TURKEY'S BAZAAR MERCHANT TACTICS AT THE NATO SUMMIT: A COMMENT
"Turkey holds out against Danish Nato chief",
By James Blitz in London and Delphine Strauss in Ankara
Nato heads of government will try this week to heal a rift with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, over his government’s opposition to Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Danish premier, becoming the next secretary-general of the 26-member security alliance.
Nato leaders had been hoping that Mr Rasmussen could be declared formally as the successor to Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at this weekend’s alliance summit in Strasbourg and Kehl but that may now have to be delayed.
European diplomats, however, say that while a consensus has emerged within Nato that Mr Rasmussen is frontrunner for the post, Turkey has expressed objections because of the row in 2006 over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed printed in a Danish newspaper.
Turkey complains that Mr Rasmussen refused to apologise for the cartoons, which sparked riots and attacks on Danish embassies in several Muslim states. Some western governments defended their publication in the name of freedom of expression.
Turkey believes the cartoons row would leave Mr Rasmussen ill-placed to lead Nato when its biggest challenges are in the Muslim world. It would prefer a non-European Union candidate with more Atlanticist instincts, such as Peter MacKay, Canada’s defence minister, or Radoslaw Sikorski, Polish foreign minister.
A western diplomat said on Monday that Nato leaders would probably seek to talk to Mr Erdogan in the next few days about the strength of Turkey’s objections.
“There will be an opportunity for heads of government to speak directly with Erdogan this week,” the diplomat said. “There will be discussions with him on the margins of the G20 in London and the Nato summit itself. But we are not wholly convinced that Turkey will be compliant.”
In Brussels, a Nato diplomat acknowledged that Turkey’s objection was becoming a difficult issue for the alliance because the appointment of a secretary-general must be agreed unanimously.
“Reports about Turkey’s objections are worrying people,” said this diplomat. “What alliance governments want to know is whether Turkey is raising fundamental objections which they will die in a ditch over; or whether this is a bargaining chip aimed at getting concessions on issues like the timing of Turkey’s accession to the EU.”
Mr Erdogan said in a televised interview that he had spoken to Mr Rasmussen to underline his concerns, adding that Turkey was upset that Denmark allowed Roj TV, a Kurdish channel it says is linked to the rebel Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK), to broadcast from its territory.
While Turkey is unlikely to veto the appointment outright, it could seek support from more powerful allies. 30 March 2009 in www.ft.com
"Let the Turks now carry away their abuses in the only possible manner, namely by carrying off themselves off. Their Zaptiehs, and their Mudirs, their Bimbashi and Yuzbachis, their Kaimakans and their Pashas, one and all, bag and baggage, shall I hope clear out of the provinces they have desolated and profaned".
William Ewart Gladstone, in The Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East. 1878.
Apropos the Turks, and, the related question of 'the Turks in Europe', 'the People's William', was surely in the right. Both in 1878 and today. The Turkish government, whatever its relative advances of late, and, notwithstanding the fact that it is far and away better than any of its fellow Muslim regimes in the Near and Middle East, was, is not and never will European. They are not Christian, have not the intrinsic & historical ties that bind together the peoples of Europe in any way whatsoever. To pretend otherwise is merely myopia & ignorance of the first degree. That fact that they are attempting to blackmail their fellow powers in NATO over the Rasmussen nomination, is merely of a piece. That fact of the matter is of course, that Rasmussen is to be commended over his stance in the Danish cartoon affair. The fact that such an innocuous business resulted in riots and the murder of a few innocents just goes to show how barbaric and primitive are the followers of the so-called 'prophet'. The sooner that Turkey is put in its place diplomatically the better for all concerned. Both themselves and the peoples of Europe.
LAVROV SPEAKS: A COMPLETE TRANSCRIPT OF A FINANCIAL TIMES INTERVIEW WITH RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SERGEI LAVROV OR RUSSIAN FOREIGN POLICY: A PROBLEM OF NARRATIVE
"Admittedly, China is economically nationalist, and that is a problem, but it is also a fundamentally cautious and a patient revisionist power. It wishes to change the internationalist system as 'China rises peacefully', but it is cautious in the way it is pursuing that objective. Indeed. among the hallmarks of Chinese leadership are foresight, prudence and patience....These words also underline the significant distinction between China's and Russia's conduct on the international scene. Russia, like China is a revisionist power in that it wishes to revise the existing international patterns; but in pursuit of this end it tends towards impatience, frustration and sometimes even posturing in a threatening fashion....Unfortunately, the current generation of Russian leaders, notably Putin are still unable to come to terms with Russia's diminished global status and its regional realities. It is unreconciled to the loss of its empire. It is unwilling to come to terms with its totalitarian and specifically Stalinist experience".
Zbigniew Brzezinski, "Major foreign policy challenges for the next US President", in
International Affairs, (January 2009), pp. 56-57.
"People have thought themselves obliged to place upon a series of facts, or supposed facts, each of which taken by itself might be of small moment, but which taken together can neither be lightly treated nore calmly ignored".
A. J. Balfour providing an partial explanation for the rise of Anglo-German antagonism in the pre-Great War period. See: "Anglo-German Relations", in Essays: Speculative and Political. 1920. p. 199.
One of the very very few bits of good news that the regime of the ex-junior Senator from Illinois with the absurd name, has cared to present to us, is (in the demotic language of the new American Vice-President, Mr. Biden) the 'resetting' of Russo-American relations. As any of the readers of this journal know, Russo-American relations have been on a downward spiral for the last three to four years. Apparently, with the none too soon retirement of the Bush regime, there appears to be an opportunity to indeed renegotiate the parameters of relations between Moskva and Washington. With the a very pianissimo, nay indeed sotto voce, shift by the US government recently from: a) its plans for installing missile defence shields in the Cech Republic and Poland; b) its policy of obtaining NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine. With a trial balloon floated that in return for the Americans dropping items 'a' and 'b' above, Moskva would in return agree to a much more robust stance vis-`a-vis Persia and its quest for nuclear weapons. So far Grazhdanin Putin & Medvedev have have been very non-committal to this proposed quid pro quo. At least publicly. However that per se does not mean that in point of fact that Matushka Russia, may not indeed agree to some modus vivendi of precisely this type. The important point here is that the relationship has started to hopefully move onto a different track than what many (such as myself) feared would be the case. With thankfully such Russophobes `a la Dr. Brzezinski and Dr. MacFaul, apparently having very very little influence so far in the inner counsels of the new administration.
As for the primary content of today's posting, it is an in depth interview by the Financial Times of Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov. Perhaps the most accomplished Foreign Minister of any of the Great Powers of the last few years. A professional diplomat to his fingertips. As for what Lavrov says, it appears to my eyes at any rate to be of a piece with everything that I have said above: that without of course committing themselves, Putin, Medvedev and Lavrov are interested in possibly arriving at some type of modus vivendi, in other words a 'detente', on certain important issues in the overall relationship. This of course presumes that both sides are willing to 'give and take', and, not to become committed to illusory idee fixes. Something which American diplomacy has been rather prone to in the past in its interaction with Matushka Roissya. Which is not to say that on the other side, certain Russian officials, with Putin in the lead have not had a taste for unfortunate tart and maladroit opinions and statements. Not to speak of silly gestures such as cozying up to President Chavez, or for that matter, Tovarish Raol Castro. Of which the less said the better: all too similar to the 'Tiers-mondism' turn in post-Stalinist foreign policy. A policy which netted Sovietskaya Vlast, nihil, zero, rien. To sum up: it takes two to tango and hopefully an American attempt as a genuine detente (it is much, much too early to speak of anything like an entente just yet), will be met on the Russian side by a similar attitude. As Lavrov himself says:
"One cannot say that our views are absolutely identical. However the main thing is that our American partners have regained the taste for positive co-operation. With the spirit of pragmatism and reliance on mutual interest prevailing over both parties we could make serious progress in [the] solution of the most important tasks our countries are facing."
To conclude: while it is highly unlikely that Russo-American relations will ever replicate the illusory closeness of the Yeltsin years, it is also the case that there is nothing au fond, which prevents Moskva and Washington to have productive and indeed fruitful relations on a range of matters. But, that presupposes that both sides are realistic about both what are the fault lines of the opposing side. For that we need to wait and see.
Transcript: FT Interview with Sergei Lavrov
FT I know you’ve addressed in great detail the issue of US/Russian relations, but could you just in a minute tell us, is there a reason for hope now that relations between the United States and Russia will improve, and if so, why?
SL Well, there is always a place for hope, and certainly, when we hear signals from Washington that they want to “reset” our relations, meaning that they want constructive engagement and cooperation and partnership on so many issues which we really can usefully cooperate on, we welcome this. And we sense this not only in statements from Washington, but also in the exchange of messages between President Medvedev and President Obama, and also, during my first encounter with Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton in Geneva, and we are getting ready for the first face to face meeting of our two presidents in London on 1st April.
As with Secretary Clinton, we will try to set the agenda of that meeting in a way which would allow the two presidents to give instructions to their respective teams on how to proceed with priority issues, be it strategic plans, negotiations, be it counter-terrorism, non-proliferation. Of course, speaking of strategic stability, we also took very good note of the decision of the administration to take a look into the missile defence situation. But practically on any problematic issue which we inherited from the past eight years, I understand the Obama administration is undertaking a review which we welcome.
A second opinion never hurts, not only in medicine, but also in politics. And we would like to translate those signals which both Washington and Moscow have been sending into practical work. Hopefully, this will be the outcome of the London meeting.
FT One area of disagreement in the past has been the nature of Russia’s relations with its immediate neighbours. How do you think the tensions in this area can be reduced?
SL Well, we don’t want any disagreements in this or any other area. We naturally have a very long history of relations with these countries and these peoples. We have during centuries enriched each other in so many ways; culturally, economically, demographically I would say. And so many links exist at the moment, including from the once common economic system, infrastructure system, which is very much in place and not to use the advantages of which would be really not very smart. And down to family relations, there are so many mixed marriages and families who are composed of different nationalities who used to live in the Soviet Union and then they found themselves overnight living in a different country.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that their family relations stopped. So all this explains why we certainly believe that our relations with these countries could be described as privileged relations. The word that frightened so many people, but which reflects only that it is a privileged partnership. We have special interests going deep into centuries in these countries, and they have the same deep interests in the Russian Federation, economically from the point of view of humanitarian needs of the population. Then there are links across millions of migrant workers work in Russia from these republics. So there should be no misunderstanding of what is going on in this space.
We certainly understand the legitimate interests of non regional players; Central Asia, in the Caucasus, those are places where hydrocarbons are produced, where hydrocarbons are being transported. Those are areas which are very crucial for effective fight against terrorism, drug trafficking, organised crime. So all these are very legitimate interests, because the consequences are felt well beyond this territory, in Europe and in the United States.
What we want is that these legitimate interests can be promoted openly, with full respect of the interests of all countries in this region, first of all the countries in question, and we believe it’s very dangerous to try to put these countries in front of a dilemma; either with us or you’re against us. And there have been attempts in the past to do exactly that, basically telling them either you want to be a friend of the Russian Federation, or you want to be a friend of us, and there is no middle way. I think it’s an old thinking, as it were, and we should really concentrate on common challenges and common opportunities existing in this area, fully respecting the position of the countries themselves, and not creating any dividing lines there. And I believe if this is the situation, we’re not going to have any friction with the United States or with the European Union, or with anyone else in cooperating together with the countries of the region on so many important things.
FT And for this to happen, NATO must not enlarge into this region?
SL NATO enlargement is certainly something which we try to understand. What is being achieved by this? With the latest expansion of NATO, do people in Europe feel more secure? Why this drive to mark geo-political space which some people believed became vacant? It’s again, it’s moving the dividing lines which we all agreed should be eliminated. It’s keeping those dividing lines and moving them further to the east and any other direction, but to the east it’s certainly what is important for us. And the purpose of this is not clear at all.
If NATO says that NATO wants to become a modern security organisation addressing security challenges globally, then there are plenty of ways to cooperate with anyone in so many existing formats. NATO has a special relationship with countries far away from Europe; Australia, Japan, South Korea. They have joint projects and programmes which are being implemented without these countries becoming members of NATO. By the same token, Russia has partnership framework with NATO, Russia- NATO Council, and we have so many useful things on the agenda.
If you take a look at the annual list of joint projects between Russia and NATO, it contains dozens of items and issues, starting from compatibility of peacekeeping forces and peacekeeping approaches and concepts down to safety of air traffic. Counter-terrorism is a huge problem in itself. So many other things; non-proliferation, of course. Afghanistan. Indeed, it’s a whole lot of very important and very real things. And the same could be done and is being done between NATO and other countries in the post Soviet space who have their own special structures with Nato. But when we are told that Ukraine and Georgia will be members of NATO, as was said at the last April summit in Bucharest, we... and then we also explained that, of course, this was said because this is the will of the peoples, and we know that in the Ukraine, public opinion polls indicate very different opinion of the people. And we also know that this message from Bucharest that Georgia will be a member of NATO was indirect encouragement for Mr. Saakashvili to do what he did. So if NATO wants to expand at any cost in spite of the view of the people, or if NATO is ready to embrace a country whose current regime did not hesitate to use brutal force against civilians killing hundreds of them, then we again have questions about what is the reason for NATO expansion.
So I believe that we first have to understand what NATO is about as far as Russia is concerned. We want to understand what NATO is about, what organisation it is evolving into. We hear about the work on new strategic concept or doctrine, and we hear about some ideas being put into this process. And we certainly notice quite a number of additional scenarios for NATO to use force globally, not necessarily with going to the Security Council for endorsement. Of course, this concerns us, because it’s already not about NATO or NATO expansion, it’s about international law which we want to strengthen, not to dilute. Hopefully, when we resume our dialogue with NATO in the form of Russia- NATO Council, which unfortunately could not meet at our request during the crisis in the Caucasus, one or two delegations blocked the meeting, though the Council was created among other things to consider crisis situations, but hopefully when we resume this work, we will have an occasion not just to exchange political statements, but to sit down together and to try to discuss all these things; military doctrines, what are the strategic thinkings on both sides; whether we still want to fight common threats and challenges together and try to use existing opportunities, or something else is being contemplated.
I hope that the answer is yes to the first option and that we would come back to the basics which were reflected in the Rome declaration when the Russia-NATO Council was created, and which is indivisibility of security that no country should take steps to strengthen its security at the expense of the security of others. And also, hopefully, that Russia- NATO Council, as was stated by the heads of state and governments in Rome, is not a 26 plus one structure, but rather 27 each country participating in its national capacity so that to avoid any block instincts. It’s easier said than done, but that’s what was agreed at the creation of the Russia- NATO Council.
FT Is there going to be any attempt to further define what President Medvedev said at the end of August about region of privileged interest? Either what countries belong in that region, or what rights does that give Russia that other countries don’t have in that region, for instance, security priority and things like that...
SL I’ve already said that it’s mutually privileged relations, and certainly countries who are our neighbours we consider as countries with whom we do have privileged relations, just like they have privileged relations with us, which is reflected in so many ways. For example, during the time of this particular financial crisis, CIS created a new mechanism, regular meetings of ministers of finance to exchange assessments and to try to see how we can cooperate in addition to huge economic relations which we have. The Eurasian Economic Community created an emergency fund of $10 billion specifically designed to help each other at the time of this crisis. And it’s not only our neighbours, it’s also countries in other regions of the world with whom we have had relations for decades and even centuries; with some Latin American countries, Russia established diplomatic relations almost 200 years ago, 150 years ago. We have had a longstanding tradition of cooperation with the Africans since the time of their national liberation, training in the Soviet Union and in Russia dozens of thousands of citizens of Africa, Asia, Latin America. They’re still there. They have their associations and they still have the pillars of their national economy built with the assistance of Moscow, and to ignore this would be really irresponsible.
By the way, firstly, the term itself, privileged relations, was used to describe the relations between Moscow and Paris, still in the Soviet times, and then no one really raised an eyebrow. So no, it’s not countries who have any monopoly on everything. As I said, we fully respect the legitimate interests of any other country. We develop relations with all those who we believe we have privileged relations with, provided we play honestly, provided we... yes, competition is the rule of today in today’s world.
Completion will always be there, competition and economy, competition in various ways of life. That’s what this dialogue of civilisation and the alliance of civilisations is about. But we have to do so with mutual respect, without being thrown into the inertia of zero sum games. It’s not easy. We all come from a certain historical period, but hopefully, this inertia will be overcome and we will realise that it’s much more productive and much more in the interests of everyone to cooperate honestly, without any hidden agendas. The time of this crisis clearly showed that when something wrong happens to everyone, people are much more ready to concentrate on real problems, not invent artificial ones. And if we manage to do something together, then hopefully this trend might continue into national political relations as well.
FT Does your point about competition also extend to pipelines? Is it okay and perfectly acceptable for Europe to build Nabucco, for example?
SL Absolutely. President Medvedev, Prime Minister Putin repeatedly stated and reiterated this again that we have nothing against Nabucco. We are not roving various capitals and telling them don’t even think of Nabucco, though some of our competitors do exactly the same vis-a-vis northern stream and southern stream. We know this. Hardly anything could be hidden these days. As far as Nabucco is concerned, it’s exactly about the competition. What do you need for competition? Economic feasibility, financial feasibility on the product itself. If Nabucco gets all this, and this is profitable, acceptable to those who I invite to participate in this project, why should we be against it? Why should we work against it?
FT And what about military bases. There seems to be an impression that Russia wants to be consulted on if any foreign powers want to establish or keep military bases in the region.
SL I just want to have the relationship, with NATO in particular, with conviction that whatever we agree is being implemented. I wouldn’t even go into the history of the last days of the Soviet Union, the withdrawal from Europe, and what promises were given at that time, because those were oral promises and our leaders of that time strongly believe that, like in ancient Russia, a word given is better than any treaty. So I wouldn’t go into this history, but Russia- NATO Council founding documents, they agree with... stipulate several very important things, and heads of state put their signatures under this statement. One of them I mentioned: no country should ensure its security at the expense of the security of others. And they even went further to elaborate a bit on what this principle means, including agreement that there would be no deployment of substantial combat forces on the territory of new NATO members.
So when military bases, or American military bases were put into Bulgaria and Romania, we have been raising, invoking this provision of Russia- NATO Council, trying to understand what’s the need for this bases and how this would fit into this commitment. And we were told that those basis would not represent substantial combat forces. Then you ask the question, what would represent substantial combat forces? What is the size of such a unit which would be really covered by this Russia- NATO Council understanding, but this was several years ago.
We’re still trying to have some kind of agreement on the size of such a unit. So no, we don’t have any veto in countries inviting foreign military to be present on their territory, it’s that we want to establish some rules, because some actions undertaken by NATO members we believe are creating unnecessary risks for overall stability, which we all agreed should not be undermined unilaterally.
FT Georgia is a particular case of a country with tensions. Are you at all worried that there might be another outbreak of violence perhaps this year once the snows go and the summer comes along?
SL Yes, I am worried, because when we managed to stop the attack on Tskhinvali and other settlements, human settlements on the territory of South Ossetia, when the war was stopped, we heard statements from Tbilisi to the effect that the war is not over, that the Georgian army would rebuild itself. Then we had statements from various western capitals saying that they would help restore the Georgian army. And then the comments coming from Tbilisi during the work on what is known as the Medvedev- Sarkozy plan really gave rise to concern.
So what we want now is to ensure full implementation of those arrangements which President Medvedev and President Sarkozy reached and which were lately endorsed by the European Union, namely that the European Union undertook upon itself [unclear] non-use of force against South Ossetia and Abkhazia, exactly what we wanted to achieve during last three years, but Georgian president was reluctant to do so. He even said once in an interview that he would never use force because he knows what blood means in the Caucuses. And then he continued to say that blood means not even decades but centuries.
He’s a Caucasian, he’s Georgian. He I hope knows what he is talking about. But the provisions of Medvedev- Sarkozy arrangements cover not only EU acting as a guarantor of non-use of force, it also covers the EU role as monitors in the areas adjacent to South Ossetia and Abkhazia. We regularly talk to representatives of European Union, both from Brussels and those who work on the ground. And we exchange information with them, providing some facts which become known to us, and which indicate that unlike Georgian commitments to keep their army at the areas of its dominant location, there are some military activities by Georgian special forces, interior troops, very close to South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
So hopefully, the mechanism which was created at the Geneva discussions and regular meetings on the border, as agreed in Geneva, to prevent incidents, hopefully, this mechanism will work and will indeed prevent incidents and prevent certainly the occurrence, or prevent the repetition of what we witnessed. But yes, we cannot trust President Saakashvili’s regime. They repeatedly violated their obligations. By the way, he started the first war, his first war, because before him, there were several leaders who started the war against South Ossetia and Abkhazia, but his first war against South Ossetia took place in August 2004, but then he was not armed enough and it was stopped very quickly and with few casualties. But since then, he has been armed beyond any reasonable defence needs and you know how he used these arms.
So because of all this, we decided that the only way to guarantee security and the very survival of South Ossetia and Abkhazians would be to recognise them at their request and to place our own military forces on their territory at their request. So this should be a very serious deterrent for anyone who would like to try to do this again. But we certainly hope that one day there will be a situation when Georgian people would have a government which really thinks about the interests of Georgia and its people, which knows how to live in peace and to have good relations with all the nations in the Caucuses. And hopefully, this day will come.
FT Do you mean with a new president?
SL It’s up to the Georgian people to decide.
FT If we can ask about Iran...
SL The last one.
FT It’s very high on the international agenda. The Americans look like they want to make a new effort to try and reach agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme. What do you think should now be done that might ease the situation, lead to a settlement, and avoid possible violent actions which have been discussed?
SL Well, I certainly believe that there is no violent solution to this problem. I certainly believe that it was a very welcome step by President Obama when he addressed his message to the Iranian leaders and the Iranian people. It was a very respectful message. It was a very forthcoming message. And it said one very important thing among others, namely that the United States was ready to discuss a very broad agenda with Iran.
We have been suggesting to the Bush administration for several years that an approach of full involvement in negotiations with Iran would certainly make a difference, and we were trying to persuade the United States to join fully the negotiations proposed to Iran by three plus three, or five plus one, whatever you call it; UK, France, Germany, Russia, China and the United States. And if the new administration in Washington can agree to join fully this proposed process, I think it would be a very important quality change. I certainly hope that parallel with this full participation in the process the United States would also promote bilateral dialogue with Iran.
But the main thing is that these proposals which three plus three moved forward some time ago, and also together with the proposed prestigious building conditions for negotiations, when we did this, we were fighting very, very hard to make sure that it’s not just about nuclear programme, but it also contains these positive incentives, including economy, high tech, Iran joining WTO, removing all barriers to Iran’s full integration in economic system. But also, ensuring that Iran would have dignified, equal place at the table when regional issues are discussed.
We managed only to agree in very a generic way to say that Iran would be invited to original dialogue. But I think when we speak about a political solution, when we speak about a comprehensive solution, we should also think of very important role which Iran, together with other countries in the region, can play to help resolve the problems of Afghanistan, the problems of Iraq; basically, almost any aspect of the Middle East agenda. And I think to engage, not to isolate Iran, would be very important.
And on the nuclear programme itself, our overriding concern is to make sure that IAEA can continue to work professionally, can continue to monitor what Iran has produced and has been doing, and IAEA doesn’t have any difficulty with this. And we also believe Iran must fully cooperate with the additional requests of the Agency. We’ll encourage Iran once again to implement the additional protocol. We will encourage Iran to engage in dialogue with the Agency on what is called the Alleged Studies. And when we’ve engaged in negotiations, and when we are satisfied with the Agency assessment that Iranian nuclear programme is entirely peaceful in nature, that’s our overriding goal.
Then as the three plus three agreed, our position would be that Iran should have absolutely the same rights as any other non-nuclear member of NPT. So I believe it’s a fair deal, and with the Americans hopefully fully engaged in the process, we can move the conditions building for negotiations.
FT And this is now achievable?
SL Well, I wouldn’t be overly optimistic, because we inherited quite an agenda with mutual grievances and suspicions, but I believe an honest dialogue, openness to discuss all issues, is a very important quality change.
FT Do you see any changes in Russia’s approach to Iran?
SL Well, we have... all I described to you is exactly the Russian approach; as far as I understand the approach of many hands who participate in these negotiations. And we want a settlement as soon as possible, and we want a settlement to be satisfactory to everyone. Iran is our historic neighbour, historic partner. We have been cooperating bilaterally and on issues which are of crucial importance for stability in Central Asia and the Middle East, one example being very close cooperation between Moscow and Tehran, and certainly the internal conflict in Tajikistan in the middle of the 1990s. So I believe that we all should concentrate on the diplomatic efforts, and all should engage fully. Then we have much better chances than we used to have in the past.
FT Thank you very much.
SL Thank you.
Answers provided in writing to some questions submitted prior to interview
(translated from Russian)
FT What problems and opportunities does the global crisis create in foreign policy?
SL Historical experience shows that a crisis causes either a recovery or catastrophic consequences. Unfortunately, there were cases in the history of international politics of the 20th century when ways out of the crisis were found by way of war. Obviously, nobody wants that experience repeated today. And there are no visible serious reasons for such concerns. This is a considerable advantage of the present stage of the global development.
On the other hand, this unprecedented example of a global financial and economic crisis – the first crisis of the globalization era that has affected all countries without exception – sets new tasks of great scope for the global community. We believe that the key challenge lies in building anti-crisis interaction involving the broadest range of countries based on equality and mutual interests. Moreover, this reinstatement of control over global development must be performed at both global and regional and national levels in parallel. That will be a win-win situation for everyone.
I think it is clear that we must proceed from the reality of growing interdependence and the task of building a new sustainable and efficient international system through the universal application of ‘ground rules’ common for everyone. We must not go back to the 19th century philosophy of a geopolitical ‘concert of states’. In the 21st century, we are facing common trans-boundary threats and challenges that cannot be neutralized by building ‘holy alliances,’ regardless of their name.
The achievement of common goals would be helped greatly by deploying the full potential of the United Nations. This organization was created on the basis of a polycentric view of the world, but it can only start operating at its top capacity and according to its initial purpose now, in order to, among other things, help overcome the crisis on a legal and collective basis.
We expect that collective efforts in the financial and economic sphere would give a more pragmatic, and respectively, more realistic reference frame. Let us remember that focusing common efforts on the real tasks of crisis recovery will help rebuild trust in the sphere of military policy, too, relieving the negative impact of unilateral ideology-driven projects and the inertia of ‘zero sum games.’
Of course, the crisis may unite as well as divide. Some may be tempted to take care of themselves only, expecting to get unilateral benefits at the stage of post-crisis global development. I doubt that would work, and I share position of Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who warned about the danger of ‘de-globalization.’
FT What changes do you expect in the Russian-American relations under the new US president? Are any moves expected in strategic arms restrictions, placement of elements of the anti ballistic missile shield and creation of the common European security system?
SL Unfortunately, Russian-American relations have deteriorated considerably over the recent years. This is obvious for everyone. This state of affairs should be changed, and the sooner the better. The arrival of a new US administration opens good opportunities to ‘reset’ our interaction.
We sincerely hope that we will be able to open a new chapter in bilateral cooperation. First contacts with representatives of Barack Obama’s administration, including my meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the 6th of March in Geneva, and the signals that we are receiving from Washington, have been reassuring. We expect that the first meeting of Presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama in early April in London will provide constructive tone for our dialogue and permit us to start translating those signals into practical actions.
Of course, one cannot say that our views are absolutely identical. However, the main thing is that our American partners have regained the taste for positive cooperation. With the spirit of pragmatism and reliance on mutual interests prevailing over both parties, we could make serious progress in solution of the most important tasks that our countries are facing.
I am convinced that we must not miss this chance. This is the imperative of the present time, required by national interests of both countries and our special responsibility in maintenance of international security and strategic stability.
We are facing serious, painstaking work on drafting new START arrangement to replace the Treaty expiring this year. Just like our American partners, we are ready to make progress in this matter as fast as possible, look for common grounds in the sphere of antiballistic missile defence on the basis of common analysis together with the Europeans, taking into accounts interests of all stakeholders, including Russia. We are waiting for completion of ‘disarmament team’ formation in Washington.
A broad field for common work is opening in the sphere of non-proliferation, were we have had traditionally good cooperation with the US. Priorities in this area include enhancement of NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty), strengthening control over prevention of WMD transfer to the hands of private players, fighting against nuclear terrorism, and peaceful atom cooperation.
We also intend to partner with American side in search for solution to international and regional issues, including Afghan reconciliation, MES (Middle East settlement), Iranian nuclear problem, situation on the Korean Peninsula and many others.
One of the promising interaction areas is strengthening of the Euro-Atlantic security. The American side, seemingly, is abandoning the previous administration’s allergy to the very idea of starting a serious discussion on that subject. Multilateral dialogue has been launched already, and we would be interested in active US involvement.
Of course, priorities of our political dialogue must not be limited to security problems, but they should cover a whole range of relations, including trade and economic cooperation. Through the years there has been progress, but the potential still hasn’t been fully realised. The issue of strengthening the structure and mechanisms of our dialogue in this sphere and giving it an extra boost has been set nowadays.
So, we have a very broad agenda. I would like to reiterate that history gives us a chance to change the strategic context of Russian-American relations. We must use it.
FT What is your opinion about Russia-EU relations and relations with individual countries of the European Union? Will the work on new Russia-EU cooperation agreement be sped up?
SL In terms of their political, economic, and socio-cultural potential, Russia and EU are major geopolitical formations on the European continent. This is objective reality that predetermines the development vector of our mutual relations. There is a reason why we call ourselves strategic partners. Our partnership is not only caused by achieved results, but also by the scale of global challenges that we are facing, lack of alternatives to consolidation of efforts for development of adequate solutions to them. We are convinced that we shall still have demand for strategic partnership mechanism, and will constantly develop and improve it further. Life has given proof that Russia and EU are mutually dependent, and partnership may help us solve problems, including those emerging through the fault of the third countries. There are examples of this.
Still, there is one element that we find disturbing. When defining its position on Russia, the European Union proceeds from the smallest common denominator of the positions of all member states. While we understand the complexity of internal EU concords, we cannot but point out that this conservative approach sometimes impedes development of new initiatives and undertakings that could facilitate further deepening of our interaction in the interests of the Big Europe nations and the world as a whole.
Our work on a new basic Russia-EU agreement has progressed to the phase of drafting the contents of the future document’s articles. With a constructive approach on the part of the European Union, we may expect that active negotiations will continue and lead to the signing of a strategic document that would correspond to common goals and take our cooperation to new qualitative level. We expect that the new agreement will become an instrument of real rapprochement between Russia and EU on the principles of equality, respect for interests of the parties and common approaches to key security problems.
I believe that this interview format does not allow me to speak in detail about Russia’s relations with individual EU member states. Understandably, they are multifaceted, diverse and showing dynamic development as a whole. However, of course, every particular case has its own country-specific features. Those ties with some of the countries have the history of many centuries.
FT Can we expect any changes in the energy sphere following the recent confrontation with Ukraine over gas? Will the list of consumers of Russian gas diversify to Asian countries, including China and India?
SL Like before, we intend to develop relations with our key partners in the energy sphere on the basis of the common principle of mutual benefit. Russia supplies energy resources to more than 20 countries of Europe and has proven its status of reliable supplier over decades. There won’t be any changes there.
At the same time, the crisis over gas supplies through Ukraine has clearly demonstrated that current energy security mechanisms, like the Energy Charter Treaty, are not very effective, first of all in the transit of energy resources and suppliers’ rights. That is why we support their reform, and if that turns out to be impossible, we shall promote development of new international legal regimes in this sphere.
January events have shown the magnitude of related transit risks. For a long time we have been urging the European Union to create an early warning mechanism with participation of Moscow and Brussels, as well as transit countries. Unfortunately, no practical steps have been made about those proposals so far. We hope that this mechanism will be created in the end.
We assign great importance to implementation of the North Stream and South Stream gas pipelines that would diversify Russian gas transportation routes and facilitate strengthening of Russia-EU energy cooperation infrastructure as a whole.
As far as supplies of Russian gas to the Asian countries are concerned, they have started already. In mid-February, President Medvedev attended the opening ceremony of gas liquefaction factory launched within the framework of Sakhalin-2 joint venture with participation of Russia, Japan, Great Britain and the Netherlands. The first tankers carrying Russian gas have set off for Japan. Thus, Russia entered this segment of gas exports and intends to expand its presence here. There are good opportunities for building cooperation with China by means of cooperation development in gas sphere.
FT What role does Russia aspire to play in the Middle East?
SL The Middle East is a constant focus of our attention. The progress of the political process there has a serious impact on the situation outside the region, stability and security all over the world.
Russia has been continuously promoting the line of building and broadening of mutually beneficial cooperation with the countries of the Middle East, including both the Arab countries and Israel. We maintain high level of political dialogue, make regular contacts with representatives of entrepreneurial and public circles, expand economic cooperation, as well as military and technical ties.
Unfortunately, the most complex tangle of continuous conflicts in the Middle East remains a complicating factor. We aspire for peace, stability, and sustainable development benefits for all countries and nations of the region without exception.
As a permanent member the UN Security Council and participant of the Middle East Quartet of international mediators, Russia has a special responsibility for keeping peace and stability in the Middle East region. Priority tasks include achieving a comprehensive settlement in the Arab-Israeli Conflict, strengthening security in the Persian Gulf area, continuous attempts to find political and diplomatic ways of easing tension around Iran’s nuclear program, and the regulation of Iraq and Sudan situations. We are also ready for active cooperation on the basis of equal partnership, including within the framework of multilateral diplomacy, in the resolution of global challenges and threats that the region is currently facing, be it terrorism, WMD proliferation, environment or food crisis.
The key to stability in the Middle East is in the resolution of its central problem, the Arab-Israeli conflict. It can only be settled by political means. Moreover, it is clear that a lasting Middle Eastern solution can only be comprehensive, including Syrian and Lebanese tracks as well, and establishment of multilateral regional cooperation.
We are preparing a Moscow Conference on the Middle East to promote progress in the Middle East peace process following the Quartet agreements and the UN Security Council decisions.
26 March 2009 in www.ft.com.
PERSIA AND THE USA: WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?
"They give the slogan of change but in practice no change is seen...We haven't seen any change....You give the slogan of negotiations and pressure again...Our nation cannot be talked to like this".
Persian Supreme Leader Khamenei, 21 March 2009, in www.reuters.com
For nearly three decades relations between our nations have been strained. But at this holiday we are reminded of the common humanity that binds us together. Indeed, you will be celebrating your New Year in much the same way that we Americans mark our holidays -- by gathering with friends and family, exchanging gifts and stories, and looking to the future with a renewed sense of hope....
So in this season of new beginnings I would like to speak clearly to Iran's leaders. We have serious differences that have grown over time. My administration is now committed to diplomacy that addresses the full range of issues before us, and to pursuing constructive ties among the United States, Iran and the international community. This process will not be advanced by threats. We seek instead engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect.
You, too, have a choice. The United States wants the Islamic Republic of Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations. You have that right -- but it comes with real responsibilities, and that place cannot be reached through terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions that demonstrate the true greatness of the Iranian people and civilization. And the measure of that greatness is not the capacity to destroy, it is your demonstrated ability to build and create.
The President of the United States, 20th of March, 2009, in www.whitehouse.gov.
The new American President (aka: the ex-junior Senator from Illinois with the absurd name), made what would no doubt be view in the glorious days classical diplomacy, as a demarche vis-`a-vis Persia. In essence a proposal to pour parler, to open negotiations on topics of mutual interest. Of course being that we live in a demotic world, there by definition had to be all sorts of sentimental nonsense, and, other such tripe, in the offer. Fair enough. However once one goes beyond that, one sees that the new American administration would like to employ its alleged popularity abroad for purposes of endeavoring to get the Persians to agree to come to terms. Not mind you, some sort of diktat, but, something more akin to a modus vivendi. The only problem is that: a) the Persians are not yet convinced that they do in fact need to agree to terms; b) it is less than clear that the Americans have much to offer the Persians which would make it worthwhile for them to come to some sort of arrangement with the Americans. The issue is a rather simple one actually: the Persians want to both pursue their current nuclear programme, and, at the same time, be relieved of the sanctions regime which while not threatening the government substantively, has in fact caused some economic discomfort to it. And, to top it off, the Persians want to be seen, both by the Americans and their allies, in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, et cetera, as being 'the' leading regional power in the Near and Middle East.
The issue is also rather simple for the Americans as well: they want the Persians to forswear their nuclear programme, to forswear supporting such terrorist groupings as Hamas and Hezbollah as well as the regime in Damascus. And, to support rather than undermine the 'made in USA' regimes in Baghdad and Kabul. The problem, a problem of an almost Hegelian nature in fact, is that these two 'simple' issues, when added together do not unfortunately synthesize to create a simple solution, but, merely a very intractable quandary. Hence the dismissal of the American overture by the Head Persian Mullah Khamenei. And, one cannot of course entirely blame him. As yet there is no ostensible reason for Teheran to declare 'defeat', and, agree to the proposed American terms. Indeed, why should it? In some ways the regime of Mullahs can comfortably think that things are still going their way: Hezbollah looks set to win an electoral victory in the upcoming parliamentary elections in the Lebanon; Hamas, while badly mauled, is still in control of the Gaza Strip; Israel (much less its American ally) has still not dared to carry out its all but official threats to bomb Persia's nuclear reprocessing plants. Notwithstanding the fact that the programme may perhaps be a little as a year or two from fruition (on this issue see the latest report by ISIS: "Nuclear Breakout Scenarios: correcting the record", 18 March 2009, in www.nucleariran.org
). And, finally of course the new American administration has all but pleaded with the Persians to join the new diplomatic 'contact group', dealing with Afghanistan (see: "Clinton to attend Afghan meeting, no word on Iran", in www.reuters.com
). In short, so far there has not been enough of an employment of sticks by the Americans, nor carrots either to get the Persians to move from what is by no means a very comfortable position, but, which is still their position and, which they perhaps see no reason to move from it diplomatically speaking. As the American online journal Stratfor.com, puts out today:
"For Tehran, however, the suspension of sanctions is much too small a price to pay for major strategic concessions. First, the sanctions don’t work very well. Sanctions only work when most powers are prepared to comply with them. Neither the Russians nor the Chinese are prepared to systematically comply with sanctions, so there is little that Iran can afford that it can’t get. Iran’s problem is that it cannot afford much. Its economy is in shambles due more to internal problems than to sanctions. Therefore, in the Iranian point of view, the United States is asking for strategic concessions, yet offering very little in return".
George Friedman, in "Iran's View of Obama," 23 March 2009, in www.stratfor.com.
The upshot is, at least in my view of things is that notwithstanding the blandishments of the new American Administration, things will remain diplomatically speaking 'cold', rather than 'thawing', much less 'warm' between Teheran and Washington. If and only if, there is a disturbance of the present (negative) equilibrium between two powers, will things change. And, except for the danger (over-stressed still I believe) of Israeli air strikes on Persian nuclear processing and reactor sites, I do not know of any variable to disturb the present standoff. Look for things to continue for quite awhile yet.
THE FALLOUT FROM THE CHAS FREEMAN DEBACLE
"Absolute madness....There is nobody there. You cannot believe how difficult it is,"
Sir Augustine Thomas O'Donnell, KCB, as reported in the Daily Mail, 11th March 2009 in www.dailymail.co.uk
"In times of war and deep economic crisis, when the world we thought we knew may be falling apart, it is not a bad idea to have a government that can both think and act. The current US administration neither thinks nor acts much, judging from the results
Willem Buiter, "To the Victor Belongs the Spoils: who answers the phone in the US Treasury?" in 11 March 2009 in www.ft.c
One does not necessarily have to achieve the august heights of worldly achievement as has Sir Augustine O'Donnell, the British Cabinet Secretary and formerly head of the British Civil Service as Permanent Under-Secretary of State to the Treasury. Nor does one have to acquire all of the academic & other laurels of Mr. Willem Buiter: former chief economist of the EBRD, former member of the Bank of England's Monetary Policy committee, Professor of European Political Economy at the London School of Economic, et cetera, et cetera, to know that the current American administration is deeply and if not entirely plagued by incompetence and an almost complete inability to act positively and then stand by that action. Today's laughable debacle of the now tolerable now intolerable bonus payments to AIG being the newest case in point (for which see: www.ft.com
). However this entry is about a more substantive issue: that of the decision by the new American administration to allow the eminently experienced and qualified Mr. Chas Freeman to be bounced from his appointment as Chairman of the National Intelligence Council. A body which supervises the production of the ultra-important National Intelligence Estimates. Well known for being both an Arabist as well as being critical of the both Israel's policies in the Near East as well as the pro-Israeli slant of the Bush Regime during the 2006 Lebanon War and in general. It appears that it was Mr. Freeman's outspokenness on these issues which torpedoed his proposed nomination. With the administration caving in to the Israeli Lobby and its creatures in Congress and the press. At pretty much the very first volley of cannon fire. The fact that he was supremely qualified for the post, appears to have gone by the board. All one can say is that this is a result of the fact that we have a government which is lead by someone who did not have the slightest qualification for the supreme office that he holds and the upshot is this daily round of debacles that we see. It began with laughter and cries of hope, it will all I am afraid end in tears.
THE CLINTON'S DIPLOMATIC DEMARCHES: DIPLOMACY OR PUBLICITY?
"We are going to be sending two officials to Syria. There are a number of issues that we have between Syria and the United States, as well as the larger regional concerns that Syria obviously poses. As you know, there have been a number of members of the United States Congress who have gone to Damascus in the last weeks and months, and we had an occasion a week ago to call in the ambassador from Syria.
Yes, we’re going to dispatch a representative of the State Department and a representative of the White House to explore with Syria some of these bilateral issues. We have no way to predict what the future with our relations concerning Syria might be. Again, we don’t engage in discussions for the sake of having a conversation. There has to be a purpose to them. There has to be some perceived benefit accruing to the United States and our allies and our shared values. But I think it is a worthwhile effort to go and begin these preliminary conversations.
With respect to the Syria track, again, that will be a matter that once there is a government in Israel, it will be on the agenda that both Senator Mitchell and I have with the new government".
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, 3 March 2009, in "Remarks With Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni", in www.state.gov.
"With respect to the meeting that we discussed today at the ministerial, we presented the idea of what is being called a big tent meeting with all the parties who have a stake and an interest in Afghanistan. That would obviously include NATO members, ISAF members – many of whom are not NATO members – donors, nations that have regional, strategic, and transit positions vis-à-vis Afghanistan, international organizations.
And we have presented this idea, which is being discussed – nothing has been decided – as a way of bringing all the stakeholders and interested parties together. If we move forward with such a meeting, it is expected that Iran would be invited as a neighbor of Afghanistan".
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, 5 March 2009, in "Press Availability after the NATO Meeting", in www.state.gov.
"Foreign Minister Lavrov and I just finished our first in-person meeting over a wonderful meal together, and I am pleased by the opportunity that we had to begin a discussion on resetting U.S.-Russian relations, a process that we know will take time, but I think we had a very productive meeting of the minds on the range of issues that we will be addressing.
From our side, I think it’s fair to say that we are hopeful that this first meeting will lead to others and improve our ability to work together on a range of matters that are significant not only to each of our countries, but to the world. Our two nations share a common interest in working constructively in areas of mutual concern, from arms control and nonproliferation to counter-piracy and counternarcotics, to Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea. We discussed a number of specific issues that we believe it is important for us to work together to make progress.
There is no time to waste on a number of these significant challenges, so we will begin working immediately to translate our words into deeds. In particular, we discussed at some length our top priorities, including the negotiation of a follow-on agreement to the START treaty, and broader areas of cooperation to reduce the number of nuclear weapons and prevent further proliferation.
We talked about new ways to strengthen our cooperation in Afghanistan. And we expressed appreciation for Russia’s decision last month to allow the transit of non-lethal goods to troops in Afghanistan. Both of our countries, along with the rest of the world, are facing an economic crisis. Our two presidents will be attending the G-20 summit in London, and that will be the occasion for a face-to-face, one-on-one meeting between our presidents. President Obama is looking forward to exploring with President Medvedev the range of issues that we discussed and teed up".
"Remarks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov", 6 March 2009, in www.state.gov.
The new American Secretary of State, Mme. Hillary Clinton's recent tour of the Near and Middle East as well as her meetings in Europe, were full of evidence of a diplomatic offensive on seemingly all fronts. In the Near East, she announced that she would be sending envoys to Damascus to engage in talks with the regime of Assad Fils. In Brussels she announced an invitation to Persia to join the emerging, regional 'contact group', on Afghanistan. Also in Brussels she announced that she wanted to reset, Russo-American diplomatic relations, after the cold freeze of the last few years under the regime of Bush the Younger. Indeed, there were stories in the New York Times and elsewhere that there was an unofficial 'demarche' from Washington to Moskva, in which the Americans offered to give up their proposed anti-missile defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic, in return for Russian assistance dealing with Persia and Afghanistan (see: www.nytimes.com
). Purportedly, Moskva demurred at this quid pro quo, at least for the moment.
What however can one make of the above activity and what should one expect of it? In general, it would appear, on the surface that the new American administration is intent upon changing both the substance and the style of American diplomacy. It is now comme il faute, to talk about 'listening to our allies', and, the need to 'have respect', for the opinions of other powers, and peoples. Even those like Persia which have been antagonistic to the USA. Some even have spoken, half in earnest, and half in jest, of a 'respect agenda', in American diplomacy. This of course is all nonsensical. To put it mildly. Notwithstanding any rhetoric or verbiage to the contrary by the new powers that be in Washington, DC, there is so far, not much evidence of any real substantive change to American policy. At least not yet.Partly this is a mere matter of time, and, partly is is a matter of the structural constraints which make American diplomacy, nay any country's diplomacy what it is. Television imagery to the contrary, it is rather rare that a nation's policy and the interests that shape it, change 'on a dime', as it were. More often than not, these are shaped and constrained by much more deep seated variables, which do not change, or change only very slowly. In the case of the United States for example, it is highly unlikely that some pour parlers with the regime in Syria will soon lead to any real diplomatic breakthrough. Partly because the only power which can enable such a circumstance (Israel) is reluctant to allow for the same, and, partly because the Americans are still strongly (and wrongly) seeking for Syria to effect a 'diplomatic revolution' of its own by switching allies from Persia, Hezbollah and Hamas to joining the Washington and its conservative, Sunni Arab allies in the region. At present, all one can say is that it will be a long time in coming before such a Kaunitzian switch of alliances will come about.
In short, it would be more accurate to say that so far, the Clintonian diplomatic
offensive is a case of (to employ a witticism from the Kissinger years) "more shuttle than substance". As the American online journal, Stratfor.com
recently put it:
This is not a fault of the administration, but the reality of geopolitics. The ability of any political leader to effect change is not principally determined by his or her own desires, but by external factors. In dealing with any one of these adversaries individually, the administration is bound to hit walls. In trying to balance the interests between adversaries and allies, the walls only become reinforced. Add to that additional constraints in dealing with Congress and the need to maintain approval ratings — not to mention trying to manage a global recession — and the space to maneuver becomes much tighter. We must also remember that this is an administration that has not even been in power for two months. Formulating policy on issues of this scale takes several months at the least, and more likely years before the United States actually figures out what it wants and what it can actually do. No amount of power delegation to special envoys will change that. In fact, it could even confuse matters when bureaucratic rivalries kick in and the chain of command begins to blur.
Whether the policymakers are sitting in an Afghan cave or in the Kremlin, they will not find this surprising. As is widely known, presidential transitions take time, and diplomatic engagements to feel out various positions are a natural part of the process. Tacit offers can be made, bits of negotiations will be leaked, but as long as each player questions the ability of Washington to follow through in any sort of “grand bargain,” these talks are unlikely to result in any major breakthroughs. So far, Obama has demonstrated that he can talk the diplomatic talk. The real question is whether he can walk the geopolitical walk".
Reva Bhalla, "Obama's Diplomatic Offensive and the Reality of Geopolitics", 10 March 2009, in www.stratfor.com
THE FOREIGN POLICY OF THE NEW AMERICAN ADMINISTRATION: A 'NEW LOOK' OR MERELY PLUS CA CHANGE... The Emerging Obama Foreign Policy
"The characteristic feature of the crisis of the twenty years between 1919 and 1939 was the abrupt descent from the visionary hopes of the first decade to the grim despair of the second, from a utopia which took little account of reality to a reality from which every element of utopia was rigorously excluded. The mirage of the nineteenth-twenties was, as we now know, the belated reflexion of a century past beyond recall -- the golden age of continuously expanding territories and markets, of a world policed by the self-assured and not too onerous British hegemony, of a coherent 'Western' civilisation whose conflicts could be harmonised by a progressive extension of the area of common development and exploitation, of the easy assumptions that what was good for one was good for all and that what was economically right could not be morally wrong. The reality which had once given content to this utopia was already in decay before the nineteenth century had reached its end. The utopia of 1919 was hollow and without substance. It was without influence on the future because it no longer had any roots in the present".
E. H. Carr, The 20 Years' Crisis: 1919-1939.
There has been much speculation, so far with not much more to go on than mere hearsay and scraps of news, about the nature of the foreign policy of the ex-junior Senator from Illinois with the absurd name. In the more high-brow and intelligent online journals such Joshua Landis' Syria Comment (www.syriacomment.com
) , there is a very noticeable back and forth between hopes that the advent of the new American regime will mean a completely new policy and the fear (so far much justified) that in point of fact, that aside from some change in rhetoric, the reality is that policy will remain much as it was before the 20th of January 2009. Certainly, in the case of American policy towards the Near East, one can quite easily see, that it is continuity, not dis-continuity which is in order. Something which was predicted here quite awhile back. With the appointments most recent appointments (Dennis Ross to be 'Special Envoy' to handle Persia, and, Jeffrey Feltman as Assistant Secretary of State for the Near and Middle East) clearly revealing a clear continuity with American policy under the Bush regime. Which is not to gainsay the fact that that said policy, may very well be handled in a much more professional and clear sighted fashion by experienced (Dennis Ross) and indeed superb (Richard Holbrooke) officials. That however does not obviate the fact, that just as policy dealing with the bankrupted American banks has not in essence changed very much under Treasury Secretary Geithner, similarly policy dealing with say Afghanistan, Iraq or Persia shows much signs of change.
For example the recently announced revised, timetable (19 months) for the complete withdrawal of American combat troops from Iraq, is: a) not altogether different from what Bush and company agreed to in late 2008 with the Iraqi government; b) has so many holes in terms of possible changes that it could serve as a very tasty bit of Swiss cheese. Similarly, Secretary Clinton's recent trip to Peking, bore a stunning resemblance to similar outings by Secretaries Powell and Rice. Id est., no direct criticism of the PRC, over human rights, Tibet or Chinese policy in Sudan, the Congo or elsewhere. Just as one may expect a policy of 'no change', at the Egyptian hosted Summit to deal with the aftermath of the Gaza War. With the Bush policy of boycotting Hamas still in force (see: "Clinton Heads to Israel and West Bank bearing cash and caution" in www.nytimes.com
). Does that mean that in point of fact we will have eight years of Bush-lite? No, there will be change in American foreign policy. However the causation of that change will be less the result of American 'planning' and, more the result of changing circumstances. Indeed, what we might very well see in the next eight years, is an increased tendency for American policy to 'accommodate' itself to changes around the world, which the USA does not either like or care for, but, is unable to influence, either positively or negatively. With perhaps the best examples being say changes in Pakistan (more deterioration and radicalism), Ukraine, Belarus, and Central Asia (more and more turning towards Russia and to a lesser extent China), Persia (going nuclear), et cetera. And, while one wishes to avoid employing the phrase, one cannot but, conjure up the Nixonian idea of the USA as a 'pitiless, helpless Giant'. Unable to effectively prevent unwanted changes to the international arena. Is this likely to be true? Perhaps. It is more likely to be true than say the liberal bourgeois post-enlightenment, cosmopolitan fantasy of several months back,in which the mere fact that Senator McCain would not be elected President and his opponent would, would guarantee that the world would become a safe and tranquail place. Were that it were so. Unfortunately it is not likely to be.