RUSSIA AND THE CRISIS IN SYRIA: A COMMENT.
"This week, as the Arab League urged Mr Assad to hand power to a national unity government, Moscow said it would sell Syria 36 fighter jets for $550m. Russia’s staunch support of Mr Assad is driven partly by a determination to avoid a repeat of what happened in Libya, when Moscow abstained from a UN resolution imposing a no-fly zone that contributed to the demise of Muammer Gaddafi, the country’s ruler.
The result was a diplomatic and commercial fiasco for Russia, with the new Libyan government vowing to punish Russian, and Chinese, companies for their government’s support of the former regime.
But the Kremlin said its mistake was not that it backed the wrong horse in Gaddafi – rather that it did not back him hard enough. This time they mean to defend their man.
Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, who made the decision to abstain in the UN vote on Libya in March, was heavily criticised when Nato warplanes went on the offensive and the operation, originally designed to protect civilians, became “a classic regime change scenario”, according to Fedor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, a Moscow- based foreign policy journal.
“The decision to abstain is widely seen in Russia as a mistake. No one wants to put themselves in that position again,” he said.
Veto-wielding Russia has quashed any similar attempt to get a UN resolution on Syria, and seems certain to do so again, despite Arab League pressure.
“From the standpoint of strategy, it doesn’t seem to me that military intervention would be a successful step,” Mikhail Margelov, presidential envoy to Africa, who has been the Kremlin’s point man in Middle East diplomacy, told Russian television. “ISyria today needs additional efforts in order to get a dialogue started.”
In an attempt to pre-empt talk of armed intervention, Mr Margelov said the Arab League’s measures were working. “Monitors are a stabilising factor in Syria,” he insisted, despite Tuesday’s withdrawal of monitors from Gulf Co-operation Council nations from the league’s mission to Syria.
Russian analysts also believe the west is naive in allowing itself to be drawn into yet another Arab revolution with unclear consequences. “The Russian side doesn’t buy the argument about a popular uprising,” Mr Lukyanov said. “Instead, the Syrian crisis is seen as a geopolitical battle between the Sunni Arab monarchies and Iran [for whom Syria is an important ally],” he added.
“The western idea to crush every dictatorship and open a Pandora’s box across the Middle East is just madness,” said Sergei Markov, deputy director of the Plekhanov Economic Academy in Moscow and former member of parliament, who accused US and its Nato allies of “deception” in their imposition of a no-fly zone in Libya.
Russia’s decision once again to back what seems like a lost cause may be rooted in its past. Mr Assad is one of Russia’s last allies in the Middle East: Hafez, his father, was a long-time Soviet client and the relationship has been passed down a generation.
“Russia’s presence in the Middle East is a legacy of Soviet times,” Mr Lukyanov said. “We don’t think the Mideast’s new rulers will need Russia, whatever our position was when they came to power. The only chance we have to continue a relationship and to earn dividends from it is if the old regimes stay.”'
Charles Clover, "Moscow's ties with Syria grow Stronger." The Financial Times. 24 January 2012, in www.ft.com
"Seen from the Soviet point of view, the demise of militant Arab nationalism and the decline of goodwill toward the Soviet Union has meant that those regimes which still remain loyal to the Soviet position must be nurtured much more carefully. In the 1950's and 1960's Moscow could afford to make mistakes (and it made many of them), first of all because if it had troubles with one regime it could concentrate on another, and secondly because it was the only source of economic, military and political support for the anti-Western policies almost universally adopted by Arab leaders at that time."
Karen Dawisha, "The U.S.S.R. in the Middle East: Superpower in Eclipse?" Foreign Affairs. (Winter 1982/1983), p. 444.
The grandstanding by the Putin-Medvedev duumvirate
over the crisis in Syria is au fond
the end result of Moskva's endeavor to remain an 'independent player', id. est., a Great Power in the old sense, in the Near and Middle East. In reality of course, both during the Cold War and certainly at present, the Russian 'jeu
' in the region is of the sideshow variety. Per se
, Moskva has no real interests to speak of in the region. Even the alleged worth of the Syrian naval base in the Mediterranean is in point of fact questionable, when once considers how weak and second-rate Russia's Black Sea fleet is at present. Sans a first-class naval power projection capability from the Black Sea, then any bases in the Mediterranean sink into the military equivalent of hot air. Which is not to say of course, that there might very well indeed be good reasons to object to American-Nato-Turkish-Sunni Arab military intervention in Syria. Merely that as far as one can make out, the true reason that Russia refuses to pass a Security Council resolution on Syria, has little to do with such reasoning. From a more realistic perspective, Mosvka's positioning, unless it is for purposes of obtaining some type of gage
, from someone or other (Saudi Arabia? the United States? Turkey?), makes very little sense. Aside from nostalgia for the Near Eastern diplomacy of Sovietskaya Vlast
, Russia has nothing concrete at stake in the Syrian affair. And threats to veto or even vetoing Security Council resolutions will not convince anyone that Moskva is a major actor in the region. It is most certainly not. And as the Dawisha article of almost thirty years ago, shows, even at the height of the Cold War, Russia's Near Eastern position was not all that it seemed to be. As for the future, nor will it be, unless and until Russia's economic and military foundations are strengthened infinitely more than what they are at present. And of course, when Russia's domestic political scene becomes much more stable than what it is at present. Besides these very concrete variables, the duumvirate's
diplomatic posturing is nothing more than a very damp squib.
THE NEW AMERICAN STRATEGIC OUTLOOK: CONTINUITY OR CHANGE?
"The United States has played a leading role in transforming the international system over the past sixty-five years. Working with like-minded nations, the United States has created a safer, more stable, and more prosperous world for the American people, our allies, and our partners around the globe than existed prior to World War II. Over the last decade, we have undertaken extended operations in Iraq and Afghanistan to bring stability to those countries and secure our interests. As we responsibly draw down from these two operations, take steps to protect our nation’’s economic vitality, and protect our interests in a world of accelerating change, we face an inflection point. This merited an assessment of the U.S. defense strategy in light of the changing geopolitical environment and our changing fiscal circumstances. This assessment reflects the President’’s strategic direction to the Department and was deeply informed by the Department’’s civilian and military leadership, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretaries of the Military Departments, and the Combatant Commanders. Out of the assessment we developed a defense strategy that transitions our Defense enterprise from an emphasis on today’’s wars to preparing for future challenges, protects the broad range of U.S. national security interests, advances the Department’’s efforts to rebalance and reform, and supports the national security imperative of deficit reduction through a lower level of defense spending. This strategic guidance document describes the projected security environment and the key military missions for which the Department of Defense (DoD) will prepare. It is intended as a blueprint for the Joint Force in 2020, providing a set of precepts that will help guide decisions regarding the size and shape of the force over subsequent program and budget cycles, and highlighting some of the strategic risks that may be associated with the proposed strategy.
A Challenging Global Security Environment
The global security environment presents an increasingly complex set of challenges and opportunities to which all elements of U.S. national power must be applied. The demise of Osama bin Laden and the capturing or killing of many other senior al-Qa’’ida leaders have rendered the group far less capable. However, al-Qa’’ida and its affiliates remain active in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and elsewhere. More broadly, violent extremists will continue to threaten U.S. interests, allies, partners, and the homeland. The primary loci of these threats are South Asia and the Middle East. With the diffusion of destructive technology, these extremists have the potential to pose catastrophic threats that could directly affect our security and prosperity. For the foreseeable future, the United States will continue to take an active approach to countering these threats by monitoring the activities of non-state threats worldwide, working with allies and partners to establish control over ungoverned territories, and directly striking the most dangerous groups and individuals when necessary.
U.S. economic and security interests are inextricably linked to developments in the arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean region and South Asia, creating a mix of evolving challenges and opportunities. Accordingly, while the U.S. military will continue to contribute to security globally, we will of necessity rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region. Our relationships with Asian allies and key partners are critical to the future stability and growth of the region. We will emphasize our existing alliances, which provide a vital foundation for Asia-Pacific security. We will also expand our networks of cooperation with emerging partners throughout the Asia-Pacific to ensure collective capability and capacity for securing common interests. The United States is also investing in a long-term strategic partnership with India to support its ability to serve as a regional economic anchor and provider of security in the broader Indian Ocean region. Furthermore, we will maintain peace on the Korean Peninsula by effectively working with allies and other regional states to deter and defend against provocation from North Korea, which is actively pursuing a nuclear weapons program. The maintenance of peace, stability, the free flow of commerce, and of U.S. influence in this dynamic region will depend in part on an underlying balance of military capability and presence. Over the long term, China’’s emergence as a regional power will have the potential to affect the U.S. economy and our security in a variety of ways. Our two countries have a strong stake in peace and stability in East Asia and an interest in building a cooperative bilateral relationship. However, the growth of China’’s military power must be accompanied by greater clarity of its strategic intentions in order to avoid causing friction in the region. The United States will continue to make the necessary investments to ensure that we maintain regional access and the ability to operate freely in keeping with our treaty obligations and with international law. Working closely with our network of allies and partners, we will continue to promote a rules-based international order that ensures underlying stability and encourages the peaceful rise of new powers, economic dynamism, and constructive defense cooperation.
In the Middle East, the Arab Awakening presents both strategic opportunities and challenges. Regime changes, as well as tensions within and among states under pressure to reform, introduce uncertainty for the future. But they also may result in governments that, over the long term, are more responsive to the legitimate aspirations of their people, and are more stable and reliable partners of the United States. Our defense efforts in the Middle East will be aimed at countering violent extremists and destabilizing threats, as well as upholding our commitment to allies and partner states".
United States Department of Defence. "Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for the 21st century." The Council of Foreign Relations. 5 January 2012, in www.cfr.org.
"At the end of the day, less money results in less capability. And less capability is something we cannot afford at a time when we face a rising China, a nuclear North Korea, an Iran on the verge of going nuclear, a Pakistan threatened as never before by jihadists, and numerous terrorist groups, ranging from the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban to the Shabab in Somalia and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. These groups threaten not only vital U.S. interests abroad but also increasingly the American homeland itself, as evidenced by AQAP's attempt to mail parcel bombs to the U.S. and by the Pakistani Taliban's sponsorship of an attempt to set off a car bomb in Times Square.
China presents a particularly worrisome long-term problem. It is in the midst of a rapid defense buildup which has allowed it to field a stealth fighter, an aircraft carrier, diesel submarines, cyberweapons, "carrier-killer" and satellite-killer ballistic missiles, and numerous other missiles. Even as things stand, China is increasingly able to contest the U.S. Navy's freedom of movement in the Western Pacific. As long ago as 2008, Rand predicted that by 2020 the U.S. would not be able to defend Taiwan from a Chinese attack, and that was before the surprise unveiling of China's J-20 Stealth fighter or its new aircraft carrier. The timeline for American dominance being threatened is shortening. The safety of U.S. bases in Okinawa, Guam, and elsewhere in the region can no longer be assured, creating the potential for a 21st-century Pearl Harbor. That trend will be exacerbated—leading to a potentially dangerous shift in the balance of power—unless we build up our shrinking fleet. But given the budget cuts being discussed, we will have trouble maintaining the current size of our fleet, much less expanding it.
We have already cancelled the F-22 and cut back the procurement of the F-35. Is the F-35 to be cancelled altogether or cut back to such an extent that we will have no answer to the fifth-generation fighters emanating from Russia and China? If that were to come to pass, it would signal the death knell for American power in the Pacific. If our power wanes, our allies will have to do what they need to do to ensure their own security. It's easy to imagine, under such a scenario, states such as Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan acquiring their own nuclear weapons, thus setting off a dangerous and destabilizing nuclear arms race with China.
Even given the dire consequences, it might still make sense to cut the defense budget—if it were bankrupting us and undermining our economic well-being, which is the foundation of our national security. But that's not the case. Defense spending, including supplemental appropriations, is less than 5 percent of gross domestic product and less than 20 percent of the federal budget. Both figures are lower than the historic norm. That means our armed forces are much less costly in relative terms than they were throughout much of the 20th century. Even at roughly $550 billion, our core defense budget is eminently affordable. It is, in fact, a bargain, considering the historic consequences of letting our guard down.
The United States' armed forces have been the greatest force for good the world has seen during the past century. They defeated Nazism and Japanese imperialism, deterred and defeated Communism, and stopped numerous lesser evils—from Slobodan Milosevic's ethnic cleansing to the oppression perpetrated by Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Imagine a world in which America is not the leading military power. It would be a brutal, Hobbesian place in which aggressors rule and the rule of law is trampled on. And yet Congress will be helping to usher in such a New World Disorder if it continues to slash defense spending at the currently contemplated rate—just as previous Congresses did with previous rounds of "postwar" budget cuts going back to the dawn of the Republic.
But there is nothing inevitable about the outcome. The first tranche of sequestration cuts is not scheduled to take effect until the 2013 fiscal year. That means Congress has most of 2012 to find an alternative. Unfortunately, President Obama has threatened to veto any bill that tries to exempt the defense budget from sequestration. But that should not prevent pro-defense Democrats and Republicans from pushing such a bill anyway. If even one year of sequestration were to occur, major weapons systems (which will be costly and difficult to restart) might be cancelled—and great numbers of veterans (whose experience would be lost forever) might be layed off.
In the long run, the question of whether or not—and to what extent—we will cut defense will be decided in the 2012 elections. Obama appears sanguine about the impact of defense cuts, but his Republican challengers are not. Mitt Romney has promised to protect the defense budget and expand naval shipbuilding. Rick Perry has called on Leon Panetta to resign rather than accept massive cuts. Even Newt Gingrich, who has been critical of wasteful Pentagon spending, has said that sequestration would be "totally destructive" and "very dangerous to the survival of the country."
It is commonly said that every election is a turning point in our history. In many cases that's nothing more than partisan hype. In the case of the 2012 election, it's true: The future of the U.S. armed forces, and of American power in general, could depend greatly on the outcome".
Max Boot, "Slashing America's Defence: a suicidal trajectory." The Council on Foreign Relations. (January 2012), in www.cfr.org.
The American Department of Defence new strategic blueprint has raised the hackles of some commentators of the Max Boot variety (see above). As per them, the proposed reductions in the American Defence Department spending plans for the next ten years, with its changed emphasis on the Pacific-Orient theatre, will entail a drastic reduction in American military strength overseas. And with the same a drastic reduction in the United States ability to intervene actively overseas as well as to properly project Pax Americana. From a neutral perspective how accurate is this assessment? From what I am able to judge, the reductions in American military forces will primarily come at the expense of the Army (reduced from approximately 569,000 to 450,00) and the Marines (reduced from 200,000 to 175,000). Reductions of over twenty percent for one and over ten percent for the other. Such figures while they seem to be quite high, are as Mr. Boot himself admits, are quite well within the range of troop reductions in the aftermath of past wars. particularly as they relate to the Army 1
. And indeed, based upon total numbers, the size of the Army will be roughly what it was circa 1999, not exactly a year when American forces could be said to be dangerously ill-manned or reduced in size. Looking at matters from a historical perspective, the strategic outlook of the current American Administration, is (as I have noted in this journal in the past) very similar indeed to those of past American Administrations, such as Eisenhower's and Nixon's, where in a post-bellum
atmosphere, force reduction and a greater reliance (whether real or imagined is a different issue) on allies in different areas of the world was the goal. The thinking of the current American Administration, once one strips away the rhetoric of novelty (which all American Administrations feel some need to proclaim for reasons of publicity) is nothing so much as those of Eisenhower's 'New Look' and Nixon's 'Doctrine' 2
. As the past master of American foreign relations historians of the second half of the twentieth century, John Lewis Gaddis, noted in his magnum opus
, Strategies of Containment
"Triangular politics had made possible progress toward John Foster Dulles's old goal of maximum deterrence at minimum cost-not by threatening escalation, though, but through the simple approach, made feasible by the triumph of geopolitics over ideology, of reducing the number of adversaries to be deterred. This reduction in adversaries, in turn made possible a fourth key element in the Nixon-Kissinger strategy: a phasing down of American commitments in the world, formally expressed in what came to be known as the Nixon Doctrine...Kissinger later further generalized the doctrine into an assertion 'that the United States will participate in the defence and development of allies and friends, but that America cannot--and--will not--conceive all the plans, design all the programs, execute all the decisions and undertake all the defence of the free nations of the world'. The United States would give first priority to its own interests: 'our interests must shape our commitments, rather than the other way around'" 3.
And while the emergence of Red China as a potential military rival in the Pacific-Orient theatre, can be said to be a (to use a vernacular expression) 'game changer', I for one, while recognizing that the PRC is indeed, a potential Great Power rival in the Pacific, do not feel that at present possesses anything close to the military power or reach that say Sovietskaya Vlast
possessed for most of the Cold War 3
. Indeed, insofar as the reductions planned in the American military budget are intended to shore-up American governmental finances, then they are indeed warranted. One may merely note that per se
, such reductions will not by themselves cure the American patient of the various illnesses that he suffers from at present. However that calls for an altogether different post. 1
. Max Boot. "Overspending the Peace Dividend." The Los Angeles Times
. 10 January 2012, in www.latimes.com
; Peter Orszag, "Pentagon Fires at Budget Targets that cannot be hit." Bloomberg.
10 January 2012, in www.bloomberg.com
. John Lewis Gaddis. Strategies of Containment: A critical appraisal of American National Security Policy during the Cold War
. Revised and Expanded Edition. (2005), pp. 130-45, 293-296, et. passim.3
. See for this point, recently reiterated with good effect: Philip Stephens, "How American Could go it Alone." The Financial Times
. 13 January 2012, in www.ft.com
. For a different point of view of this important topic, in an important new book, to be reviewed in this space, see: Aaron L. Friedberg. A contest for Supremacy: China, America, and the struggle for mastery in Asia
THE CONTROVERSY OVER THE KILLING OF PERSIAN SCIENTISTS
"TEHRAN, Jan 12 (Reuters) - An Iranian nuclear scientist was blown up in his car by a motorbike hitman, prompting Tehran to blame Israeli and U.S. agents but insist the killing would not derail a nuclear programme that has raised fears of war and threatened world oil supplies. The fifth daylight attack on technical experts in two years, the magnetic bomb delivered a targeted blast to the door of 32-year-old Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan's car during Wednesday's morning rush-hour. The chemical engineer's driver also died, Iranian media said, and a passer-by was slightly hurt.
Israel, whose military chief said on Tuesday that Iran could expect to suffer more mysterious mishaps, declined comment. The White House, struggling for Chinese and Russian help on economic sanctions, denied any U.S. role and condemned the attack. While Israeli or Western involvement seemed eminently plausible to independent analysts, a role for local Iranian factions or other regional interests engaged in a deadly shadow war of bluff and sabotage could not be ruled out.
The killing, which left debris hanging in trees and body parts on the road, came in a week of heightened tension:
Iran has started an underground uranium enrichment plant and sentenced an American to death for spying; Washington and Europe have stepped up efforts to cripple Iran's oil exports for its refusal to halt work that the West says betrays an ambition to build nuclear weapons. Iran says its aims are entirely peaceful. Tehran has threatened to choke the West's supply of Gulf oil if its exports are hit by sanctions, drawing a U.S. warning that its navy was ready to open fire to prevent any blockade of the strategic Strait of Hormuz, through which 35 percent of the world's seaborne traded oil passes.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Iran's threats to close the strait were "provocative and dangerous" and repeated the White House denial of any U.S. involvement in the killing of Ahmadi-Roshan....
Analysts saw the latest assassination, which would have taken no little expertise, as less a reaction to recent events than part of a longer-running, covert effort to thwart Iran's nuclear development programme that has also included suspected computer viruses and mystery explosions. While fears of war have forced up oil prices, the region has seen periods of sabre-rattling and limited bloodshed before without reaching all-out conflict. But a willingness in Israel, which sees an imminent Iranian atom bomb as a threat to its existence, to attack Iranian nuclear sites, with or without U.S. backing, has heightened the sense that a crisis is coming....
In Washington, White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said: "The United States had absolutely nothing to do with this ... We strongly condemn all acts of violence, including acts of violence like what is being reported today."
Israel, which has a history of covert killings abroad, declined comment, though army spokesman Yoav Mordechai wrote on Facebook: "I don't know who settled the score with the Iranian scientist, but I am definitely not shedding any tears."'.
Ramin Mostafavi & Parisa Hafezi, "Iran [Persia] says nuclear scientist killed in car bombing." Reuters. 11 January 2011, in www.reuters.com.
'“I think the assassination of an Iranian citizen is a blatant act of terrorism perpetuated by experts in targeted assassinations, and it has to be categorically denounced,” Hamid Dabashi, a professor of Iranian Studies at Columbia University told The Daily Beast. “These scientists are national treasures. This is an egregious act of violation of many different rights, to infiltrate into a sovereign state and to assassinate its citizens.”
“The United Nations has to intervene. Any civilized country has to intervene. And the [Israelis] claim to be the only democracy in the region?! That’s insane!,” he added....
“I don’t believe a program on such a large scale as Iran’s nuclear program is eliminated or slowed down as a result of the elimination of some individuals,” Gholamhossein Karbaschi, the former Tehran mayor and a close ally of reformist leader Mehdi Karroubi, told The Daily Beast. “It does have a psychological effect, but it will not have an impact in the nuclear program itself. Its psychological effect is not favorable, either, as people hate the perpetrators.”
Omid Memarian, "Why are Iran assassination backfiring, aiding nuclear program". The Daily Beast. 13 January 2012, in www.dailybeast.com.
The assassination of another Persian nuclear scientist on Wednesday past, has brought forth a torrent of claims and counter-claims concerning the legitimacy or not of such activities by a sovereign state which claims to be a legitimate member of the international community of nations. There are arguments, indeed good arguments on both sides of the issue. And while there are seemingly cogent reasons advanced to gainsay this alleged operation (Israeli more likelier than not), those which argue in its favor to my mind appear to have the upper hand. First, there appears to be very little legitimacy to the argument that the operations are hurting or making more difficult the position of the internal Persian opposition. As a well-argued piece in the American bi-monthly Foreign Affairs
has noted, there is in effect 'no opposition' to the regime of Mullahs. The opposition such as it existed circa 2009 has in effect disappeared into thin air. As things presently stand, while the regime of Mullahs are hardly popular, there does not appear to be any signs that it will be overthrown in any time in the near future 1
. Similarly, the argument that the assassination policy is either immoral or ineffective is also of questionable merit. Viz
: as any well-informed historian of international affairs well knows, the assassination policy has a long prior history. From the Romans in antiquity to British attempts circa 1799-1800 to assassinate Bonaparte, such violent coercive 'diplomacy' has been very much par for the course in inter-state interaction 2
. As per the argument that the policy is 'ineffective', the answer to that caveat is simply: what is the alternative? Certainly the policy as such is better than endeavoring to launch missile strikes on Persia. Or even a complete naval blockade. So far it would appear that the policy, along with more complex endeavors to slow-down or halt the Persian programme, has indeed had some positive effect. And while not completely successful has indeed retarded the Persian effort. So much so, that the date for Persia to acquire a nuclear capability is still uncertain and no one seems to predict that it will be during the current or next anno domini
. At present this 'delaying operation' appears to be the very best that can be expected of Western policy, in addition to the application of oil sanctions. Hopefully, the combination of the two, will suffice to bring the regime of Mullahs to heel. 1
. Hooman Majid, "Christmas is no time for an Iranian Revolution. Foreign Affairs.
11 January 2012, in www.foreignaffairs.com
. For the historical examples outlined here, see: Elizabeth Sparrow, "The Alien Office, 1792-1806." The Historical Journal
. (December 1993), pp. 360-384; John Erhman. The Younger Pitt: the consuming struggle
. (1996), pp. 470-471. In addition, see: A. D. Lee, "Abductions and Assassinations: the Clandestine face of Roman Diplomacy in Late Antiquity." The International History Review.
(March 2009), pp. 1-23.
THE STORM OVER HUNGARY: A COMMENT
"As friends of Hungary, we expressed our concerns and particularly called for a real commitment to the independence of the judiciary, a free press, and governmental transparency, because it’s important not only for Hungarians that this great democratic journey that our two countries are on – we for somewhat longer than you – but certainly sharing that commitment that we continue to exemplify democratic values and freedoms, first and foremost for the benefit of our own people and for the transatlantic alliance, but also as examples for those who are struggling to define their own democracies now in the Middle East and North Africa....
With respect to Hungary, the prime minister and I discussed every issue that you have raised – the constitutional court, the media law, just the whole gamut of concerns. And obviously, we consider Hungary a close friend, a strong NATO ally. We greatly respect Hungary’s commitment to freedom, the fact that the prime minister has fought for freedom his entire adult life, and we had a candid conversation today. We have encouraged our Hungarian friends to ensure a broad, inclusive constitution that is consistent with its own democratic values and the European values as well. And I underscored the importance, in any government, to enshrine checks and balances. Certainly, we believe in the United States that transparency and checks and balances are absolutely crucial.
And I think throughout the process of implementing the constitution and the accompanying cardinal laws, it is important, and certainly the prime minister made that very clear to me, that he is committed to ensuring that Hungary is very true to its democratic traditions, to protect individual liberties, maintain freedom of the press and the judiciary, and ensure checks and balances. So we had, as I said and as the prime minister has said, a very wide-ranging, comprehensive, productive discussion".
American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. "Remarks with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban." 30th June 2010, in www.state.gov.
"Question: Last year took some very unusual turns as far as the contacts between the United States and our country are concerned. First, Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State came to Hungary and she raised some criticism. And then you published some articles where you were very polite, but you also raised some criticism in terms of the operation of the Hungarian government. Then in October came this demarche, as far as I know, oral diplomatic note, and finally, on December 23 Mrs. Hillary Clinton sent another letter which according to some sources even harsher. So, now, how optimistic are you, is the Hungarian government listening to all these pieces of criticism?
Ambassador Kounalakis: Well you certainly laid out the course of events and the progression but I would really like to stress is that in all of these communications that we have been having with the Hungarian government the United States is engaging as a friend. We are not here to tell the Hungarian government which laws to pass, we are not here to determine what the policy should be. But as a friend, and as a country with a long history and reputation of promoting strong democracies, we have had some concerns. And yes over the course of this last year or so we have been consistently raising those concerns with the government.
Question: In your observation, is the government listening?
Ambassador Kounalakis: I can tell you that we felt our engagement was very open; the doors were always open to us. It really did appear as though we were getting our concerns through in a very constructive way. So, I can tell you quite sincerely that we were really surprised at the end of the year when several of the really key laws were moved forward in such a way that appeared not at all to have addressed our concerns. And again, we were promoting these things as a friend, but they were very serious concerns. We‘ve recognized from the beginning that the government came into office with a mandate for change, with a very rigorous agenda for reform in this country and we really respect that. In fact, we’ve taken every opportunity to be helpful as the government has attempted to reform many of the institutions that we agreed could use some reform. But at the same time, attention to the democratic institutions at the core of Hungary’s democracy, well, that’s something that we watch very carefully, we’re very concerned and we’re very interested in. So, as we presented our concerns, they were fairly narrow, we only brought up issues that tipped over the top into this area of Hungary’s democratic institutions and checks and balances. And we thought that there would be a very serious consideration of that and that they would be addressed. So the fact that we got to December and frankly, the concerns really were not addressed at all, is very, very disappointing for us.
Question: Of course we are democratic countries and we have limited means in terms of interfering; we don’t want to interfere in each other’s businesses and it’s obvious that the United States doesn’t want to do it either. But according to some Hungarian media sources, the State Department is so dissatisfied with the Hungarian government that they want to pressure Hungary and the Hungarian government to eliminate the current government and to have a government of experts.
Ambassador Kounalakis: I saw this morning on the Internet that there was a report suggesting that that was somehow U.S. foreign policy. But I can tell you absolutely clearly that is not U.S. foreign policy, that is not our position and those reports are untrue".
American Ambassador Kounalakis. "Ambassador Kounalakis interview with Ildiko Eperjesi, ATV." 6 January 2012, in www.state.gov.
In recent weeks, all of the usual bien-pensant
voices on both sides of the Atlantic have been raising the alarm about the actions of the Magyar government of Prime Minister, Viktor Orban. With the rumor mill in Brussels stating that there is an outside possibility of the government in Budapest being officially rebuked or even losing its voting powers in the European Union 1
. As per that epitome of bien-pensant
logic, Mr. Philip Stephens of the Financial Times, the Orban government is nothing more than a Magyar version of the Putin regime in Moskva:
"This week saw the introduction of Mr Orban’s new constitution. Suffused with ethnic nationalism, it reeks of an ambition for one-party rule. It promises repression of personal freedoms within Hungary and, through an extension of citizenship to Hungarian minorities elsewhere, threatens instability in ethnically-diverse neighbours....The authority of the courts has been limited and the judiciary subjected to closer political supervision. The constitution asserts state control over personal conscience and faith. Abortion and same-sex marriages are outlawed and recognised religions limited. Paradoxically for a politician so visceral in his hostility to post-Soviet Russia, Mr Orban’s version of democracy is one that would surely win plaudits from Vladimir Putin. Much as in Mr Putin’s Russia, the rule of law is subordinated to the entrenchment of one-party rule. As in Russia, Hungarians can still vote; citizens can protest and privately owned media can criticise Mr Orban. But this is faux democracy. State institutions, the courts and the national broadcaster are firmly in Fidesz hands" 2.
Given all the outcry what is in fact the validity of the all this criticism of the new Hungarian constitution? From what can be ascertained in the English language press, it would appear that in point of fact, while certain aspects of the new Hungarian constitution can indeed be criticized (in particular those aspects dealing with certain clauses in the press law), much of the criticism is vastly overdone and indeed has a very clear partis pris
aspect to it. To take a few examples: i
) the articles dealing with the 'independence of the judiciary'. As per the constitution, judges are to be chosen by a monitor who will be appointed by the current ruling party. For those with a certain degree of memory: how does this differ, if at all, from the British 'unwritten' constitution, circa 1997, when a Cabinet Minister (the Lord Chancellor) not only participated in choosing judges but was also the de jure
head of the judiciary? Was the United Kingdom circa 1997 deemed to be 'undemocratic'? ii
) a similar objection can be raised to the issue of the 'independence' of the Central Bank. No doubt there are many good reasons for Central Bank independence. No doubt there are many good reasons for Central Bank non-independence. The name of Dr. Hjalmar Horace Greeley Schacht
immediately comes to mind. As does the fact that the 'independence' of the Bank of England after 1997 has hardly given evidence by virtue of its subsequent performance that 'independence' per se
is any harbinger of a better running of an economy than otherwise. The fact that the European Union's Central Bank is independent has not proven to be a greatly positive factor in its performance during the financial crisis of 2008 to present (to put it mildly). And to repeat the above referenced question again in a different key: was the non-independence of the Bank of England, circa 1995, evidence of the fact that the United Kingdom was 'undemocratic'? iii
) legislation as per abortion, same-sex unions, and legislation towards 'odd', non-Christian sects (the so-called 'Church of Scientology', et cetera), are on the whole well in keeping perceived 'norms' of West European governance, circa 1970. These are more issues of morality rather than democracy or non-democracy. So-called 'Gay Parades', have been banned in various places in Central and Eastern Europe in the past few years: Warsaw, Moskva, et cetera. If one were to seriously use this criterion as a measuring stick to assess whether or not countries x
, and z
are or are not 'Democratic' than by definition all the countries in the West were, circa 1965 / 1970 'non-democratic'. Which by definition is non-sense and rubbish
. The very ne plus ultra
idiocy. In short, while a few of the criticism of the new Hungarian constitution are with merit, most are without. This is very much a case, where it is the critics, rather than the object of criticism which stands under a cloud to mind way of thinking. The fact that the egregious American Secretary of State and its dim-witted (and completely unqualified) Ambassador have chosen to beat the drum on a completely extraneous and unimportant issue, speaks volumes about how impregnated is bien-pensant
ideology in the foreign ministries of the West. 1
. Peter Spiegel, "Can Hungary Avoid a Rebuke? A leaked letter makes the case. The Financial Times.
10 January 2012, in www.ft.com
. Philip Stephens. "A Hungarian Coup worthy of Putin." The Financial Times.
5 January 2012, in www.ft.com
. Given the rumors running around in Budapest that the American State Department is endeavoring to unseat the current Cabinet in Hungary, the title of Stephen's article reads ironically indeed. For the rumors, see the above referenced interview with the American Ambassador in Budapest.
PERSIAN SABER RATTLING OVER THE GULF: A COMMENT
"His remarks came a day after Mohammad Reza Rahimi, Iran’s first vice-president, warned that the country would not allow “even one drop of oil” to flow through the strait should the west impose oil sanctions on Tehran. Mr Rahimi’s comments caused a brief rise in the price of oil on Tuesday.
Washington yesterday warned Iran against any interruption to traffic through the waterway. “The free flow of goods and services through the Strait of Hormuz is vital to regional and global prosperity,” said Commander Amy Derrick Frost, a spokeswoman for the Bahrain-based US Navy Fifth Fleet.
“Anyone who threatens to disrupt freedom of navigation in an international strait is clearly outside the community of nations. Any disruption will not be tolerated.”
Some 13 to 15 supertankers pass through the strait every day, most of them heading towards Japan, South Korea, India and China. The US Navy patrols the waterway and analysts believe Iran would not be able to shut it down.
Tehran began a 10-day naval exercise on Saturday in the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, in a clear warning of the disruption the Islamic regime could cause to the world economy.
Iranian analysts believe the recent threats are an attempt by Tehran to prevent the European Union from extending sanctions to oil sales and the country’s central bank. France, Germany and the UK are pushing for an embargo on Iranian oil exports to Europe, although several countries, including Greece, have reservations. EU foreign ministers are due to discuss the embargo on January 30.
An Iranian reformist foreign policy website, irdiplomacy, said the exercises were a reminder that Iran’s army and elite Revolutionary Guards were capable of “cutting off the lifeline of the Arabs and the west'".
Monavar Khalaj & Najmeh Bozorgmehr, "Iran naval chief adds to Straits Tension." The Financial Times. 28 December 2011, in www.ft.com.
"There is nothing new about Iran’s threat to close the Gulf, but it does need to be put in context. Iran is reshaping its military forces to steadily increase the threat to Gulf shipping and shipping in the Gulf of Oman, It also is gradually increasing its ability to operate in the Indian Ocean.
This increase in Iranian capability is almost certainly not designed to take the form of a major war with the US and Southern Gulf states, which could result from any Iranian effort to truly close the Gulf. It does, however, give Iran the ability to carry out a wide range of much lower level attacks which could sharply raise the risk to Gulf shipping, and either reduce tanker traffic and shipping or sharply raise the insurance cost of such ship movements and put a different kind of pressure on the other Gulf states and world oil prices.
Any such Iranian actions do not have to be tied in any way to predictable attacks at or near the Strait of Hormuz. They could occur anywhere in the Gulf and in the Gulf of Oman. Iran could deny many such forms of attack, claim rogue operations or that they were provoked by US or other Gulf country actions, or keep the level of such attacks so low that it would be difficult to respond with high levels of force and Iran could keep exporting its own oil.
Moreover, Iran’s growing long-range missile forces, and movement towards a nuclear weapons capability will give it an increasing capability to compensate for its aging and low capability regular naval and air forces with a far more threatening level of deterrence.
It is also important to note that the current flow of oil and gas exports through the Gulf is critical to the global economy, as well as that of a US that must pay rising world oil prices in a crisis. The US Department of Energy projects that this global strategic dependence on the secure and steady flow of Gulf energy exports will increase steadily through 2035 – as far in the future as the Department makes projections.
Equally important, the same US Department of Energy projections make it clear that the US will not achieve any meaningful improvement in energy independence through 2025, although it will make limited reductions in total imports and increases its own conventional and unconventional liquids production....
In 2011, total world oil production amounted to approximately 88 million barrels per day (bbl/d), and over one-half was moved by tankers on fixed maritime routes. By volume of oil transit, the Strait of Hormuz leading out of the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Malacca linking the Indian and Pacific Oceans are two of the world's most strategic chokepoints.
The international energy market is dependent upon reliable transport. The blockage of a chokepoint, even temporarily, can lead to substantial increases in total energy costs. In addition, chokepoints leave oil tankers vulnerable to theft from pirates, terrorist attacks, and political unrest in the form of wars or hostilities as well as shipping accidents which can lead to disastrous oil spills.
n average, 14 crude oil tankers per day passed through the Strait in 2011, with a corresponding amount of empty tankers entering to pick up new cargos. More than 85 percent of these crude oil exports went to Asian markets, with Japan, India, South Korea, and China representing the largest destinations.
At its narrowest point, the Strait is 21 miles wide, but the width of the shipping lane in either direction is only two miles, separated by a two-mile buffer zone. The Strait is deep and wide enough to handle the world's largest crude oil tankers, with about two-thirds of oil shipments carried by tankers in excess of 150,000 deadweight tons.
Closure of the Strait of Hormuz would require the use of longer alternate routes at increased transportation costs. Alternate routes include the 745 mile long Petroline, also known as the East-West Pipeline, across Saudi Arabia from Abqaiq to the Red Sea. The East-West Pipeline has a nameplate capacity of about 5 million bbl/d. The Abqaiq-Yanbu natural gas liquids pipeline, which runs parallel to the Petroline to the Red Sea, has a 290,000-bbl/d capacity. Additional oil could also be pumped north via the Iraq-Turkey pipeline to the port of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean Sea, but volumes have been limited by the closure of the Strategic pipeline linking north and south Iraq".
Anthony Cordesman, "Iran and the threat to 'close' the Gulf," Center for Strategic and International Studies.. 30 December 2011, in www.csis.com.
The Persian scare tactics of the last few weeks over threatening to close the Persian Gulf have manifestly failed
. As it seems increasingly clear that both the Americans and the European Union will indeed place more economic sanctions upon the regime of Mullahs in Tehran 1
. Which is not to deny, pace Anthony Cordesman's analysis that the Persians could indeed make things very difficult indeed for the Americans, et. al
., if they endeavored to try to close the straits. Merely as has been proved in the past, `a la the Iran-Iraq War from 1987-1988, a determined American effort will by its very nature stop the regime in Tehran in its tracks in terms of endeavoring to stop traffic in the Gulf 2
. What is needed is a firm, direct and loudly proclaimed policy that the West will not under any circumstances stand for any closure of the Persian Gulf by the regime in Persia. So far the American administration appears to be following this line. Unlike some commentators (Ray Takyh being the chief of these), I am of the opinion that the regime in Persia is in military and strategic terms a 'paper tiger' pur et simple 2
. If the West takes and keeps to a tough line, the regime of Mullahs in Tehran will bluster but do nothing. As the ever wise, Mr. Max Boot has commented recently in the American broadsheet the Wall Street Journal:
"Closing the strait is not nearly as easy as Adm. Habibollah Sayari, commander of the Iranian Navy, would have it. He said that closing the strait is "as easy as drinking a glass of water." Actually it would be about as easy as drinking an entire bucket of water in one gulp" 3.
. James Blitz & Guy Dinmore, "Italy urges gradual Iran [Persia] oil ban." The Financial Times.
6 January 2012, in www.ft.com
; Tentative agreement: EU moves forward on Iran oil embargo." Der Spiegel
5 January 2012, in www.spiegel.de
. For the 1987-1988 American policy, see: Max Boot & Bradley Russell, "Iran won't close the strait of Hormuz." The Wall Street Journal. 4 January 2012, in www.wallstreetjournal.com
. On Ray Takeyh, "The Self-limiting Success of Iran [Persian] Sanctions." The Council on Foreign Relations
. November 2011, in www.cfr.org