Friday, May 31, 2013


"Nine dashes, five judges, two contestants. It sounds like a reality television show. In fact, it is the rather obscure – but very important – beginning of a process to delineate fiercely disputed Asian maritime borders according to the rule of law, rather than the law of the jungle. The nine dashes belong to China. They mark what Beijing says is its historical claim to most of the South China Sea, a vast waterway that borders several other Asian countries. The five judges have been chosen to sit on a tribunal that will determine the validity of that claim under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. The two contestants are the Philippines, which brought the case, and China, whose nine-dash line is being challenged. Strictly speaking, there is only one contestant, since Beijing, though a signatory of Unclos, has not deigned to recognise the process. Asian countries, particularly the not inconsiderable number that have maritime disputes of their own with China, are watching the case with intense interest. Few, though, have dared say much in public for fear of offending Beijing. Whether you judge it plucky or rash, the Philippines has gone out on a limb. Manila’s hope is to put its bilateral dispute with Beijing over the ownership of waters and islands close to the Philippine coast to international arbitration. There is an air of desperation about its gambit, which suggests it sees no possible progress through dialogue. Professor Jerome Cohen, an authority on Chinese and international law at New York University School of Law, says the Philippine “bombshell” has shocked Beijing with its audacity. The case, launched in January, will take perhaps four years to chug through the Unclos system. It has potentially huge implications for a region riddled with explosive territorial disputes, including that between Japan and China over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. The Philippines has asked Unclos to adjudicate on the validity of the nine-dash line, produced by China in 1947 to illustrate what it said was its longstanding jurisdiction over almost all the South China Sea. That claim overlaps with the Philippines’ 200 mile economic exclusion zone extending from its coastline".
David Pilling, "Plucky or rash, the Philippines is right to challenge China." The Financial Times. 29 May 2013,
"Some 27 years ago, Chinese leaders took a hard look at their country and didn’t like what they saw. China was just emerging from the Cultural Revolution. It was desperately poor, deliberately isolated from the world economy, and opposed to nearly every international institution. Under Deng Xiaoping, as Mr. Zheng explains, China’s leaders reversed course and decided "to embrace globalization rather than detach themselves from it." Seven U.S. presidents of both parties recognized this strategic shift and worked to integrate China as a full member of the international system. Since 1978, the United States has also encouraged China’s economic development through market reforms. Our policy has succeeded remarkably well: the dragon emerged and joined the world. Today, from the United Nations to the World Trade Organization, from agreements on ozone depletion to pacts on nuclear weapons, China is a player at the table. And China has experienced exceptional economic growth. Whether in commodities, clothing, computers, or capital markets, China’s presence is felt every day. China is big, it is growing, and it will influence the world in the years ahead. For the United States and the world, the essential question is – how will China use its influence? To answer that question, it is time to take our policy beyond opening doors to China’s membership into the international system: We need to urge China to become a responsible stakeholder in that system. China has a responsibility to strengthen the international system that has enabled its success. In doing so, China could achieve the objective identified by Mr. Zheng: "to transcend the traditional ways for great powers to emerge."
Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, "Whither China: From Membership to Responsibility?" Remarks to National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, 21 September 2005 in
The endeavor of the Philippines to hold the Peoples Republic to the norms of International concourse is an important one. If the PRC does indeed abide by an adverse ruling concerning its claims to islands in the South China Seas, that would indeed be an important marker that Peking could indeed be 'a responsible stakeholder'. In the past half dozen years or so, Peking has been giving the strongest impression possible that it does not in the least care for the opinion of the International Community and in particular its neighbors in the Orient. Almost all of whom it has fraught and difficult relations as it relates to borders and Islands claims. Per contra to the one-eyed Amitai Etzioni, China has conspicuously chosen not: "work out these differences with one nation at a time." 1 Unless of course the type of belligerent military and naval actions that Peking has engaged in recent years qualify as trying to 'work out' its disputes with its neighbors. On a normative basis the answer is an objective 'no'. The very same answer to the query set-out by then Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick in 2005 concerning China as 'responsible stakeholder'.
1. Amitai Etzioni, "Is China a responsible stakeholder?" International Affairs. (May 2011), pp. 552-553.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


"The UK and France have won the freedom to supply weapons to Syrian rebel groups after they succeeded in dismantling an EU arms embargo in spite of determined opposition from fellow member states. The two nations prevailed at a meeting of EU foreign ministers that dragged on for more than 13 hours and laid bare deep divisions within the bloc about the merits of intervening more forcefully in a civil war that has claimed more than 80,000 lives. William Hague, the British foreign secretary, said the decision sent “a very strong message” to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad about the need to seek a political solution to the conflict. “While we have no immediate plans to send arms to Syria it gives us the flexibility to respond in the future if the situation continues to deteriorate,” Mr Hague said".
Joshua Chaffin, "UK and France win battle to lift EU’s Syria arms embargo." The Financial Times. 28 May 2013, in
"Reuters) - Russia will deliver an advanced air defense system to the Syrian government despite Western opposition because it will help deter "hotheads" who back foreign intervention, a senior Russian official said on Tuesday. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov also accused the European Union of "throwing fuel on the fire" by letting its arms embargo on Syrian expire, saying it would complicate efforts to arrange an international peace conference. His remarks toughened Russia's defiance of the United States, France and Israel over the planned sale of precision S-300 missile systems to President Bashar al-Assad's government, which is battling a Western and Gulf Arab-backed insurgency. "We think this delivery is a stabilizing factor and that such steps in many ways restrain some hotheads ... from exploring scenarios in which this conflict could be given an international character with participation of outside forces, to whom this idea is not foreign," he told a news conference. Western experts say the air defense system could significantly boost Syria's ability to stave off outside intervention in the more than two-year civil war that has killed more than 80,000 people. The S-300s can intercept manned aircraft and guided missiles and their delivery would improve Assad's government's chances of holding out in Damascus. Western nations say the Russian arms deliveries could increase tension and encourage Assad. Moscow is standing firm on the sale, despite a trip to Russia by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this month in which he pleaded with President Vladimir Putin to halt the delivery, and a veiled warning of a military response by Israel".
Alissa de Carbonnel, "Russia to send Syria air defense system to deter 'hotheads'." Reuters. 28 May 2013, in
The almost simultaneous news coming out of Brussels and Moskva demonstrates anew something which this journal has been harping on since the bandwagon urging Western military assistance and or intervention in the Syrian imbroglio came to the fore. Namely that any such Western intervention will invite, in the absence of such intervention being truly massive in scale and scope, countervailing Russian, Persian and Hezbollah intervention in support of the regime of Assad Fils. The above news coming out to-day as well as the news last week that Hezbollah has overtly intervened in the conflict puts paid to the charming idea that any Western or Western-lead intervention in Syria would be a repeat of what occurred in Libya circa 2011. As we can now clearly see that is indeed far, far from the case. Indeed, reading between the lines of the recent Russian statements, it would not be entirely unlikely that an increase in Western military support for the opposition will result in Russian delivery of offensive weapons to the regime in Damascus. Given the fact that it is the regime which is making all the running at the moment on the ground, it seems questionable in the extreme to expect that: i) the proposed Peace Conference next month will result in anything positive; ii) the opposition will indeed be able to overthrow the Baathist regime, while it continues to receive support from its allies. Unless such support ends, or conversely unless and until the scale of Western military intervention (not mind you, mere 'support' but full-scale, Western military intervention) changes dramatically, then a stalemate on the ground in Syria, if not worse will be the result staring us in the face. We can all proclaim how unfortunate or even how horrid this state of affairs is, but the long and short of it, is that there is where the facts lead us to. Only time will tell if a new set of facts on the ground changes the current calculations which seem to favor the regime.

Friday, May 24, 2013


"Lethal explosions in a Turkish border town at the weekend highlight the dilemma Turkey faces over Syria as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan prepares to discuss the issue with Barack Obama. Officials on Sunday blamed Syrian intelligence and Turkish collaborators for Saturday’s car bomb blasts in the town of Reyhanli, which killed at least 46 people and left many more wounded. The authorities said nine people, all Turkish nationals, had been arrested, including the mastermind of the attack. In comments that seemed to hint at the dangers of a military response and inter-ethnic clashes, Mr Erdogan called for patience and restraint. “We have to be extremely calm against all kinds of provocations that are trying to pull us into the swamp in Syria,” he said. Reyhanli shelters many Syrian refugees, but most of the casualties were Turkish. “This really does put Turkey in a tight spot,” said Soli Ozel, at Istanbul’s Kadir Has university, who argued that Ankara lacked the intelligence and electronic capabilities that allowed Israel to strike Syria this month and had more to fear from escalation of the violence. “It shows Turkey’s vulnerabilities . . . Turkey is now more fully part of the Syrian civil war.” Ankara is constrained by the domestic unpopularity of its stance on Syria, with opposition leaders responding to the attacks by immediately calling on the government to review its policy. As well as taking in an estimated 300,000-450,000 refugees, the country is also one of the most prominent backers of both the political and military opposition to Bashar al-Assad’s regime, with particularly strong ties to Muslim Brotherhood groups. But, despite almost two years of campaigning against Mr Assad and increased tension with his ally, Tehran, Ankara has found it difficult to respond to a series of deadly incidents, instead urging the US to take the lead, as Mr Erdogan is expected to do at a White House meeting with Mr Obama on Thursday. Turkey has responded in only a limited fashion to events over the past year that have included Syria shooting down a Turkish jet, the deaths of Turkish citizens in cross-border artillery fire and a car bomb in February, which killed 14 people on the frontier itself “We want the US to assume more responsibilities and take further steps . . . We are going to talk about this,” Mr Erdogan told NBC television last week. He added that it was “clear” the Syrian regime had used chemical weapons and missiles, crossing a “red line” set by Mr Obama, and said Turkey had long backed a no-fly zone"
Daniel Dombey, "Deadly blasts put spotlight on Turkey’s dilemma over Syria." The Financial Times. 12 May 2013, in
"Perhaps Obama's greatest political achievement in the Middle East lies in nourishing an exceptionally close strategic relationship with Turkey and its outspoken Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan....The Obama administration has co-opted the new rising geostrategic and geo-economic power....What explains Obama's strategic partnership with Turkey? Having decided to reduce America's military footprint in the region and lower its profile, Obama looked to Turkey, with its liberal, successful economic model, to fill any power vacuum there."
Fawax A. Gerges. "The Obama approach to the Middle East: the end of America's moment?" International Affairs. March 2013, pp.316-317.
The frequently mounted claims of recent years that Turkey was the coming 'Great Power' in the Near and Middle Eastern region has been shown by recent events to be an erroneous claim indeed. As Hezbollah and Persia step-up their joint military intervention in the Syrian conflict, Turkey remains peacefully on the sidelines, offering no counter-move 1. Indeed, the only response by Ankara to the recent events was the announcement that Turkey will construct a fortified wall along a portion of its border with Syria 2. Hardly the stuff of a budding Great Power. Notwithstanding claims made by biased and ill-informed journalists, cum 'academics' of the Gerges variety, Turkey is most definitely not a Great Power by any means. No doubt it would like to be considered as such, but so far it appears to lack the ambition and the domestic support for such a role. As the Financial Times report referenced above, notes, the Turkish Government's policy in the Syrian Crisis has been notable for its unpopularity with the Turkish public. A long time ago, the late, great, English Diplomatic Historian Alan Taylor, defined a 'Great Power' as a power which au fond is willing to go to war against any other Great Power. Turkey, as seen by its policies in the current Syrian Crisis, appears to entertain no such willingness to engage any of its regional rivals: either the greatly weakened Syria, much less Persia. That fact should put paid to the notion that Ankara is a coming 'Great Power', regional or of any sort indeed.
1. Khaled Yacoub Oweis, "Hezbollah, Syrian army renew Qusair offensive." Reuters. 21 May 2013, in; Abigail Fielding-Smith, "Hizbollah’s Syrian involvement deepens regional sectarian divide." The Financial Times. 24 May 2013, in
2. Jonathon Burch, "Turkey builds wall at Syria border crossing after bombs." Reuters. 24 May 2013, in

Thursday, May 23, 2013


"The sight of burning cars in a dozen suburbs of Stockholm on Tuesday night has shocked Sweden and shaken its image of tolerance and equality. But the rioting is also raising a simple, devastating question: is Sweden facing its own Paris or London moment when it is forced to confront long-simmering questions about the integration of immigrants? “This is a wake-up call for decision makers and Swedish society as a whole,” says Awad Hersi, a Stockholm city councillor from near where the riots started. But Mr Hersi, of Somali origin, argues that the situation is not yet as serious as it was in London in 2011 or Paris in 2005. “There are differences with Stockholm: the scale, the methods are different. Stockholm still has a chance but it is a matter of time.” Police on Wednesday were drafting in reinforcements to prepare for a potential fourth night of unrest. What started in the north-western suburb of Husby had by Tuesday night spread to about a dozen different suburbs north and south of Stockholm. The rioters were reported to be mostly young immigrants of African and Middle Eastern origin. There appeared little co-ordination between the outbreaks of unrest, which mostly involved torching cars or attacking buildings and stoning the emergency services. “We are grubby and totally shattered. It is burning everywhere,” one policeman told Swedish TV. The unrest has provoked intense soul-searching in a country that prides itself for both its generous welfare state and open immigration policy. Sweden accepted 44,000 asylum seekers in 2012, up by nearly a half from a year earlier. Among industrial countries, it has the second-largest amount of asylum seekers relative to its population, according to UN figures. Sweden prides itself on treating them well, offering them benefits and housing as well as free Swedish lessons on arrival. But now some are questioning whether that is enough. The big problem in a suburb such as Husby, where immigrants represent about 80 per cent of the population, is unemployment, particularly among the young. Swedish youth unemployment stands at 25.1 per cent, about triple the level of overall joblessness. And much of that youth unemployment is concentrated among immigrants from countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan or Syria. “Sweden isn’t that different to other countries when it comes to problems of integration in larger cities where we have these suburbs with a lot of unemployment,” says Per Adman, an associate professor at Uppsala university. He points out that the media often refers to “unemployed young men” without specifying that they are predominantly immigrants. The riots may have reopened the debate but Mr Adman sees a society divided in its reaction to them. “Some people claim this is just criminals acting; others say it’s a result of segregation,” he says. On the ground in Husby, there is no surprise that the response tends towards the latter. Mr Hersi condemns the violence but says: “The violence we have seen is just a symptom, it is not a root cause. The root cause is that in this area the young men especially feel that they don’t have the same opportunities. Most of them if you ask them don’t want anything more than a job to go to in the morning.” That discrepancy between opportunities for those born in Sweden and outside was also underlined by the OECD in its most recent report on the country. It found that the unemployment rate for Swedish-born people was about 6 per cent against about 16 per cent for those born abroad. Immigration experts say the pattern of Swedish immigration has also changed. After the war, the country wanted low-skilled workers for its manufacturing plants, while now it faces an influx of asylum seekers with little education who have difficulty finding a job. This has coincided with a jump in inequality. Although Sweden is still one of the most egalitarian countries in the world, it has experienced the biggest rise in inequality in the past 15 years. “Historically, Swedish society has been very homogenous. But over the past 10 years there has been a big shift and some suburbs now are ‘world villages’. The development has gone very fast and much of society hasn’t understood the nature of the situation,” Mr Hersi says."
Richard Milne, "Stockholm riots raise questions about immigration policy." The Financial Times. 22 May 2013, in
"As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding. Like the Roman, I seem to see ‘the River Tiber foaming with much blood’. That tragic and intractable phenomenon which we watch with horror on the other side of the Atlantic but which there is interwoven with the history and existence of the States itself, is coming upon us here by our own volition and our own neglect. Indeed, it has all but come. In numerical terms, it will be of American proportions long before the end of the century. Only resolute and urgent action will avert it even now. Whether there will be the public will to demand and obtain that action, I do not know. All I know is that to see, and not to speak, would be the great betrayal."
Enoch Powell, "Annual meeting of the West Midlands Conservative Political Centre, Birmingham." 20 April 1968.
The predictability of what is occurring in Sweden is disgustingly obvious. An intelligent and wise government would have taken steps, many, many years ago (at least twenty-five) to prevent a repeat of the problems that occurred in London and Paris from taking root in what was in many ways (Socialism aside) an idyllic land. Now of course the situation is infinitely much more complex and difficult to handle. There are x percentage of the population which while of third-world background were born and brought up in Sweden. For them the means of resolving the problem (insofar as it can be resolved...) is via integration and support. The former being of course infinitely more difficult than the latter. Especially since per se, the people rioting in Sweden are not actually deprived, much less starving. They live for the most part, semi-comfortable if alienated existences. Unfortunately, integration, insofar as it will work at all, will take years and years to change things. In the meantime, the authorities must, repeat must take a strong arm to handle this situation. Which means concretely: a massive police and perhaps army presence, night-time curfews, and large-scale deportations of any immigrants arrested in the riots. I for one would agree that such tactics cannot be in the long run a solution, it is more akin to a pis aller. But as the late Lord Keynes aptly put it: 'in the long run we are all dead.'
And like the rest of Europe, Sweden is reaping the costs of not listening to the wise words of the late, great Enoch Powell.

Friday, May 10, 2013


Henry Kissinger In Conversation with Mao Tse-Tung & Chou En-lai, "MEMORANDUM OF CONVERSATION", 18 FEBRUARY 1973, IN THE KISSINGER TRANSCRIPTS: THE TOP SECRET TALKS WITH BEIJING AND MOSCOW. Edited William Burr. (1998), pp. 89,91.
On Tuesday, the 7th of May, former Ambassador to the Peoples Republic of China, Indonesia and Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence, as well as currently Vice-Chairman of Kissinger Associates, spoke to a select gathering at the Princeton Club in Mid-town Manhattan on the subject of 'China and the United States: forming a new strategic relationship'. The following were some of the Ambassador's comments:
That Peking's new leadership is under a lot of 'domestic' pressure on the subjects of economic reform, corruption, widening income inequality and the newest issue of smog. As per Ambassador Stapleton, 'ten years of empty talk', from China's departing leadership has left much of the Chinese population frustrated. In addition 'popular nationalism' is a serious problem for the government in Peking. Citing a Martin Wolf piece in a recent Financial Times, the Ambassador raised the likelihood of the China having to deal with 'middle income trap', of economic growth stagnating after the PRC would reach certain level of per capita income (approximately $5,000-$7,500). That this would be 'difficult transition' for China. As per the Ambassador there was a contradiction between the PRC's twin goals of 'Peaceful development' and China's 'territorial claims', id. est., the off-shore island chains in the North and South China Seas. As per Ambassador Stapleton, American policy is also inconsistent and that the USA needs a healthy balance of 'co-operation and competition' with the PRC. That those 'pessimists' who posit that the Sino-American relationship is headed for a crash 'are wrong', as the trade variable between the two countries greatly reduces the likelihood of conflict. That due to the American treaties with Japan and the Philippines there was 'danger of conflict' involving the United States in these countries conflicts with the PRC. That Chinese military was endeavoring to build-up 'counter-intervention' capabilities to prevent the USA from actively intervening in any such conflicts. The underlying problem with the Sino-American relationship consisted of the need to build 'a new great power relationship'. That there needed to be constant consultations between the two powers in order to avoid unnecessary tensions and conflicts. That the United States needed in sotto voce fashion, to liquidate American policy supporting the independence of Formosa and Japan's claims to the Senkaku Islands. Indeed, as per Ambassador Stapleton it was the Japanese rather the the PRC which was at fault as per the escalating problem of the Islands. The Ambassador finished by attacking President Clinton's pro-Human Rights criticism of the regime in Peking in his first term of office. With those words, Ambassador Stapleton took questions from the floor and the even was soon at an end.
It would be a truism of say that the upshot of the Ambassador's comments are the worst sort of appeasement of the revisionist and aggressive tendencies of the PRC. It is quite plain to see that if left to itself, the regime in Peking will endeavor to browbeat and threaten its neighbors in an aggressive and antagonistic fashion. The mere fact that the Ambassador endeavored to find equivalence between the USA and Peking and even more egregiously, endeavored to posit that it was Japan (!) who was at fault in the current tensions between Tokyo and Peking speaks volumes about how pro-Chinese members of the Kissinger Associates circle truly are. As the above referenced quote shows, Henry Kissinger has for ages now, shown a strange sort of partiality towards the PRC and its leaders. The fact that its leaders, starting with Mao Tse-tung were blood thirsty criminals ang gangsters seems to not interested the good Doctor very much. The financial lucre that Kissinger associates garners from working with the current regime in Peking is merely an icing on the cake, and per se, cannot au fond explain the peculiar mindset of either Dr. Kissinger or his subordinates past and present. One can only express thanks that current American policy towards the PRC, for all its faults is not so craven and spineless as no doubt Dr. Kissinger would like it to be.

Friday, May 03, 2013


"Do not threaten what you are not prepared to do. That is a cardinal rule of foreign policy. And it is a rule that is causing the White House diplomatic and political trouble now that it has agreed that Syria has likely used chemical weapons “on a small scale” against rebel forces. The administration’s announcement today comes on the heels of similar claims by Britain and France last week and by Israel this week. The chemical weapon in question is believed to be sarin, which kills its victims by disrupting the ability of the nerves to communicate with the rest of the body. The Japanese religious cult Aum Shinrikyo used sarin in a 1995 attack in the Tokyo subway system that killed twelve and injured thousands. The administration has gone to some length to hedge its claim about what Syria has done. The letter informing congressional leaders stated that U.S. intelligence agencies had “varying degrees of confidence” about their finding. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, who announced the administration’s new assessment during his trip to the Middle East, said “we need to get all the facts” before concluding for certain that the Syrians had used sarin or any other chemical weapon. Definitive evidence that the intelligence agencies of four countries are dead wrong in their suspicions is not likely to come any time soon, if at all. So the pressure at home and abroad on President Obama to make the Assad government pay a price will grow. He has been calling on Assad to step down since August 2011, but he has declined to provide the means to make that happen. Last August, he warned Damascus that the use of chemical weapons would be a “red line” that “would change my calculus” about the possibility of a U.S. intervention. He upped the ante last December when he warned Assad that using chemical weapons is “totally unacceptable,” and that if they are used “there will be consequences.” Obama has never said what precisely he would do if Syria crossed his red line. But most observers have interpreted his statements as a promise to make Damascus regret using chemical weapons. Foreign capitals and Capitol Hill will be watching to see if Obama makes good on that threat. If he doesn’t, he risks undermining his credibility and U.S. power and influence as a result. That will make it harder to deal not just with Syria but with Iran and North Korea. Tough talk and inaction seldom yield good results. The dilemma for Obama is that his reasons for not intervening in Syria remain sound. As Iraq and Afghanistan attest, it is easier to get into war than to get out, and nation building is easier said than done. The American public is weary of foreign interventions, and Washington has no shortage of other foreign policy problems demanding its attention. At the same time, any U.S. effort to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons faces a host of problems. Syria has a much larger stockpile than Libya had under Muammar Qaddafi, which is why then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said last year that the difficulty in securing Syria’s chemical weapons will be “100 times worse than what we dealt with in Libya....” In the near term, Obama will likely try to redouble efforts to persuade Moscow and others to help rein in Damascus. That will buy him additional time to weigh his options. But diplomacy alone is unlike to solve his dilemma on chemical weapons, let alone the broader Syrian crisis. And so Obama will have to make tough decisions about whether to match his words with deeds, knowing that by doing so he could unleash events he cannot control."
James M. Lindsay, "Obama’s Chemical Weapons Dilemma in Syria." The Council on Foreign Relations. 25 April 2013, in
The argument made that the Western Powers are obliged to intervene militarily in the Syria imbroglio seems to me of highly questionable logic. First, since when has the usage of chemical weapons lead to a decision to immediately intervene in a conflict? Would say the usage of chemical weapons by say the PRC on say the peoples of Tibet lead to American-lead military intervention? The question answers itself. As per the past, one need only remember the virtual silence of the Western Powers when Iraq used chemical weapons in the 1980's. In the current case, I would argue that per se, the usage of chemical weapons, while quite horrendous and a prima facie evidence of evil as per the current regime, does not necessarily overturn the balance of forces as it relates to the fact that overt Western military intervention is an extremely problematical course. As Professor Joshua Landis outlines for all and sundry on his web site, Syria Comment 1. Secondly, it is not entirely clear to me, that either machtpolitik or moralpolitik conclusively argues in favor of a positive policy of endeavoring to overthrow the regime of Assad Fils. Especially, since at this point in time, there is very clear evidence that the opposition, if victorious will engage in wholesale massacres of its opponents. `A la what occurred in Iraq circa 2003 to 2008. Do the Western Powers wish to be saddled with the moral responsibility for the massacres and forced removals (in particular) of the Christian population of Syria? One hopes that the question answers itself. And, while it is very much the case that the downfall of the Assad regime would be a blow to Persian influence and power in the region, I am not entire convinced that an increase in Western military assistance in the shape of arms supplies to elements of the opposition will not result in the Persians, Russians and Hezbollah also increasing their own assistance to the regime in Damascus. Indeed, it would appear the Hezbollah for one has already sent troops into Syria proper 2. As I have said numerous times, the time is past when overt, Western military intervention would have worked in Syria. And it is the case unfortunately, the the only guarantee, post bellum, that the opposition would behave themselves in Syria would be a full-scale, Western military occupation. Something which, post-Iraq, none of the Western Powers has had a stomach to contemplate. An extremely unfortunate state of affairs, but a very true one indeed.
1. Joshua Landis, "Is Syria like Iraq?" Syria Comment. 2 May 2013, in
2. Abigal Fielding-Smith, "Lebanese group Hizbollah hints at support for Syria’s Assad." The Financial Times. 1 May 2013, in

Thursday, May 02, 2013


MOSCOW, April 29 (Reuters) - Russia and Japan said on Monday they would revive talks on resolving a territorial dispute that has prevented them signing a treaty formally ending their World War Two hostilities, and, wary of China's rising influence, agreed to bolster trade ties. At the two G8 powers' first Moscow summit for 10 years, President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had China's economic and political might in mind as they launched a new effort to warm up their relationship. An end to the dispute over four Pacific islands is not in sight, but reviving long-stalled talks is a first step to improving economic cooperation, which both sides say has failed to live up to its potential. "We have agreed to revive talks (on the islands)," Putin told a news conference with Abe after a Kremlin ceremony at which about 20 economic cooperation agreements were signed, but said this did not mean the issue would be resolved "tomorrow". Abe acknowledged the sides were far apart over the islands but hailed the decision to instruct foreign ministers to resume talks as an important move to end an "abnormal" situation. Looking relaxed in talks with Putin in an ornate Kremlin hall, Abe said bilateral trade had grown eightfold in the 10 years since then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi held a summit with Putin in Moscow. "Nevertheless, our potential for cooperation has not been opened wide enough," Abe said. Underlining this, the sides failed to clinch any major deals on energy cooperation.... Russia wants to firm up its footing in Asia as it warily watches China's regional influence grow, even though Putin hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping at a lavish Kremlin summit only a month ago. Japan is also locked in an islands dispute with China, giving it jitters about its neighbour. Russia and Japan are both members of the Group of Eight rich nations but the scope for improvement in relations has long been restricted by the row over islands known in Russia as the Southern Kuriles and in Japan as the Northern Territories. ."
Alexei Anishchuk, "Japan, Russia agree to revive talks on island dispute." Reuters. 29 April 2013, in
Abe's turn to Moscow can be easily explained by a number of geopolitical and economic reasons. Japan is getting about 10 percent of its oil and gas from Russia, an insurance policy in view of the instability in the Middle East. It also appreciates Russia's sheer physical presence in Northeast Asia, and Moscow's desire to play a more active role in the Asia-Pacific region. Russia shares a 2,700-mile long border with China, and has a vibrant trading relationship with its neighbor. Japan clearly does not want Moscow's Asia policy to be dominated by its relationship with Beijing. Right-wing Japanese politicians even muse about a Japanese-Russia alignment to contain China. Moscow, which only a month ago played host to Chinese President Xi Jinping on his first trip abroad, looks forward to the Japanese prime minister's visit. As a lone great power constantly in search of a balance, Russia seeks to diversify its economic and political relationships as widely as possible, in order to gain more options. After thoroughly defeating Japan in a brief campaign at the end of World War II, Moscow bears no historical grudge against Tokyo. Indeed, Russians, by and large, are if anything friendlier toward the Japanese than the other way round. The dispute over the South Kuril Islands, which the Japanese call their Northern Territories, while occasionally getting noisy, usually at Japan's initiative, is considered to be safely under control, with almost no likelihood of it degenerating into a military confrontation. A resolution of the Russian-Japanese territorial dispute is not on the cards yet, though both sides feel that some kind of a compromise formula has to be hammered out for their relationship to be fully normalized and live up to its potential. China should not expect Russia to build a common front against Japan, based on reciprocal solidarity in both countries' territorial issues with Tokyo. China, however, should not fear the fantasies of Japanese rightists. Russia values its relations with China enough not to allow itself to be swayed in Japan's direction. This stance is unlikely to change as long as Moscow regards Beijing as a good neighbor and bona fide partner. Russia, however, will continue to reemerge as an independent player in the Asia-Pacific region. It will be guided by its national interests, the top of which is domestic development, particularly between the Urals and the Pacific coastline. Moscow will reach out to all relevant players, but will seek a balance in all those relationships. It has sufficient experience and enough common sense not to tilt too much in any particular direction, unless, of course, this is deemed necessary to restore geopolitical and strategic equilibrium."
Dmitri Trenin, "Moscow-Tokyo Anti-China Alliance Not Real." Carnegie Moscow Center. 29 April 2013, in
The news out of Moskva as it relates to the revival of pour parlers between Russia and Japan over Southern Kurile islands is all to the good. Notwithstanding the comments of the usually well-informed Dmitri Trenin about Moskva's underlying intentions. Which appears to be that of endeavoring to employ Japan not so much as an ally but as a sort of ballast in the Far Eastern diplomatic equilibrium. Quelle dommage! It seems obvious to me and has seemed to me for more than twenty years, that by definition in terms of goals and interests, that Japan is Russia's 'natural ally' in the Orient. Unfortunately, except for a short period from 1910 to 1917, Russia and Japan have rarely been on the same diplomatic wavelength. Something which can be blamed on both sides, but certainly in the past forty years, more the doing of Mosvka than Japan. From any machtpolitik point of view, the Kuriles are near to worthless as compared to the possibilities of Japan joining Moskva in a warm embrace on a anti-revisionist, anti-Chinese basis. A diplomatic bloc which by definition would quickly be joined by the other powers in the Orient, once it was constructed. The fact that Grazhdanin Putin, et. al., singularly fail to see this, speaks volumes about the strategic blindness that contemporary Russian policy suffers from.