not economic or religious, cultural or even geographic (as one French politician has asked: can we really have a “Europe” that extends to the borders of Iraq?) but political. That means not the politics of Turkey but of Europe. For all its very great achievements, the besetting weakness of the EU has always been its undemocratic character, with political and administrative elites dragging a recalcitrant populace behind them. Deals agreed by the elites are regularly rejected by the mere voters (Maastricht by the Danes, Nice by the Irish, the constitution by the French and Dutch) until they are told to go back to vote again until they get it right.

And Turkey? Contrast the zeal for accession expressed by the foreign secretary, Mr Blair and various German and Spanish politicians with polls in which barely one-fifth of ordinary Europeans say that they want Turkey to join. It might be an idea to start by building another bridge – within Europe, between rulers and ruled."Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007,

Monday, September 10, 2007


As another crisis in Pakistan plays itself out, we see patterns both old and new. As in prior crises: 1970-1971, 1977, 1988-1989, 1999, the key issue is what will the army do? And, not do? And, what about the other key domestic players in this recurring game of power-political musical chairs? And, what about the role of the United States? Should it withdraw its support from the weakening strongman, General Perez Musharraf? All these questions and more, are answered in the following commentary by the analyst, Ian Bremmer, of the Eurasia Group, which first appeared in the Beirut Daily Star ( Without necessarily agreeing with the views that he holds, I do believe that they are worthy of being read and discussed. In particular, while Bremmer and I agree that the Musharraf regime has reached a political cul de sac, I disagree with Bremmer inasmuch as I view the situation as offering more possibilities for positive political development than he does. To my mind, nothing could be worse than another five to ten years of mindless, nay abysmal, military rule. With the increasing Talibanization of the entire country, being sotto voce-liked encouraged by the powerful and secretive, ISI (Internal Services Intelligence). An entity which masterminded both the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan in the early to mid-1990's, and, the insurgency in the Kashmir against Indian rule during the same period. The latter almost leading to a full-fledged shooting war between the two countries in the late 1990's. With that being said, I hereby present to you, Ian Bremmer on the current crisis of the Musharraf regime in Pakistan.

The twilight nears for Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf, By Ian Bremmer Tuesday, September 11, 2007

"It is said that political power in Pakistan flows from three A's: Allah, the Army, and support from America. Of the three, it is the army leadership that has the clearest means of ridding the country of Pakistan's president in uniform, Pervez Musharraf. And that's the main reason any power-sharing deal with former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto is unlikely to end Pakistan's political turmoil.

Musharraf hoped to extend his presidency this fall without caving in to opposition demands that he renounce his military position and restore a civilian rival to the post of prime minister. But few international leaders face such a wide range of sworn domestic enemies.

Since seizing power following a 1999 coup, Musharraf has survived at least three serious assassination attempts. His anti-terrorist partnership with the United States fatally undermined his political alliance with Pakistan's religious conservatives even before his government stormed Islamabad's Red Mosque in July, killing more than 100 people. The threat of terrorist attacks inside the country will continue to rise.

Musharraf also has plenty of secular enemies. Their anger, inflamed in March when he tried unsuccessfully to sack the Supreme Court's independent-minded chief justice, rages on. The court recently ruled that the former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, whom Musharraf unseated eight years ago, must be allowed to return from exile. This he did on Monday, before being resent into exile by the Pakistani authorities. Sharif's "decisive struggle against dictatorship"- and determined opposition to any deal with Bhutto that excludes him - will only intensify.

America isn't happy with Musharraf, either. Some in Washington charge that he has done too little to roust Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters from safe havens along the country's border with Afghanistan. His recent flirtation with a plan to bypass Bhutto and declare emergency rule provoked pointed Bush administration criticism.

But it's the army that is most likely to eventually decide the fate of Musharraf's presidency. His rule has given the military leadership a strong role, but his eight years in office have badly damaged domestic support for the army's influence within the government. Musharraf's unpopularity has become its unpopularity.

Aware of a potential threat from within their ranks, Musharraf has populated his inner circle with relatively junior (and reliably loyal) officers. But a deal that makes Bhutto prime minister would undermine the military's influence - and eventually its support for Musharraf's presidency. As prime minister, Bhutto could eventually revisit her deal with Musharraf from a position of strength. Military leaders know this, and the threat that they will eventually push Musharraf aside will plague his presidency well into next year.

The army is unlikely to move on Musharraf directly unless subtler methods fail. The generals know that another coup would further weaken the military's popular standing - as well as Pakistan's relations with the United States - at a moment when Bhutto and Sharif have raised expectations at home and abroad for a permanent return to civilian rule.

But if Musharraf were to refuse to go quietly, the generals could promise him a long list of public corruption charges that he must survive without their protection. Musharraf's presidency won't survive long without military backing.

To preserve the appearance that their meddling is benign, senior military officers probably know that they cannot afford to install another general as president. Instead, they will most likely support cosmetic political reforms, including a new law that formally separates the roles of army commander and head of state. That is the strategy the military adopted in 1988, following the mysterious plane crash that killed former President (and General) Mohammad Zia ul-Haq. The army leadership ordered elections, permitted the formation of a civilian government, and then stage-managed the political process from the wings.

Bhutto, the leader of a secular party that now enjoys substantial support in Washington, would dominate policy planning in the next government at Musharraf's expense. She must build on her domestic support, but she can rely on economic and security cooperation with Washington to safeguard the country's stability.

In addition, the military's role as guarantor of stability, and its tight control of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, the army's crown jewels, will continue. The Bush administration can therefore enthusiastically back a return to civilian rule and claim a much-needed victory for democracy in a Muslim country.

But Bhutto would inherit Musharraf's domestic enemies. Sharif would fulminate against her every misstep, threats of attack from religious radicals would continue, and the military would safeguard its interests from just off stage. Adding to the pressure, America would expect the kind of cooperation in pacifying Pakistan's tribal areas that Musharraf has proven unable to provide.

The military will, under any scenario, continue to quell fears of complete political chaos. But it would also likely ensure that a Musharraf-Bhutto deal does not fully close a tumultuous chapter in Pakistan's history

Ian Bremmer is the president of Eurasia Group, the global political risk consultancy, and author of "The J Curve: A New Way to Understand Why Nations Rise and Fall." THE DAILY STAR publishes this commentary in collaboration with Project Syndicate (c) (

Thursday, September 06, 2007


According to Reuters and Agence France-Presse, Israeli warplanes in what appears to have been a deep penetration, reconnaissance mission over Syrian territory, were fired upon by Syrian anti-aircraft batteries and in consequence dropped bombs upon apparently desert spaces (see: & . The area in question appears to have been in northern Syria. The reaction of the two sides is of interest by merely contrast: while the Syrian official media have denounced the Israeli incursion and warned of possible Syrian reprisals, the Israeli government has been conspicuously silent, with a flurries of 'no comment', being issued. Is today's incident a harbinger of a possible future Arab-Israeli war? While there has been rumors going back to the Spring of this year, that a war was in the offing between Tel Aviv and Damascus, in point of fact, until today's incident nothing of the sort had given the least indication that any such thing might occur. Does today's incident change the underlying situation? While alarmist reports might cause one to think otherwise, I am still skeptical that any such thing will be likely to occur in the future.

Why? Well neither side has reason to indulge in any such 'jeu'. For Israel: the 'fruits' of any such conflict would in essence be a confirmation of the status quo ante bellum. And, the decapitation of the regime in power in Damascus. There is nothing to suggest that Tel Aviv, would want any such thing to occur. Either now or in the future. Unlike the neo-conservative cretins in Washington, the 'official mind' in Israel, quite realistically recognizes the downfall via military defeat of the Alawite regime in Damascus would result in one of two things: a) chaos and civil war, leading to; b) the establishment of a Sunni-based, fundamentalist regime `a la Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. A regime which would contrary to the current one, be openly and fiercely opposed to the status quo, and, would use all of its powers and resources to upset the same.

In the case of Damascus, notwithstanding the occasional rhetoric coming from those in power, about redeeming the Golan, in point of fact, those in authority quite easily recognize that in any military conflict with Israel, the regime would be both defeated and overthrown. There is nothing to suggest that Assad Fils' Baathist regime, has any ambitions to follow Saddam Hussein's one into the dustbin of history. The only parties that would have anything to gain from any such conflict are ideologues in various American and (to a much lesser extent) Israeli think tanks, and, of course the exiled Muslim Brotherhood, as well as more outre Islamic extremists. Al-Quaida being of course one of the same. At this time, the best and most intelligent course for American diplomacy, a course which unfortunately will have to wait until the next President is in power, is for Washington to press hard on a settlement of the Golan issue between the two countries. Every day that is lost, is simply a harbinger of a possibility that an 'incident', such as occurred today, might just might get out of hand. Again, the likelihood of such a thing occurring is practically nil, but, that does not obviate the possibility of it occurring. And, it is precisely to prevent the same, that Great Power diplomacy is needed and required. Hopefully before it is too late.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


"For the past several decades, and especially since the Six-Day War in 1967, the centrepiece of US Middle Eastern policy has been its relationship with Israel. The combination of unwavering support for Israel and the related effort to spread ‘democracy’ throughout the region has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardised not only US security but that of much of the rest of the world. This situation has no equal in American political history. Why has the US been willing to set aside its own security and that of many of its allies in order to advance the interests of another state? One might assume that the bond between the two countries was based on shared strategic interests or compelling moral imperatives, but neither explanation can account for the remarkable level of material and diplomatic support that the US provides.

Instead, the thrust of US policy in the region derives almost entirely from domestic politics, and especially the activities of the ‘Israel Lobby’. Other special-interest groups have managed to skew foreign policy, but no lobby has managed to divert it as far from what the national interest would suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans that US interests and those of the other country – in this case, Israel – are essentially identical.

Since the October War in 1973, Washington has provided Israel with a level of support dwarfing that given to any other state. It has been the largest annual recipient of direct economic and military assistance since 1976, and is the largest recipient in total since World War Two, to the tune of well over $140 billion (in 2004 dollars). Israel receives about $3 billion in direct assistance each year, roughly one-fifth of the foreign aid budget, and worth about $500 a year for every Israeli. This largesse is especially striking since Israel is now a wealthy industrial state with a per capita income roughly equal to that of South Korea or Spain".
John Mearsheimer & Steven Walt, "The Israel Lobby" (March 2006) in the London Review of Books (

With the publication in the spring of 2006, in the London Review of Books of John Mearsheimer's and Steven Walt's article, the issue of the legitimacy or lack there of, of the Israel lobby past and present in American politics has suddenly come to the fore. With an unprecedented number of debates, articles, lectures and conversations devoted to the topic. "Unprecedented", I should say in American political discourse. For in fact, both in Israel itself, and, not surprisingly outside of it, the fact of the unusual amount of influence exercised by the Israel lobby is a truism, requiring little or no comment or surprise. Merely a piece of the diplomatic architecture since if not 1947, than at least since the early to mid-1960's. The respectable response to the arguments by Messieurs Mearsheimer and Walt has tended to veer towards the following channels: a) there is nothing unusual about the influence exercised by the Israel lobby in American politics, that other countries have had similar exercises of power and influence in the corridors of power in Washington; b) that granting the fact of the influence being exercised, is not as important as the fact that support for Israel is in America's best interest; c) that as a democracy surrounded by non-democratic states in a dangerous region, it is America's moral obligation to support Israel, come what may.

Of the above rationale's offered, I would like to review each briefly: 'a' contends that the Israeli Lobby's influence or more specifically the assistance given to Tel Aviv is similar to assistance given in times past to say the UK and France during both the Great Wat in the Second World War. This comparison however is, not to put too fine a point on it, specious in the extreme. It is so, because in the Great War, the USA, loaned at normal rates of interest, monies to both Allied (or as Woodrow Wilson then termed them 'Associated') powers. With the expectation that said loans would be paid off in full. Indeed, much in the way of Anglo-American and Franco-American diplomatic interaction during the entre deux guerres period revolves around the American determination for both powers to pay off the accumulated debt (hence the accusations in both Paris and London in this period about 'Uncle Shylock'). And, when said debt was not paid off in full, the repercussions on Anglo and Franco-American relations was quite negative indeed. Last time I checked, Israel has not been asked to remit payment on much if any (some they have I am sure, but, not much) on the 140 Billion Dollars in assistance rendered since 1945. By far the largest recipient of American assistance, of any country in the world. This notwithstanding the fact that with a per capita income of on par with that of South Korea or Spain, it should be quite easy for Israel to provide for its own defence budget out of its own resources.

Of course this analogy works even less well, if we carry things further in the twentieth century, as is quite well known, with the fact that 'Lend Lease', assistance, from the USA to the UK, was only: i) given when the UK had run out of foreign exchange to purchase munitions and other supplies with dollars; ii) was given on the assumption that it would also be repayed eventually; iii) forced the UK to transfer to the USA, the bulk of its existing foreign exchange and any valuables during the course of the war, that it managed to accumulate. Again, compared to the indulgent nature of the American assistance programme to Israel, that rendered to the UK when the latter was an ally in a common cause was harsh indeed.

On the second point argued, that Israel is a 'strategic asset', to the USA, and that any and all assistance to it, should be seen in that light, is not in fact born out by the requisite evidence. The best example of this fact is of course the internal debate which took place within the Truman Administration, over recognizing Israel and forgoing UN attempts to forgo unilateral declarations of independence by either Jews or the Arabs in Palestine, in 1947-1948. On the one side was the entire, I repeat the entire American national security establishment: State, Defence, Joint Chiefs, CIA. The leading lights of the Post-war American leadership: George Kennan, George Marshall, Robert Lovett, James Forrestall, Lloyd Henderson, all with one voice, argued vehemently that by recognizing unilaterally Israel, the USA would be seriously injuring its position with the Arab nations of the Near East. Indeed, so charged was the atmosphere, that in one meeting with President Truman over the issue, Secretary of State, George Marshall, widely regarded as 'the greatest living American' at the time, told President Truman to his face, that if he recognized Israel, he, Marshall, would have to vote, against the President in the upcoming Presidential elections). However notwithstanding this cri de coeur, Truman persuaded by the political expediency of being seen to support Israel, override time and again, his national security establishment. The influence of the pro-Zionist or subsequently, pro-Israel lobby was, for most historians who have investigated the topic, substantial in his decision (for a standard account for this period, see: Peter L. Hahn's book: Caught in the Middle East.)

Although, it is correctly argued that the USA did not become Israel's main ally or patron (that role was filled first by the Soviet Union, briefly, then for ten years by France [1956-1966), it does not obviate the fact that going forward, almost any American diplomatic move in the region, was to a degree hamstrung by the need to balance any maneuver which might favor the Arabs with one that would also favor Israel. This was true even in the Eisenhower Administration, which was perhaps the American administration most lukewarm about the closeness of the relationship with Tel Aviv. With the advent of the Kennedy Administration, a much greater degree of closeness between the USA and Israel ensued. With Washington, de facto giving Tel Aviv the go ahead to acquire nuclear weapons capability. At the same time, increasing arms shipments to Israel. Especially in the realm of high technology.
With the Johnson Administration and the period of the Six Day War, any appearance of American 'even handedness' between Israel and its Arab neighbors went completely out of the window. The upshot being that by the beginning of the Nixon Administration, up to the Administration of George Bush the Elder, the USA was seen worldwide as being the Israeli cats paw.

And, one may well ask: what for? Why? With what positive results for the USA in concrete terms? Notwithstanding claims to the contrary, there does not appear in the diplomatic track record, any consistent evidence that the USA derived clear benefits from making Israel its chien de gard. On the contrary, because of the mere fact that the Israeli connection was diplomatically speaking an albatross around the American neck, Washington has from the 1950's onwards rarely seen the Israeli military colossus, as something to be used in a positive sense, to extend its regional aims. The one exception being perhaps the failed Israeli war with Lebanon in 2006. For the rest of it, the terror in Washington, real or imagined of the likely consequences regionally, of using Israel's military as a means of advancing American power and interests, means that it is merely (to paraphrase Churchill) a 'luxury force'. And, nothing more.

The third and last argument: that Israel is a democracy, surrounded by non-Democratic powers, in a dangerous region, and, thus deserving Washington's support. Fails, as an argument (as opposed to a vulgar slogan) due to the fact that it is wrong on two counts: a) being a Democracy as per se, never ensured that a particular power would be supported by the USA vis-`a-vis its enemies, viz the American attitude towards India as opposed to Pakistan, from 1949 to 1997; b) the behavior of Israel at home: the forced removal of hundreds of thousands of Arabs in the during and after the war of 1947-1949 (as per Benny Morris's now standard works on the subject), the treatment of Arabs in Israel after 1948, the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip since 1967, with all that has entailed hardly makes Israel the best example of a 'Democracy', much less one that should be supported in the fashion that the USA has been doing for the last forty sum years. In short, the argument that the USA should support the Jewish State because of its 'Democratic' character, is not so much an argument as a species of emotional blackmail. Pur et simple. And a very very successful one at that.

However, I do not wish for my readers to ignore the counter arguments to the ones that I have offered up here. So, as a service to my readership, and, in hopes of opening up a true spirit of debate (something which has to a degree been sorely lacking due to the censorship being waged by the Jewish State's partisans in this matter in the United States recently), I urge that you all, read the attached article by Dr. George Friedman, of the American online journal ( I do not as will be readily apparent agree with much of what Friedman writes, but I do believe that it is worthwhile to read and reflect upon. So, please do enjoy. In a future issue, I will review and length, Walt's and Mearsheimer's own arguments, which have just come out in book form (The Israel Lobby and U. S. Foreign Policy).

The Israel Lobby in U.S. Strategy, By George Friedman

"U.S. President George W. Bush made an appearance in Iraq's restive Anbar province on Sept. 3 -- in part to tout the success of the military surge there ahead of the presentation in Washington of the Petraeus report. For the next month or two, the battle over Iraq will be waged in Washington -- and one country will come up over and over again, from any number of directions: Israel. Israel will be invoked as an ally in the war on terrorism -- the reason the United States is in the war in the first place. Some will say that Israel maneuvered the United States into Iraq to serve its own purposes. Some will say it orchestrated 9/11 for its own ends. Others will say that, had the United States supported Israel more resolutely, there would not have been a 9/11.

There is probably no relationship on which people have more diverging views than on that between the United States and Israel. Therefore, since it is going to be invoked in the coming weeks -- and Bush is taking a fairly irrelevant pause at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Australia -- this is an opportune time to consider the geopolitics of the U.S.-Israeli relationship.

Let's begin with some obvious political points. There is a relatively small Jewish community in the United States, though its political influence is magnified by its strategic location in critical states such as New York and the fact that it is more actively involved in politics than some other ethnic groups.

The Jewish community, as tends to be the case with groups, is deeply divided on many issues. It tends to be united on one issue -- Israel -- but not with the same intensity as in the past, nor with even a semblance of agreement on the specifics. The American Jewish community is as divided as the Israeli Jewish community, with a large segment of people who don't much care thrown in. At the same time, this community donates large sums of money to American and Israeli organizations, including groups that lobby on behalf of Israeli issues in Washington. These lobbying entities lean toward the right wing of Israel's political spectrum, in large part because the Israeli right has tended to govern in the past generation and these groups tend to follow the dominant Israeli strand. It also is because American Jews who contribute to Israel lobby organizations lean right in both Israeli and American politics.

The Israel lobby, which has a great deal of money and experience, is extremely influential in Washington. For decades now, it has done a good job of ensuring that Israeli interests are attended to in Washington, and certainly on some issues it has skewed U.S. policy on the Middle East. There are Jews who practice being shocked at this assertion, but they must not be taken seriously. They know better, which is why they donate money. Others pretend to be shocked at the idea of a lobbyist influencing U.S. policy on the Middle East, but they also need not be taken seriously, because they are trying to influence Washington as well, though they are not as successful. Obviously there is an influential Israel lobby in Washington.

There are, however, two important questions. The first is whether this is in any way unique. Is a strong Israel lobby an unprecedented intrusion into foreign policy? The key question, though, is whether Israeli interests diverge from U.S. interests to the extent that the Israel lobby is taking U.S. foreign policy in directions it wouldn't go otherwise, in directions that counter the U.S. national interest.

Begin with the first question. Prior to both World wars there was extensive debate on whether the United States should intervene in the war. In both cases, the British government lobbied extensively for U.S. intervention on behalf of the United Kingdom. The British made two arguments. The first was that the United States shared a heritage with England -- code for the idea that white Anglo-Saxon Protestants should stand with white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. The second was that there was a fundamental political affinity between British and U.S. democracy and that it was in the U.S. interest to protect British democracy from German authoritarianism.

Many Americans, including President Franklin Roosevelt, believed both arguments. The British lobby was quite powerful. There was a German lobby as well, but it lacked the numbers, the money and the traditions to draw on.

From a geopolitical point of view, both arguments were weak. The United States and the United Kingdom not only were separate countries, they had fought some bitter wars over the question. As for political institutions, geopolitics, as a method, is fairly insensitive to the moral claims of regimes. It works on the basis of interest. On that basis, an intervention on behalf of the United Kingdom in both wars made sense because it provided a relatively low-cost way of preventing Germany from dominating Europe and challenging American sea power. In the end, it wasn't the lobbying interest, massive though it was, but geopolitical necessity that drove U.S. intervention.

The second question, then, is: Has the Israel lobby caused the United States to act in ways that contravene U.S. interests? For example, by getting the United States to support Israel, did it turn the Arab world against the Americans? Did it support Israeli repression of Palestinians, and thereby generate an Islamist radicalism that led to 9/11? Did it manipulate U.S. policy on Iraq so that the United States invaded Iraq on behalf of Israel? These allegations have all been made. If true, they are very serious charges.

It is important to remember that U.S.-Israeli ties were not extraordinarily close prior to 1967. President Harry Truman recognized Israel, but the United States had not provided major military aid and support. Israel, always in need of an outside supply of weapons, first depended on the Soviet Union, which shipped weapons to Israel via Czechoslovakia. When the Soviets realized that Israeli socialists were anti-Soviet as well, they dropped Israel. Israel's next patron was France. France was fighting to hold on to Algeria and maintain its influence in Lebanon and Syria, both former French protectorates. The French saw Israel as a natural ally. It was France that really created the Israeli air force and provided the first technology for Israeli nuclear weapons.

The United States was actively hostile to Israel during this period. In 1956, following Gamal Abdul Nasser's seizure of power in Egypt, Cairo nationalized the Suez Canal. Without the canal, the British Empire was finished, and ultimately the French were as well. The United Kingdom and France worked secretly with Israel, and Israel invaded the Sinai. Then, in order to protect the Suez Canal from an Israeli-Egyptian war, a Franco-British force parachuted in to seize the canal. President Dwight Eisenhower forced the British and French to withdraw -- as well as the Israelis. U.S.-Israeli relations remained chilly for quite a while.

The break point with France came in 1967. The Israelis, under pressure from Egypt, decided to invade Egypt, Jordan and Syria -- ignoring French President Charles de Gaulle's demand that they not do so. As a result, France broke its alignment with Israel. This was the critical moment in U.S.-Israeli relations. Israel needed a source of weaponry as its national security needs vastly outstripped its industrial base. It was at this point that the Israel lobby in the United States became critical. Israel wanted a relationship with the United States and the Israel lobby brought tremendous pressure to bear, picturing Israel as a heroic, embattled democracy, surrounded by bloodthirsty neighbors, badly needing U.S. help. President Lyndon B. Johnson, bogged down in Vietnam and wanting to shore up his base, saw a popular cause in Israel and tilted toward it.

But there were critical strategic issues as well. Syria and Iraq had both shifted into the pro-Soviet camp, as had Egypt. Some have argued that, had the United States not supported Israel, this would not have happened. This, however, runs in the face of history. It was the United States that forced the Israelis out of the Sinai in 1956, but the Egyptians moved into the Soviet camp anyway. The argument that it was uncritical support for Israel that caused anti-Americanism in the Arab world doesn't hold water. The Egyptians became anti-American in spite of an essentially anti-Israeli position in 1956. By 1957 Egypt was a Soviet ally.

The Americans ultimately tilted toward Israel because of this, not the other way around. Egypt was not only providing the Soviets with naval and air bases, but also was running covert operations in the Arabian Peninsula to bring down the conservative sheikhdoms there, including Saudi Arabia's. The Soviets were seen as using Egypt as a base of operations against the United States. Syria was seen as another dangerous radical power, along with Iraq. The defense of the Arabian Peninsula from radical, pro-Soviet Arab movements, as well as the defense of Jordan, became a central interest of the United States.

Israel was seen as contributing by threatening the security of both Egypt and Syria. The Saudi fear of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was palpable. Riyadh saw the Soviet-inspired liberation movements as threatening Saudi Arabia's survival. Israel was engaged in a covert war against the PLO and related groups, and that was exactly what the Saudis wanted from the late 1960s until the early 1980s. Israel's covert capability against the PLO, coupled with its overt military power against Egypt and Syria, was very much in the American interest and that of its Arab allies. It was a low-cost solution to some very difficult strategic problems at a time when the United States was either in Vietnam or recovering from the war.

The occupation of the Sinai, the West Bank and the Golan Heights in 1967 was not in the U.S. interest. The United States wanted Israel to carry out its mission against Soviet-backed paramilitaries and tie down Egypt and Syria, but the occupation was not seen as part of that mission. The Israelis initially expected to convert their occupation of the territories into a peace treaty, but that only happened, much later, with Egypt. At the Khartoum summit in 1967, the Arabs delivered the famous three noes: No negotiation. No recognition. No peace. Israel became an occupying power. It has never found its balance.

The claim has been made that if the United States forced the Israelis out of the West Bank and Gaza, then it would receive credit and peace would follow. There are three problems with that theory. First, the Israelis did not occupy these areas prior to 1967 and there was no peace. Second, groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah have said that a withdrawal would not end the state of war with Israel. And therefore, third, the withdrawal would create friction with Israel without any clear payoff from the Arabs.

It must be remembered that Egypt and Jordan have both signed peace treaties with Israel and seem not to care one whit about the Palestinians. The Saudis have never risked a thing for the Palestinians, nor have the Iranians. The Syrians have, but they are far more interested in investing in Beirut hotels than in invading Israel. No Arab state is interested in the Palestinians, except for those that are actively hostile. There is Arab and Islamic public opinion and nonstate organizations, but none would be satisfied with Israeli withdrawal. They want Israel destroyed. Even if the United States withdrew all support for Israel, however, Israel would not be destroyed. The radical Arabs do not want withdrawal; they want destruction. And the moderate Arabs don't care about the Palestinians beyond rhetoric.

Now we get to the heart of the matter. If the United States broke ties with Israel, would the U.S. geopolitical position be improved? In other words, if it broke with Israel, would Iran or al Qaeda come to view the United States in a different way? Critics of the Israel lobby argue that, except for U.S. support for Israel, the United States would have better relations in the Muslim world, and would not be targeted by al Qaeda or threatened by Iran. In other words, except for the Israel lobby's influence, the United States would be much more secure.

Al Qaeda does not see Israel by itself as its central problem. Its goal is the resurrection of the caliphate -- and it sees U.S. support for Muslim regimes as the central problem. If the United States abandoned Israel, al Qaeda would still confront U.S. support for countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. For al Qaeda, Israel is an important issue, but for the United States to soothe al Qaeda, it would have to abandon not only Israel, but its non-Islamist allies in the Middle East.

As for Iran, the Iranian rhetoric, as we have said, has never been matched by action. During the Iran-Iraq War, the Iranian military purchased weapons and parts from the Israelis. It was more delighted than anyone when Israel destroyed the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981. Iran's problem with the United States is its presence in Iraq, its naval presence in the Persian Gulf and its support for the Kurds. If Israel disappeared from the face of the Earth, Iran's problems would remain the same.

It has been said that the Israelis inspired the U.S. invasion of Iraq. There is no doubt that Israel was pleased when, after 9/11, the United States saw itself as an anti-Islamist power. Let us remind our more creative readers, however, that benefiting from something does not mean you caused it. However, it has never been clear that the Israelis were all that enthusiastic about invading Iraq. Neoconservative Jews like Paul Wolfowitz were enthusiastic, as were non-Jews like Dick Cheney. But the Israeli view of a U.S. invasion of Iraq was at most mixed, and to some extent dubious. The Israelis liked the Iran-Iraq balance of power and were close allies of Turkey, which certainly opposed the invasion. The claim that Israel supported the invasion comes from those who mistake neoconservatives, many of whom are Jews who support Israel, with Israeli foreign policy, which was much more nuanced than the neoconservatives. The Israelis were not at all clear about what the Americans were doing in Iraq, but they were in no position to complain.

Israeli-U.S. relations have gone through three phases. From 1948 to 1967, the United States supported Israel's right to exist but was not its patron. In the 1967-1991 period, the Israelis were a key American asset in the Cold War. From 1991 to the present, the relationship has remained close but it is not pivotal to either country. Washington cannot help Israel with Hezbollah or Hamas. The Israelis cannot help the United States in Iraq or Afghanistan. If the relationship were severed, it would have remarkably little impact on either country -- though keeping the relationship is more valuable than severing it.

To sum up: There is a powerful Jewish, pro-Israel lobby in Washington, though it was not very successful in the first 20 years or so of Israel's history. When U.S. policy toward Israel swung in 1967 it had far more to do with geopolitical interests than with lobbying. The United States needed help with Egypt and Syria and Israel could provide it. Lobbying appeared to be the key, but it wasn't; geopolitical necessity was. Egypt was anti-American even when the United States was anti-Israeli. Al Qaeda would be anti-American even if the United States were anti-Israel. Rhetoric aside, Iran has never taken direct action against Israel and has much more important things on its plate.

Portraying the Israel lobby as super-powerful behooves two groups: Critics of U.S. Middle Eastern policy and the Israel lobby itself. Critics get to say the U.S. relationship with Israel is the result of manipulation and corruption. Thus, they get to avoid discussing the actual history of Israel, the United States and the Middle East. The lobby benefits from having robust power because one of its jobs is to raise funds -- and the image of a killer lobby opens a lot more pocketbooks than does the idea that both Israel and the United States are simply pursuing their geopolitical interests and that things would go on pretty much the same even without slick lobbying.

The great irony is that the critics of U.S. policy and the Israel lobby both want to believe in the same myth -- that great powers can be manipulated to harm themselves by crafty politicians. The British didn't get the United States into the world wars, and the Israelis aren't maneuvering the Americans into being pro-Israel. Beyond its ability to exert itself on small things, the Israel lobby is powerful in influencing Washington to do what it is going to do anyway. What happens next in Iraq is not up to the Israel lobby -- though it and the Saudi Embassy have a different story".© Copyright 2007 Strategic Forecasting, Inc. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 03, 2007


"Ever since their conversion to Orthodox Christianity in the tenth century, it has been the Russians' fate to coexist with a civilisation more skilled and therefore richer and more powerful than anything attained within Russian borders. Russia's modern greatness rests on the fact that twice (under Peter the Great and Stalin) the country's rulers deliberately tried to overcome backwardness by hectic heroic action. They met with considerable success, but ironically their very success, by lopsidedly emphasizing military power and relying on their command principle for energizing innovation, differentiated Russian society more sharply from the looser social structure of the leading countries of Western Europe. Dependence on orders from above also tended to inhibit the sort of spontaneous innovation needed to sustain creativity. Bureaucratic lethargy and inefficiency were therefore free to take their toll, assuring the renewal of Russian backwardness".

William Hardy McNeill, "Winds of Change", Foreign Affairs, Fall 1990, p.152.

"La Russe ne bouge pas; elle se recueille", Diplomatic Circular to all Embassies, 1856, Knyiaz Gorchakov.

"It true---Russia is back. But it has only returned to the past."Anti-Westernism is the New National Ideal", Lilia Shevtsova, 7 August 2007, in http:///

Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol's eternal question is his roman Dead Souls, 'where goes Russia', is still unfortunately pertinent and apt. To my own surprise and disappointment, the Putin regime, which up to two years ago, perhaps even up to last year, had made immense progress in restoring conditions both internally and xternally in Russia, has in the run up to first Parliamentary and then Presidential elections fallen into the dangerous mind field of idiotic and simplistic anti-Westernism. First the speech (which admittedly was in some ways an accurate description of aspects of American foreign policy in general and vis-`a-vis Russia in particular) in Munich, which gave the appearance of setting off a diplomatic Molotov cocktail, without warning; then the policy of pinpricks around the anniversary of Victory Day (8 May), vis-`a-vis Estonia and to a lesser extent Poland; closely followed by Putin's speech in which he compared the crimes of I. V. Stalin to those committed by the USA in the post-world war II ear. Finally of course the recently trumpeted announcement that Moskva would oppose the EU's own candidate for the head of the IMF, with one of it own. A decision which is sure to:
a) alienate even further West European Countries, even those wanting to remain friendly to Moska such as Deutschland, France and Italia; b) is unlikely to rally any real support from the China, India and the rest of the Third World; c)will fail in any case (for this see the Financial Times article of the 24th of August in

The upshot of all this rather hectic if fruitless activity is that on many levels Russia is as unpopular and isolated from not only the United States, but even from its natural partners in Central and Western Europe, in or out of the EU. Perhaps believing in their own rhetoric about Russia being a 'Energy Superpower', which can turn on and off the energy taps to Central and Western Europe at will, Moskva seems to have forgotten that two can play the game of pinpricks. An example of which is the near hysteria that came out of Moskva when it emerged that Brussels, may clamp down on Russian (and other countries such as Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf States) purchases of energy companies and pipelines in the Union, if reciprocity was lacking. The fact that Russia was not mentioned specifically in the proposed text, did not prevent Moskva from warning about the dangers of any such move. Both the reaction of Russia and the non-reaction of other oil producers speaks volumes about how fearful Russia now is about being closed off to down-stream purchases of energy infrastructures in the EU. The fact that Russia has in effect brought this (potential) EU reaction upon itself, does not appear to have impressed itself in anyway upon the Putin Regime.

What can explain the rhetoric (and at this point, except for a few alleged overflights of Georgian territory, it is entirely words) and verbiage coming out of Moskva? Does it point towards a future Eurasianism drift in Russian policy? Something which to my mind would have horrific consequences for Russia's future, and her ability to hold on to its Siberian and Far Eastern territories? Or is it merely electioneering and sloganeering? A 21st century version of 'Kvass Patriotism' preparatory to the forthcoming elections for the Duma and President? Or do we have another instance of a genuine divide in the Russian elite, between taking two different roads to the future? One road (that which I myself believe is the only road for Russia to take) towards ever increasing co-operation and commonality with the nations of Western and Central Europe. Something viz the huge size of the Russian expatriot community in London, Paris and Berlin is already to a degree coming into being, albeit more on the civil society side of the ledger. Or a road which will have the pleasantry of scoring points with the EU and the USA, but, which will have the end result of Russian remaining in place, joining the other stagnant, non-developing, Energy resource rich, but, society poor countries of the Near East, Central Asia and such like.

To give a few indications of these potential choices facing Russia, I hereby present an article by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's, scholar, Dmitri Trenin. On the whole, I agree with Trenin's view that all roads are still open to Russia, and that in particular the energy and wealth of its people can potentially give it near greatness in the future. However that means that Moskva must modulate its tendency to re-fight the Cold War, albeit twenty some years too late. As he so well puts it:

"Rather than complaining about the rules of the game and ever-biased umpires, Russia will achieve more if it learns to adapt and succeed by the rules that exist, and thus earn the right and the capacity to participate in making future rules".

Id est, what Russia needs to do, is to follow the realpolitik methods taken by Knyiaz Gorchakov, but not to the point of alienating all the other potentially useful players in the diplomatic game. And, by useful I do not include such 'yellow peril' nations such as India or the PRC. It is Europe which Russia should concentrate on remaining closest too. It is her natural partner. And, even the USA is, as Trenin points out, regardless of the Iraq debacle, the USA is: "indispensable to Russia's reaching its prime national objectives of modernization, economic integration, and security". That may stick in the Russia's claw, but, it should do, no more so than say other nation's where this is the case, the best example being the PRC. With all that being said, please read and enjoy Trenin's splendid article.

Russia’s Strategic Choices By Dmitri Trenin.

"President Putin’s speech in Munich, his address to parliament, the Foreign Ministry’s policy paper, and the practical developments that followed from these statements have set the stage for a closer look at Russia’s role in the world and the implications for the West.

Anyone listening to Russian officials is impressed by their self-confidence, and even triumphalism. As the Russians see it, Russia is up, the United States is down, and Europe is out. This jubilation is understandable. For too long, Russian elites felt humiliated, rejected, and ridiculed. Just ten years ago, the talk of the global village was of a world without Russia. Today it is about a Russia resurgent: a sea change, one worth celebrating.

An Apparent Success Story …

There is no question that Russia is back on its feet, at long last. The post-Soviet economic slump is almost history—in 2007, after eight years of steady growth, Russia’s gross domestic product will reach its 1990 level. The macroeconomic indicators are stellar. Moscow is no longer a supplicant at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), it is on the threshold of joining the World Trade Organization (WTO), and is setting its aim on the Organisation for Economic Cooperation
and Development (OECD). As the West lost much of its leverage over Russia, the country’s territorial integrity was restored: Chechenization has worked, so far. The United States has become an object of rough official censure, and some near neighbors, like Georgia and Estonia, are being subjected to tough actions. “We are now big and rich,” said Vladimir Putin as he shrugged off a reporter’s question about other nations’ revived concerns about Russia. He is also on record saying that defending national interests normally arouses foreign opposition. It is only
one-sided concessions that win the applause.

Like most developments within the country, Russia’s foreign policy is informed by a clear material interest. Moscow is looking for opportunities wherever they may be, and is prepared to compete tooth and nail to get what it wants. This is the foundation of what Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov calls common sense, which has replaced ideological, idealistic, or, indeed, any other nonmaterial affinities in Russia’s foreign relations.

Russia’s ultimate interest is a status of a major world power, on par with the United States and China. With the country sovereign again, and the Kremlin fully sovereign within it, the next step is to eliminate arrangements that were concluded when Moscow’s influence was at its nadir. Having recovered from a period of weakness, Russia is turning revisionist. That should come as no surprise: since the mid-1990s Russian foreign ministers adopted Prince Gorchakov, Alexander II’s able top diplomat, as their role model. It took Gorchakov fourteen years to repeal the Paris treaty, which followed Russia’s humiliating defeat in the Crimean war. In Gorchakov’s footsteps, Vladimir Putin threatened to pull out of the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty less than seventeen years after it was signed.

But this is hardly an isolated case. Russia has abruptly changed the rules of the game in the Sakhalin-2 project. Its intention to quit the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty is not a hollow threat. The Russian military see it as a relic of the Cold War, totally unsuited to twenty-first century strategic realities, and discriminating against the two countries which are parties to it, the United States and Russia. In the name of the Russian national security interests, it has to go. This is, verbatim, the Bush administration’s rationale for withdrawing from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. Like the United States, Russia now prefers to have a free hand.

Taking a Second Look

Critics say that this happy triumphalism is short-sighted and may be short-lived. It is not so much Russia that is up, but that energy prices are. Yet, what goes up, must come down. Even if the demand continues to be strong and prices stay high, there are well-founded concerns about Russia’s ability to satisfy that demand. Investment, technology, infrastructure, and efficiency are all wanting. Russia, of course, will continue as an energy source for the industrialized and industrializing world, but it does not qualify as the world’s secretary of energy. And, except for arms and metals, there is little else it offers on the global market.

Much in Russia’s behavior continues to be a reaction to what outsiders do or say. Russia feels strong, but it is still strangely prickly, which reveals deep-seated insecurity. In a dramatic reversal from Soviet practices, Russian government propagandists masochistically seek out criticisms of Moscow’s policies—the blacker, the better—and have them translated and beamed to the domestic audience, probably to foment popular indignation with “foreign Russophobia.” Off-hand comments by U.S. officials, obscure articles in U.S. journals, and dull documents issued by U.S. government agencies that are not even mentioned by the U.S. media become top stories in Russia, serving as a proof of the United States’ hidden agenda, believed to be still centered on Russia.

Russia takes issue with U.S. “attempts to construct a unipolar world” (as Putin put it in his Munich speech), NATO enlargement, U.S. missile defense deployments in Central Europe, and the official U.S. policy of democracy promotion. Interestingly, Moscow presents these issues as direct threats or at least serious problems; even as it says that, effectively, they mean little: a unipolar world is a chimera; NATO enlargement actually weakens the alliance; ten interceptors in Poland guided by a radar in the Czech Republic will not blunt the Russian deterrent; color revolutions have fizzled out, and an “orange” Ukraine is a more amenable partner for Russia than Leonid Kuchma’s government ever was and certainly more than Alexander Lukashenko’s Belarus is today.

A Frustrated Russia

Privately, top Russian officials still reel from the rejection of their earlier overtures. Moscow’s private probing on a possibility to join NATO was never seriously entertained; its removal of an intelligence gathering station in Cuba was taken for granted; its acceptance of U.S. forces in Central Asia and U.S. military instructors in Georgia were seen as reluctant bowing to realities; its mild reaction to NATO membership for the Baltic states and to the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty were attributed to Russia’s general foreign policy impotence. There was certainly a lack of sensitivity in the West, which frustrated Russia. However, what Russian leaders fail to realize is that a repetition of these litanies engenders no sympathy, let alone soul-searching in the West. Putin’s demarche in Munich vented this frustration. He also rejected the two previous models of Russian-Western relations, as he saw them: Gorbachev’s partnership through concessions and Yeltsin’s partnership through submission. Instead, Putin sought to lay down his own terms of engagement—partnership through strength, built on respect and equality. It remains to be seen whether the new toughness will breed understanding and engagement or simply more toughness.

Looking for the Positive side of Russia’s Foreign Policy

Unlike the perceived slights and strong responses,the positive elements of Russia’s foreign policy agenda are understated. Moscow bungled a real chance to take the lead on energy issues during its G8 presidency: its heavy-handed handling of the gas price dispute with Ukraine, and then Belarus, effectively framed its first year in the world’s top chair. By the time Russia’s presidency had ended, its credibility had markedly ebbed. Russia ratified the Kyoto protocol as part of a deal to get the EU’s approval of Russia’s WTO bid, but its position on global warming is unclear. Russia joined its G8 partners in writing off poor countries’ debts, in Moscow’s case, mostly for past arms sales to the regimes that are no more. On fighting poverty itself, Russia briefly tried to act as an advocate of Central Asian states, but the interest died down when this attempt fell flat.

The problem is that, just as inside Russia, a high and prestigious position is associated with privilege and status, rather than responsibility. The Kremlin appears to see the G8 as the equivalent of a global Politburo, and the UN Security Council as a central committee. Craving for status is natural among nations, but one has to match ambitions to capabilities. Great power only makes sense in the twenty-first century as long as it is also a great country, attractive to its own people. Energy superpower is a myth, and a dangerous one. Being the only major country that can openly defy the United States is a distinction laced with liabilities. Moscow, as an informal spokesman for the major emerging economies (Brazil,Russia, India, China, or BRIC), has fewsupporters in Beijing, Brasilia, or Delhi. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization may “unite” more than one-third of the world’s population, but Russia’s share in the SCO’s “grand total” is a meager 5 percent.

Despite vast potential, Russia has not been able to make good use of its soft power. The fact that Russia has become a workplace for millions of people from across the former Soviet neighborhood is no achievement for Russian foreign policy. When Moscow felt the need to act to project or protect its interests in the new states, whether Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, or Ukraine, it squandered part of its moral authority with the new states. An early recourse to sanctions is hardly a soft power instrument. Russia has singularly failed to make others want what it wants, or see things as it does. The 2006 hate campaign against Georgian immigrants in Russia struck a particularly ugly note. The 2007 campaign against Estonia found Moscow isolated. Even when Russia has a point, as in the abolition of energy subsidies, fighting illegal migration, checking the quality of imported goods, or honoring the memory of WWII soldiers, its actions manage to further destroy the image it wants to build. This points to a serious and dangerous bug in the Russian foreign policy software.

Russia’s foreign policy pragmatism is refreshing, but it cannot exist without a foundation of values. Otherwise, pragmatism would only stand for money, and the more money is offered, the more pragmatic the stand. For what does Russia stand? Presumably these are the same things that are written in its Constitution— the rule of law, human rights, and democracy. A senior Kremlin official recently also mentioned Franklin Roosevelt’s four freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, freedom from fear. Why then does Russia, more often than not, side with the certifiably less representative regimes? Is it geopolitics, material interests, aversion toward Western, especially U.S., policies, or all of the above? Or is Russia building a different kind of democracy, which is closer to China’s system than Europe’s? This is no idle question.

Russia’s Foreign Policy Crossroads

That today’s Russia should be in search of foreign policy bearings is normal. It has just won a survival battle, gotten off its crutches, and earned the luxury, but also the necessity, to think ahead. However, even Kremlin-friendly commentators point to the lack of priorities in its foreign policy. Russia is on its own, alone, and adrift. Where will this drift end up? With Gorbachev’s diplomatic legacy derided and discarded, and Prince Gorchakov as a new icon from the Great Game era, is Andrei Gromyko making a comeback? Before it is too late, the Kremlin needs to restore the balance between the yeses and nos of diplomacy, reevaluate its cooperation to coercion ratio, and find answers to a range of critical strategic choices it has yet to confront.

What are Russia’s aims in its immediate neighborhood? Is it merely seeking influence by means of its soft power, or does it want to dominate the region? This is a choice between post- and neo-imperialism.

What about Russia’s European vocation, so loudly proclaimed at the beginning of the decade? Is Moscow serious about building common spaces with the EU, which would effectively make Russia and Europe two semi-detached houses? Or is the EU just another partner among so many others: Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), the African Union? This is a choice between anchoring or drifting.

Are oil and gas export commodities or energy weapons? Will Russian leaders seek a symbiotic supplier-consumer relationship with the rest of the G8 or will they see this relationship as essentially acrimonious, and try to bolster their position by building coalitions of suppliers to provoke intense competition among the consumers for scarce supplies?

Is NATO a partner or a problem? Does the NATO-Russia Council primarily serve the purpose of gaining first-hand information on the alliance, or that of building common security and organizing strategic interaction? Should Russia look forward to NATO’s imminent failure in Afghanistan, and get ready to cut deals with the Taliban when the Islamists retake Kabul? Is the intention to fight terrorism or to play a new Great Game in Central Asia? Meanwhile, is it wise to threaten the European NATO countries with a new version of SS-20 INF missiles? Does this recent threat mean brinkmanship, immaturity, or “longing for a simpler world”? Apart from the INF Treaty, is it really good for Russia to also quit the CFE? In short, does Russia consider the West a potential military adversary in the twenty-first century?

Perhaps China is the alternative as a true strategic partner, even eventually an ally? There is no doubt that friendship with China is a major asset not to be given away. It is also true that China’s national might has grown several times in the past twenty years, even as the Soviet Union disintegrated and Russia went through a painful transition. Do Moscow’s Realpolitiker envisage a strategy of balancing China’s strength vis-à-vis Russia, or, on the contrary, are Western democracies to be balanced by means of an unequal alliance with China? What is the realistic strategy for developing the Russian Far East and Siberia, so that they remain Russian fifty years from now? Russia has officially proclaimed 2007 as the Year of China: this should help concentrate the mind.

Can reaching out to India, another emerging Asian giant, give Moscow a major and totally unproblematic ally? In that case, how does Russia plan to engage with the principal movers and shakers of today’s India, its entrepreneurial class? Or are Russian leaders prepared to live with the fiction of a strategic partnership that is paper-thin, even if that paper has all the appropriate signatures?

Finally, Russia should consider the United States. Ironically, vehement Russian criticism of U.S. policies comes at a time when key Bush administration policies are being quietly revised. Is U.S.-driven democracy promotion, now clearly petering out, truly a bigger threat to world peace than WMD proliferation and terrorism? Are enemies, instigated and led by Washington, really closing in on Russia, ready to link up with enemies within? Are these same ill-wishers seeking to lock Russia in its petro-state niche, even as they publicly and hypocritically voice concern that this is where Russia is moving? Is the Russian leadership seeking something like a new Cold War with the United States, determined to avoid one, or simply content to drift?

Moscow on the Potomac

The United States may be down as a result of its policy failures and difficulties in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East, but not nearly as much as some in Russia wish it to be. Global multipolarity will take some time in coming, and even when it arrives, the United States is likely to remain primus inter pares. Unfortunately, much of Russian thinking and rhetoric about the United States today is centered on U.S. foreign policy. This obscures the central fact that a strong relationship with the United States is indispensable to Russia’s reaching its prime national objectives of modernization, economic integration, and security. Has Moscow given serious thought to how to get this relationship to work for Russia’s benefit? Without a dramatic change of attitudes in the United States, Gazprom’s dreams of entering the U.S. energy market will have no chance, no matter how much it spends on public relations firms.

The Kremlin needs to revert to its early 2000 maxim: don’t mess with the United States. The relationship is too important for pranks and posturing. Moscow needs to drastically improve its communication with Washington. Putin’s speech in Munich testifies to the lack of dialogue. To establish it, Moscow will have to rely on people who are serious, not just street-smart. It will have to reach out to Congress, not just the administration. It will need to learn to engage with Americans, not just sit and watch them as if from some bunker. The embassy in Washington should not be a mere listening post, but a hub for contacts and public relations in the widest sense. In order to be successful at engagement, Russia will need to do unto the United States what it wants the United States to do unto Russia.

Rather than complaining about the rules of the game and ever-biased umpires, Russia will achieve more if it learns to adapt and succeed by the rules that exist, and thus earn the right and the capacity to participate in making future rules. At the individual level, Russians seem to know it. They are remarkably adaptable and highly successful abroad, and nowhere more so than in the United States. It is time the regime started to learn from its citizens.

As to U.S. foreign policy, it will take care of itself. The country has a great capacity for selfcorrection. The United States is not the world’s main security problem. In a world “free” from the United States, Osama bin Laden would still be roaming somewhere, fighting “Jews and crusaders.” Someone would still have to do something about nukes in bad hands, which would be threatening other countries,either for ransom or just out of spite for past wrongs. Afghanistan would loom larger on the Russian General Staff ’s radar. Other major nations would be free to rise faster, creating perhaps more disruption: historically, multipolar world systems are known for periodic tests of strength.

Yet Russia’s foreign policy should not be held to a higher standard than that of other countries. Western approaches toward Moscow are certainly not beyond reproach. There is a danger that, in 2007–2008, due to the overlapping election cycles in both the United States and Russia, the relationship may suffer still more. The current atmosphere is toxic. However, there is a chance coupled with a challenge. Russia and the United States are negotiating an agreement on civilian nuclear cooperation which, if concluded, could mean better business opportunities for both countries and enhanced security for the world. Also, since the United States agreed in November 2006 to let Russia join the WTO, the issue of granting Russia permanent normal trading relationship (PNTR) status must be addressed on Capitol Hill. This coming debate will probably not be confined to the merits of Russia’s trade policies, but cover the entire ground of Russian domestic and international behavior.

Here are a few thoughts ahead of this discussion. Russia is not in decline. It is experiencing the growing pains of reinventing itself. Today’s Russia is not the Soviet Union II: consider the effect of private property, capital, open borders, and the utter absence of an ideology. It is not the eternal evil empire. Its current story is capitalism rather than democracy, but capitalism eventually leads to democracy via the institution of the rule of law and the rise of the middle class.

In dealing with Russia, interests are key. There is much common ground on such issues as Iran, North Korea, WMD and missile proliferation, and the global nuclear balance: nuclear multipolarity has arrived. The need to fight terrorism will stay after Bush and Putin go. Stability in Afghanistan is a common concern. On energy, for all their emphasis on energy sovereignty—which echoes energy independence calls in the United States and energy diversification in Europe—Russians realize that they need Western technology, and, above all, Western markets. Agreeing on the exact parameters of interdependence will not be easy, but the dialogue needs to restart.

Where the interests are opposed, damage control is in order. The new states of Eurasia will ultimately choose their own political orientation. However, an outbreak of hostilities in the zones of conflict in Georgia or serious instability in Ukraine must be prevented.

Using the Right Roadmap

Getting the Russia policy right requires a change in focus. Washington would achieve much more if it thought first about what is good for the United States nternationally, rather than about what is good for Russia internally. Eventually, Russia will take care of itself, but Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, and the broader issue of stability and security in the Middle East demand cooperation with Moscow.

For its part, the Russian leadership needs to make several strategic choices that would clarify Russia’s foreign policy goals. Focusing on complaints wins no respect for a big country. Focusing on threats leaves one friendless. Russia needs to establish a positive international agenda of its own, one that is more than a set of slogans, and one it means to implement. In a dynamic world, Moscow can ill afford to be adrift. It’s time to check one’s bearings".

© 2007 Carnegie Endowment for InternationalPeace. All rights reserved.