Thursday, April 24, 2008


"Israel has reportedly offered to withdraw from the Golan Heights, the territory conquered by its forces in the 1967 war, in return for full peace with Syria.

The offer was disclosed yesterday by Buthaina -Shaaban, a Syrian cabinet minister, who said the deal was floated by Ehud Olmert, Israel's prime minister, in talks with the Turkish -government. She told al-Jazeera, the Arabic news channel: "Olmert is ready for peace with Syria on the grounds of international conditions, on the grounds of the return of the Golan Heights in full to Syria."

Crucially, the Syrian claims were not denied by the Israeli government. Mr Olmert's spokesman dec-lined to comment directly but said: "The Israeli government's position was always clear and has been reiterated on many occasions. Israel seeks peace with Syria. Israel is interested in peace with Syria. The Syrians understand what Israeli expectations are, and Israel understands what the Syrian expectations are."

Israel has long demanded that Syria cut its ties with two of the Jewish state's most committed and potent enemies: Hizbollah, the -Lebanese Shia group, and Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group. The country's armed forces fought a war against Hizbollah as recently as 2006 and it continues to trade almost daily attacks with Hamas, which took control of the Gaza Strip last year.

Israel believes that Damascus not only provides political cover for the two groups - Hamas's leader is based in the Syrian capital - but also supplies arms and gives training to the fighters of Hamas and Hizbollah.

But, with the likelihood of a peace agreement with the Palestinians this year receding, Mr Olmert might find it useful to test the waters of a Syrian deal.

There have been reports in recent weeks of secret talks, although Syria has always said negotiations must be public. Damascus insists that Israel should agree to a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights as a condition for negotiations.

US-brokered talks between the sides on the return of the Heights broke down in 2000. The US has not encouraged a renewal of talks, seeking instead to isolate Syria".

"Israel hints at Golan deal for Syrian Peace", The Financial Times, 24 April 2008, in

The report in today's FT, could also been seen in much of the quality international press, including AFP, Haaretz, the New York Times, Bloomberg, the BBC, as well as the Beirut Daily Star. What exactly does it mean? Especially since such a short time earlier, we were all treated to stories about the possibility of an outbreak of a new war between Syria and Israel. Well first of all, we can now, all of us, throw safely into the rubbish bin, precisely those stories (I of course threw them into the rubbish bin, quite awhile ago...). Second, the reports are I would venture 'real', in the sense that Israeli PM Olmert is in fact considering the possibility of seriously pursuing peace negotiations with Damascus. Of course, this option has been mulled over by various, admittedly marginal elements in the Israeli establishment, since the debacle of the Lebanon War of the summer of 2006. Until now, the quite evident, de facto 'verbotem', on any such talks by the Bush Regime, made any realistic possibility of such talks commencing, much less going somewhere a nullity. Now however, either because of the difficulties that Tel Aviv is experiencing on other fronts, such as the Gaza Strip, as well as the deadlock over negotiations with PA President Abbas, or, because time is running out for the American Administration, Olmert, et. al., appear to be more inclined to allow for public discussion of the idea of a peace transaction with Syria. Something which was, even six months ago, quite impossible due to Washington's obtuseness. However, while this public 'pour parler' is of course an improvement on the prior situation, will it in fact result in anything of a concrete nature occurring in the near future? Unfortunately, that is highly unlikely. It is quite impossible that Olmert will be willing to completely break ranks with the Americans and open up discussion with the Assad Regime seul. And, as the American academic and Syrian expert, Joshua Landis, notes in quoting an unnamed expert, any peace deal between the two parties would require American support, both diplomatic, and, more importantly from the Israeli perspective financial. Perhaps up to twenty billion dollars (see: Of course, some American ideologues of the 'neo-conservative' variety will argue against any such agreement, for two reasons: one) the terms that Damascus is offering are illusory; two) that the Assad Regime is 'illegitimate', and, should not be offered support, even indirectly by the Israelis or the Americans. The logic of either objection to my mind is rather nonsensical: a) we will never know how illusory is Damascus's terms are, except if we engage the same in real pour parlers, and, then find out! b) the regime of Assad Fils, is no more and certainly no less, 'legitimate', 'Democratic',than say the neighboring regimes in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Libya, most of the Gulf States, much less Iraq...Except of course that women can drive and vote in Syria, and Christians can freely and safely go to church and wear crosses, which is not something that can be said about say, Saudi Arabia....This is not of course to make Assad Fils, into a icon of freedom and Democracy. It is evidently the case that he is neither of these things. However, the point is quite simple and to my mind self-evident (not unfortunately so in official Washington): diplomatically speaking there is not much in the way of low hanging fruit in the Near East at the moment. Syria is the only possible exception to this. To not at the very least, attempt to in effect 'turn' Syria, from its alliances with Persia, Hezbollah and Hamas, in return for the Golan Heights, is the very mid-summer of madness. Unfortunately it would appear to be the case that is what will in fact happen once again. Due mostly to American closemindedness and stupidity.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


"Jimmy Carter, the former US president attempting to broker an understanding between Israel and Hamas, said on Monday the Islamist Palestinian group stood ready to accept the Jewish state as a “neighbour” and would back a peace deal under certain conditions.

Mr Carter said: “I met with Hamas leaders from the West Bank, Gaza and Damascus. They said that they would accept a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders if approved by Palestinians – a departure from long-standing Hamas doctrine that refused to recognise two states.”

In a statement released shortly after his speech in Jerusalem, Hamas neither confirmed nor denied his claims. However, it did adopt a broadly conciliatory tone, expressing support for a referendum on a peace agreement and promising “flexibility” and the willingness to take “the necessary steps”.

Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and has claimed responsibility for a string of recent attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians, did not say what those steps were.

Khaled Meshal, the Hamas leader, said in Damascus that it would accept the establishment of a Palestinian state on land occupied by Israel in the 1967 war but would not recognise the Jewish state. He raised the prospect of a “a truce of 10 years as a proof of recognition” should Israel withdraw to the 1967 borders.

Mr Carter has been criticised by Israeli and US politicians for meeting senior Hamas officials, including Mr Meshal, who lives in exile in Damascus. While the former president has stressed he is not engaged in an official diplomatic effort, he has urged Israel and the US to end their boycott of Hamas.

“He [Mr Carter] made this trip on his own initiative,” said Tom Casey, a US State Department spokesman. “We counselled him against engaging with Hamas, in keeping with long-standing US policy. They still refuse to acknowledge or recognise any of the basic Quartet principles . . . The bottom line is Hamas still believes in the destruction of the state of Israel.”

Mr Carter said he knew the meetings would be “viewed negatively in some quarters”, but insisted it was a mistake to isolate Hamas and Syria. “We believe the problem is not that we met them but that the US and Israeli governments will not meet. This unwillingness to talk makes peace harder to achieve,” he said.

The winner of the Nobel peace prize then cited a passage agreed with Hamas: “If [Palestinian Authority] President [Mahmoud] Abbas succeeds in negotiating a final status agreement with Israel, Hamas will accept the decision made by the Palestinian people and their will through a referendum . . . even if Hamas is opposed to the agreement'".

"Hamas would accept Israel, says Carter", 21 April 2008, in

"The extreme reactions prompted by former US President Jimmy Carter's attempt to engage Hamas can be difficult to reconcile with objective reality, especially if one wants to avoid extending parallels to their seemingly obvious but necessarily ersatz conclusions. What players on both sides of the divide have in common, though, is a mindset that, to say the least, does not lend itself to rational discussion.

One on side there are voices like that of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who, unable to credibly pretend that Hamas does not exist, rejects any form of negotiations with the group until it renounces most of the bargaining chips it holds. The one it has not been asked to forego, its mandate as the freely and fairly elected majority party in the Palestinian legislature, was devalued by US sanctions the moment it was acquired and then rendered null and void by infighting with the US-backed Fatah faction that led to Prime Minister Ismail Haniyya's being deposed by President Mahmoud Abbas. As for the argument that Hamas is a "terrorist" organization, it is important to recall, too, that the original icon of Palestinian resistance to occupation, Yasser Arafat, was long dismissed in identical terms....

None of this is to equate the State Department with Al-Qaeda or either with other entities pursuing separate agendas that are just as disruptive. All of it, however, illustrates how vulnerable this part of the world is to black-and-white positions that allow no room for practical considerations. Political Islam, for instance, is not going away, so those uncomfortable with the phenomenon have a vested interest in helping relatively pragmatic groups like Hamas - and Lebanon's own Hizbullah, for that matter - to feel more at home in the democratic tent. This will not be accomplished by conspiring to disqualify their very pertinent - and significantly representative - policy positions on capricious and/or specious grounds that only discredit the very concept of what is trying to sell itself as participatory democracy".

"Some Mindsets are more conducive to useful discussions than others", Daily Star,
22 April 2008, in

It would be kinderspielen, to merely get up on a soapbox and criticize former American President Carter, for being some type of 'moral idiot'. Although to be honest, that is what he does come across on my occasions. And, most especially in the current case of the conflict between Israel and Hamas. The fact is that left to its own devices, Hamas would be quite content to rain bombs and kill innocents on the Israeli side of the border in pursuit of its 'ultimate' goal of regaining all of 'historical' Palestine. And, just as obvious is the fact that Hamas is not in the least position to do any such thing. What it is capable of doing is: a) launching rockets on those portions of Israel which lie adjacent to the Gaza Strip, doing damage to Israeli property and very very occasionally killing some poor innocent; b)killing and or capturing, when possible, Israeli troops guarding the border, or attempting some mission inside Gaza proper. Perhaps up to ten Israeli troops have been killed in this fashion in the past six months, and, of course one Israeli soldier remains a prisoner of Hamas since June of 2006; c) and, by virtue of 'a' and 'b' above, trying to make it all but impossible for Palestinian President Abbas, to negotiate some type of modus vivendi agreement with Israel, which might, just might, against all of the many odds (much of which are Israeli or American in nature), result in a serious push for a peace agreement. Both in terms of Palestinian opinion in Gaza and the West Bank, as well as the wider Near Eastern and Arab popular opinion.

With all of the above being said and understood, it also has to be equally realised that the pre-existing American and Israel policy to: i) ignore Hamas as it did not exist; ii) attempt to actively undermine and in effect overthrow Hamas by a policy of economic sanctions and strangulation, id est., allowing almost no food supplies and other trade from other the Israeli or Egyptian sides of the border so that the population of the Gaza Strip will naturally blame Hamas and consequently, thus effect its overthrow from within. This was and is (nominally) still is American policy even prior to the coup d'etat that brought Hamas to power in the Gaza Strip. The fact that the chosen weapons for the success of this policy: economic sanctions, and, before that, Fatah loyalists in the Gaza Strip, did not work or co-operate has not made much of an impact on official Washington's view of things. In the case of Israel, there appears to be a two opposing states of mind as to how to deal with Hamas: one) overthrow it via economic sanctions, and, if that fails, to use overwhelming military force to retaliate for Hamas pinprick attacks; two) negotiate some type of modus vivendi with it, at least to prevent matters from getting out of hand. Especially, since no Israeli leader of any strip, regards going back into the Gaza Strip as an occupation force as anything other than a pure nightmare. However much it might at first resolve the matter of the rockets being launched on Israeli towns and villages bordering Hamas.

Into this impass, comes Mr. Carter. He goes to the area and secures a statement from the Hamas leadership in exile, that they are flexible and willing to negotiate with the Jewish State, as well as to abide by any Palestinian referendum on a final status peace deal. The issue is not whether Hamas is likely or agreeable characters. They are all disgusting characters, and, in a more sensible world, would merit like all Islamic fanatics, many many years as galley slaves under the lash. However we do not inhabit an 'sensible world'. Consequently, we must endeavor to negotiate plausible agreements with such individuals. Who at least nominally are no more blood thirsty than say the IRA. An organization that the American government was quite willing to treat with kid gloves for over twenty-five years when it suited it to do so. Again, in an ideal world, Israel would simply march into Gaza, destroy its existing infastructure and quickly withdraw. However as the Israeli government knows quite well, and, hence the reason for its relative inaction over the last two years, the situation in Gaza does not allow for it to perform such a quick and clean operation.
Would that it could. However it cannot. Consequently, Mr. Carter, that 'moral idiot', is correct in stating that:

"'We believe the problem is not that we met them but that the US and Israeli governments will not meet. This unwillingness to talk makes peace harder to achieve'".

Just so. And, the sooner that both Tel Aviv and Washington as well as the EU get this point down the better for all concerned. Because, amici, like it or not, Hamas is not going to be disappearing anytime soon.

Monday, April 21, 2008


"We see Beijing struggling to maintain control over China. Its vast security apparatus and interlocking economic system are intended to achieve that. We see Beijing building coastal defenses in the Pacific, including missiles that can reach deep into the Pacific, in the long run trying to force the U.S. Navy on the defensive. And we see Beijing working to retain control over two key regions: Xinjiang and Tibet....

Now look at Tibet on the population density and terrain maps. On the terrain map one sees the high mountain passes of the Himalayas. Running from the Hindu Kush on the border with Pakistan to the Myanmar border, small groups can traverse this terrain, but no major army is going to thrust across this border in either direction. Supplying a major force through these mountains is impossible. From a military point of view, it is a solid wall.

Note that running along the frontier directly south of this border is one of the largest population concentrations in the world. If China were to withdraw from Tibet, and there were no military hindrance to population movement, Beijing fears this population could migrate into Tibet. If there were such a migration, Tibet could turn into an extension of India and, over time, become a potential beachhead for Indian power. If that were to happen, India’s strategic frontier would directly abut Sichuan and Yunnan — the Chinese heartland.

The Chinese have a fundamental national interest in retaining Tibet, because Tibet is the Chinese anchor in the Himalayas. If that were open, or if Xinjiang became independent, the vast buffers between China and the rest of Eurasia would break down. The Chinese can’t predict the evolution of Indian, Islamic or Russian power in such a circumstance, and they certainly don’t intend to find out. They will hold both of these provinces, particularly Tibet.

The Chinese note that the Dalai Lama has been in India ever since China invaded Tibet. The Chinese regard him as an Indian puppet. They see the latest unrest in Tibet as instigated by the Indian government, which uses the Dalai Lama to try to destabilize the Chinese hold on Tibet and open the door to Indian expansion. To put it differently, their view is that the Indians could shut the Dalai Lama down if they wanted to, and that they don’t signals Indian complicity.

It should be added that the Chinese see the American hand behind this as well. Apart from public statements of support, the Americans and Indians have formed a strategic partnership since 2001. The Chinese view the United States — which is primarily focused on the Islamic world — as encouraging India and the Dalai Lama to probe the Chinese, partly to embarrass them over the Olympics and partly to increase the stress on the central government. The central government is stretched in maintaining Chinese security as the Olympics approach. The Chinese are distracted. Beijing also notes the similarities between what is happening in Tibet and the “color” revolutions the United States supported and helped stimulate in the former Soviet Union.

It is critical to understand that whatever the issues might be to the West, the Chinese see Tibet as a matter of fundamental national security, and they view pro-Tibetan agitation in the West as an attempt to strike at the heart of Chinese national security. The Chinese are therefore trapped. They are staging the Olympics in order to demonstrate Chinese cohesion and progress. But they must hold on to Tibet for national security reasons, and therefore their public relations strategy is collapsing. Neither India nor the United States is particularly upset that the Europeans are thinking about canceling attendance at various ceremonies".

"Chinese Geopolitics and the Significance of Tibet", by Dr. George Friedman, 15 April 2008, in

The riots and violence in Tibet over the past two months, have again reminded the world of the ongoing PRC grande projet of turning the 'province' and the neighboring 'province' of Xianjiang into bastions of Han Chinese hegemony. A projet which has roots going way back into the Manchu Dynasty in the early 18th century. With the collapse of the Manchu Dynasty at the beginning of the 20th century (1911), both of these enormous territories were lost to the power holders in Peking. In a classical example of the Rankean idea of 'Der Primat der Aussenpolitk', the fact is that all Han Chinese authorities since, whether neo-Monarchist (Yuan Shikai), Republican (Chiang Kai-shek) or Communist (Mao to the present leadership), were and are adamantly determined to either regain or keep their hold on Tibet, come what may. As Dr. Friedman correctly notes, regardless of any protests by the West, or conversely any public relations embarrassments to the PRC's 'coming out' party, at this summer's Olympics, Peking's main goal is to retain its grip on both provinces.

Given the above circumstances what is the best line for the West, and in particular the USA to take? I submit that the only intelligent line is one of 'ethical realism' (all due acknowledgement to Anatol Lieven of course for coining this phrase). Of course in the absence of the self-destruction of Communist rule, both territories will remain part of the PRC. Of that there is no question. However, just as the West, kept ties to the dissident movements in the 'People's Democracy's' of Central and Eastern Europe, so too must the West make sure to retain contact with, and, even if need be sub rosa support for those groups currently in and outside of Tibet who are struggling, albeit peacefully against Han Chinese oppression. The 'pay-off', for such support may be years, indeed many, many years in the offing. Perhaps the 'pay-off' will never come at all. I for my own part, will agree that the PRC is very much an economic dynamo, and, on the surface at any rate highly unlikely to collapse anytime or significantly reform itself anytime soon. However notwithstanding this fact, it is very much the case that the PRC, is full of contradictions, both economic and political. And, just as in the case of Sovietskaya Vlast, such contradictions can indeed bring about the downfall of the entire regime (or should we say, allowed the existing elites to prepare the way for the same and profit from doing so), so similarly in the case of the PRC, it is not impossible to imagine that the regime in Peking, will under the force of circumstances, and pressures brought about my its own programme of 'modernization from above', will eventually encompass its own ruin. Which one can only say again and again: pire ca va, mieux c'est.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


"It is improbable that a global conventional challenge to U.S. and Western security will reemerge from the Eurasian heartland for many years to come. Even in the highly unlikely event that some future leadership in the former Soviet Union adopted strategic aims of recovering the lost empire or otherwise threatened global interests, the loss of Warsaw Pact allies and the subsequent and continuing dissolution of military capability would make any hope of success require several years or more of strategic and doctrinal re-orientation and force regeneration and redeployment, which in turn could only happen after a lengthy political realignment and re-orientation to authoritarian and aggressive political and economic control. Furthermore, any such political upheaval in or among the states of the former U.S.S.R. would be much more likely to issue in internal or localized hostilities, rather than a concerted strategic effort to marshal capabilities for external expansionism -- the ability to project power beyond their borders.
There are other potential nations or coalitions that could, in the further future, develop strategic aims and a defense posture of region-wide or global domination. Our strategy must now refocus on precluding the emergence of any potential future global competitor. But because we no longer face either a global threat or a hostile, non-democratic power dominating a region critical to our interests, we have the opportunity to meet threats at lower levels and lower costs -- as long as we are prepared to reconstitute additional forces should the need to counter a global threat re-emerge. . . .

With the demise of a global military threat to U.S. interests, regional military threats, including possible conflicts arising in and from the territory of the former Soviet Union, will be of primary concern to the U.S. in the future. These threats are likely to arise in regions critical to the security of the U.S. and its allies, including Europe, East Asia, the Middle East and Southwest Asia, and the territory of the former Soviet Union. We also have important interests at stake in Latin America, Oceania, and Sub-Saharan Africa. In both cases, the U. S. will be concerned with preventing the domination of key regions by a hostile power. . . .

The former Soviet state achieved global reach and power by consolidating control over the resources in the territory of the former U.S.S.R. The best means of assuring that no hostile power is able to consolidate control over the resources within the former Soviet Union is to support its successor states (especially Russia and Ukraine) in their efforts to become peaceful democracies with market-based economies. A democratic partnership with Russia and the other republics would be the best possible outcome for the United States. At the same time, we must also hedge against the possibility that democracy will fail, with the potential that an authoritarian regime bent on regenerating aggressive military power could emerge in Russia, or that similar regimes in other successor republics could lead to spreading conflict within the former U.S.S.R. or Eastern Europe.

For the immediate future, key U.S. concerns will be the ability of Russia and the other republics to demilitarize their societies, convert their military industries to civilian production, eliminate or, in the case of Russia, radically reduce their nuclear weapons inventory, maintain firm command and control over nuclear weapons, and prevent leakage of advanced military technology and expertise to other countries.
NATO continues to provide the indispensable foundation for a stable security environment in Europe. Therefore, it is of fundamental importance to preserve NATO as the primary instrument of Western defense and security, as well as the channel for U.S. influence and participation in European security affairs. While the United States supports the goal of European integration, we must seek to prevent the emergence of European-only security arrangements which would undermine NATO, particularly the alliance's integrated command structure.

However, the U.S. must keep in mind the long history of conflict between the states of Eastern Europe, as well as the potential for conflict between the states of Eastern Europe and those of the former Soviet Union. . . ."

Department of Defence document titled: "F[iscal] Y[ear] 94-99 Defence Planning Guidance", dated 18 February 1992 in

Much ink has been spilled by those who claim that the cabal of neo-conservatives who came to power back in 2001, on Bush the Younger's coatails, were adherents to a radically new school of American diplomacy and policy. We are told that Wolfowitz, Feith, Libby, et. al., were a group whose vision of American diplomacy was out of keeping with the historic traditions of American diplomacy of the 20th century. As per Messieurs Holbrooke, Talbott and Nye, the neo-conservative emphasis on unilateralism and American strategic supremacy emerged like Athena, ex nihilo out of Zeus's head. The Clinton Administration, we are told did not have any such ambitions nor did it indulge in any such behavior. Is this in fact true? And, if it is not, what can we imagine will be the elements of continuity, rather than discontinuity for the future of American diplomacy as the Bush regime, rides off into the Texas sunset (good riddance to bad rubbish!)?

First, as the above quotes from then Secretary of Defence, Cheney's own officials show, there was a measured sense of triumph as the twin victories in the Cold War and the First Persian Gulf war began to sink in. In essence, as the some of the memorandums, recently declassified by the National Security Archive make quite clear, American hegemony in the military and the diplomatic fields as far as the eye can see, was accurately predicted. The disintegration of the former Sovietskaya Vlast, meant that there was no, other Great Power worthy of the name, who was in the position to threaten the physical survival of the United States. Nor that of any of its major allies in Western Europe and Japan. The threat however illusory that Western Europe would be overrun by Soviet tank armies, was over, finis.

Second, the 'threat perception', had by the time that this memorandum was written, changed from threats to American allies in Western Europe, to threats by regional powers, in the Third World. With the recent attempt by Iraq's Saddam Hussein to achieve a mini-hegemony in the Persian Gulf being a sort of template for what might be in the offing. With perhaps the key sentence in the entire memorandum, and, one which received a great deal of negative publicity when it was leaked to the New York Times a short time after this memorandum was sent round for comments throughout the DOD bureaucracy being:

"Our strategy must now refocus on precluding the emergence of any potential global competitor".

Id est, it was seen and it became, de facto American policy in the Clinton years, and, is now de jure policy in the Bush the Younger years, for the USA to actively prevent its global hegemony from being challenged by any power, or coalition of powers. Once, one takes away the smog of political invective, it becomes quite clear that per se, there is nothing extraordinary about the above sentence. Any hegemon, if it had both the means and the will, would behave in absolutely the same fashion. Does anyone doubt for a second, that Sovietskaya Vlast, if it had won the Cold War, would not have smothered in blood, any challengers to its recently won hegemony? The question answers itself...

What this means, for American policy going forward is that notwithstanding the noises being made by partisans of all three American Presidential candidates: the senior Senator from Arizona, the junior Senators from Illinois and New York, whichever one climbs the greasy pole to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, will in fact, behave in exactly the same fashion, as foreseen by Cheney et. al., back in 1992. The only difference, yes, the only difference, but a key one, is that one hopes (perhaps or should one say most likely hope of a forlorn variety) that under the new dispensation, American hegemony, will be: a) exercised infinitely more intelligently; b) exercised in a less heavy-handed and overly militarized fashion. In short American diplomacy will return to the 'traditions', if one may characterize it as such, of Bush the Elder, and his Secretary of State, James A. Baker III. Let us be clear: these gentlemen, were not saints. Nor were for that matter, such paragons of mid-20th century American diplomacy, such as Dean Acheson, George Marshall, Robert Lovett, and George Kennna. All of these men, were cold eyed, practitioners of grossmachtpolitik. They all of course were for the most part, when it suited them, and, the USA, adherents of multi-lateralism, not because per se, they had some ideological belief in the same, but, by virtue of the fact, that the USA was not then in the position to exercise a unilateral hegemony, which did become practical, circa 1991. What these august gentleman, would have done if they have had the opportunity to so exercise such power, we can make a stab at, but, will never know for certain. Although, historians such as the American academic Melvin Leffler, would argue and did argue back 1991 that this first generation of American policymakers in the era of the Cold War, in fact sought what Leffler called: 'a preponderance of power'. In short hegemony of a sort, as far back as 1950. So to expect anything less, from the current and future cadres of American policymakers is a completely illusory. And, however much one may have hoped `a la former French President Charles De Gaulle, for the European Union, to have become a competitor to the United States, the evolution of that body and of the states that form it, make that a forlorn hope indeed. And, as for the PRC and India, well the less said the better. Both in terms of the quality of any such rise to power, and, of the likelihood. So amici, even if you do not like American hegemony, and, wish for its demise, please forget it and get used to it. Calls or predictions of its demise are greatly exaggerated indeed. At least for the next twenty years if not longer.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008


"No one of these things, by itself, is of very great interest. And taken together they do not provide the means for a clear forecast. Nevertheless, a series of rather ordinary events, taken together, can constitute something significant. Tensions in the Middle East are moving well beyond the normal point, and given everything that is happening, events are moving to a point where someone is likely to take military action. Whether Hezbollah will carry out a retaliatory strike or Israel a pre-emptive strike in Lebanon, or whether the Israelis’ real target is Iran, tensions systematically have been ratcheted up to the point where we, in our simple way, are beginning to wonder whether something has to give.

All together, these events are fairly extraordinary. Ignoring all rhetoric — and the Israelis have gone out of their way to say that they are not looking for a fight — it would seem that each side, but particularly the Americans and Israelis, have gone out of their way to signal that they are expecting conflict. The Syrians have also signaled that they expect conflict, and Hezbollah always claims there is about to be conflict.

What is missing is this: who will fight whom, and why, and why now. The simple explanation is that Israel wants a second round with Hezbollah. But while that might be true, it doesn’t explain everything else that has happened. Most important, it doesn’t explain the simultaneous revelations about the bombing of Syria. It also doesn’t explain the U.S. naval deployment. Is the United States about to get involved in a war with Hezbollah, a war that the Israelis should handle themselves? Are the Israelis going to topple Syrian President Bashar al Assad — and then wind up with a Sunni government, or worse, an Israeli occupation of Syria? None of that makes a lot of sense".

George Friedman, "A Mystery in the Middle East", 9 April, in

"Two important headlines appeared in the official Syrian press last Thursday. A day after the big scare that engulfed the Israeli media, which reported on the possibility of war with Syria, the calling up of armored divisions and the movement of large military units that could not be explained, Bashar Assad had different worries: He issued an important decree on the supervision of construction irregularities in Syria.

Another report dealt with the great success of the Arab League summit in Damascus. Editorials in Syria discussed peace between Israel and the Palestinians, U.S. policy in the Middle East, and the need for an Arab embargo on Israel, which is not willing to adopt the Arab peace initiative. War between Syria and Israel? An Israeli attack on Syria? Readiness for a conflagration this summer? Not a word.

In Israel, on the other hand, there was fear and trepidation. Once more the magic word is whispered: miscalculation. In other words, if Assad doesn't comprehend Israel's moves, or Israel fails to understand Assad's moves, or Hezbollah does not understand Israel's intent, suddenly a shot is fired, a shell, a counteraction, and suddenly, with no intention, there is a regional war. So the generals and political advisers are rushing to calm things down, rushed messages are issued to and from Damascus: Everything to make it clear that there is no - definitely no - room for worries. Maybe it will be a different war, but not one of miscalculation. Not this time.

The question isn't whether Syria is sufficiently strong to embark on a war with Israel, or whether Israel is prepared to respond, because Syria had gone to wars with Israel when it seemed it was not ready for them. And Israel, too, went to war a year and a half ago when it was not prepared. Israel's deterrent force also is not enough, because if Syria had really moved divisions to the border, that would have signaled that Israel's deterrent strength does not have an effect on it.

The point is the ease with which the mercury rises in the war thermometer between the two countries; even worse is the absence of a real mechanism for preventing such a miscalculation. The reason for this lies in the Israeli paradox that stems from a serious absence of common sense. It argues that as long as Syria is very weak it poses no threat, so there is no need to make peace with it. But if Syria is really a threat and is planning war, what is the meaning of the panic that miscalculation may lead to war? The other side of that paradox states that only when Syria is powerful and threatening is it worthwhile to make peace....

The result is that Israel is seeking an appropriate tactical return for peace with Syria. Peace in and of itself is simply not "worth it." Peace with an Arab state that also affects Hezbollah, controls events in Lebanon, has close ties with Iran and close allies like Turkey, is party to the Arab initiative and will announce in advance any military maneuver it plans to carry out, and would invite Israeli observers - peace with such a state is considered by Israel as an empty peace.

Israel first wants a strategic change in the Middle East - that Iran breaks ties with Syria, that the Hamas leadership is evicted from Damascus, and that Hassan Nasrallah converts to Judaism. Only then will it "grant" Syria peace. Peace with Syria according to Israel needs to be a not-very-significant by-product, instead of the means by which strategic change is brought about".

Zvi Bar'el, "Ready for everything except peace,"

As students of European diplomacy in the 19th century know quite well, the 'war-in-sight' crisis, was a diplomatic event which occurred in 1875. In which a perceived threat of war by Germany on France, mistakenly lead to a real diplomatic crisis. Which was (understandably enough) soon smoothed over by Bismark. In the case of the Near East at the moment, the question is whether prognosises such as made by Dr. Friedman in his weekly column, in the American online journal, have any degree of validity. Is there a danger of war between Syria and Israel? Or alternatively is there a danger of a rematch between Tel Aviv and Hezbollah? On both counts, I foresee, little likelihood of any real armed conflict occurring. The reasons for which are purely internal to all three parties: der primat der Innenpolitik. The primacy of internal politics. In the case of Israel: the government of Omert is weak, and growing weaker by the day. It lacks the legitimacy to go to war, especially considering the fiasco of the Lebanon War of 2006. It is in essence a government just waiting to be kicked out. And, it also lacks the energy and the determination (genius and dynamism if you like) exhibited by Israeli leaders thirty, forty or fifty years ago, to take any perceived threats by the throat and throttle them. The Israel which was capable of doing that, is dead, completely passed away.

In the case of Damascus, the above circumstances are equally if not more strongly present: the Assad regime is completely incapable of taking any bold steps which might have the end result of a defeat on the battlefield, and, thus quite soon leading to the toppling of the regime from within by the Islamic opposition. One of the reasons, no doubt that Tel Aviv has never exhibited any enthusiasm about the American policy of 'overthrow' vis-`a-vis Damascus, that our neo-conservative ideologues in the USA are so fond of. As the widely acclaimed American academic and Syrian-watcher, Joshua Landis has noted, the current priority of the regime is Damascus is survival: pur et simple. Everything else is secondary. Of course, if the opportunity were to present itself, for Syria to regain the Golan Heights, gratis, of course Assad would jump at the chance. But, unfortunately, there is scant signs that Tel Aviv is interested in so assisting Assad in that way. At least not yet. The upshot here is that the situation is the same as in Tel Aviv: peace, if not at any price, than pax plus ultra. And, most definitely not bellum plus ultra.

The only party which might have a rationale to go to war, or to at least play a jeu which might have the end result of an armed conflict occurring is Hezbollah. The conflict between Hezbollah and its allies, and, the pro-Western, pro-Saudi, 14th of March Coalition government grinds on. Now it has run for almost fifteen months. With no sign of an early termination. With a deadlock between the two sides, and, with Hezbollah's laurels that it earned in the war of 2006, now tarnished by these domestic quarrels within Lebanon proper, it could be argued that Hezbollah might, just might, seek to again earn the political triumph that it earned in both Lebanon proper and in the wider Arab world by again staging a conflict with Israel. Especially if the regime of Mullah's in Persia were to agree to provide support for such a venture. The only problem with this analysis, is that with the NATO force south of the Litani River, it would be highly difficult for Hezbollah to restage its opening moves of 2006 again. At the very least, Hezbollah would have to stage attacks on the European-NATO forces and kick them out, prior to staging any attacks on Israel proper. So far, remarkably so in fact, Hezbollah has left the peace keeping forces in the South of Lebanon completely alone. Unless that were to change, I cannot see any likelihood of Hezbollah wanting to re-start any conflict with Tel Aviv anytime soon.

In short, it is my considered judgment that the overall situation is not yet, I repeat yet, properly prepared for a military conflict between these three powers. None of them, have in reality embarked on any of the opening actions or moves which would make the possibilities of military action plausible or likely. Until that does occur, I suggest that unlike say in 1875, the current, mini-'kreig-in-sight' crisis is a non-crisis and a non-event. Which considering everything else going on in the Near East is a very good thing indeed.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


"We agree that the foundation for the U.S. and Russian relationship should be based on the core principles of friendship, cooperation, openness, and predictability. The strength and stability of this foundation will rest on expanding the network of ties between our governments and our peoples and on the positive examples we set for our societies and for the world as we confront new and emerging threats to global security together as partners. We will strive to identify areas of positive cooperation where our interests coincide, and pursue joint projects and actions that will bring our countries closer together, while minimizing the strain on our partnership where our interests diverge. Going forward, we intend to deepen our cooperation wherever possible, while taking further, even more far-reaching steps, to demonstrate our joint leadership in addressing new challenges to global peace and security in accordance with the principles of international law, taking into consideration the role of the United Nations.In pursuit of these goals, the United States and the Russian Federation will consult closely on the development of initiatives that will serve our common interests.

Promoting Security

We acknowledge that today's security environment is fundamentally different than during the Cold War. We must move beyond past strategic principles, which focused on the prospect of mutual annihilation, and focus on the very real dangers that confront both our nations. These include especially the threat of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery. Reflecting the changed nature of our strategic relationship, we will take steps together to counter these new and emerging challenges.


We have reiterated our intention to carry out strategic offensive reductions to the lowest possible level consistent with our national security requirements and alliance commitments.

Substantial reductions of strategic offensive forces have been carried out under the START Treaty, which served as a key instrument in this context. The Moscow Treaty was an additional important step and remains in effect. We will continue development of a legally binding post-START arrangement.

We are fully committed to the goals of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, and consider the arrangement we are pursuing to be a further step in implementing our commitments under Article VI of the Treaty.

Missile Defense:

We discussed the issue of missile defense. Both sides expressed their interest in creating a system for responding to potential missile threats in which Russia and the United States and Europe will participate as equal partners.

The Russian side has made clear that it does not agree with the decision to establish sites in Poland and the Czech Republic and reiterated its proposed alternative. Yet, it appreciates the measures that the U.S. has proposed and declared that if agreed and implemented such measures will be important and useful in assuaging Russian concerns.

We agreed to intensify our dialogue after Sochi on issues concerning MD cooperation both bilaterally and multilaterally".

"U.S.-Russia Strategic Framework Declaration", 6 April 2008, in

The meeting at Sochi was, the de facto the second act, of the NATO summit at Bucharest. In that summit, is is self-evident from much of the commentary both in the USA and in Europe, that there was in effect a climb-down by the Americans and their Central European allies to Moskva's perceived veto of MAP status for Ukraine and Georgia (on the European press reaction from Russia and Ukraine to Paris, see: "European media split over NATO," in See also: "Check out Triaging NATO:Mr. Bush [The Younger] goes to Bucharest," in This climb down, by the USA was only partially made up for, by the European allies' endorsement, of the American missile defence shield concept for Poland the Czech Republic. With some vague language thrown in that in future years, the allies would consider extending the idea to all members of the alliance. This sop was not to the liking of Moskva, however much that it was in fact merely a 'sop'to the Americans.

From Bucharest, Bush and Putin went to the Russian resort on the Black Sea, Sochi and, for the final time held discussions on the nature of the Russo-American relationship. What did they come up with? It would be uncharitable and perhaps inaccurate to say that they merely (in the words of Bismarck) were 'papering over the cracks'. But au fond, that is what they were doing. Neither gentleman has either the time (Putin) nor the political will (Bush), to remake the relationship. That is something for their successors to do, or not. What however they were able to do, and, perhaps that is all that can be asked of them at this date, is to leave off, to part, on friendly and agreeable terms. With perhaps, yes perhaps, the language concerning "intensify[ing] our dialogue after Sochi on issues concerning MD cooperation," being a harbinger of possible future, co-operation on this rather difficult, if just the same, illusory issue. At the very worse, the meeting at Sochi, allows both men to part as, if not necessarily as 'partners,' than certainly not as enemies or rivals either. Given the rhetoric which both sides, have indulged in during the last fourteen months, that is perhaps the best that the two sides can come up with at the present time. And, diplomatically speaking that is no more than what we can reasonably expect. Diplomacy being, again in the words of Bismark, 'the art of the possible'.

Thursday, April 03, 2008


"QUESTION: Is there anything you might want to say about the decision of NATO member-states not to offer membership action plan for Georgia and Ukraine? Can you understand the decision as a Russian veto?

MR. CASEY: So certainly, no one should treat this as a rejection of Ukrainian or Georgian aspirations to join NATO. And we think it is a very positive statement on the part of the alliance that it does indicate that these two countries can and will be able to become members at an appropriate time. Certainly, there were differences and they’ve been well-discussed among NATO member-states as to whether now was the right moment to begin a membership action plan [MAP] with both those countries. But I do expect and it’s, again, indicated in the communiqué that between now and December, there will be an intensified series of discussions and dialogue between NATO and Georgia and Ukraine. And we certainly hope to see the kind of additional progress made that will respond to some of the concerns that allies expressed. And to get to your direct question, no, those concerns were not about Russia. Russia does not have veto over NATO options or NATO actions. And that’s clear, not only for Russia, but for any other country that is not a member-state".

State Department Spokesman, Thomas Casey, 3 April 2008, in

"Le sommet de l'Otan de Bucarest est celui des adieux aux alliés pour George W. Bush. Si le président américain veut bien dresser un bilan sincère de son action, il constatera qu'il laisse une Alliance atlantique affaiblie, militairement en difficulté en Afghanistan, politiquement divisée face à une Russie plus agressive, et toujours aussi hésitante sur ses missions, son rayon d'action et sa raison d'être au XXIe siècle.

Au-delà des communiqués glorifiant des compromis laborieux, le sommet, suivi, vendredi, par un dialogue sans précédent avec Vladimir Poutine, met en lumière l'absence de «leadership» américain dans le monde en cette fin d'un cycle marqué par la guerre en Irak et la crise transatlantique qu'elle a déclenchée. C'est un triste résultat pour une présidence placée d'emblée sous le signe de l'usage de la force au service d'une idéologie conquérante.

En ce qui concerne les relations avec la Russie, l'absence de direction est patente. La question de l'adhésion de l'Ukraine et de la Géorgie à l'Otan le montre. Malgré la campagne tardive menée par George W. Bush, les alliés ont étalé leurs divisions sur la place publique. Le problème de fond n'est pas de savoir si ces deux pays méritent ou non d'appartenir à l'Alliance atlantique. La réponse serait évidemment oui. Le problème est de définir une politique cohérente à l'égard de la Russie. Est-elle un partenaire, un adversaire ou un peu des deux ? Les alliés sont-ils capables d'avoir une position commune à l'égard de Moscou ? Ce n'est manifestement pas le cas. George W. Bush prêche dans le désert et ne rallie que les Polonais, Baltes et autres convaincus. Pour un débat de fond, il faudra attendre la relève à la Maison-Blanche.

Les Européens ne vont pas hypothéquer l'avenir. Angela Merkel est tout occupée à gérer sa coalition avec les sociaux-démocrates et cherche à passer le cap des élections de 2009. Nicolas Sarkozy a de la sympathie pour la Géorgie et pour l'Ukraine. Mais il a le regard fixé sur sa présidence de l'Union européenne et n'a aucun intérêt à susciter une nouvelle querelle avec la chancelière. Le moment viendra pour lui d'ouvrir le débat sur les vraies questions, touchant, par exemple, à la défense européenne et à la coopération nécessaire entre l'UE et l'Otan, ou encore à la politique énergétique à suivre en Europe".

Pierre Rousselin, 3rd of April 2008 "l'Adieu aux allies de George Bush", in

Obviously, the piteous wording of the American State Department spokesman: "Russia does not have a veto option over NATO options or NATO actions", has no basis in reality. Of course, the decision of the NATO allies, in not giving either Ukraine or Georgia MAP status, the stepping stones to NATO membership, was a result of Moskva's quite loud and persistent objections. Everyone, who was at Bucharest knows that quite well. We all have read the reports and the statements, official and unofficial of both Deutsch Chancellor Merkel and Foreign Minister Steinmeier, that neither Kiev or Tbilisi were ripe for being put on the path of NATO membership. The same statements, made more audibly also came from French Prime Minister Fillon in recent days (for German objections see: "Extraneous considerations block Georgian and Ukrainian maps at the NATO Summit," in & for French objections, see Notwithstanding the recent American push to reward both powers MAP status, neither Berlin or Paris saw fit to completely alienate Moskva by agreeing with the USA on this objective. The only fig leaf that the USA did obtain from its allies in order to not make completely overt its diplomatic defeat on the issue was the promise that the alliance would look anew at the decision in December of this year. However this was little more than a polite facing saving for the Americans, with both German and French diplomats noting that: "it was inconceivable that MAP could be offered to both states this year" (see: "US seeks to console Ukraine and Georgia," in Insofar as blocking MAP status from both countries was Moskva's primary goal at this summit, it can be said to have been a clear victory for Russian diplomacy. Albeit of a negative variety.

On the subject of missile defence, the Americans to a limited degree, managed to recoup their position somewhat by getting their NATO allies to agree unanimously that their proposed missile defence scheme for Poland the Czech Republic were in the interest of the alliance as a whole and even mouth words to the effect that an expansion of any such system was to be: "an integral part of any future NATO wide missile defence architecture" (For the official communique from the Summit, With words of advice to Russia that it should: "take advantage of United States missile defence cooperation proposals". Words which Moskva might or might not choose to take seriously. However notwithstanding this show of allied, even German support on a project that has occupied American diplomats for upwards of two years now, overall the NATO Summit cannot be by any means, be seen as a triumph of American diplomacy. Indeed, it would be accurate to say that 'on points', the Americans came out the losers vis`-a-vis Moskva. Whether one wishes or agrees to attribute that diplomatic defeat as Rousselin does to the "l'absence de 'leadership' Americain dan le monde", due to the Iraq debacle and a 'crise transatlantique,' is not entirely clear. One can argue the matter both ways, and, no doubt I and others will in the near future, attempt to do so. However let me finish this appraisal of the Summit by noting that in true opera bouffe fashion, the 'real' victor of the Summit was of course Athens, who was able, against the combined opposition of all it's partners to veto the proposed membership in the alliance of Macedonia, due of course to its name...Si non `e vero `e ben trovato.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008


"Now, of course, we have this conflict issue, but this conflict issue is not Georgia proper: this is Russia versus Georgia, Russia versus the rest of Europe. And the membership action plan doesn’t give us Article 5 [which provides for mutual self defence] coverage in any way, even implicitly. So it’s now burdensome on Georgia rather than on Nato, and we can go as long as 10 years before we get Nato membership after that. So basically, in real terms, Nato is not taking any real obligations besides providing what is a symbolic gesture. However, Georgia, because this is the framework for the membership action plan, has to take lots of obligations – to report, to try to advance and solve the conflicts, to contribute to Europe’s energy and other kinds of security....

Right now, Russia is playing a zero sum game, and no matter what would be the motivation of the Europeans, some Europeans think we should delay, postpone it, not do it now – do anything short of MAP. Anything short of MAP, anything, MAP minus, action plan – from my perspective being something that has been proposed and even doesn’t sound very well – like creating a Georgia-Nato Council, promising us Nato visits instead of MAP, this all will immediately lead, next morning to Moscow crying victory. And because that’s the way some people in the Kremlin have positioned themselves, this is a zero sum game. Anything that is not MAP is a great Russian victory.

Now, that’s going to serve the [interests] of the conservatives among the Russian leadership, and instead of giving [Russian President Dimitry] Medvedev a clean slate and starting a relationship from this new starting point, basically we are bending to the Kremlin where conservative elements have just had a major victory, by basically just burying the issue of MAP, and this is not good for Russia. This is not good for Medvedev, whatever his good intentions might be… I mean bright people rightly have said they don’t appreciate softness. Appeasement is seen there by them as a signal that they should act even further, even tougher and they will be even more aggressive and more provocative. That has been our experience with them. These are not the people who understand soft appeasement language. They understand principled, quite polite, language based on principles. That’s how they are. And those people would make a dramatic mistake by trying to appease them; it’s just getting us nowhere… That’s why it’s such a key moment now, and not so much towards Georgia and the Ukraine, although of course it means reshaping the map of Europe, and from that point of view, it’s a much more important MAP decision than the membership decision for some other Balkan countries. But what [does] it really mean? What’s the next modus vivendi of Russia? Is Russia for the first time acquiring a veto right? No matter what some Europeans might be thinking, it’s basically giving them direct veto rights, because that’s how they will perceive it. And Russia for the first time has this. You know, Russia has tried it continuously in the nineties, and they could never achieve the status to have veto rights. If they get it now, they will get by if they denying us the membership action plan. Then we will start the whole chain of trouble… Basically we will feel the heat first, but we will not be the last ones to feel the heat…

Right now, some people are saying, oh it’s better for Russia to see Nato united rather than Nato having a big argument over Georgia and Ukraine’s MAP. I think this is a very, very wrong argument. Nato united around what? Around appeasement? We’ve seen Europe united once like this in the last century and we saw where it led…"

Mikheil Saakashvili, as interviewed in the Financial Times, 30th of March 2008, in

"Q[uestion] When you say that the allies will decide whether to accept the Membership Action Plan for Georgia and Ukraine, are you not saying whether the United States fully supports this, or does it? Is this what the President wants and will urge?

MR. HADLEY: The President has made it clear in his comments that he thinks it's very important that the door of NATO remain open for new members. He's said that he thinks membership would be good for NATO and it would be good for Ukraine and Georgia.

He is in consultation with his counterparts; those consultations continue. We believe -- he believes that NATO should welcome the aspirations of these countries for NATO membership, and that in Bucharest it will result in a clear path forward -- it should result in a clear path forward for those countries coming out of Bucharest.

So let me say that he's very forward-leaning on this issue. But, again, we respect the process that NATO has established, that we will continue consultations that have been quiet consultations -- we think those are most effective -- and we will respect the fact that this is a decision that NATO makes by consensus at the summit. And he will be an active participant in those conversations.

Q[uestion] So he's not saying whether he favors it.

MR. HADLEY: That's all I can say. As I said, he's leaning very far forward. And I think you can get a good sense of his logic from the comments I just made, which restate some things that he's said several times before.

Yes, sir.

Q[uestion] You said progress made on outstanding issues like missile defense. What sort of progress are you talking about?

MR. HADLEY: The main issue there is to find a way, in concrete terms, to reassure Russia that the radar and missile installation that is planned in Poland and the Czech Republic are, as we say, about potential threats coming to Europe, coming to Russia, if you will, from the Middle East, and are not aimed at Russia. And we are trying to find a formula of measures which would give Russia some confidence on that, that would also be reciprocal with respect to facilities that Russia has offered up that might be part of an integrated missile defense system protecting Europe and Russia, and are also respectful of the sovereignty of our Czech and Polish allies.

The President has talked about maybe we should take a -- maybe the United States, Russia and Europe should work together to develop a regional architecture, as, if you will, equal partners in developing that architecture, that would use resources contributed by the United States, Europe and Russia to provide against a threat -- a defense against threats from the Middle East that could threaten Europe, as well as Russia. That's what we would like to see occur.

And part of that, of course, is a series of transparency measures and confidence-building measures that make it clear that that is a system that is about threats -- common threats from the Middle East, not about threats from Russia.

We think it's very clear it's a very limited system that could be easily overwhelmed by the Russians. But we are prepared to look at some transparency and confidence-building measures, again, respectful of the sovereignty of our Czech and Polish allies, that, nonetheless, would give Russia some reassurance....

These things, in terms of the issues at the NATO summit and the strategic framework agreement, these are on separate tracks. We've been very clear that NATO is not a threat to Russia. It's interesting that these NATO summit will feature a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council, which was a mechanism by which Russia is able to engage with NATO. As you know, many people have forgotten there are Russian personnel who are actually assigned and serve in NATO Headquarters. There is an active program of engagement between NATO and Russia.

So I think these are really separate issues. And there is an opportunity -- there's an opportunity to advance our agenda at NATO. There's also an opportunity, through the Sochi visit, to try and advance a relationship and our agenda between the United States and Russia, and the President is going to try to take advantage of both".

Stephen Hadley, American National Security Advisor, Press Briefing on President Bush's trip to Ukraine and the NATO Summit, in

"Leaders of Nato gathering in Bucharest this week face a momentous decision: whether, in the face of fierce Russian opposition, to move Ukraine and Georgia closer towards membership of the alliance. At issue is whether to offer the two countries so-called membership action plans, the recognised final step before becoming an ally.

This question is of enormous geo-strategic importance and has divided the alliance right down the middle. The US strongly favours extending the invitation, hoping it could burnish George W. Bush’s tarnished legacy. It is supported by Nato’s newer members in eastern and central Europe. Meanwhile, much of western Europe, led by Germany, opposes making the offer....

It is clear that Russia cannot be allowed a veto over alliance membership or to make choices for other states. But Nato must, in its own interests, avoid cornering Russia, turning it unnecessarily into an enemy. And to avoid this, it should better prepare the way with Moscow before decisions of strategic moment are taken.

For this reason, the best approach this week would be to delay the invitations to Georgia and Ukraine. Doing this would allow strategic talks with Russia over its concerns, including discussions involving the prospective Nato members. At the same time, the allies must make it clear to the two countries that future membership of Nato is theirs if they continue to desire it.

Moscow then has a choice: constructive engagement in response to a positive gesture or continuing its efforts to threaten and sow insecurity among its neighbours. The decision then about whether Russia wants to be a friend or a foe, or something in between, will lie with Moscow".

"Nato can wait, but not for ever", Editorial in the Financial Times,

In essence Georgian President Saakashvili, has pre-determined, very very skillfully I must admit, the parameters of 'success and failure', as they relate to the upcoming NATO Summit in Bucharest. As has been his wont, for a good number of years now, Saakashvili has attempted to stream roll, West European acceptance of Georgian membership of NATO. It appeared that this strategy had after gaining some traction in the initial years of his Presidency, stalled in late 2006 and for much of 2007. Most especially when relations with Moskva hit rock bottom in November-December 2006. With much of West European opinion (especially in Germany) being unwilling to take sides in the Russian-Georgian conflict. Now however in the last few months, Saakashvili, notwithstanding his own domestic problems (riots in Tbilisi and a short declaration of emergency rule by Saakashvili in December 2007), has been able to press ahead with his ambition of having Georgia join the Western Alliance. With of course the valuable assistance of the USA. Given the underlying fault lines in the Russo-American relationship (Persia, North Korea, Missile Defence in the Czech Republic and Poland), one would think that there were enough 'issues' on this particular diplomatic plate to occupy Secretary Rice and Mr. Hadley. Apparently not it would appear. Instead, in the midst of the dying days of his Presidency, Bush, et. al., appear to be pressing ahead, come what may with having Ukraine and Georgia being given auxiliary membership (the so-called 'membership action plan') of the Alliance. For what reason one may ask?

If one had to wager a guess, it would be something along the following lines: a) an ideological adherence to the American idea of a 'freedom agenda' (in the words of National Security Advisor Hadley), embracing Ukraine and Georgia (those colored [orange, red, green, violet, blue...] revolutions), as the avant garde of the worldwide quest for Democracy and freedom...; b) a more strictly realpolitik (and rational) reasoning being that by inching NATO closer to embracing Ukraine, and, faute de mieux, including Georgia as well, the USA will have come closer to completing a sort of 'encirclement' of Matushka Roissya. Rendering it almost completely harmless from the American / Western perspective as a strategic player (for more on this particular reading of American policy, which I am not quite an adherent to, see: "Russia and Rotating the U. S. Focus", by George Friedman, 1st of April 2008, in However no one can gainsay the fact that by attempting to exercise a force majeure, on its ultra-reluctant, West European allies, to accept the auxiliary membership for both Ukraine and Georgia, at this time, the Americans are making nonsense of Hadley's wish to keep up good relations with Moskva (needed for many reasons as mentioned above). Unfortunately, it is extremely unlikely that Putin, Medvedev, et. al., will view things in such manner. Much more likely they will indeed, view a decision by NATO, to go ahead as an American / Western 'plot', in conjunction with the decision to install missile defences in Central Europe. The upshot being that the well of Russian-American and Russian-West European relations will be poisoned further still. And, the only party to gain by such an end result is our friend Saakashvili in Tbilisi. Who of course, would love to entangle both the USA and Western Europe in his quarrel with Moskva. One can only hope and pray that Germany and its West European partners in NATO, do not fall for this particular diplomatic trap, which promises no gain for anyone outside of the borders of Georgia...